Welcome to my interview with Award-Winning Author, Speaker, and Educator Margi Preus! We’ll explore her latest release THE SILVER BOX: An Enchantment Lake Mystery – book 3 in the series. Margi’s stories hold breathtaking and bold journeys such as found in her books Heart Of A Samurai and Village Of Scoundrels.
The Silver Box ~ An Enchantment Lake Mystery
by Margi Preus
In the final Enchantment Lake mystery, Francie’s search for the truth about her mother—and herself—plunges her into danger during a North Woods winter.
Everything depends on a small, engraved silver box. If only Francie can follow its cryptic clues to the whereabouts of her missing mother she may finally understand the truth about who she really is. But one ominous clue after another reveal that Francie possesses something so rare and so valuable that some people are willing to do anything to get it. When her pursuit leads her into the snowy north woods, It is only to find out that she, herself, is being pursued.
It’s wonderful to have you join us here on the Mixed-Up Files, Margi. Let’s begin with your young self. What was she like? Did she enjoy reading? Writing? Was she adventurous?
Young Margi had the independence of Francie (the protagonist of The Silver Box) if not the bravery. As the last of six kids who spent summers at a lake cabin along with dozens of cousins, I had a prodigious amount of freedom and independence. I roamed around like a stray (mostly wet) dog all summer. So, yes, adventure was a big part of life. There was plenty of reading. I like to think I wrote, but I recently found my childhood diary, which is 99%empty, so probably not. However, I used to make up plays with my friends which we would perform for unsuspecting relatives.
Sounds like a wonderful childhood. It also gave you lots of material to write about, I’m sure. (Flannery O’Conner from your answer below😊)
Readers have watched Francie, your main character/modern-day sleuth, grow over the course of the previous two books in THE SILVER BOX Series. Why will young readers be drawn to her?
I imagine that Francie’s life of independence—kind of a more grown up, somewhat more serious Pippi Longstocking—would be appealing to kids. She lives on her own and makes her own decisions—not all of them good ones. She also gets herself into some hair-raising adventures. As a kid I would have been drawn to all of those things.
What do you hope readers learn from Francie’s journey?
I don’t presume to know what, if anything, readers will learn or gain from any of my books. I would be thrilled even if it is simply to have an enjoyable reading experience—one that makes them want to read more!
That would be a wonderful takeaway!
This series has been described as a great read for fans of Nancy Drew and those who enjoy cozy mysteries. What makes this series and THE SILVER BOX: An Enchantment Lake Mystery as its final book, unique? Were you sad to finish it?
I think the setting is one of the unique things about these stories, and it’s been fun to write a book set in a place I know so well, which is northern Minnesota lake country. And it’s been fun to live vicariously through Francie’s dangerous adventures. (Especially when you know she’s going to make it out somehow or other).
Haha! Yes, I’m sure.
It is always sad to leave a character you have grown to know and love. But she is graduating from high school now and it’s a little like sending a kid off to college.
A More Personal View🦋
Your books all have a sense of timelessness about them. How do you believe you accomplish this?
Thank you! And I have no idea! I do try to avoid slang for the most part, mainly because it’s impossible to stay current, but also because it does have a tendency to date a piece of writing. Our constantly changing technology is also a challenge. If you’re writing a story set in contemporary times, you have to acknowledge our ever-present phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices, but fortunately, there are plenty of places in the Enchantment Lake area where cell service is spotty—and of course the cold weather drains batteries rather quickly, so our heroes often have to solve their problems the old fashioned way: resourcefulness, bravery, quick-wittedness.
On your website, you mention being inspired by family members and their stories. Who have you used specifics of their stories and turned them into something unique for your characters and the world they live in?
I suppose most characters have some elements of people we know. None of my characters are direct one-to-one matches to anyone in particular, most are built of a combination of various traits and characteristics of people I know or imagine. I used to say that the somewhat loopy great aunts in the story were based on my own aunts and my mother—I have recently realized that, actually, maybe I am one of those dotty old aunts myself!
I’m sure you’re a wonderful aunt!
You had a lot of ‘odd’ jobs before you began writing for young readers. How have those experiences helped you become a writer and how can aspiring writers look to their current circumstances or situations and turn them into writing fuel and material?
Wasn’t Hemingway a big proponent of having a lot of experiences so you had something to write about? But then there was the genius Emily Dickinson who never went anywhere. And Flannery O’Connor famously said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
So, far be it from me to offer advice about whether to live large or stay home and write, but I personally am glad for all my experiences and my many very “odd” jobs. Although I don’t know that I have written specifically about any of my oddball work experiences, they have given me a wealth of experience, introduced me to a wide swath of humanity, and no doubt broadened my horizons.
This is such a wise and insightful answer. It’s really making me think.💡 Thank you!
What have been your biggest obstacles when a story idea came upon you and what have you found helped you the most in overcoming them?
The obstacles are familiar to all writers: doubt that your idea, that what you’ve written, and that what you’re about to write has any merit. That challenge rears its head pretty much on a daily basis. The way forward is, as Robert Leckie advised, to “go up and shoot that old bear under the desk between the eyes.”
For Our Teachers and Authors🍎🏫🎒
What is your favorite aspect of in-person or virtual school visits and how can authors be more accessible to students? Do you have any favorite online platforms or activities you use during your visits?
Thanks for asking about virtual visits, which I have done through Skype and more recently Zoom and Crowdcast, but would use whatever platform the school or group is using. Of course I love the energy of being with a whole room or auditorium full of kids, but I am looking forward to doing more virtual—and interactive—visits. Some things I’ve done lately include creating a story together, and a virtual treasure hunt.
Ooh . . . creating a virtual story with students for your visit. Now that sounds like something students would love!
I am currently working on developing a game to accompany The Littlest Voyageur (Holiday House 2020) which would be great for any group reading that book or studying the fur trade. (Read-aloud chapters of The Littlest Voyageur are available on my YouTube channel.) I am also planning a Zoom conversation with some of the people I interviewed for Village of Scoundrels (Amulet/Abrams, 2020) which I will record and make available as a resource to accompany that book or for holocaust studies. As for The Silver Box or any of the mysteries, I think it would be very fun to construct a mystery with students, which would give us a lot of opportunity to talk about story construction, building suspense, developing characters, and all kinds of other good stuff. Of course, I am also available to talk about writing and my books in general
In this world that seems so upside-down, what reading and writing advice can you share with our teachers and librarians?
All I really want to say to teachers, librarians, and parents is thank you. Thank you for hanging in there and for taking care of the kids. Please take care of yourselves, too! We appreciate you. And if you really want some reading/writing advice, email me with your specific questions. Seriously.
Inquiring minds are super excited to hear what they can expect next from you. Please share!
Thanks for asking! I have a couple of picture books in the pipeline. They won’t be out any time soon—but 2020, the pandemic year, was my year for books—I have three out this year: Village of Scoundrels, The Littlest Voyageur, and The Silver Box— thank you anyone for noticing!!
And thanks for taking this time to check in with me, Mixed Up Files!
Picture books . . . Yay! You have so much work releasing soon. So exciting! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and writing self with us. You are inspiring.
Margi Preus is a New York Times bestselling author of books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor–winning Heart of a Samurai. Among her other novels are Village of Scoundrels, Shadow on the Mountain, West of the Moon, and The Bamboo Sword, as well as the previous two books in the Enchantment Lake series, Enchantment Lake and The Clue in the Trees, which were published by the University of Minnesota Press and received the Midwest Book Award and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award. She lives in Duluth.
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