Shauna Holyoak’s kid detective novel series really started when she was still a child.
“I used to like pretend that me and my friend were solving crimes when I was about 8 or 9 years old,” Holyoak said.
At age 12, she took it a little further. Holyoak, at home in her dining room last week, held up a photo of her at the time pretending to be a detective.
“It’s embarrassing. My grandparents dressed me up, and my dad is a photographer so he posed me,” she said. “I’m 12, so you think I would have been a little bit resistant, but look at me, I’m totally into it.”
Now, as a mom with a blended family of her own, she’s taken the detective thing to a whole new level. Her book, “Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers,” will appear on store shelves Tuesday (April 23), published by Disney/Hyperion books. She will hold a signing party May 9 at Barnes & Noble.
She says it’s a middle-grade school age group detective story along the lines of “Nancy Drew.”
Readers might remember Holyoak as a columnist a few years ago in the Post Register’s Smart Living section.
Holyoak said she got the idea for the novel when she helped her son deliver the Post Register when he was 11. He’s now 14. Her original title for the book was “My Paper Route and Other Deadly Things.” She said the publisher pushed for the current title because they plan to make a series of books.
She said the main character in the book has some of her son’s characteristics.
“She’s just nosy, spunky, sassy,” she said. “She’s a little stubborn and strong-willed and wants to do things her own way.”
In the story, some dogs have gone missing and Kazu thinks it might be a dognapping ring and she starts to check into it. When a neighbor’s dog disappears, it becomes her mission to track down the bad guy and let all the dogs go free.
“The original version was about kidnapping,” Holyoak said. “My daughter read the original version and she loved it. I changed it because the publisher said a contemporary novel about kidnapping is too scary for kids. ... So I changed it to dognapping and my daughter says I’m a sell-out. … I told her I kind of want to sell stuff. She hasn’t read it since I’ve changed it.”
Holyoak made a two-book deal with Disney/Hyperion and is now trying to finish revisions to her second book while juggling promotion for the first book, school presentations related to the book, along with the mom duties that come with several teens in her house.
On her blank dining room wall are large butcher paper sheets with checklists, notations and titles such as “Act 1” and “Act 2.” Some of the notes are lined through signifying that they have been accomplished. She said she does most of her writing at the dining table with the wall notes as her guide.
“I wrote the draft and sent it to my editor and she wrote back and sent me a 15-page, single-spaced letter of all the things that she thought we needed to change,” Holyoak said. “Because I’m a visual person I just had to put it down (on the wall) and cross it off when I finish it. I’m almost at the end of act one. Then I’ll go on to act two. I have to finish it by the end of the month. … Everything she said in some of the approaches and changes she suggested I thought were pretty brilliant.”
Her next case for Kazu to solve is about a vandal who targets comic book stores. It includes superheroes and a Comic-Con trip.
“Honestly, it’s like a love letter to all the nerds in my family and everyone we’ve known,” she said. “We’ve done all of it. We’ve been to like three or four Comic-Cons. Once I dressed up as Han Solo and one year I was Steam Punk Wonder Woman. Only if you’re super geeky would you know what that is. It’s embarrassing. I had goggles and a red corset and big boots. We’re talking pretty geeky.”
Holyoak said she always wanted to write. She graduated with an English degree with a minor in creative writing, then went to graduate school where she studied English literature with an emphasis on creative writing.
“It’s always been something that I’ve loved to do,” she said. “The (newspaper) column was great for me because it kept me writing creatively.”
Her husband, who works as a copywriter for Melaleuca, has been helping her with promotion. He created Kazu bookmarkers and a short video promoting the new book. She said publishers leave a lot of the promotion to the authors.
Part of her book promotion is interaction with her target audience — school kids — she will make presentations at schools.
“I have about four school visits scheduled before the signing,” she said. “A PowerPoint presentation, not about writing so much as about the try-fail cycle that is in every story that you read or movie you watch or video game you play. That the character has to fail repeatedly before they finally succeed. We don’t want to read about people who succeed right away because it’s not interesting. We like to see people try and fail. I talk about how we all need to make mistakes in order to succeed. We need to learn how to make the right mistakes.”
Learn more about Holyoak and her projects at shaunaholyoak.com.