Hi there, Elizabeth! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE and reveal the book’s cover. What’s HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE all about?
Thanks so much for having me! This is great fun.
I pitched the second Myrtle Hardcastle mystery to my editor like this: “How To Get Away with Myrtle: in which a boring railway holiday to the seaside is livened up by jewel thieves and murder, and Aunt Helena has (sadly) probably not killed someone.”
What’s it like writing a series? How does your approach to Book 2 differ from your approach to Book 1?
Series are as much fun for the author as they are for the readers. Maybe even more! As I spent more and more time with my characters, they naturally started to suggest further adventures to me. I didn’t set out to write a series, but even before the end of Premeditated Myrtle, it was clear that all of these characters had more Investigating to do. Happily, my publisher agreed and signed on for four Myrtle books.
The biggest difference is that the first book started off much longer—quite a bit longer than is typical for series mysteries (for adults or young readers). I whittled it down to a more manageable size—but writing a shorter book was entirely new to me. My young adult novels have all topped out just over 100,000 words. I wasn’t sure I could write a shorter book, but I was determined to learn how. And the first draft of How to Get Away with Myrtle was half that length! It’s since been fleshed out to its final length of around 74,000 words, which feels just exactly right. (I think I have the knack now—I just turned in Book 3, at just over 73,000!) They’re a terrific length for book-loving middle graders (who often email me asking for longer books!).
The Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series is set in Victorian England! Can you tell us a bit about this setting and why it is so important?
It would take several college courses, an army of historians, and thousands of pages to explain the significance of Victorian England and the global shadow we still live under, well more than a century later! But for these books, I really wanted to explore a world that was just developing all of the standard criminology tools we now take for granted (fingerprinting, blood analysis, etc.), and how exciting that must have been for crime fighters of the era.
Myrtle’s world is like the world of kids today: she lives with many technologies that are “old hat” for her—she’s never known a world without railways, gas lighting, telegrams, or photography. But many things are new and modern and thrilling: telephones, electricity, innovative advances in crime science. Sometimes the past can feel like one blurry lump that’s hard to distinguish, but the world is constantly changing, and people of every era have lived in modern, technologically advanced times. (1893 might seem old-fashioned or even primitive to us, but to people of the period, it was the most advanced the world had ever been.) Myrtle’s cutting-edge enthusiasm for All Things Modern helps bring that sense alive for readers.
What do you hope your readers–especially the young ones–take away from this book?
These books, above all, are a celebration of curiosity and a determined search for knowledge. I hope readers find Myrtle’s curiosity infectious—the way she is easily distracted by any new bit of fascinating information that crosses her path, and can’t wait to share that information with the reader (whether or not it’s actually relevant to the matter at hand!). And, in turn, that they’ll see this irrepressible curiosity as a positive trait. In Myrtle’s case, she uses it to solve murders and further the cause of justice. But curiosity also fuels science, it fosters understanding between cultures, it drives discoveries and pushes boundaries. Joined with perseverance and determination, curiosity can make a person unstoppable, capable of achieving whatever we set our minds to.
Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE to their classroom libraries?
We’re developing a Common Core-aligned classroom guide for Premeditated Myrtle, the first book in the series, which will also work with Book 2. These books are ideal read-alongs for units of history (How to Get Away with Myrtle in particular deals with the early industry of tourism, the effect of railways on culture and society, the science of photography and its use in crime scene analysis—which would make for a fantastic classroom exercise!—and more.). The books also include historical notes, and there are resources for readers on my website (www.elizabethcbunce.com). I have tried to share as much real history as I can in these books, but for even more historical fun, join me there. I’ll be sharing lots of period science and criminology, Victorian-era crafts and amusements, and other wonderful tidbits that will help enrich the reading experience.
I want readers to join in my fascination and delight for history—not just dates and battles and politics, but the way our ancestors lived their daily lives, what it might have felt like (or… smelled like) to live in a particular era, in a particular class, with particular interests. Myrtle shows one face of history to young readers, and I hope she opens up windows to other facets of the past, as well.
I love to talk to young readers, writers, and historians, and teachers or librarians interested in school visits (virtual or in person when circumstances permit) should contact me to discuss appearances.
All right — I’ve got some questions about the cover. But before we start discussing it, let’s take a look...
Tell us about the cover! Were you involved in the process?
Artist Brett Helquist’s covers have been more than I could have dreamed of for Myrtle. Sometimes an author has very little say in a book cover, but that was not the case here. Early on in the series development, I spent quite a bit of time with my editor discussing our shared vision for the series. As soon as we saw the artwork for Book 1, we knew we were on the right track. Myrtle’s expression of determined action was so perfectly captured!
The initial sketches for Book 2 originally featured the stolen tiara. I proposed featuring the train instead, thinking it would invite readers to come along with Myrtle on her holiday—and everyone embraced this idea enthusiastically (I’ve heard even the artist was relieved not to have to paint that tiara after all!). Now that the overall series design is established, I keep that in mind when writing the new books, making sure the stories include nice visual set pieces for the cover art, and small significant objects/props that can be featured in the frame corners and chapter headers. Keep your eye out for those scissors!
(Interesting nerdy footnote: Editor Elise Howard’s vision included the iconic red cow-catcher on the train, even though they were not typically used on English trains of the period! But it definitely helps set the stage.)
As a historical costumer, I was also asked to provide input on Myrtle’s clothing. I had one request: that she wear a middy (a sailor suit, fashionable seaside wear of the era). This request was actually borne from Brett’s original sketch for Book 1, where Myrtle was wearing an ascot with flippy little ties. It didn’t feel right for Book 1, but I knew it was perfect for How to Get Away with Myrtle! I sent along a photograph of an 1890s red and white middy in a museum collection—and it ended up inspiring the spectacular color scheme.
But I had NO IDEA how well Brett would realize all of these suggestions! In the story, the travelers are lured by a fabulous brochure advertising the Family Amusements of a luxurious seaside resort, including the beautiful beach and the quintessential pier. Brett’s cover for this book looks exactly like that Brochure! I’m beyond thrilled. The back-and-forth creative input of everyone involved in these books, including the covers and the internal design work, has been an amazing experience that makes the whole package that much stronger.
What was it like for you to see the cover for the first time?
My editor was whisking out of the country as she was sending me the artwork, so the exchange happened over the phone—there is no written record to record it for posterity. There are rumors that I might have squealed, but as there is no independent confirmation of that, it cannot be proved.
When can readers get their hands on HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE?
It will be out October 6, in a Fabulous Two-Book Launch Event Extravaganza, right alongside Book 1, Premeditated Myrtle! I’m so excited that eager readers will be able to grab both books at the same time—or pick the one that appeals the most. These books occur in sequence (Book 1 takes place in August 1893, Book 2 is in October, Book 3 in December, etc.)… but you can read them in any order you like!
Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?
My website and blog are at www.elizabethcbunce.com. If you subscribe to the blog, you’ll get all the newsy updates on everything Myrtle related, as well as everything I’m making besides books (there are some Myrtle crafts coming!). Readers can also follow the hashtags #MyrtleMondays, #DoubleMyrtle, and #PeonytheCat on Facebook and Instagram. My publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, also has fabulous resources and a robust social media platform, and you can see what else they have coming out.
Elizabeth is a fan of all things fantastical, mysterious, spooky, and old. She writes historical fantasy, mysteries, and ghost stories for young readers, and discerning not-so-young readers. Her books are inspired by real places and cultures of the past, often with otherworldly or magical elements. She’s been writing as long as she can remember—even before she knew it was a job. She’s always been interested in literature, folklore, history, and culture, so she studied English and anthropology in college. But she’s only ever worked as a writer (although not all her writing jobs were as interesting as being a novelist). She’s a native Midwesterner, living in the tall grass prairie near Kansas City with her husband and their feline supervisory staff. When she’s not writing, you’ll usually find her Making something—cosplay, needlework, historical costuming, quilting… but not cooking. In 2009 her first book, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a Young Adult Debut, further cementing her affection for librarians everywhere! You can read her acceptance speech on the Making Page, and learn more about the Morris Award from YALSA.