Book Links September 2016 www.booklistonline.com/booklinks 10
SCALES: How do you know when the
I bumble along, I make mistakes, I
doubt my sources, I ask questions, I
ask more questions, I go to the places
I’m writing about, I walk the scenes,
and I dig and dig and dig. What seems
like a simple question can take a week
to answer; a wrong turn can yield a
treasure trove of information that may
form the backbone of my book. All of
this is part of the happy mess called
In the case of Chasing Secrets, the
research was especially intimidating
because so much of the existing nonfic-
tion about the plague outbreak in San
Francisco was contradictory. I could
not figure out what actually happened.
And then one day I discovered The
Barbary Plague (2003), by Marilyn
Chase. That was the first source I
found that I felt confident in. And
from that book and its bibliography, I
was able to understand what had really
happened and why it was so difficult
to find the truth.
research is done and it is time to write
CHOLDENKO: My research and
writing are interwoven. When the
book is printed, I stop researching, but
not before. Researching is generally
the first step, but until I actually start
writing, the research lacks focus. The
research gives the writing authority
and authenticity. On a good day, I will
write in the morning and research in
SCALES: Does the plot take shape in
your mind as you are doing research?
from the start, and she began to take
over in a way I hadn’t planned. Soon
she was overshadowing Mom, and I
began to see that the way to take the
relationship between Lizzie and Aunt
Hortense to the next level was to make
it a more essential part of Lizzie’s life.
That change helped me bring Lizzie
into focus in a deeper way.
SCALES: What questions do young
readers ask about Chasing Secrets?
Are questions from girls different from
those of boys?
CHOLDENKO: I haven’t noticed a big
difference in questions from boys versus
girls for any of my books actually. For
Chasing Secrets, kids want to know how
much of the story is true. There are a lot
of questions about Billy’s character and
why I ended the book as I did. I got a
letter a few weeks ago from a girl who
was incensed that Noah was so sexist.
SCALES: Moose is the male main character in your Al Capone books. How
difficult is it to get inside the head of a
male character? Will there be another
book about Moose?
CHOLDENKO: I am hard at work
on the fourth Al Capone book right
now. I absolutely love writing from a
boy’s point of view. It seems to come
naturally to me, though I don’t really
SCALES: Young readers are intrigued by
the titles of your novels. And the subtitle
of Chasing Secrets suggests a mystery.
At what point do you title a novel?
Have some titles come to you quicker
CHOLDENKO: Sometimes. More
often I write my way into a compelling
plot. I pour as much information as I
can into my head, and then I begin
trying to figure out who my characters
are and what drives them. My first plot
ideas are generally too generic. But as
my characters develop, I then begin to
see how their personalities can drive the
plot in a fresh direction.
SCALES: What was your inspiration
for the character of Lizzie?
CHOLDENKO: There’s a little of me
in Lizzie, and a little of my daughter,
plus a lot of purely made up stuff. The
writing gained real authority from reading memoirs of doctors and of doctor’s
SCALES: I love Aunt Hortense, and
Lizzie is such a challenge to her. Which
character took shape first?
CHOLDENKO: Lizzie took shape
first. Aunt Hortense started out stiff
and superficial, but with each draft,
she gained depth. In the end, I was
surprised how close the bond between
Lizzie and Aunt Hortense actually
SCALES: How would Lizzie have
been a different character if her mother
were alive? Did you know from the
very beginning that Lizzie would be
CHOLDENKO: I did not know Lizzie
would be motherless. All I knew for
sure was Lizzie would have a strong
relationship with her father. In my early
drafts, Lizzie had a mother. But Aunt
Hortense was an important character