Maureen Johnson is the author of the new young adult mystery novel The Box in the Woods. It features her character Stevie Bell, who appeared in Johnson's Truly Devious trilogy. Johnson lives in New York.
Q: Why did you decide to return to your character Stevie Bell after completing the Truly Devious trilogy?
A: When I wrote the Truly Devious series and introduced Stevie Bell, the detective, I always intended to have her solve other cases. So this has been planned for some time. But I didn’t decide what I wanted Stevie to work on until all of Truly Devious was complete.
That series ends as school lets out for the summer, so I thought about summer, and murder, and remote locations…all of that leads up to camp.
Q: The Kirkus review of the book says, "Johnson’s hallmark charming humor and lovable characters provide a robust foundation for another cracking mystery, this time ingeniously working with summer-camp and locked-room–mystery tropes." What do you think of that description, and how would you define those tropes?
A: I certainly appreciate it. The Stevie Bell mysteries are written along classic mystery lines—closed environments where you can meet all the players and see all the locations. I play fair! The clues are all there.
Q: With this novel, did you know how it would end before you started writing it?
A: Oh yes. The mysteries are plotted out very carefully. I don’t do any writing until I know the why, how, and who, until I’ve worked out the timelines and all the mechanics.
Mystery plots are built around the clockwork of their crimes, and it’s essential to know who was where, why everyone did what they did, who could see what—you get the idea.
Q: In an interview with USA Today, you described Stevie as "completely serious about solving the case." What do you think motivates her this time around? Are her motivations any different from those in the Truly Devious books?
A: Stevie is always going to be focused on solving the case, often to her own peril.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Stevie will be back! I’m already at work on her next case.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Maureen Johnson.