Linda Fairstein is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the Alexandra Cooper novels, which have been translated into more than a dozen languages; the nineteenth in that series, Deadfall, was published in July. Last year, she launched her Devlin Quick Mystery series for children with Into the Lion’s Den, which spotlighted the New York Public Library as a backdrop. The follow-up, Digging For Trouble (available November 7, 2017), brings her young sleuth to Montana in addition to New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. Ms. Fairstein previously worked in the district attorney’s office in Manhattan for more than two decades. She makes her home there and on Martha’s Vineyard.
Recently, the author indulged a direct examination of her craft, with topics including the joys of researching/writing about real-life attractions, the challenges of appealing to a young audience, Nancy Drew’s enduring popularity, and what comes next for both of her crime-solving protagonists.
Digging For Trouble is your second Devlin Quick Mystery. How does writing a follow-up differ from writing the debut, and in what ways do you endeavor to sustain returning readers while also catching newcomers up?
One of the most delightful things about writing Digging For Trouble was that I had fully developed my two protagonists—Devlin Quick and Booker Dibble—in getting them through their first adventure together, Into the Lion’s Den. They really came alive to me in that original story as they reacted to the mysterious goings-on around them, as they engaged in dialogue with each other, and as I brought in family members and friends to grow their fictional world.
The creation of a series debut has its own tensions. Will readers relate to the characters? Will the plot developments capture the imagination of the audience? Can I write in the voice of a 12-year-old sleuth? So I breathed a huge sigh of relief when Devlin launched her first caper last year. Now, in Book Two and all that follow, it’s my job to keep Dev’s early fans engaged and coming back for more as well as introduce her to new readers with each story I tell. Whether I’m writing for adults about Alexandra Cooper or for young readers about Devlin and Booker, growing the series and readership are challenges I’m familiar with and happy to take on.
This book finds Devlin visiting Montana before returning to Manhattan. In what ways does this change of scenery enlivens the plot, and more generally, how do you find that setting informs story?
As a reader, I’ve always been drawn in by writers who create a strong sense of place. I think it’s a great plus in any book or series. I love Agatha Christie’s ability to take me to Mesopotamia or down the Nile, I enjoy Craig Johnson’s Wyoming settings, and I feel like I’m in Dublin when I read Tana French.
My Alex Cooper novels have a reputation for using New York City as a character in the series, which adds depth to each tale I tell. I think kids enjoy that kind of fictional travel as well. I saw my first dinosaurs in the great American Museum of Natural History as a school kid from nearby Mount Vernon, New York. Had I known I could join up on a dino dig in Montana, I would have begged my parents to let me go. I really believe that a well-drawn setting enhances the storytelling in any book.
As always, you feature a New York landmark: here, the American Museum of Natural History. What appealed to you about this particular institution, and how did your research allow you to capture its nuances?
Since childhood, the American Museum of Natural History has always been one of my personal favorites, and it has only gotten better over the years. It’s the first place I take every child who is in my life and every tourist who comes to town.
Under the leadership of its first woman president—the brilliant and dynamic Ellen Futter—the expansion of research and the 21st-century up-to-dateness of the exhibits have been stunning. Every time I’m there, I see families soaking up the educational experience along with the fun of the dazzling displays, and school groups of every age are doing exactly the same thing.
They actually do sponsor sleepovers at the Museum, so it seemed like the perfect place for Dev and Booker and Katie to investigate their Montana fossil finds. I interviewed the leading expert on dinos at the Museum and spent many happy hours enjoying the well-curated exhibits while getting myself up to speed on all the developing dinosaur science.
What are the unique challenges of writing for a young audience? Also, what skill set does reading mysteries promote that will be of benefit in the maturation process?
I think the most important issue I faced writing for a young audience was getting the language right. That is, the books wouldn’t work unless I could speak to the 8-12-year-olds I was aiming to draw into Devlin’s adventures.
Someone actually asked me early on if I would just “dumb down” my adult crime novels. I was stunned! Kids are so smart and exposed to so many advanced ideas from books as well as from all the information that comes in digitally that talking “down” to them would be entirely inappropriate—and wouldn’t work. It’s tough to keep up with what they know and present it in a way that they will get what I’m putting in front of them.
I think mysteries for young readers do what they did for me as a kid. They aroused my curiosity, they tested my courage (would I have the fortitude to go where Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys went to solve the crime?), and they made me think about solutions to problems facing friends or neighbors in the community. A good mystery, I think, entertains—but it also ties a message into the package of enjoyment.
You, like so many others, were inspired by Nancy Drew. In what ways is Devlin an homage to the original “girl detective,” and to what do you credit Nancy’s enduring popularity?
I never set out to imitate Nancy Drew with this new series; I just wanted to pay homage to the young sleuth who inspired both my careers, in law and in literature. Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor all credit Nancy for engaging them as kids—for her boldness, her integrity, and her loyalty to her friends. Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, on each side of the aisle, loved the adventurous teenager from River Heights. Diane Sawyer and Gayle King and Maureen Dowd were devoted to her as well.
A good mystery, I think, entertains—but it also ties a message into the package of enjoyment.
It’s a bit baffling to me—that Nancy Drew first appeared in 1930 and has held a place in so many minds and hearts for so long—but I hear from readers every day who credit her for introducing them to mysteries, and of course, to a series in which a favorite character reappears in book after book.
Leave us with a teaser: What comes next—both for Devlin and the indomitable Alex Cooper?
Now my head is filled with two sets of fictional friends! I’m actually writing Devlin’s third adventure right now. It’s set on Martha’s Vineyard at the end of Devlin and Booker’s summer vacation, and it involves pirate treasure and dangerous things that lurk in the water.
As for Alex Cooper, her 20th (did I just say 20th????) investigation leads her to a medical institute right in the center of Manhattan that she didn’t even know existed. I hope my readers—and lots of new ones—will get on board for both!
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Linda Fairstein worked in the district attorney’s office in Manhattan for more than two decades. Her Alexandra Cooper novels are international bestsellers and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. She lives in Manhattan and on Martha’s Vineyard. The Devlin Quick Mysteries are her first books for children.
John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.