Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why The Taxidermist Is Cockeyed

I've learned from my editor that a lot of first novels are based on a marginally fictionalized version of the author's story or experience. With my own career, that is definitely the case. How I Survived Being A Girl is embarrassingly autobiographical. (At least it's embarrassing when I confess this to adults who've read it--to the intended audience, not so much.) And although all 25 of my published books have something from my life woven into them, I've had to learn how to get over my fear of asking "experts" for help in areas where I just don't have enough knowledge. And yes, I mean fear. I was, for a lot of my young life, shy and without a lot of confidence. And the thought of public speaking? I would shake myself to pieces with fear. Teaching school is what finally got me over my fear of speaking in front of groups, and the fact that I now routinely get up in front of hundreds or even a thousand kids at one time and hold their attention for nearly an hour during an "Author Day" presentation is still a little mind-boggling to me. Who is that person? And the kids in these audiences would never in a million years suspect that I was runner-up for shyest in my high school graduating class. (My good friend and track team co-captain won--yeah, we were quite a pair.) I tell you all this so you'll believe me when I say that, for me, one of the hardest things about writing a book is asking strangers for help. I will spend weeks avoiding it. I go to the library, search the Internet, dig through old magazines... anything to avoid the phone call. And then when I finally do get up the courage, I, uh, pretend to be somebody I'm not. Like I'm somebody who's actually interested in having my fortune told, or incubating chickens, or transporting a pet in a Greyhound bus. I do this because, well, I'm scared of being hung up on. I hate getting hung up on. It's like a slap. And then I feel bad for being so obnoxious that I've interrupted this person's day and yeah, they've got a business to run and don't want to be bothered answering the silly questions of someone who says they're a children's book writer. Now, this doesn't always happen. Often people are delighted to be talking with an author and are quite willing to answer all your questions. So a gutsier person would just pick up the phone again and dial the next number on the list, hoping to connect with one of those nicer people. But I live in a fairly small town. And we don't have a large selection of, say, taxidermists to ring up and ask about the "stuffing" of a bird. So when the only taxidermist in town hangs up on me, I'm forced (after a period of brooding and stewing) to gather my things, get my story straight and head on down to the taxidermist shop, where I pretend to want to get a bird stuffed for my husband, who's, uh, a hunter, and has a birthday coming up, oh, next month. And then when I get enough info (and a real sense of the place), I go home and make the taxidermist in my story a cockeyed, pot-bellied, balding guy with bad breath. Childish, I know, but a soothing salve for the bruised confidence of a shy girl trying to research her book. So sometimes I skip the whole call-first-and-say-who-I-am-thing and just go straight for the subterfuge. That's how I researched "Greenhaven" for Flipped, and what being inside the cargo hold of a Greyhound is like for Runaway. Both times I got busted, but hey--all in the line of duty. And it's way better than getting hung up on. Where all this back story is leading is to my latest stand-alone novel, The Running Dream. I've had several questions in the blog comments asking what this book is about, but since it won't be out until January 2011, I don't want to get into any real detail. What I will tell you is that it's not about running per se...it's about overcoming adversity. And what I will also tell you is that when I got the idea, I told myself NO! Do not even THINK about writing this--there is WAY too much research involved. The thought of climbing the learning curve of what I'd need to know to write the story seemed overwhelming. And I'd have to ask for help from LOTS of "experts". But my mind kept going back to the idea. And pretty soon the main character had a name. And a best friend. And I found myself in tears, imagining her plight. So I did a little research on the Internet. Like I thought--there was WAY too much I didn't know. And there was no way I could fudge this information. Then Mark mentioned that someone he worked with used to be in the field I was researching. He was, like, a used-to-be expert. One who was willing to talk with me. And so began the slippery slope into The Running Dream. Or, more like, the long hard climb. This book was not under contract, but I was under deadline for Sammy 13, and already a little behind. Still, I asked my editor for a 3 month extension so that I could explore the possibilities. I wanted to see if it was even do-able for me to write this story. Those of you who have been waiting for Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher now know why there's been a delay of nearly a year with that book--this other story knocked, came in, and consumed my life. And since it's not the sort of story you can "research on the Internet", I wound up having to bite the bullet and call people. Go places. Ask the embarrassing questions. Some of that went okay, and some of that did not, but in the end I met and worked with "experts" in four separate "fields."(I promise you details on these people later--maybe when the book is in bound galley form?) And the really wonderful and unexpected thing for me is that we've become friends. This book has been a really emotional journey for me, and it's been so nice to have these people to share the experience with, and they've enjoyed sharing their knowledge and stories with me. I really couldn't have written it without them. Anyway, I do wish I could share more about The Running Dream, but for now I have to hold back. Meanwhile, I'm back in research mode with Sammy 14, and I can tell you this: It's gonna get messy!

30 comments:

xxCammyLoverxx said...

You're the only author that can make me excited for the 14th book of her series when the 13th book hasn't even come out yet.
And I think that's all a 15-year-old girl can say to that.
<3

Is it "The Running Dream" or just "Running Dream"? I can't wait for that either. Right now, though, I've got my heart set on SK13 and now maybe even SK14 (Woww!)

Questions you probably, most likely, cannot answer:
For SK13, what do you mean by "fairytale"?
For SK14, What do you mean by "messy"?
Why do you use these words that make me so excited?:)
For The Running Dream, is it a female or male main character?
A taxidermist lives by you? Now I'm curious to see if one lives by me. I should search "Chicago taxidermists" in Google, haha. :D

And, now that you've said SK14 is gonna get messy, I think I'm even more excited for THAT one than 13. Which only goes to show what a crazy-obsessed-fan I am. I mean, even the Harry Potter fans didn't make their expectations so high... but me, I need to read 13 NOWWWW so 14 can come around (and then 15, 16, 17, 18 19...wow, thinking of the "20th" SK book sounds strange! Almost supernatural (which is my new favorite word))

So, goodbye for this week! Have a good week, too :)

quintessajazz said...

Research is the most fun, to me. I know what you mean about the questions, though, because I don't like telling people about my novels. So when I ask, and they say, "Why do you want to know?" and I get shy and don't want to tell them more than, "Oh, just writing is all ..."

Can't wait for 13, and now you're talking about 14? Slow down! =D

Can't wait to hear more about The Running Dream!

Tchau!

sammy4ever said...

reading your blog posts are the only good that comes from sundays in my world. i was rereading SK and the CHC for about the 14th time today and my aunt said "Whatcha reading?" i told her "a book" i'm not very focused on other people when it comes to reading a good book. "what book?" she asked. "sammy keyes" i said. and then she said, "OH! those mystery series books? you're mom was telling me about them. can i borrow them from you?"
can you believe that?
i'm feeling a sense of accomplishment for "advertising" your books. well, if you want to get critical, it was my mom....
anyway, i cannot WAIT for SK 13!!! and i screamed out loud when i read the bit about SK 14!!!! i'm so excited!!!! and i can't wait to here more about the Running Dream!!!
i was also a very shy girl. but this year, for some reason, i can't stop yaking. in P.E. i shouted "HI MR. FAATZ!!!" when my P.E. teacher walked in and everyone went "woah, she talked!"
it was kinda embarrassing, let me tell you.
anyways, ta ta for now!

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

xxCLxx: Ha! Well, thanks. And it's "The Running Dream". I'm cracking up over your curiosity (and I love it, BTW). fairytale? It's just funny...with references to...fairytales :-) And messy is...MESSY! But we're talking Sammy here, so what do you expect? You'll have lots of taxidermists in the Chicago area. Small towns have limited choices!

"qj" (your abbreviation!) If you don't want to wait another 2 years, I've got to get crackin' now! I prommised no more delays...

Sammy4Ever: Another mom on board. Yay! I predict your shyness will be a thing of the past much sooner than mine was. Go on--be you! :-)

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Hey! You may already have stumbled upon this online, but in case not, here's an official synopsis of Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher from a book site. I'd say it's pretty accurate :-)

For junior high detective Sammy Keyes, eighth grade begins with an accusation, an inquisition, and several assorted death threats!The history teacher, Mr. Vince, is being threatened, which at first seems funny. He’s horrible! Every student wants Mr. Vince gone. But as the threats become more serious, the question becomes—who wants him dead and gone?With her own name near the top of the suspect list, Sammy’s determined to get to the bottom of things. But she’s distracted by a mother bearing bad news, an almost-boyfriend ducking her calls, and a date with a poofy lavender bridesmaid dress.This latest Sammy Keyes adventure blends mystery, comedy, and a dusting of fairy tale magic as Sammy takes off her high-tops, puts on some party shoes, and steps into a whole lot of trouble.

xxCammyLoverxx said...

I didn't see that yet! :D That sounds really interesting.. I wonder why people are always blaming Sammy when she's done nothing but help them all through 7th grade? Hmm..
And her mom has bad news? That can mean a few different things.. Sammy's moving? (that one seems unlikely though), her mother's getting married? (also unlikely since poeple don't usually get married after only a few weeks of dating) A baby? (also unlikely since Lana seems to regret Sammy)
It must be funny for you to watch your fans struggle to try to decipher your book's synopsis, because you know everything. Maybe I should do that when I hopefully become an author (:
Seems interesting! Even though that cancelled out a lot of my previous speculations, this really does seem interesting and different.. Is Heather involved in any of this story?
Bye!
-Steph

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Oh, and it makes me extremely jealous to think that some people have already read the book. >:O
But it ALSO makes me happy because now I know the book is actually pretty much done! Now I just have to wait five or six months. :'C

quintessajazz said...

=O WHy would Casey be ducking Sammy's calls?! Man ... Gr. You should have never posted that synopsis -- now I'm too eager and I won't be able to stop thinking about it! God! And Lana? COME ON! You gotta make the publications go faster! Seriously! =P

sammy4ever said...

hyperventilating. need a moment to calm down. hold on a sec.

sammy4ever said...

AHHHHHHHHH!!!!! you have just witnessed (or read) a replay of what i sounded like after i read the synopsis to SK 13!!!! it's so frustrating to have to wait! GRRR! Mr. Vince is being threatened? date with a dress? lavender? poofy? almost-boyfriend avoiding calls (i'm guessing that's Casey)? Lana with bad news?!?!?!
AHHHHHH! i can't wait!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
what's the bad news? why is casey avoiding sammy's calls? sammy's calling casey? that just seems so un-sammy like! who's threatening Mr. Vince?
don't answer these questions! i want it to be a surprise! wait, do answer them! no, never mind, don't! i mean do, i mean..... uhh....
never mind.

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Do you know when the cover art is going to be released? Sometimes the cover can be summry enough- especially for Sammy Keyes books since its a collage!

Pooja Dimba said...

I can't wait to read Sammy Keyes and the wedding crashers. The summary seemed so cool! I can't wait!
My mom read Runaway last night.
She loved it! :)
I was so happy that she enjoyed the book.
I screamed when I read the summary thing. My mom asked, " What happened" and I said "nothing"
Haha!
You ROCK!
-Pooja

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Haha! Love you guys! And I'm sure this is the first place I'll share cover art when it comes in. I've seen the rough sketch; don't know when the final's due in.

sammy4ever said...

just a random thought that bounced through my head this morning, how did you come up with "Mac n' Salsa"? have you ever tried it? is that your favorite food combo? did you eat it before you wrote the SK series or did you just randomly look in your fridge in the middle of writing a SK book, see mac n' cheese and a jar of salsa and say, "huh! mac n' cheese. salsa. mac n' salsa! voila!"
and also, i love the ending of the SK 13 synopsis. "This latest Sammy Keyes adventure blends mystery, comedy, and a dusting of fairy tale magic as Sammy takes off her high tops, puts on some party shoes, and steps into a whole lot of trouble."
and cue the gossebumps.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Mark does the weird-food-combo thing, and Mac 'n' Salsa was his invention. It is AMAZING. You have got to try it! (His peanut butter and tuna? Not so much...)

sammy4ever said...

ha ha, peanut butter and tuna. that sounds.... interesting. and i tried mac n' salsa! it was so good! my brothers were like 'what are you doing?' it's really good, i think that's my favorite food now.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Ha! Told you it was good :-) It's one of my favorites now, too! Glad you tried it.

xxCammyLoverxx said...

When is the Flipped trailer coming out? I just came back from watching the PJO: Lightning Thief movie (one of my favorite series!) and it was EPIC. I was hoping for a surprise Flipped trailer, lol, but obviously didn't see one. :(

sammy4ever said...

i just got back from the percy jackson movie!!!! it was amazing, i love that series!!!!
sorry, just relating.

sammy4ever said...

one more comment: NOW YOU HAVE 20 COMMENTS!!! YAY!!!!!!
I LOVE SAMMY KEYES!!!!!!!

xxCammyLoverxx said...

I'm kinda sad. Me and my sister just had a big discussion about what will happen b/w Sammy and Casey, and we came to the conclusion that you'll make them kiss and then have them decide to be just friends or something after that. Reasons why-
1) If they kissed soon, then they'd obviously have to act differently around each other. And that's so... un-Sammy.
2) Their parents. Lana has "bad news" and its just sort of weird..
3) A relationship can't last forever, so maybe you might make Casey be Sammy's, like, "first crush" or something like that and make them be just friends as the story begins to end.
4) Casey's in high school, so they obviously won't see each other as often. And recently he's been acting sort of like he's pulling away from her. Which is ironic, because she just finally admitted she liked him, right when he starts to pull away.

Just a couple reasons. It really made me depressed. Like, almost cry. Seriously. Because I just can't imagine anything else accept for the perfect-Cammy-ending, right? I've been reading this series for years, loving the Casey/Sammy thing for years, and wishing/hoping/knowing they'd someday kiss and have a happily-ever-after. My sister isn't, like, a huge fan like me- she's just a fan. But it honestly upset me... a lot. And it could be true, I won't know for years, because the books don't really come out that fast, either. So I'm going to have to wait in pain/worry that they will never be.

Is there any way you can reassure me about this without spoiling anything from the books that aren't out? Is there anything you're allowed to say to tell me, "Yes, you're right" or ,"No, you're theory is wrong"?

I'm not gonna get any sleep tonight. :C This may sound super-psychotic but... Really, if the story ends with them as "just friends", I will defiently cry. Because by the time the end comes around, I'll be... what? A junior/senior in high school..? There's 7 more books for you to write and publish, so if 1-2 comes out about every year or so, it might even go further. I'm in 8th grade right now.. so yeah. I'm not sure how fast you want to get this series finished by now.. I mean, SK started in 1998, or 1999, right? It's 2010 so that makes 11-12 years of Sammy getting through 7th grade and just about starting 8th.
Obviously I didn't *start* reading the series in 1998. I started when I was like 9-10 years old.

So, I guess that makes it two questions-
1) Is there any way for you to confirm/deny my Cammy theory?
and 2) How fast are you planning on writing and finishing up this series? A book a year? Two books a year? Maybe even one book ever two years (like the gap b/w CHC and Wedding Crasher)...?

I know, these are really complicated questions for me ask, it might not be easy to say something about question 1 to me without giving anything away (I dunno, I'm not a real author [yet])! So if you don't want to answer these, you don't have to.

I guess I was just super upset. :C

Sincerely,
An-obsessed-Cammy-fan-with-depressing-theories.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Oh, poor you. And it would just totally ruin "Christmas" if I told you what was in the presents. I will tell you this, though -- and it's something you already know from the books of mine that you've read: I am a BIG FAN of the happy ending. Not schmaltzy, not Hollywood, just happy. And since my focus is on getting to the end of the series, (no side projects), you'll know how it all turns out long before you start sprouting any grey hairs :-)
So get some sleep!

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Well that's good to know! I really hope it turns out like, or similar to, how I hoped (the ending, that is). I'm getting excited for Wedding Crasher. Just wondering- how is the charm going to come packaged with the book? Is the whole book going to be wrapped in plastic, or is it going to have like a small pocket/packet thing attached to it? See... these are the small things I discuss with my sister. We pick out every little detail. (:

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Oh, and by the way! Cant wait for your update tonight. (;

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Update please! (: I need something to make this night better that the nightmare it is. :/

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Uh-oh! I just posted about death :/

Jinnyd said...

Cool! I've always wondered how authors researched "hard" topics for their books (like escaping from the luggage hold of a Greyhound bus--who know there'd be a lever?).

So... about how much of your, um, writing process, so to speak, is made up of research?

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Jinnyd: For some books a LOT of time is spent researching. Throughout the entire writing process. It seems like I do more and more as I go on. Maybe that's because I've already used the stuff I knew? Anyway, I like the research. It can be extremely interesting.

Jinnyd said...

Have you ever done anything questionably legal (like hiding out in the Greyhound bus's luggage hold, for instance) to research something? Like gone behind an "employee's only" door or crossed over a barrier into "off-limits" territory? If you have, then what was it like? Did you get caught?

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Questionably legal? Oh, my. I'm going to plead the 5th here and tell you to be law-abiding, okay? But I do confess that sometimes my body seems inhabited by (the spirit and curiosity and iffy judgement of) Sammy Keyes.