There’s nothing like a writing assignment to shake the dust off the old blog!

I’ve been invited by fellow kidlit mystery writer Julia Platt London to be part of the My Writing Process blog tour. I loved Julia’s intense, fast-paced, high-stakes middle grade mystery, COLD CASE (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2012). It’s about a 13-year-old boy who stumbles across a dead body and soon discovers his brother is a prime suspect and his father may be implicated too.  It takes place in New Mexico and has great restaurant scenes, too — do check it out! If you’d like to learn more about Julia’s book — and the one now in the works — you can check out her Writing Process Blog Tour post here.

What are you working on? 
I am wrapping up a draft of my third YA mystery! This one is called BLUE VOYAGE, and if I can make my deadlines (!!), it will hopefully be out Summer 2015 (Viking/Penguin). It’s about a teen girl vacationing in Turkey, who gets entangled with an international gang of antiquities smugglers. Unlike the other two books, which both started in the U.S. and took us to another country, this one takes place entirely in Turkey. I’ve traveled there before, and loved it; I’m having a wonderful time revisiting journals and photos, and eating at a Turkish restaurant near my home! (Hey, eating can be research, right?)

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
There are so many great YA mysteries out there; I feel like the genre has just exploded. There is now mystery + paranormal, mystery + high fantasy, mystery + history, mystery + sci fi. . . . and of course good old fashioned straight-up mystery. I write contemporary mystery. No magic!

I do think that YA mystery has come a long way from Nancy Drew, and that readers more in the way of character development and sub plots. They expect that the sleuth will grow or change as a result of solving this mystery (unlike Nancy, who just bounces from adventure to adventure and doesn’t develop). I think my work is in line with this trend, of striving for more complex and realistic characters — despite an awareness that the mystery situations may not be entirely realistic (simply because most regular kids don’t get into the jams that my characters do). So complex and realistic characters make my mysteries different from the traditional Nancy Drew, but right in line with what most YA mystery authors are trying to do, I think.

But I think what makes my work different from many YA mysteries on the market right now is the element of international intrigue. All of my mysteries involve a journey. Actually a double journey: into another place and culture, and into the self as well. I also think my mysteries are complex. The plots are intricate. They’re super hard to write, but very satisfying to complete, and I hope readers enjoy solving the puzzles too.

Why do you write what you do?
I write YA because I feel like I never really lost touch with my teen self. And as a teen, I was acutely sensitive to injustices (both perceived and real). So my teen sleuths in my books are very interested in righting wrongs and calling out hypocritical or unethical behavior on the part of adults. They also sometimes struggle to be heard or taken seriously by adults, as I think I did at times, and I love giving my teen characters the voice, the sense of purpose, and the inner strength that I wished I had had more of as a teen.  I love putting teen characters into conflicts and making them confront people who bug them or deal with their emotions. It’s like I get a bunch of do-overs when I write these books.

I also write books involving travel because so many teens travel the world these days — unlike when I was a teen — and I am awestruck by this. I am also aware that many teens do NOT travel the world (because they lack the funds, or are working, or caring for families, etc.) So these books are also for the vicarious travelers, which is what I was as a teen, and I hope it will inspire them to travel when they are able.

How does your writing process work?
It’s really messy, despite my organized intentions starting out. When planning a book, I do a lot of preliminary research. I brainstorm intensely. I fill up about two whole notebooks, writing notes by hand, before I start writing in earnest. I need at least 3 months of planning and incubation before writing that first chapter. I write freely about things I find in my research that interest me, that might go into a book. I write notes about the main characters, which I title “Things I Know” — just little realizations that hit me at odd times, that help a complex person start to take shape on the page. I usually have some false starts with beginnings. At least five. I get some preliminary feedback from trusted readers on those false starts. Then I usually find my way into the book. I block out key plot points and conflicts in scenes in all caps, and then write over them in “real writing.” I usually block out two or three scenes and then write. After every 30-50 pages I let myself look back and revise, and then I go forward again. If I get stuck, I find looking back helps because I usually need to go “deeper” with a character, or explore a conflict more. I can’t make it through a whole draft without doing some revising along the way. I hate drafting. I hate staring into the abyss, and I get paralyzed with possibilities. So much of writing is about making decisions (which I’m also bad at — don’t ask me to choose a restaurant). I am a big reviser!

If you follow this tour, every Monday you can read about different writers’ processes and their current works in progress. (I’m kind of addicted to these things! I love hearing about how other people work). Each participant tags two or three new writers, and we all answer the same set of questions. So following me next Monday, 3/17, will be two YA authors. One is Kerri Majors, who is the founder and editor in chief at YARN (Young Adult Review Network) and the author of THIS IS NOT A WRITING MANUAL (Writer’s Digest Books, 2013), a guide for young writers. The other writer is Erin Cashman, author of THE EXCEPTIONALS (Holiday House, 2012), which a Bankstreet Best Children’s Book award winner! I’ll be hosting Erin’s blog tour post right here on THIS blog, as a guest post. Be sure to swing back here next Monday to meet Erin, and I’ll link to Kerri’s post here as well!