Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Margi Preus

Margi Preus is a New York Times bestselling author of the Newbery Honor Book, Heart of a Samurai and other novels and picture books for young readers, including the Minnesota Book Award winning West of the Moon, and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award book The Clue in the Trees, part of the Enchantment Lake mystery series.

Preus's new Enchantment Lake mystery is The Silver Box.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title, The Silver Box, was originally the working title of the second book in the series, which was ultimately entitled The Clue in the Trees. (The first in the series is Enchantment Lake). This was until a writer friend of mine read a draft and said she didn’t think it should bear that title unless what was inside the Silver Box was revealed by the end of the story. I realized she was right; my editor also agreed; and so we had to come up with a different title for Book #2. After filling notebooks with failed titles, my editor suggested The Clue in the Trees, which turns out to be so perfect and has so many layers of meaning that you could practically solve the mystery by the title alone. (Dear Readers, do try it!)

So now you’ve learned a lot about the title of a different book! But it turns out that The Silver Box is the best title for Book #3, which really revolves around solving the puzzle of this box, and by doing so, revealing the secrets of Francie’s family. Readers who have read book one and two are familiar with the mysterious box—and the mystery of Francie’s mother—and I hope they are excited to find out what secrets the box hides. Readers who haven’t read the first two books should not be put off! They can start with book three, and I hope the title will entice them to do so.

What's in a name?

My protagonist’s full name is Francesca Frye. But she is known by many nicknames: Francie, Franny, Frenchy, French-Fry. She points out (p. 38) that she is like Pippi Longstocking in part because of their very many names. (Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Dandeliona Peppermint Longstocking.) I didn’t plan on her having so many nicknames, it just happened, and I think it shows the different facets of her character and how she is (like most of us are) a little bit different with different groups of people: our friends, our parents, our teachers.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Hmmm. Not? I was a Nancy Drew fan, and Francie (notice the name similarity? Nancy Drew; Francie Frye—also unplanned) is a kind of Northwoods Nancy Drew. I’m pretty sure I would have been happy to read this series! I would have enjoyed the fact that there is a mystery solved in each book, but there is another overarching mystery that continues throughout the series.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

They are both impossible. But endings are always a little scary because I never know how a story is going to turn out, so that makes it challenging—especially with a mystery. Having said that, I actually did know the ending to The Silver Box. It was the only thing I knew when I started. And when I say I knew the ending, I knew exactly one thing about the ending. I rewrite both beginnings and endings and everything in between over many times.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

That is kind of a funny question, because in this series there are a couple of slightly loony great aunts (sharper than they seem) who were originally modeled on some of my aunts and my mother, but I have recently realized that I, myself, have become one of those dotty old aunts myself.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

The woods and lakes of northern Minnesota. Environmental issues. People and places I know, since I grew up and still have a cabin on a lake not unlike Enchantment Lake.
Visit Margi Preus's website.

The Page 69 Test: Village of Scoundrels.

--Marshal Zeringue