Today we're talking with Jan Markley, a Calgary writer whose debut novel is the middle grade mystery, Dead Frog on the Porch.
LEC: I've been writing the same book for 21 years, and was happy to see I'm not the only one! You discuss your book's 15-year journey in detail on your blog, Three Dead Moths In My Mailbox. Can you give us the highlights?
JM: Well there was a long time in there when I wasn't working on it, but was working full time and finishing a masters degree etc. There were many highlights over that time. When I was increasingly being asked for full manuscripts from editors and agents based on my query and pages. When I was asked to do some rewriting and resubmit to two publishers. The Surrey International Writers Conference figured prominently in my 'how I got published' story. I received a lot of attention from editors and agents (the now infamous manuscript idol session where agent Janet Reid yelled "I love Dead Frogs!") All of that reinforced for me that I had a publishable manuscript in my hands and that I needed to keep searching for a publisher.
LEC: Is it true that a real frogicide inspired the book?
JM: Yes, the opening scene is pretty true to the original incident where I accidently killed my friend Jane's pet frog. Then the story jumps off from there. On my blog I tell the story of tracking down Jane (wasn't that hard, her parents still lived in her childhood home) and Jane now lives in the same city that I do. I went to Jane's house and introduced myself to her children: "Hi, I'm the friend of your mommy's who killed her pet frog when we were young." The real life Jane, like the fictional Jane, always loved animals and she has a dog, two guinea pigs, a huge aquarium of fish and wait for it ... three live frogs. She also has many ceramic frogs dishes. Her house is like a shrine to her dead frog! She forgave me a long time ago, but she wouldn't let me hold her frogs when I was at her house.
She's also one of my biggest supporters and came to two of my book launches. And she lets me embarrass her by telling the story of how the book came about.
LEC: What other sources of inspiration contributed to DFOP?
JM: At the time I was writing it my sister was finishing her PhD and parts of the lab in the story, and the plant vault, were inspired by her lab. I also have twin nephews and I was fascinated with twins. I was working on a time-travel novel at the time (as yet unfinished) and wanted to try a different genre. So I wrote a mystery.
It started as a writing exercise. The ubiquitous ‘write an incident from your childhood.’ The opening scene in the book is pretty much the frog-killing-on-the-back-porch-incident. From there it evolved into a mystery adventure novel. I wanted to re-create a time when kids filled their summer days by biking around the neighbourhood, going to the pool, and reading Nancy Drew mysteries. I must have re-created it accurately because when my childhood friend Sandy read an earlier draft about a decade ago, she phoned me one day hopping mad. She said: “one character is me and the other character is you and your character is picking on my character.” Honey, it ain’t all about you.
LEC: I understand your 12-year-old niece helped you create your book's trailer. Was the tech-savvy of this real 12-year-old one of the reasons Cyd and Jan are so handy with a mouse?
JM: My niece wasn't born when I started the story so she didn't inspire that particular aspect. But I believe that all kids are innately creative, curious and bright. I don't write down to them. If we, as adults, had even a quotient of the enthusiasm that kids have for life - wow!
LEC: DFOP has a very environmentally-conscious theme. Beyond enjoying the story itself, what do you hope kids will take away from the book?
JM: I wanted them to take away the interconnectedness we have with the environment and that kids do have the power to change the world, even if it is just the world around them. I do believe we all have the power within us to make positive change in the world.
LEC: DFOP makes frequent references to the Nancy Drew books. Are there other famous books or authors you'd like to include in future Megabyte Mysteries?
JM: Well, Shakespeare's Macbeth plays a role (pun intended!) in solving the mystery in the next book, Dead Bird Through the Cat Door. The twins use the latest in technology to crack this case but it's Shakespeare's Macbeth who helps solve the crime. Methinks the culprits doth protest too much!
LEC: What else can you tell us about Cyd and Jane's adventures in Dead Bird Through the Cat Door?
JM: Well, Todd - who you meet as the leader of the Safari Sleepover in Dead Frog on the Porch - is in the second book as a full-on side kick character. Aviary Finch, the director of the bird sanctuary, is in cahoots with Souris Vole (Souris being the French word for mouse and vole being a type of mouse - the girls quickly nickname him 'mouse mouse'). They are kidnapping cats to get rid of the birds in the sanctuary, and things get personal when Yin, the girls' cat, gets kidnapped.
Once again, Cyd and her animal-loving twin Jane are up to their bird beaks in intrigue. Will Cyd and Jane save the sanctuary, free the birds, and return the cats to their natural habitat of their owners' laps?
It's predator meets predator when evil meets crazy.
LEC: Thanks, Jan, and let us know when readers can expect a Dead Bird Through the Cat Door!