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Interview: October 2010

Leslie Margolis is the author of the hilariously funny Annabelle Stevens series, and now she’s at it again with the first installment of her next set of books, GIRL’S BEST FRIEND, which follows a heroic dog-walker named Maggie Brooklyn as she tries to save her neighborhood from a mysterious puppy-snatcher.

In this interview with Kidsreads.com’s Donna Volkenannt, Margolis explains why she decided to write a book about dognappers, elaborating on the tumultuous life of her newest heroine and how she made her come alive. She also talks about how her characters got their super-cool names, describes what it’s like to walk past a “stoop sale,” and reveals a few of her favorite books --- along with her plans for Maggie’s next adventure.

Kidsreads.com: In GIRL’S BEST FRIEND, Maggie has an after-school job walking dogs, and she can’t help noticing that dogs are disappearing from her neighborhood. How did you come up with the idea to write a book about dog-walkers and dognapping?

Leslie Margolis: I’ve always thought that being a dog-walker would be fun because you get to be outside all day and hang out with dogs. I also wanted to write a realistic mystery, which meant finding an organic way for Maggie Brooklyn to stumble upon a crime. Her job creates the perfect excuse: As a dog-walker, Maggie has her client’s house keys, and she walks into their lives in every sense of the term. So, of course, she’ll come across a few mysteries.

Because this is the first novel in a series, it only seemed natural that her first big mystery would involve disappearing dogs –-- or one of the mysteries, that is. Maggie is a seventh-grader, which means that her life is already full of the larger, dramatic mysteries of life.

KRC: The people, pets, sights, sounds and smells of Maggie’s Brooklyn neighborhood come alive in GIRL’S BEST FRIEND. Why did you choose Brooklyn as the setting for your novel?

LM: I live and work in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and I love it there. The neighborhood is bursting at the seams with stories and characters, so whenever I need inspiration, all I have to do to is walk out my front door.

KRC: Maggie Brooklyn Sinclair and her brother Finn have such cool names. In the book you mention how they got their names. Can you share this story with us?

LM: I think Maggie puts it best in her own words: “My parents moved [to Brooklyn] as soon as they found out they were having me and Finn. Before that they lived in Manhattan, which is just over the bridge and too expensive for twins. That’s why Brooklyn is my middle name, and Finn’s as well. It’s a running joke between my parents. Had twins, had to move to Brooklyn. I guess it’s funny to them.”

KRC: Maggie, Finn, Ivy, Lucy, Milo, Isabel and all the other characters in GIRL’S BEST FRIEND are lively and realistic. Isabel, Maggie’s landlady, is especially vivid and memorable. Are Maggie and the others based on people you have known, or are they a combination of real-life and made-up characters? Or are they totally fictitious creations?

LM: All of my characters are totally fictitious, but there is a purple-haired woman who lives upstairs from me. A few of the kids in my building read GIRL’S BEST FRIEND and immediately asked if the purple-haired Isabel from the book is based on our very own purple-haired neighbor. I answered them with an emphatic “No –-- just her hair. And every other hairstyle and character in the book is completely made-up.”

KRC: To help Maggie solve the dognapping crimes in her neighborhood, she digs out some classic Nancy Drew mysteries. What were some of your favorite books when you were Maggie’s age? Did you read Nancy Drew?

LM: Of course! I loved Nancy Drew --- I thought Encyclopedia Brown was a genius, and I wanted Anastasia Krupnik to be my best friend. I also thought that Harriet the Spy was the gutsiest girl around, and somewhat intimidating, too. When I was eight I sat down at my friend’s typewriter and tried to write my own Hardy Boys adventure. I didn’t get very far because I didn’t know how to type yet. Also, my friend got bored watching me think and insisted that we go swimming instead.

KRC: In GIRL’S BEST FRIEND, Maggie mentions stoop sales. Will you please describe a stoop sale?

LM: Sure, a stoop sale is like a garage sale but without the garage. They’re very popular in Brooklyn –-- especially when the weather’s nice. I’ve seen some great things for sale, like books, vintage jackets and toys. And some ridiculous things, too, including stained doilies and combination locks without the combinations.

KRC: Besides being a dog-walking detective, Maggie copes with typical pre-teen problems at school and at home. Changing friendships, a parent who is “between jobs,” dealing with cliques, and liking a boy who doesn’t seem to notice her are some issues she faces. What message do you hope readers will come away with after they learn about Maggie and her struggles?

LM: My goal is to write an exciting mystery series revolving around a realistic and relatable kid. When you are in the seventh grade, life is messy and tumultuous. I want to address everyday, middle school complications. So in GIRL’S BEST FRIEND, Maggie learns that she can track down a bunch of missing dogs --- and even find her landlady’s missing fortune --- but some things will forever remain a mystery; there will always be questions like “Why do people change?” and “How come some friendships end?”

KRC: When did you realize you wanted to become a writer, and what advice do you have for readers who want to become writers?

LM: I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything but a writer, so it must have happened when I was very young. My advice is this: Read as much as possible, and write about what you love.

KRC: Your website is so much fun --- it has great graphics and sound effects! But in addition to the website, you’re also on Facebook and MySpace. How has having an Internet presence affected the way you connect with your readers?

LM: Thanks! I love hearing from readers, and I’m glad it’s so easy for them to reach me. Growing up, I was actually embarrassed to admit that I wanted to be a writer because it seemed like a really lofty goal –-- almost too pompous. I’m glad that I can be so accessible to aspiring authors. And, of course, I love getting fan mail. Most of my days are spent sitting alone in a silent room hunched over my computer screen, so it’s nice to hear from real, live kids and get validation that what I’m doing matters to them.

KRC: Your books have received several awards, notably from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). What can you tell us about the honors your books have received?

LM: I have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for librarians, so any acknowledgement from YALSA is an honor. And, of course, those state awards –-- especially the kids’ choice ones –-- are hugely flattering.

KRC: At the end of GIRL’S BEST FRIEND, you hint at more to come from Maggie. Is there a sequel in her future? What are you working on now?

LM: I’m currently working on VANISHING ACTS, the second Maggie Brooklyn Mystery. In this book, Maggie must track down a missing person and find out who is behind a string of dog eggings at the local dog run. Maggie also deals with something that’s related to her brother, her best friend and her friend Milo. But I don’t want to say too much and spoil anything.