Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Interview with Elysabeth Eldering and the Junior Geography Detective Squad

Today’s special guest is Elysabeth Eldering. Elysabeth is an award-winning writer and author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad, where readers are asked to solve mysteries in order to figure out which of the 50 states in America the book is about. Elysabeth and I took a moment to catch up on this new series and what it’s all about.

Welcome to The Book Connection, Elysabeth. It’s great to have you here. Let’s get started by having you tell our readers a bit about yourself. When did you begin writing? What genres do you concentrate on?

Thanks for having me here, Cheryl. You start out with the hard questions.

Well, yes, why make this easy? LOL!

I started writing about five years ago, just shortly after my 40th birthday. Call it a midlife crisis or whatever. I had been on a forum and all these people were talking about their stories they wrote and were posting and wanting people to vote for them. Someone challenged me to do a story and post it. I have to admit, looking back at those first stories, my writing was terrible. After I got my footing and learned a bit, I started entering contests - short stories mostly. None had monetary prizes but just the thrill of being challenged by friends and competing for the prizes offered was exciting. I still write short stories but the concentration is on my middle grade children's series.

Do you write every day or in spurts? Is there a certain time of day that works better for you?

I tend to write in spurts. Most of my writing occurs late at night after work and when I am bored. Sometimes I don't want to write but with this new contract, I have to write. I have to get ahead so that the publisher will have stories ready for her schedule to be published.

Good for you!

What was the hardest thing about submitting that first story?

The hardest thing was waiting for the results. Thinking maybe I had made a mistake but when the announcements came, it was worth it because I had been given a shared second place (second and third place winners received the same prize - the same book so I don't consider myself a third place winner) win.

Can you tell us about some of the awards you’ve won?

So far the two contests I've placed in have both been a shared second place, both were on Armchair Interviews. I have just had the first book published and as soon as I have enough copies to send out, it will be sent to the Caldecott Committee, the Newberry Committee and the Sibert Medal award. I'm sure there are others out there but for now, these will be the ones submitted to.

Let’s talk about this new series because it sounds so fascinating. Where did you get the idea for the Junior Geography Detective Squad?

The idea came from the story I submitted to the fan contest for Armchair Interviews when Silence of the Loons came out. The contest was based on the same guidelines the authors of the anthology used - write a mystery using at least four of the listed eight words (a headless Barbie, a wig, a tattoo, a page from the dictionary, footprints in the snow, the sound of a train whistle, the scent of Obsession and a soiled ballet slipper). I was on a mother-daughter trip to Stone Mountain, Georgia, and was telling the other mothers on the bus about the contest and one of the girls piped up, after hearing the list, and said, "I know, you can make it like a scavenger hunt on a train, like a birthday party or something that the kids have to find all the items." I thought about it and because the contest didn't say it had to be a murder mystery, just had to be a mystery, I went in that direction, a scavenger hunt on a train to a mystery destination and the items were two-fold - clues to the next item and a clue to the mystery destination. After I was notified of placing second runner up, I contacted an editor from the SCBWI and asked her how much she would charge not to edit the story but to give me a direction to make it into a series. The best $50 I've spent on my writing so far.

How many books have been released?

At this point, State of Wilderness is the first in the series. The second, State of Quarries, will be released either late December or early January. The next three states are being written this month. I also have teacher's guides available for schools and homeschoolers (details on my blog - http://jgdsseries.blogspot.com).

Tell us about the four main characters from this book. How did they all meet and why do they embark upon these journeys?

Matt is the game owner. Mary Beth is his younger sister and is always hanging around her brother and his friends. Guy is Matt's best friend; they've been best buds since kindergarten. And Jolene, well she's the girl they both like but is a bit on the snobby side. She wants to keep them as friends and not cause friction. She has set goals in her life. The game will be played by two, three or all four of the kids at any given time, but never by one (as that would be boring). I'm attempting to make them stand alones so that if you picked Book 15 in the series you won't be lost. There will be some repeat info in each of the books, like when the game is first turned on it blares out "We Are The Champions" and then of course the original greeting message and every time a bonus clue comes up, there is information that is needed to know that the bonus clues need to be kept track of and that these clues relate to one of five US territories. This makes the stories a bit interactive in that hopefully the readers will want more bonus clues and will try to figure out which territory is being described. There will be a bonus section at the end of the series telling readers all the bonus clues for each territory, which book they appeared in and giving the answers.

Have you been into the schools with any of these books? What type of feedback have you received?

I'm in a virtual classroom at the moment. The teacher received the PDF file and his mother read to the class in groups so they weren't all getting the story at the same time. They are anxiously awaiting Book 2 to make its entrance. They especially liked the bonus clue and want more territory information. I haven't had any "live" school visits yet but I'm sure by about the second full year of the books coming out (9 or 10 should be released by then) that I will be making more and more school visits. I'm still trying to come up with my presentations for school visits but by then I should have something to go with.

Tell us a bit about your illustrator Aidana WillowRaven. How did she get involved in this project?

I met Aidana in a forum. She had her portfolio posted and I checked it out. I was impressed and emailed her offline about one picture in particular I really was fascinated with. We started chatting and then she talked about becoming my agent and I figured I'd give her a chance because she was new and see what comes of it. I told her about my series. She got me a contract with another publishing company (cannot mention them due to some bad blood) and took on the role of illustrating the series. I told her I didn't really want full color illustrations but that black and white would be fine. She came up with the line renderings and designed the game console that was to be my "game". Before she even got to illustrate for the first publisher, she got put on hold. I started asking questions and that's when Vivian from 4RV Publishing picked me up. Aidana went ahead with her illustrations and did the layout design for the book as well. I was very pleased with how it turned out. Each book will be similar on the inside - the illustrations depicting the clue on the game console's screen and the clue and interaction on the other side. It makes for a really quick read really.

I've seen some of Aidana's other work and it's wonderful. I'm glad the two of you hooked up. The cover art for both your books is outstanding.

Where can readers purchase a copy of State of Wilderness?

Copies may be purchased from 4RV Publishing (www.4rvpublishingllc.com), Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com, or for special orders (schools and homeschoolers) by contacting Vivian at president@4rvpublishingllc.com. The teacher's guides are only available through special orders from Vivian.

What types of extras do you have for readers of the Junior Geography Detective Squad?

In the teacher's guide, I have six research projects/discussion questions, a puzzle (cryptogram, word search, word jumble, or some other puzzle will be featured), a science experiment, and an end-of-book quiz. The first book has the map quiz and flag info and the cryptogram puzzle included in the book but it was decided that these needed to be extras available for teachers and homeschoolers to reproduce for classroom study so that the books could be used as supplements to teach US History in social studies. The teacher's guides allow the teachers to be a little bit more cross curricula with the information there, incorporating writing and ELA (research and discussion questions), science and fun (not sure where to put the puzzles in the curricula).

Would you like to share more about the future of this series and your plans for it?

My hope for the series would be to have as many schools interested as possible. I'm hoping by the third year of the series to be able to retire from my full-time job (maybe continue working part-time) and devote my time to traveling around to schools and visit each state. No plans to visit them all in the same year though.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I can't think of anything else other than enjoy the books and have fun.

I know I will, since I'm going to have a chance to review State of Wilderness soon.

Thanks for joining us today, Elysabeth. Good luck with the Junior Geography Detective Squad. We hope you’ll come back and share more news on these intriguing books soon.

Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed myself. I didn't realize I had so much to say about the series.

Contact info:
email: eeldering@gmail.com
blog/website: http://jgdsseries.blogspot.com


Vivian Zabel said...

I'm impressed with the JGDS series so far. Several teachers have shown an interest in the books for their classes, and at least one school wants to add it to their Accelerated Reader program. The study guide makes adding each book easier.


Rena said...

Nice interview! I've read the first book and am excited about using the entire series as part of my homeschool curriculum. My daughter is a little old being a senior, but she's interested in reading it. I'm looking forward to using it with my boys, who are in younger grades still. I think it will be an excellent way for kids to learn about states.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

An interesting interview. I'm glad to learn more about the series and think the books would be great for the classroom.