All Four Kids: An Interview with Edith Cohn, author of SPIRIT’S KEY


For today’s edition of our OneFourKidLit interview series, we’ll be interviewing debut’er Edith Cohn.  Here’s the down-low on this MG gem:

20518878“By now, twelve-year-old Spirit Holden should have inherited the family gift: the ability to see the future. But when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does to read its owner’s destiny, she can’t see anything. Maybe it’s because she can’t get over the loss of her beloved dog, Sky, who died mysteriously. Sky was Spirit’s loyal companion, one of the wild dogs that the local islanders believe possess dangerous spirits. As more dogs start dying and people become sick, too, almost everyone is convinced that these dogs and their spirits are to blame—except for Spirit. Then Sky’s ghost appears, and Spirit is shaken. But his help may be the key to unlocking her new power and finding the cause of the mysterious illness before it’s too late.”

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DG: SPIRIT’S KEY has such a unique, fascinating setting. Could you briefly
describe it for our readers, and maybe give some background on what
inspired you to set the story there?

EC: Bald Island is a remote island filled with magic keys, wild dogs, and
superstitious characters. It’s a fictional place, but I drew inspiration from
the real, and truly magical Outer Banks of NC. One of my earliest visions for
the story included a scene where a young girl comes across the body of a
dog washed up on a beach. That was when I knew the book would be set
on an island, a place where islanders believe the wild dogs have dangerous
spirits. And twelve-year-old Spirit must work with the ghost of her dog Sky to
unravel the mystery of what’s killing the island’s dogs.

DG: A central conflict in SPIRIT’S KEY is your main character, Spirit, trying
to protect and defend the wild dogs on the island. Is animal rights/
protection an important issue to you?

EC: Yes, it certainly is, however an issue even closer to my heart is revealing fear
and prejudice through a unique lens. For me, this is the beauty of speculative
fiction. It can help us see our own world in a slightly different way. People are
sometimes more sympathetic toward animals than people, and so I hope the
novel can be a springboard for larger discussions about tolerance.

DG: The inhabitants of the island have some strong superstitions; do YOU
have any superstitions we should know about?

EC: Ha! This is a great question. I don’t always succeed, but I try hard not to be
superstitious, because I think it’s a bad idea. For example, it’s easy to get
superstitious about one’s writing—to say things like, I can only write well if I
have perfect silence. I can only write well if my desk is clean, if it faces north,
if I have the most perfect and comfortable chair, etc, etc. And then when
things aren’t just so, you can’t write. I try instead to focus on my passion for
the story I want to tell, and usually that pushes me through these sorts of
superstitions and all the fear I have surrounding whether or not the story
will be good enough. Note I said usually. 😉

DG: In many ways this books is about Spirit deciding who she is, discovering
her identity, and staying true to herself. If Spirit were all grown up and
trying to become a writer, what advice would you give her?

EC: Spirit has a passion and talent for understanding animals. All grown up, I
see her as an important advocate for animal rights. I would encourage her to
write essays and stories about her experiences and opinions. Writing can be
a powerful tool toward the change we want to see in the world.

DG: SPIRIT’S KEY is your debut novel; what has been the most surprising or
exciting thing about the publishing journey so far?

EC: Both the most surprising and exciting thing was having Newbery Honor
winning author, Rita Williams-Garcia read SPIRIT’S KEY and love it. I’m a
big fan of hers and to have another author I respect read my book and sit
down with me to discuss it was really amazing. She had so many nice things
to say, and I’m at this moment smiling remembering how she analyzed some
of the names of my characters. Nector: like Hector only sweeter. Mrs. Borse:
Stubborn like a big horse. Up until that point, I’d never had anyone read my
work and “get it” in the way that she did.

DG: What’s coming up next for you? Is there another book on the horizon?

EC: I’m hard at work on two different middle grade novels. One is a fantasy and
the other is set in the future. They are both pretty ambitious undertakings, so
we’ll see if I can pull them off.

DG: In SPIRT’S KEY, Spirit can see a glimpse of a person’s future when
holding their house key. If you could see a glimpse of your writing life a
year or two from now, what would you hope to see?

EC: Well, I’d love to have a good draft of one of those books I mentioned above.
I’d be nicer still if the book was ready to enter the world. Though I think it’s
important to write without a focus on the outcome. So even if I had a chance
to know my future, I’d be inclined to be like Mrs. Hatterask (a character in
SPIRIT’S KEY who is tortured by hurricanes), who doesn’t want to know
what’s to come.

DG: As this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are
afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

EC: I’m really afraid of the day my dog might die or be lost. From the moment
you get a dog, you know (chances are) you’ll outlive him or her, and it’s
terrifying. This is one of the reasons I wanted to write a book about a ghost
dog. I wanted to imagine that my dog could live beyond the grave. I had a
lot of trouble coming up with something I wasn’t afraid of! Not sure what
that means, but anyway. I think most of the time, like Spirit, I’m not afraid to
stand up for the things I believe in, and usually I’m not afraid to write about
them either.

About Edith Cohn:edith_cohn-9621

Edith Cohn was born and raised in North Carolina where she grew up exploring the unique beaches of the Outer Banks. She currently lives in the coyote-filled hills of Los Angeles with her husband and fur-daughter Leia. All of these things provided inspiration for her debut middle grade novel, SPIRIT’S KEY, a mystery about a girl and her ghost dog coming soon from FSG/Macmillan.


Dan Gemeinhart is an author and teacher-librarian who lives smack dab in the middle of Washington State with his wife and three daughters. What passes for his website can be found at, and he can more frequently be found on Twitter. His contemporary adventure MG novel, THE HONEST TRUTH, will be out from Scholastic Press in January 2015.

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