I’m a cozy writer. I love reading them, I love writing them, and I love watching them on television. I love the puzzle – and the way that the crime is never too violent, or bloody, and the dead person is never too nice or too useful. Cozies make me feel safe.
And yet my latest novel One Stone Left Unturned is very different. For one thing, although it’s a mystery, it’s also an historical fantasy and it’s aimed at the middle grade market.
I’ve always been fascinated with the fall of the Russian dynasty. When I was teaching junior high in a Catholic School, I taught the film Nicholas and Alexandra. The students loved the story and I was able to incorporate the theme into many subjects.
In religion we debated the power of Rasputin, the crazy monk, who brought down the empire. Was he a saint or a sinner? Where did his power actually come from? (In my novel it comes from a jewel sewed into Tatiana Romanov’s clothing when the royal family is exiled.)
And, of course, there is history. How did Russia and why did Russia end up as Communists? We computed the days that the royal family was in exile for math, and the children were mesmerized by the science of hemophilia, which afflicted the heir to the throne, for science.
If my students loved the story, I figured other kids might too and I wrote the novel from the point of view of Tatiana, one of the little princesses. The question soon became – how to promote it.
When you write for middle grade children, you are really writing for two markets, the kids themselves, and the gatekeepers. Middle grade kids don’t often shop for books by themselves, so you have to get the parents, the teachers and the librarians on board.
The easiest way to do this (although none of this is easy) is through school visits. I booked myself into some classrooms. I do a small reading (kids have very little attention spans), a little mystery to solve, a brief lesson on writing, and then a contest with a prize. I leave a copy of the book for the library and bookmarks for the kids in case they can get their parents to order a copy. And sometimes the entire grade will order the book before I even arrive. Where else can you sell two dozen books in a few hours?
I did have a stroke of luck – a publisher from Croatia agreed to translate the novel and make it available to every library in the country. That won’t necessary increase my sales, still it’s nice to know that people half way around the world are enjoying the book.
It’s hard when you switch genres, because whatever fan base you may have acquired isn’t coming with you. And unless you plan on writing a sequel, any new fans won’t be of any help to you in the future.
But sometimes, an author has to write a story because it’s just itching to get out. Sometimes a writer thinks it’s a tale that must be told. And sometimes veering away from your comfort zone gives you new strengths.
And sometimes that’s enough.
Marianna Heusler is an Edgar nominated author of nine novels and hundreds of short stories. A former elementary school teachers, she lives in New York City with her husband, Joel, her son Maximilian and her little dog, Dolce.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK
My middle grade novel, One Stone Left Unturned, is part mystery, part fantasy and part history, and is told from two different points of view.
The novel follows the final days before the Romanov massacre from the eyes of their daughter, Tatiana. The second point of view is that of Augusta Ashford, a lonely teenager.
On July 16th, 1918 the Romanov family was murdered, thus signifying the end of the Romanov Empire. Historians believe that a peasant by the name of Rasputin was instrumental in the downfall of the dynasty. Because the royal family believed that he could cure their son, Alexis, who was suffering from hemophilia, Rasputin was able to influence the Imperial Family.
But what if Rasputin’s power did not come from God as he claimed, but from a simple jewel, a tri-colored fifteen caret tourmaline? And what if that very stone landed in the hands of a teenager a century later?
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At first I wasn’t even sure I wanted to review this book as it didn’t seem to fit into any of my preferred genres. However, one good thing about being a reviewer is that it widens your literary horizons and I am so glad I agreed.
The story of the last days of Tsar Nicholas’ rule of Russia is extremely well researched, and, as a history fan, this part of the story really appealed to me. I wasn’t so sure about the stone with the special powers as though this seemed a bit far-fetched to begin with. It didn’t take long, however, before I was avidly reading to find out more about the parallel contemporary story of Augusta and her grandmother. The stories are expertly interwoven and I have to admit to enjoying everything about the book. Marianna Heusler is a skillful storyteller and this book will have you gripped as you wait to see how the power of the tourmaline unfolds.
It is a historical novel combined with a modern contemporary story of teenage bullying and a bit of mystery thrown in for good measure. Somehow this just works. Although it is aimed at YA, it is a story that would appeal to adults too.
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