Writing Historical Mysteries with Laura Marx Fitzgerald

If you’re looking for a good MG mystery, look no further than Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s first two novels. The characters are smart and savvy and the plots are unique page-turners. Nevermind that the reader is also learning about art history which Laura studied at Harvard and Cambridge Universities. I asked Laura about her skillful art of writing.

MGM: How would you classify your MG novels, Under the Egg and The Gallery. To me, they’re mysteries with historical elements? How do publishers, booksellers, and readers categorize these types of stories?

Laura Marx Fitzgerald: I think of both books as historical mysteries — but mysteries whose secrets are only resolved in the present. In my mind, they are both inspired by the same instinct to find a buried treasure map–some artifact from the past–that can only be fulfilled in the here and now. And both have their inspirational origins in my very favorite book, Possession by A.S. Byatt, where two modern-day scholars uncover an unknown literary mystery. All of these examples remind us that history is very much alive and that the world that we’ve inherited is more complex than we know.

MGM: The Gallery has a very authentic historical setting. How were you able to get the reader entrenched in this time period?

Fitzgerald: I always say that I don’t make up historical stories — I steal them. By this, I mean that I trawl primary sources for inspiration: old movies, books, comics, maps, journals, newspapers. I pick up bits of dialogue and larger-than-life characters and cultural movements, and then I weave them all together into the story I’m trying to tell. I hope readers feel they are immersed in the period, but I also hope they see the present reflected as well. In The Gallery, you’ll find a divisive presidential election, debate around immigration, and a bombastic “self-made” media titan — so it’s not much of a stretch to connect the past to the present!

MGM: I love the Mom characters in both books! However, they both come with issues. Why did you choose these types of characters?

Fitzgerald: I think moms have it tough–especially through the eyes of a tween or adolescent. It’s the moment most kids start to think, “Hey, my mom doesn’t know everything!” (Or maybe even, “God, my mom doesn’t know anything!”) But I want kids to see these characters for who they are — to understand their flaws, but most of all, their motivations. The mom in The Gallery isn’t mentally ill, but she is swayed by her own experiences and blind spots — and the more her experience is revealed, the more you understand her choices. I think this is the point of reading: to see things through another’s eyes. And no one deserves that empathy more than moms.

MGM: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Fitzgerald: Always, always, always research. Sometimes I think I write just for the excuse to follow endless Wikipedia links and read old newspapers.

MGM: What’s next for Laura Marx Fitzgerald?

Fitzgerald: I’m working on another idea around a priceless work of art — but I don’t want to say any more for fear of jinxing it! I’m just in the fun part right now (i.e. research).

Thank you, Laura, for spending time with the mafia family.


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