ENTER TO WIN!

MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS FRONT COVER

Goodreads Book Giveaway:

Enter here to win a FREE copy of book 2 in the Skylar Robbins mystery series: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels! Contest ends March 6, 2015.

Here’s what one reader had to say about this book:

5.0 out of 5 stars
I LOVE Skylar Robbins!!! February 26, 2015
By Grace (Mequon, WI United States)
This review is from: Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels (Paperback)
I am 10 years old and I just finished reading both books. I am now
interested in sign language and mysteries. I am trying to study sign
language and get better at it. I REALLY want to read the next book. When
will it be done? My Grandma and Grandpa gave me your AWESOME books.

 

ENTER TO WIN! Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels (Book 2)

Book Giveaway for Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels (Book 2 in the Skylar Robbins mystery series)

MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS FRONT COVER

  • Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels (Book 2)
    by Carrie Cross (Goodreads Author)

          A deserted mansion perches on a steep hillside, overlooking a rocky canyon. Tattered curtains hang behind broken windows, and a turret stretches toward the sky. Three years ago the wealthy owner disappeared suddenly, leaving behind a house full of secrets: A mysterious note, tantalizing clues, a hidden floor, one piece of a treasure map, and a missing fortune in diamonds.
         Thirteen-year-old sleuth Skylar Robbins moves into the mansion with her parents and embarks on a new and dangerous mission. Armed with her detective kit, and with the support of her BFF Alexa and a team of secret agents, Skylar sets out to decipher the clues and find the diamonds. Can she outwit a gang of aggressive bikers and find the hidden jewels before they do? Or will the perils of middle school–like battling ruthless bully Emelyn Peters for the attention of class hottie Dustin Coles–get in her way?

    Giveaway dates: Feb 21 – Mar 06, 2015
    Countries available: US

 

Girls looking for clean mysteries with a modern twist, here’s your series!

MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS FRONT COVER
4 stars!

By S. J. Henderson on February 2, 2015

     Although I’m not in the target audience for the Skylar Robbins series, I’m definitely still a kid at heart. Pretty sure that still counts. Anyway… the book.What a great story! I’ve always been a fan of mysteries, and read quite a few of my mom’s Nancy Drew books growing up. Spooky settings like Xandra’s mansion always draw me in, too, so Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels drew me in almost immediately even though I started behind the game by not having read book 1.
     Loved the dumbwaiter idea, a childhood dream of mine since the TV series “Webster.” And the turret and gazebo and… yes. The setting was great.Because I missed that first part of the series, I assumed I’d know more about the Secret Agents. I also assume there’s an online community somewhere where readers have the opportunity to win mentions in these books. That’s a fun idea, and I know younger readers would enjoy seeing their screen names in print. This bit of missing info/back story didn’t ruin the reading experience for me. The author did a decent job making sure new readers could pick up this book with a minimum of confusion.
     As an adult, I wanted to shake Skylar more than a few times for not alerting her parents to the Crew Gang’s menacing behavior. It made for a tense story, but I don’t think it’s a great idea for kids to imitate that in real life. If someone is threatening you or your family for any reason, seek help. Jewels or boys or whatever aren’t a good enough reason to let sociopaths persist. That aside…I’d definitely read another Skylar Robbins book, and I’m happy to recommend them to girls looking for clean mysteries with a modern twist.
     Read more reviews of SKYLAR ROBBINS: THE MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS here. The Skylar Robbins series is available on Amazon.

Chapter 1 Free! Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels

MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS FRONT COVERdownload

Thank you to all of you who voted Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels as Readers’ Choice for Book-of-the-Month. Here is Chapter one free as a thank you.

1: Xandra Collins Mysteriously Disappeared

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.

Could a skinny thirteen-year-old detective beat them to it?

You bet I could.

Well, I really hoped I could. I was so glad my BFF Alexa had my back, because I was in much more danger than I realized. Going to a new school turned out to be almost as perilous as hunting for the hidden jewels. By the time this case was solved, I’d challenged the biggest bully in the entire seventh grade, kissed my first boy, and news of my detective agency had gone viral. Not to mention I risked my life to solve a mystery.

Again.

It all started when my parents decided they wanted to buy a bigger house. They were standing in the driveway of a home we’d just looked at, talking with a woman named Victoria Knight while I sat in the car. My dad’s over six feet tall, but in her high heels Ms. Knight stood eye-to-eye with him, looking like a fashion model. Her jet-black hair was pinned up in a shiny twist, and her pointy hipbones poked forward from under her slinky skirt. I pretended to read something on my iPad while I leaned toward the open window and eavesdropped.

“This next house is a classic. It was built in 1908.” Ms. Knight was a realtor trying hard to sell us a house, and my parents thought that the one she just showed us had stunk.

My mom made a note on her clipboard and shook wavy brown hair away from her pretty face. She has a “widow’s peak,” which I think is a pretty gross name for that little point her hairline comes to in the middle of her forehead. My mom has high cheekbones and a narrow chin, so her face reminds me of a heart. Right now that heart was frowning. “That’s really old,” she commented.

“That just makes it better,” my dad said. He loves old. “A fixer-upper is fine with me. We’ll remodel,” he suggested, looking at my mom with his hands spread wide.

“It’s got six bedrooms, five baths, a ballroom, a library, and more!” Ms. Knight exclaimed.

My mom’s forehead continued to wrinkle. “Six bedrooms when there’s only Skylar and us? Isn’t that overkill?” she asked, glancing at the realtor.

My dad pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and considered this. “So, it’s big. I like big. And it’s in the same school district as our current house, so Skylar can still go to Pacific Middle School with her friends.”

Yes! I thought, squeezing my iPad while I waited for my mom’s reply. It was as if my dad had read my mind: like he knew I couldn’t wait to get to Pacific to see all my friends again, and Dustin Coles: the smartest, cutest, most popular boy going into seventh grade.

“That’s very important to girls her age,” the realtor said.

It sure is. Score one for you, Ms. Knight. I peeked out the window and noticed she had a weird look on her face. Like she wasn’t telling us everything. After the dangerous summer I’d just spent in Shadow Hills, my radar was on high alert for liars.

My mom frowned. “But the place is so old it must be falling apart.”

“It’s not—falling apart,” Ms. Knight said.

“Samantha. 1908.” My dad rolled the date off his tongue as if it tasted good. “Let’s give it a shot, Honey. I’ll bet it has a heck of a history.”

Ms. Knight’s cheeks turned pink. She made her shiny maroon lips into a circle and blew out a slow breath. Then she scratched at a spot on the pavement with the toe of her high-heeled shoe. “Oh, the house has a history, that’s for sure.”

I’ll bet it does, I thought, opening the note-taking app and jotting down some ideas on my iPad:

Ms. K is worried abt nxt house. Posing. Won’t look m & d in the eye.

I watched her for a minute and added another note:

? wrong w/ nxt house?

My mom obviously hadn’t noticed Ms. Knight’s strange reaction, because when she looked at my dad, she smiled. She was an American history professor at UCLA and loved anything “with a history”. My dad loved anything classic, antique, or just plain old. He’s a chemist and an inventor, but with his short, light brown hair and his wire-rimmed glasses my dad looked like he could be a college professor himself.

No one would suspect the laboratory he worked in looked like a mad scientist’s and that he’d almost blown off his eyebrows when I was in first grade. Faint pink scars still speckle his forehead from when one of his concoctions exploded. If he hadn’t been wearing his goggles he could have ended up blind. Whenever I want permission to do something my mom thinks is dangerous she brings up my dad’s accident and asks me if I want to “follow in the risk-taker’s footsteps,” or “think it through more carefully first,” like she would.

I usually end up taking the risks.

After finishing my detective notes I looked out the window trying to catch my mom’s eye, hoping they’d hurry up and get in the car so we could get this over with. I didn’t want to move in the first place.

The house I grew up in is in Santa Monica, real close to the beach. I’ve investigated every square inch of our neighborhood, and I know its woodsy streets by heart. My best friend Alexa O’Reilly lives right around the corner. We’ve been BFFs since second grade when she moved here from Texas. She still has a tiny bit of a Southern accent. Like she calls cement, “SEA-ment.” Then I’ll say, “Sea-ment?” and Alexa’s green eyes look surprised. Then her freckled cheeks will bunch up and she’ll laugh at herself.

I’ve never had a friend as good as Alexa. Her excitement always makes everything fun and she cracks me up. This summer I got stuck at my cousin Gwendolyn’s house in Malibu for eight weeks while my parents toured Europe. That’s when I realized the meaning of true friendship. I went to summer school in Shadow Hills, and met a girl in art class named Kat who claimed to be a witch. She passed me notes in backward writing and thought up all these cool art projects we could do together. After casting dangerous spells with Kat in an abandoned garden and getting to know her better, I wondered if she just liked to trick everyone for her own benefit. Hanging out with Kat made me realize what a good friend Alexa really was. What real friends would do for each other, and wouldn’t do to each other.

When my parents got back from Europe they had huge news. My dad finally sold the formula for a non-alcoholic cough syrup he’d invented, and while they were in Paris a major drug company paid him a huge fee. Suddenly we were in the market for a much bigger house, and my mom couldn’t wait to move out of our small one. I didn’t care that we suddenly had more money than we used to have. The only thing that mattered to me was that my family was about to move. If my parents buy a home very far away, Alexa and I won’t be able to go to the same middle school, and we’ve been looking forward to going to Pacific together forever.

My mom climbed into the backseat beside me and I quietly closed the cover on my iPad. Ms. Knight turned around and gave us a big smile. “I’m excited about the next house.” She sounded like she was acting. “I can’t wait to see how you like it,” she told my dad. He was sitting next to her in front because he was too tall for the back seat. We drove for a couple of blocks and I watched the ocean while we waited for the light to turn green so we could turn onto Pacific Coast Highway.

The white water rushing toward the sand churned messily, like each swirling bit couldn’t decide in which direction to go. The dark blue water near the horizon looked calm, but between the deep water and the shore there was a threatening, shifting movement. It made me nervous. Like something was welling up and heading toward us. Something dangerous that couldn’t be stopped. One wave after another loomed slowly in the distance, rising higher and building power before rolling steadily forward. Then each one crashed down onto the sand, exploding into bubbly white froth.

We’d lived a few minutes away from the Santa Monica pier since I was born, so I know its roller coaster and game booths like I know my backyard. Looking out the window, I imagined the smell of buttered popcorn and corndogs as we drove up the coast with the windows rolled up. I remembered how good it felt to ride the Ferris wheel, like I was soaring over the sea. My favorite car was the pink one. I didn’t mind its rusty sides or the cracked leather seat. When you rode that Ferris wheel up into the sky and looked out over the sparkling ocean it felt like you were on top of the world.

“We’re not going to move far from here, are we?” I asked my mom for the tenth time. “I’ll die if I can’t go to Pacific with Alexa.” Not to mention Dustin, I thought, but didn’t say. Dustin Coles was president of student council, got almost straight A’s, and his huge hazel eyes and dimples were off the charts. I’d only admitted this to Alexa and to my own diary, but I’d been crushing on him for two years. And over the summer something amazing happened: Alexa told me that while I was away she saw Dustin at a party I’d missed. She said it like she was about to spill a delicious secret.

And then she did.

“He asked where you were.”

“He did? No way.” I snuggled into the cushion, eager to hear more.

“Swear. I told him you went to summer school in Malibu and he thought that was really cool.”

“He really said that? Did he say, ‘that’s cool,’ or, ‘that’s really cool’?”

Alexa laughed. “I’m pretty sure he said, ‘Malibu? Wow. That’s cool.’”

“Awesome,” I said, hugging my pillow and smiling.

Why had Dustin asked where I was? Was he just curious why I wasn’t with Alexa as usual? Or maybe he was worried that I was off having fun with some other guy. Wondering if I’d met a cute surfer in Malibu and had forgotten all about him. I wished he was worrying about me. Then I came to my senses. As if Dustin Coles would actually get jealous thinking about me, right? But he did ask about me. That had to mean something.

If I couldn’t go to Pacific Middle School with Dustin, Alexa, and all of my other friends, it would absolutely destroy me. Not to mention what it would do to my BFF. She’s carrying around a big, embarrassing secret. And I’m trying to help her keep it.

My mom grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “We’ll have to see which house is the best fit for us, Sweetheart. It may be in a different neighborhood. If it is, you’ll adapt, and we’ll come back and visit the pier.” This made my stomach knot up.

A few black-bellied clouds edged across the mountains toward us. Their reflections were the color of pencil lead on the green-blue part of the water. Then the wind kicked up, and the treetops on the hillside started to dance. “Rain’s coming,” my dad said, squinting up at the sky.

“There’s supposed to be an unusually strong summer storm on its way,” Ms. Knight agreed, her dark eyes catching mine in the rearview mirror. “Hopefully we’ll make it to the top of the hill before it hits.” She glanced at my dad. “This house is the last one in the area that is in your price range, and it’s quite a bargain, considering the breathtaking views and its size.

I didn’t care how big our next house was, I just didn’t want to move far away from Alexa. Our house had already sold, so we needed to find a new one to move into very soon. We had looked at homes all day last Saturday and Sunday and I was sick of it.

“So what else can you tell us about the house?” my mom asked.

“Well, the woman who owned it was Xandra Collins.” Victoria Knight said the name like she was letting us in on a juicy secret. She pronounced it Zandra, not EX-andra.

“Why does her name sound familiar? Did I read about her somewhere?” my dad asked.

“I’m sure you saw stories about her in the tabloids.”

My mom let out a little snort and smiled. “We don’t read gossip magazines.”

Victoria Knight raised one eyebrow. “Well she was all over the regular news too. The Collins family was rich. Really rich. When her parents died, Xandra Collins inherited millions. Many millions. She gave tons of money to various charities. That’s one of the reasons she kept making the news. Xandra Collins was wealthy and beautiful, but also quite—unusual.” She looked sideways at my dad. “Three years ago she mysteriously disappeared. Her mansion has been vacant ever since.”

“What happened to her?” I leaned toward the front seat, eager to hear more.

“Skylar,” my mother warned.

“What? I’m just curious.” I’m going to become an undercover detective like my grandfather, so I love anything mysterious. I looked out the window as a jagged bolt of lightning streaked across the windshield and lit up the gloomy sky. Moments later, thunder boomed above us like an exploding cannon. Ms. Knight didn’t answer my question.

“Xandra Collins’s jewelry collection was legendary too. Every magazine showed her dripping in diamonds. The house is incredible. Wait ‘til you see it.”

“I definitely remember hearing about her,” my father said as we turned off Pacific Coast Highway and headed up into Santa Monica Canyon.

“I’m sure you did. There was quite a scandal concerning her disappearance.” Ms. Knight steered onto a winding street that was so narrow we had to pull partway into someone’s driveway so a car on the other side could get around us. The wind gusted and a bunch of dead leaves splatted against the windshield. She edged carefully back onto the road.

“What was the scandal about?” I asked, my fingers on my iPad, ready to take notes.

“It doesn’t matter,” my father said, turning around to look at me. My dad has light blue eyes that crinkle around the edges when he smiles. But right now he wasn’t smiling.

“I don’t remember all the details.” Ms. Knight played with her earring as she glanced at my dad again. I could tell this was a lie. She definitely remembered the details. But for some reason she didn’t want to give them up.

“Oh, go ahead and tell her,” he said. “She’ll figure it out anyway.”

Ms. Knight took a deep breath. “Rumor was, Xandra Collins was being stalked. Then she disappeared without a trace. So people thought maybe…someone killed her.”

My mom started flicking the metal clamp on her clipboard. Someone murdered the woman whose house we might buy? She didn’t like the sound of that at all. Ms. Knight looked at her in the rearview mirror. “But it might not be true. They never found her body.”

“I’ll bet she was kidnapped,” I suggested.

My dad looked over his shoulder and smiled. “Maybe she ran off with a mystery man,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Maybe she went on a secret cruise around the world looking for more diamonds,” I suggested, “Or—”

My mom laughed. “All right, you two.”

Tapping my iPad, I continued my notes, hoping my mom wouldn’t look over and read them.

3 yrs ago X.C. disappeared, “without a trace.” Everyone leaves a trace.

“Xandra Collins’s heirs finally stopped fighting over the house and decided to sell it,” Ms. Knight continued. “The place just went on the market this morning so I haven’t had a chance to preview it yet. I think it may need some work since it’s been vacant for three years,” she admitted.

A fistful of raindrops hit the windshield. “Are we almost there?” I asked.

“Just about,” Ms. Knight said. Right after that it started to pour. She took her eyes off the road for a second to glance at the address while the rain drummed on the roof of the car.

“Careful!” my mother warned as we swerved around a wet bend. She grabbed the door with one hand and the front seat with the other. Her clipboard slid off her lap onto the seat between us. I looked down the side of the hill and realized how high up we’d climbed. Now the ocean looked like a cold, gray sheet of steel as it reflected the cloud-filled sky.

The street ended in a cul-de-sac. This was good. I remembered something Grandpa used to say: Criminals don’t bother with houses in cul-de-sacs. They don’t want to get trapped with no way out. I found out later that not every criminal knew the rule about cul-de-sacs. Ms. Knight steered up a driveway that curved into the hill and I stared at the house that loomed above us, perched on the edge of the hillside like it was growing there. A steel gate with pointed spikes guarded the house, as if it were warning us to keep out. Or maybe it was keeping something in.

“Well folks, we’re here.”

Framed in the wet windshield, dark storm clouds hung over the abandoned mansion, their bottoms bulging like they were about to burst. The front of the house was covered in multi-colored stone. Behind cracked windows and torn screens, tattered curtains fluttered into the house, billowing inside on the damp breeze. The roof had several different levels and was missing a bunch of shingles. A round tower with a tip like an upside-down ice-cream cone stretched up the front of the mansion, pointing at the sky. Ms. Knight called it a turret, and sounded like she was proud the place had one. There was a tiny room at the top of the turret that was higher than any other part of the house. It seemed to be calling my name. Skylar Robbins, it whispered. Come explore.

We got out of the car into the wind and rain and hurried toward the house. Crumbling stepping-stones led us through a lawn that was overgrown with knee-high weeds. Dead trees sported black branches that ended in grasping claws. As Victoria Knight fumbled with the key, I saw that the curtains were stained with something that looked like blood.

“Here we go,” she said, opening the tall front door. She let out a loud shriek and ducked.

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels is available now on Amazon.

Carrie Cross’s Advice to Aspiring Writers #7: Use Foreshadowing to Create Suspense

MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS FRONT COVER
“Foreshadowing is a literary device in which a writer gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story.” (Literarydevices.net)

What bigger goal can a writer have than to keep your readers turning those pages, desperate to find out what happens next? Foreshadowing is a technique that can help you accomplish this objective. Remember being a kid, reading a book that you absolutely couldn’t put down, and suddenly it was–bedtime? Did you hide under the covers, reading by flashlight, because you just knew something exciting was about to happen? That built-up anticipation was probably caused by the author’s superlative use of foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing can be accomplished subtly, by using a description of the setting for example, or overtly, via dialogue and first person narration. The following excerpts from Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills are used for illustration.

Using setting in foreshadowing:

Even though I was afraid, following a treasure map and investigating caves sounded so adventurous that at the stroke of midnight I found myself following Kat outside. Creaky wooden stairs led down the rocky hillside behind her house to their private beach. Sliding my hand along the rough rail, I hoped that the worst thing that would happen to me tonight would be getting a splinter in my palm.

Silver-gray clouds slid past the moon, casting huge shadows on the sand. All too soon we reached the end of the staircase and I smelled the stench of dead mussels clinging to rocks. A cold breeze kissed my cheek as if to wish me luck. Or to warn me.

Violent waves slammed ocean water against the sand. Each pounding crash sounded like a car accident. Pausing with my shoe still touching the last stair, I wondered if there was any way to talk Kat out of this. I figured that following her was better than getting lost on the beach in the dark, so I stumbled after her, scared to death.

Would the worst thing that happened to our heroine be getting a splinter in her palm? Probably not. The cold breeze seemed to be warning her of something. What? Something worse than the car accident that the crashing waves alluded to, or to getting lost on the beach in the dark?

Using dialogue in foreshadowing:

“My new friend was amazing. “What’s Wiccan?” I mouthed.

She looked around. No one was listening.

“Witchcraft.” She waited to see how I’d react, then continued. “I’ll sleep over Saturday night and introduce you.”

“OK. I’ll ask. Introduce me to what?”

Kat looked at me. “Everything Wiccan. I know all about it. And I’ll let you in.”

A nervous tingle shot down my spine. My brain was spinning. I decided to put my plan to escape from Malibu on hold for now.

An uninvited Saturday night sleep-over where Skylar gets introduced to witchcraft? Skylar was nervous and her brain was spinning. Surely something interesting would happen on Saturday night, wouldn’t it?

Using first person narration in foreshadowing:

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.

Apparently, everything didn’t turn out fine. ‘Tween readers who enjoy going to the beach, watching surfers, eating corndogs, or playing video games should already have an affinity with the protagonist. If she’d gotten out of the car right then, everything might have turned out fine. But her dad kept right on driving. What happened to her?

Foreshadowing helps to create suspense; so whatever your genre, hinting at exciting events to come will keep your readers intrigued, staying up later than intended, reading just one more chapter.

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills is on sale now on Amazon, or message me for a personally autographed copy plus a FREE pair of kids binoculars using the contact form on my website. My second Skylar Robbins novel, The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels, will be available on Amazon on Read Tuesday, December 9th. More advice for aspiring writers can be found on my website.

10 Free Autographed Books are Up for Grabs!!

HIDDEN JEWELS COVER
Enter to win my Goodreads giveaway! Ten free personally autographed copies of Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills will be given away in December.

Moms and Dads: Want to get your ‘tweens hooked on books? The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels releases 12/9, Read Tuesday. Preorder a personally autographed copy through www.carrie-cross.com and receive a free pair of kids’ binoculars to start your child’s detective kit!

Click the button below to enter to win a copy of Book 1!

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Skylar Robbins by Carrie Cross

Skylar Robbins

by Carrie Cross

Giveaway ends December 10, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

FREE KIDS’ BINOCULARS! Preorder The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels

HIDDEN JEWELS COVER

Book 2 in the Skylar Robbins mystery series, The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels, will be available on Amazon December 9th, Read Tuesday! The first ten to preorder a personally autographed copy by messaging me here will receive a free pair of kids’ binoculars! Get your ‘tween reading and start their own detective kit with a free spy tool.

If your 9 to 13-year-old hasn’t read Book 1, The Mystery of Shadow Hills, it’s on sale now on Amazon.

Skylar Robbins is described by several reviewers as, “The new Nancy Drew.”

Melissa Chier Interviews Carrie Cross

SHADOW HILLS COVER

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.

Sneak Preview: Mystery of the Hidden Jewels Chapter One

MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS FRONT COVER

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels

by Carrie Cross

 

 

For my dad

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

A huge thank you to Skylar Robbins fans and her secret agents. At the end of my first novel, Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills, Skylar recruited agents to help solve her next case. Several of them are taking part in this interactive story by helping decode the clues Skylar shares on her website: www.skylarrobbins.com. Prospective agents can sign up and dive into this dangerous new adventure with Skylar Robbins and her BFF, Alexa. Just fill out the Secret Agent Application Form (S.A.A.F.) on the website to get your code name and Identikit.

Skylar would like to personally thank the following secret agents for their assistance in finding the hidden jewels: Kelsey G: Dragon Fire, Edmond W: Shining Onyx, Kalyn M: Hidden Shadow, Miriam W: Water Nymph, Madison R: Hunting Lion, Jared W: Thunder Cloud, Destiny M: Star Dancer, Nathanya W: Fire Princess, Samuel W: Roaring River, and Ella M: Sea Princess.

And a heartfelt thank you also goes out to Elayne Angel, Jim Cross, and Ed Ward for their excellent editorial advice and creative input.

 

CONTENTS

  1. Xandra Collins Mysteriously Disappeared
  2. Find the Dumbwaiter
  3. Abandoned Mansion
  4. Teen Detective’s Office
  5. Nerves
  6. The First Day of Middle School
  7. My Detective Kit
  8. Invisible Ink
  9. A Tattered, Yellowed Envelope
  10. Not Exactly a Kiss
  11. The Third Clue
  12. Just Us Girls
  13. Finding the Hidden Floor
  14. Trapped
  15. Escape
  16. Dusting for Fingerprints
  17. The Map with the Missing Footsteps
  18. The Threat
  19. Bird’s Nest Clue
  20. Could Dustin Coles Actually Like Me?
  21. “He’s off the scale!”
  22. Treasure Map
  23. A Rusty Metal Box
  24. UN-invite
  25. The Thief in the Mirror
  26. Punishment
  27. Busted
  28. The Setup
  29. Porta-Detective Kit
  30. The Final Clue
  31. Xandra Collins’s Jewels
  32. The Skylar Robbins Detective Agency
  33. Fame
  34. Friday Night
  35. The Backwards Dance
  36. Skylar Robbins: Teen Detective

 

 

Skylar Robbins:

The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels

 

CHAPTER 1:

Xandra Collins Mysteriously Disappeared

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.

Could a skinny thirteen-year-old detective beat them to it?

You bet I could.

Well, I really hoped I could. I was so glad my BFF Alexa had my back, because I was in much more danger than I realized. Going to a new school turned out to be almost as perilous as hunting for the hidden jewels. By the time this case was solved, I’d challenged the biggest bully in the entire seventh grade, kissed my first boy, and news of my detective agency had gone viral. Not to mention I risked my life to solve a mystery.

Again.

It all started when my parents decided they wanted to buy a bigger house. They were standing in the driveway of a home we’d just looked at, talking with a woman named Victoria Knight while I sat in the car. My dad’s over six feet tall, but in her high heels Ms. Knight stood eye-to-eye with him, looking like a fashion model. Her jet-black hair was pinned up in a shiny twist, and her pointy hipbones poked forward from under her slinky skirt. I pretended to read something on my iPad while I leaned toward the open window and eavesdropped.

“This next house is a classic. It was built in 1908.” Ms. Knight was a realtor trying hard to sell us a house, and my parents thought that the one she just showed us had stunk.

My mom made a note on her clipboard and shook wavy brown hair away from her pretty face. She has a “widow’s peak,” which I think is a pretty gross name for that little point her hairline comes to in the middle of her forehead. My mom has high cheekbones and a narrow chin, so her face reminds me of a heart. Right now that heart was frowning. “That’s really old,” she commented.

“That just makes it better,” my dad said. He loves old. “A fixer-upper is fine with me. We’ll remodel,” he suggested, looking at my mom with his hands spread wide.

“It’s got six bedrooms, five baths, a ballroom, a library, and more!” Ms. Knight exclaimed.

My mom’s forehead continued to wrinkle. “Six bedrooms when there’s only Skylar and us? Isn’t that overkill?” she asked, glancing at the realtor.

My dad pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and considered this. “So, it’s big. I like big. And it’s in the same school district as our current house, so Skylar can still go to Pacific Middle School with her friends.”

Yes! I thought, squeezing my iPad while I waited for my mom’s reply. It was as if my dad had read my mind: like he knew I couldn’t wait to get to Pacific to see all my friends again, and Dustin Coles: the smartest, cutest, most popular boy going into seventh grade.

“That’s very important to girls her age,” the realtor said.

It sure is. Score one for you, Ms. Knight. I peeked out the window and noticed she had a weird look on her face. Like she wasn’t telling us everything. After the dangerous summer I’d just spent in Shadow Hills, my radar was on high alert for liars.

My mom frowned. “But the place is so old it must be falling apart.”

“It’s not—falling apart,” Ms. Knight said.

“Samantha. 1908.” My dad rolled the date off his tongue as if it tasted good. “Let’s give it a shot, Honey. I’ll bet it has a heck of a history.”

Ms. Knight’s cheeks turned pink. She made her shiny maroon lips into a circle and blew out a slow breath. Then she scratched at a spot on the pavement with the toe of her high-heeled shoe. “Oh, the house has a history, that’s for sure.”

I’ll bet it does, I thought, opening the note-taking app and jotting down some ideas on my iPad:

Ms. K is worried abt nxt house. Posing. Won’t look m & d in the eye.

I watched her for a minute and added another note:

? wrong w/ nxt house?

My mom obviously hadn’t noticed Ms. Knight’s strange reaction, because when she looked at my dad, she smiled. She was an American history professor at UCLA and loved anything “with a history”. My dad loved anything classic, antique, or just plain old. He’s a chemist and an inventor, but with his short, light brown hair and his wire-rimmed glasses my dad looked like he could be a college professor himself.

No one would suspect the laboratory he worked in looked like a mad scientist’s and that he’d almost blown off his eyebrows when I was in first grade. Faint pink scars still speckle his forehead from when one of his concoctions exploded. If he hadn’t been wearing his goggles he could have ended up blind. Whenever I want permission to do something my mom thinks is dangerous she brings up my dad’s accident and asks me if I want to “follow in the risk-taker’s footsteps,” or “think it through more carefully first,” like she would.

I usually end up taking the risks.

After finishing my detective notes I looked out the window trying to catch my mom’s eye, hoping they’d hurry up and get in the car so we could get this over with. I didn’t want to move in the first place.

The house I grew up in is in Santa Monica, real close to the beach. I’ve investigated every square inch of our neighborhood, and I know its woodsy streets by heart. My best friend Alexa O’Reilly lives right around the corner. We’ve been BFFs since second grade when she moved here from Texas. She still has a tiny bit of a Southern accent. Like she calls cement, “SEA-ment.” Then I’ll say, “Sea-ment?” and Alexa’s green eyes look surprised. Then her freckled cheeks will bunch up and she’ll laugh at herself.

I’ve never had a friend as good as Alexa. Her excitement always makes everything fun and she cracks me up. This summer I got stuck at my cousin Gwendolyn’s house in Malibu for eight weeks while my parents toured Europe. That’s when I realized the meaning of true friendship. I went to summer school in Shadow Hills, and met a girl in art class named Kat who claimed to be a witch. She passed me notes in backward writing and thought up all these cool art projects we could do together. After casting dangerous spells with Kat in an abandoned garden and getting to know her better, I wondered if she just liked to trick everyone for her own benefit. Hanging out with Kat made me realize what a good friend Alexa really was. What real friends would do for each other, and wouldn’t do to each other.

When my parents got back from Europe they had huge news. My dad finally sold the formula for a non-alcoholic cough syrup he’d invented, and while they were in Paris a major drug company paid him a huge fee. Suddenly we were in the market for a much bigger house, and my mom couldn’t wait to move out of our small one. I didn’t care that we suddenly had more money than we used to have. The only thing that mattered to me was that my family was about to move. If my parents buy a home very far away, Alexa and I won’t be able to go to the same middle school, and we’ve been looking forward to going to Pacific together forever.

My mom climbed into the backseat beside me and I quietly closed the cover on my iPad. Ms. Knight turned around and gave us a big smile. “I’m excited about the next house.” She sounded like she was acting. “I can’t wait to see how you like it,” she told my dad. He was sitting next to her in front because he was too tall for the back seat. We drove for a couple of blocks and I watched the ocean while we waited for the light to turn green so we could turn onto Pacific Coast Highway.

The white water rushing toward the sand churned messily, like each swirling bit couldn’t decide in which direction to go. The dark blue water near the horizon looked calm, but between the deep water and the shore there was a threatening, shifting movement. It made me nervous. Like something was welling up and heading toward us. Something dangerous that couldn’t be stopped. One wave after another loomed slowly in the distance, rising higher and building power before rolling steadily forward. Then each one crashed down onto the sand, exploding into bubbly white froth.

We’d lived a few minutes away from the Santa Monica pier since I was born, so I know its roller coaster and game booths like I know my backyard. Looking out the window, I imagined the smell of buttered popcorn and corndogs as we drove up the coast with the windows rolled up. I remembered how good it felt to ride the Ferris wheel, like I was soaring over the sea. My favorite car was the pink one. I didn’t mind its rusty sides or the cracked leather seat. When you rode that Ferris wheel up into the sky and looked out over the sparkling ocean it felt like you were on top of the world.

“We’re not going to move far from here, are we?” I asked my mom for the tenth time. “I’ll die if I can’t go to Pacific with Alexa.” Not to mention Dustin, I thought, but didn’t say. Dustin Coles was president of student council, got almost straight A’s, and his huge hazel eyes and dimples were off the charts. I’d only admitted this to Alexa and to my own diary, but I’d been crushing on him for two years. And over the summer something amazing happened: Alexa told me that while I was away she saw Dustin at a party I’d missed. She said it like she was about to spill a delicious secret.

And then she did.

“He asked where you were.”

“He did? No way.” I snuggled into the cushion, eager to hear more.

“Swear. I told him you went to summer school in Malibu and he thought that was really cool.”

“He really said that? Did he say, ‘that’s cool,’ or, ‘that’s really cool’?”

Alexa laughed. “I’m pretty sure he said, ‘Malibu? Wow. That’s cool.’”

“Awesome,” I said, hugging my pillow and smiling.

Why had Dustin asked where I was? Was he just curious why I wasn’t with Alexa as usual? Or maybe he was worried that I was off having fun with some other guy. Wondering if I’d met a cute surfer in Malibu and had forgotten all about him. I wished he was worrying about me. Then I came to my senses. As if Dustin Coles would actually get jealous thinking about me, right? But he did ask about me. That had to mean something.

If I couldn’t go to Pacific Middle School with Dustin, Alexa, and all of my other friends, it would absolutely destroy me. Not to mention what it would do to my BFF. She’s carrying around a big, embarrassing secret. And I’m trying to help her keep it.

My mom grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “We’ll have to see which house is the best fit for us, Sweetheart. It may be in a different neighborhood. If it is, you’ll adapt, and we’ll come back and visit the pier.” This made my stomach knot up.

A few black-bellied clouds edged across the mountains toward us. Their reflections were the color of pencil lead on the green-blue part of the water. Then the wind kicked up, and the treetops on the hillside started to dance. “Rain’s coming,” my dad said, squinting up at the sky.

“There’s supposed to be an unusually strong summer storm on its way,” Ms. Knight agreed, her dark eyes catching mine in the rearview mirror. “Hopefully we’ll make it to the top of the hill before it hits.” She glanced at my dad. “This house is the last one in the area that is in your price range, and it’s quite a bargain, considering the breathtaking views and its size.”

I didn’t care how big our next house was, I just didn’t want to move far away from Alexa. Our house had already sold, so we needed to find a new one to move into very soon. We had looked at homes all day last Saturday and Sunday and I was sick of it.

“So what else can you tell us about the house?” my mom asked.

“Well, the woman who owned it was Xandra Collins.” Victoria Knight said the name like she was letting us in on a juicy secret. She pronounced it Zandra, not EX-andra.

“Why does her name sound familiar? Did I read about her somewhere?” my dad asked.

“I’m sure you saw stories about her in the tabloids.”

My mom let out a little snort and smiled. “We don’t read gossip magazines.”

Victoria Knight raised one eyebrow. “Well she was all over the regular news too. The Collins family was rich. Really rich. When her parents died, Xandra Collins inherited millions. Many millions. She gave tons of money to various charities. That’s one of the reasons she kept making the news. Xandra Collins was wealthy and beautiful, but also quite—unusual.” She looked sideways at my dad. “Three years ago she mysteriously disappeared. Her mansion has been vacant ever since.”

“What happened to her?” I leaned toward the front seat, eager to hear more.

“Skylar,” my mother warned.

“What? I’m just curious.” I’m going to become an undercover detective like my grandfather, so I love anything mysterious. I looked out the window as a jagged bolt of lightning streaked across the windshield and lit up the gloomy sky. Moments later, thunder boomed above us like an exploding cannon. Ms. Knight didn’t answer my question.

“Xandra Collins’s jewelry collection was legendary too. Every magazine showed her dripping in diamonds. The house is incredible. Wait ‘til you see it.”

“I definitely remember hearing about her,” my father said as we turned off Pacific Coast Highway and headed up into Santa Monica Canyon.

“I’m sure you did. There was quite a scandal concerning her disappearance.” Ms. Knight steered onto a winding street that was so narrow we had to pull partway into someone’s driveway so a car on the other side could get around us. The wind gusted and a bunch of dead leaves splatted against the windshield. She edged carefully back onto the road.

“What was the scandal about?” I asked, my fingers on my iPad, ready to take notes.

“It doesn’t matter,” my father said, turning around to look at me. My dad has light blue eyes that crinkle around the edges when he smiles. But right now he wasn’t smiling.

“I don’t remember all the details.” Ms. Knight played with her earring as she glanced at my dad again. I could tell this was a lie. She definitely remembered the details. But for some reason she didn’t want to give them up.

“Oh, go ahead and tell her,” he said. “She’ll figure it out anyway.”

Ms. Knight took a deep breath. “Rumor was, Xandra Collins was being stalked. Then she disappeared without a trace. So people thought maybe…someone killed her.”

My mom started flicking the metal clamp on her clipboard. Someone murdered the woman whose house we might buy? She didn’t like the sound of that at all. Ms. Knight looked at her in the rearview mirror. “But it might not be true. They never found her body.”

“I’ll bet she was kidnapped,” I suggested.

My dad looked over his shoulder and smiled. “Maybe she ran off with a mystery man,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Maybe she went on a secret cruise around the world looking for more diamonds,” I suggested, “Or—”

My mom laughed. “All right, you two.”

Tapping my iPad, I continued my notes, hoping my mom wouldn’t look over and read them.

3 yrs ago X.C. disappeared, “without a trace.” Everyone leaves a trace.

“Xandra Collins’s heirs finally stopped fighting over the house and decided to sell it,” Ms. Knight continued. “The place just went on the market this morning so I haven’t had a chance to preview it yet. I think it may need some work since it’s been vacant for three years,” she admitted.

A fistful of raindrops hit the windshield. “Are we almost there?” I asked.

“Just about,” Ms. Knight said. Right after that it started to pour. She took her eyes off the road for a second to glance at the address while the rain drummed on the roof of the car.

“Careful!” my mother warned as we swerved around a wet bend. She grabbed the door with one hand and the front seat with the other. Her clipboard slid off her lap onto the seat between us. I looked down the side of the hill and realized how high up we’d climbed. Now the ocean looked like a cold, gray sheet of steel as it reflected the cloud-filled sky.

The street ended in a cul-de-sac. This was good. I remembered something Grandpa used to say: Criminals don’t bother with houses in cul-de-sacs. They don’t want to get trapped with no way out. I found out later that not every criminal knew the rule about cul-de-sacs. Ms. Knight steered up a driveway that curved into the hill and I stared at the house that loomed above us, perched on the edge of the hillside like it was growing there. A steel gate with pointed spikes guarded the house, as if it were warning us to keep out. Or maybe it was keeping something in.

“Well folks, we’re here.”

Framed in the wet windshield, dark storm clouds hung over the abandoned mansion, their bottoms bulging like they were about to burst. The front of the house was covered in multi-colored stone. Behind cracked windows and torn screens, tattered curtains fluttered into the house, billowing inside on the damp breeze. The roof had several different levels and was missing a bunch of shingles. A round tower with a tip like an upside-down ice-cream cone stretched up the front of the mansion, pointing at the sky. Ms. Knight called it a turret, and sounded like she was proud the place had one. There was a tiny room at the top of the turret that was higher than any other part of the house. It seemed to be calling my name. Skylar Robbins, it whispered. Come explore.

We got out of the car into the wind and rain and hurried toward the house. Crumbling stepping-stones led us through a lawn that was overgrown with knee-high weeds. Dead trees sported black branches that ended in grasping claws. As Victoria Knight fumbled with the key, I saw that the curtains were stained with something that looked like blood.

“Here we go,” she said, opening the tall front door. She let out a loud shriek and ducked.

Coming to Amazon December 9, Read Tuesday!

 

SKYLAR ROBBINS: THE MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS Available December 9, 2014!

MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS FRONT COVER

SKYLAR ROBBINS: THE MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS, Book 2 in the Skylar Robbins Mystery Series, will be out in paperback on December 9, 2014: Read Tuesday!

Be one of the first 20 people to preorder your personally autographed copy through my website, and receive a FREE copy of book 1: SKYLAR ROBBINS: THE MYSTERY OF SHADOW HILLS! Makes a great holiday gift for a boy or girl, ages nine and up.

To preorder, leave a reply (below), fill in the contact form on my website, or send me a personal message on Facebook. Stay tuned for a free sneak preview (Chapter One) coming soon!