I first met the main character of Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls by Elizabeth Varadan a few years ago when Elizabeth brought her first chapters to our critique group. We all loved Imogene immediately and it was great fun over time to watch her and this story grow and change. Now she is ready for the world, and the world is going to come to love her just as we do.
Young Imogene lives with her parents in Victorian London. She has decided she wants to become a great detective. When her mother’s string of pearls goes missing, Imogene’s father calls in Sherlock Holmes to solve the case. Imogene approaches him and suggests they work together to solve this case. Holmes graciously agrees to have Imogene be his eyes and ears inside the house. They set up a way to pass information through notes. Soon, a message arrives carried by a boy named Rusty who is just Imogene’s age. The two become friends and work together. There are plenty of red herrings to keep the mystery going, and readers are treated to watching a lot of growth on the part of Imogene. The best part is it’s clear the new partnership of Imogene and Rusty leaves us to believe there will be more mysteries in their (and our) futures.
Although Elizabeth is in Spain at the moment, through the miracle of the internet, she agreed to answer some questions about her writing journey. So now I will let her speak for herself.
EV: Well, first I just had the idea: “What if a young girl met Sherlock Holmes for some reason?” And then it became, “What if she got involved in one of his cases?” And that led to “How would that happen? What case?” So initially, I just brainstormed and wrote out a possible story. Then I had to do research to put it properly in its era. I started off re-reading the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and looking up any terms I wasn’t completely clear on. As the story evolved, however, I ended up doing tons of online research, writing shipping companies, maps of London, plotting distances between Kensington and various outlying towns, etc.
EV: If by “placed” you mean with the editor, no. The first thing the publisher asked me was, “Has it been edited?” When I said yes, he let me submit in full and then found a slot for me. Prior to that, for a while I had an agent who wasn’t satisfied with my original villain. I have to say that she was right to make me dig deeper, and I did have to do a lot of rewriting. There were other changes we couldn’t agree on, though, so we parted company – amicably, I’m happy to say.
TWS: I know it’s an interesting story about how you found your publisher. Please tell the readers about how that came about.
EV: Since my story involves Sherlock Holmes, there was an initial hurdle to clear: In America, the Conan Doyle Estate still holds the copyright on Doyle’s characters. So you have to submit your manuscript to the American attorney for the estate, Jon Lellenberg, and get estate approval – for a fee. I found this quite reasonable. Doyle created a character that has become legendary. Wouldn’t we all just love to do that! Some people actually believe Sherlock Holmes was a real person! And Lellenberg was the one who suggested submitting the book to MX Publishing, a publisher specializing in Holmes-related books. How cool is that?
TWS: If you could cast the movie, what famous people would play which characters?
EV: I can’t really know who might be Holmes or Watson. Current actors have a different take on those characters, whereas I kept to the original characters in the canon. As for Imogene and Rusty, hmmm. Johnny Sequoyah could be a sweet but spunky Imogene. Eli Baker — or, despite his age, Jack Gore — might be good as Rusty.
TWS: It’s never easy to find enough time to write. What gets in the way for you? How do you find time to write?
EV: When I’m fixated on a new story, not much gets in the way. When it’s rewrite time, then I do let life intrude: housecleaning, gardening, travel, learning Spanish, etc. It’s amazing how compelling everything else becomes. Even then, I always manage go wangle out some time to write. And, as you probably know, a writer is always writing. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about plot, story, one of my characters, etc., and I’m jotting things down.
TWS: How long did you work on this book?
EV: I started working on this book in spring of 2010. So . . . about five years.
TWS: What’s next for you?
EV: I’m working now on a cozy mystery for adults, and have blocked out a sequel for Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls. I’ve also been marketing a collection of stories for young people that I may self-publish, since publishers aren’t big on story collections. And there’s yet another book, a historical novel with a ghost that I’ve been working on forever. Sometimes you just have to let things develop on the back burner, and they let you know when it’s time to return to them.
TWS: Your writing has such a great, natural flow to it. Do you spend a lot of time planning your writing – outlining and such – or is it a much more organic process for you?
EV: Thank you! Actually, I do both. I’m probably organic to begin with, until I see where the story is going. Then I outline a couple of chapters ahead. Once I start re-writing, I often do an outline of the first draft to remind myself what happened and when and how, and to see where the holes are, unanswered questions, and the like. Then I start re-writing.
TWS: What is the last book you read? What books are waiting on your nightstand?
EV: I recently read T. A. Barron’s YA fantasy novel, Atlantis Rising, and Screaming at the Ump, Audrey Vernick’s funny, but thought-provoking novel involving baseball. Among books for adults, I’ve recently become hooked on Terry Shames’ Samuel Craddock mysteries. Her most recent one is A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge. Excellent to the last.
TWS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer?
EV: Persist, keep writing, and keep improving.
TWS: What are your favorite books on writing craft? Why?
EV: Most recently, David Corbett’s The Art of Character. He really helps you unlock hidden aspects of a character that can make them three dimensional and unforgettable. I’d love to take a workshop from him if he ever gives one in my neck of the woods.
TWS: Thank you for so generously sharing your time and thoughts. Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you’d like to tell us?
EV: Thanks for the interview, Rosi. It’s a pleasure to appear here. I’m a follower of your blog and always have appreciated the wealth of information on it.
Thanks, Elizabeth, for all this information. And now I have a signed copy of Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls for one of you. To win, all you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower and tell me that in a comment you leave on this post. If you are reading this in your email, click HERE to go to the blog so you can leave a comment. If you would like extra chances, please spread the word by posting the link on a Tweet, blog post, Facebook, or any other way you like. Let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will put in extra chances for you for each that you do.
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