Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!
Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Casey Lyall!
Here’s Looking at You, Cultural Evolution
When I was younger, I loved noir mysteries. The haggard detective working his case with a smart-aleck dame by his side. The witty banter. The smoky atmosphere. The shadowy figures lurking around every corner.
As I grew older, I realized…most of those dudes were pretty serious jerks.
And smoking is super bad for you.
These realizations held true while I was working on my first novel – the book that would become Howard Wallace, P.I. When I sat down to write, I knew I wanted to tackle a mystery with a kid detective and the voice that popped out for Howard was firmly noir in flavour. As fun as that was to play with, I had to take a moment to think things through because I didn’t want my main character to be a serious jerk. ESPECIALLY in a middle grade novel.
I had a conundrum. How do you repackage a problematic genre and improve it for readers?
I took it apart.
What were the elements that I loved? What were the elements I loathed?
I loved the action and the suspense.
I loved the rapid-fire dialogue and the witty one-liners.
I loved the push-pull between the detective and the perp.
While I loved the brusque exterior the detective often showed the world, especially when I knew he had a squishy centre, I didn’t love the sexism that came with it. I didn’t want the girl characters to be brushed aside. I didn’t want my detective to be an irredeemable…individual.
So I kept the parts I loved: sketchy settings (meetings in bathrooms and custodial closets left, right, and centre), piles of banter (I always picture Howard and Ivy’s chats as a tennis match), and a great Girl Friday who’s brave, smart, vulnerable, and an equal partner when all is said and done (Ivy not only holds her own on every page, but makes every page her own.)
And then I took my detective who was brusque and haggard and let him also be brave, smart, and vulnerable. And let him learn to be open and emotional. It took three books, but Howard became pretty awesome in the end.
Howard and Ivy are the team that I wish had been in the books I’d read when I was younger. Friends with hard-earned trust between them. Equals in their partnership and the better for it. And not an inch of noir atmosphere sacrificed in the end result.
Every genre has its inherited issues – mysteries are most definitely not the exception. But hallmarks become hallmarks through use. As writers, we can uphold damaging tropes or we can change them. Readers hold this power as well. What we choose to pick up and read and share with friends has an impact. It’s important to be aware of what we promote.
It’s a continuous learning curve and mistakes will be made, but it’s in the learning that you evolve.
Casey Lyall (5’4”, brown hair, blue eyes, no known aliases) is a middle grade writer from Southwestern Ontario. She works at her local library where she runs a number of teen groups and waits for management to discover they’re actually paying her to have fun.
Casey is the author of the middle grade mystery series, HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. and the picture book, INKY’S GREAT ESCAPE. The third book in the HOWARD series, SABOTAGE STAGE LEFT hits shelves on September 4th!
Add SABOTAGE STAGE LEFT on Goodreads!
Click here to win a copy of SABOTAGE STAGE LEFT!
The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.
Tune in next Wednesday for a guest post from Beth McMullen!
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