Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Ellen Schwartz

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Ellen Schwartz

Ellen Schwartz is the author of The Teaspoon Detectives: The Case of the Missing Deed (Tundra Books), the first installment in a middle grade series that mixes intrigue with tasty recipes.

Ellen speaks with Open Book about her brightest character, the benefits of having a professional chef in the family and the intersection between dance and writing.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book.

Ellen Schwartz:

The Teaspoon Detectives: The Case of the Missing Deed is a culinary mystery that incorporates recipes into the story. It tells the story of five cousins who become sleuths in an effort to help their grandmother keep her home on fictional Otter Island, off the BC coast. The Tantalus Mining company wants Grandma’s property, and if she can’t produce the deed, she will lose her beloved home. The problem is that Grandpa, who died recently, hid the deed, and Grandma can’t remember where. Eventually, the kids discover that cryptic clues scribbled on Grandma’s recipes are clues left by Grandpa — clues that may help them solve the mystery of where the deed is hidden.

OB:

What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

ES:

Figuring out how the recipes would lead to clues, which would then help the cousins figure out the hiding place of the deed. That was really tough! My daughter, Merri Schwartz, who is a professional pastry chef, provided the recipes for the story and also helped me figure out how the recipes and clues would work together.

OB:

With what character (or characters) in your book do you most identify?

ES:

Sébastien. He’s the brainiest kid and the one who’s most intent on solving the mystery. Although I don’t claim to be as smart as Sébastien — not even close! — we are both loners and we both like to try to figure things out for ourselves.

OB:

For what age group are you most drawn to writing?

ES:

Although I have published some picture books and some YA novels, my most comfortable writing range seems to be novels for mid-grade readers — kids from 8 to 12. Kids that age can handle a chapter book, but they’re not yet into the angst and complication of teen literature.

OB:

What recurring themes do you notice turning up in your writing?

ES:

The importance of being who you are and being yourself, and knowing that you are loved for who you are. I think that’s the theme of most of my books!

OB:

What book did you read as a child or young adult that has stayed with you into adulthood?

ES:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was my absolute favourite book as a kid, and I still read it every couple of years to try to see how the author did it. I never do figure it out, but I still get carried away by the story and the writing every time.

OB:

Who are some people who have deeply influenced (fellow writers or not) your writing life?

ES:

My dance teacher, Kathleen Hinni. I studied modern dance with her from the age of 8 to 18. She was a true New York artist — dressed all in black, wore long, dangly earrings and beat out percussion on a tambourine. She had very high standards and, because I loved to dance, I strove to meet them. She could be strict, but she also emphasized expressing yourself through dance. It was in her classes that I learned the joys of being creative.

OB:

What are you working on now?

ES:

A non-fiction book for kids about the Vancouver Asahis baseball team, and the next book in the Teaspoon Detectives series!


Ellen Schwartz was born in Washington, DC, and now lives with her family in Burnaby, British Columbia. In addition to writing books, she has published dozens of magazine articles and adult short stories. Her stories for children have been published in children’s magazines and teaching anthologies.

In addition to her work as an author, Ms. Schwartz and her husband run a communications consulting company. She works as a corporate writer, and teaches creative writing at Simon Fraser University and Douglas College. Before becoming a writer, Ms. Schwartz taught special education and the primary grades, and worked as an environmental educator.

For more information about The Teaspoon Detectives: The Case of the Missing Deed please visit the Tundra website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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