The Children’s Book Review | April 20, 2014
Maureen Grenier is a free-lance writer, editor and researcher, which gives her the time to write mystery stories. She has finished several and finalized three—two mystery books for children, which she also illustrated, and a murder mystery for adults. With plenty more to come from Grenier, we know you’ll enjoy getting to know her in this interview about her “Viking Club Mystery” series.
Bianca Schulze: Your latest book, Someone’s Trapped—a kids’ soccer “whodunit”—is the second book in your Viking Club Mystery series. Can you tell us a little about the series and how you originally came up with the idea for these books? Were you inspired by any of your 3 children’s personal sporting experiences to write sport themed mysteries?
Maureen Grenier: My usual job of writing information articles and editing is fun, but writing fiction is even more fun. I’ve loved mystery stories all my life, and when I started writing a short mystery story for children with a hockey theme, it somehow blossomed into a book. Before it was finished, I decided to write a second mystery featuring the same three characters and a different sport. The third in the series is now underway, and I’m not sure where this will end! My own children certainly inspired the sport themes because it is through them that I learned so much about sports and competition. The difficulties my characters face, however, are not drawn from their experiences but from problems I’ve heard about from many different sources, slanted by my imagination, and with a mystery superimposed over all.
BS: What age range seems to enjoy your Viking Club Mystery series the most?
MG: The book is designed for ages 8 to 12, and I’ve received a lot of nice comments from 9- and 10-year-olds, in particular. Reading ability, of course, can be a factor for children, and their enjoyment of a book sometimes depends on the help of, or encouragement by, a family member or friend.
BS: The first 2 books in the series star 3 characters, Rebecca (13), Chris (12) and Jaylon (10). What does each of these characters bring to the stories in terms of persona and their ability to capture a reader’s attention?
MG: I wanted the characters to be distinct individuals just as my readers will be: Chris has a very logical mind and tries to address all the pro and con arguments on every issue; Rebecca, the oldest, is the most mature and cautious in her decision-making; Jaylon is more of a free spirit, which is also a useful characteristic in problem solving. Their personal problems could crop up in the lives of either boys or girls and, while they all deal with winning, losing, and problem solving differently, they all share a love of sports and ‘detective’ work, and like to laugh and joke with each other.
BS: How many books do you plan to write in the Viking Club Mystery series? And will Rebecca, Chris and Jaylon remain the 3 steadfast characters?
MG: I’ve started a third book, and, yes, it also features the three same characters. I haven’t thought past the book I’m currently writing, which has a basketball setting.
BS: You have also added your own illustrations to the books. How do you create the artwork? And did you always plan to include illustrations in these chapter books?
MG: I loved illustrations in the books I read as a child and so, yes, I always planned to include them. I can use a photo as a guide for body positioning in a sports illustration, but I always need someone—any willing person—to assume all the poses so that I can check and make adjustments to the drawing as necessary. Faces come from my imagination and are the easiest for me. I have to look at most objects—an actual locker, a soccer ball—before I can draw it.
BS: Is it important for readers to start your series from the first book, Something’s Missing—a hockey themed book—or will readers be able to pick up any of the books as a stand-alone read?
MG: The books are all ‘stand alones.’ I loved discovering a new series to follow when I was a child—still do, come to think of it—and I am familiar with how much repeat information is necessary for new readers without boring previous fans to death. (I don’t want to lose any of them!)
BS: Critical thinking and problem solving are naturally encouraged through reading mysteries. Are there any particular studies that you have read that have impacted the way you write mysteries for children?
MG: The most recent encouragement for the promotion of mystery stories for children is from the Yale New Haven Teachers Institute. They include detective fiction in their curriculum content because of studies showing that the same problem-solving strategies used in investigation and crime solving have important life applications. However, I write mysteries for children because my interest is in motivating children to read. I use the structure of a mystery to appeal to a child’s natural interest in solving a puzzle, and provide a setting to which children can relate. Everything else—problem solving skills, factual information, life lessons—is secondary. None of those components are useful and available to the child if he or she isn’t motivated to read the book and motivated to finish it.
BS: Do you have a specific writing formula that you use when creating your mysteries and for how you deliver your clues to readers?
MG: I introduce each child separately in the first three chapters so that the reader will get to know them as individuals before bringing them together. I also make sure all three characters contribute to supplying clues and solving the mystery. In Someone’s Trapped, I also had them help each other find solutions to their personal problems, but that was, and is, secondary to the main focus, which is solving the mystery.
BS: Right from the age of 7 you vowed to write mystery stories because of the impact the Nancy Drew series had on you. What parallels between your own books and the Nancy Drew books do you think could be made?
MG: I think the only parallels are that my books are mystery stories and suitable for children in the same age range. My search for mystery books as a child expanded quickly and I soon found Trixie Belden, Ginny Gordon, The Hardy Boys, and many more. I think there is always room for more mystery stories with different approaches, different settings, and different characters.
BS: What should we expect to see from you next?
MG: I’m trying hard to find time to work on the third book in the Viking Club Mystery series. I have a murder mystery for adults making the rounds of publishers right now, and the outline for another one waiting for me. I’m torn! The only sure thing is that I will always be writing.
The book is illustrated by the author, and can be ordered in paperback or hardcover from Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, FriesenPress, and Chapters, and is available on Kindle. The first book of the series, Something’s Missing, a hockey-themed story, is available at Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, and independent bookstores. For more information about Maureen, visit her website at http:/www.maureengrenier.com/.
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