Chicago children's author Liesl Shurtliff is one of the busiest writers I know in children's lit. When she's not working on a new book, she's speaking to students in classrooms all over the country about the power of storytelling, or she's racing around town with her own bustling brood.
A New York Times bestseller for Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin (Knopf, 2013), which was followed by three more delightful fairytale retellings in Jack, Red, and Grump, Liesl is wrapping up another exciting and engaging middle-grade series. Time Castaways (Katherine Tegen Books) kicked off with The Mona Lisa Key (2018), then featured The Obsidian Compass (2019), and now the third and final The Forbidden Lock (October 2020) has hit shelves.
See what I mean? That's seven novels in seven years! Who does that?
The Time Castaways series demanded deft writing skills, which Liesl has plenty of, to keep track of time travel, complex mysteries, high adventure, and the distinct personalities of the intrepid trio. The books tell the story of the Hudson kids—Mateo, Ruby, and Corey—who jump on the wrong subway train and wind up on wild escapades throughout time.
Liesl took a moment out of her own wild escapades to share some of the inspiration behind Time Castaways. Click here to enter for a chance to win a copy of Book 3, The Forbidden Lock.
QUESTION: You take your trio on great adventures through history. What was the most interesting period/moment that you encountered as you wrote the series?
Q: Time travel is hard! What was the most challenging part of writing the series?
LS: Time travel is SO hard! Aside from keeping track of all the timelines and destinations, I think the hardest part for me was the infinite possibilities and the constant decisions that needed to be made. A lot of people might assume we writers would want infinite possibilities, but the truth is a story needs some constraints in order to have power and flow. My character had the power to travel anywhere, any time, and yet they couldn't actually go everywhere and to all times. That might be a fun adventure for them, but probably boring and/or confusing for the reader. I needed to make some tough decisions about where and when the Hudsons would travel and why. And that was STRESSFUL! How do I choose one destination or time period over another? There's so much I left out! I stressed just writing about it now!
LS: I think I'm still an 11-year-old at heart! So much made me giggle while writing this. There are some pretty great high-speed chase scenes through time and space right in the beginning that I think will really keep readers on the edge of their seats. There's also a great scene where time periods start to clash, and we see things come together that really do not go together, like dinosaurs in Central Park, and Napoleon Bonaparte taking over the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's all a bit mad-cap, and I think that definitely would have appealed to 11-year-old me. Quirky, bizarre stuff always delights and makes me giggle, but it's all blended with a heaping of heart and emotional depth. I like that stuff too. I think these books really showcase both sides.