I’d like to welcome children’s author, Elysabeth Eldering, to my blog today. Elysabeth is the author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad series. The first book, “State of Wilderness,” and second book, “State of Quarries” are available through 4RV Publishing.
Katie: Tell us about the Junior Geography Detective Squad series. What inspired it?
Elysabeth: Well Katie, the series came about when I started writing in 2005. I was challenged by a friend to enter Armchair Interviews' first "fan mystery" contest (well, their first contest ever). We were both reviewers for the site at the time. The contest came about from the upcoming anthology "Silence of the Loons", where thirteen Minnesotan authors came together, came up with a list of words and decided to write a mystery using at least four of the eight words in their stories. The fans were given the same list of words - a page from the dictionary, the sound of a train whistle, the scent of Obsession, footprints in the snow, a headless Barbie, a wig, a tattoo and a soiled ballet slipper. I was challenged to write for the contest but was trying to get out of it.
One weekend while on a mother-daughter trip with my daughter's girls' church group to Stone Mountain (that's in Georgia, by the way and may show up in the book about Georgia but not sure yet -lol), I was telling the other mothers about the contest and one of the girls in the group popped up and said, "I know, you could write it like a scavenger hunt on a train with the mystery being where they are heading." I thought about it and wrote the story. Matt and Guy came about in that story. I used the items as clues to a another item and a clue to the secret destination. After placing second place, I sent the story to an editor with SCBWI (that's the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and got her advice on which direction to take the story in making a series. She gave me lots of reference info and some great advice. That is the best $50 I've spent on my writing so far.
Katie: Oh, what’s this? Matt wants to talk? Who’s Matt? Oh, that Matt – you know, the one in your first book, “State of Wilderness.” Okay, Matt, what do you want to tell us?
Elysabeth: Well, he doesn't really have anything to say. He can be put in his room if he wants to be rude, but I know my characters aren't rude or I'd hope they had some manners. So, I guess I'll let him have a small say.
Matt: Well, Ms. Katie, I would just like to say that the game is fun. We are learning lots of things so far. I know being in a book can be fun and I'm glad my best bud is there with me. He's smart most of the time except when he's around Jolene, well I guess I am too, but that's a whole other story. I hope that all the schools get the books so the students can learn like we are doing - something fun and stuff we never knew.
Katie: Don’t you have a friend named “Guy” who is playing with the game, too? Guy, what do you think about the game? Is it too hard, too easy?
Guy: I don't know. It's just a game and when we hang out together, we just play the game. We use it to study sometimes, but we never know which state is going to pop up.
Katie: Matt and Guy, it was great to hear from you. I’m going to bounce the questions back to Elysabeth now.
Katie: The geography book thing is really cool – your characters have to decipher clues to figure out which state you’re showcasing in that book. How did you happen upon this concept?
Elysabeth: Since the first story, Train of Clues, was the predecessor for the series concept and the clues were to a mystery destination, I wanted to continue in that manner, only making each state the mystery of each book.
Katie: Okay, let’s get down to the skinny here: how many query letters did you send out, how many rejections did you get, and how did you deal with the inevitable rejections?
Elysabeth: Query letters? I didn't send any out. I originally had seen a call for submission for mysteries to be used on a 5-Minute Mystery site that would eventually be used for schools. I asked them if the mysteries had to be murder or if I could use my geography stories as the mystery. They were very enthusiastic about the idea. I tried several different ideas to condense the stories down to 1500 words, keeping them in that 5-minute time limit to read and solve. The only problem I had was that all three ways I tried to get the stories down to that short a limit the guys who came up with this concept of the 5-minute mysteries and I weren't really meeting in the middle, so I decided to put it back on the burner for a bit. I tried different formats but nothing was really working at the time. A few weeks after that failure with the 5-minute mystery attempt, I met Aidana through a forum. Checked out her profile and especially her portfolio of her drawings. I emailed her about one in particular that really caught my eye. We started chatting. The next thing she tells me is that she was thinking of becoming an agent for authors. The next thing I knew I had a contract. Things happened rather quickly but no rejections, no query letters just immediate contracts offered.
Katie: Aren’t there teacher’s guides to go along with this series of books? How did you come up with the ideas you use in your teacher’s guides? How many schools are participating with you at this time?
Elysabeth: Yes, I am writing the teacher's guide as I finish the book. I had wanted to have varying puzzles in the books for the readers to have some fun after reading, so I kept that idea. I had never written a teacher's guide nor really seen anything. The closest thing I could come up with was the Weekly Reader's teacher guide given to me from one of the teachers who is a band parent. The research/discussion questions expand out a few of the more interesting clues in the book. I'm trying to have a science experiment in each guide or maybe I'll switch to some math related problems in some that are related to a clue, and then to wrap it up, I have some end-of-book questions (multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank and T/F). The bibliography will be in both the books and the teacher's guides so all readers will benefit from the plethora of information I have gathered for further reading or papers or whatever the need is.
As far as schools participating with me at this time, none. I have been visiting a sixth grade class in Utah via the computer and working with them in their "writing workshop" class and it's been a blast. I will be working more with schools this spring (fingers crossed the government repeals this stupid CPSIA of 2008 and works on it targeting the people meant to be targeted and not the books and clothing for kids) by setting up school visits. I've been talking to several people I know who are teachers and getting them to at least pass out some info to the appropriate people to try to get me in but with the economy, no one wants to pay for school visits. I don't mind doing some for free but as an author, we all know that the money comes from the extras not the books so much. The royalties earned are very low so we have to make money somehow and that means we have to do presentations and hold workshops that will bring in some income.
Katie: Winding down now, is there anything you would like us to know about the Junior Geography Detective Squad books that we haven’t covered?
Elysabeth: I hope everyone checks out my blog, and orders copies of the book. Books are available through amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com as well but you can order directly from me and get signed copies. Direct contact can be made via email - firstname.lastname@example.org.