Interview with author Elizabeth C. Bunce about her release, Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity
We’re excited to have Elizabeth C. Bunce on here today to talk about her new release. Let’s start with learning a bit more about you, Elizabeth, and then we’ll talk about Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity.
Did you have any childhood dreams for when you became an adult? If so, did they come true?
Absolutely! I knew I wanted to be an author from the time I was fairly young—and here I am. (We maybe won’t talk about how I also pictured myself surrounded by cats. Ahem.) But dreams don’t just “come true.” You have to make them happen. I read, studied, practiced, found other writers, and learned everything I could about how to become an author. And I wrote.
What advice would you give to your eight-year-old self?
Don’t be ashamed of the things you love, even if no one else understands why you like them. Collect those rocks! Plaster your room with posters of hippopotamuses! Read mysteries! Learn to knit! Don’t let anyone tell you rocks and hippopotamuses and mysteries and knitting aren’t cool, because they totally are. And you know it.
Did you love to read as a child? Can you tell us some favorite books?
Wow, this interview could go on forever! I absolutely devoured not just books but words. I was the kid who read cereal boxes. The Bookmobile stopped about half a mile from our house, and we would trek down there every week, and trek back home with armloads of books: the Betsy-Tacy books by Maude Hart Lovelace, Ruth Chew’s terrifically spooky stories, The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and every Trixie Belden book I could get my hands on. I loved everything spooky and mysterious and historical from a very early age—which explains the things I love to write.
Have you had any careers besides writing?
I have had a variety of different writing jobs, but I’ve spent my entire career working with words. I’ve been a technical writer, worked at magazines, wrote corporate employment manuals (nobody says, “I want to write employee handbooks when I grow up!” and there is a reason for that…). Writing is a skill you can use in any career path, from education, to science, to the law.
Why do you write?
I live with a population of imaginary people in my head clamoring for attention. When I was a kid, I thought I was supposed to grow out of my imaginary friends. I never did. Now they get to be your imaginary friends, and it’s fabulous!
What do you drink while writing?
Coffee. So. Much. Coffee.
Do you have any special things around your desk that inspire you when you write?
Oh, you mean besides the cats? Yes, I’m always surrounded by props that work as touchstones for my stories—I actually give writing workshops on this topic. Right now I can reach out and touch several items for my current project: a large brass key, a miniature silk bonnet, a rock with clawmarks on it… Writing books is such an ethereal endeavor that it really helps me to have real, physical objects to handle as I’m working.
Do you have a regular writing schedule?
I do, but “regular” depends on the book and my current deadlines. I have written many books very late at night, but my current project seems to like the mid-afternoons—and one of the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries surprised me utterly by catching me at work first thing in the morning! (Which literally never happens. With anything.) When I’m on deadline, either drafting or revision, I typically work in two or three big chunks of time every day—even on weekends—punctuated by breaks for the rest of my life: chores, errands, working out, Making.
Just a note about Making. If you’re wondering what it is, check out her website here to read more about it. Elizabeth, we’re kindred spirits when it comes to Making. I love everything you’ve mentioned and have tried almost everything you mentioned. Readers, feel free to share what you like making in the comments. We’d love to know.
And now that we know more about Elizabeth, let’s find out about more about her book, Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity.
What inspired you to create this story?
Like all my stories, Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity is a culmination of several things that had been brewing in the back of my mind for a while. One was the idea of exploring a new side of Miss Judson’s heritage—her Scottish ancestry. Another was playing with a new mystery “trope” for Myrtle & Co: where the sleuth unexpectedly inherits a big legacy, along with a murder mystery. And another was the nudge from my subconscious to get back to writing ghost stories, after several books with absolutely no paranormal elements. When I remembered that in the Victorian era, ghost hunting was a burgeoning science, I knew how I could work a haunting into Myrtle’s decidedly unghostly world!
Can you share how you plot your mysteries?
Funny you should ask that now, on this book—which was done completely differently from every other Myrtle Hardcastle book! First, mysteries are really two stories intertwined into one narrative: the tale of the crime itself and how that was committed, plus the story of the investigation, the scenes you see on the page, of the sleuth figuring everything out. Typically I am a devoted participant in NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. The schedule for the Myrtle books has meant that November is the perfect time to start drafting the new book, so I would get to work figuring out Whodunit: who dies, why, and how. I’d get to the end of the month, look at my glorious heap of words, and triumphantly think, “I’ve done it! I’ve written the story!”
…And then wake up on December 1, and realize: No, I’d only written the backstory. I still have to sit down to the hard work of deciding what clues I’ll need and the scenes that show Myrtle & C0 solving the crime.
However. The schedule for Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity was a little bit different, and somehow instead of spending that initial month working out the who-what-where-why of the murder, I simply launched myself headlong into the book itself, finding the clues and figuring out the story along with Myrtle! Instead of planting clues whose meaning I already understood, I flung interesting and mysterious things into my path and figured out what they meant as I learned more about the story. It was certainly interesting to approach the story from a different direction—and having done it both ways now, I can confidently say: I don’t really like either method. Ha!
Did you base Myrtle on anyone you know?
*Looks around self-consciously* No comment. Ahem.
In fact, Myrtle is me, when I was in eighth grade and my homeroom teacher called me argumentative and antisocial. I was a nerdy kid with somewhat “morbid” interests, and prone to speak up when I didn’t agree with what I was being told. That’s how I wound up as the lead prosecutor in Mock Trial! It’s been a real joy revisiting the girl I was and giving her worthy adventures Young Elizabeth would have loved (and a more understanding teacher!).
Have you had any experiences like those Myrtle does?
Well, thankfully, I have never found myself embroiled in a murder case! (Although, troublingly, that has happened to a few young people I know in real life.) But many of the things she feels are certainly based on my own experiences facing similar challenges: not fitting in with her peers; knowing full well who she is and what she wants from life even if it doesn’t fit the mold the world has planned for her; embracing her true self; standing up for herself and what’s important to her.
Do you have any advice for readers on how to face similar situations to what Myrtle faces in this book?
Don’t give up. Keep asking questions. If the first person you ask can’t help you, find someone else. When you know in your heart something is important, you have to keep going!
What is your favorite part of the book?
The dogs! We are a cat family now, but for many years we had dogs. So. Many. Dogs: a big, crazy family of coonhounds we raised from birth after finding their mama as a (pregnant!) stray. The zany pack of foxhounds Myrtle encounters at Rockfforde Hall is based on them. People have always asked me when I was going to write about “The Buncehounds,” but it took just the right story for them to make an appearance. All of the animals in Myrtle’s stories are based on my real-life animal acquaintances, so letting her experience the wild life of being surrounded by loud, lovable scenthounds was definitely special!
What do you hope readers will take away from the story?
I’d love to see them curious about Scotland, the Scots language, and Scottish history and culture. And I hope they find it a crackin’ ghost story, tae boot!
Please tell us about your other books.
Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity is the fifth (!) volume in the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, which take Myrtle all over the UK, solving all sorts of nefarious crimes. I’ve also written several YA historical fantasies, including the fairytale retelling A Curse Dark as Gold, which also has a spooky, ghostly setting.
Can you share what you’re working on now?
Nope! It’s super-duper top secret, but it’s very exciting, and I hope to have news by year’s end.
Wow! How exciting! Can’t wait to hear more about it.
Thanks ever so much for agreeing to the interview, Elizabeth! I know our young readers, as well as teachers and librarians will enjoy learning more about you and Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity! And we look forward to seeing what you come up with next.
About Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity
In the fifth book of the Edgar Award-winning series, Myrtle Hardcastle uncovers a string of murders during a treasure hunt on a haunted Scottish estate.
When her governess inherits an estate on a Scottish island, amateur detective Myrtle Hardcastle couldn’t be more excited. Unfortunately, the ancestral castle is both run-down and haunted. Ghostly moans echo in the walls, and there are rumors of a cursed treasure lost on the island—an ancient silver brooch that may have cost the former lord his life. But who had the motive, means, and opportunity to kill him? And could this Scottish trip mean the end of Myrtle’s plans to get her father and governess together?
Then Myrtle’s investigation stirs a villain out of hiding. The estate’s boat is stolen, so there’s no escape from the island. Myrtle is forced to play a deadly game, hunting for the brooch with a thief breathing down her neck—someone who will stop at nothing to get the treasure, even if it means murder.
About the Author
Elizabeth C. Bunce is the Edgar Award-winning author of the Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery series, beginning with Premeditated Myrtle, an Amazon Top 20 Children’s Book of the Year for 2020, an Indie Next Pick, winner of the 2021 Edgar Allan Poe “Edgar” Award, a Society of Midland Authors Honoree, a Library of Congress National Book Festival selection, a Best Children’s/YAA BookPage Best Book of 2020, A Mighty Girl’s 2020 Books of the Year, a two-time Edgar Award finalist, a three-time Anthony Award finalist, and a three-time Agatha Award finalist. The series continues in How to Get Away with Myrtle (a #1 Amazon New Release) and Cold-Blooded Myrtle, also an Edgar Award finalist, Agatha Award finalist, and Anthony Award finalist, as well as a Kirkus 2021 Top 10 Best Book of the Year–Middle Grade Fiction, a Silver Falchion Award finalist, and a Wall Street Journal holiday guide recommendation. The fourth book, In Myrtle Peril, is a 2023 Anthony Award finalist and 2023 Agatha Award finalist, and all four are available now in all formats with the fifth installment, Myrtle, Means, & Opportunity, coming in 2023.
Her first novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a young adult debut novel and was named a Smithsonian Notable Book and an Amelia Bloomer Project selection. Her high fantasy Thief Errant series includes the novels StarCrossed, A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best book for 2010, and Liar’s Moon, one of Kirkus Blog’s Favorite YA Novels of 2011. StarCrossed and A Curse Dark as Gold have appeared on Oprah’s Kid’s Reading List. Her novels have been named to the ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list, and she is a four-time Kansas Notable Book winner. An accomplished needlewoman and historical costumer, Elizabeth lives in the Midwest with her husband, her cats, and a boggart who steals books.
Check out her website at elizabethcbunce.com.