During a recent interview, writer Melissa Chier asked me some intriguing questions about Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills. They really made me think about my process as a writer, and what’s next for the Skylar Robbins series.
Q: Where did you get the idea for your story?
A: The Skylar Robbins series was initially inspired by an interesting old house. When I was six years old, my parents decided we needed to buy a bigger place. 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?” And the idea for the Skylar Robbins mystery series was born.
Q: Did you have the whole idea for your story before you wrote it, or did you make it up as you went along?
A: 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. But authors should start their novel with the end planned in advance, so we can write toward the climax. So I began with an idea for the plot, but the farther I got into it and the more I came to know my characters, the more it grew and morphed into something else.
Q: How much work did you put into figuring out the personality of your characters?
A: They almost developed themselves as I wrote the first book. During my first draft, Skylar Robbins was much shyer and more vulnerable. Then when I decided to make her thirteen rather than twelve, I rewrote the dialogue a little to make her more mature. As her sleuthing improved she became more intelligent and courageous. By the final draft of The Mystery of Shadow Hills, Skylar was a fun, fearless teen detective.
Q: Do you see yourself in the personality of your characters?
A: Yes, mainly in Skylar. She sets a goal (solving a mystery) and goes for it. I’m a lot like that. Skylar is also a little shy and introspective, and unafraid to befriend the differently-abled kids in school. In the second book she teaches herself and her BFF sign language so they can communicate with the hearing-impaired—and so they can tell secrets in school. My BFF and I did that too.
Q: How much pre-writing did you put into your novel?
A: Not much! I had the idea for a mysterious hidden garden, a smart teen detective stuck at her bullying cousin’s Malibu estate for the summer, and a new summer friend who claimed to be a witch. So I thought, what if that rational teenage sleuth grudgingly agreed to cast spells with an odd classmate in an abandoned garden–and the witchcraft actually started to work? What if their incantations gave the school bully a serious illness? Or enabled them to grow something unbelievable from seeds they found in a dank cave on the beach at midnight? What would that do to a smart 13-year-old who was brought up to believe that there is always a logical explanation for everything? I decided to start fireworks by pairing up this practical sleuth with a feisty teen witch who started to convince her that magic could actually work. And then I let my imagination go crazy.
Q: Did you know the ending of your story before you wrote it or did you surprise yourself?
A: I knew in my heart that I would have Skylar solve the mystery, but I had no idea what the climax would be, or the final outcome. Those grew out of the writing process, using my imagination–and a lot of trial and error.
Q: Where the people who read your story helpful with feedback?
A: Tremendously. My beta readers included family members and other authors who gave me great constructive criticism, and kids in my target age group, who gave me enthusiastic support. Several groups of “tweens” started their own detective agencies after reading The Mystery of Shadow Hills. There’s no better validation than that!
Q: How effective was the feedback? Did you take any of it into consideration when revising your story?
A: Definitely! It’s been a long time since I was in middle school—in fact it was called “Junior High” back then. So my beta readers caught me up on current terms and trends. More importantly, they let me know when Skylar got a little over-confident, and applauded me when the bullies in the story got what was coming to them. All of this feedback was helpful not only in the current book, but I can apply their feedback to the rest of the titles in the series.
Q: Are you currently working on anything as of right now?
A: Right now I’m getting ready to publish Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels (the sequel to The Mystery of Shadow Hills). This book is interactive; Skylar Robbins fans can fill out the Secret Agent Application Form (S.A.A.F.) on her website (www.skylarrobbins.com) and post guesses as to what they think the clues in the story mean. The new book will be available on December 9, 2014, which is Read Tuesday.
Q: Are you planning on writing any more books in the future?
Yes. The Skylar Robbins mysteries are a series. After she solves her second big case, The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels, the Skylar Robbins Detective Agency tackles The Mystery of the Missing Heiress, and I am currently at work on my fourth Skylar Robbins novel, The Curse of Koma Island.
Thanks so much, Melissa, for the interesting interview questions!
~ Carrie Cross
Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills is currently for sale on Amazon.