I felt so excited when Debra asked me to write an article for her blog. Then I went blank, and for a writer, that’s a really, really nasty feeling. Undaunted, I went for a walk, played some music, nibbled on some cashews, and stared out the window. Then it came to me! I would write the article tomorrow when my mind would be in a much more creative space. By then, ideas would come flowing in at jet speed, right? Wrong. SIGH . . . I had to put BIC (butt in chair) and get on with it.
So, let me tell you a little bit about myself, and how writing creepy, mystery stories for children began. I grew up in Auckland, New Zealand. As a young child I lived in a two-storied old house that had a kitchen and a living room downstairs, and six bedrooms and one bathroom upstairs. Only one of the bedrooms and the bathroom had electric light so candlesticks had to be used for the other five rooms. My fears of that gloomy old house grew as I did, and at night after going to bed I would pull the covers over my head so I could drown out the house’s creaks and groans, and whistle and moans of wind through the walls. Not to mention the strange shuffling sounds in the hallway that I just knew were ghosts coming to get me.
Somewhere around ten years of age, I started fantasizing that perhaps as the house settled down for the night, it was trying to tell me stories––stories of what it had seen and heard over the years. I was astounded at such an idea and immediately my imagination began to run wild. A thumping sound on the stairs became a tiger and his Prince escaping from an invading army; the whistle through the walls was a girl singing on a ship sailing off to a magical land. There was no end to the ideas triggered in my mind by believing that the house was telling me its stories. And from that time on, I not only stopped fearing where I lived, but also grew to be quite fascinated with other old houses, knowing that they, too, held stories in their walls just waiting to be heard.
My favorite writer as a child was the English author Enid Blyton. I loved her Secret Seven and Famous Five mystery books, and I became an avid follower of those characters. I do believe it was this English writer that influenced me to eventually pen my first children’s novel, The Mystery at Marlatt Manor. At the time it was only intended to be a stand-alone story. I had no idea it would become so popular that everyone would want to read more about the individuals who lived in the small Virginia town of Cedar Creek that I had created. Based on this feedback and encouraged by my publisher, I began a second book, The Mystery of the Missing Ming and found it a lot of fun taking those same characters on yet another adventure. The Ming story will be released in August, and then I will finish the third book in the series. When I wrote the first book, I indicated that my main protagonist was a young girl who reluctantly discovers she has psychic abilities, so I have continued this paranormal slant in each of the other books, showing how this gift helps her solve the mysteries she encounters.
Although I love to write mysteries, I also like to write in other genres. Last year my historical fictional YA novel, Anni’s Attic was released by Vendera Publishing. The story took me about 15 years to complete, but it was a definite labor of love. The idea first came about when my friend and I began remembering having lived as cousins during the Civil War. Even though my memories of that life seemed vivid and clear, I still did extensive research for that time period. I flew to Georgia where the story takes place, went on plantation tours, and visited many Civil War historical places, such as cemeteries, and old homes (how could I miss not seeing an old home?). As with my mystery story, everyone is now asking when the sequel to Anni’s Attic is coming out! Something I hadn’t planned on at all!
One thing I have come to understand from the response received from readers, is that the possibility for sequels to your stories always exists, and it is important right from the start to create a good Bible of all your characters, their traits, their likes and dislikes, what happens to them, etc. In fact it’s critical you get everything correct with continuing characters because your readers will catch you out on even the smallest detail. Trust me, they forget nothing.
Thank you for reading this article. It’s been fun spending time with Debra’s readers. Do visit me on my web site when you have time.
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Anne Loader McGee is a Graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature, and is a long-standing member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). She has studied writing at the American Film Institute and the University of California and Los Angeles (UCLA). Anne has published numerous articles for both children and adults, and her stories have appeared in The Kids’ Reading Room of the Los Angeles Times. She is also the co-author of the Sing Out Loud series of singing books for children.
Her first novel, The Mystery at Marlatt Manor (http://amzn.to/K92Ir8 Trailer: http://bit.ly/K966Cz ), became a finalist in the 2009 Bloom Awards while her latest publication, Anni’s Attic (http://amzn.to/10agVmh), won the Young People’s Division of the International Peace Award. Anne is originally from New Zealand and now makes her home in Southern California. You can visit her online at www.annemcgee.com for more information.