Thursday, December 8, 2011


Good morning Readers, and welcome again to MYSTERY WE WRITE HOLIDAY BLOG TOUR. Today I’m presenting Jean Henry Mead who will tell us how she plots her juvenile mysteries. Jean is the author of 15 books, half of them mystery/suspense and historical novels. She’s also an award-winning photojournalist. In addition to her books, the former news reporter and magazine editor has also published articles domestically as well as abroad.
Welcome Jean to Cozy Mysteries and Other Madness. I’m now turning the cyber-podium over to you.

Jean Henry Mead


Hi Everyone,
Today I’m talking about plotting juvenile mysteries. Plotting is hard work, especially when writing for kids. You need a good setting, a problem, and the kinds of characters that children can relate to. Even the most talented writers often fall by the wayside. Some start a manuscript with a great protagonist and a unique problem, but the storyline often loses momentum and is never finished because of plot problems.

Fledgling writers usually feel that all you need is a strong central theme, memorable characters and a problem that is resolved over the course of the book. I write middle grade mysteries in addition to senior sleuth novels, but after 13 published books, I still needed help, so I took a children’s literature course and was fortunate to have Louise Munro Foley as my mentor. She also laces her books with humor. My book project under her tutelage was subsequently published as Mystery of Spider Mountain, a semi-autobiographical novel set in the Los Angeles hills, where I grew up.

Plotting for juvenile mysteries requires even more planning than mysteries for adults, in my opinion. First, I had to decide on a setting. Most children’s lives are centered around school so I had to decide if my plot was going to take place then, during vacation or after school. When I had decided how the problem or action was going to take place, I needed to develop a time line when events were going to happen. That meant outlining, which I had only previously done with nonfiction books. The outline doesn’t have to be detailed but it should include events that are going to get progressively worse as the plot marches toward its conclusion.

I had to decide which activities and types of characters I needed to complicate my protagonists’ problem. Middle graders don’t require complicated plots so it’s usually best to concentrate on one powerful theme in a simple plotline, such as bullying or losing a friend or parent. I went a little beyond that with three young protagonists and their fears.

One of the things I learned is that child sleuths should have minimal help from adults. So they need to be smart enough to figure things out on their own. However, in my second Hamilton Kids’ mystery novel, I had Jaime 13, Sam 11 and Danny 9, visiting their Uncle Harry at his ranch in Wyoming’s Laramie Mountains, where I now live. That presented a plotting problem because the kids are confined to the ranch, with its variety of game and farm animals they’ve never seen before. They use their Ouija board, as in Spider Mountain, to discover who the culprit is that’s setting fire to their uncle’s hay field. And why he’s doing it. But convincing their uncle is another problem. They also investigate witchcraft on the Internet and attend the Summer Solstice Festival of witches and warlocks that actually takes place annually here on Casper Mountain the first day of summer. The woman who homesteaded the land where the festival is held is said to still haunt the area. Thus, the book’s title, Ghost of Crimson Dawn.

I use actual events and settings in all my books, whenever possible. All fiction has its roots in fact, even fantasy novels. So, in order to suspend disbelief, plenty of research should be conducted before the writing begins as well as spooned-in tidbits as the story progresses. Children are well informed these days and can easily check your facts on their own computers. And if you need a first reader, who better than your own child or grandchildren?


Thanks, Jackie for inviting me to join you and your readers. I’m giving away one of my mystery ebooks at the end of each of my 14 blog appearances, so everyone needs to leave a comment to get their name in the hat.
I’m also giving away three print novels at the conclusion of the tour. Be sure and leave a comment and email address to be eligible for the drawings. My blog tour schedule is listed at: (

Jean, having you as a guest was all my pleasure. And readers, don't forget to leave those comments for a chance at winning a book.

Jean's latest Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense novel, Murder on the Interstate, is available at: _ ( (print and Kindle) and Barnes and Noble: _ ( (Nook)

Murder on the Interstate
Jean’s children’s books are available in print, Kindle and Nook.

GHOST OF CRIMSON DAWN is now available on Amazon.

I’ll announce the winners of the books I’m giving away tomorrow.

Hugs to all,



M.M. Gornell said...

Jean, what an interesting and informative post--especially with what you pointed out, that children have so much information available to them these days. Great information.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you, Madeline. Writing the Hamilton Kids' mystery series has been a lot of fun and it's taken me back to my childhood days exploring "Spider Mountain" with my brothers. And the ranch described in Ghost of Crimson Dawn is the one I currently live on. :)

Jean Henry Mead said...

Jackie, thank you for hosting me today on this last day of the "Mystery We Write" virtual tour. It's been fun but it's time to get back to writing more books. Wishing you all the happiest of holidays!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

That was great information about writing for kids, Jean. Thank you so much.


Mike Orenduff said...

Some unsympathetic readers have called my books 'juvenile', but I suppose that's not what you're talking about in this post.

I don't think I could write a YA book, so I admire those who can.

Beth Anderson said...

I have thought long and hard about trying to write one someday, so these are all great tips, Jean. Thank you! VERY interesting!

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you, Marilyn.

Mike, I don't think your books are juvenile at all. I wasn't sure I could write a juvenile book either, which is why I took the children's writing course (and earned a college credit diploma in the process). They are fun to write!

Jackie King said...

Jean, Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge of writing children's stories.

I've had a good time on our Tour, too. And you're right, it's time to put our main focus back on writing books.

Sorry I was late checking in today, but early morning was the only spot open in the schedule of a repairman whose services I needed.

Jackie King said...

And thanks to my touring buddies, Madeline, Marilyn, Mike and Beth. Each is an excellent mystery writer.
Hugs all around,

Jean Henry Mead said...

Beth, I also thought long and hard about writing a children's book. Twenty years at least before an advertisement from the Institute of Children's Literature arrived in the mail and I took the test and was assigned a tutor. Louise Munro Foley was great and made it easy. (I'm not getting paid for this endorsement.) :)

Alice Duncan said...

How very interesting your post is, Jean. Plotting has always been my weakest skill as a writer. Maybe we should start a plotting group or something :-)

Jean Henry Mead said...

We can do that, Alice, as part of our critique group. Good idea.

Jackie King said...

Alice, I'm with you. Plotting is hard, and for me, it constantly changes as the book progresses. I say yes to plotting help.

john M. Daniel said...

Fine, informative post, Jean. I admire YA fiction, and know I could never write a good YA novel. So good for you for mastering that craft.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks, John. It took some prodding from family members and a friend I've known since kindergarter to write the first book. They also climbed "Spider Mountain."

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Jean,

Since I also write for children, middle grades and teens as well as adults, I particularly enjoyed this topic.

WS Gager said...

Interesting information. I've never considered a YA but a friend does. I can see the things you mentioned in her work. Great post.
W.S. Gager on Writing

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you, Jacqueline. That means a lot coming from you.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks for the kind words, Wendy. Try it, you might like it. :)

Anne K. Albert said...

As you pointed out, Jean, a YA book needs to have the kids figure it out on their own. It gives them a sense of being all grown up, as well as figuring out the mystery.

Great post for readers and writers alike.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks, Anne. We all appreciate your efforts in setting up this terrific virtual tour.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm late. I just wanted to thank you for featuring one of my favorite authors. I love the Logan and Caferty mystery series.

Marian Costley

Jackie King said...

Thanks Marian, For your kind words about Jean, who is one of my favorite people and author.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you Marian and Jackie for the very kind words. By the way, Marian, you've won a copy of A Village Shattered. Send your email address tro

And thanks for stopping by.

Sheila Deeth said...

Interesting to look at the different approaches for young and adult mysteries. Thanks.

Jackie King said...

Thanks for dropping in, Sheila.