Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

I first met Bruce Hale a few years ago, when he had trekked from his beachside community of Santa Barbara all the way to the high desert (where I live) to do school visits. He is a delightful and informative speaker to both adults and children. Bruce has written and illustrated nearly 20 books for kids. His Chet Gecko Mysteries series includes: The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse, The Big Nap, Farewell, My Lunchbag, The Malted Falcon and others.

You could say Bruce has a thing for lizards. He also has created five Hawaii children’s books, including Legend of the Laughing Gecko, Moki and the Magic Surfboard, and Moki the Gecko’s Best Christmas Ever — all starring Moki the Gecko. He’s taught writing workshops at colleges and universities, and spoken at national conferences of writing, publishing, and literacy organizations. On top of that, Bruce has visited elementary schools across the country, from Hawaii, to Kansas, to Pennsylvania.

Mystery plots involve so many factors–the main plot, subplots, clues, misdirections, red herrings, etc.–how do you organize all of these elements for a particular story (do you plot everything out in advance or determine things as you go along)?
One time, I tried to write a mystery the Steven King way — just put two characters in a room and let them talk. 100 pages of rambling story later, I realized that Uncle Stevie’s way was not for me. I work best from at least a rough plot outline. Here’s how I do it:

First, I figure out the crime, then whodunit, then how Chet Gecko will discover/blunder across that. Then, I come up with the clues, red herrings, and obstacles. Once I have the ending planned and the rest of it loosely organized — I usually leave the last quarter of the book unplanned, to leave room for happy discoveries — then I write a fast and sloppy first draft. And after that, it’s revise, revise, revise — until all plot holes are plugged and the story is finished.

Other than reading a lot of mysteries (because we all know that reading the genre you want to write is key), what advice would you give to someone who wants to write a mystery novel for children?
Cultivate a curious state of mind. When you’re out in the world, observe human behavior and construct their back-stories and motivation. Is that kindly old gentleman at the Starbucks secretly smuggling people into the country? Is the kindergarten teacher plotting a take-over of the school? Muse and wonder and daydream. From that comes mystery.

What’s your favorite children’s joke?

Q: Why are a gorilla’s nostrils so big?

A: Because his fingers are so big.

Thanks, Bruce (I know some 4th grade boys who will love that one!)

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