Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wordcraft -- Tough times, tough secrets

I’m a Detective!
Elizabeth Marie Hutchinson -- When I Dream
by Regina Stone Matthews


It’s in the news all too often -- families next door or down the block outwardly living normal lives while inwardly torn apart by addictions, tough economic times, even violence. They’re part of our communities -- except they aren’t.

That’s why the latest book in Dallas area writer Regina Matthews’ middle grade series, I’m a Detective: Elizabeth Marie Hutchinson -- When I Dream, is about the “importance of communities.”

Previous books dealt with Elizabeth Marie’s discovery of the nature of friendship and the problems of bullying. But the older Elizabeth Marie gets, the bigger the problems she encounters. And, “now there’s middle school to deal with,” Ms. Matthews told an audience recently at the Woman’s Center in Richardson, Texas.

Or, as Elizabeth Marie says, “Middle school was weird enough, but not as weird as the house across the street. . . . the Hendrix family had lived in that house for as long as I could remember. And in all that time I had never been inside their house.”

Elizabeth Marie enlists her friends (including former bully Margaret Callahan) to solve the lunchroom thefts plaguing Wilson Middle School. But as the thefts escalate, she learns that to catch the thief, she’ll have to enter the house of the reclusive Hendrixes and uncover secrets it will take a whole neighborhood to solve.

The dilemma of the Hendrixes, Ms. Matthews said, is based on a family she babysat for when she was a teenager. And similar problems have only increased as neighbors become more isolated from each other, as children become more invested in protecting the family’s secrets against the adolescent push toward conformity and in the face of potential bullying.

“If one kid gets that,” Ms. Matthews said, “I will consider myself a successful writer.”

The Hendrixes aren’t the only characters based on real life, she told her audience. The original Elizabeth Marie characters were based on her own daughters, and first story in the series, Elizabeth Marie Hutchinson -- When I Dream, had its origins in tales she told them as children. Thinking “this would be something I could read to them and that they could read to themselves,” she wrote her first manuscript, put it in a filing cabinet, and lost track of it for years.

After uncovering it following her family’s move to Dallas, she researched self-publishing avenues but found the costs of the do-it-yourself method beyond her means. In 2008, she found her present publisher, print-on-demand PublishAmerica, which accepted her unsolicited manuscript, “and I was hooked,” she said.

She is currently at work on an adult book of memoir and essays, Anyone Seen My Rose-Colored Glasses.

But will there be more Elizabeth Marie books? Maybe, she admitted. After all, her middle school heroine is almost old enough to be interested in boys. . . .

(Print and Kindle versions of all the Elizabeth Marie Hutchinson books are available through more about Ms. Matthews, see

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