Beyond The Bio: Maureen Johnson



Welcome to another Sunday here at #BeyondTheBio! Sorry we’ve been absent for a few weeks. It’s November, and that means all our teen interns are currently alternating between crying and filling out their college applications. It really be like that sometimes.

Anyway, we’re back now, and it's an honor to have the amazing Maureen Johnson as today's guest. When she was just eight years old, Maureen declared that she would be writer. And she’s made good on that promise, writing such amazing books as 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Suite Scarlett, and The Name Of The Star. (The road to being an author wasn't easy though. It led through more than a few shifts at a haunted house restaurant.) She joins us today to chat with Amira about her new book, Truly Devious. Let’s get to it!

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Amira: Truly Devious was so good. There were moments I was literally yelling at the book! Can you tell our readers what it's about?

Maureen: I wanted to write a proper mystery, with a detective. A mystery in a remote place, with a distinct cast of characters. The book is set at a remote boarding school called Ellingham Academy, which was the setting of what was called the crime of the century in 1936—the kidnapping of the founder’s wife and daughter and the death of a student. In the present day, the main character, Stevie Bell, goes to the school in the hope of solving the case once and for all—and in the process, the events of the past come back in a very dangerous way. By that I mean…MURDER. Stevie finds herself as the lead detective on her very own case. The events of the past and the present intertwine.

Amira: I really enjoyed how you transitioned between past and present. Did you create Ellingham's story first, or Stevie's?

Maureen: It was kind of both at the same time. I needed a detective. My problem was—how do I make someone the real detective character when they are 16? I had to build something around her that made it possible. I needed her to solve a famous cold case. So the two grew around each other, then they wove together. I had a lot of charts and graphs and conspiracy wall kind of stuff.

Amira: I totally connected with Nate. On, like, every level. Which of the characters did you relate to the most?

Maureen: A lot, lot, lot of Stevie is me. Her obsession with mysteries and true crime, wanting to solve a mystery, dealing with anxiety…I put a lot of me in there. But the stuff Nate says about writing, that may also be me. (And most writers I know.) All those parts about forgetting how to write? *coughs*

Amira: Stevie read a lot detective stories growing up. Were you the same?

Maureen: Oh, yes. Yes yes yes. Yes. That part is based directly on me. And is still based on me. The first full book I read was The Hound of the Baskervilles. My typical summer day meant two Agatha Christies. I still carry around a copy of The Westing Game, and there are entire parts of my house dedicated to my mystery collection.

Amira: Ellie's such an unforgettable character. Where did you get the idea for her?

Maureen: I went to graduate school what was basically a conservatory, and I’ve always known visual and performance artists. She grew over time, combining a few kinds of people and stories. There may also be a famous musician she is based on a bit.

Amira: Reading your book made me feel like I could be a detective! Did you ever think about being anything other than an author?

Maureen: Yes and no. Being a writer—that was always the primary thing. I worked in theater as well, which is storytelling in a different form. But yes, this has always been it for me.

Amira: What’s next for you, Maureen? Anything else we should be adding to our TBR?

Maureen: The sequel to Truly Devious—The Vanishing Stair—will be out on January 22nd!

Amira: I plan on getting my hands on that as soon as I can. Can we expect a lot of twists and turns in that one as well?

Maureen: Oh yes. And answers. You will get answers.

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That’s it for today’s interview with Maureen, but don’t forget to get a copy of Truly Devious before you leave. You can also pre-order The Vanishing Stair (and support independent bookstores, thanks to our friends at Indiebound!) by clicking here. And be sure to come back again next week for a chat between Lupita and Christina June about Christina’s new book, Everywhere You Want To Be.


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