Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inspiration for JGDS series by Elysabeth Eldering

I am pleased to have Elysabeth Eldering with me today to share with us all her
inspiration for her Junior Geography Detective Squad. Elysabeth will be joining us throughout the day to answer any questions you may have.

Take it away Elysabeth:

My inspirations came from many places. The inspiration for this series came about originally from a story ("Train of Clues") I entered in a fan contest for Armchair Interviews for an upcoming anthology, "Silence of the Loons". At the time, I was doing book reviews for the site and one of the other ladies who did reviews also saw the contest and kind of dared me to enter the contest. Basically, it was "I'll enter if you enter" kind of thing. I told her I'd think about it.

I hadn't really written much before this, so put it on a back burner and kind of went on my way. While on a mother-daughter trip to Stone Mountain (GA), I was telling the other mothers about the contest and gave them the list of words that we had to incorporate into the story (at least four of the eight - a wig, a headless Barbie, a tattoo, a page from the dictionary, the scent of Obsession, the sound of a train whistle, footprints in the snow and a soiled ballet slipper). One of the girls piped up and said, "Oh, I know. You could make it like a birthday party scavenger hunt on a train or something like that." I thought about it for maybe a minute and then pushed it back out of my mind again. About a week later, I was asked by my friend again if I were going to enter the contest and responded that I didn't really know what to write because I wasn't so good at the writing like she was.

Well, with her encouragement and a couple other friends, I hammered out a story. She and I exchanged stories and edited for each other and gave pointers or suggestions on how to make things better. The contest deadline drew near. I decided to visit my local writing group (I actually have two chapters I could attend, but had already been to one and didn't feel they were helpful at all, so decided the group wasn't for me) and take my story for critique. I was devastated from their comments, mostly because I wasn't sure what to expect as I'd never experienced this kind of group before and I felt they didn't really get the story at all. I came home and cried. Another online friend talked me out of throwing it away; she told me to basically put it aside (I still had a week before the deadline) for a few days and then go back and reread their comments and think about all the things they said to me at the meeting, and then act upon what my gut was telling me. I did. She was right. The comments weren't that bad and the story did need some fixing up. I fixed and entered the contest.

Waiting was hard because we had no way of knowing how many people entered the contest and if what we (my friend the reviewer) had written was even what the judges were looking for.

"Silence of the Loons" was released and the winners were announced. My friend won first place. I placed second runner up, which was third on the listing, but the prize was the exact same thing as first runner up, a copy of "Silence of the Loons", so I say I won a shared second place. I was ecstatic to say the least. My first ever contest entered and I placed. I had talked to my two writer friends about making it a children's series; they were both encouraging to say the least. I looked into SCBWI and thought maybe I should get the opinion of an editor, if not for anything else, a direction. I found an editor, emailed her explaining the story and what I wanted to do - make each state the mystery destination by giving clues that would eventually lead the readers to guess the state. I started my research while she was working on formulating a plan or a direction for me to go.

When she finally sent me the information, I was totally in agreement. It felt right. I played around with it for a bit and then put it on the back burner again, just because I wasn't really ready to jump into a series. I couldn't find the way to make it so it wasn't so boring and nothing really clicked or fell into place for me. All the while the series was sitting on the back burner, I was still gathering my information.

Jump ahead a couple of years to a call for submission on a Yahoo! forum for stories for a new mystery site - the 5-Minute Mystery site - where the stories had to have the potential to be used in schools eventually and had to be short. I contacted the person who did the call for submissions and asked if the stories had to be murder mysteries or if they could be a mystery where it was kind of figuring out a place. I explained to him about my geography mystery series I was wanting to write but wasn't sure how it was going to get done as it would take a lot of time to do every state but my goal was to make sure the state was the mystery and that the clues led to the state. We conversed and he put in contact with his partner, who, I found out, works for an educational publisher. I wrote a couple of stories (two or three states) in different formats, attempting to find the best idea to create such short stories and get enough information in to make this work. They were, after all, offering $50 per story and if I did all fifty, I'd have received $2500. What I pictured and what they were wanting just weren't meshing.

Back to the drawing board. I was in another Yahoo! forum and met Aidana through her portfolio of drawings. I sent her an email about one of her drawings that just really fascinated me. We started chatting. I told her about my idea for the states series and she hooked me up with one publisher. I signed a contract and everything but then things fell through and there were problems abounding left and right and I didn't feel my books would ever get published. Vivian approached me and all but said she was interested in the series in not so many words. I had to get out of my contract with publisher #1 and move quickly to get with Vivian. I did so, and a couple of months later, State of Wilderness was born. It was great going through the whole process from start to finish and watching my small dream of making my very first contest-entered story become a series. Given that first break, I worked on my format more than the stories themselves.

Once I had the right format, I figured the stories would just kind of fall in place. The handheld game idea came and it worked. When I finished the first one, before it was in published stage, I let my 16-year-old daughter read it, because I know she doesn't like to read, just to make sure I hadn't missed anything. She read it in one sitting, which was a miracle in and of itself, and afterwards kind of gushed about wanting more. I know you think she is biased because she's my daughter, but trust me, getting her to read anything is not an easy task. She won't read for school, and when she checks books out from the library, they sit here until they are due and returned, unread. Since book 1 came out, we have had a few obstacles and problems getting book 2 out, but I have faith that the new law that is about to be effective and will affect many small businesses and larger ones including the publishing industry will work out and that we can continue with the series.

My original inspiration came from a mother-daughter trip and went from there. So to those GAs from the church, I owe a lot of thanks. They do get acknowledged in the books as being my original inspiration. For the encouragement and talks and edits from my online friends I also owe a lot. Without them, I would have given up and never entered the first contest. And for my kids, I can't thank them enough for being who they are since my brother-sister characters are based on their personalities a bit.

Inspirations come from many places and if you follow the encouraging people around you, you never know what will come from it. Keep writing, keep following your heart and remember, you never know where the adventure will take you but it's worth the risk.

Contact info:
website: http://junior-geography-detective-squad.weebly.com/
Publisher's website:

Book 1, State of Wilderness, available through publisher and author with teacher's guide available through special orders via Vivian at
president@4rvpublishingllc.com. (Teacher's guide is available as a downloadable file at the low price of $2 for individuals and homeschoolers who order one copy of the book through Vivian or as a free downloadable file for schools who order 10 copies of a book.)


  1. Thank you, Donna for having me today and allowing me to share what inspires me. I hope your readers will enjoy the article and will look forward to further books in the series. E :)

  2. Elysabeth, this is such an inspiring story of success. I've always told my kids, you never know what's around the corner.

    Karen Cioffi

  3. Karen, isn't that the truth. You never know what is around the corner. Sometimes the hardships are well worth it. Thanks for stopping by today. Guess I shouldn't have scheduled a stop today as it looks like it's really slow going due to the history making moments on TV and around the country. - I'm sure folks will trickle in after some of the events settle down. See you all in the postings - E :)

  4. Elysabeth...your inspirational post is fantastic...I learned so much more about you today. Thanks for being here. I'm not going to post anything new on my blog until Thursday at the earliest so that you stay in the forefront. I think history today got in the way of people being online.


  5. A fascinating story, Elysabeth. Would the books be appropriate for a third grader? If so, I'll put them on my list for my grandson.


  6. We're looking forward to book 2!

  7. Even if we have to up the content level we're going to get this series out.

    It's worth it.

  8. Donna & Elysabeth,

    Wow, what a comprehensive telling of how your book series came to be - fascinating! I love treasure hunts and that first story you wrote for the contest had an odd assortment of clues, didn't it?

    Sorry I didn't make it herr yesterday - the inauguration and all, you know. :o)

    All best,

  9. My son loves his copy and not just because Mommy illustrated it...lol) and he is in second grade.

    I like it because it isn't worded only for middle grade kids, so younger readers can start their interest in geography early... give them a head start and make it fun from the beginning.

    Aidana WillowRaven

  10. Beth,

    Yes - an assortment of clues and it turned out to be a pretty good first story. I think the best thing about the series so far has been the fact that my 16yo daughter who doesn't read very fast nor much at all loved State of Wilderness and wanted more. She learned something. Books don't have to be long and boring or subjects of little interest to be fun and educational. She has read the second one and although her comments weren't near as many as on the first, she still enjoyed it.

    Aidana, we know he likes it because you illustrated it - lol. Only kidding.

    I'm holding the drawing off until the end of today for Donna's blog since we had very few visitors yesterday. Don't forget to follow me on the next blog as well - Katie Hines has a wonderful interview up with me - http://katiehines.blogspot.com/ - so there will be two drawings for today. Come on over and comment - and you never know who the lucky winner may be - good luck everyone and thanks for following me around - see you in the postings - E :)

  11. Thank you one and all for visiting...much appreciated!

    Donna & Elysabeth

  12. The winner is #1 as per my supervisor - and that is Karen and Robyn - I've got your email Karen, so I'll contact you for mailing info to get your prizes to you.

    Thanks everyone for stopping by. Don't forget to follow the tour and come visit Holly Jahangiri's blog - http://hollyjahangiri.blogspot.com/ - and see what's cooking for the JGDS in Texas. See you all in the postings - E :)

  13. Hey, how are you doing? Hope all is well.

  14. Hey, how are you doing? Hope all is well. Great blog!!


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