Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A Little Munday on Sunday

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Evan Munday

October 9th: Ninth Post

Just over a week ago, I had the pleasure of attending the jam-packed launch of Evan Munday’s new YA novel, The Dead Kid Detective Agency, published by ECW Press. On that night, Evan got to wear two hats as Coach House Press Publicist and first-time novelist. (He wore one shirt and one tie, both of which reflected his unique haberdashery, but sadly neither of which were gingham.) I asked Mr. Munday These Questions Three:

1. Both our novels have feisty and precocious 13/14 year-old protagonists, yours quite aptly being named October. I see both October and my Jordan May March, as part of the historical legacy of Jo March, created by Jordan’s favourite author, Louisa May Alcott. Did you set out to make a modern contribution to that girl-rebel legacy?

I don’t know if I was consciously channeling Jo March when writing October Schwartz, but I certainly was aiming to make a rebel girl hero of sorts. Things are a bit different in the mainstream young adult world now, but when I started writing the book, it seemed like the majority of big protagonists in fantastical kids’ books were male (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson), with Bella from Twilight as one of the female exceptions. (This was a world before things like The Hunger Games and Divergent.) One of the main goals of writing The Dead Kid Detective Agency was to make an awesome, wisecracking, kind of bad-ass suburban goth YA heroine.

2. As a lifetime fan of Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Judy Bolton and Harriet the Spy, I share your interest in the girl detective. Why do you think the teenage female version of Sherlock Holmes still has such attraction for us over a hundred years later in 2011?

I think readers – of mysteries, especially – like reading about smart people. Analytical minds are as appealing (if not more) than, say, powerful fists or magical powers. As a kid, I was always a fan of the smart characters – your Simons (rather than your Alvins or Theodores), your Donatellos and Raphaels (rather than your Michelangelos) – and girl detectives always seemed to be one level sharper than everyone else in the book.

The iconic girl detective can be found in characters in other media like Lois Lane and (one of my more recent favourites) Veronica Mars. Even Hermione Granger (of the Harry Potter series) is something of girl detective. She’s always figuring out what horcruxes are before the others. Girl detectives are also really appealing to smart girls – they see something of themselves in the heroine – and smart girls (as a gross generalization) tend to spend a lot of time reading. There’s a reason U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayor hold Nancy Drew in such high regard. (I’m sure Canadian Supreme Court Justices like Beverley McLachlin do, too, but they remain conspicuously silent on the issue.)

3. Although some of your characters are likewise undead, do you see TDKDA as a healthy antidote to the pervasive phenomenon of young girls falling helplessly for male vampires that predominates so much of YA fiction?

Maybe. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with falling for the undead. Buffy the Vampire Slayer fell for a few vampires in her day and I think she’s a killer role model. But I did want to avoid any swooning or falling head-over-heels in love for October. For one, she’s thirteen. When I was thirteen, I was wearing monochrome sweatsuits and obsessing over the soundtrack to Sonic the Hedgehog. Romance was like a foreign country to me. For two, it was more important to me as a writer to make a heroine who was defined by who she was and how she acted. Not who she was crushing on or who was crushing on her. Maybe later in the Dead Kid series October will start making out with cute high school boys (or girls) in secluded locker bays. But for now, she’s got way too many teacher murders to solve to worry about that.

My thanks to Evan for answering These Questions Three! I’m still thinking about his last comment. One of the things I grappled with as a teacher is the well-documented grade nine phenomenon wherein a boy’s world and independence widens; he gets self-esteem from many new sources, but a girl’s sources of self-esteem all narrow down to one thing. It no longer matters as much to her or her peer group if she’s good at sports, or talented in the arts, or academics, all that matters is if she is pretty, popular, and gets the ultimate prize -- a boyfriend. One stat that has always stayed with me from a huge study of Ontario students is that 90% of grade nine girls said they’d rather have a boyfriend, even one who hit them, than no boyfriend at all. So kudos to Evan for creating a grade nine girl who’d rather solve murders than get mushy!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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