‘Into the Lion’s Den,’ A Conversation with Linda Fairstein
Linda Fairstein, internationally bestselling author of the Alexandra Cooper novels and former Manhattan assistant district attorney for more than two decades, has combined her considerable talent, knowledge, and imagination to write Into the Lion’s Den, the first novel in a series for kids between the ages of 8 and 12.
Into the Lion’s Den introduces us to 12-year-old Devlin Quick, the daughter of New York City’s first woman police commissioner. Someone has stolen a page from a rare book in the New York Public Library, an act witnessed by Devlin’s friend, Liza. Devlin knows she must bring the perpetrator to justice, so the two girls begin piecing the clues together and uncover a mystery far bigger than they could ever have anticipated.
What made you decide to begin writing a series for young readers?
The Nancy Drew series hooked me as a kid and made me love reading. I distinctly recall finding Nancy Drew books had an aspirational quality. I always had the idea of writing a series of books about a smart young girl, and have a file going back fifteen or twenty years about writing what would be a tribute to Nancy Drew.
In 2014, I had an ill friend who underwent twelve hours of surgery. I sat at the bedside in the hospital, and began writing the first chapter on my iPad.
Your Alex Cooper novels are in the voice of a sophisticated adult. How difficult was it to assume the voice of a twelve-year old girl?
One of the fears both my agent and publisher had was that capturing a twelve-year-old’s voice would be difficult. If I couldn’t nail the voice—get inside the head of a contemporary twelve-year-old, it wouldn’t work.
I’ve never had so much fun writing a novel as I did with Into the Lion’s Den. Kids today are very smart, and because a good part of this novel takes place in the New York Public Library, it has many literary references, and was great fun to write. It was also less intense than writing an adult novel.
I must admit, contemplating assuming the voice of a twelve-year-old was daunting at first. I had to go back in time and remember certain forms of language. In my extended family and among my friends, I know a lot of kids in that age range. If I was at a Thanksgiving dinner, I found myself with a notebook writing down certain phrases. For instance, the word “fiblet” meaning a little lie, is one of the words with which I became familiar. Hanging around today’s kids is almost like referring to an urban dictionary.
Also, my editor was incredibly skilled. Every twenty-three pages or so in the manuscript, she would write, ‘Not a twelve-year-old word.’ So, it was a reminder to adjust my thinking.
If you strip away the differences in the eras of Nancy Drew and Devlin Quick, what qualities of Devlin’s are similar to those of Nancy Drew’s?
I think the main similarity between Nancy and Devlin is that both of them want justice to prevail. Devlin wants to set things right. Another parallel is that in Into the Lion’s Den, no adult takes Devlin and Liza seriously when they report a crime. It’s the same quality as when Nancy would get her friends together and they would take it upon themselves to solve a crime or mystery. Both Nancy and Devlin are young people with a keen sense of justice. Nancy was the child of a single parent; her father was a district attorney. Devlin is the daughter of a single mother who’s the police commissioner.
Kids have their own subculture. How do you plan on keeping up with the trends?
I’ve been so conscious over the last three years of the subculture in which kids live. If one of my friends with children invites me to a school event, I definitely attend. My two grandsons are now in college, but throughout their adolescence, they spent time with me each summer. For years, I’ve focused on the language and activities of kids. I was a high school swimmer, so I know first-hand, the atmosphere of team sports. I also read what kids that age are reading. I stay current with the subculture. It’s a very different kind of research as compared to what I do for the Alex Cooper books. In a sense, it’s a constant surround, or perhaps, an immersion in the world of kids.
Will Devlin grow up and mature in real time?
She will not. [Laughter]. It’s a matter of the dictates of the publishing world. There’s a clean break between middle grade books and YA (Young Adult). YA today would get me into the same issues I write about in my adult books: sexual abuse, date rape, and sex trafficking. Devlin Quick has just turned twelve; the minute she becomes thirteen, she gets shelved in a different place in the library—with the YA books. The second book in the series is set about three weeks after the first one. So, she’ll age very slowly and stay on the same library shelf. [Laughter].
As you do in the Alex Cooper books, do you plan on using a New York City landmark as a focal point in each Devlin Quick novel?
Into the Lion’s Den has many scenes in the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. The beauty of the Devlin Quick books is that she’s not tethered to Manhattan the way Alex is because of her work as a district attorney. People have been so responsive to my using New York city landmarks in the Alex Cooper novels, I would love to find a way to do that in the Devlin Quick books. I’m sure Devlin will find her way to the New York City DNA lab, the Museum of Natural History, and other locations, but she’ll also get to locations outside of Manhattan.
Do you plan on alternating Devlin Quick and Alex Cooper novels?
Alex Cooper will come out once a year on a summer schedule. Devlin will come out, most likely, each November. I’m planning on writing two books a year.
What’s coming next from Linda Fairstein?
Next July, an Alex Cooper book is coming. It’s called Deadfall.
Congratulations on writing Into the Lion’s Den, the first in a mystery series about a smart, edgy, young sleuth who drew me into her world and will undoubtedly win the hearts of young readers everywhere.