Author tells pupils secrets of his writing success


November 24, 1999|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CLUE BY CLUE, children's writer Ken Munro revealed the secrets of writing mystery books about familiar people and places during a visit Friday at Spring Garden Elementary School in Hampstead.

Invited by fourth-grade teacher Erica Steele, he met with the fourth and fifth grades. The large audience was divided into four sessions of about 75 pupils and teachers.

Even when speaking for the fourth time, his humor and enthusiasm remained strong. He was obviously delighted to share the author's life with children.

He develops mystery and intrigue from details of his neighborhood in Lancaster County, Pa. The theft of an Amish quilt from his daughter's shop in Bird-in-Hand was the impetus for his first book, written about eight years ago. His 10th book will be published in the spring.

He became a writer after retiring from 30 years of teaching sixth grade, and he writes for the age he knows best.

"I start each book with a question," Munro said, "and develop a plot where everything makes sense. I have to know where I'm going before I go. I have to know the plot before I sit down to write.

"Why would anyone steal a quilt?" he asked the pupils. He led them step by step through questions he had answered to develop his first book. The book, "The Quilted Message," began with a message he devised in code and sewn as Amish patchwork.

Following the time-honored advice for writers to write from experience, he didn't look far to create two boys to solve the mysteries. He recalled his experience and made one smarter than the other.

"Sammy was a boy in my high school class, always reading and solving puzzles. Brian is the average guy, like myself, who lives for today. He sees a clue and wants to act," Munro said. "I always wanted to be the real Sammy, but I was the real Brian."

For Munro, it's fun to include people and places he knows in his books. A fictional version of his daughter, Joyce, is a companion to the boy sleuths. In "The Tin Box," he describes the stone basement walls of her 1700s home as a secret hiding place.

In several books, he includes details of Amish life, farming, woodworking and quilts. One book involves a new restaurant and the owner he interviewed before placing her in its pages.

"You can eat at the booth where the boys come in with the dynamite," he said, dropping a large clue that got pupils whispering excitedly.

He animatedly told a wild tale of the writer's life as being chained to a desk with bread and milk, revising the same book six times by hand on a legal pad.

Then he described his true work day, sitting comfortably at a computer from 7: 30 a.m. to 1 p.m. It takes a month to plan and at least three months to write each book, he said, and he is published by a small regional press.

"I'm retired. So why do I write all day? I'm motivated by the feedback I get. I can't tell you what a thrill this gives me, because I'm someone who never thought he'd be a writer," Munro said.

He's received e-mail from reluctant readers who discover they enjoy his stories and want to read more. That ties into Munro's philosophy.

He told the pupils, "To be a success in life, do three things: read, read, read."

Munro's books are distributed in the Lancaster area, where he appears in bookstores. His books are also offered online by Barnes and Noble. He answers e-mail at

Manchester open house

Trinity Carolers, the chorus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Manchester, will stroll the streets of Manchester to sing carols and holiday songs the day after Thanksgiving.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated as the town's open house day. The business community participates with raffles, hot cocoa and snacks. Special activities, such as horse-drawn wagon rides, are offered.

This year the open house is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. All Trinity members have been encouraged to join in singing during the event.

Pat Brodowski's North neighborhood column appears each Wednesday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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