Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Invisible Cape

Last year for my birthday, I wore a cape with my age sewn onto it. It was my way of facing off with my new decade. I called it my SuperZero cape. 

Zeroes are hard, especially on women. Time can be tough on us in the appearance arena, and it's a mighty strong woman who can claim to not have that affect them. 

I am not that strong.

But I am willing to fight!

Last year on my birthday, I went for a run in my SuperZero cape. I flew around a restaurant in it. I laughed and pumped my arms and in general acted proud of my new zero, announcing to friends and strangers alike, "It's m'birth-day!"

It was a defiant strategy--the best one I could muster in combating the terrifying truth that Big Zeroes represent: time is ticking out.

This year I did not wear my cape. I thought about adding a "+1" to it, but decided to keep the cape boxed for the remainder of my present decade. I did go for a run (counting every step as a blessing), I did pump my arms at the top of the ridge, I did go to a restaurant...but the cape stayed at home.

Then during my birthday dinner my sister gave me a superhero birthday card with the message "Be your own superhero every single day." It made me laugh, remembering the fun we'd had last year.

It also got me thinking.

"Be your own superhero" can mean several things. There's the Take-Charge-of-Your-Own-Life interpretation. You know, take action. Don't wait for someone else to rescue you. Be fearless in the pursuit of your dreams.

It's a good interpretation!

But there's also the Be-The-Superhero-In-Your-Own-World interpretation that I like even more. After all, superheroes are supposed to help others, not themselves.

I do try to live my life in consideration of other people--I try to tune in to what they're going through and help/support/encourage them however I can. A lot of people do the same, and I'm always grateful for the friends--in person or online--who take the time to say or do something kind. It's amazing how a nice comment or compliment can buoy you through your day. When people swoop in and lift me up, it makes a big difference in my life!

Last year, I wore the SuperZero cape to help me get through that one day. It's bright and red and you sure can't miss it.  But it's the invisible cape I want to put on every day. The one that lets me move around without notice. The one that lets me do things for other people without recognition. The one that makes me feel like I really can fly.

The incredibly cool thing about the invisible cape is that it's not the property of Marvel or DC or Warner Brothers or anyone else. Everyone owns one.

And every one has power.

We just have to remember it's there and use it.

Whatever your interpretation, here's to being your own superhero. Every single day.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Behind the Flipped Iridescent Edition

There's a new, anniversary edition of Flipped. It looks much like the original, but has an "iridescent" cover. Those of you who have read the book will know that this change was inspired by a passage in the book where Bryce Loski's grandfather tries to explain to Bryce why Juli Baker is special:

"Some of us get dipped in flat, some in satin, some in gloss...but every once in a while you find someone who is iridescent, and when you do, nothing will ever compare."

Like the book itself, the cover change is subtle. There's a new edge of orange and the white is more beautiful eggshell than flashy iridescence. Nancy (my editor) told me that it suits the book--that the more time you spend time with it, the more you see and appreciate its beauty. 

This new edition is not just a random repackage. It comes after fifteen years of fan mail demanding a sequel, and after the adaptation of the book to film. There have been a lot of questions over the fifteen years, and the new edition contains an additional 30+ pages where I answer, share, and explain. If you're someone who's been curious about the status of a sequel, or what it was like to ask the Flipped movie director--the revered Rob Reiner--to not stick to the ending of the book, or if you want your heart to swell from the profound words of a fan in China and know what it means to "hold a mighty heart," you will delight in the bonus pages. 

Along with the anniversary edition of the book, there will be a new audio book, produced by Listening Library with voice actors Ryan Gesell doing Bryce's pages, and Tara Sands doing Juli's. Listening Library asked me if I'd be willing to lend my voice to the new bonus pages, since they're written first person--me talking to my readers.

So this week I made the trek to the Listening Library studios in Los Angeles and did my first "voice work." It was interesting and almost fun, but I found myself getting choked up--something that doesn't make for good recording!

What this says, though, is that these pages are personal. They hold little stories that I had never intended to share. Little bits of my life that shaped me, that shaped Flipped. Typing them for the book was one thing, but speaking them? Even alone, inside the darkened room of a vocal booth, saying the words aloud was emotional in a way I find impossible to explain. 

The truth is, that's the same with me for Flipped itself. Don't ask me to read passages aloud. I just can't do it. Maybe fifteen years from now I'll be able to spend time in Bryce and Juli's world and not tear up.

Somehow, I doubt it.

Until then, may you appreciate nature and your neighbor, may the rising sun send streaks of fire through the clouds around you, and, most of all, may you find a love that is iridescent.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Get One, Give One...Pass It On!

It's November, the month where we find ourselves reflecting on things for which we're thankful. 

Don't worry, I'm not going to hit you with my list.

Instead, I'm doing a giveaway for teachers / librarians (or educators of any kind). It'll be a box of books with duplicates of assorted (signed) titles, some paperback, some hardcover--whatever I can cram inside the box. The idea is that the winner keeps one copy of each title for their classroom or library, and gives the duplicate titles away to students at their school. Get one, give one.

Isn't that an awesome idea?

Well, not if you're not a teacher or librarian, right? But how about this--you know one of those don't you? You may see one every day! So tell them about giveaway, with the understanding that you get to keep one of the books if they win. 

The November giveaway is happening on Twitter (where you can find me at @WendelinVanD), and I will do a Book Bouquet Giveaway each week through the end of the month (4 boxes). 

Please note: The random-draw winner's mailing address must be that of a school or library.

I know some of my regular blog readers don't do the social media thing, so to you guys, don't dismay! I promise to also do some sort of giveaway here at the blog in December. 

Meanwhile, tell the teachers you know to join the fun here.

Get one, give one...pass it on!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Your Story Matters

After trying several scenarios of in-home care as an option for our mother, my sister and I met with the family liaison at a dementia-care facility. Her name was Jenny, and she was empathetic and informed and had an almost magical way of calming us down. These were frightening, choppy waters for us, and Jenny helped us feel like we weren't going to drown after all.

Five years later, the book launch for The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones happened yesterday at an Alzheimer's Walk because of Jenny. In the time since my mom had passed away, I'd run into Jenny around town. With her colorful styling and sunny personality, she's easy to spot in a crowd But beneath that fun and fashionable exterior, there's a serious woman with a masters in gerontology--someone I really liked.

So when the manuscript for Lincoln Jones was ready, I asked her to read it and give feedback. I wanted her professional notes, but I also wanted to know if she agreed that--although the book is aimed at 4th-6th graders--this was a book caregivers would also really enjoy. In my mind it definitely was, but I wanted the opinion of an objective third party from inside the caregiver community. 

I was a little nervous for her to read it because there's always the overlap between real life and the fiction it inspires. I hoped the story would be received in the spirit intended, but...people react to things from their own perspective. I've learned there's no guarantee that your humor will be shared, or that your outlook will be theirs. 

After she read it, Jenny and I met for lunch. She very enthusiastically reinforced my thinking on Lincoln Jones being a book caregivers would love, and we began brainstorming ways we could connect the book with that community. Jenny is how I wound up meeting the development director of our region's Alzheimer's Association, and how it came to be that my first stand-alone novel in almost six years launched at an Alzheimer's Walk.

What I took away from that lunch with Jenny, though, was something more important than a reinforcement of my vision. I took away a reinforcement of something Lincoln Jones learns near the end of the book:

Everyone has stories.

Since my mom had passed away, my chance conversations with Jenny had revolved around our common ground, which had to do with my mom and my family and now my book. I never like that imbalance, so with some time to spend over lunch, I was determined to get to know Jenny better.  And, holy smokes, why did it take me so long to take a deep breath and listen?

At the Walk yesterday, the town's mayor spoke about how Alzheimer's has affected her family. You could tell--behind her welcome and support for the Walk, there were stories

And later at my booksale table, everyone who bought a book gave me a little window into their connection to dementia or caregiving and it struck me again--everyone has stories--stories that are as moving and vital to them as mine are to me.

In the pages of the book, Lincoln's teacher urges him to open up. "Your story matters," she tells him, and once again I find myself in the Twilight Zone of learning things from my own character. 

Lincoln doesn't open up easily. In part because he's afraid to, but also because he hasn't found the right people yet to trust. 

This is actually not uncommon. For adults, and for kids. We're wary of being hurt. Maybe hurt again.

So if you already have a close group of trusted friends that you confide in, reassess the balance of those relationships. Remember also to listen.

And if you don't, I hope that reading Lincoln's story helps you find the courage to let people in and to share what's in your heart.

Because it's true--your story matters. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Having Book Babies

You know that woman. The one who keeps having babies. For the first child there are crowds of friends showering her with attention and gifts and advice about the future. For the second child, about half the friends show up. By the third we're into hand-me-downs, and after half a dozen children, well, who can keep track but the mother?

I do know the difference between children and books. I have birthed both. But there is a similarity here--long, difficult labors of love and all. So having today be the book birthday of The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones matters mightily to me. I love that boy. I love his story. I labored long and hard in the creation of his vessel. And as he ventures out into the world I have hope in my heart that he will do great things--that he'll spread kindness and contemplation and make the lives of people who spend time with him better.

Which is exactly what I wish for my flesh-and-blood sons.

On this book birthday, I reflect with gratitude on the people who continue to give me encouragement and praise. The ones who have somehow kept up with my book babies across my career. The people who know that Lincoln Jones is my first stand alone book in five years, and are excited to meet my new boy.

Whether I know them personally or not, these are extraordinary friends, and I just want to say thank you for showering me with your time, your loyalty, and your voice. I know that my career has been built on the voices that speak, softly but persistently, about the merits of my work.

Today is a celebration of you.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Awesome educator Mason Roulston and his movie makers
I'm probably going to regret sharing this, but for many years now I've sent complete strangers books in the mail. 

It usually happens after I've gone down an Internet rabbit hole and have found myself reading about a book group or family or librarian or track team or scout troop or school or blogger know, random reader who has done something special or touching or even all around amazing with one of my books. 

I dissolve into oohs, or tears or laughter, and after I make Mark read or watch or listen, I fire up my Sammy Keyes skills and start sniffing out a mailing address. 

Sometimes that's easy. Sometimes it takes a while. Sometimes I get completely blocked and (yes) give up. 

But if I do land an address, I write a note, sign a book, and put a package in the mail. It's like reverse Hope in the Mail, and I may like it more than actual Hope in the Mail because there's no expectation of getting anything back. I'm motivated by the mental picture I conjure of the recipient opening the box and doing a little squee. That imagined squee makes me happy for days.

Anyway, that was a long preamble to a happy little story about a school project based on my book Swear to Howdy. For those of you who haven't read it, Swear to Howdy is about two boys--Rusty and Joey--and their wild antics. It's really, really funny, but also serious. It explores the power and boundaries of friendship and what it means to be a true friend.

The happy little story begins with a link sent to my website email address. It was from a teacher in Ohio. His students had made a movie that he wanted to share with me. 

Student movie. Unknown teacher. And I couldn't open the file.

New cover, still starring Tank the bullfrog!
Yes, there was the temptation to disregard the e-mail and just move on. Like everyone, my inbox is a ravenous beast and I've got a lot to do! But I wrote back and said Uh, can't open the file. That started a back and forth over opening the file.  It was a little frustrating for both of us, but finally I got to view the movie. 

It had me in stitches from the get-go. Two sixth grade girls played the parts of Joey and Rusty, and another girl played three or four other characters. It was just...funny. I swear to howdy, my jaw was a'danglin' the whole time. 

And then came the car crash scene.

I will not give further spoilers, but yes, there's a crash.

It's serious, life-changing stuff.

But in their movie, the car is one of those pink motorized Barbie cars, and the actor putt-putts it right into a tree.

It's hysterical!

If you know me at all, you know why this did me in. (Let's just say the whole idea of young girls imprinting on Barbies drives me nuts.) The crash scene from the book and that same scene from the movie yielded opposite reactions in me. With both there were tears, but with the movie it was from laughter.

"What's so funny?" Mark asked from across the office where he was trying to work.

"You've got to watch this!"

It took him a moment to adjust to the shift in casting. Yes, two girls are Joey and Rusty. The old clunker is now a pink Barbie car. 

A Barbie car!

When he was done watching it I said, "I have to send them books."

He grinned and went back to his desk. "Of course you do."

So I got to work. 

Opening the box
I started with a book for each of the three girls, but then I got to thinking...who else from the class was involved? Who wrote the script? What about the camera crew? Who built the props? Were there grips? What awesome child was willing to have her Barbie car bite wood? 

And the teacher! Yes! This incredible teacher had to get a book!

So, yeah. I went overboard. Mark just rolled his eyes, like, what else is new? And then he listened patiently as I complained about how I had to wait in line at the post office. (The line was, as usual, loooong and slooooow.) And how after nearly 20 years of mailing books through this post office, once again, I got the clerk who always interrogates me about the contents of my apparently suspicious package. "Books, just books," I assured her again with my hands up. "Swear." 

About a week after I sent the box, I heard back from the teacher. (I will paste in the article that ran in their local paper about it at the bottom of this post.) The funny thing is, I sent them a surprise to make them happy, but the pictures he sent back made me squee.

I didn't have to just imagine.

I got to feel it, way down deep in my heart. 


Author surprises River Valley Middle School students

The old adage goes, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.”  The sixth graders at River Valley Middle School found out the other 20 percent is simply trying.
Trying, in the case of three students who put together a movie based on the novel read by the class, "Swear to Howdy." Their effort attracted the attention of the book's author, Wendelin Van Draanen.  “It was one of the best projects ever submitted in my class,” teacher Mason Roulston said.  “The thought, attention to detail, and creativity was absolutely amazing. I just knew I had to somehow show it to Van Draanen.”
After several email attempts, the movie ended up in Van Draanen's hands in California. The response Roulston received from the author was awesome, he said.  Van Draanen, a teacher for 15 years, wanted the names of the student-actresses so she could send signed and inscribed copies of the book to them. Three books turned into about 20 as Van Draanen stuffed a box full of books and other goodies for Roulston’s class. “It’s just small things like this that bring us closer together,” said Macie Snyder, one of the three moviemakers, along with Gabriele Cametti and Kayleigh Morgan.
Van Draanen knows something about trying too.  It took her ten years to get published.  She never gave up and kept writing, in fact, she wrote the first four books of the now widely popular Sammy Keyes series while waiting for her big break!  Roulston hopes that tenacity, will rub off on his own students who begin class every day with an activity aptly named, Sacred Writing Time.  “We’re a month in and already the students are coming up with some amazing stories, observations, and poems,” Roulston said.  “Who knows, maybe some of these kiddos will be published someday.  It seems like a more obtainable goal after connecting with Van Draanen. Through her act of kindness, she made the whole profession feel real and accessible.”
The package arrived adorned with the same frog found on the "Swear to Howdy" cover.  “It took everything I had not to spill the beans to Gabby, Kayleigh, and Macie,” Roulston said.  Van Draanen said in her email, “I hope it’s a party” when the books arrive.  Indeed it was:  First, Roulston replayed their movie then, with much fanfare and hype, produced the package.  The class went crazy when they saw the telltale frog on the address label and practically smothered Roulston as he opened it.  Gabby, Kayleigh, and Macie were presented with their personally inscribed and autographed copies to the delight and squeals of the class. “It really and truly meant the world to me,” Kayleigh said.  “Van Draanen is my favorite author!  I was shaking with anticipation as Mr. Roulston opened the box.”
“I seriously teared up,” Roulston recounted, “it was one of those moments that will be forever engrained in my teacher mind, it was that special and touching.
"Every day, my kiddos show up and try, to me, that’s what life and learning is all about.  Now, thanks to Van Draanen, we have confirmation and validation of our efforts,” Roulston stated.  Gabby summed it up best when she said, “Our goal was one thing, to create the best project we can, but it lead to so many other amazing things.”
This goes hand in hand with our Principal Don Gliebe’s favorite saying, "It all matters at River Valley Middle School," Roulston said. “Everything we work on and produce here might just lead to something extraordinary. I know for Gabby, Kayleigh, and Macie it’s true.  I could tell just by how they held their new treasures how much this whole experience meant to them and the best part is, we’re just getting started.”
Van Draanen’s website is and her story project  allows individuals to submit their own stories. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

When The Ceiling Hits The Floor

The Hope-in-the-Mail house got torn down this week. 

I admit it--I cried.

Which was surprising to me. For most of the time we rented it, I just wanted to move. Mark has always said that we'd look back on the place as our honeymoon cottage, but after being crammed inside 400 sq. ft. with two kids and two dogs, after too many gunshots in the neighborhood and drug addicts on our porch, after recurring mold on the walls and leaks in the roof, I disagreed.  

When we finally moved out, other tenants lived there for a while, and then the house went vacant. Got boarded up. Sat for years, crumbling.

Somewhere along the line I started calling it the Hope-in-the-Mail house because it's the place we came up with that saying. It's the place we learned to let the manuscripts we'd mail off to New York buoy us through our workday. It's the first home our kids knew, and the place I wrote the first six Sammy Keyes. 

Shortly before demolition. That's the ceiling on the floor.
Mark and I went to witness the demolition. I don't know why. Maybe to say goodbye?

What I know for sure is, I would rather work from dawn to dusk building something than watch someone else's work be torn down. There's something terribly sad about seeing anything--even a crumbling house--destroyed. It brings into sharp focus how temporary our efforts, our accomplishments, our lives are.

The guy operating a skip loader recognized me. He's done work at the house we now live in. A house much different than the one he was tearing down.

I was already kinda weepy from watching the crew work. "You're probably wondering what my fascination with this house is," I sniffed."People who know where we live now usually jump to wrong conclusions. This is where we started."

He was surprised, but got it right away. "Did you live here with the kids?" he asked.

I nodded. "Until they were six and eight."

He smiled. "I may own my own business now, but when I was eight, I was a Chicklets boy."

"No kidding?" I asked, because if you've ever been just south of the California border you know exactly what that means. He's come a long way from that life--I'm imagining a real hope-in-the-mail story, one I plan to follow up on.

Mark and I left shortly after that. Neither of us wanted to watch any more. But after we got home I started kicking myself about the mailbox. 

Why didn't I take the mailbox? 

It was right there, bolted to the stucco wall of the porch. Ugly. Old. Metal. Full of spiders.

I wanted that mailbox!

I tried to track it down by phone but it was already gone, which is probably for the best. It's had a good life. A useful life. 

And really, in the end, it's not the stuff that matters. It's the intangible things we bring to a situation, and what we learn and take away. I learned a lot in that little house. About who I am and what I believe and what kind of person I want to be.

It's not the mailbox that's important.

It's the hope that flowed through it.