Sunday, August 24, 2014

Undercover With Sammy Keyes

Me, channeling Sammy, hiding in the bushes in "Santa Martina".
It was quite a weekend with the film guys, who flew in from Seattle to get footage for the documentary they're doing about Sammy Keyes and (more broadly) why books we read in our tween and teen years matter.

At first I didn't really get why they wanted to go to "Santa Martina" -- it's a fictional place, despite being inspired by a real city. I tried to explain that the Heavenly Hotel in the Sammy Keyes books doesn't look anything like the hotel it was inspired by. Nor does the Senior Highrise. Or the police station. Or any of the places Sammy frequents. I was sure the Docu-Dudes would be very disappointed.

But I was reminded this weekend that, just as characters we develop often spring from people we have crossed paths with in real life, so does setting. And setting can be very much like a character. It gives life to your story, and gives character to it as well. It doesn't have to be true to it's inspiration. It just has to help you create your story.

After I saw the crew was actually excited about the places I took them I began to relax about it. And in a funny way, it felt like we were Sammy and Friends, cruising the streets of Santa Martina, even hiding in the bushes.

So Sammy's world is "captured" now, as the Docu-Dudes like to say. And it was very interesting for me to get a new perspective on the old inspirations. It was also a little mind boggling to look around and realize that these ordinary locations are now familiar to readers around the world--something I never imagined when I wrote Hotel Thief.

The documentary will be about Sammy, but in a broader sense, it will also explore wider themes--about the importance of books and reading, about world-building and shaping your own world, about beginnings and endings (happy and otherwise). The team asked me some great questions and also interviewed a journalist who has covered my career for the past 14 years. They tell me he had a lot of really great things to say, which I'm curious to eventually see. And after witnessing the artistry of the videographer, I am starting to get the picture--these guys aren't messing around. I'm also starting to believe--this is going to be awesome!

The film will debut at the Sammy Keyes party on October 4th, and then their plan is to do the indie film circuit with it, submitting it as a "short". After that it'll probably be available online. You know you'll be the first ones to know!

One last little thought. While we were standing across the street from the "Heavenly" taking in how the hotel had been ruined by a fire, it hit me that Sammy had said in Hotel Thief that if she ever saw a fireball across the way, she'd know that Madame Nashira's cigarette and finally made contact with her hair (shellacked to unnatural heights, as is her style).

It gave me pause. And in a world gone meta, I can't help thinking that's exactly what happened.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sneak Peek

I just received a finished copy of Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye in the mail and was very happily surprised to open it and find custom endpapers! I am attaching a snapshot of them, but they are way better in person, and there's more on the backside of the turning page. It's hard to believe the book will be in stores in three weeks (and two days, but who's counting, right?).

Meanwhile, the Sammy Keyes documentary guys are going to be here next weekend. It's almost certain that I'll have a bad hair day, but I'd trade that for a good-word day in a heartbeat. I have complicated thoughts about Sammy. I hope I don't come off sounding stupid or crazy. I'd much prefer others to talk about the importance of the series, but there's no backing out now.

And the birthday "tiaras' for the Sammy Keyes Party have arrived, so if you're coming to the party for your birthday, let us know--we will make a fuss over you!

That's all for now. I should have lots to share next Sunday after the Docu-Dudes leave. As always, thanks for checking in. See you in the comments!

Sunday, August 10, 2014


I was cleaning a cabinet...well, actually, I was looking for something and that turned into cleaning a cabinet...when I came across a crossword puzzle I made when Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief first came out.  I thought, Awww, and then I thought, Hey! I know some people who would have fun with this! (Uh, you?)

Sorry it's not one of those cool, interactive crossword puzzles. The process is print, apply pencil.

But finding the puzzle got me thinking...

(Yes, danger ahead!)

On the Southern loop of the tour we participated in the Alabama Book Festival, and my favorite thing about the event was this enormous crossword puzzle they had on the grounds. Anyone could go up and marker in an answer, and people milled around it all day.

(It didn't hurt our enjoyment quotient that our book titles were part of the puzzle.)

Anyway, I hit on the idea that it would be fun to do something similar for the Sammy Keyes Party, so I spent a lot of time today trying to figure out how to make that happen.

Which I think I have, I think I have, I think I have.

It won't be as "installed" or as big as the ABF puzzle, but my plan is to have three sections, each with clues from groups of six Sammy Keyes books. So the first one would be Hotel Thief through Hollywood Mummy, etc. I think it'll be a super fun thing for people to do in between other stuff that'll be going on.

And for those of you who are not on Facebook, we posted a fun little snippet of our SK Party band practice the other day. It's just us goofing around, and there's no bass, so don't expect it to be anything other than goofy. And, yes, this gives away one song. It was impossible to guess, I know, but to me it's "so Sammy!" (Burning Down the House, by Talking Heads.) Thank you for all the great song input last week--I loved seeing your choices.

All for now! Have fun with the puzzle, and thanks again for checking in!

Sunday, August 3, 2014


We've been recruited!

The 'we' is the family rock band. Which (for those of you who are uninitiated) sounds epically dorky, I know.

But we're not!

We're actually pretty good.

And we'll be playing a few songs at the Sammy Keyes Party on October 4th. (There'll be a house band that night and they'll lend us their gear which is epically nice, as any musician will tell you.)

Some of the songs will have Sammy-fied lyrics, and all are dedicated to certain characters. would be fun to have you guess the songs. Although there are probably hundreds of songs that would apply. And probably no one'll guess the ones we're doing. But still, it would be fun to put it out there for your guesses, if you want to play along!

To narrow things down, we are a rock band. Not much bubblegum pop happening here.

So pick a song you think fits...

1) Marissa + Danny (as in her not being able to break away from him)
2) Sammy! (as an everyday girl stirring up trouble!)
3) Lucky Me to Sammiacs
4) Heather's Explanation (you will never get this!)

We'll also be doing Beatles' Birthday for the people who are coming for their birthday (so you need to let us know if that includes you), and the revamped (and greatly improved) Sammy Keyes song (full version+conga line dance break!).

Also, I'm super excited because I've got two Random House peeps who've agreed to sing backup! The purple boas are coming out!

So why aren't you coming to this party?

Oh, I know. Distance. Cost. Time. I do understand!

But play along and guess some songs. It'll be fun to see what matches you make!

As always, thanks for checking in--see you in the comments!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sammy Keyes Documentary

Sammy's Swoopy Skatepath?
There's a Sammy Keyes documentary being planned. Not a movie, a 20-minute documentary about why Sammy Keyes matters.

The person behind this is also the person coordinating the Sammy Keyes party on October 4th in Washington state, where the documentary will premiere. This is his vision and since he has a doctorate in children's literature and has been enthused about Sammy since Hotel Thief came out in 1998, I think it's okay to trust him with explaining what regular readers here already know--Sammy Keyes matters!

Anyway, there'll be a little docu-team coming here in mid-August to get a bunch of footage, and in preparation for that Mark and I ventured into "Santa Martina" to get some possible inspiration-location photographs.

Is there a Senior Highrise?

A Heavenly Hotel?

A St. Mary's Church?

A swoopy sidewalk around the mall?

Or the basement in Snake Eyes?

What about the it as described in Night of Skulls?

Well, yes and no.

After our picture taking tour, what struck me most was how an author's imagination fills in space and creates a renovation of reality. Something sparks an image in the writer's mind, and then it builds from there. And when you revisit the original inspiration you find  it's been dwarfed by the picture you've built around it.

The Heavenly Hotel, for example, was based on an old rundown hotel that had some faded pink trim. From that came the HEAVENLY with its pink neon sign and mirrored stairwells.

The point of the documentary is not primarily to document the places Sammy's world was fictionalized from, but rather to explore the contribution of the series. Genre fiction is often marginalized, and Sammy Keyes is considered genre fiction. A mystery series. And really, what can a mystery series contribute besides entertainment?

Recognition for the substance of Sammy Keyes has felt like a battle over the years. "Mystery series" seemed just too big a barrier for people in literature circles to see beyond.

Maybe it's because we've come to the end of the series that it can now be assessed as a whole body of work, not just "the next Sammy Keyes". Maybe this is an unexpected benefit of having reached the heart-wrenching end. I'm just grateful that someone has taken the lead on putting into words--and on film--why Sammy Keyes matters.

Because you know what? She does.

As always, thanks for checking in. Looking forward to seeing you in the comments!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tour Schedule, Northern Loop

Drum roll, please!

After months of planning we have northern loop Road Show dates ready to share! So if you're in...

North Dakota!
 or Utah!

...check the roster for a stop near you!

I want you to know that we did everything we could to get to the places people requested (and some of those were definite sidetracks from logical routing, but in the tradition of this "Goodbye" for Sammy Keyes, that seemed more than appropriate).

On the roster you'll notice the Puyallup Book Festival. This Festival has two exciting days planned. 

The first one (Friday, 10/3) is billed as "An Evening of Teens, Books, and Rock 'n' Roll." Mark will be one of the featured YA authors, and it looks to be an awesome event with Santana drumming legend Michael Shrieve.

The second night (Saturday, 10/4) is the Goodbye Party for Sammy Keyes (aka Sammy-con!), and the plans for the night keep getting better and better! I will post about it separately, soon!

For now I'm going to leave you with our "War Room Map" which has been taped to the wall of our office since we started planning the first loop almost a year ago. (Green squares were the Southern Loop, orange is the upcoming Northern Loop.) I've really come to love this map. Our son pointed out that the roads look like arteries and veins and capillaries, and they give it the feel of being alive. Creepy, maybe, but I think it's cool.

Putting together this tour was tons of work, but now that we have our stops, dates, and finalized route, I'm excited for September, and especially excited to find out...who's coming to see us?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Howler & The Lifeguard

This has been my battle cry lately: “Howler!”

(Oh, by the way, this is Mark.  Wendelin’s a little under the weather and has hit the hay early.)

And the reason this has been my battle cry lately is, well… a long-ish story.  But I’ll try to keep it short-ish.  (For those who know me, you can stop laughing anytime now…)

See, Wendelin’s been working on a new book.  (Shh… it’s top secret.  So secret that I can’t even mention the name.  But I have to say that I’m totally LOVING this book – it’s so awesome in so many ways!)  And a very small part of the book involves a little story-within-a-story (written by a young boy) that features a guy who has a pet wolf named Howler.  (Of course.  Like, what would YOU name your pet wolf???)  Actually, Howler is more than just a pet - he’s closer a companion, a furry sidekick, a partner in anti-crime.  And even though he really only makes a brief appearance, I was so taken by him that I started referring to the book itself as simply “Howler”, which is shorter than the actual title.

(I do that.  Make up short nicknames for things vs. using a better/longer descriptor, I mean.  Including – but certainly not limited to - clothing ensembles.  Like, uh… my favorite uber-casual outfit is a pair of red running shorts, a white tank-top, and a red ball cap.  Otherwise known as ‘The Lifeguard’.  And then there’s ‘The Zookeeper’, ‘The Joe Perry’, and ‘The Old Gray Mare’.  Among many others.  It’s undoubtedly the influence of Sammy on me…)

And now ‘Howler’ has morphed such that it not only refers to the book itself, but to the very act of writing the book.  So when I notice that Wendelin is kind of just… let’s say… not doing anything terribly important at the moment (as judged by a Howler super-fan, that is), I just walk by and quietly say (in the world’s loudest stage whisper), “Howler!”  Which is my way of saying, “I love this freakin book and I want you to work on it so that I can read another chapter of it, not soon, but right-darn-now!”)

See, I’m a big believer in the idea that you should do what you can to honestly support the creative endeavors of those close to you, and to me there’s nothing like having someone actively waiting to read what you’re currently working on.  Doesn’t mean I’m a blind cheerleader – that’s not exactly the definition of ‘honest’, is it?  But if I honestly like something, there’s nothing wrong with – and everything right with – letting the person know that I’m really enjoying what they’re doing.

Creativity can be hard.  It can look easy from the outside, but on the inside, that’s YOU you’re putting out there, in that writing or painting or sculpture or song.  So don’t make it worse for the person laying it on the line by being too cool for school.  (You know what I mean – the dude who reads your story as though he’s getting paid to pontificate on every little thing he would have done different, or the girl who finishes your latest bloodletting-on-the-page and comments, “I found three typos.”)  You may not love everything (and while good constructive commentary is certainly a gift, it’s a learned skill - which is why we have professional editors), but when you do come across a work-in-progress that you genuinely enjoy, for God’s sake don’t be too cool to tell the person that you find their work good or great or valuable or stunning or clever or breathtaking or whatever descriptor best fits.  Trust me – they’re not too cool to benefit from the validation, especially if they can sense that’s it’s honest and heart-felt.

Which is why - if you walk by our place these days - you just might catch a glimpse of a lifeguard shouting, “Howler!”