Mystery author Margi Preus is here today to chat with me about her new middle grade novel, The Silver Box, which is part of the Enchantment Lake mystery series.
Margi Preus is the author of the Newbery Honor book Heart of a Samurai and other books for young readers, including the Minnesota Book Award winning West of the Moon, and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award book The Clue in the Trees. Her books have won multiple awards, landed on the New York Times bestseller list, been honored as ALA/ALSC Notables, selected as an NPR Backseat Book Club pick, chosen for community reads, and translated into several languages. New titles in 2020 include Village of Scoundrels, The Littlest Voyageur, and The Silver Box, part of the Enchantment Lake mystery series.
Welcome, Margi. Please tell us about your current release.
The Silver Box is the third and final book in the Enchantment Lake mystery series. Seventeen-year-old Francie has come into possession of something so rare and valuable that some people will do anything to get it. Francie has to hang on to it while also trying to figure out what it is, find her mother, rescue her brother, and keep herself and her friends out of danger.
What inspired you to write this book?
I had set up an ongoing mystery about Francie’s family—and also about a certain silver box—in the first two books. And that overarching mystery, of course, simply had to be solved! I had always intended to write four books, one for each season. Enchantment Lake (book 1) takes place in the summer, The Clue in the Trees in the fall, and The Silver Box in the winter. But while I was writing The Silver Box, I realized a couple of things: 1, Northern Minnesota doesn’t really have spring—we just have a very long, drawn out winter, then one chapter’s worth of spring, and then it’s summer, so devoting an entire book to a season that doesn’t really exist seemed like overkill. Also, I knew how the series would end, and it really seemed like it would end with this book—so it all worked out!
Excerpt from The Silver Box:
The following excerpt, since we were just talking about it, is a northern Minnesota spring in a nutshell:
“On the path to the cabin, the air was scented with every color of green—the fresh-squeezed lime of new buds, the green-pepper scent of ferns, and minty-smelling weeds and wildflowers. The ground was soft and squishy underfoot. Little streams and rivulets sparkled as they made their way from one pond or marsh to another, all the wet spots glowing with bright clumps of yellow marsh-marigolds. A high, constant scree meant the peepers had hatched, along with a lot of other kinds of croaking, creaking, and chirruping frogs.”
What exciting story are you working on next?
I always have a lot of plots and plans on simmer burners. I have a couple of picture books in the pipeline and there are many inky marks on notebooks that may or may not turn out to be something. . .
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I started writing plays before I actually knew how to write. (I knew how to make stuff up, which his pretty much the same thing). I continued to make up plays through elementary school and in high school I wrote the Homecoming skits (I was actually writing them by then, of course). In college I wrote for and performed in a children’s theater company. After college I started a professional children’s theater company and I continued to write for and direct theater companies thereafter for a very long time. In fact, I continue to write for theater as well as fiction: this summer I wrote the libretto for a short virtual opera (check it out at https://loonopera.org/ or https://decameronoperacoalition.org/)
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Writing is my full-time job, and yet, no, I don’t write full time. I find the business end of writing takes up a lot of time, and that’s not really writing. Then there’s life, which intrudes, with various crises and emergencies and bears . . . (not really kidding about that). I write—I mean, really write—whenever I can squeeze it in! Sometimes I don’t start actually writing-writing until 4 or 5 pm.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know if it’s a quirk, but I often write on paper with a pen. I also do revisions on hard copy with a pen. Otherwise, I don’t have any little rituals or anything I have to do before writing. I don’t have a playlist; I write in silence (if possible). Honestly, if there’s something I want to write and I have a moment to write, I seize upon the time, and write.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A cartographer (which is a map maker). In fact, I would still like to be a cartographer.
Thanks for being here today!