My Inspiration by Linda Fairstein
At just about every bookstore or library signing I’ve ever done —and I think most authors would tell you they’ve had the same experience —there is at least one person who asks about my earliest work. At what age did I know I wanted to be a writer? How did I figure out that I liked to tell stories? What kind of response did I get from people to whom I showed the work?
I was 11 years old when I wrote my first mystery. I’d all but forgotten about it until my mother, whom I adored, died in 2008. Unlike my father, she didn’t read crime novels, and she preferred literary fiction and biographies of interesting women. She was also the neatest person I’ve ever known. So it was quite a surprise, going through boxes in her basement, when my brother and I found that our mother had been somewhat of a paper hoarder. And one of the childhood treasures she had saved was the first mystery story I wrote for my 6th grade Creative Writing Club entitled The Secret of Apple Tree Farm.
The elementary school I attended in the late 1950’s was in a diverse suburb just north of New York City. It was a time when we had full-time art and music teachers in well-funded public school systems. And at Pennington, we also had the most wonderful library, and a sent-from-central-casting person to be the perfect gatekeeper to my literary development, a great librarian named Doris Shorey. In fact, when I created the library in my new middle-grade book, INTO THE LION’S DEN, I simply drew from my memory of that very room, complete with a green leather chair in the sunlit corner, and the woman that had played such a critical role in my development.
We didn’t use the word ‘mentor’ in 1959, but Miss Shorey was the teacher I was happiest to see every day of the week, the person who most fostered my love of literature and of reading. “Did you like A Little Princess, Linda?” she would ask when I’d return a book. “Then I’m sure you’re going to love The Secret Garden.” We would start the school year with a list of 100 classics to read, and we couldn’t cross one off the list without discussing it with her. Miss Shorey made us each memorize a long story-poem and recite it aloud to the entire class. It was a wonderful assignment, and I mastered more Kipling in my youth than any other poet. The prize for doing anything well in Miss Shorey’s class was the opportunity to sit in the green leather wingchair, for one hour of the school day, with the book of one’s choice. It was a slice of heaven for a kid who loved to read.
In addition to a young love of reading the classics with Miss Shorey, I also had a deep affection for and fascination with Nancy Drew. An older cousin put the first one – The Secret of the Old Clock – in my hands, and I devoured each episode as if it was candy. The teenage detective was my favorite companion on rainy days or whenever I stayed homesick. The women who wrote under the name Carolyn Keene introduced me to the concept of series fiction, and how your favorite characters—like Nancy and her loyal pals—could entertain you over and over again through their stories. I fantasized about solving capers with her crew, which probably led me to my job as a prosecutor in Manhattan’s District Attorney’s Office. Nancy instilled in me the desire to create a protagonist in my book Into the Lion’s Den whose intelligence and devotion to justice would serve her well.
Devlin Quick is my twelve-year old sleuth. She’s smart and brave, with a good sense of humor, a core group of loyal friends, and a very accomplished mother. She loves to solve crime capers, using every resource at her disposal. She attends the all-girls Ditchley School where she derives enormous joy from her hours in the library, and the invaluable companionship and mentoring of her favorite librarian, Doris Shorey. As I launch this first book in a series for middle-grade readers, it is my greatest wish that some kids develop the desire to jump in and run alongside Devlin and crime-fighting friends as I wanted to do with Nancy Drew and the other classics my favorite librarian encouraged me to read.
Linda Fairstein is best known as the New York Times bestselling author of the Alex Cooper mystery series for adults. Linda worked at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office as the head of the Special Victims Unit from 1976 to 2002. Devlin Quick is her first book for children. She lives in New York, NY, where the Devlin Quick series is set.