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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Cover Reveal of DARING DARLEEN and an Interview with Anne Nesbet

Context Context Context!!

Okay. Author Anne Nesbet. When did I first read one of her books? The only honest answer is: Too late. Have you ever read someone’s books and then started kicking yourself because you’ve been missing out on them for a great deal of time? That’s me and Anne. Though I was aware of her books CABINET OF EARTHS, A BOX OF GARGOYLES, and THE WRINKLED CROWN, I’d read precisely none of them. But then she released CLOUD AND WALLFISH. And that book . . . ahhhhh. There was so much about it that was so very very good. It’s probably my favorite middle grade novel set in East Germany to this day.

Then Candlewick wondered if I might have any interest in doing the cover reveal of Anne’s latest. Would I! You betcha, man. The name of the book is DARLING DARLEEN, QUEEN OF THE SCREEN and the plot? Well . . .

Lights! Camera! Kidnapping?

It’s 1914, and Darleen Darling’s film adventures collide with reality when a fake kidnapping set up by her studio becomes all too real. Suddenly Darleen finds herself in the hands of dastardly criminals who have just nabbed Miss Victorine Berryman, the poor-little-rich-girl heiress of one of America’s largest fortunes. Soon real life starts to seem like a bona fide adventure serial, complete with dramatic escapes, murderous plots, and a runaway air balloon. Will Darleen and Victorine be able to engineer their own happily-ever-after, or will the villains be victorious?

Darn right.

Now I can’t just do a cover reveal without getting the lowdown on the book in question. So I shot some questions in Ms. Nesbet’s general direction and she was happy enough to oblige me with answers. Take a gander at the following:

Betsy Bird: So! Silent films, eh? There aren’t a lot of middle grade novels that center silent film at their core. Brian Selznick’s WONDERSTRUCK, perhaps, but not much beyond that. Where did the kernel of an idea for this book originate?

Anne Nesbet: Well! This time we can thank my day job (film historian & teacher) for providing the seed. In fact, the idea for DARING DARLEEN popped into my head one morning as I walking to class to talk about the brave and talented young women who starred in some of the most popular serial adventure films between late 1912 and 1917. I thought to myself, “Oh, but wouldn’t it be fun to write a story set in the early film world? Cliffhangers! Stunts! Technical tricks! And what if a publicity stunt in 1914 went quite terribly wrong? YES!”

BB: It is hard to go wrong with “terribly wrong.” My friend Monica Edinger has always found that when you show kids old silent films they often come to love them deeply. As you are a film historian, why did you decide to set this particular story in that particular era?

AN: The extra-magical aspect of the early film period is that not only were they making some very entertaining movies, but they were figuring out all the technical puzzles of cinema at the same time. I find that kids love the physical, slapstick comedy of silent films (did you know that a “slapstick” was a percussion device used to punctuate comedy? hand the kids instruments and noisemakers and have them accompany the action!) AND kids love learning about the tricks and mechanisms that went into the making of those films (how did the early filmmakers figure out how to put pieces of story together? what tricks did they invent to make adventures look extra exciting? what were the special effects used, long before computers?).

BB: So what kind of research did you conduct for this book? And is Darleen herself based on a particular star or would you say she’s a composite?

AN: Thanks again to the day job, I had been researching early film for many years (I’m lucky to be located in the Bay Area, where the Pacific Film Archive and the SF Silent Film Festival are fabulous resources). For this particular story, I studied up on the history of one of the major cinema centers of its time, Fort Lee, New Jersey. I watched as many films from the period and from the particular location as I could find (you should have heard me cheering in the Italian movie theater when a short film turned out to be ALL about the Fort Lee trolley lines in 1914!). I read biographies of Fort Lee’s perhaps most prominent resident, Alice Guy Blaché, who had come to New Jersey from France, where she had been one of the world’s very first filmmakers. I read the 1914 New York Times with care and delight, as well as the Moving Picture World (for film industry updates and gossip).

Darleen is a fictional figure, but of course she incorporates aspects of many of the famous adventure serial heroines (though Darleen is a little younger than the non-fictional stars): Helen Holmes of The Hazards of Helen, Pearl White of The Perils of Pauline and The Exploits of Elaine, Kathlyn Williams of The Adventures of Kathlyn. Darleen Darling starts her fictional career as a child star, and here I was influenced by an amazingly gifted child actor from the silent period, “Baby Peggy” (Diana Serra Cary), whom I had the honor to meet several times at the great silent film festival held each year in Pordenone, Italy. As of 2019, “Baby Peggy” is one hundred years old–the last living silent film star!

BB: Your favorite silent film: Go!

ANNE’S SLIGHTLY SNEAKY ANSWER: I love many silent films, as I also love many books. I can’t possibly pick a single favorite, but I can say that as accompaniment (a kind of “video playlist”) for DARING DARLEEN the following combination might be good:

— William K. Dickson’s 1894 Annabelle, Butterfly Dance (made for Edison’s Kinetoscope);
— Anne Guy Blaché’s early “Serpentine Dances” (several films available, made between 1897-1902);
— While we’re at it, Anne Guy Blaché’s 1912 “Falling Leaves” (made at her Solax studio in Fort Lee in 1912), a lovely little melodrama about a girl who tries to save her ailing older sister by tying leaves back onto tree branches;
— Early episodes of the adventure serial, The Hazards of Helen
(1914-1917) are available online: see Helen Holmes leap on and off trains!
— Two silent comedies that our “Daring Darleen” would surely have appreciated, although they were made in the 1920s: Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. (1924), in which Keaton tries to solve a mystery and win the heart of a girl, with the help of great trick sequences and lots of comedy, and Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last (1923), which is an incredibly funny (and suspenseful!) movie about climbing up the sides of buildings.
Think of Harold Lloyd as the “Daring Darleen” of his day!

BB: Since the book is set in 1914 there have to be rumblings regarding the start of WWI overseas. Does The Great War make any appearance in this book?

AN: This story is set in the spring of 1914, a few months before the First World War begins. Darleen sees headlines in the newspaper that suggest tensions in Europe, but she doesn’t pay much attention to them. As it happens, one of the side-effects of WW1 would be the end of Fort Lee’s prominence in the movie industry: coal shortages during the war came as the final blow to studios set up in cold places. The climate of Hollywood would triumph! But Darleen doesn’t know that yet, at the time of our story.

BB: And finally, of course, what are you working on next?

AN: A book about a girl who goes to the wrong fairyland.
Another middle-grade book that tackles the question of pacifism in WW2 America–with a Quaker twist. And a third in which a boy whose life in space is disrupted by a roaming Civil War must sacrifice everything to save his family.

Thank you so much for all of these thoughtful questions, Betsy!

BB: No no! Thank you!

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for . . . the cover!

Thanks once again to Anne and to the good folks at Candlewick for today’s reveal!

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Thank you SO much, Betsy! I love the pictures here, and the “math” of those images works beautifully:
    Baby Peggy + Harold Lloyd = “Daring Darleen.”
    To give credit where credit is enormously due, the cover design is by Matt Roeser, and the wildly gorgeous and witty illustration is by Brett Helquist. I am so grateful to everybody involved!

  2. Jacob Sager Weinstein says:

    I LOVED Cloud And Wallfish. Can’t wait to read this one!