Snacks: Does writing under a pseudonym give you
more freedom to write creatively? Why
did you make the decision
to use a pseudonym?
As Brad Strickland, I write mysteries for Dial. Dial passed on
Wicked Will because they already had a wonderful series, beginning with Shakespeare's
Scribe, by Gary Blackwood,
and thought that two series featuring Shakespeare might be one
Snacks: Historical figures involved in a mystery is such a fresh
approach to historical fiction. William Shakespeare and Benjamin Franklin are fascinating historical figures. How did you
go about doing research and choosing them to write about? Do you want to give any clues about whom you're writing about
They didn't mind my publishing it elsewhere, but decorum meant that I needed a pseudonym so I wouldn't
compete with myself. Since my daughter Amy had helped so much with the book, we decided on a joint pseudonym.
When I first began writing, the late Ken Millar, who wrote as Ross Macdonald, encouraged me greatly. "Macdonald"
is a tribute to him. My wife Barbara came up with "Bailey" because it's a nice androgynous sounding name.
When I told my agent, Richard Curtis, that the pseudonym would be "Bailey Macdonald," he reacted immediately:
"Now, that's a writer's name!"
Strickland (Macdonald): Choosing the historical figures is a matter of looking for eras
that fascinate me. I've always loved Shakespeare (and by the way "Bailey Macdonald" is sort of a joint
pseudonym-my daughter, who is an actress, helps me with the Bailey books). He lived in a turbulent, dynamic time. Religious
dissension, war always threatening, spies everywhere, discoveries and exploration burgeoning, all of these made up the background.
Then, too, when Will was only twelve years old the first permanent theater in England was built. Very energetic background
there, with lots of motivations for mischief.
Researching meant a great deal of reading (including
some out of print and hard to find books—thank heavens for Interlibrary Loan!) as well as drawing on my memories of
a visit to Stratford, poring over maps contemporary with Shakespeare's time as well as Google Earth satellite maps, and
lots of other stuff.
Ben Franklin again called for digging up contemporary maps (I leaned heavily on one made in
1722) as well as a trip to Boston, made possible by a generous Work-in-Progress grant from SCBWI. And I read Franklin's Autobiography, as well as half a dozen other
biographies of Franklin. I chatted with a man whose hobby is cold-type printing to get a sense of how a
press would work. And for the method of murder, I dug through an old book
on poisoning and found the very thing.
Book research comes naturally
to me as an English professor, but there's a lot to be said for first-hand research as well. When I was writing
a pirate novel, I managed to take a cruise on the Governor Stone, a 74-foot schooner, raising and lowering sail and taking
turns at the helm. There's nothing like being there to give a writer a feeling for a place or an activity.
I can't stress too much the importance of reading the figures' own work when possible. Getting the voice right is
a key to bringing a historical character to life. Who's next? Well, I have an idea for a murder mystery set on a Mississippi
Snacks: I loved reading the preview of Wicked Will,
a Bank Street best book of 2009, reviewed by Kirkus and Booklist & recommended by Library Media Connection. By the end
of the second page I was hooked! Did you get your preview listed, Simon and Schuster, or did Big Daddy Google make that call?
Have you noticed positive results from it?
Strickland (Macdonald): Simon
and Schuster was responsible for that, and I was thrilled. It's hard for me to judge the immediate impact-I don't
get sales figures normally-but I've certainly answered a lot of fan mail!
Snacks: Congratulations on your upcoming book, The Secret of the Sealed Room: A Mystery
of Young Benjamin Franklin, to be released October 2010 from Aladdin! Please tell us an intriguing tale about it -
for the mystery lover in each of us.
Strickland (Macdonald): Many thanks.
Ben Franklin the elder statesman we know well. He's a very avuncular figure; if George Washington was the Father of His
Country, surely Ben was the indulgent uncle. However, in his younger days in Boston, Ben had a reputation as, well, a bit
of a street punk. He was always up to mischief, and being an ingenious and inventive lad, he could get up to some pretty
convoluted mischief! Interestingly, when he was younger, Ben had no qualms about slavery (as a young printer he even used
slave labor in Philadelphia), but he gradually came to reject it and to understand the value of freedom to every living soul.
Now, the narrator of the novel is Patience Martin, a young bond servant whose parents indentured her for seven years
of servitude-and her mother was an escaped slave. When they first meet, Ben assumes she is a slave girl, and he's arrogant
and dismissive toward her. So their interactions begin somewhat gingerly, with distrust on each side. By the end of
the story, each has begun to see the good qualities and the great potential in the other. Without getting preachy about it,
I hope this book has some things to say about how precious liberty is and how each of us has something important to contribute.
Suspicion and distrust are dead ends; tolerance and understanding are open highways.
Snacks: What's your top piece of writing advice for the beginner mystery writer? How does mystery writing
differ from writing regular fiction?
Strickland (Macdonald): My best advice is basic and (some
of my writing friends think) rather strange: Write the last chapter first.
I'm an outliner. In a mystery, I
think that's key: keeping track of characters, clues, red herrings, and the gradual discovery of the truth is difficult
and would be impossible for me without an outline. Edgar Allan Poe, the first detective-story writer (and wouldn't
he be a fascinating
figure for a historical mystery?) said that the hard work was coming up with a baffling mystery;
once that was done, he could reason backward to weave a story around how the mystery is unraveled.
the last chapter is crucial. If you're sure of how the detective will reason, then your work is to develop that in the
rest of the plot, but subtly, with many misleading touches. Play fair with the reader, but make the game a challenging one.
I think the most difficult task a mystery writer faces is keeping the characters real. Mysteries are plot-driven.
If the book gets too plotty, the characters suddenly become cardboard, shoved around by plot requirements instead of acting
on their own. This is the big difference in writing a
mystery and writing a mainstream book. People like reading about
people-and concentrating on personalities keeps the characters in a mystery from becoming mannequins and puppets rather than
Snacks: How does your acting career help you as a writer?
Strickland (Macdonald): This is my daughter Amy's field.
I'm an occasional amateur actor myself (most recently I played Lord Montague in a production of Romeo and Juliet). But
my daughter tells me that acting helps her with characterization. When I act, I try to remember my lines and not bump into
the furniture. Amy is trained and talented. She's learned to create a character from within, to think herself into the
role. Accordingly, when we do a Bailey Macdonald, she and I confer (especially about the girls and women in the book) and
create biographies and "touchstone moments" that will reveal character and personality. I think the books are richer
Snacks: The picture with you and the rows of skulls on your website
is super creepy! What can you tell us about it? We're hoping the skulls aren't in your basement!
Strickland (Macdonald): Ah, hah. That is a Photoshop production. "Bailey" is my
daughter Amy in the photo. The skulls are in a charnel house in France. Since Wicked Will has a major scene in the Holy Trinity
Church charnel house (which no longer exists), we thought a photo in a charnel house would be good for the website. Not being
able to afford a quick jaunt to France, I dug out an old photo of the skulls, we costumed Amy, I took her photo against a
white screen, and then we used Photoshop to composite Bailey and the charnel house into one picture. I feel like a magician
showing the audience that the rabbit is hidden in the table top, not in the hat!
Snacks: Your work is extensive! Please tell us about working on media tie-ins with Star Trek, Nickelodeon, Wishbone
(my favorite dog!), and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch book series.
Oh, gosh, so much history! Years ago, Star Trek: The Next Generation asked members of the Science-Fiction and Fantasy
Writers of America for plot pitches-they didn't want to get stale. My wife Barbara is a great fan of all incarnations
of Star Trek, and so on a long car trip she and I bounced plot ideas around. We came up with a pretty good plot, we thought,
so I wrote it up, sent it in to Richard Curtis, and forgot about it.
A year later, Richard called: Paramount had
passed our idea to Pocket Books (which published the YA Trek novels) and the editors there loved it. Not for a book, but they
thought it caught the Star Trek spirit exactly. So they invited us to write for the YA Star Trek series. Barbara actually
was my coauthor on all of those, though I couldn't talk her into taking byline credit until the last three or so. She
knows her stuff. Once the editor at Pocket called to tell us that Paramount, which vets everything Star Trek, wanted one change
in our latest book. It was a simple change of one technical term, so I said, "Can't you just do that?" And the
editor, practically on the verge of tears of joy, said, "You don't understand! Yours is the first book that Paramount
passed without demanding at least fifty changes!" Barbara's the go-to gal for everything Trekkie.
Nickelodeon came into our lives because they were producing so many shows for a young audience so fast-and being market-savvy,
they were doing tons of media tie-in books. New York editors get around, and since the Nick books were being produced by Pocket,
too, a Star Trek editor wound up involved with them and got in touch with us to ask for some books in the Are You Afraid of
the Dark? series along with The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo (and
later the non-Nickelodeon series on Sabrina the Teen-Age
Witch). We had to submit detailed outlines for those-no trouble, because I always outline-and we received show bibles
that kept us on the playing field.
And Wishbone-we both loved Wishbone! Kevin Ryan, another Trek editor, had been
hired away by Big Feats entertainment. Kevin called me, bypassing my agent, one afternoon and asked if I knew who Wishbone
was. Of course I did-the show had been on for half a season. He asked if I would please write some Wishbone books for
a new book series, and I agreed, providing I could do the Treasure Island adaptation (that's my favorite book). I did
Be a Wolf! (Beowulf) and Salty Dog (Treasure Island), and they were very successful. As a result, Kevin asked me to write
the first books in every variant of the line: Be a Wolf! was Big Feats' first "regular" Wishbone story,
The Treasure of Skeleton Reef was the first Wishbone mystery, and
Jack and the Beanstalk was the first Junior Wishbone
They were a lot of fun to write, and Kevin liked my take on Wishbone's character, so Wishbone quickly
became my main writing focus. So much so, in fact, that I couldn't keep up, and I asked my friend Thomas E. Fuller,
a clever and rapid plotter, to come in and cowrite with me. We did four of those a year, on short deadlines, but even
so they were a great deal of fun
Once Kevin asked if we could do a book about Wishbone and dinosaurs-they
already had a cover, but a writer had not delivered a promised manuscript. The catch was that because of the publishing schedule
we had only three weeks in which to write it. Tom and I negotiated and finally won an extra week. Tom instantly created a
fabulous plot for a mystery: a whole dinosaur skeleton goes missing from a museum! We met the next day and spent six
hours outlining, and then I wrote Chapter 1 at the same time Tom wrote Chapter 2. I did all the odd chapters, he all the even
ones. We then exchanged chapters and rewrote each others' work. Then we met again and went through the manuscript page
by page, line by line, word by word, editing and cleaning up. We hit the four-week deadline, and to our surprise The Disappearing
Dinosaurs turned out to be a really good Wishbone mystery!
There are limitations in doing media adaptations. You
have to understand the established characters and keep them true to their screen personas. The one mildly irksome thing about
the Wishbone series was that the editors didn't want us to introduce any business that wasn't in the town of Oakdale,
where the TV show was set. Oakdale had one of anything: one restaurant
(Pete's Pizza), one gas station, and so on.
We argued that it didn't matter, that our restaurant wasn't on the street that you could see in the TV show, but.
. . so everything got changed to what showed on screen.
On the other hand, unlike most tie-ins, Wishbone gave us great freedom. Kevin
never once objected to or materially changed a plot. And being a playwright and screen writer, the late Tom Fuller was wonderful
at snappy, amusing dialogue. I loved Wishbone and was very happy to have been a part of it.
Currently I'm working on a very exciting project: a science fiction series (not a media tie-in but an original) for Jabberwocky.
The first one, The Academy Year One: Flight of the Outcast, has just been published,
and I've just finished writing the second, The Academy Year Two: Squadron of Shadows.
These are fast-paced space operas, centering on Aster Locke, a girl who tragically loses her family and then secures
an appointment to a military academy where she trains to be a space pilot, expecting to fight an alien threat to the human
space empire. Suffice it to say that things are not as they seem, and the books have both humor and adventure, exhilaration
and very dark moments, interwoven.
Snacks: It's time to say good-bye,
but we simply must ask our totally unscientific survey question: What's your favorite writing snack?
Strickland (Macdonald): Do La Croix carbonated water and coffee count as snacks? Because
I don't eat while I'm actually writing, but I generally have a glass of soda water or a cup of coffee at hand!