Please introduce yourself and your new book in your own words.
Hi Drew! Thank you so much for interviewing me! I’m Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, the author of the Book Scavenger series and my latest middle-grade mystery is the recently published Sisterhood of Sleuths. Sisterhood of Sleuths is about a young girl named Maizy who finds a mysteriously abandoned box of classic Nancy Drew books that appear to be connected to her grandmother, but when her grandmother feigns ignorance about them, Maizy takes inspiration from the iconic sleuth and sets out to solve the mystery.
What made your writing leave the Book Scavenger world? What inspired Sisterhood of Sleuths?
Sisterhood of Sleuths was actually supposed to be my second published book. It has been in the works since before I knew Book Scavenger would become a series. I was working on it when Book Scavenger was published, and then my publisher asked if I would consider writing and publishing the sequel first. I said, sure, and switched gears to The Unbreakable Code. And then my publisher signed on a third book in the series, The Alcatraz Escape. I was eager to follow the momentum for the Book Scavenger series, but it was also nice once the third book was wrapped up to return to this Nancy Drew novel I’d begun many years earlier. I would still love to return to the Book Scavenger world someday, though, and I also have many other stories in me that I hope to tell too.
How would Emily the lead character in Book Scavenger series and Maizy, lead role in Sisterhood of Sleuths relate to each other? What was your goal in creating Maizy? Is she different from Emily version 2.0?
I think they’d get along pretty well! I didn’t think of Maizy in terms of Emily as I was writing her. What I was thinking about was how to make her contrast the traditional characterization of Nancy Drew, and I was also thinking of aspects of my younger self that Maizy and I have in common.
What made you choose Nancy Drew as a focus for the book? Explain the impact of Nancy Drew on your life, your work, and your reading life?
I discovered Nancy Drew books when I was 7 and they were my gateway to loving mysteries. As an adult, the history behind the series and the creation of Carolyn Keene was one of the first “behind-the-book” publishing stories I remember becoming fascinated with. I’ve been collecting books about the history of Nancy Drew for decades.
Literary history mysteries for all ages seems to be a sub-genre that you have mastered. What makes you continue to write such informative yet heartwarming stories?
Well, thank you for saying that! I strive to write the types of books I love reading most– informative and heartwarming literary mysteries are good words to describe those kinds of books!
Izzy is a complicated adolescent secondary character. How did you make her hard to like yet relatable? Explain the reason behind their difficult relationship storyline arc?
With any of the secondary characters in my books who play an important role, I think a lot about their world outside the story. It was important to me that Izzy not seem like a stereotypical “mean girl.” For one, that doesn’t feel authentic to me. People are too complicated, and friendships are too complicated, for a person to fit so tidily in a box. Also, Izzy has been Maizy’s best friend for a long time! Maizy wouldn’t want to be friends with, or spend a lot of time around, someone who is a mean person, and so it was important to me to show the positive bonds they have as well as the friction. The difficult moments in the story are a sign of things shifting below the surface of their friendship, and I don’t think either girl understands exactly why that’s happening, which to me feels like a relatable part of growing up. We don’t always go at the same pace as our friends, our interests don’t always stay the same, and those are things that can affect friendships. Maizy is trying to hold onto how their friendship has always been, and Izzy wants their friendship to continue and branch out. She doesn’t want to do their same old, same old.
Complicated relationships, especially friendships, are all part of the focus of this book. You seem to be very experienced and masterful at creating and developing nuanced friendships and dynamic family issues for all your characters. How do you do that? How do you so creatively mix dialogue, details and character development to show relatable yet unpredictable dynamics especially in Sisterhood of Sleuths?
Thank you again! That’s very kind. I’m not sure how I do that, other than exactly what you wrote is important to me–creating nuanced friendships and dynamic family issues. So I work very hard at crafting my characters and their scenes, which often involves thinking deeply about their world and beyond what appears on the page. I think I’m also a good listener and observer–that can help with writing characters. Also paying attention as a reader helps a lot–in fact, I think reading is the best teacher for writing. When something really resonates with me as a reader I try to enjoy the story first, but then go back and ask myself what the writer did that made that work so well.
The book clearly is an Intergenerational mystery filled with family secrets. Why did you choose to have families with multiple generations and layers of mystery be so vital to the story? Explain the role of the adults, especially Jacuzzi in the book.
When I think of Nancy Drew, I think of generations of readers who know her. Readers who go back almost 100 years! And when I think back on what I admired about Nancy Drew when I was a young reader, her friendships were a big part of why I kept coming back to her. The books were fast-paced and exciting things happened–I liked that too–but the specifics of the plots have faded in my memory. What remains is the steadfast relationships she had, primarily with women. And so those are the thematic elements of Nancy Drew that I wanted to explore–the sisterhood of friendship and bonds created with others over a mystery to solve.
Any behind the scenes favorite moments or memorable bloopers from your writing and editing process for this book?
I love the idea of a blooper reel from the process of writing a book! I’m sure I had many blooper worthy moments, but I don’t remember anything specific. One of my favorite moments was seeing the cover concept and art by Sarah Watts for the first time–I love what my publisher came up with, most especially the nod to the Book Scavenger series with the flying books. Seeing Vesper Stamper’s interior illustrations was another favorite moment. And then seeing the typeset pages for the first time is always a favorite moment. That’s when my story feels like it’s stepped fully out of my imagination and is almost ready to head off on its own. (Not unlike Maizy’s brother going off to college in the book!)
|Author: Jennifer Chamblis Bertman|
What is next for you professionally?
My first picture book will be published in February 2024! I’ve actually been writing picture books longer than I’ve been writing novels, so I’m very excited. The book is called A Good Deed Can Grow and it’s illustrated by Holly Hatam, forthcoming from Christy Ottaviano Books/Little, Brown.
What would Maizy say to her readers? Parting words?
Maizy would probably be too lost-in-thought with her next movie project to have much to say. She’s more a girl of action than words, always thinking ahead to her next idea. So she’d probably give a friendly wave and say, “Thanks for reading!” And then get back to work.