Friday, February 18, 2011
Writing a Children's Mystery Novel
I considered writing an autobiographical children’s book for years before I finally sat down and wrote it. Solstice Publishing released it this week as Mystery of Spider Mountain and I’m well into the second book of the Hamilton Kids' mystery series.
Fiction is rooted in fact and my three protagonists spent their formative years at the foot of a large hill in southern California, as I did with four younger brothers. Because the hill was inhabited by trap door spiders and an occasional tarantula that had arrived on a banana boat from Central America, I called it Spider Mountain.
My brothers and I were close in age and and explored our "mountain" together. The apron was filled with tall, blue lupines which bloomed nearly year round, and halfway up the hill was Dead Man’s Tree. We called it that because a thick knotted rope hung from a limb that we swung on. At the end was a large loop. That prompted stories about horsethieves which we imagined had been hanged there.
A dirt road encircled the hill at three levels but was so chocked with rocks and clumps of weeds that even a bicycle would have had difficult passage. So we wondered how the people who lived at the summit were able to reach their home, and imagined everything from rock climbers to space ships and helicopters, although we’d never heard one in the area.
When I was twelve and old enough to babysit brothers who were nearly my own size, we climbed our mountain to spy on the mysterious house. What we found was a chain link fence restraining four large vicious-appearing dogs with mouths large enough to swallow a child. Or so we thought. It didn’t take us long to scramble back down the hill to our own house. And, of course, we never told our parents.
When I began to write, I wondered again who those people were and how they arrived at their hilltop home. The house itself was a mystery but I had to decide what kind of crime(s) the residents of the house had committed. And how the Hamilton kids would be able to bring them to justice. I then thought of the Ouija board we used to play with. That’s when the spirit Bagnomi materialized and talked to the kids via the board.
My four brothers had to be reduced to two to make the story manageable. Even so, they were as unmanageable as my own brothers had been, so their widowed grandmother came to live with them—as ours had done. However, our grandmother didn’t have bright red curly hair like Ronald McDonald, and wasn’t interested in finding a husband. Even children’s books need humor and the Hamilton Kids’ grandmother provides that and more, along with an adopted Australian Sheppard with a penchant for chewing furniture.
Writing for children has opened a new vista which I hope my young readers will enjoy as much as I enjoyed the writing. I'm well into the second novel in the series, The Ghost of Crimson Dawn, which takes place here in Wyoming, where the Hamilton Kids visit their Uncle Harry at his mountaintop ranch. There's a bit of autobiographical plotting in that book as well.