Alexandria author pens choose-your-own-path mystery for kids

Author Deb Mercier will sign copies Nov. 12 at Cherry Street Books in Alexandria.

The book cover of "The Empty Cabin," showing the silhouette of a cabin against a yellow sky and bare branches.  The cover identifies it as a "Detective: You" book and also as a "Choose Your Path" mystery. It's written by Deb Mercier, an Alexandria resident.
"The Empty Cabin" is part of the new "Detective: You" series published by Twin Cities-based Lake 7 Creative. Alexandria resident Deb Mercier is one of the main authors for the series. (Karen Tolkkinen / Echo Press)

Your parents run a resort and one of the guests is missing from her cabin.
The guest is a friend of yours and you sense that something bad has happened. So you investigate.
Along the way, you have choices.
Which resort guests do you investigate first? Which supplies do you bring along?
That's the plot of "The Empty Cabin," by Deb Mercier of Alexandria.

Deb Mercier

The choose-your-own-path novel for ages 9-14 is part of the "Detective: You" series that launched in October. Designed to introduce young readers to the mystery genre, the books are told second-person, starring the reader as the main protagonist. The protagonists have gender-neutral names. Books with Sam are set outdoors, while books with Blaze incorporate a supernatural element.
They are published by Twin Cities-based Lake 7 Creative, which is seeking to generate nationwide buzz for the series. Mercier, the main author for the series, will talk about the books and sign copies at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 12 at Cherry Street Books in downtown Alexandria.
"I’m really excited to see where this series can go,” she said. "It’s almost like writing a jigsaw puzzle."
Mercier is no stranger to book publishing. The former editor of the Pope County Tribune, she has published books of her humor columns. She's also been hired to write niche children's books — one for Glenwood State Bank to celebrate its 100th anniversary called "The Captain's Hat," and one for the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra called "Catching the Waves: The Science of Sound.”
Her love for writing goes back to elementary school — when her reports always exceeded the assigned page count.
“I was a big reader as a kid so I would always try to come up with my own stories as well," she said. “I’ve always been attracted to writing and words.”
Her first professional writing job was as a technical writer, translating complex ideas into understandable text. When her kids were little, she earned a master's degree in creative writing, not as a professional goal but simply to learn more about the craft of writing.
Over the past half dozen years, she worked as a technical writer for Douglas Machine. But she recently quit to focus full-time on her writing and promoting the series.
“I had my daughter coach me on how to use Instagram,” she said.
This is not her first time writing for the Lake 7 Creative. She first met publisher Ryan Jacobson at a young author's conference and he asked her to help him complete a book called "Wrestling With Werewolves."
“I didn’t know anything about wrestling or werewolves but I thought, 'Well, I’ll try it,” Mercier recalled. That book turned into a long-term collaboration. She co-wrote a book in another of the company's series called "Can You Survive," that challenges young readers to put themselves into the stories of Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and other classics. The company is reissuing that series, even as it launches the "Detective: You" series.
"Detective: You" readers identify suspects and gather clues along the way. Depending on their choices, they may not just fail to solve the mystery — mistakes can even prove fatal.
“Ryan’s more likely to kill off the characters than I am," she joked. "I’m like, well, maybe they could just get lost. I try to write it so it’s not a definite 'they’re done for.' You didn’t solve the mystery but maybe you survived.”
With Jacobson, she penned another "Detective: You" novel, "The Ghost of Old Central School," about a school that is closing because people believe it is haunted.
Jacobson said Mercier is one of about a dozen writers who write for his small publishing house.
"Deb is great to work with. She is so much fun," he said. "Her creativity, her energy, she is amazing to work with."
They plan to publish two to four "Detective: You" books a year, he said. The titles to be published in the spring are "The Captured Eagle," and "The Fortune Teller’s Curse."
The books emphasize deductive reasoning, which is drawing conclusions from a set of facts. They include a simple explanation of deductive reasoning and how to apply it to solving the mystery.

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994. Driven by curiosity and a desire to learn about the United States, Karen Tolkkinen has covered local news from Idaho to New Hampshire to Alabama and landing at the Echo Press in Alexandria in 2017.
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