|Daniel J. Hale & Matthew LaBrot: Going to the Head of the Mystery Class|
Most teenagers consider it an achievement to end the school year by acing their final exams. Fifteen-year-old Matthew LaBrot capped his by winning a major literary award. Red Card, the novel he wrote with his uncle, Daniel J. Hale, won the Agatha Award for Best Young Adult Mystery at the Malice Domestic mystery convention in Arlington, Va., May 3.
Crescent Blues caught up with the mystery-writing duo shortly after the awards ceremony. Hale remained somewhat stunned by the unexpected award -- at first he didn't recognize his book when the Young Adult Award was announced. LeBrot took the award in stride, more concerned with continuing the adventures of teenage soccer player Zeke Armstrong begun in Red Card.
Crescent Blues: What prompted you to write a book together?
Matthew LeBrot: I was playing select soccer in Dallas, and I was having kind of a bad season. One day I was visiting my uncle, and he was on the computer. He was making jokes about the team, trying to make me laugh, so I'd forget about it. I told him just to delete [the jokes].
Crescent Blues: Had you written a book before?
Daniel J. Hale: I had. I hadn't published any books before. I had a short story in an anthology called Book Marks. Matthew had actually written some short fiction.
Crescent Blues: Any of it published?
Daniel J. Hale: No.
Crescent Blues: About how long ago did you start the book?
Crescent Blues: Have you done any signings for the book?
Daniel J. Hale & Matthew LeBrot: Oh yeah.
Crescent Blues: How have kids at the signings responded to having one of their own sitting behind the table?
Daniel J. Hale: When we had the launch for the book, there were 200-250 people at the launch, which just blew us away. We expected 50 people, something like that.
There were a lot of people there, a lot of kids who played soccer. There were actually a lot of girls who played soccer, which surprised me at first. I guess I hadn't really thought about it. Now, I understand, Girl Scout troops read the book and do group reads on the bus, things like that.
When the kids come, to be honest, they want to talk to Matthew. They couldn't care less about me. I'm an old guy. They want to talk to him.
Crescent Blues: Matthew, I understand you had a little trouble getting your uncle to write realistic dialogue.
Matthew LeBrot: Sometimes he would be writing, and he would say, "Well, gee golly, Pow Wow, that's great!" Or something like that, and I would have to tell him that no teenager says stuff like that. So I changed it.
Crescent Blues: How do you write together?
Matthew LeBrot: Sometimes we sit side by side, which actually works a lot faster. Other times we'll email it back and forth. I'll write a section and send it to him, and he'll edit it and write one and send it back to me. That's how we've been doing it lately.
Crescent Blues: I understand you're from Dallas, Texas. What school do you attend in Dallas?
Matthew LeBrot: Actually, I live in Greenville, which is outside of Dallas. I go to Greenville Christian School.
Crescent Blues: Have you decided where you want to go to college yet?
Matthew LeBrot: Not yet.
Crescent Blues: Do you live in Greenville, too, Dan?
Daniel J. Hale: I live in Dallas proper -- Knox Park, near Southern Methodist University.
Crescent Blues: How often do you get together to write?
Daniel J. Hale: It depends. The school Matthew goes to is pretty demanding. He's been playing sports a lot, so he hasn't had as much time. I guess this summer he'll have a little more time. That's when we plan to start writing the next book.
It's hard to say, though. It's tough getting time together, which is another reason why we would email things. Matthew works better late at night. I work much better early in the morning.
When we were adding sections and emailing back and forth, he would write at night and email it to me that night. I would get up early the next morning, and I would work on it then. So that worked out, sleep-wise, a little better with our schedules. But like Matthew said, it's so much faster when we can actually sit side-by-side and work.
Crescent Blues: How did your friends at school react when you were published?
Matthew LeBrot: Some of them sort of make fun of me, but they don't really mean anything by it. There was an article in my local paper that had a big picture of me that said: "Matthew LaBrot: he reads and writes." And they joked about that -- "Hey, you can read and write!" Things like that.
Crescent Blues: What about your colleagues, Dan? Did you get ribbed for getting published in young adult?
Daniel J. Hale: I have a writers group in Dallas. One of the members is multiple-published. Her name is Suzanne Frank. She also writes mysteries as Chloe Green. Then there are a couple of others in the group. We've been together as a writing group for a long time.
It was kind of funny, because I had been taking [my writing] so seriously, so seriously. Then Matthew and I decide we're just going to have fun with this and see what we can do, and this is what happened.
The writers group has been really positive and really supportive. The three of them were some of the people we called first last night [after the announcement of the Agatha Award].
Crescent Blues: What about the folks at work?
Daniel J. Hale: I work at home, so there you go.
Crescent Blues: So that's not an issue.
Daniel J. Hale: Actually, it means my dog, and yeah, my dog has been very supportive. [Laughs.]
Crescent Blues: Out of all the interviews you've given to date, was there any question you weren't asked that you've been dying to answer?
Daniel J. Hale: The one thing that people have asked us privately that we haven't been asked in an interview is the "argument question." It's something kind of interesting.
I met Carol Higgins Clark years ago at a writers' conference in New Orleans. Matthew had never met her or her mom. So last night, I told Carol that we were coming, and I knew that she and her mom were coming.
Matthew and I were standing there, and Carol sees us and sends her mom over. Mary Higgins Clark walks straight over to Matthew, and starts talking to him. And that's the one thing she brings up: the argument. "Tell us about the big argument, the blow-up." [She must be interested in] that sort of thing -- because Carol and her mom write books together at Christmastime.
Matthew and I had the same reaction: what big blow-up? We don't even really disagree. We just sort of discuss things and work it out. We've never argued.
Crescent Blues: One more question: was seriously injuring the soccer coach when you were having a bad season wish fulfillment?
Daniel J. Hale: Nah, I'd say not. What about you, bud? It's your question.
Matthew LeBrot: I guess not.
Daniel J. Hale: It was just my way of making Matthew smile. I wanted him to smile, I really did, because he was in a bad mood, and I wanted him to cheer up. It was just one of those things. The absurdity of it was the thing made him smile.
Click here to learn more about Matthew LeBrot, Daniel J. Hale and Red Card.
Jean Marie Ward