Tuesday, October 06, 2020

#BookTour & #Interview: Premeditated Myrtle (Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries) by @ElizabethCBunce @AlgonquinYR @AnnieBookReader

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle has a passion for justice and a Highly Unconventional obsession with criminal science. Armed with her father’s law books and her mum’s microscope, Myrtle studies toxicology, keeps abreast of the latest developments in crime scene analysis, and Observes her neighbors in the quiet village of Swinburne, England.

When her next-door neighbor, a wealthy spinster and eccentric breeder of rare flowers, dies under Mysterious Circumstances, Myrtle seizes her chance. With her unflappable governess, Miss Ada Judson, by her side, Myrtle takes it upon herself to prove Miss Wodehouse was murdered and find the killer, even if nobody else believes her — not even her father, the town prosecutor.


This is Annie Book Reader!! I am almost 10 years old and I loved this book! I read it in a few days and I could not put it down! I love that there are mystery books for us kids that are like the cozy mysteries that are for the adults.  I loved the title which my mom says are puns and I am so glad I have book two.  I loved Myrtle and think that this one is great for my age group and up.  The mystery was great and I need more!! The ending was crazy to! 

Trouble Knowing the Words: There were a few that I had to have help with.  Either because I didn't know what was or I didn't understand the word. 

Story: I think I understood everything that happened in the story pretty well.  I didn't really have to ask my mom all that much. 

Where can readers follow you?

1.  What is your name, where were you born and where do you live now? Do you use a pen name?

My full name is Stephanie Elizabeth Bunce. I go by Elizabeth, Stephanie, or ecb, depending on where and how you met me. Why do I write under my middle name? It has a Z in it, of course! 

I was born and lived as a baby in the Washington, D.C. area, where my father was a journalist. But I grew up in Iowa, and have spent (almost) my whole life in the Midwest and consider myself a native Midwesterner. I’ve now lived in Kansas City for many, many years, right on the edge of a rolling green prairie. 

2.  Did you always want to be a writer? If not what did you want to be? When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Like most kids, I went through a lot of career daydreams. (The strangest ones—for me—were obstetrician and fighter pilot!) More sincere and lasting interests included marine biology (in landlocked Iowa) and law/forensics. But alongside all of those interests, nothing ever meant as much to me as reading, and I was always telling myself stories and writing fan fiction (before it had a name) of my favorite novels and TV shows. Even though our home was full of books and we were a family of readers, and my father taught journalism, I was in high school before I realized that the books I loved so much were written by actual people, as a job—and that I could do that, too. From that point on, I knew I would be an author, and I never changed course. I discovered a passion for anthropology and museum studies in college, and pursued a degree in those, along with my degree in English and literature. But I’ve always worked professionally as a writer. 

Some of my earliest novel writing efforts as a kid were set in the fantasy world that became the setting of my novels StarCrossed and Liar’s Moon. Those books are sort of love letters to my younger self—I got to revisit beloved worlds and characters that had grown up with me, and they confirmed my young faith in my abilities and early ambition. I am living proof that if kids discover their true passions, it’s completely possible to grow up and do exactly what you always dreamed of. The path might be circuitous or strewn with obstacles, but it’s worth the pursuit! 

3.  What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarize it in fewer than 20 words what would you say?

My latest releases (just out this week!) are Premeditated Myrtle and How to Get Away with Myrtle, about a twelve-year-old girl and her adventures in Victorian criminology. (Can I have 40 words since I have two new books?!) In Premeditated Myrtle, Myrtle’s neighbor dies under Mysterious Circumstances, and in How to Get Away with Myrtle, her dull railway holiday to the seaside is livened up with jewel thieves and murder.

4. What genre would you place your books into? What made you decide to write that genre?

Premeditated Myrtle and How to Get Away with Myrtle are my first books for middle-graders, and my first official mysteries. My previous books were young adult fantasies—but my editor liked to say I was really writing “mysteries in fantasy dress,” because all my books had such strong mystery plotlines. My young adult work has been trending darker and sexier and a little bit older… but I get lots of fan mail from fifth and sixth graders. I realized that I have a loyal readership of younger kids who respond to my writing—who love my dense prose, rich worldbuilding, and dark and spooky storylines. The Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries are written with those younger fans in mind. They have everything that all my readers have always enjoyed about my books—but they’re about middle-grade friendly murders! Those original fifth and sixth-graders are all grown up now, but I think they’ll love Myrtle just as much as their younger siblings. 

5. Where do you get your ideas from? What/who is your inspiration?

I don’t always know the answer to this, but in the case of the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, I do! One morning several years ago, my husband and I were groggily staggering through our breakfast routine and talking about the morning news. I tried to say something about premeditated murder, and it came out “premeditated Myrtle.” My husband and I looked at each other, a lightbulb flashed, and I said, “That is a middle-grade mystery!” And then the idea sat on my back burner for a few years as I worked on other projects….

The second big inspiration was the character of Peony the cat. One summer night, this tiny black-and-white stray cat wandered into our lives and brought a big adventure with her. She had Very Strong Opinions about everything, and when she meowed, it sounded like she was saying, “No.” She was especially attached to my husband, and she would come to visit us and spend the night at our house (!). One morning I found her in our bed, in my spot, beside my sleeping husband, looking very smug, indeed. A friend suggested I write a murder mystery starring the cat (apparently mystery fans love cats! Or cat people love mysteries? She had some Perfectly Logical Rationale for this...). I sat down to play with the idea, and very quickly realized that the opinionated little cat belonged in Premeditated Myrtle. Once those two pieces snapped together, the rest really just fell in place—and the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries were born.  

6. Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?

I find it challenging to write without knowing the title—it’s like trying to figure out a character without knowing her name! A solid working title is like the gravity of a story—it pulls all the ideas in toward itself. The Myrtle books are a little bit different, in that each title is a pun on the word “murder,” so finding the right fit is its own unique challenge. I’m currently diving into Myrtle Book 4 with a handful of possible titles swirling about, and I’m anxiously waiting for the right one to surface. (Which is to say, whichever one my editor agrees to!) The truth of the matter is, sometimes titles undergo as much revision as any other part of the story. The title is an important marketing tool for the book, and a great title helps both the marketing team and the reader understand how to focus the book—just like it does for the writer. 

7. How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books? Are character names and place names decided after their creation? or do you pick a character/place name and then invent them?

Names are everything to me as a writer. Characters and places don’t gel for me at all until they have names. My first book, A Curse Dark as Gold, is a retelling of the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin,” in which names literally have power and convey destiny (so it’s a little ironic that that book’s title was changed right before publication!). In Curse, every character had a name that described some essential aspect of his or her role… and I’ve kind of kept that sensibility all along (even when I’m writing fantasy characters with entirely invented names). I’ve had to change character names on occasion, and it’s always agony. The character of Priscilla Woodhouse in Premeditated Myrtle was originally called Fannie (for Francesca), and my editor asked me to change the name—suggesting instead “Frannie.” Well, Frannie and Fannie are two entirely different people—not alike at all! It took ages to find a name for the character that fit her as well as Fannie. In that case, her name also had to work well as the Latin name of a flower, which added a whole other wrench into the works.

8. Do you do basic plotting/planning for your book, before you actually begin writing it out? Or do you let the writing flow and see where it takes the story?

Ah, the essential, existential debate: are you a “plotter” or a “pantser?” And I am… both, to some extent. I never start a book without some sense of the premise—who my main character is, what she wants, what her world is like—but then I let her talk to me on the page for several days and see what evolves. I tend to write scenes out of order, and then have to reorganize them after the fact—and I am the only author I know who does this. The only book I have ever written straight through from Chapter One to The End is Premeditated Myrtle. Every other book has been written scene by scene and then painstakingly rearranged. This isn’t exactly an easy way to make a book—but it does help prevent writer’s block. If I don’t know exactly what happens next, I just skip ahead (or back) to a scene I do know how to write. I always have a sense in my head of roughly where the scenes go, but I couldn’t tell you, “Oh, yes, today I wrote Chapter 6 scene 4.” It’s more like, “Today I wrote the bit where she loses the cat in the bathroom.” And I keep a running “outline” of sorts as I go—a narrative synopsis where I tell myself the story, in order, so I have a map to follow, both as I’m writing and as I’m arranging my scenes—and especially during revisions. Even so, sometimes the best and most important scenes in a book have been completely spontaneous—I sat down to write, having no plan for the day, and out sprang something wonderful!  

9. Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books? 

When I was in school, we called these “themes.” I’m reminded of John Steinbeck famously saying he stopped putting symbols in his books, because nobody ever noticed them, finding instead things he didn’t consciously write. I do think every great book has a strong theme, which develops organically from the story and the characters, as well as from something the author feels deeply about (consciously or not). All of my books have large casts of strong female characters (by which I mean the characterization is strong, not that the girls are necessarily “strong” [whatever that means] or have found their own strengths yet!), and I tend to gravitate toward themes of finding family in whatever form it may take. (Has anyone else noticed this? I have no idea!) With the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, I’m also exploring the ramifications of Victorian culture that we still live with in the 21st century—gender roles, class, colonialism, attitudes toward science (and scientists). When A Curse Dark as Gold came out, I had one blog reviewer mention that she wondered what was going to happen to Stirwaters Woollen Mill in future generations, after the Industrial Revolution, and I wanted to give her a gold star! 

10.  What can we expect from you in the future?  

There are more Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries on the way! It’s a little unusual to have two books releasing at the exact same time, so there’s a lot happening now, and then there will be a little wait for Book 3. Myrtle’s next adventure is Cold-Blooded Myrtle, a classic Christmas mystery with a cold-case twist! That’s coming out Fall 2021, just in time to deck the halls. We’ll see Book 4 in 2022, and then….

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