Larchmont Resident and Author Todd Strasser Latest Teen Thriller, Kill You Last
Edgar Allan Poe Award-nominated author Todd Strasser discusses the local inspiration for his “thrillogy.”
Photo by Hollis Rafkin-Sax
Todd Strasser uses his own children to get into his teenage protagonists’ heads.
At first glance, Larchmont resident and bestselling author Todd Strasser seems like a regular guy. He’s a father whose favorite pastime is surfing with his kids, and a witty conversationalist with a disarming sense of humor. But there is nothing ordinary about Strasser’s uncanny ability to get into the mindset of the teenaged mystery enthusiasts for whom he writes.
The Mystery Writers of America (MWA) agrees. In January, the organization chose Strasser’s newest teen thriller, Kill You Last, as one of its five 2012 Edgar Allan Poe Award nominees in the category of Young Adult (YA) fiction. The Edgars, referred to as the Oscars for mystery writers, are widely recognized as the most prestigious award in the mystery genre. Ultimately, Strasser did not take home the trophy. (The award was given to Dandi Daley Mackall’s The Silence of Murder.) Still, in the context of the fiercely competitive YA landscape–wherein books targeting teens became the fastest-growing genre among all books in 2011—Kill You Last’s nomination itself is a hard-won honor.
In Kill You Last, Shelby Sloan is an over-privileged teen living a sheltered life in the affluent bedroom community of Soundview, New York—until she’s blindsided by her father’s involvement in a string of missing teen models. Here, Strasser flawlessly embodies an 18-year-old girl with a mind for technology-savvy sleuthing—an impressive task for a 62-year-old man whose first teen novel was published in 1978.
Strasser credits his knack for staying relevant to today’s teens to his relationship with his now-grown kids, Lia, 28, and Geoff, 24, admitting that his recent works skew toward older, edgier teens now that his children are also older. “My kids are the major source of my research material,” Strasser says. “When I was working on the first draft of this ‘thrillogy,’ I was talking to them about an e-mail exchange in the book. One of my children said, ‘Dad, e-mails are so un-cool. Everybody texts!’” Strasser admitted that his son and daughter love to let him know when he’s out of touch.
The town of Larchmont itself has been another major source of inspiration. As it turns out, the fictional town of Soundview, Kill You Last’s setting, is really the Larchmont-Mamaroneck region. “Soundview made its first appearance in the ’90s when I wrote Wordsworth, a series about a talking basset hound. Since then, Soundview keeps coming back in my books.”
With a coveted Edgar nomination under his belt, 140 published books to his credit, and his primary source of research material (his adult children) aging out of the Young Adult category, could retirement be in Strasser’s foreseeable future? Definitely not. Strasser says he will never run out of new stories to write. “My background was in journalism, but I was a terrible journalist because, instead of researching the facts, I was always thinking about where the story could go,” he says. But that is the very same quality that makes him a natural born storyteller. “Most of my Young Adult stories in particular begin with something that has happened in real life—either to me, or to a friend, or something I read about. As long as I’m having fresh, real life experiences I can come up with a new plot.”
Case in point: Strasser recently finished working on his first memoir, scheduled for publication stateside in fall 2013 (a German-language version is already available overseas and online). The Bombwhich is a fictionalized account of growing up during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “I was twelve when the Crisis happened and my father decided to build a bomb shelter. So it’s about being twelve during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it’s a coming-of-age story set back in the early sixties, so it’s also about civil rights and other important issues of that time.”