Late in 2013 I tried my hand at ghostwriting mysteries for middle grade readers. The dream opportunity (thanks to my agent) was for a well-known series, starring an iconic girl sleuth (who shall remain nameless here as an act of professional discretion and intentional search engine befuddlement).
In the process of working out if my stories suited the newest incarnation of the mystery series, I generated a half-dozen plot ideas, outlined two full stories, and wrote the first quarter of one, all of which kept me rather busy from August to the end of the year. The Scarlet Robe Mystery was set in a quirky curio shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Foul Play at Winterfest took place at a country club’s winter festival and featured a British boy band. (The original title I pitched was Major Meltdown at the Snow Ball. How fun is that?)
I was living my writing dream, pinching myself that I was getting to make up stories for one of my favourite childhood characters, dreaming of the possibility of doing more ghostwriting, and figuring out the intricacies of mystery writing for kids.
In the end, it turned out my stories didn’t match the fresh tone of the new series. Getting the thanks-but-no-thanks news was probably one of the biggest disappointments so far in my writing life. Nothing a bucket of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and a doona couldn’t fix, though! The next day I was back at my desk, rejiggying the stories, looking for a way to recast my mysteries and send them out into the world.
Funny thing, though. Middle Grade fiction has guidelines about the age of protagonists. The rule of thumb is the protag should be about two years older than the readers, so around 12. Ms Iconic Sleuth, who pre-dated those rules and “she’s an icon, gosh darn it, so never mind the rules”, is about 6 years their senior and driving, which meant my car-heavy plots couldn’t just be recast with tween players.
That said, if any publishers are hankering for a few well-formed, sort-of middle grade mysteries for a ready-made series, call my agent!