Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #5: Grab the Reader with Your First Sentence


The most important thing to do when starting a new book is to grab the readers’ attention from sentence #1, so they cannot help but continue to read. Book buyers frequently open the book to the first chapter and read the opening page. If it doesn’t interest them within a few sentences, the book goes right back to the shelf. Can’t you picture your own hand grabbing a novel, reading a few lines, and instantly putting the book back where it came from—because the initial paragraph didn’t grab your attention? You must have an exciting opener.

Writers may ask, “But what about setting? Backstory? Character development?” All of those elements are very important, but your reader won’t read far enough to get to them if your opening lines are weak. How likely would you be to buy a book if the first paragraph you read was nothing more than a description of the weather? It’s amazing how many self-published novels begin in this uninteresting way. Your description of the setting might be creative and well-written. Yes, that thunder and lightning may foreshadow something exciting or dangerous to come, but without introducing your reader to the characters or the plot conflict first, who cares about the weather?

Your main character and the essence of the plot must make their entrances right off the bat. Please take a look at the first paragraph of my second novel, SKYLAR ROBBINS: THE MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS (Teen Mystery Press, November 2014) with these thoughts in mind.

I didn’t know this when I climbed into the backseat of the black Cadillac, but what was about to happen in the next half hour would change my life forever. And I’m not talking about a little change, either. This one was a monster. It wasn’t just that we were moving out of the house I’d lived in since I was born, or that I was finally about to start middle school. Both of those things were huge, but they seemed like tiny details compared to what came next. The mystery I got tangled up in involved the disappearance of a famous heiress, a million dollars’ worth of hidden jewels, and a threatening gang of bikers who were determined to find them before I did.

After reading this paragraph you already know the following facts:

  • The story is written in the first person, and the protagonist is about to start middle school, so she is 12 or 13-years old.
  • She is going to experience a monstrous, life-changing event during this book.
  • It starts in the next half-hour, so you­—the reader—won’t have to wait long for the action to begin.
  • She’s about to get involved in a dangerous mystery involving a missing person, a hidden fortune, and a threatening group of adversaries.

The more conflict and tension you can introduce on the first page, the more likely potential readers will be to buy your book. Save those tasty descriptions of your setting for later. Start your first chapter off with a bang!

If you enjoyed these tips, I’d really appreciate you sharing this post with your friends. Thank you!


Chase Tinker: Magic, Lies, and Secrets!

House of Magic cover
Fans of Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills should also enjoy the wildly creative Chase Tinker series. Malia Ann Haberman may very well be the next J.K. Rowling. Reminiscent of Harry Potter, Chase Tinker and the House of Magic transports the reader into an incredible dreamlike mansion with magic occurring in every one of its ten turrets and 300+ rooms.

Ever wanted to ride on a flying carpet, become invisible, or have the ability to walk through walls or swim through the air? How about travel back in time, read minds, or get rescued by a friendly whale–just as your nasty cousin tries to drown you? It all happens in the first volume of the Chase Tinker series.

In Chase Tinker’s world, magic, lies and secrets can be a lethal combination…

In this fun, thrilling MG/’Tween fantasy, 13-year-old Chase Tinker and his brother Andy find out the truth about their family’s magical heritage from a grandfather they thought to be long dead. He invites them to visit him in his magical house – a house where every room has its own unique super-power. When there, they learn their family’s magic comes from a mysterious “Relic” and that they have a Dark Enemy who will do anything to get their hands on this Relic. Now Chase must discover a way to stop these evil beings, find his missing dad, and unravel even more family secrets, while not letting on that he has his own secret crush on the housekeeper’s daughter.

Praise for Chase Tinker: The House of Magic:
“This is a phenomenal book for middle grade readers, who can very easily project themselves into this adventure. In the grand old tradition of Harry Potter and Star Wars, I hope we hear a lot more about Chase Tinker, as well as the author, in the future.”
Brian Katcher – School Librarian/Author
“I see this as the kind of novel that both boys and girls will embrace, which is rare for children’s literature. It’s well-written, professionally edited, and tightly plotted. I recommend it highly.” Amazon Top Reviewer
There’s plenty of action and mystery, and let’s not forget the magical house that is just built out of plain awesomeness. RallytheReaders

Visit Malia Ann Haberman’s website here.

The Chase Tinker Series is available on Amazon.


Carrie Cross’s Advice to Aspiring Writer’s #4: Plot From the End

Carrie Cross’s Advice to Aspiring Writers #4: Plot From the End

One of the best bits of advice I’ve ever read regarding plotting was from Ayn Rand’s, The Art of Fiction. Her premise suggests that an author must plan the climax in advance, and figure out the end of their story before they ever begin to write.

Some authors like to start with an outline, diagramming their whole book scene-by-scene. This structure doesn’t work for me. I find that it inhibits my creativity if I have to force dialogue, plot twists, and suspense into a prearranged outline. However, I made the mistake of starting my first novel with some juicy, creative ideas, but with no plan for where I was going with them. Why don’t I just let my imagination see where it takes the characters? I thought gleefully, and foolishly. What I ended up with was 400 pages of what I now refer to as “a tangled ball of spaghetti” that took months to unravel. That manuscript never turned into a coherent book.

And that’s because I didn’t know where I was going from the beginning. I started exploring a path without having any idea where it would end. I had the idea for a story, but I didn’t plan the climax, the finale, the de·noue·ment:
1. the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.

Ayn Rand’s advice on plotting was invaluable to me when I wrote my next book, which was the first volume of the Skylar Robbins detective series: The Mystery of Shadow Hills. This time I had the idea for my story, decided how it would end, and planned the climax in advance. And then I wrote toward it.

Every scene, every character, and every bit of dialogue was composed with the end in sight. If you don’t know where the end of the road lies, how can you possibly figure out the path that will lead you to it? As Ayn Rand says in The Art of Fiction, “The only absolute rule is…you must start plotting from the end.”

Skylar Robbins: Excellent children’s fiction, enjoyable by all ages


By T. Ormiston-smithon September 18, 2014

It’s not easy to write well for children, and Ms. Cross has done a superlative job in this entertaining adventure story.

The book starts with a couple of familiar tropes (the creepy old house, the keen boy/girl detective) and in the opening pages I was expecting a standard ‘Nancy Drew’ kind of offering, albeit very well done. But The Mystery of Shadow Hills unfolds layer by surprising layer, revealing with each turn something that takes us completely off guard. Oh, there’s witches. Oh, no wait, the witches are real and dangerous! Oh, but wait….

Skylar is a wonderfully down-to-earth heroine; there are no child prodigies here, no soaring intellects or paranormal abilities. Just an ordinary little girl with a consuming passion and the patience to learn to use her tools. As we follow her through some really hair-raising experiences, we watch her discover the difference between real and false friendship, and after a few false starts, find her way onto a solid path of common sense.

A wonderfully enjoyable read for ages 8 to 13, but able to be enjoyed by all ages.

Award-winning children’s author, Kristen Mott, on Why Children Appreciate Animal Stories

OdieSKOdieBFKristen Mott, award-winning author of Odie the Stray Kitten and Odie’s Best Friend speaks out about Why Children Appreciate Animal Stories:

I am a children’s picture book author and avid animal person. I have recently been thinking about why certain stories stay with us over the course of our lives. I have always liked children’s literature because I believe it is one of the only genres that can be enjoyed for multiple lifetimes. By this I mean that the books we enjoyed as children we remember throughout our own lives and then enjoy those books again with our children. I asked myself a few questions while I was awaiting the arrival of my first child: Why are children drawn to a certain book and request that it be read to them over and over again? Why are animals such a big part of children’s literature? Not only are they a part of the stories, they are often the main focus and are given many human characteristics and qualities.

I have come up with three reasons why I believe children appreciate and relate to animal stories more than most adults.

1. Animals provide some type of connection. Maybe the child has not yet felt connected to a person in their young life (other than Mom and Dad or siblings). Children can recognize the spirit of animals and can perceive an animal’s energy and are able to connect with it more so than with another person. Not only that, but the stories can provide the child with a connection to the real animals of the world as well.

2. Animals are more imaginative. It is easy to think about a child in a story doing chores, going to school, making friends. This is not new or original in a child’s mind. These are things that they themselves do. But when an animal is accomplishing these tasks in a story, it becomes more imaginative and vivid for the child. What child doesn’t want to imagine a raccoon learning to cook or a frog getting married?

3. Animals are magical. And it’s not just those fire-breathing dragons of faraway lands. Children can appreciate animals more so than the average adult. I equate it to the whimsical nature of a child’s perception of Christmas. As we grow older, we lose the magic of the holidays and become overwhelmed with reality. Some of this is by our own doing, allowing the world to beat a sense of monotony into us. Some of it just happens by accident as we grow up and transition into the real world. As adults we have difficulty believing in the human characteristics of animals and therefore we cannot fully believe in the stories the way children can.

There is by no means any scientific evidence behind any of these points. It is simply my musings on why children can appreciate animal stories more so than the average adult. Looking back on my own childhood, I can remember some of the books that I enjoyed and have now read to my own child. And most of them happened to be about animals:

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff (1985)
Clifford the Big Red Dog (Series) by Norman Bridwell (1963)
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister (1992)
Corduroy by Don Freeman (1968)

Animal stories also have staying power. All four of the books I listed above are on the shelf in my child’s room, currently in the rotation to be read to the next generation and hopefully instilling an even deeper connection to the real animals of the world. And I want to use this very important connection to the animals in the stories and books that I create for children.

Kristen Mott is the award-winning author of the Odie the Stray Kitten Series. She strives for her writing to encourage children to read, write, and have compassion for animals. She lives on a small farm in Indiana with her family, horses and cats.

Odie the Stray Kitten and Odie’s Best Friend are available at Amazon and other online retailers and in all ebook formats. The third book in the series will be available in 2015.



Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #3

feather_quillIn a recent interview, I was asked what I use for inspiration when I wrote Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels (Teen Mystery Press, November 2014).

My answer was this: I use a game I call, “What if?”. What if my main character, Skylar Robbins, explored a creepy old house and found it had a hidden floor? What would she find when she got there? What if she used an ultraviolet light in the attic and found a secret message written on the wall in invisible ink? What would it say? I like to put my hero in that type of situation and let my imagination go wild.

So my advice to aspiring writers is to interview your protagonist in your mind. Throw him or her into a sticky situation and ask how they would react. What if your main character discovered a tunnel hiding under some leaves in his backyard? Where would it lead? What if someone scary was hiding at the other end of the tunnel? How would he react? What if an unusual classmate begged your hero for a huge favor that was impossible to deny? How would she reply?

Put your characters into a challenging scenario and watch the scene unfold. The outcome may surprise you.

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills Chapter 1

Win your free copy!

Win your free copy!

CHAPTER 1: My Detective Kit

Heading for Malibu on a sunny Saturday in June would normally have been a good thing. I could have spent the day bodysurfing with my BFF, Alexa, and playing games in the arcade on the Santa Monica pier. If I was totally lucky I might have shared a bumper car with Dustin Coles, the cutest boy going into Pacific Middle School. Alexa and I liked to lie in the sun and watch surfers ride the waves on Zuma beach. If there were pinball and corndogs ahead of me instead of what I was in for, I would have begged my dad for a ride down the coast. But today? Not so much.

If I’d gotten out of the car right then and spread out my beach towel, everything might have turned out fine. But my dad kept right on driving.

We stopped at a red light before heading down the incline to Pacific Coast Highway. Comforted a little by the weight pressing against my leg, I stared out the window and watched the ocean. The faraway water was navy blue where it met the sky. A frosting of whitecaps drifted sideways, winked, and disappeared. The sea was teal-blue in the middle, and the shallow water glowed bright green as if it were lit from below. Small waves welled up, and then the whitewater bubbled forward and sizzled flat on the sand.

Thin sunlight shimmered on the ocean while I tapped my fingers on the detective kit leaning against my leg. I’d always wanted to become a private detective like my grandfather, and used his old leather briefcase to hold my tools. Back when he was a policeman, Grandpa’s case used to be a rich tan color. But after decades of visiting crime scenes, sitting outside in the sun, and baking in a hot cop car, it had faded to grayish beige. There was a burn mark on the bottom from when he’d policed an arson scene. The handle was stained with dark smudges from dusting robbery sites with fingerprinting powder. After he went undercover, the corners got battered from years of being tossed into the trunk of his unmarked car.

I had been adding to my detective kit slowly over the last two years by using my allowance and asking for pieces of equipment for my birthday. The first pocket hid a thin penlight that I used for searching through boxes, suitcases, or suspicious people’s belongings in the dark. Another one held a laser pointer that shot a red beam of light up to a hundred yards. My mom always worried that I would blind myself or someone else with it, but I kept it in case I was ever chased by robbers or someone I needed to blind to save my life. My pink Super-Zoom binoculars, perfect for long-distance spying, rested inside the biggest pocket. A heavy-duty flashlight for nighttime investigations was snug under a strap.

Zipped inside another compartment there was a measuring tape, wax for taking impressions, and a box of chalk in case I had to outline a dead body. I had a pen and sketchpad for describing crime scenes, a magnifying glass, and tweezers and evidence envelopes for picking up and storing clues. There were latex gloves like doctors use, and safety goggles. Pepper spray for self-defense. Best of all was my fingerprinting kit and Case Solution cards for mounting the prints.

I loved my detective kit and everything it stood for. Where I was headed, there was no way I was leaving it behind. Uh-uh. Not today.

The light changed, and we turned onto Pacific Coast Highway and passed the Santa Monica pier. The Ferris wheel spun lazily around, carrying happy people toward the sky. The pink chair at the top of the wheel swung back and forth, empty. I always felt lucky when it was my turn to get on the ride and a pink car stopped in front of me. I didn’t feel lucky today. Wishing I were waiting in line for that ride right now, I looked out the back window and watched the Ferris wheel turn until I couldn’t see it any longer.

A few miles farther up the coast, my mom pointed at a mansion built high up on a cliff. “Look, Honey,” she said to me. The huge house had a wall of windows that faced the ocean. A black Ferrari was parked in the driveway, and a modern metal sculpture dominated the yard. “I bet a movie star lives there. Or a rock star.” She smiled at me over her shoulder. “Maybe that’s Justin Bieber’s house.”

My mom didn’t watch Extra, read People magazine, or download music from iTunes. If it wasn’t in a textbook, she usually didn’t have a clue. “He’s gross, Mom.” My detective kit tipped over when we stopped for a light and I bent sideways to grab the handle and straighten it back up.

“Just because someone can afford a house like that doesn’t mean he’s famous,” my dad said. “Maybe a chemist owns it, for example.” He winked at me in the rear-view mirror and his blue eyes crinkled behind his glasses. Ha ha. My dad’s a chemist. As if we could ever afford a huge beach house. “What do you think, Skylar? Who lives there?” he asked, trying to start one of our old car games like I was a fussy six-year-old.

“Mickey and his roommate Donald?” I stared out the window at the roiling ocean. “I still can’t believe I have to spend the whole summer with Gwendolyn. You know how she is,” I complained, picking at a thread on the seat belt. My cousin and I did not get along. And that was the understatement of the century.

“Gwendolyn acts out because she has low self-esteem,” my mom told me for the millionth time. Like that made it OK.

My dad sped up when we hit a straight part of the coastline. “Just ignore her. If she doesn’t get a reaction she’ll get bored and leave you alone.” His shoulders bunched up and he tapped his fingers quickly against the steering wheel.

“I try to ignore her. It doesn’t do any good. She just gets in my face and asks me if I went deaf.” I flicked the seat belt buckle as we passed a long row of unevenly spaced palm trees.

“Gwendolyn got suspended for a week last semester for bullying that boy in her class, remember?” my dad asked. “I’m sure she’ll be on her best behavior.”

Gwendolyn doesn’t have any best behavior, I thought.

My cousin had picked on me since we were kids. She made fun of me because I was skinny and got good grades. My mom said it just showed that my cousin wished she were thinner and did better in school. But that didn’t make it feel any better when I was at the end of her pointing finger. I remembered what happened two weeks ago on report card day. I got mostly A’s and Gwendolyn barely made C’s. “Gee Skylar, no wonder you don’t have a boyfriend with your nose always stuck in those big, boring books,” Gwendolyn said. “I don’t know how you can stand to be so bo-oh-oh-ring.”

After she’d said that I pulled out a small notepad that I always carry with me. I jotted a note to myself while staring at Gwendolyn with a little smile on my face: I’m not as boring as you think.

So then Gwendolyn whined, “What are you writing?”

I’d won that time. But she got me back after dinner.

“Hey Skylar, are you sure you’re a girl?” Gwendolyn asked, bending over to stare at my flat chest. “You look like a scarecrow.” She walked away, laughing and stuffing cookies into her face.

It seemed like my cousin only smiled when she was laughing at someone else. She had short, frizzy hair and a round face, and she didn’t shower very often. Sometimes she would stand right next to where I was sitting and fart on purpose. Then she’d hold her nose and look at me like I did it.

“It’s not all about Gwendolyn,” I said. “Staying at her house also means I can’t hang out with Alexa for like, forever.” I couldn’t spend the whole summer without my BFF. No way. And it would be impossible for her, too. Especially if she had to go to summer school and I wasn’t there to help her.

“Maybe one Saturday Caroline can give you a ride and you can meet Alexa and her mom halfway. For lunch.” My mom ran a hand through her hair, which was dark brown like mine, except hers was short and wavy while mine was long and straight.

“I don’t want to ‘do lunch’ with Alexa, Mom. I want to be able to ride my bike over to her house and be there in five minutes. Or go swimming, or go to the mall.” Or what if we just want to hang out and spy on boys? I thought, but didn’t say. Wouldn’t have helped my case.

“You’ll meet all sorts of new friends at Malibu Middle School this summer,” my dad said helpfully. He was trying to make me feel better, but the thought of starting a new school just made me nervous. My situation was like the next wave. It was coming whether I liked it or not, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

My mom craned her neck around and looked at me sympathetically. “I’m sorry we couldn’t take you with us, Honey, but the trip is for the professors and their spouses only. No children are coming. Plus you’d be bored silly. We’re going to visit all the historical monuments I teach about in class. The Berlin Wall—” she laughed, shaking the hair away from her heart-shaped face. “Well actually where the Berlin Wall was….”

“It’s OK, Mom,” I said. Visiting the remains of the Berlin Wall sounded as exciting as a triple helping of detention. But it was still so not OK. “I just don’t see why I couldn’t have stayed at our house.”

“We can’t let you stay home alone for eight weeks, Kiddo,” my dad said, scratching his head through his thin light brown hair. “You’re too young.”

“I’m thirteen, Dad.” I fingered one of the locks on my detective kit, spinning the digits around.

“Exactly.” He put his hand firmly back on the wheel. “Case closed.”

I stared out the window to my right. The rocky hillside was covered with dry tumbleweeds and dead bushes, some still black from last year’s fires. It happened every year when everything was all dried out and the Santa Ana winds blew hot air through the hills. Sometimes a homeless person cooking outside would start a fire by accident, or some crazy person would start one on purpose.

Other times the hillside seemed to burst into flames all by itself. Whenever it got windy and we were at my cousin’s house, Aunt Caroline’s eyes would pinch up at the corners as she squinted out the back window. She’d twist her fingers around as she listened for fire engine sirens, sniffing the air every five seconds to see if she smelled smoke.

The mountain looped and snaked with the coastline, and now there were no plants or trees on the hillside. It was just a wall of striped rock that looked impossible to climb. My parents kept trying to convince me how great my summer would be as we got closer to Gwendolyn’s, which was up in the Malibu hills past Point Dume. Behind her house, a rocky mountain range stretched toward the sky. The face was covered with low bushes and big rocks, creating pockets of light and dark. Each time you looked up at the hillside it looked different. The shadows seemed to move and dance, darting and disappearing with the setting sun. They looked like caves where people or animals could hide.

The locals had nicknamed those mountains, “Shadow Hills.”

Excerpt From: Carrie Cross. “Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills.” iBooks.

Available on Amazon

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Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #2


I found these quotes to be very inspiring. While they were probably not written in regards to creative writing and the process of getting published, they certainly apply. The first one was my mom’s credo. It’s my favorite, and words I live by. I hope these words inspire you as well.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
― Calvin Coolidge

“If you try anything, if you try to lose weight, or to improve yourself, or to love, or to make the world a better place, you have already achieved something wonderful, before you even begin. Forget failure. If things don’t work out the way you want, hold your head up high and be proud. And try again. And again. And again!”
Sarah Dessen, Keeping the Moon

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Winston Churchill, Never Give In!: The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches

 “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.”
Vince Lombardi

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.”
Karen Lamb

Interview with Indie House Books

AuthorProfileGive us the first five facts (about you) you think of:

1. I’m tall and I have long hair. (OK, that’s two, but who’s counting?)

2. I love to cook, barbeque, and eat sushi.

3. My dream house would have an ocean view.

4. Blue Jays and squirrels eat peanuts out of my hand in our backyard.

5. I’m obsessed with words. Not just forming them into sentences that turn into paragraphs that end up as chapters and wind up as books. Puns, riddles, making up silly names for things, playing Words With Friends, reading…I just love words.

Your latest book is part of your Skylar Robbins series. Tell us about the series.

Skylar Robbins is a smart, thirteen-year-old sleuth who plans to become a private detective like her grandfather. In The Mystery of Shadow Hills, Skylar is forced to stay at her bullying cousin Gwendolyn’s Malibu estate for the summer. She brings her detective kit, portable spy tools, and her journal for taking notes in secret code. On the first day of summer school an odd classmate passes a note in backward writing, introducing Skylar to the secret world of witchcraft. Practical Skylar didn’t believe in magic—until the spells they perform in an abandoned garden actually begin to work.

One reviewer likened this book to, “Nancy Drew meets Harry Potter,” but the series itself is not about magic. It’s about a spunky teen detective who is a compassionate friend with a penchant for finding and solving mysteries. Skylar shows readers creative ways to stand up to bullies, and has inspired more than one group of girls—and boys—to start their own detective agencies. Their pictures can be seen on my website:

Teen Mystery Press will publish the second book, Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels, in November. The Mystery of the Missing Heiress and The Curse of Koma Island will follow.

What was your inspiration for the series?

When I was six years old, my parents decided we needed to buy a bigger house. We looked at a creepy two-story in Santa Monica Canyon, and I played hide-and-seek with the little girl who lived there. There were closets and secret hiding places with doors that opened into other rooms. Later I wondered, “What if there was a clue hidden in one of those closets?” I never forgot that house, and it inspired me to write a mystery series featuring a quirky teen detective. That sleuth is Skylar Robbins.

When I write, I use a game I call, “What if?” for inspiration. What if I explored that creepy old house and found it had a hidden floor? What would I find when I got there? What if I used an ultraviolet light in the attic and found a secret message written on the wall in invisible ink? What would it say? What if I discovered a tunnel hiding under some leaves in my backyard? Where would it lead? What if someone scary was hiding at the other end of the tunnel? I put my main character in that type of situation and let my imagination go wild.

What is it about Skylar that makes her a great character for young readers?

Skylar is a rational girl who demonstrates deductive reasoning skills while she deciphers clues during each exciting mystery. She has strength of character and is tenacious, self-reliant, and courageous. In addition, she has a big heart. She’s not afraid to befriend the unpopular kids at school, and learns sign language so she can communicate with a hearing-impaired boy in her summer school class. In The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels, she helps her dyslexic BFF deal with her learning disability.

I asked my beta readers for feedback after reading The Mystery of Shadow Hills, and they all seemed to love Skylar’s character. Some of their quotes are printed on the back cover of the second Skylar Robbins mystery:

“I love Skylar because she is really brave and does not give up.” ~ Miriam W., age 12

“Skylar taught me to choose friends wisely, and don’t believe everything anyone tells you.” ~ Jared W., age 10

“Skylar shows readers like me that anyone can uncover amazing secrets!” ~ Ella M., age 11

“I learned from Skylar to be fearless. You can do anything if you just try. And trust no one while solving a case, even if you think they are telling the truth.” ~ Kalyn M., age 11

What are some of the themes and story elements you touch on in the series?

The kids’ quotes in the previous question touch on some of my themes. Skylar is courageous and self-confident, and shows readers the importance of using your brain to determine the difference between reality and fantasy, and between real friends and phony ones. Shadow Hills has the element of witchcraft and magic woven through the story. In Hidden Jewels, Skylar races against a threatening gang of bikers to decipher a string of clues leading to a hidden fortune in jewels. Skylar teams up with the cutest boy in school to solve The Mystery of the Missing Heiress in the third book, and then they travel to a remote location with an unusual group of gifted classmates to investigate The Curse of Koma Island in book 4.

What do you wish more juvenile novels had? Do you try to include those in your books?

I wish more juvenile novels had strong, fearless female protagonists, and I created one in Skylar Robbins. There are some exceptions, like Gilda Joyce, the Gallagher Girls, and Amanda from The Amanda Project series. But unfortunately so many of the ‘tween and teen books today have female protagonists that are silly, weak, or suffering from bad parenting. I wanted to create a gutsy hero that readers would cheer for and want to emulate. One who could survive against seemingly impossible odds, and defeat bigger, stronger, more threatening opponents. So far, Skylar Robbins has done just that. And in each mystery, her foes and challenges become more difficult to overcome.

What was your favorite book as a child? Do you think it had an effect on the type of books you write now?

My favorite book as a child was Judy Blume’s, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Not because of Margaret’s religious dilemma, but because of its coming-of-age theme. I read that book over and over as a kid who was dying to get her first bra, and who, like Margaret, didn’t fill it very well once I had one. Waiting for and wondering when we would get our periods was an exciting time for my preteen friends and me, and as in Margaret’s life, “getting it” was a badge of honor when it finally arrived. Margaret got to play “Two Minutes in the Closet” with the cutest boy in school. What a thrill that would have been! All of Judy Blume’s books are excellent, but that one is an absolute classic, and it did have an effect on my Skylar Robbins series. During each mystery, Skylar deals with some of the same issues Margaret faced as a girl just entering puberty: fitting in at a new school, feeling left out when she’s the last girl to get her period, and crushing on a cute boy.

Describe your perfect writing space.

I enjoy writing anywhere that has a beautiful view. When I write at my dining room table and look up from my computer I can see through trees, across a mountainside, and over a canyon. At night I can see distant neighbors’ nights twinkling against the hills. I love to write in bed when it’s raining—the harder the better! Throw in some loud thunder and crashing lightning and I’m ecstatic.

My favorite place to write is at the beach in a lawn chair with a pad and pen, or on the patio of a tiny condo we have in San Jose Del Cabo. Looking at and listening to the ocean is so inspirational to me.

I was listening to waves crash when I wrote the following scene from The Mystery of Shadow Hills. Skylar’s friend Kat challenges her to search three caves at midnight for magic seeds she promises will grow into gems.

“Sky,” Kat cried suddenly, pointing across the black sand. “Look. There they are.” I was more concerned about the rising tide, and looked out over the dark rumbling ocean. White spray flew up in the air as another huge wave crashed nearby. So loud it sounded like a refriger­ator fell off a tall building and landed right next to us. I hurried after Kat as the water rushed forward. “This is it. Three caves.” Moonlight cast shadows behind the boul­ders that guarded the entrance. We darted around them and climbed under the rock arch.

The dark cave stunk of washed-up kelp, dank and rot­ten. I shuffled forward on the damp sand with my hands out in front of me like a sleepwalker, hoping I wouldn’t stumble over a rock or bash into a wall. I pulled out my flashlight and turned it on. As soon as its beam lit up the cave, heavy flies woke up, buzzing around the seaweed and bonking into my face. I ducked, swatting them away. Kat hurried past me and rushed toward the back of the cave, peering at the ground. Suddenly she cried, “Sky—here they are. I found the gem seeds!” Hidden between the boulders, disguised as wet pebbles, shining gem seeds winked up at us.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently in the final editing phase of Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels, which Teen Mystery Press will publish in November. I have a rough draft of a third book, The Mystery of the Missing Heiress, and an outline of a fourth, The Curse of Koma Island.

Finally, what advice would you give to your young readers and writers?

Enjoy the writing process and revise, revise, revise. Get as many people as possible to read your manuscript and give you constructive criticism. Don’t just rely on family and friends for feedback. They love you and will tell you your book is great, even if it isn’t. Find beta readers in your target age group who you don’t know personally. For instance, I asked my account base at work if they had children who would be willing to read my book before publication, and emailed the manuscript to those kids. Finally, don’t let rejections from agents deter you from getting published. Self-publish if you don’t get a contract; you’re going to do most of your own marketing anyway. Calvin Coolidge said it best: Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent!

Thank you, Indie House Books for the nice interview.