Katie: Renee, you have written a series of interactive mystery chapter books, the latest of which is “The Crypto-Capers in: The Legend of the Golden Monkey.” Please share a brief synopsis of this book.
Renee: The Legend of the Golden Monkey leads the Crypto-Capers to the ancient ruins of Chichen Itza, a once flourishing Mayan city where secrets abound. Sent to the Riviera Maya on the request of a friend, the Crypto-Capers find themselves on a treasure hunt smack dab in the center of Chichen Itza’s archeological park. Upon realizing the Panther’s involvement, their nemesis, the Crypto-Capers immediately agree to find ways to sabotage his efforts of finding the treasure first. But they find more questions than answers, and more clues. Are they being led astray? Or does the truth run so deep that it cannot be believed? The Crypto-Capers must believe in themselves and have faith in their new friends to help them find the items needed to open the treasure room and finally bring closure to an archeologist’s life, a man whose history is tied to the Golden Monkey.
Katie: This book is “interactive.” Tell us what makes it so.
Renee: The Crypto-Capers Series is an interactive mystery series for children between the ages of 8-12. In order for the reader to solve the case they must solve cryptograms and puzzles, so the reader is actually a part of the story solving the case which is unique to the market in so many ways. Readers are not just reading the books, there are actually participating in them which teachers, parents and librarians alike, will love. The Legend of the Golden Monkey builds on the foundations set in book 1 and book 2. Book 1 explains to the reader what a cryptogram is and how the reader has to use it. In book 2 the reader learns to fill in their own cipher key with the help of the characters and to pay attention to detail. In book 3 the reader will have to use clues to help them fill in the cipher key, so the books keep challenging the reader and yet are still fun and entertaining. This series is not only perfect for the advanced reader, but for the reluctant reader as well because the readers is involved in the story.
Katie: What led you to the idea of writing an interactive book?
Renee: It all started because of two things. One, I love reading mysteries. I always have, because in mysteries you have to think about the story and pay attention to details. A story is not just being told to you, there is something more. Two, I love solving cryptograms, I am a cryptogram junky. I solve them all the time so I thought what a great idea for me to combine the two things I love into a mystery for children to be involved in. That way the children are not just reading a story but being a part of it.
Katie: Your Crypto-Caper books have been picked up by school districts. What makes it so attractive to them?
Renee: I have a wide fan base for this series and some school districts are even picking up the series to have in their classrooms because the books can be used in so many ways. Not only do the books work on reading comprehension and critical thinking, but vocabulary and spelling as well. The stories are also set in real places so the reader can visit them. The story line has good meaning that children can relate too and are cleanly written. The topics covered are history, science and math based, so the reader is not just reading a book, but doing so much more.
Katie: I’ve always wondered, when writer’s do a series, how the author comes up with the ideas for continuing books. What inspires you?
Renee: Everyday life inspires me and, truly, life is a mystery. So many unanswered questions and yet at times, the answers are right in front of us. When I write my series I think of my characters and the journey they are taking. When I write, my story is character driven; it is all about the characters and their journey. My characters will change and grow. They are relatable to children in so many ways. As I continue with my series I think of the challenges they are going to face and how they will overcome them. I like to keep suspense and adventure always a part of the mix. Everything just seems to build from there. I also talk to my nieces and nephews and listen to the ideas they have. They are very creative.
Katie: I see that you are traditionally published by North Star Press of St. Cloud. Did you have to find an agent, and then were signed with North Star, or did you deal directly with the publisher?
Renee: I didn’t have to find an agent. I contacted my publisher myself.
Katie: How did that come about?
Renee: Actually, I called them on the phone, asked them some questions and pitched them my story. It was a brave move to say the least and one that is not recommended, but after hearing what I had to say my publisher wanted to see my manuscript and from there, you already know. It helped already having books published, and the fact that they won awards didn’t hurt either. I have definitely proven myself to my publisher.
Katie: How much marketing and promotional work have you done for your book?
Renee: Tons! And not just for this book but for the rest of the series.
Katie: Which has worked the most?
Renee: To be quite honest, having a website and blog help out quite a bit but the one thing that I do is get out there selling the book. You have to get your name out there and your books. I do lots of events. My books are out there all the time. I am building quite a bit of a fan base because people are getting to know me. You can have a best seller but if someone doesn’t know you or are familiar with what you have done, it doesn’t mean someone is going to buy your book. If your fans like you they are your biggest promoters, telling all their friends, who tell their family members and so on. The internet is one of the best tools.
Katie: What tips can you give an author who is wanting to write a series of books?
Renee: Make sure you have a purpose in mind. Where do you want to take the series? What do you want your readers to get out of it? There are many ways to develop a series. They can connect or stand alone. Whatever you do, make sure it is interesting and entertaining. Also, how you start book 1 is extremely important because it will set the stage for the rest of the series. Never lose sight of your book 1.
Katie: Renee’s books can be purchased directly from North Star Press of St. Cloud (http://ourbooks.myshopify.com/) Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as well as other bookstores. Check Renee’s website out at http://www.reneeahand.com, and can be contacted through cdrahand [at] yahoo [dot] com.