The following conversation is part of our Beyond The Bio series, featuring conversations with authors we love. If you're a teen who'd like to interview an author, please click here to find out how we can connect you with your favorite YA authors. Today's guests include StoryTimeTeen creator James Tilton and Maureen Johnson, whose new book The Hand On The Wall comes out Tuesday.
James: Hey Maureen! Your Truly Devious trilogy is coming to an end this week when your new book, The Hand on The Wall, comes out Tuesday. Can you tell our readers a little bit about what they can expect from The Hand on The Wall?
Maureen: All the answers. If you’ve read Truly Devious and The Vanishing Stair, your patience will be rewarded. There is also more disaster and death. I can’t say much more without revealing too much.
James: Were there any twists in this final book that surprised even you as the author?
Maureen: I worked pretty hard to get all the threads to come together, and I had to have a map from the outset—I had no known how all of this would go down. So luckily there weren’t that many surprises for me. But when I was weaving the last pieces together, they did link up even better than I’d hoped. I must have planted a few things early on that I was unaware of on a conscious level that paid of later.
James: I know you and Stevie are both big fans of mysteries, and I loved all the references you weaved in throughout this trilogy. Which famous detective do you think is the most like Stevie?
Maureen: Stevie loves Hercule Poirot, but she’s not really like him at all. She’s a bit more Sherlock—detached, focused.
James: You’ve written many books and been on the bestseller list. One of Stevie’s friends in this trilogy is Nate, a teenage author who’s struggling with writer’s block. What advice would you give him?
Maureen: You can run, Nate, but the book is around every corner, waiting for you to finish it.
James: Is it safe to say that you’re the most like Nate, or is there another character in this trilogy that you identify with more closely?
Maureen: Certainly, Nate and I share some common ground. But I think I’m probably more like Stevie—mystery-obsessed, single-minded, have had anxiety, often have no idea what we’re wearing, just want to solve the crime.
James: So what advice would you give to teens who, like you and Stevie, struggle with anxiety?
Maureen: As cliché as it sounds, knowing it is not just you is huge. Anxiety distorts your thinking and it can get you in a headspace where you believe it is only you and everyone is thinking better and more clearly. Knowing that it is a known, actually very common thing is helpful. I did a lot of work with therapy and meditation, and the most helpful exercise I did was one in which you simply identify the thoughts you’re having, label them thoughts, and let them be. They can be as anxious as they want to be. You don’t have to engage with them or pick them up and run with them. You can deflate an anxiety attack this way and that is a VERY HELPFUL THING.
James: There’s a certain unsavory politician in this trilogy that the teens at Ellingham try to take down. What inspires you most about the real-life activism of teenagers today?
Maureen: Times like these require a lot of commitment—not wait and see stuff. I appreciate teens who speak truth to power, who care enough to say something and do something.
James: What are some other 2020 releases you’re looking forward to?
Maureen: The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare, and The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin.
James: Any chance you can tell us a bit about your next project?
Maureen: It may have something to do with Stevie Bell!