10:00 am EST, January 17, 2018

Exclusive: Maureen Johnson talks ‘Truly Devious,’ Agatha Christie, and more

Maureen Johnson’s latest novel is a page-turning mystery that balances traditional detective work with the modern world of true crime podcasts and YouTube stars.

We asked Maureen Johnson a few of our burning questions about Truly Devious, her favorite mysteries, and social media. Here’s what she had to say.

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About ‘Truly Devious’

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Related: ‘Truly Devious’ book review: Maureen Johnson’s modern mystery delivers

Q&A with ‘Truly Devious’ author Maureen Johnson

1. ‘Truly Devious’ plays into the tradition of mystery novels and detectives. Were there any particular mysteries — real or fictional — that inspired you while writing?

Basically, I set out to write a locked room mystery, which is a classic trope. I wanted to play on the classic one sentence mysteries — a man is found in an empty locked room hanging from the ceiling, but there is nothing in the room for him to have stood on. Or, the similar one, a man is found stabbed in a locked room but there is no knife. How did these things happen? That was my starting point.

If you come to my house, you will see big piles of mysteries. I was a mystery reader from the time I was a small child. For me, a perfect summer day meant reading two Agatha Christies and maybe some other mystery to fill in for dessert. The book is loaded with nods to many of those stories. And there is a loving wink at The Westing Game, which was one of my most treasured books. There are references to Sherlock Holmes many times.

There are also nods to historical true crime. The most noticeable is probably the Lindbergh kidnapping. Also, the Brooke Hart kidnapping. There are some others, but if I say which ones, I’ll be giving too much away.

2. Follow up, because I know you also love Twitter: Which fictional detective would you most like to follow on Twitter?

Probably Hercule Poirot, who was absolutely my favorite when I was growing up. He would enjoy the tidiness of 140 or 280 characters.

3. This book has quite a few creators (authors, YouTubers, etc). Who are some of your other favorite creators right now?

Podcasters. They feature prominently. Especially true crime ones.

4. The characters in this book are all distinct and feel so real. I particularly loved Stevie, Nate, and Pix. Were any of your characters inspired by real or fictional figures? Which one of them do you relate to the most?

Nate, the writer, is me and every writer I know. Pix probably came out of the fact that archaeology is a thread in many Agatha Christie novels because she was an archeologist. Stevie is sort of me, with her obsessive love of fictional and true crime. I keep waiting for someone to ask me to solve a murder. Someday it will happen.

5. The book tackles some intense topics like murder, but one of the most important themes I saw in the novel was friendship. How do you balance that dark topic of murder with more hopeful themes like friendship?

There’s no reason not to have both! The only thing better than getting to solve a murder is getting to solve a murder with your friends! This is the premise of Scooby Doo, after all.

6. The book also deals with the issue of identity. These characters all have specialized interests and identities that allowed them to get into Ellingham Academy, but they also lie about themselves, struggle to go outside of their comfort zones, and try to carve out a place for themselves while there. What made you want to write about having and finding an identity?

That’s so much of being a teenager. There’s so much pressure to figure out what you want to be and where you fit in. And what you do best may not necessarily fit in with the group you’re in. Also, you can feel ridiculous saying your dreams out loud. I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid, which generally got the response, “Well, that’s great, Agatha Christie, but what are you really going to do?” Having the courage to say what you want to become…it’s tough. That’s what Stevie and the others are up against.

7. Finally: I know ‘Truly Devious’ has just gone out into the world, but what can we expect from Stevie and Ellingham Academy in the future?

More murders. A lot more danger. And answers to some long-held secrets.

About Maureen Johnson

maureen johnson

Maureen Johnson is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of several YA novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Suite Scarlett, and The Name of the Star. She has also done collaborative works, such as Let It Snow (with John Green and Lauren Myracle), and The Bane Chronicles (with Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan). Maureen has an MFA in Writing from Columbia University. She has been nominated for an Edgar Award and the Andre Norton Award, and her books appear frequently on YALSA and state awards lists. Time Magazine has named her one of the top 140 people to follow on Twitter (@maureenjohnson). She lives in New York City.

Visit her website, here.

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