Interview with Roberta Baxter
Author of Mystery on the Transcontinental Railroad
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1. 1. How would you describe "Mystery on the Transcontinental Railroad" to a new reader?
- In “Mystery of the Transcontinental Railroad,” three boys meet a man who has an amazing train set up. The train table shows the construction of the first U.S. transcontinental railroad. Amid scenery from plains to high mountains, the builders face avalanches, Indian attacks, heat, thunderstorms, and more. Even more exciting—the boys can magically travel to the building site and experience the power of the locomotives and the challenges in building this railroad. They must stop a thief who is threatening the construction, along with someone who is sabotaging the railroad. They have to choose which track to take next to accomplish their mission. “Mystery of the Transcontinental Railroad” is the first in a series called “Choose Your Own Track.”
2. What inspired you to write this book?
- This book came from two inspiration points. First, during my growing up years, our house was across a road and a field from a freight yard. Locomotives switched back and forth and banged their cars together as they lengthened their trains. This happened several times a day, including what we called the “night-night” train that pulled out and sped up for its journey just as we were settling into bed. I have always loved trains.
Second, my son was fascinated by the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a young reader. I read some of them and enjoyed how the reader could make choices that determined the path of the story. So I decided to write a train version.
3. What authors do you admire?
- As a young reader, I loved the Little House books and any other book about traveling west in the 1800s. I also enjoyed mysteries, starting with Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys and moving on to Agatha Christie. I still read a lot of mystery and historical fiction. I nearly always am reading a middle grade novel. I also read and reread the Harry Potter books.
4. How do you write a book like this, with the different paths?
- Having the different tracks made the book more difficult to write. I had the main story points written out and then I added the branches and picked the choices that would get the boys there. I also did a lot of research about the transcontinental railroad and the times.
5. What other kinds of books do you write?
- I write a lot of nonfiction for students of all ages, including one called “Top Ten Facts About Trains.” I have also written other mysteries.
6. What advice about writing would you give to aspiring authors?
- Write the kind of book that you like to read. If you are writing a book for children, write what you would have liked to read as a child. Research, write down ideas about characters and plot until you can see your characters and hear bits of dialogue. Then just start writing. That is often the hardest part for me. The writing goes more smoothly once I have a start.
7. What advice about publishing would you give to aspiring authors?
- My fiction books have been self-published. I found that the one to two year wait for a rejection letter is just too long. Most of the time, there was no answer at all. So I decided to try Amazon self-publishing platform. I do pay for a graphic artist to design the covers and I get some editorial help. Decide what is important to you and don’t look back.
8. Can you share a story about your reading and writing?
- If you are writing for children, you must read books for children. One day I was reminding my son that he had an orthodontic appointment after school. He asked if this time, I could bring an adult book to read in the waiting room. He said it was embarrassing for his mother to be reading a kids’ book.
9. If “Mystery on the Transcontinental Railroad” were to be adapted for TV or film, who would you see in the lead role?
- Since the lead roles would be boys about ages 8 to 11, I’m not sure who would fit the parts. The characters are so clear in my mind that it would be hard to picture others in those roles.
Where next? What are you working on now?
- I am working on another Choose Your Own Track book and a train puzzle book, as well as some more nonfiction ones.
Can you survive heat, lightning strikes, or an avalanche? Will you be able to endure the conditions at the construction of the first transcontinental railroad? In this CHOOSE YOUR OWN TRACK book, you get to choose which way you go. Don’t read it page after page. Use the links to jump to the choice you make or to the next section. Will you make the right choices as you explore the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad? Will you make a bad choice and end up dead or hurt? Will you come home without accomplishing your mission? MYSTERY OF THE TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD will match your wits against all kinds of dangers, including capture, sabotage, thieves. Will you survive or fail? If you like trains, locomotives, railroads or mysteries, this is the book for you. Ages 9-12.