Grace Brothers Mysteries: Searching for Sweetness is the debut new novel of award-winning author Kevin L. Nelson. Here is an interview with the author about his new book.
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 who has become a church pastor. 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: It’s very personal. I was thirteen when my dad died, and I know what a vulnerable time it is in the life of a young person growing up. With cellphones becoming omnipresent even with young children, my aim was to write an adventure crime story that really speaks to kids of this age. 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. I’ve already started writing the second Grace Brothers book. 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: Besides being entertaining, the book explores some very interesting and relevant themes for young people.
Nelson: Thank you for mentioning that. One of the key characters is a teen robber and gang member named Babyface. But Matt and Nathan recognize their common humanity with him. So does Pastor Grace. In a dramatic confrontation near the end of the book, he asks Babyface to put down his gun and change his life before it’s too late. The novel is a story of redemption and second chances. Babyface gets a second chance. So does Sweetness, after she is finally rescued and returns home to safety.
Q: Spoiler alert!
Nelson: Oops, sorry about that.
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.
An excerpt from Grace Brothers Mysteries: Searching for Sweetness begins here.