For every first-time author who is published with ease, there are many more who share the experiences of first-time novelist Susan Runholt of St. Paul. Runholt faced much resistance through the many years she tried get her young-adult novel, “The Mystery of the Third Lucretia,” published. The book, set in the Twin Cities and London, Paris and Amsterdam, is the first in a series of books featuring two female teenage sleuths.
Runholt has several upcoming readings and book discussions scheduled, including:
Sat., Sept. 13, 2008, 2 p.m.
Rice Street Library
1011 Rice St, St. Paul
Sat., Sept. 20, 2008, 2 p.m.
Washburn Public Library
5244 Lyndale Ave. S. Minneapolis
Publishing insiders told Runholt time and time again that there was no market for young-adult fiction (books targeted to the roughly 12- to 18- year-old reader). In fact, she said, books for young readers were few and often hard for readers to identify with. “This was before Harry Potter became the success that it was,” Runholt said. “The young-adult fiction section was very undeveloped. My daughter Annalisa graduated from the Nancy Drew series and there was little other than The Babysitters Club books and tragedies … there was very little in between [Nancy Drew and The Babysitters’ Club] that was enjoyable and didn’t talk down to readers. Mine was in between.”
Writing for her daughter
When Annalisa was 14, she and Runholt had a “terrible time communicating with each other. We just couldn’t talk about anything, and I was writing an adult book then and I thought ‘what if instead of doing that, I wrote a book for readers my daughter’s age and she and I could write it together? What if we wrote a book together? And that’s how I decided to write [“The Mystery of the Third Lucretia”].
“I know a lot of Kari [the book’s narrator] because she was a lot like my daughter,” Runholt said. “Annalisa created the characters, their names, their personalities, the way they spoke and the way they looked. The voice you hear [in the novel], that is my daughter’s 14-year-old voice.” The novel follows 14-year-old girls, Kari and Lucas, who cut their teeth as sleuths on an international art mystery. Narrated by Kari, the book focuses on the unique but complementary differences between the duo and how they utilize these differences to solve the mystery of a supposed third Lucretia painting by Rembrandt von Rijn.
The book begins with the girls taking a course at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. They encounter a surly man they nickname “Gallery Guy,” who is replicating one of the Lucretia paintings. The girls’ suspicions ramp up when they encounter him again in London, only disguised differently, copying the other Lucretia piece. The girls make it their business to figure out what Gallery Guy is plotting. They discover Gallery Guy is attempting to reap the benefits of a newly discovered third Lucretia painting. With the help of Kari’s mother the two are able to solve the mystery.
In the face of such resistance to young-adult books, Runholt put the novel down for a time, until someone in her writers’ group suggested she pick up the series again. “So much had changed and there was such a rich market for young-adult fiction,” she said, attributing the change to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Runholt felt that Rowling’s success “revealed that there are all these kids who want to read good books that don’t talk down to them, that give them some content, that take them to a fun place.” She continued to revise her book and search for an agent to market it to publishers. After being named a finalist for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger award for first-time novelists, she found an agent who found a publisher for the book.
Runholt is writing all the time-her “day job” is grant writing for nonprofit organizations. She credits her writers’ group, “Creme de la Crime,” as a great support system. The group has met weekly for more than 15 years. “I rely on it absolutely to help improve my writing. I feel very insecure when I send my editor a piece of writing that my group has not heard. They have made me a better writer, and continue to do so,” Runholt said. She highly recommends that aspiring writers hook up with like-minded others to experience this important type of learning and support.
Runholt’s second book featuring sleuths Kari and Lucas, “Rescuing Seneca Crane,” will be published in June 2009.