Daily Archives: December 9, 2009

Interviewing Barrie Summy – Author of Mystery

I am delighted to be hosting the lovely and talented Barrie Summy for an interview today on the Shelf. Barrie is the author of two of my favourite tween mysteries: i so don’t do mysteries and i so don’t do spooky. She is plenty of fun and she’s here to give us the scoop of all things mysterious and writerly. Welcome Barrie!

If you had to sell i so don’t do spooky in a sentence, what would be your teaser?

I’m sorry to report that I am not very good at this! Below is my best shot.

Sherry’s baaack and detecting with her ghost mother: can they keep Sherry’s stepmother safe?

Now, Shelf Elf, if you allow me more than one sentence, here’s what I’d say:
Sherry’s baaack! Can Sherry and her ghost mother keep Sherry’s stepmother safe? There’s robotics, ghost hunting and some serious toilet papering. It’s scary. It’s spooky. It’s fun. Oooooo. (p.s. Of course, Josh is back too!)

One of the biggest compliments (of many) I can pay to your books is that they are just plain fun to read. They’re feel-good stories, exciting and funny and real all at once. If you had to name five books that you would call “just plain fun” to read, which titles would you choose?

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Laura Rennison; The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend; Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume; Schooled by Gordon Korman; One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

I have this idea that writing a mystery must be really, really hard, trying to work out the details of the plot, keep the suspense up, introduce enough characters to keep readers guessing, drop a few clues here and there, and create a satisfying and believable finish. Is it as hard as all this? What would be your essential tips for someone about to start writing her first mystery for tweens?

It is hard. For me, anyway. Sometimes writing a mystery feels like one big juggling act and one big puzzle, all mixed together.

Here are my tips:
1. Read a lot of mysteries. A lot. Until it feels like mysteries are flowing through your veins. Because, then, you’ll automatically know what works and what doesn’t work, what’s cheating and what’s playing fair with the reader.
2. Read a few books on writing mysteries. I particularly like How to Write a Damn Good Mystery by James N. Frey, Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler (which is just a great book on writing, not on writing mysteries per se)
3. See below about the usefulness of a recipe box.

Will a poster board work to keep everything in order?

Yes. But not in my house. For i so don’t do mysteries, I divided a HUGE piece of poster board into perfect squares, used colored post-it notes for the scenes (different colors for different kinds of scenes (mystery, family, love life, etc.), and stuck it up on the office wall. It was organized. It was beautiful. It was a true piece of art.

Until Child #3 got it into his cute little curly, blond-haired head to play a joke on me. And rearrange ALL the post-it notes!

So, now I use a recipe box with colored note cards and dividers. And I do not leave it out in plain view!

Sherry is such a down-to-earth, roll-with-the-punches type of girl. She’s the sort of person I’d want on my team if I ever encountered anything remotely paranormal. What do you admire most about Sherry?

Her tenacity. It doesn’t all come easily to her. She has to work at it. There are times when she feels like throwing in the towel, but she refuses to give up. (well, for more than a few seconds, anyway!)

What’s it like spending time with a character over the course of a multi-book series? Has your understanding of Sherry changed much as you’ve written more about her? Does she continue to surprise you?

I love it!

Spending time with a character over the course of several books is like spending time with a good friend. If I have a tough day, I’ll write again in the evening when my house is calm and quiet, just so that I can hop into Sherry’s world and hand out with her for a while.

Sherry does still surprise me because she grows up a little each book. I get a kick out of the outlandish things she thinks and says. And I absolutely love how little character traits or incidents or friends pop up in one book and then again a couple of books later. For example, in i so don’t do mysteries, Sherry talks about how she and mother never missed watching the Academy Awards together. Well, in i so don’t do famous (the book I’m writing now), that little fact comes into play.

I can’t think of a single thing I don’t like about spending time with a character over several books!

What are your favourite mysteries:
a) written for tweens/teens

the Chloe and Levesque series by Norah McClintock
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
many Sammy Keyes mysteries, but especially Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy by Wendlin Van Draanen
Nancy Drew mysteries, especially The Hidden Staircase

b) written for adults
The Suspect by L.R. Wright
The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side by Agatha Christie
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout
the Perry Mason series by Erle Stnley Gardner
the Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell

In addition to her talent for all things spirit-related, Sherry loves fashion and being social and decorating her room just so. Besides writing mysteries, what else are you passionate about?

At the moment? Veiled chameleons! We have a male and a female. And NINETY THREE eggs in our incubators!

If you had to pick 4 things (ideas / books / objects / topics / people) that have most inspired your writing, what would you choose?

My parents: They instituted this crazy meat-and-potatoes-dessert-book rule where I could only read a dessert book after reading at least one meat-and-potatoes book. It forced me to read books I would’ve ignored and turned me into a super eclectic reader.

My high school English teacher, Mr. Peter Magee: He somehow got me to see that I was creative and really could write.

Nancy Drew mysteries: This is the series that started me thinking, way back when, that I wanted to write.

A fellow student from the University of Toronto (whose name I have long forgotten): We had a long conversation about how the glass is always half full and how you should never ever give up on your dreams. This conversation has stayed with me for years!

So do you believe in ghosts?

My first inclination is to say no. But, I’ve been wrong about so many things in life that I think I should just leave this open.

Give us a hint, what’ll Sherry be getting up to next?

In i so don’t do makeup, (pub date is May 2010) Sherry cracks a case involving makeup sabotage at her local Phoenix mall.

In i so don’t do famous (pub date is May 2011), Sherry busts up a teen burglary ring in Hollywood.

It’s been a treat having you here today Barrie! Thanks so much for visiting and keep writing us Sherry stories!