#TuesdayTalk with Helaine Becker. Her new book for middle readers, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie is on shelves now.
Tell us a bit about your book.
What was the catalyst for your story?
In Dirk Daring, Secret Agent, the main character has to deal with some pretty typical issues we all face growing up: when, and where, do you speak up, and how do you do it in such a way that you don’t get pounded in the school yard? In Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, Darren has to deal with the consequences from the decisions he made in book one – most notably, in learning when it’s better to keep your mouth shut than let your lips flap unwisely. This is a lesson I struggle with still.
What was it like to see your story come alive visually?
What are the challenges of writing a series?
For me, the biggest challenge was to reprise the things that made Dirk Daring, Secret Agent fun and interesting, without repeating myself or making a formulaic story. I decided to turn the premise in the first book on its head as a way to keep consistency, but provide new and different insights. Also, to make sure the book is interesting and fun to read as a stand alone, for kids who haven’t seen the first book. It’s hard to keep new readers up-to-date without slowing stuff down with lots of back story.
What was your favorite book as a child?
You really can’t expect me to pick just one, can you? I was one of those kids – like all of you, I’m sure – who read EVERYTHING that passed before their noses. The cereal box, for sure, but also packages of Polysporin cream or the small print stamped into door hinges. At 11 – the age of the main characters in Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, I particularly loved fantasy/adventure. Wrinkle in Time. The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Narnia. And I was also a wicked fan of MAD magazine and anything rudely funny. Still am. Hence the sly crude jokes slipped into Let Sleeping Dogs Lie. Not everyone will notice them, they are subtle. But for that kid like me? Oh yeah.
In your opinion, what makes a compelling story?
Mystery. Stakes. Characters you care about and that seem real. A ‘voice’ that you want to spend time with. If the story is great, but the voice that comes across is an unlikable one, I won’t want to keep reading. A great story makes you want to be BFFs with the author. Makes you feel like you are already BFFs with the author.
Do you gravitate toward a certain genre or type of writing?
What types of conversations do you hope will come out of your book?
I hope kids will discover they are not alone in wrestling with the issues we all face as we grow up – how to figure out and stay true to who we are while fitting in with a group. Plus, there’s a strong moral core in Dirk Daring, Secret Agent and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie. If kids can think about how to do the right thing in a world that doesn’t always honor that, well, I’d be pleased to be part of that thought process.
Tell us a little known or interesting fact about yourself.
I am a certified pyrotechnician. I can blow stuff up and make pretty fireworks in the sky. But I don’t, because I am also a certified klutz and value the ends of my fingers.
Helaine Becker is the bestselling author of more than sixty books for children and young adults, including Dirk Daring: Secret Agent and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, as well as the “enduring Canadian Christmas classic” A Porcupine in a Pine Tree and the giggle-inducing Ode to Underwear. She’s also a three-time winner of the Silver Birch Award and a two-time winner of the Lane Anderson Award for Science Writing for Children. Helaine lives in Toronto with her husband and her dog, Ella. For more information, visit www.helainebecker.com.