Photo Credit: Rachel @MyNancyDrewLibrary
Imagine . . . the silhouette of three girls riding their bikes around their neighborhood in the intense southern summer heat until the horizon blazes a purple and pink sunset. As the streetlights pop on, the friends roll into their driveways to enjoy dinners grilled to perfection. They've earned them after a day of racing bikes, climbing a treehouse, and searching the cul-de-sac's pine-filled island for clues in their latest sleuthing adventure.
This type of image from my childhood replayed in my mind as I penned my first book in The Wright Detective series, The Mysterious Locker Notes. It is the feeling I hope to evoke when readers pick up this story about a young sleuth and track star, Tessa Wright, who solves small-town mysteries with the help of her three best friends (Skylar, Leah, and Riley) from her backyard treehouse, atop a majestic maple.
This upper middle grade, lower young adult series includes the elements of mystery, adventure, community, friendship, and romance that I love to weave into so much of my work.
Growing up, I devoured mystery novels including Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, and Sherlock Holmes stories. They were clever page-turners that held this science-nerd's attention. In The Wright Detective, Tessa Wright (most likely an extension of myself) is a sporty STEM girl, who also enjoys getting lost in a novel while relaxing in a bean bag chair inside her cozy treehouse.
I moved frequently as a kid, due to my dad's corporate job (we're talking double-digit schools from K-12). Always being the "new kid" in class enhanced my love of adventure and travel and made me quite adaptive. I was always introduced to new people, environments, and experiences. When I played with my friends, we didn't do it within the confines of a playdate or our parents' ever watchful eyes. We had the freedom to create, play, and explore independently. This is something I try to do with the characters in The Wright Detective. From riding bikes around their quaint town to find a lost cat or skateboard or going for a shake at Lorraine's Diner or a slice from Tony's Pizzeria, the characters find adventure in the everyday.
Despite the benefits of moving frequently, I realized as an adult that I didn't have a connection to one place. I was not "from" anywhere specific. While I learned to adapt to my surroundings, I didn't feel that sense of connection to a community. So, in The Wright Detective, that was my goal in creating the southern town of Greeneville Heights (inspired by Nancy Drew's River Heights). With each book in the series, the reader meets more members of the close-knit town and is introduced to businesses and individuals who make significant contributions to their beloved community. These include Tessa's dad Drew, a Marine and detective with the Greeneville Heights Police Force and her mom Cora, a trusted pediatrician with her own practice. You feel that sense of community and loyalty to Greeneville that Tessa feels and wants to protect.
When we are young, we are shaped in so many ways by our friendships. Because I did not grow up in one specific community, I didn't have the experience of life-long childhood friendships. However, I did have many close friendships. And often times, this occurred in groups that were diverse. I was a sporty girl with many interests, who didn't mind knee scrapes from wiping out on my bike. I played with Barbies, yet hung up posters of the Mercury-7 Astronauts on my bedroom walls. My friendship groups included both girls and boys and that is how I write ensemble casts. The reader in The Wright Detective is introduced to a diverse cast of characters with different family structures and issues. I explore divorce, job loss, sibling tensions, and generational differences. When I developed the TSLR Detective Agency (named after each girl member), I am reminded of the tight friendships and lively adventures described in The Baby-sitters Club series.
Even in the mystery books I read, I always love a little element of romance tucked away in the background. It doesn't need to be the central focus, but it adds a human and emotional element to sometimes very logical, factual-based plots. Within the realm of kidlit, this is even more important, as these tween and teen characters are often discovering themselves and learning how to navigate moving from childhood to adulthood. The reader is thrown into the confusing and complicated world of teenage relationships. In The Wright Detective, Tessa is dead-set against allowing boys into the girls' detective agency or "Girls Only" treehouse because that is the way it has always been done. Her friend Skylar, however, disagrees, especially if it means allowing her new boyfriend into the mix. It creates discussion and tension as they must negotiate these differences, best described as simply growing up.
Most notably, The Wright Detective was inspired by compelling stories of mystery, adventure, intrigue, and friendship that captivated me as a reader over the years. These include Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries, Rebecca Stead's Liar & Spy and Newbery winner When You Reach Me, A Wrinkle In Time (also a Newbery Winner), the popular Teen series The Baby-sitter's Club, and even the hilarious Stephanie Plum books. Ultimately, Tessa Wright's adventures have been most heavily influenced by the timeless Nancy Drew novels, by Carolyn Keene (AKS Mildred Wirt and others after her). Nancy's character paved the way for other intelligent, curious, and intuitive female detectives, both in fiction and real life. And those stories are what framed my own sleuthing adventures as a child. My hope is that Tessa will inspire a new generation of super sleuths to explore their worlds and find magic and mystery in the everyday, just like Nancy.
Introducing Tessa Wright
The first notes to drop were eerily simple: I SEE YOU . . .
Seventh-grader Tessa Wright is Greeneville Heights’ middle school track star and super sleuth. Following in her detective dad’s footsteps, she has a perfect record of solving the town’s most mind-bending mysteries with the help of her three best friends (Skylar, Leah, and Riley). The TSLR Detective Agency is always on the case from Tessa’s backyard treehouse, atop a majestic maple.
Despite being fast on the track and in deductive reasoning, Tessa is completely stumped when creepy, cryptic notes from an unknown sender start dropping into her locker. Normally, cracking this type of case would be an easy task. Except only-child Tessa’s mind is preoccupied with a dreaded addition to her family: her mom’s baby bump.
Now, Tessa needs her friends more than ever. Too bad they are more concerned with their own worries, including the upcoming spring dance. For Tessa to keep her perfect sleuthing record and her sanity, it’s vital she solve this mystery as soon as possible. This time, the answer might be wright in front of her own eyes.
Every small-town mystery needs The Wright Detective . . .
Book One: The Mysterious Locker Notes
Available April 28, 2022