Say hello to Kimberly Baer! She’s a talented sister Rose (published by The Wild Rose Press), and her new release, Mall Girl Meets the Shadow Vandal, has received some great reviews. Let’s learn how an unusual house inspired this middle-grade novel. Take it away, Kimberly!
I used to work in the downtown area of a small city. My parking lot was several blocks from my office, so I had a pleasant trek to look forward to twice a day. (Unless it was raining. Or snowing. Or really windy. Or really, really hot. Then it wasn’t so pleasant.) My route included a street with a row of old houses that had been converted into businesses—dental offices, accounting firms, insurance agencies, and the like. Smack-dab in the middle of that row was a single residential house, complete with a front porch swing and a small, grassy yard. For whatever reason, it had never been repurposed as a business.
I used to wonder about the occupants. Why would they choose to live in a business district? Were they as rebellious as their house? What would it be like to grow up there? Eventually, a story took shape. I pictured a pre-teen girl in the starring role. I imagined the challenges she would face growing up with office workers for neighbors instead of families. And at some point I thought, what if her house wasn’t downtown? What if it was in the middle of a shopping mall?
Bingo. That was the twist that launched Mall Girl Meets the Shadow Vandal. I mean, what kid wouldn’t love living in a shopping mall? I thought this would make a really fun setting for a middle-grade mystery novel.
I guess just about anything can spark a story—a daydream, a night dream, a newscast. A person, an experience. And, yes, even a kooky old house that doesn’t fit in with its neighbors!
A little more about Mall Girl Meets the Shadow Vandal:
“A lively, jaunty mystery with a terrific cast of characters.” – Kirkus Reviews
Chloe Lamont doesn’t live in a neighborhood, like most kids. Her house is in the middle of the mall. And now someone is stealing items from her house and using them to vandalize stores. Who is trying to frame her? And how are they getting into the house?
Desperate to catch the real vandal and clear her name, Chloe seeks help from the kids in her Mystery Reading Group at school. While searching for clues, the Mystery Groupers make an astounding discovery. And then things get really crazy…
A peek between the pages:
I hate getting up early, so it’s a blessed relief when Saturday morning rolls around and I get to sleep in.
Then I wake up and find out there’s been another egging.
Mom tells me about it when she comes home at lunchtime. This time Maynard’s Shoes was the victim. A bunch of shoes on display out front got hit. Like last time, the police think the crime took place in the middle of the night.
“How many—” I begin.
“Eight. They used eight eggs.”
We eye each other uneasily. Outside the living room window, a lady says contemptuously, “She acts like she’s the first woman on earth to ever have a baby.”
Mom turns abruptly and heads into the kitchen. I’m right behind her. We park ourselves in front of the refrigerator.
“I bought a new carton on Thursday,” she says, twisting her opal ring around and around on her pinkie. “I haven’t used any eggs at all. If you haven’t either, there should still be a full dozen.”
“I haven’t used any,” I tell her.
She takes a deep breath and tugs open the refrigerator door. She has the grim demeanor of a fourteenth-century villager about to open a vampire’s coffin. She takes out the egg carton and places it on the counter. Gingerly, she lifts the lid.
There are four eggs inside, crowded together at the left end of the carton. The rest of the carton looks starkly empty, like eight tiny bird’s nests emptied of occupants.
“Oh!” Mom clamps a hand over her mouth. “How can this be?”
I can only stare at the carton in silence, dazed by the undeniable truth. Somebody is taking our eggs and using them to attack mall stores. I just don’t know who or how or why.
Mom is looking desperately at me. “Did you drop the carton and maybe break some? It’s okay—I won’t be mad.”
“I didn’t break any eggs. I haven’t touched the carton.”
She paces around the kitchen, taking short, quick steps because it’s a tiny room. “I don’t understand. What’s going on?”
“Somebody’s stealing our eggs,” I say, and that impossible truth sounds even more impossible spoken aloud. “Did you lock all the doors and windows last night? Did you bolt the doors?”
“Of course. Do you still double-check them before you go to bed?”
“Always.” It’s something we’re both paranoid about. The mall is a creepy place at night when nobody’s around. “Were the doors still bolted this morning when you got up?”
“Maybe the person came down the chimney,” I say. “Like some kind of evil Santa Claus.”
She takes a moment to think that over. “That would be difficult, to say the least. Going back up would be even harder. And it doesn’t explain how they got into the mall after hours. Besides, why would somebody break into our house just to steal eggs? If they’re going to go to all the trouble of breaking in, why not steal our computer or my jewelry, or—or—” She gestures toward a jar on the kitchen counter. “—the grocery money?”
Mom always makes sure there’s cash on hand in case I need to run to Shop and Save. The jar is in plain sight. I can see the green bills curled inside, two twenties and a ten.
She’s staring at me expectantly, waiting for more theories about how eight eggs just walked out of our refrigerator. But I’m out of ideas.
“That’s it. No more eggs for us,” my mother says fiercely. “I’m just not going to buy them anymore. If we want eggs, we’ll go out to breakfast.”
“Fine by me,” I say.
She pulls out a chair and plops down at the table. “Jack Caldwell will be saying we’re the prime suspects again. After all, we had opportunity.”
“But not motive,” I say, sitting down across from her. “Maynard’s Shoes isn’t your rival. You don’t sell shoes.” I gnaw at a jagged edge of my thumbnail. “This has happened twice now. Don’t you think we should tell the police?”
“No!” she says immediately. Then, with a sigh, “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Look, it’s not like we’re guilty,” I remind her. “We’ll just tell the truth and let the police figure things out. That’s what they do.”
A group of teenage girls giggle outside the kitchen window. A relentlessly crying baby goes by. A lady says, “Whatever happened with that friend of yours who found the nest of opossums in her sock drawer?”
Mom is hunched over the table. She says, in a thin voice, “I’m just afraid if the police find out how much you hate living here, they’ll think you’re the one doing the eggings. To get us evicted.”
I’m so flabbergasted, I’m speechless. For a few seconds, anyway. “I can’t believe you would even say that! You think I’m doing the eggings?”
“Not me. But the police might.”
“Oh, so now you’re playing devil’s advocate. Like Jack Caldwell.”
I know what “playing devil’s advocate” means because I looked it up after Jack said it, after Ram tried to say it. It means “taking the opposing viewpoint for the sake of argument.”
“I’m just trying to think like the police. Trying to consider all the possibilities.”
“Oh, yeah?” I stand up, shoving my chair away. “Well, I know I didn’t do the eggings, and you said nobody could have broken into our house. So that leaves you. You must be the guilty party. How’s that for a possibility?”
And I stomp through the living room and storm out the front door.
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Thanks so much for joining me today, Kimberly. I’m wishing you great success with your new release!