Author Interview: Nina Mansfield

NinaMansfieldBeachPic Nina Mansfield is a prolific writer whose credits include numerous full length and short plays which have been produced around the world. Her short mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mysterical-E. She’s a member of the Mystery Writers of America, and I met her recently at the CrimeCONN conference, organized by the New York Chapter of the MWA, which includes Connecticut. Swimming Alone, her most recent work, marks a departure for her in that it’s a full length mystery novel for Young Adults.

GC: I know you’ve written many short plays, and had them produced. And you’ve written a play for young children. What made you want to write a YA novel, and a crime novel, at that?

NM: I have always loved mysteries. As I youngster, I loved reading Nancy Drew Books, Two-Minute mysteries, and books by Lois Duncan, Joan Lowery-Nixon and Agatha Christie. I fondly remember curling up on the couch with my mother to watch Murder, She Wrote, Columbo and those Perry Mason television movies that came out in the 80s. I have also spent nine-years teaching high school in both New York City and the suburbs. I began reading a lot of young adult novels when I was in graduate school for teaching. One of the things I discovered my first year teaching was that many young adults craved novels with suspense. I wanted to write a YA novel that would keep even the most reluctant reader on the edge of her or his seat.

GC: My readers are interested in YA books, because they are so popular right now. Could you explain the difference between YA and Middle school and new adult books for us?

NM: First of all, we have to remember that these are all relatively new labels that were invented for marketing purposes. However, what I think writers should bear in mind is that children of different ages have different concerns and interests. Think about who you were as person at age eleven. What did you like? What intrigued you? What were your feSwimmingAlonefrnt (2)ars? Now think about age sixteen. Your perspective probably shifted during those years. If a writer is choosing to write specifically for a particular age group, the concerns and interests of that target audience need to be kept in mind.

To give some very basic guidelines, young adult books generally have a protagonist who is high school age, and these books tend to have a major romantic component. With middle grade, the protagonists are younger, and the themes generally focus on things such as friendship, or navigating social norms. But those are very general guidelines. And honestly, new adult is a very new category for me, so I can’t really speak to that!

I think that Swimming Alone actually departs from the traditional idea of the young adult novel, as the mystery in the novel is far more important than any of the romantic elements.

GC: Your character, Cathy has a very distinctive voice, with a nice sense of humor. How did you manage to capture the voice of a 15-year-old so well?

NM: Well, thank you! I wrote Swimming Alone while I was teaching high school, so I was definitely influenced by my students. High school students talk a lot, and they often don’t care that an adult is in the room—so I certainly overheard more than my share of teen conversations. I also still have a snarky 15-year old hiding inside me, so I really worked on channeling her as I was writing the novel.

GC: Your setting, Beach Point, sounds like a fun place, apart from the serial killer on the loose, of course. Is it based on a place you know, and if so, what made you think of setting this kind of a crime there?

NM: The town of Beach Point is very loosely based on my childhood memories of Misquamicut, Rhode Island. When I was very young, my grandparents would rent a bungalow there. But in reality, I fused a few beachside towns into what would eventually become Beach Point. I have always been attracted to seaside settings—both personally, and for my writing. It’s funny, because I don’t ever remember making a conscious decision to set SWIMMING ALONE at the beach. The idea just came to me, and I started writing.

GC: Is Cathy likely to have any more adventures like this one? In other words, is she likely to become part of a series?

NM: I have thought of writing another Cathy Banks mystery. If I do, the next book will be set in New York City. But right now, I am working on a young adult paranormal thriller currently titled In Deep. I don’t want to say too much about this current project, but it is also set near the water—this time on Long Island Sound. This book is also much darker than SWIMMING ALONE. The characters are less naïve than Cathy. They’ve already experienced some trauma in their lives.

You can connect with Nina via Facebook, Twitter and her blog

How to Make Crime Pay

Last weekend I attended the CrimeCONN conference held annually in Westport, CT. It was great fun and interesting for writers as well as readers. Among the people I met was Nina Mansfield, author of the YA mystery novel Swimming Alone. She’s written a good blog post about the conference, the beginning of which I’m re-posting below, with a link to the full post. here’s how she began:

CrimeCONN was an AMAZING CONFERENCE!!!

Seriously.

I had the honor of being on the first panel of the day, Who loves you, baby?: How to make your readers fall in love at first sight. Great openings followed by ways to keep the love alive. When I first saw the line up for the panel, I was more than a bit intimidated. Roberta Islieb (aka Lucy Burdette) has published 14 mysteries and has been short-listed for a host of mystery writing awards. Tom Straw has written numerous New York Times bestsellers under a pseudonym. But if I was the tiniest bit nervous (and I was) moderator John Valeri quickly put my fears to rest. He had fantastic questions, and he really made the panel a very enjoyable experience. You can see in the picture below just how much fun I am having!

From L to R: Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), Tom Staw, Nina Mansfield and moderator John Valeri. Photo: Chelsey Valeri.

From L to R: Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), Tom Staw, Nina Mansfield and moderator John Valeri. Photo: Chelsey Valeri.

One of the major points that the panel touched upon was whether or not a body needs to drop in the first chapter. The consensus seemed to be – GC. you can read the rest here.

And my next post will be an interview with Nina about how she wrote her first YA novel.

From Erin Bowman – A dystopian flowchart

As you know, I’m interested in (and rather fond of) dystopian literature. Some of the best being published right now is for teens. (You may remember my previous blog on this, which you can read here, if you’ve forgotten it.) Erin Bowman is a writer of YA fiction. Her debut novel Taken will be published by HarperTeen on April 16th, 2013. Here’s a quick description: There are no men in Claysoot. There are boys—but every one of them vanishes at midnight on his eighteenth birthday. The ground shakes, the wind howls, a blinding light descends…and he’s gone. It sounds intriguing. I found her website through another of my favorite blogs, Password Incorrect, who copied her flowchart of how to decode a dystopian novel.

I contacted Erin to ask if I might reprint it, and she graciously agreed. I’ve given you the beginning of her blog post on the topic, and I think you’ll find the whole post worth a look. Here’s the beginning:

A few days ago, the lovely Maureen Johnson started a conversation on Twitter about the dystopian genre and how it is defined. An #isitdystopia hashtag emerged. There were talks of flowcharts. One made the rounds, and while it was amusing and had me smiling, it made me think more critically about how I define the dystopian genre.

Personally, I believe that a true dystopia, at it’s core, has a lot to do with the main character discovering a fatal flaw in their otherwise perfect society. This means that at a book’s opening, the MC is usually blind to the injustices of their world. As readers we often see red flags off the bat, but the story becomes a journey, with the character moving from satisfied, to suspicious, to conflicted, and finally….click here to read the rest.

And here’s the chart:

The Hunger Games and the teenage craze for dystopian fiction

British writer Amanda Craig has written a fascinating article for the Daily Telegraph of London on the current trend in YA reading for dystopian fiction. According to her,wizards and vampires are out. The market in teen fiction is dominated now by societies in breakdown. And it’s girls who are lapping them up. I happen to read dystopian fiction myself (trying to pass myself off as a YA …), so I was intrigued and thought you might find this interesting. Here’s the article:

Many parents might feel worried on finding their teenage children addicted to grim visions of a future in which global warming has made the seas rise, the earth dry up, genetically engineered plants run riot and humans fight over the last available scraps of food. Yet with the arrival of the film of the first book of Suzanne Collins’s best-selling trilogy The Hunger Games this month, dystopia for teenagers has hit an all-time high in public consciousness. The hottest genre in publishing and film on both sides of the Atlantic, it has rendered wizards and vampires redundant. And teen fiction is now so popular that it has entered the shopping basket of goods by which the UK calculates inflation.

The Hunger Games, set in a future America, now called Panem, concerns the ultimate TV reality game show, in which there can be only one survivor. Fantastically violent, the novel has sold 10 million copies world-wide, and is likely to be the hit movie of 2012.

Nor is it alone in riding the dystopian wave. This year, Moira Young’s best-selling debut, Blood Red Road, a kind of Mad Max for girls, won the Costa Children’s Award, and has been bought by Ridley Scott for film; Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now is about to start shooting with Saoirse Ronan as the lead in a story of underage passion in a future England plunged into war. Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, set in a racist society that is a photographic negative of our world, has been successfully adapted by the RSC as a play and has been one of the nation’s favourite series for the past decade. Even Anthony Horowitz, the man who has done more to get boys reading than any other contemporary author, has just finished his own dystopian novel, Oblivion, which Walker will publish this autumn.

Teenagers on both sides of the Atlantic can’t get enough of this stuff. Why is dystopia so fashionable? Are they sunk in existential gloom caused by the recession, university fees and the prospect of never getting a mortgage?

Read the rest of this article here, and check out the first comment (by JB Williams 1991) – that was fascinating too.