I am the author of two novels for young people, Coyote Boy• Birth of the Uberwolf, and Grace Brothers Mysteries: Searching for Sweetness.
Excerpt: Page one, chapter one, the beginning of Grace Brothers Mysteries: Searching for Sweetness.
The ordinary had turned extraordinary. The real had become unreal. Another blah, boring Saturday afternoon was suddenly anything but. A man—no, a boy—was holding a gun on them and threatening to shoot them.
“Move,” he said menacingly, “and you’re dead.”
Just like that. Just like the way a bad guy in the movies or TV talks.
The Grace brothers, Matt and Nathan, did as they were told. They did not move. It was their bad luck to be standing at checkstand thirteen, unlucky thirteen, when gunboy rushed up flashing his pistol. They were on a routine errand for their mother, picking up a few groceries for that night’s dinner.
Nothing routine about it anymore.
A boy in a gray hoodie. With a gun. Robbing Freshly’s supermarket. Fifteen minutes after 3:00 p.m. Move, and you’re dead.
Matt and Nathan were both sixteen, born on the same day. But they were not twins. Matt was the bigger and taller of the two, husky and broad-shouldered with fair, sunburned skin, freckles, and longish stringy blond hair. “Like Thor,” joked his brother.
Nathan, who liked making jokes and having fun, more resembled a marathon runner (and he was a very fast runner). Short, wiry, thin-boned, he sported a neatly clipped Afro and his deep-set eyes were dark as chocolate candy. He tended to be the more formal and polite of the pair, caring more about such niceties as grooming and dress. Although on this day, this life-changing day, both were in T-shirts, casual shorts, sneakers without socks.
The most obvious difference between the two of them was the color of their skin. Nathan was black. Matt was white. The boys had grown up together, since they were babies. They did not think all that much about color, honestly. It was the way it had always been.
On a camping trip in the mountains the previous summer they were hiking down a trail past a meadow when they spotted a deer not twenty yards away. The deer, a big mule tail buck with antlers, spotted them, too. But rather than bolt it had remained where it was. Staring back at them with dark, tranquil eyes, calmly assessing what dangers, if any, they posed.
In the store Nathan and Matt stood strong and still as that buck, barely breathing. Waiting.…watching…waiting to see what gunboy did next. His pistol was an arm’s length away from Nathan, at point blank range. Matt, behind him, rested one hand protectively on his brother’s shoulder.
The good news, for them: The gun jerked away. The danger shifted. Pounding, pounding, pounding—their hearts quieted, a little. Breath returning to regular.
The bad news: That ugly scary black weapon with the nicked-up barrel was now trained on someone else. The clerk at checkstand thirteen, Edna. Edna was sixty. A black lady with a sweet, sad, youthful face despite the wrinkles of age. She had long black hair tied into an elegant braid in back and small hoop earrings. The nametag on her crisp white blouse she wore with pride, as she was one of the longest-serving and hardest working employees at the store.
The boy with the gun was only interested in one thing, however. “Gimme the cash.” The words hissed, like a rattlesnake ready to strike. “Now. All of it.”
There must be something we can do, thought the brothers. There must be something.
But there was nothing. Nothing except to stand there still as statues. Breathe normally. And wait and watch in silent horror as things went from extraordinarily scary and tense to flat-out insane.
“No,” she told him.
She was not opening the cash drawer. She was not giving him any money. “You don’t scare me, boy.” Along with her age and that elegant braid was something else: a look of rugged strength. The look of a woman who had lived long enough that she was not about to be intimidated by some young punk with a gun. “All you are is a Babyface. Babyface with a gun.”
This comment felt like a slap in the face. Babyface hated the fact he looked so young, so boyish. He hoped it did not give him away.
His hand wobbled. This resistance from the old lady was another slap. He did not expect it. Not at all. Fear jumped into his eyes and radiated off his whole body like a stink. His right hand—the hand with the weapon—began to tremble. Ever so slightly, like the leaf of a tree in the first stirrings of a breeze.
Sometimes Matt and Nathan looked at the same thing and saw something completely different than the other. This was one of those times. Matt saw the trembling hand of a potential shooter who was pumped and ready to fire. Nathan saw a person who was jumpy, frightened to death, and liable to do something insane because of it.
They were both right… [And so chapter one continues.]
Q: That is certainly an exciting start to chapter one. Tell us more about the book.
Nelson: Well, as you can see, it begins with a robbery in a supermarket in Steelhead City. That’s where the two teenage brothers at the center of the action, Nathan and Matt Grace, live. The robbery involves them in the baffling disappearance of a local girl named Sweetness who has been kidnapped by the notorious T/3 gang. It’s an action adventure mystery novel for ages ten and up.
Q: Matt is white. Nathan is black. And they’re brothers.
Nelson: Correct. It’s part of their family story. Nathan and Matt were born on the same day, in the same African hospital. Their mother, Mia, was a nurse and missionary. Their father, Hunter Grace, is a former United States intelligence agent. They also have an adopted daughter, CeCe.
Q: You have a brother, don’t you?
Nelson: Yes I do. I also have two teenage sons. So I understand the dynamic of brothers very well. But Nathan and Matt are not based on my brother and me or my sons. They’re unique individuals with unique stories.
Q: The book is current and contemporary yet there’s a classic feel to it as well. Since Nathan and Matt are brothers who are involved in solving mysteries, it’s natural to think of classics such as the Hardy Boys.
Nelson: Absolutely. I love adventure fiction and mysteries and I made a point of reading authors who have had success reaching today’s youth market, especially in a series. John Grisham’s Theo Boone kid lawyer series. Young Bond, Alex Rider. I’m also a great fan of the classics such as Franklin W. Dixon. Arthur Conan Doyle. Carolyn Keane’s Nancy Drew. All these fine writers, and many more, inspired me. But Searching for Sweetness is not purely adventure or mystery; there are lots of relationships in it, too.
Q: What do you mean?
Nelson: As a writer, I’m fascinated by people and their relationships with one another. The relationship between Matt and Nathan. Their relationships with their parents. Their relationships with their teenage friends who help them. To me, the relationships are as vital to the book as the action.
Q: You’ve had a successful career as a journalist and nonfiction author. Why did you decide to write a novel for young people?
Nelson: With cellphones becoming omnipresent even with young children, my aim was to write an adventure crime story that really speaks to young people growing up. And I feel confidently optimistic that this series will appeal not only to them but also to their parents and grandparents who are of course the ones buying the books.
Q: Why is that?
Nelson: Well, first and foremost, the story. The appeal of the two brothers and the other characters. Beyond this, if I can put on my business and marketing cap for a moment, I’ve had success reaching young people before. Earlier in my career I wrote a series of sports humor titles such as Baseball’s Greatest Quotes and Baseball’s Greatest Insults. They appealed both to adults and young people. I know because I received letters from kids and invitations to speak at elementary schools. I’ve also had success with a games book for parents and children.
Q: What are the differences between writing fiction and nonfiction?
Nelson: There are many. I had to “unlearn” some of my nonfiction techniques and develop a new set of writing muscles for fiction. I really enjoy it. But honestly, the basic principles of fiction and nonfiction are the same. Tell a good story. Captivate the reader. Make him or her keep turning the page to find out what happens next.
Q: Any tips for any new or young writers starting out on a book of their own?
Nelson: Read, read, read. That was Faulkner’s maxim, and it’s the best advice. I’m astounded when I talk to new writers looking to break in and I ask them what they’re reading and they look at me with a blank face. You can’t be a good writer unless you read. Reading other writers is the best way to learn. Also, be sure to buy books. You don’t have to buy my book. But buy somebody’s! That is one of the best ways to support writers and the publishing of good books.