Why We Love Amateur Detectives

In the world of mystery writing, amateur detectives come in all shapes, sizes, skills, pedigrees and even species. They go to bed with us at night, keep us company as we wait for the kids in the carpool, and distract us from the fellow on the cell phone spewing his business to one and all in the airport lounge.

But why do we love them?

The amateur detective is an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances. They are the everyman or everywoman, both approachable and brave. In short, we can see ourselves as being like them. Through them, we envision ourselves having the courage to step forward and assertively take charge. We too can become the hero.

Also there is, in many of us, a streak of the wild. Amateur detectives are, by nature, rule breakers. They have to be; they don’t have a badge or forensic experts to fall back on. They solve cases with brains vs. brawn. They have to be logical, smart, and even sneaky. They may have to steal, snoop, lie, or at least misdirect.

As a writer and reader of mysteries, I am always looking for the detective’s motivation. Why take on murderers and thieves? Why step into the path of danger? Especially if you’re not getting paid to do it. Is the amateur detective just plain nosy or does he or she have skin in the game?

Simply being curious or meddlesome isn’t enough to carry a good book. Here are some reasons why our favorite sleuths chase that bad guy down that dark alley: 1) It’s in their nature; they have a need to know or they have a need to save. Perhaps something or someone is threatening their town, a friend, or their family; 2) Guilt or they feel responsible; 3) People ask them for help;  4) It’s personal. They have to prove they didn’t do it in cases where the protagonist is the logical suspect or that an accused loved one is innocent; or 5) They seek revenge. They have to find out who killed or harmed a loved one.

In my mystery series, yoga teacher Maya Skye has a background of social consciousness, which gives her a savior mentality and a reason for always wanting to come to the aid of those in trouble. People ask for her help because they sense that she doesn’t look away. She will step into that dark alley to answer a call for help.

Let’s look at some other amateur detectives, why they do what they do, and what keeps us reading about them. Don’t hesitate to add these to your reading lists.

Don’t mess with my people: Like Maya, these sleuths feel responsible for their community, their neighbors, their family. They have a strong sense of justice.

  • Smilla Jaspersen: You can practically feel the biting Copenhagen winter in Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Smilla, a former scientist and current brooding loner, investigates the death of her six-year-old neighbor Isaiah. While the police think the boy fell off a roof, the footprints in the snow tell Smilla a different story.
  • Beacon Hill couple Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn: Charlotte MacLeod’s humorous and literate-yet-light style gives us likable protagonists and an eccentric cast of secondary characters.
  • Egyptologist Amelia Peabody: This creation of Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) finds love and murder in archeology while protecting her family and the world’s treasures amid the sand dunes.

Gotta figure it out: Estelle Ryan’s Dr. Genevieve Lenard is an autistic art investigator who can’t stand to leave a puzzle unsolved (really, she can’t function until the mystery is solved).

On a mission for a higher power: The Blues Brothers were amateur sleuths “on a mission for God” to find out who robbed their old orphanage. G.M. Malliet’s Father Max Tudor, an MI5 agent turned Anglican priest, often seeks spiritual help in his investigations. In one case, God, in the guise of the bishop, sends him to a monastery to find out what the heck is going on.

Mystery magnets: I put Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote in this category. Her small town of Cabot Cove, Maine, has a murder rate 86 times that of the most murderous city in the real-world world. Comedians joke that you never want to be on a plane with Jessica; where she goes, murder follows.

Sweet, old, and not to be dismissed: Miss Jane Marple by Agatha Christie is the most famous sleuth of this caliber. Seemingly a fluffy old spinster, her mind is as sharp as her knitting needles, and having lived in small towns her whole life, nothing about human nature ever surprises her. She appeared in 12 Christie novels and 20 short stories.

Precocious children: These kid sleuths are smarter than the average adult.

  • Nancy Drew: The books about Nancy Drew, teenage sleuth, first appeared in 1930. They are ghostwritten by a number of authors and published under the collective pseudonym Carolyn Keene. One of my favorite descriptions of the endearing and highly skilled Nancy is: She could dance like Ginger Rogers and administer first aid like the Mayo brothers.
  • Flavia de Luce: Alan Bradley’s 12-year-old aspiring chemist has a passion for poison and solving the crimes that seem to baffle the local constabulary.

That darn cat: Rita Mae Brown and feline co-author, Sneaky Pie Brown, pen the Mrs. Murphy series. Mrs. Murphy, the tiger cat, and Tucker, the intrepid corgi, have their paws full saving the humans in their lives.

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This list is just the tip of the iceberg. Who are some of your favorite amateur detectives? And why do you like them? Drop a note in the comments.

Bird Watching and Writing

I am a birdwatcher. Not the kind who can’t go out without my binoculars, but the kind who feeds hummingbirds and notices when a sharp-shinned hawk is building her nest in the woods behind my house. I also watch the EagleCam maintained by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

One winter two events came together: my obsessive EagleCam watching and the wait for my first grandchild. My daughter and her husband were nervous and afraid they really wouldn’t know how to do this whole parenting thing.

And a short story was born. In “Rutherford Speaks,” a young Saint Paul, MN, couple await their first child and learn about parenting from the eagles on the EagleCam. It was selected for inclusion in the Saint Paul Almanac Volume 11: On a Collected Path. I am honored. This is my fourth time to be part of this collection, which is a collaborative community publishing project.

One of the things I love about being a writer is when two disparate ideas come together to form a lovely whole.

Maudie: A Romance with Art

Sally Hawkins as Maud Lewis.

If you think you’ve got it bad, get over yourself and go to Maudie, a quiet yet moving film about Canada’s most famous folk artist.

Sally Hawkins is incredible as the irrepressible, smart, yet fragile Maud Lewis. Ethan Hawke admirably plays her fish seller husband, the irascible and stoic Everett. It is a story of a woman who can’t help but paint and a man who, in the end, can’t help but fall in love with her. She is sunshine to his perpetual gloom. She is ready to laugh at life, when he can do nothing but growl at it. As Maud says in the movie, they are a pair of mismatched socks.

I have long admired the story of Maud Lewis of Nova Scotia, a woman who let nothing diminish her spirit—not disease (polio as a child left her handicapped and arthritis eventually made her fingers curl so she couldn’t hold a paintbrush), not a family who made her feel defective, and not a hardscrabble existence living in a 10 x 12 foot fisherman’s shack.

Instead of whining, though, Maud painted the walls, steps, door, even the window of her tiny, dour house with brightly colored flowers, animals, butterflies, and birds. She insisted that all the inspiration she needed was right outside her window. And, eventually, the world came to her door to buy her paintings.

Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke in Maudie.

My novel, Maud’s House, is certainly not a biography of Maud Lewis. However, her life and personality were the inspiration for my Maud Calhoun, who goes from child prodigy granted the freedom to draw on the walls to blocked artist in a small Vermont town. My Maud is lost, and her story is one of lost-and-found creativity. I don’t think, that even in her worse times, Maud Lewis was ever truly lost. Her work is filled with too much joy, her spirit too indomitable. How did she do it?

That was the question I kept asking myself as I wrote Maud’s House and learned more of Maud Lewis’s extraordinary story: what drives a person to create—no matter what? I came to the conclusion that we are all artists, and we pursue our art in many ways—in our gardens, in the food we make, in the songs we sing, in the pictures we paint and the books we write, in the relationships we nurture, in the kindnesses we scatter on our journey.

That’s why, when a reader asks me to inscribe a copy of Maud’s House, I write one sentence: Discover the artist in you.

If there is an inscription fitting for Maud Lewis’s life, it would be: See beauty in the world—no matter what.

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Maud’s House is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retail outlets. If it is not available in your local bookstore or library, please ask for it.

You can see Maud Lewis’s house and some of her paintings at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

How Yoga and Patanjali Can Help Your Writing

Long ago in a land faraway a humble physician named Patanjali codified his thoughts and knowledge of yoga in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. This is a guide for living the right life. It is also a guide to right writing.

You don’t believe in all this yoga stuff? Fine. But I have found that yoga not only opens the body but the mind as well. It expands our possibilities, which is good news for anyone facing the blank page.

I write about yoga all the time, indirectly, in my mystery series: Down Dog Diary and Warrior’s Revenge. In these unusual whodunits, yoga teacher Maya Skye sometimes seeks answers in meditation and her yoga practice. Just as Sherlock Holmes had his violin; Maya has her yoga mat.

Patanjali’s 195 guidelines to enlightenment are considered the fundamental text on the system of yoga, so what do they have to do with writing?

Here’s a few ways Patanjali, the father of yoga, has helped me on my path as a writer and may bring new perspectives to your writing:

  • Nonviolence (ahimsa). This principle says do no harm to any creature in thought or deed. This is a tough one, especially in the fractious times in which we live. It is so easy with social media to cast judgments, to seek similar views, to fall in with the same crowd—and stop listening. But think about what would happen if you practiced ahimsa in your writing — writing that keeps an open mind elevates the conversation for us all.
  • Truth and honesty (satya). Ernest Hemingway once said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” Don’t recirculate false stories or misinformation in your work. Whether you’re writing the next great American novel or a community newsletter, truth is important. Truthfulness touches our very nature and resonates in our soul.
  • Nonstealing (asteya). My writing mentor gave me this advice: “No one else can write your story.” And it’s true. There are a finite number of stories in this universe, but an infinite number of ways to tell them. Still, when I consider asteya, I realize that my stories don’t belong to me. They belong to my readers because, without them, my writing doesn’t come to life.
  • Abstention (brahmacharya). The writer who practices brahmacharya avoids listening to that little ego jumping up and down, shouting me-me-me. “Brahman literally means the vastness,” according to Yoga Sutra scholar Ravi Ravindra. Writing that dwells in vastness is not small or petty.
  • Nonpossessiveness (aparigraha). Free yourself from greed, hoarding, and collecting. Writers hoard ideas and truth; they throw up walls against criticism; they take sides. This inability to share leads to hard feelings in critique groups and cardboard characters on the page. When we don’t clutch so fiercely to our ideas, we have room to acknowledge the perspectives of others, which will always make our writing — and our lives — richer.

I love aparigraha for another reason: it helps us let go. The writer in us gets our snapping turtle jaws around an idea and holds on so tightly. But with aparigraha or nonpossessiveness, we learn to let go of those stories we’ve spent years on but still aren’t working. We can let go of bad reviews and harsh criticism. We can let go of our “darlings,” those sentences we love beyond measure but lay so heavy they drag down the entire page. We can move on. And who knows what wonderful story is around the bend?

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I admit I am nowhere near bringing all of Patanjali’s teachings into my writing. But every day, I try. Because this edgy world that we live in could use a little less anger and more love, a little less conflict and more peace, a little less me and more us.

5 Steps to a Great Book Cover

A book has only seconds to capture your attention, and its attention-getter is the cover.

As an author entrepreneur, a professional book designer, and an independent publisher, I’m always looking at covers. Some catch my eye, but many more make me wince.

So let’s look at five steps to creating a great cover.

Find Good, Meaningful Art

Step 1: Hire professionals to help you find or create good art that relates to your book and your genre.

WarriorsRevenge-AmazonI design covers for nonfiction, but not fiction. So when I was working on my mystery novels, I knew I needed help.

In my books, a yoga teacher solves mysteries. For the latest in the Maya Skye series, Warrior’s Revenge, I bought the work of two professional photographers: Cathleen Tarawhiti of New Zealand and Greg Nimbs of North Carolina.

If you are looking for atmospheric and beautiful, Cathleen is a wizard. She introduced me to the model Monique Wanner, who became Maya Skye in the first book in the series, Down Dog Diary, and returned in Warrior’s Revenge. See more of Cathleen’s work here.

Greg’s photo of a church in Murphy, NC, caught my eye the first time I saw it on Pinterest and stayed with me the whole time I was writing Warrior’s Revenge. I just knew the church in Greg’s photo was the Chapel of the Forgiving Heart in my story. Check out Greg’s work here.

Note: Do not use clipart on your cover. Invest in quality art from a stock library or the library of a good photographer.

So You Have Good Visuals, Now What?

Step 2: Tell a story, not write a ransom note.

The sure sign of an unprofessional book cover is a bucket of images plastered on top of each other—with no finesse.

For finesse, I turned to digital artist Katt Amaral Quinonez. Take a peek at her work here and see why I chose her. I wanted a mystical and mysterious quality for Warrior’s Revenge, but not too dark and forbidding. Katt nailed.

Maya morphShe took the photographs by Cathleen and Greg and blended them into one coherent image that had a beautifully illustrative quality.

Take a look at the lovely Monique in the flesh and how she evolved under Katt’s artful hand into my Maya.

Note: When it comes to fonts, once again, avoid the ransom note. Use no more than two fonts on your cover.

But Will It Play as a Postage Stamp?

Step 3: Make sure your cover is readable in all sizes.

Your cover has to be intriguing—from the shelf of your local bookstore to the thumbnails displayed in online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

Make sure the title is big and your name is big. Avoid fonts that are difficult to read (no matter how cool they look on the screen).

The Front Cover Catches Them, But the Back Sells Them

Step 4: Plan your back cover real estate.

The back cover is prime real estate, the penthouse of space on your book cover. It is a powerful marketing tool and should include the following:

  • Subject category at the top. This standardized heading helps bookstores shelf your book appropriately. Find a complete list of publishing categories at Book Industry Study Group.
  • Summary of your book: Tell what your book is about in 100-200 words. Remember you are selling, not writing a synopsis.
  • Endorsements from reviews.
  • About the author. Offer a brief bio with photo. Be sure to note where you are from. Local reviewers will look for that connection right away.
  • Website URL so readers can find out more about you and your books.
  • Barcode and ISBN to make the stores happy.

Here’s What the Experts Say

Step 5: Create a thing of marketing beauty by working with professionals.

As the chair of the Midwest Book Awards, I want to see covers that wow the judges (who are themselves cover designers). From the evaluations of last year’s cover entries, we can glean the basics of good cover design.

  • Make it inviting, striking, and beautifully done. Those were some of the adjectives the judges used to describe the finalists in the book awards. Quality book covers stand out from the crowd.
  • Deliver on its promise. A cover is the beginning of a contract with the reader. It makes a promise of what is going to be inside. Does a cover promise fun, thrills and chills, or romance? A pink, fluffy cover with kittens on it will not sell a dark thriller.
  • Keep it balanced and integrated. The cover makes the reader feel comfortable (another part of that invisible contract) by integrating all the visual elements and balancing the images with the fonts.

Here’s one more tip (or rather 10 of them) from the experts at Writer’s Digest: 10 Tips for Effective Book Covers.

When you think about it, book covers have a heavy job. They have a function—to market the book—but the best ones are also works of art.

Where Ideas Come From: A Lesson from O. Henry

Unlike O. Henry, most of us are not short story factories.

We stare at blank screens and wonder if our writing lives are over. What if we never get another fresh idea? What if that last essay or story or novel was it?

Let’s look at how O. Henry defeated the blank page.

The Connection Gamehand-off

Once while dining with friends at a restaurant, O. Henry was asked by a reporter how he came up with all the plots for his hundreds of short stories. “There are stories in everything,” O. Henry said.

He then picked up the typewritten bill of fare and proceeded to outline a story of a lovesick typist reunited with her lost love all because of a typo on a restaurant menu. The conversation inspired O. Henry’s story, “Springtime à la Carte.”

Sometimes when I am stuck, I play a game inspired by O.Henry. I call it the “Connection Game”—seizing on something commonplace and letting the mind make connections. Here’s how it works: choose the first three words that pop into your head and then let your writer mind begin weaving them into a story. Don’t try to write a story. Just let the mind start making connections, pulling in things you have experienced, heard, or read. Trust it.

In one of my games, the words were: rabbit, spoon, and penny. What came when I sat down to type was just a vignette of a homeless man, a war veteran, who was camped in a woods and roasting a rabbit on a spit. In his shirt pocket was a silver spoon. He used the spoon for self-defense but also to dig out the pennies tucked into the crevasses of brick walls.

What did he do with the pennies? Eat them. Because everyone knows we stash pennies in cracks and throw them in fountains to bring us luck. Rabbit Man figured he was eating the good wishes of others when he ate the pennies.

This scene eventually became part of my novel, Book of Mercy. Runaway Ryder hooks up with Rabbit Man for the night and is changed forever.

It Wasn’t Always Easy for O. Henry Either

If you are mired in self-doubt and eating procrastination like chocolate, remember that it happens to all of us. Even O. Henry alternated “between procrastination and fits of feverish industry,” according to Harry Hansen in the foreword of The Complete Works of O. Henry.

All you have to do is stay in the game, perhaps by playing the Connection Game. As O. Henry inferred from his comment to the reporter, stories and storytelling are about connections, and connections are all around us.

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Freebie: One of my favorite mystery series is all about connections. Author Estelle Ryan’s autistic art fraud investigator, Dr. Genevieve Lenard, helps solve crimes by making connections. The first book in the series, The Gauguin Connection, is free in eBook.

Surviving Book Awards

Books waiting to be shipped to judges in the Midwest Book Awards.

Books waiting to be shipped to judges in the Midwest Book Awards.

As chair of the Midwest Book Awards, I have discovered one can survive running a book awards program. It takes an immense amount of time, planning that would put most military strategists to shame, lots of contacts and friends with contacts, a patient and generous family, and a warm coat.

The Midwest Book Awards have been sponsored for 26 years by the Midwest Independent Publishing Association (MIPA). This is an organization that has dedicated more than a quarter of a century to raising the level of book publishing in the Midwest.

We still have a way to go, as I learned last year when AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) held its conference in Minneapolis. I can’t tell you how many times I heard writers claim they were surprised by how much literature is being produced here; they considered us a “flyover” between the big publishers in the East and the trendy ones on the West Coast.

The Midwest Is Not a Flyover Literary Abyss

Well, fly this: This year the book awards received 198 titles entered in 305 categories. At this very moment they are being judged by 58 independent judges all over the country. All of the books are from publishers located in MIPA’s 12-state region: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

My job is a simple one: find the judges, promote the awards, handle the entries and entry fees, keep on the good side of all delivery people, deliver the entries to the judges and field their questions, tally the results, send out the good and bad news, throw a big party in May to honor the winners and finalists, and do not, under any circumstances, screw up my Excel spreadsheet that has all these details meticulously recorded.

Is Entering a Book Awards Program Worth It?

Entering award programs are important for authors and publishers. I’m not saying awards will sell a million books, but they have value. It is a way to get feedback on your work. All the entries in the Midwest Book Awards (not just finalists and winners) receive copies of the judges’ scoring sheets with their comments. This is part of MIPA’s mission—to help educate publishers and authors about best practices so they can produce better books.

From a promotion standpoint, finalists and winners can send out press releases, announce their glory on their websites, add this honor to their portfolio, and purchase gold (for winner) and silver (for finalist) seals to decorate the covers of their books. One winning author called me while on a book tour: “Please send me more gold seals. The readers and buyers love them.” I mailed a fresh supply to her hotel.

When publishers ask me about entering book awards, I say go for it with one caveat: Spend your time and money on the good ones. Not all award programs are the same in terms of prestige and return on investment. For example, if an award requires you to send just one book, that means there is only one judge in your category. What if that judge is having a bad day when she reads your book or your writing style just isn’t her cup of tea despite your memorable characters and clever plot. The Midwest Book Awards has three judges for each category; that’s three opinions to balance out the bad day and three times the feedback.

Is Coordinating a Book Award Program Worth It?

As for me, has it been valuable to coordinate this program? Think about what I’ve learned (about Excel alone), the books I’ve seen, the people I’ve met. When those judges open their boxes of books, it is like Christmas morning. They are excited and grateful and proud to be part of this grand adventure. One judge told me she is learning about ways to improve her own writing skills by evaluating scenes and pacing in the work of others. Some judges have asked to judge this competition year after year, and their only recompense is our undying gratitude, free books, and tickets to the awards gala.

The awards gala will be truly special. I know because I’ve emceed the last two galas. The books of all the finalists will be displayed for everyone to thumb through and to generate buzz before the ceremony. The authors and publishers will be giddy, cheering for their favorites, and taking pictures of everyone with their cell phones. The wine will flow and the appetizers will disappear.

But what about the generosity of family and that puffy parka? You need family to help you with the logistics of an awards program sponsored by a volunteer organization; someone has to box and deliver hundreds of books of varying sizes and weights.

The parka is a personal preference. When I was sorting and moving books on a daily basis, I was doing it in my three-season porch, the only space available in my home to store that many books. It was December in Minnesota, and some days it was not much more than six degrees on my porch. So, yes, a good coat is the book awards chair’s best friend.

Book Club #2: What Is Harry Potter Without Hogwarts?

I love to travel so I am a fan of settings in books. But I don’t have much patience with pages ofhowthelightgetsincovLRG purple prose about snowy cliffs or waxy magnolia-guarded plantations or dark Victorian mansions. I like when settings infiltrate the heart of a book. Here are a few atmospheric reads that I’ve recently visited or revisited:

  • Any of Erin Hart‘s mysteries set in Ireland. She’s a Minnesota writer with dark peat dirt under her fingernails. She writes about the mysteries (both human and relic) preserved in the peat bogs of Ireland and the dark secrets of those who live near the bogs. Check out her latest, The Book of Killowen.
  • The Alaska-cooled mysteries of Dana Stabenow. Her main character, Kate Shugak, who is an Aleut and born in the Park, draws you in like a warm fire on a blizzardly night. She understands this place, this life, and through her, so do you.
  • Hogwarts will forever be in our blood, thanks to the writing of J.K. Rowling. And the movies don’t harm the ambiance either. What’s your favorite scene at Hogwarts? Mine is anything set in the dining hall, especially hundreds of candles floating in the air. What better way to set the scene for a magical story?
  • Three Pines. If you are a fan of mystery writer Louise Penny, that’s all I need to say. When reading remarks about this tiny Canadian village with the big body count, I am amazed at the number of readers who say, “I want to live in Three Pines.” Penny’s irresistible Inspector Armand Gamache is a cross between a Canadian Mountie, Dr. McDreamy, and your ever patient and wise Uncle Somebody.

Author Eudora Welty said this about setting: “Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else . . . Fiction depends for its life on place.” Welty also said, “One place understood helps us understand all places better.”

One final word on setting from comedian Steven Wright: “Ever notice how irons have a setting for permanent press? I don’t get it.”

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What settings in books do you get and like to go back to? Please leave a comment below.

As for my books? Maud’s House is set in Vermont, where individualism runs rampant. Book of Mercy takes place in North Carolina, where I lived for nearly 20 years. And Down Dog Diary is a mystery set in Minnesota, where Maya Skye chases a killer through state parks and national monuments.

 

Book Club #1: Why We Love Precocious Child Characters

The Book Club Series is an informal chat about what we love about books, movies, and television shows. Join the discussion. I’d love to hear from you.

AlanBradley-speakingEleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, amateur detective and ardent chemist, is the precocious star of Alan Bradley’s wonderful cozy mystery series set in 1950 in the English countryside. I’m currently making my way through the fifth book in the series, Speaking from Among the Bones. In this one, Flavia, who is inordinately interested in death and passionate about poisons, must solve the mystery of who killed the St. Tancred Church organist, Crispin Collicutt, right when everyone is gearing up to mark the five-hundredth anniversary of St. Tancred’s death.

What is the appeal of Flavia or Roald Dahl’s Matilda or Kay Thompson’s Eloise? They are smart kids. Living in Minnesota, where Garrison Keillor tells us many of our offspring are “above average,” we have an appreciation for early genius.

Every parent, I don’t care who you are, loves it when their child’s brilliance is pointed out to them. Why just the other day the instructor at an educational play class noted that my four-week-old granddaughter had such a winning smile that it boded well for her ability to make friends in the years to come. Her excited mother wrote in an email: “My daughter is so advanced!”

But another reason these fictional prodigies are so enjoyable to read about is that the authors let them run their worlds. How else are they to get into fixes, make adults look like idiots, and save the day with their flashes of innocence? For often their genius is tempered with a soft spot for puppies, the elderly, the downtrodden, or just some slow-minded adult in their path.

This is where grown ups remember that while Flavia is putting one adult on her mental poison list, she is lifting up another who has fallen. From precocious children, we recall that strength comes from tenderness as well as intellect. And if that’s not worth a read, I don’t know what is.

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Please share: What precocious children have you come across in literature that you love and why? Leave a comment below.

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In Book of Mercy, a funny novel about censorship, Ben the child genius says, “It means this is not just about books locked in a broom closet. This is about liberty and rights and all the stuff we hear people talk about when they talk about America.”

Love Mysteries? Love Yoga?

My first mystery is on the bookshelves. It is called Down Dog Diary. Here’s theDownDog-final2 teaser:

Down Dog Diary
One man has died for it.
Now it’s Maya Skye’s job to protect it.
Can a yoga teacher hunt a killer and still find inner peace?

Do you practice yoga? Don’t you love Downward Facing Dog? This is a pose that turns you upside down and reenergizes you while also relaxing you. This is the first of Maya Skye’s stories. Each one will have a yoga pose in the title.

About the cover: It was created by a group of talented artists in New Zealand: Kathey Amaral, Cathleen Tarawhiti, and Monique Wanner. Thanks, ladies. And I love the crow and the dripping blood.

Want to read an excerpt of Down Dog Diary?

Want to learn why I named her Maya?

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