Dear Elizabeth Eulburg,
Happy Tuesday! I hope 2018 is off to a terrific start for you. I'm grateful you agreed to take over my blog for the day to discuss Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case. Many, many thanks!
Happy reading and writing!
P.S. I LOVE Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case's cover. It is FANTASTIC!
Writers, like detectives, have to be good at keeping secrets. It can be hard staying quiet while working away at something. But then the big reveal comes! And just like Shelby Holmes, I enjoy a nice, big, juicy reveal. So I’m beyond thrilled that Mr. Schu is sharing the cover of The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case.
Every Shelby Holmes case starts with inspiration from an original Sherlock Holmes story. I’d already tackled kidnapping (or more appropriately, dognapping) in The Great Shelby Holmes, and blackmail and secret identity in The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match, so I wanted to do something different for book three. A fan of puzzles and codes as a kid, I went to one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories featuring a very famous puzzle: The Dancing Men. In this case, Sherlock and Watson discover a substitution cipher, a secret code in which each symbol represents a letter. The symbols were stick figures that resembled…dancing men!
Hmm…I began to wonder about a case for Shelby and my Watson that could involve a cipher. Maybe ballerinas? But then it hit me. No. Figure skaters! I was obsessed with figure skating when I was younger. Plus, what would horrify Watson more than having to go undercover as a figure skater? (This is when I admit that writers like to embarrass their characters, or at least, this one does—although I try to make it up to them. Sometimes.) I knew figure skating was also a rife opportunity for Shelby to use science, because why practice skating when you can study the physics of figure skating instead? While I do like to keep certain aspects of their cases a secret, I can reveal that there is a lot of falling on one’s tushy in this book.
With each Shelby Holmes case, I have to go in knowing every element before writing: what the case is, who the suspects are, who did it, who I want the reader to think did it, the clues to solve the case, how they find those clues…everything! The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case added another element. I not only had to design a cipher, I had to know how Shelby and Watson could break it. That was a mystery in itself.
Enter fun facts about the English language! For example, E is the most used letter in the English language. The most common three letter word is the—oh hey, it also features the most common letter. But if it doesn’t contain that letter, it might be and, for, but, you… I also used—I mean Shelby and Watson used—simple grammar rules to figure out other characters. So they start breaking down the cipher bit by bit.
The problem was I had to build the ciphers working first with the clues they would need. If they find this can they break it? Do I need to reword this clue to have more Es? At one point my apartment was covered in alphabets and different codes. For a while there I was like Russell Crowe’s character in A Beautiful Mind. But like every good case, I finally got a break and knew exactly what the ciphers would say to make it difficult, but not impossible, for Shelby and Watson (and the reader!) to break the code.
Not saying they did solve it. Got to save some suspense for later. Especially for September 4th when The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case hits bookshelves! Until then, I hope you love the cover—it’s one of my favorites! Hmm… who is that shadowy figure in the back? That doesn’t look good for a figure skater before a big competition! Not at all! Good thing Shelby and Watson are on the case!
Look for Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case on September 4, 2018.