As a writer, you have to strike a balance between incorporating aspects of real-life and fictionalizing things enough to allow the characters to be their own person. But most good scenes have some grain of truth in them that was allowed to grow into its own new story.
In No Clues, You Lose, there are a lot of scenes like that. One of those scenes involves the character development of Joey’s older brother, Matt.
Matt has a love of online shopping. (Or bargain hunting.) He’s found in front of the screen searching for the perfect Christmas gift on more than one occasion. This trait isn’t just an interesting, quirky thing. It actually comes in handy when Joey is scheming up ways to solve the mystery. But I don’t want to give too much away.
One particular scene is a mix and match of a couple of incidents that have their basis in reality. First, I’ll give you a sneak peek of the scene; then I’ll explain the backstory . . .
“Matt, when are you getting off?”
“No idea. The internet’s letting me down tonight. I can’t find exactly what I’m looking for. I think it’s time to go in a different direction. Antiques.” He created a new browser tab and typed in the address to an online auction site. “Mom, can you come log me in?”
Mom walked over from the kitchen. “Remember,” she said, “No bidding without asking permission.”
Matt chuckled. I knew he was thinking about how one time, a couple of years ago, he almost ended up paying $100 for a $10 toy because he typed an extra zero. The account was connected to our parents’ credit card, and Dad was going to make him pay the entire amount as a “life lesson,” until he was outbid by a crazy collector who lived in New Zealand.
After that, Mom gave us all our own cards we could use to make debit purchases. The card is connected to an app on Mom’s phone. She can add money to the cards as we earn it at the family greenhouse business, or do extra chores. It also helps me with that little issue of losing my cash.
Mom’s watchful eye moved away from the computer as she walked over to the stove to start cooking dinner again.
I poked Matt and said, “Remember the New Zealand fiasco?”
“It wasn’t a fiasco,” Matt answered. “That’s why you need me to head up the investigation of the missing uniforms. Even when things don’t go the way I expect, in the end, they always turn out well.”
“Pfft.” I rolled my eyes. “I do need your help, but you’re not in charge. These are my uniforms that are missing.”
One of my children (around the same age as Matt—maybe slightly older) set up their own Amazon account and their own eBay store. However, in real life, this was after the introduction of the Greenlight card. The Greenlight card. The Greenlight card does what Joey’s mom wanted. It allows your child to have something they can use for purchases that is controlled by a parental app.
In our case, the “little issue of losing my cash” was the precipitating event. We had too many children losing or trading dollars. So we collected everyone’s money and handed over the cards.
One day, not long after, I arrived home to find an Amazon package with my child’s name on the address label. This was quite surprising, given their age. At first, I thought that maybe they had used my Amazon account (similar to Matt’s situation in the book, although his transaction was more eBay-esque) to purchase something. But a quick check of my orders showed nothing there.
After checking in with the child in question, I found that they had used the Greenlight card to create their own Amazon account. Both brilliant and concerning. On the upside, I could see everything they purchased from the parental controls on the card. So it wasn’t a huge issue. But it was quite a surprise.
This same child, later, created their own eBay account. Not just for purchasing. No, no. One actually needs to make money first if they want to spend it. They listed items for sale. This was when the rubber hit the road. After successfully completing a sale, they had to request adult intervention. It turned out that eBay wouldn’t remit the payment because (somehow, through a process involving the Greenlight card being the payment connected to PayPal) they recognized the account as belonging to a minor.
So we adults had to take over the eBay account and schlep the money over to an approved repository. The buyer, of course, did get their stuff and everyone lived happily ever after.
None of this was ever done to be intentionally deceptive. Everyone knew I could see all transactions from my phone. It was just industriousness without guidance.
And as a middle-grade author, this provided great inspiration. Because allowing “industriousness without guidance” to play out in a storyline is one way we can get our characters into interesting pickles.
Enjoy relatable characters like this? My middle grade mystery, No Clues, You Lose, is already open for preorders! Preordered books will be signed, so go ahead and order through Bandersnatch Books.
(Preorders will transition into regular orders once the book is released in January 2022.)