Lea Wait here, with the tale of a tale.
It started when an agent suggested I write a contemporary mystery for children. My previous books for ages 8-12 were historical novels, not mysteries, (although many of my characters had secrets …) so writing a different sort of book was a challenge.
I ended up with Pizza To Die For. It’s set in New Jersey (a state I lived in for many years while dreaming of being in Maine,) and, yes, it includes a murder. And, taking a page from cozy mysteries, it also includes recipes.
My protagonist, Mikki Norden, wants to be a chef. She does all the cooking for her family and studies cookbooks. Her mother is an unpublished (so far) mystery writer, who studies books on poisons and plots.
Mikki’s parents have just separated, and she and her mom have moved from Seattle, Washington, to New Jersey, to live with a grandmother she has never met and (yuck) attend the same high school her mother graduated from. Mikki learns she’s half Italian, and finds a mentor in Anthony Baldacci (she calls him Mr. B) who owns a local Italian restaurant. And then, one morning, she and a new friend visit Mr. B … and find his body. And he smells of almonds.
As Mikki would tell you, having talked mysteries with her mother for years, the smell of almonds (without almonds in the vicinity) is a sure sign of arsenic poisoning. But the local police assume Mr. B died of a heart attack. What’s a girl to do when no one will listen to her? She’ll solve the crime herself — with the help of a couple of bumbling has-been hit men who, it turns out, used to work for her grandfather.
I had a lot of fun writing Pizza To Die For. It’s very different from any of my other books, for adults or children, because it’s funny, and populated by a lot of quirky characters. I even included some of Mikki’s recipes … grandchild tested.
But — here’s the writers’ dilemma — no publisher wanted it. Editors liked it, but said they were confused. They felt Mikki was too mature to classify Pizza To Die For as a book for 8-12 year olds. On the other hand, she was too young to fit into the Young Adult category. (Mikki changed ages several times in the writing, but ended up at fourteen, a freshman in high school.)
And, yes, she’s a mature — but sometimes naïve — fourteen. But I liked her, and thought my readers — both young and old — would like her, too.
So, for the first time, I decided to self-publish a mystery.
It’s shorter than my adult mysteries (200 instead of 300 pages.) It’s humorous. The characters, of course, all have secrets. The New Jersey suburbs are far from the coast of Maine, where many of my books are set, but my friends who live in NJ will recognize bits and pieces of real towns.
I’ve been pleased by early responses to Pizza To Die For, from both young and old(er) readers. Who doesn’t enjoy a light mystery sometimes?
As Mikki said, when she was in a quandary, “Maybe there was hope. In the meantime, there were desserts.”
And who doesn’t like desserts?