MARY JEAN CORMIER / CBQ GREAT NORTHWEST HOST, THUNDER BAY: Well there ismore to children’s books than just fairy tales. These days kids are attracted to edgier stories dealing with darker issues. The newest Harry Potter books are an example of that. Brenda Chapman is one author who understands what kids like. She writes mystery novels for young readers. Her first book is called Running Scared and she has another one coming out next year. Brenda Chapman joins us now in the studio. Good morning Brenda.
BRENDA CHAPMAN / AUTHOR: Good morning Mary Jean.
CORMIER: So your first book called Running Scared isn’t just a mystery novel. It deals with some pretty serious issues. Can you tell me a bit about it?
CHAPMAN: Well my heroine is 13-years-old. Her name is Jennifer Bannon. She is living in a fictional town called Springhills, which is outside of Toronto, with her younger sister Leslie, who is 10-years-old, and her mother. The father has been gone from the family for a few years so Jennifer is dealing with that and her grades are slipping. She just started Grade Nine. So she has got quite a bit to deal with. She has to look after her sister quite often while her mom is working as a nurse.
CORMIER: Which sounds like a lot of children’s lives, you know…
CHAPMAN: Well I think it is and I think it hits a note with a lot of kids, especially the idea of the parents separating.
CORMIER: So what inspired you to write mysteries for kids? You know you have got some young people dealing with serious issues here, but some mysterious circumstances.
CHAPMAN: Well, I have always like mysteries myself right back to the Nancy Drew. I think this could be a more modern day type of mystery. I was also a teacher for quite a few years. I taught reading and special education to kids, so writing has always interested me. I actually wrote Running Scared for my own two daughters a few years ago when my daughter Lisa was 12 and my daughter Julia was nine. So they kind of parallel the two girls in the story.
CORMIER: What did they think of it?
CHAPMAN: They quite liked it, particularly my oldest daughter. She is a pretty good critic for me. She edits my work.
CORMIER: Does she?
CORMIER: That is a great idea.
CHAPMAN: Yeah. She is in communications now at Ottawa U so she is…
CORMIER: A good start for her then.
CHAPMAN: …in English as well. Yes…
CORMIER: So what do you think it is about mystery novels in particular that can kind of capture the young mind, draw in those young readers?
CHAPMAN: I think it is the suspense and the puzzle. They are trying to figure out who done it and what is going on, and I think just like adults that it interests them — and the character development. Jennifer develops over the course of the book. I think that kids really like that kind of story.
CORMIER: Young people developing as they are developing.
CHAPMAN: That is right and meeting up with obstacles that perhaps they are meeting up with in their everyday lives. Jennifer isn’t perfect. She has problems that she grapples with just as all kids do.
CORMIER: Now you worked as a special education teacher in Ottawa for almost 15 years…
CHAPMAN: That’s right.
CORMIER: …before your first book came out. What was the transition like from teaching to writing? It is a very individual…
CHAPMAN: Well that is true. I enjoy both areas. I really like teaching. I like writing as well. I had been home with my kids for a few years when they were younger and I made a conscious decision that I wanted to go into writing from teaching. So I got a job in the federal government and am now in communications. But this is more of a creative outlet, and I also get to go into the schools and talk to kids. So I am getting the best of both worlds I think.
CORMIER: What do you talk to the kids about?
CHAPMAN: I talk to them about how I became a writer, which I think lets them know that it is possible, and I talk about the publishing industry a little bit, which I think they find interesting and I read to them a bit.
CORMIER: Now it sounds to me that you know being a teacher and having your own kids you do have a lot of perspective, but what are the challenges I guess of writing from a teenager’s point of view?
CHAPMAN: That is a good question. I write this book in the first person so it is all through Jennifer’s eyes so I have to make sure that I am writing from a kid’s level and not my own perspective. Although there is probably a little bit of me in there too. Jennifer talks about her problems with her parents. When I was teaching and writing the book, at the time, I was working with a girl whose parents were splitting up and so I could draw from that.
CORMIER: Now I understand you actually grew up on the North Shore here, Terrace Bay.
CHAPMAN: Yes I did.
CORMIER: And then you lived in Thunder Bay while you were at Lakehead University as a student. Do you think that your writing reflects at all some of your experiences or your time in Northwestern Ontario?
CHAPMAN: Well in Running Scared Jennifer has a grandmother who lives in Hawk’s Creek, which is basically in my mind Terrace Bay, and then in the second novel, which is called Hiding in Hawk’s Creek, Jennifer comes up North and lands in Thunder Bay and goes to Terrace Bay, or Hawk’s Creek, for the summer. So yes, it is quite influenced by my time in the North.
CORMIER: And so you are working on a new book. Can you give us any hint as to what that is going to look like?
CHAPMAN: Well actually it has been accepted.
CHAPMAN: It is Hiding in Hawk’s Creek. It is due out probably in the spring next year. Jennifer comes to Hawk’s Creek. She meets up with another girl who is half-Aboriginal and she is being accused of stealing so Jennifer wants to get to the bottom of it. So it is another suspense, mystery-type of book, and the third manuscript is now with Napoleon Publishing and due out in 2007. So…
CORMIER: So your work is done, but now it is with the publishers. The third one, can you tell us anything about that?
CHAPMAN: Oh well in that one, Jennifer and her little sister and her best friend, go to summer camp and Jennifer and her friend Amby are counselors there and again there is another mystery that goes on.
CORMIER: Well that is good. So if folks are looking for the first one they know that the others are going to be rolling out soon.
CHAPMAN: They are in the works.
CORMIER: That is great and do you get back to this area very much?
CHAPMAN: Every other year, or every year I try to get up to visit some family.
CORMIER: That is great. That is great. Well I am sure you are going to be hooking some Northwestern Ontario readers so…
CHAPMAN: I hope so.
CORMIER: Thank you so much for coming in to talk with us.
CHAPMAN: Thank you.
CORMIER: Brenda Chapman writes children’s mystery novels. Her new book called Hiding in Hawk’s Creek, or for us we know it is kind of like Terrace Bay, will be available next year.