Monday, December 27, 2010

TRD Tour Info

Book tour is fast approaching. I used to report my little book tour misadventures to my editor and publicist but I think I’ll keep any of those to myself this time. After all, they worry. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and won’t have any to keep anything to myself. It would help, I suppose, if I didn’t get lost jogging and have to climb fences. That way I wouldn’t become like Marissa atop chain-link with underwear flapping around like a flag of surrender. Marissa, at least, knew where she was. Give me the back of the dilapidated Heavenly Hotel over where I wound up any day. So yeah. I can work on controlling fence-climbing urges, but the weather? Not much I can do about that. Chicago in January is not somewhere I’m looking forward to being. There’s really no room for snow boots in carry-on luggage, so maybe I’ll just wear them and hope to not get stuck in Phoenix again. Who’s that crazy girl with a snow jacket and snow boots? It’s like, seventy-five degrees out. That would be the famous author on book tour. She’ll be stuck on a fence before nightfall. Anyway, I received an early copy of The Running Dream a few days ago. It really is a beautiful book. The design team did such a nice job on it. I feel so lucky! And after all this time it’s finally really a book. Happy sigh. Double-anyway, here’s the basic schedule of public appearances (Appearances—I love that word. It’s like poof you appear. No flight delays or fences involved.) The schedule is packed with other events (school visits, mostly) but these are the ones open to the public, starting on the official publication date: Tuesday 1/11: Atlanta--Little Shop of Stories, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday 1/12 Atlanta--Borders, Marietta 7 p.m. Thursday 1/13 Chicago--B&N Skokie at 7:30 p.m. Friday 1/14 Chicago--Anderson’s Bookshop 7 p.m. Saturday 1/15 St. Louis--St. Louis Library, 2 p.m. Sunday 1/16 St. Louis--St. Charles County Library @ 1:30 p.m. Monday 1/17 St. Louis -- Borders, Brentwood 7 p.m. (Tuesday 1/18—school visit and travel) Wednesday 1/19—Seattle--Third Place Books, 7 p.m. (Thursday 1/20—Seattle—no public—only school visits) Friday 1/21—San Jose--Hicklebee’s, 7 p.m. Saturday 1/22—San Francisco--Rakestraw Books, 11:00 a.m. Keep in mind that the city listed represents the vicinity, not necessarily the actual city the bookstore is located. I hope some of these places are near you because what makes book tour worthwhile is meeting the people who love your work…and if you check out this blog, I know you do! Hoping to see you on tour (with no Flag of Surrender showing), Wendelin

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Food Fight Birthday!

I should have said this in a comment last week, but since I didn’t, I’ll say it here: I love how all you guys went with the (kinda loser) guy thing. Something about that was really fun for me and I just want to say thanks :) More about the (kinda loser) guy later, but what I’m wanting to talk about this week is birthdays. Those of you who read last week's comments probably saw that a (definitely nice) dad requested a little birthday wish from me for his (unfortunately sick) daughter whose birthday is today. So I sent a note, and since my son’s birthday was yesterday, it got me thinking how my son has been sick on some of his birthdays, and how miserable that was for him. It also got me thinking about fun birthdays. There were two from my childhood that I remember with great fondness. My mom always baked our cakes, and one year I thought she’d had a little trouble with the baking because my cake was oddly shaped. There was this weird top layer that looked like only part of a layer but it was…I don’t know, just strange. And when I went to cut it, it was like a rock (which was not boding well for the enjoyment of this cake). But then I realized that the top layer was an upside down margarine tub, and once I removed it I discovered that inside the tub was a jewelry box with a darling little necklace. So that was really unexpected and fun and I thought my mother was very clever. The other birthday was one I had after a long battle with my appendix (which ruptured and had me sick for way longer than I should have been). My parents converted our backyard into this elaborate Wild West Adventure Land with booths and gold nuggets and activities…I remember it as being just amazing. But I think the birthday that, uh, takes the cake, was my son’s tenth birthday. Food Fight Birthday! Mind you, this was not a spontaneous chucking (and thankfully not upchucking) of food. This food fight was planned and sanctioned by adults. (Well, at least by someone passing herself off as an adult and her poor accomplice...I mean, husband.) Yup, I got this idea in my head and once it was there, there was no stopping me. I made vast quantities of rice and mixed it with mashed potatoes. I bought huge bags of dinner rolls. I bought cases of whipped cream cans. I made a huge slab of Jell-o cake. There were boxes of cookies and crackers and bags of marshmallows. The kid in me was not thinking about starving kids in Africa. The kid in me thought it was the most awesome idea ever! The day of the party, Mark and I hauled the vats of food, a table, chairs, a boom box, shovels and shields down to the beach (which was deserted because it was cold and cloudy and threatening rain). First we made the kids play some obligatory games…beach golfing, balloon volleyball, ring toss….you know. But really, the ten or so kids who’d come were there for one thing: FOOD FIGHT! So we gave each kid a poncho (because we thought their moms would appreciate that). Then Mark and I split them into teams and cut them loose to dig their foxholes and ready their strategies. And when we finally said GO, those kids cut loose. They hurled food and darted in and out of enemy territory dousing each other with whipped cream. It was wild! Completely out of control! And such fun. The unexpectedly cool thing about the aftermath of this food fight was that the food did not go to waste after all. Not that it went to kids in Africa, but the seagulls swooped in and had the beach spotless before we could load up the table and chairs. The bonus being, no clean up! My son is now 17, and most of that same group of friends will be over tomorrow for a jam session birthday party. (I’m talking music here, not strawberries.) So they’ve outgrown the urge to hurl food (I’m counting on that, anyway), but to this day they all still talk about Food Fight Birthday. If you have a favorite (or least favorite!) party story you’d like to share, I’d love to hear. Meanwhile, may your days be merry and bright, and may at least one birthday in your life be…FOOD FIGHT!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Silly, Silly Me (And An EP)

It’s always a mistake for me to think I can take a few weeks—or wow, maybe a month—off from writing to enjoy a sense of accomplishment—and maybe recover a little—from having completed a novel. Turning in Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls in November looked like good timing, too, because the last month of the year is always nuts. We hosted Thanksgiving, Mark’s birthday was shortly after, then we celebrated our “Dutch Christmas” which takes the first five days of December and requires a bit of work on my part, and the rest of the month doesn’t get much easier. Our younger son has a birthday in mid-December (which we strive to make unique so it’s not lost in the holiday shuffle), and then there’s the final ramp up to Christmas and New Year’s…by the time we cross the finish line on my birthday in early January, everyone’s exhausted and definitely broke. So I was convinced that it was okay to take December off from writing. After all, I haven’t received any official contract for the last Sammys. What was the hurry, right? So I got busy writing Christmas cards instead. Silly, silly me. Late last week my editor told me that the next Sammy is due in May. May! “June at the very latest.” Good grief. My head’s barely escaped the graveyard mayhem of Night of Skulls. And The Running Dream is coming out in January! I’m going to be away on tour! How am I supposed to get a book done by May? Or even June? But having been ingrained in my youth with my parents' indelible (and often damnable) Immigrant Work Ethic, I know I’ll give it my best shot. Which means buckling down and getting started. Which means an emergency plot-talking-session with Mark. Which means (because we have no road trips planned) going for a long run. Once the broad strokes of a story are painted, it’s not hard for me to fill in the details. But I have to really understand and like the broad strokes. So even though I’ve got the basic idea for each of the final four Sammy’s defined, I need way more than that to begin writing. It’s like the pot of paint is open, but the switch plates haven’t been removed and the trim isn’t masked and there’s no drop cloth on the floor. It is definitely not paint time until everything is ready, ‘cause if you start before everything is ready the cleanup is going to be enormous, and no matter what you hope, the job won’t come out pro. So early Saturday morning Mark and I set out on a ten mile run, and we talked plot. There’s something about the rhythm of running and the inability to do anything else that makes running the perfect vehicle for tossing creative ideas back and forth. The basic idea for Sammy 15 is that there’s this (kinda loser) guy who creates a (very lame) superhero persona and makes it his mission to monitor the mini metropolis of Santa Martina for evildoers. Officer Borsch, of course, thinks he’s a nutcase and a nuisance. Which he is. Sort of. The (kinda loser) guy, however, thinks Sammy is a star. Which she is. Definitely. But she's never actually had a "celebrity moment" before, so this is all a little strange. Maybe even creepy. Anyway, that was my starting point. And it may not seem like much, but that’s pretty typical for me. Sometimes I’ll write a Sammy Keyes book from the crime out, but most often it’s from the character in. The people have to fascinate me to keep me interested, and from them I fashion an event or crime that would fit in with their sub-world or psyche. This (kinda loser) guy—who has yet to be named—fascinates me. And I know I’ll have no trouble sustaining my interest in him through 250 or 300 pages. It’s the events surrounding him that needed to be developed, but after ten miles of running through back roads I'm happy to report that I have some really great (and funny) plot ideas for the mystery thread of Sammy #15. (I also have a huge blister on my pinky toe which I'm going to break down and pop.) Now, when I say that all I was starting with was this idea for a (kinda loser) guy, that’s not really true. There is, of course, the developing thread of plot lines established in previous books. Like the mystery of who Sammy’s dad is and the set-up for the Big Reveal in Book 16. There’s also the dynamics among established characters, and how all the threads will tie together. But after 10 miles on the road, I’m feeling a lot more ready to dip the brush. Which is a huge relief. But still. May? I have a feeling I’m going to be logging a lot of miles between now and then. Switching subjects—I’d promised to let you know when our CD (make that EP) was on iTunes, and it is now. It’s also on Amazon. Just search “Risky Whippet” and you’ll find us. (I’ll post the artwork so you know what it looks like.) Hope you think it’s fun! Post questions if you have them--I'm happy to answer what I can. Thanks so much for checking in. See you next week (when I hope to have details about my tour schedule)!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Video Voodoo

For a day that I was kind of dreading, today turned out to be pretty cool. Random House arranged for a small crew of film studies students from a nearby university to do a video shoot for The Running Dream at my house today. The plan was for them to interview me about the impetus for writing the book, the research involved, and what I hoped readers would take away from the story. They were also to get B-roll footage of me working at my desk, and more of me running. All of this would be whittled down to 90 seconds (or so) and used for promotional purposes and available on Random House’s dedicated YouTube channel. The trouble with a video interview is that you want to sound unscripted, yet intelligent, but when that red light is on, what comes out of your mouth is either stuttery or stupid. At least that’s how my mouth seems to operate under the glare of the mini red light. The other trouble with a video interview is hair. It just knows. It’s supposed to be perky (or, at least, pleasant) so it becomes immediately sullen. Or rebellious. Or too tired to do anything but just lay there. I’d liken hair on important days to teenagers, but that wouldn’t be fair. Put on some good music and a teenager will come around. I tried that with my hair this morning and it remained sullen and flat. But whatever. It’s just hair. It’s your words that are important, right? What was nice about the guys who showed up—Tony, Aaron, and Kyle—is that they were seasoned enough to know what they were doing, yet young enough to still have that spark. You know—that enthusiasm people have when they believe that what they’re doing matters. So they set up their equipment and we went through the questions my publicist had suggested, but when we were done with that they had me just talk about The Running Dream. You know—a conversation. And I think that was when I forgot about the mini red light and finally relaxed. I love this book, and there’s so much to it and behind it that it’s easier to just talk about it than answer questions about it. An answer should have a beginning and an end and not a bunch of segues and sidetracks. A conversation…well, that’s different. Of course, it’s much harder to edit a conversation than a Q&A, but I’d personally way rather hear someone speak from the heart than hear them hit all the important talking points. Anyway! That was the interview portion of it. What was next was B-roll footage of me working in my office. I’d put all my usual desk clutter in a box and hauled it out of there so there’d be room on my desk for the prosthetic legs I’d borrowed. Let me back up here and say that it’s really cool to have gotten to know the people who have helped you research a book well enough to be comfortable ringing them up and asking, Hey, can I borrow a leg? To the wrong person, that could be a very insensitive (make that crass) question. But to these guys it was, Sure. We got you covered. So covered, in fact that right now there are five prosthetic legs in my office, including a running leg, and a flipper footed one for swimming. The flipper foot is awesome. More about these guys in a future post—I promise you’ll want to meet them. But now I’ve got to focus, not get sidetracked, so back to the mini-video YouTubey thing. The last phase of this adventure was getting footage of me running. Now, the truth is, I was not keen on them videoing me running but when they said it was fine for me to bring the whippets, well, I was suddenly a lot more okay with it. So we drove down to the local campground, and while I leashed up the pups, they hatched their plan—Aaron would ride a skateboard beside me, shooting footage as I ran. A skateboarding videographer? How cool is that? He had this clever counterbalance contraption attached to the camera which served to steady the shot. (It’s that backwards “C” shaped gizmo in the photo.) The dogs and I ran back and forth, back and forth, while Aaron rode beside me, pumping along, shooting video. It felt kinda like being out on a little adventure with Sammy Keyes. So even though it took about 5 hours to shoot what will become a 90 second video, the guys made it fun and interesting, and the day turned out way better than I’d anticipated. Now if they’ll just make me look good and sound smart!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's Not About The Food

When I was younger I definitely thought Thanksgiving was about the food. Oh, and time off from school. Actually, it wasn’t all about the food until we were teenagers—at least that’s the way I remember it. My parents are immigrants so Thanksgiving was a very “American” holiday, and my mom wasn’t keen on turkey, so I don’t recall us doing the whole feast thing until we were teenagers and we kids said We want turkey! We still didn’t do the sweet potato and stuffing thing—I remember rice, mushrooms, salad, and rolls. We also didn’t do the whole extended family thing because there wasn’t much family in the States. My mom’s brother and sister immigrated, too, but they probably viewed Thanksgiving much the same way as my mom did. This is all conjecture on my part, but the point is, Thanksgiving became more about traditional foods after I got together with Mark. His relatives crossed the Wild West in covered wagons, so I picture his great-great grandfather tracking down wild turkey with a blunderbuss. It didn’t take long for me to acquire a taste for the traditional Thanksgiving fixin’s (I love stuffing!)and soon we were in the rotation for hosting the meal. And it became about the food—having all the traditional side dishes and condiments and an array of homemade pies and breads and a nicely set table. And yeah, as for most women, it became about the stress, too. Mark’s been saying for years that it’s not about the food (well, except for pumpkin pie—there has to be a pumpkin pie)—it’s about the people. He says it’s about seeing people and just hanging out. Now, I could gripe that that’s because he doesn’t do the shopping or the cooking, but that would be wrong as well as false. He’s actually a great cook (and knows how to make a mean gravy). I could, however, legitimately grumble that it’s because he’s a guy and he doesn’t get the whole stress-for-success aspect of hosting Thanksgiving, but what does that say about me? And since I don’t like to face it when he’s right and I’m wrong, I avoid swimming in those waters. Once I get in I have to admit the Undertow of Truths is just too strong. But I did dip a toe into those waters this year. I cut back on the enormity of the food prep (less dishes, less variety, no homemade bread) and asked other people to bring things. Then I tried to go with the flow and enjoy our guests. Dinner was over before 5:00, but a lot of people hung around until after 9:00, and I hung out with them, just talking and catching up instead of being a maniac hostess trying to clean up. When it was all over, I had to admit that it was very enjoyable and that Mark was right—it really is about the people, not the food. Well, unless stuff’s inedible, and then it’s definitely about the food. It’s also no joke that people can also ruin a Thanksgiving—I’ve experienced that, too. But that’s a separate issue—one that requires a team of psychologists and the couch department of a Furniture Depot. Anyway, if the tradition of the meal is what motivates people to travel long distances to get together, that’s fine. But when hosting the meal starts overshadowing the enjoyment of the company, that’s when it’s good to take a step back and figure out why you’re going through all this effort. Enough musings for now. Here’s hoping you had a nice time with family and / or friends, and that there was enough pie, and that the potatoes weren’t burned. See you next week!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Other Shoe

I’ve been promising information about The Running Dream. It should be something I’m dying to talk about, and in some ways it is, but in bigger ways I find myself shying away from it. I don’t even like to summarize what it’s about because the premise sounds so…tortured? It’s not tortured. It’s an uplifting story. I swear! But even mentioning that it’s an uplifting story sounds contrived to me. Like I set out to write some epic tale that will bring you to tears then lift your soul to new, profound heights. Please. I’m not nearly so clever. The only effect I can really gauge is the one a story or character or situation has on me, and the only way I can sustain the energy it takes to complete a novel is if that effect on me is substantial. The main character in The Running Dream is named Jessica Carlisle. She is not me. She wasn’t based, even remotely on me. I ran track in high school, and I ran “Jessica’s race” – the 400 meter – but that is because authors write what they know. I can describe that race with authenticity because I ran it, and remember the pain of the last stretch quite well. But this book was also never a story about running to me. I didn’t set out to write a “sports book.” Running was intended as the vehicle used to present a larger concept. It was like the train that moved me from the depot to my destination. The real story takes place inside the train as it rumbles along the track. But it’s true that the title of the book leads you to believe it’s about running. The track shoes on the cover also give that impression, as does the little detail that the main character is, oh, a track star. So I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that people assume this is a book about running – it’s completely logical. But it leaves me wanting to explain that it’s not actually a book about running, which then gets me describing a story that sounds so…tortured. Which it’s not! It’s uplifting! I swear! Authors are supposed to talk their work up. It’s actually a big part of our job. But if there’s one profession I would never choose for myself, it’s sales. I’d rather shovel dirt for a living. Way. So I’m not going to trumpet the merits of The Running Dream (or any of my other epic tales that will bring you to tears then lift your soul to new, profound heights). But I will tell you that the journey through Jessica’s life had a huge, emotional effect on me, and that during this past week promotional efforts by other people have brought some very strange coincidences to light. Most notably, my track shoes. Let me back up a second and explain that the cover for The Running Dream was presented to me as a finished design. There were several to choose from, but to me, my husband, and my editor, the one that became the jacket was hands down our favorite. It wasn’t the look of the shoes, it was the look and feel of the entire design. I immediately loved it. It wasn’t until this week when there was a request for a picture of my track shoes and I unearthed them from a box in the bowels of my garage that I realized how uncannily like the shoes on the cover they were. It was actually kind of spooky. For a moment I felt like I could have been Jessica. Not her as a person, but that what had happened to her could have happened to me. Because, really, it could happen to any of us. And even though I’d explored this as Jessica when I wrote the story, it made me wonder what life would have been like—how Wendelin would have coped—if it had happened to her. Or, you know, me. And as I sat on the floor in my garage, turning over my petrified track shoes in my hand, I had a fleeting, sort of out-of-body thought that a book like The Running Dream would have helped me through it. As small as a book would be in the enormity of such a crisis, a story like The Running Dream is a reminder that there’s light at the end of our dark tunnels. And light is what we move toward. It’s what keeps us going. Step by step. Thinking all this also made me recognize how grateful I am that—despite the profound effect the writing and research has had on me—I’ve only had to “live” this crisis through Jessica—not live it in real life. So no. Even though Jessica and I ran the same race, even though the shoes on the jacket look very much like my racing shoes, Jessica is not me. She’s just someone who’s run through my life and taken with her a piece of my heart.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Risky Whippet Christmas

If you’re tuning in this week to find out about The Running Dream, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve got something else on my mind. Christmas cards. Or, really, holiday pictures and the long standing tradition of tension and tears that invariably accompany the taking thereof. It’s in similar territory as the Christmas tree, which is a romanticized icon disguising its true identity—a big bushy pine tree that takes over a great area of your house and sheds needles and demands water and, on occasion, harbors bats. Yes bats. (Or, if you’re lucky, simply ladybugs.) Yes, the Christmas tree fools you into believing it’s a lovely, fragrant presence, so you return to that memory each year. And when it’s standing and all decorated you do forget that between the time you loaded it in (or on) the van and the time you stood back to admire it fully trimmed, there was a lot of yelling and lifting and turning and missing the hole in the stand and spilling water and crookedness. Much, much discussion of crookedness. Oh. And the hiding of the Bald Spot. Honestly. Who picked this tree? But back to the card, which, of course precedes the tree, and, if you’re going for a family picture it takes some doing and planning and, in my case, convincing males that shorts don’t really go with the theme this year. Add to that the complication of dogs and you have a pretty good idea of how I spent my morning. We do have some nice Christmas pictures of our sons and the dogs, but all six of us? It’s never really worked out. There’s lots of advice throwing regarding getting the dogs to behave or look in a certain direction, and in the past we’ve just said, Forget the dogs, and shooed them away to chase down lizards, or avocados, or whatever. But this year the dogs (Bongo and Jazz, our whippets) were a must. Why? Because we’ve finished our “family band” EP and the name we’re using is “Risky Whippet,” and since we’re mailing EPs out in our Christmas card and there’s a picture of one of the dogs (Bongo, if you must know) on the cover, it will make a lot more sense to the recipients if there’s some connection between the EP and the person sending the card. It does take a little clarification, too, because most people don’t know that we have a band. It’s not something we really talk about outside the sphere of people who already know about it. For one thing, it sounds ridiculous. Or people think it’s cute. You play in a band with your kids? (Or, gag, parents?) Or they go, Oh, you’re like the Partridge Family, how cute! And we’re like, Uh, maybe the Partridge Family meets AC/DC? Anyway, it’s loud and it’s rock and who knows if anyone’s gonna like it, but Merry Christmas anyway! But back to the point: The picture had to make sense with the EP, which meant the dogs had to be in it. So I hauled all this Christmas stuff and music stuff out on the deck, slapped on Santa hats (and jingle bell collars) and the 5 males (3 human, 2 furry) had to put up with my little vision. Well, make that 6 because Mark’s (saintly) dad came over and snapped the pix, trying to get us all to a) look at the camera and b) smile. It was a little like a tree with a bat and a bald spot, but that’s okay. We’ve got 59 outtakes (one of which I’ve posted here) and one that’ll go on the card. And when we stumble upon it years from now we won’t remember that the dogs tore up the couch and wanted to hide underneath it, or that the sun was too bright and everybody had way too much advice. We’ll just point and say, Hey! That was our Risky Whippet Christmas, remember that? The rest is just family tradition.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mary-Mary, Never Contrary

Today was the Ing NYC Marathon and I’m proud to report that a former student of mine crossed her first marathon finish line. Good for you, Mary-Mary! Her name’s actually just Mary, but we call her Mary-Mary because she babysat the boys when they were little, and my younger son called her that. He did not like us to leave him with babysitters (even though it was usually just so Mark and I could practice with our band in our detached garage), but Mary broke through to him and became his “Mary-Mary.” She was, for the record, never even a little contrary. When Mark and I ran the NYC Marathon three years ago for Exercise the Right to Read, Mary-Mary joined a small group of us at a restaurant on Park Avenue, where I rejuvenated my exhausted body with a bowl of soup. I wish I could have been there for her today. Crossing your first marathon finish line really does make you feel like you can do anything—at least that’s what I’m hoping she’s feeling tonight. Anthony Edwards (who played Mr. Loski in Flipped) also ran NYC today as a vehicle to raise funds for his charity, Shoe4Africa. Mark and I met him for the first time when Flipped was being filmed in Michigan, and since I happened to be wearing my San Francisco marathon shirt, the conversation turned to running pretty quickly. He was fairly new to the sport and had definitely been bitten by the running bug. He’d do a take for a scene for the movie, then come over to us on the sidelines and talk more about running. Then he’d go back and do another take, then return to talk running. It was fun to have such an immediate bond with him. So congrats to Tony too! And Shalane Flanagan…wow! So enough about running, right? What about Night of Skulls? Well, I’m very happy to report that as of this morning it is “done” and submitted to Nancy. It’s 289 pages of headlong adventure woven through the bony fingers of Death. Plus, handing out nicknames like El Zarape, Ruby-Red, the Oversized Eggplant, Shovel Man, Teddy Bear, and the Vampire, Sammy is…well, Sammy! And it was great to spend more time with Billy Pratt. (I love that boy!) So I’m *big sigh of relief* really happy with the way it all turned out, and that it’s turned in. And I’ve got to tell you…I am SO looking forward to NOT sitting at this desk. I have so much to catch up on, and as long as it requires me to stand, stretch, lift, or move, I am looking forward to it. So until next week (when I hope to finally share some info on The Running Dream and the January book tour), thanks for checking in. I’m glad you do!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Boo! (And An Epitaph, Too)

Happy Halloween! Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls starts with the line, “I love Halloween” –which I do! We live down a long driveway, and don’t get much action at the door, so we’ve been known to go seek it. We’ve sat at the end of the driveway (dressed scary, of course) and given out candy to kids (after scaring them, of course). We don’t always aim to scare. One year my older son dressed up as Slash and played out at the end of the driveway by the snake pit of candy. That was very cool. But this year—in the name of authenticating research—I took a van full of “kids” to the graveyard and snuck around and checked out the pyramid tomb and had a spookin’ good time. My son’s girlfriend wanted to stick close to Mark and me because she hadn’t been to a graveyard before and was kind of creeped out and scared, but first chance I got I hid, then popped out and screamed and scared the stuffing out of her. She trusted me and I gave her a heart attack. I am so bad. On the way home I was thinking about epitaphs and decided that if I were to have one it would say (my name and all that stuff) and then “Rode Shopping Carts ‘Til The End.” That’s how I want to be remembered. How about you? Anyway, despite the spooky adventure in the boneyard, I’m pretty elated (can you tell?) ‘cause I FINALLY made it to the end of Night of Skulls. I sort of hold my breath through the whole process because I really don’t know until I write the last chapter whether the story will actually work. With Sammy it’s such a complicated juggle and the theme has to hold everything together. Plus Sammy’s got to have that moment of clarity about what this has all been about. It’s that moment that gets to me, and really, that’s what I drive for throughout the book. So last week Mark tattled in the comments that I’d been crying, and well, yeah I’d reached that moment and it was such a relief that it had all worked out. Well, I was dealing with a complex barrage of emotions about life and death and friends and family, but I’m blaming it on that moment of clarity. So even though the story has several rewrites yet to come, this is the part I’ve come to love. Plus I’m happy to be crawling out from under this rock. I have been such a recluse, trying to get this book finished! Who knew this “Halloween book” would wrap up on Halloween? Pretty cool. So here’s hoping your night was as fun as Sammy and Friends, and that… Actually, I take that back.
What I should say is here’s hoping you had a safe and sane Halloween and didn’t take any shortcuts through graveyards! Now let’s hear your epitaphs. (And don’t get too serious on me—I might cry!)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Leg Lady Flies Again!

It was a big week of traveling for me. I went to New Hampshire and Missouri via Arizona and South Carolina. The grind of traveling is always exhausting, but the school visits and the hosts were great on this trip, and that more than makes up for the gruel of getting there. Although this traveling did remind me of what I’m in for come January when Random House sends me on a two-week book tour for The Running Dream. I have a preliminary list of the main cities I’ll be visiting. Ready? Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle, and San Francisco. Any near you? I hope so! Book tour is tough, because you never really unpack. And with air travel being what it is you don’t want to risk getting separated from your luggage, which means you limit yourself to carry-on, which means you’re really sick of what you’re wearing by the time your two weeks is up. That said, if you’re an author lucky enough to have a publisher willing to invest in a book tour for your book, you don’t complain. You say thank you and pack. Authors don’t get paid for touring, by the way. I have some book author friends who were envious (in a very friendly way) that I’d been on tour regularly…until I explained to them that it was like doing two weeks straight of school visits and coming home empty handed. They were shocked. I was happy I could make them feel better. But it’s true—touring’s tough. The thing that makes it worthwhile is meeting people. Especially the ones who’ve collected your books over the years. Sometimes they appear at signings with a grocery sack of books that are read to shreds. Sometimes they have the first printing safely wrapped in a plastic cover. Sometimes they just want to touch me, which is so cute. Well, when it’s a young girl reader, anyway. So I’m psyching myself up for the good parts of tour, and reminding myself that it’s always an adventure. I have some seriously unbelievable stories from being on the road. Some are people-based, but a lot are just happenstance. I used to wonder, why does this stuff happen to me? And my publicist would apologize and panic at the thought of my being locked out on the roof of a building for an hour, but the question really is, who took the wrong turn to get on the roof in the first place? That would be me. And other authors don’t seem to get lost while out jogging, or dropped off at the wrong place, or have curtain rods smash down on them, or have booksellers douse them in catsup. It’s just me. So it must be me. Even when it’s not, somehow I think it still must be. Which (for whatever random reason) reminds me that it would be awesome to bring a prosthetic leg with me on tour. But I can’t see fitting it in a carry-on suitcase. And I can’t see carrying it on, either. But wait--if I wore pants (which of course I would) maybe no one would dare ask me what I was doing boarding a plane with my carry-on suitcase (of proper dimensions) and a computer bag (to be stowed under my seat), and my lunch bag (just a little paper Starbucks bag with handles, containing randomly squirreled away emergency snacks and hand sanitizer), and a big ol’ bulky fake leg. They’d probably just think, Wow…I guess she can’t exactly check her leg…what else is she supposed to do with it? As insurance, I could wear a shirt that says, LEG STORY $20 and see if anyone dares ask why I’m shoving a fake leg on top of their coat and hand luggage in the overhead storage compartment. Instead of forking over $20, they’d probably just look at me sympathetically and offer me their aisle seat. Okay! This might not be so bad! I am definitely psyching myself up for tour. Watch out, Friendly Skies, the Leg Lady’s coming on board.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hug Me Back Or I Attack!

I’m reporting in a day early because I won’t be able to get to a computer tomorrow (and I don’t want to be late again!). It’s been a week of lovely feedback about Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher. Thank you to those of you who read it already! Isn’t it amazing how something can take so long and then be over in a day. I’m glad it’s not over over. I really enjoyed the comments on last week’s post, as well as the e-mails that were sent in, and what struck me is how many people expressed a love for Billy Pratt. I laughed my head off when he said the anaconda from Rwanda line so I’m glad I’m not the only one. (Well, okay, I wrote it, but it could only have been because I was channeling Billy Pratt.) Lucky me (because it’s been so much fun to be around him) Billy is one of the five zombies in Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls. Can you guess the other four? (No, not Heather.) (She’s a vampire.) (Of course.) (Not) speaking of Heather, I also cracked up over“target practice” (tee-hee!). Glad some of you did, too! I went back to the cemetery last week to deliver some books to the “graveyard engineers” who have been helping me with research for Night of Skulls. How else are they going to really understand who this Sammy creature is? We also get to see a little of Elyssa—remember her from Runaway Elf? So even though some of you have devoured Wedding Crasher, know that Night of Skulls won’t be such a long wait—and that some of your favorites are back and in rare form! One last thing: I received three more Sammy-Keyes-changed-my-life letters this week. I can’t tell you how wonderful that is to hear. It makes me feel that even in her bleak hours, Sammy’s got friends. That I’ve got friends. We may not actually know each other, yet we know and love Sammy, so somehow we do. Now give me your best guesses on the Five Zombies! See you next week, Wendelin

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Purple River In The Graveyard

My house is a mess, the cupboards are down to Ramen and some canned goods nobody wants, there are piles of laundry in baskets, and I really need to pay some bills! And I am ridiculously and embarrassingly late replying to e-mails. Tomorrow, I keep telling myself. Tomorrow. So much for my list-making—there are just not enough hours in a day! Not when you’re nearing the end of a Sammy Keyes book. Sheez! I get obsessed. It’s ridiculous. My poor family. I did follow through on my commitment to run a half-marathon today, though. The route took us past the graveyard and that pyramid tomb I wrote about last week so I was able to point out the pyramid to my husband (who ran with me). As you (probably) know, I’ve been graveyard snooping to research Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls, and now I’m all excited because I had the bright idea that climbing the pyramid tomb on Halloween would be a blast. I’ve heard you can see the drive-in theater screen from the top, and now I want to take my kids and their friends and check it out. Wanna come? Anyway, a little random trivia that won’t matter to anyone anywhere but me, but here you go: I’ve discovered purple is the color to edit a manuscript with. I like pencil, but in the late hours (of which I’ve seen plenty of late) it’s easy to miss when entering the changes into the computer. Blue doesn’t show well enough, and I used to use red, but it always reminded me of my teacher days, correcting papers. And I don’t want to feel like I’m a teacher correcting papers. Especially since it makes me feel like an English teacher, and as you (probably) know, English teachers scare me. Bottom line: when I’m correcting my own paper with a red pen and it’s an “English” project, that’s just too much internal conflict for me to handle. Enter the purple Bic ballpoint pen. I love it! Instead of thinking teaching or blood, it reminds me of my purple electric guitar. It’s also bright enough to pop off the page at me as I enter the changes on the computer. I’ve used a river of purple ink this week. It spilled all over the graveyard chapters—which is a lot of the book. The rewrite process can be brutal, and it felt HUGE this time, but things are starting to shape up nicely, so that’s a big relief. And in two days Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher will be out! FINALLY! I know some of you won galleys earlier in the year have already read it (and I must say, you’ve been amazingly good about not giving things away in the comments—thank you!). But for those of you who have been waiting, thank you so very much for anticipating the day for the past, what? Almost year? I hope you like the "special thanks." See you next week!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Facing The Thing

The thing with a Sammy Keyes book is that it gets very complicated near the end. Actually, it’s complicated all along, but it’s not until the end that the timing of everything matters. It’s like braiding hair, but with ten strands instead of three. You’ve got to concentrate, keep track, and pull each strand evenly because if you don’t one strand will become shorter than the rest and in the end it will mess the whole thing up. And who wants to have some awkward, ugly stump of hair poking out of your rubber band? Not me. The only solution, really, is to figure out where you went wrong, undo the braid to that point and try again. Sometimes what is really wrong is that you decided to use ten strands instead of nine. Nine is so much easier to work with. Three groups of three. It’s always like this at this stage of a Sammy Keyes book, but I always forget that it’s like this, which is maddening because it invariably sends me into a bit of a tailspin and I’m, like, Aaaah! How did this happen??? It’s also the point where it comes out that The Thing I’ve been avoiding for the whole book is the reason my braid is coming out crooked. It is the point at which I finally face up to the fact that if I don’t want a big ugly stump sticking out of my rubber band, I need to suck it up and face The Thing. Of course, first there are the phases of Further Avoidance. This week I further avoided The Thing by driving through graveyards. I really did not know that driving was allowed, but it is. It’s like driving thruogh a little neighborhood of dead people. You can wave and read the headstones and chat with your son about how peculiar the burial ritual is…all from the comfort of your minivan. It’s like being on a little ride at an amusement park without even having been charged admission. That was Phase One of Further Avoidance. I recognized what I was doing, though, so we finally did park and walk around. We had lots of questions that we made up our own answers to…because, obviously, it was easier than facing The Thing. Yes, phase two of Further Avoidance was well under way. And it continued to another graveyard which I thought would be spookier and perhaps have a mausoleum or two to investigate. This time I took both sons and we explored for an hour, answering all our questions with whatever seemed to make sense to us. Plus, there was an enormous pyramid-crypt-thing which was very impressive and fascinating, although of absolutely no use to my story. Yes, I’d entered Phase Three, and it was getting me nowhere fast. Then yesterday Mark and I drove four hours to see a friend in his first starring role in a play—perhaps you’ve heard of it? “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Yes, quite right—it’s the one where the barber slits his customers’ necks and turns the corpses into meat pies. Pail after pail of “blood” on stage. Lots of demented screaming. Lots of death. Oh, and an asylum. Then we drove four hours home. On the drive we “talked plot” and I told Mark about my issues and quandaries and ugly, crooked, stumpy braid, and how I just have to finish this book because everywhere I turn it’s all death-death-death! So we talked and talked and talked, and by the time we got home I knew that I had to unbraid and quit avoiding The Thing. So today FINALLY, I made an appointment with the manager of the cemetery and watched them bury a body. The reason I had such an aversion to this is because I went through it once in real life when we buried my brother. I was so grief stricken then that I didn’t notice anything technical about the process—who cared how it was done? But now I really needed to know, and I was just…afraid. The nice thing about today was that the manager and his crew had a great outlook about what they do. Each of them on their own said, “I love my job.” They’re regular guys who see their role at the cemetery as important and valuable, and the manager was very philosophical about the historic significance and importance of graveyards. Plus, one of the crew has a daughter who reads Sammy Keyes, so that didn’t hurt! So it’s with a big sigh of relief that I tell you I’m ready to unbraid and give it a final go. It’s all there, it’s all good, I just need to go back and make it tight!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Contemplating The End

I promised an entry about Sammy, so here we go! First off, for those of you who don’t know, Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher will be released in a couple of weeks. Yay! It will be the 13th of a projected 18 titles—a number that was finalized with my editor about two years ago. I did not originally intend to write a series. I had the idea for a single mystery and thought no further than the end of that story. But as Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief drew to a close, I already wanted to spend more time with Sammy. She was quick-witted, hot-headed, and, underneath it all, broken hearted. She was also in seventh grade, and man, that’s a tough place to leave someone you care about! So when the idea for Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man crept into my mind, I immediately began the ‘sequel’ to Hotel Thief. Midway through the writing of that second book, Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy began to infect my thinking. After all, I knew Sammy’d be slapped with a ton of detention for what she had to do to clear her name in Skeleton Man, and what better place to serve that detention than with nuns at a soup kitchen? So I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, and I found that no matter where the next story took me, there was somewhere else for Sammy to go…and grow. Thirteen books later, I still like her, still want to spend time with her, still want to see how she’ll surprise me next. Now, I say thirteen books because the thirteenth is ready for release, but in actuality I am almost done with Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls…book fourteen…and I find myself in a very emotional place. (Okay, okay, what else is new, right? But that’s how I am and you know that only because you read this blog. Believe me, I don’t let on to my neighbors or even most of my acquaintances.) I think the reason I find myself weirding out about this “place” is because after Night of Skulls there will be four books left. Four. Yes, that’s actually a lot of books…and nearly a thousand pages of writing to do! But I think the four is significant to me because that’s how the series started—with four. Again, you may already know this, but in case not: I didn’t have a contract for Hotel Thief or Skeleton Man or Sisters of Mercy or Runaway Elf…I’d actually be rejected by publishers and agents all over NYC and my response to them was to write the next book in a series they did not want. It was crazy, but I really thought I was onto something with Sammy, and I couldn’t seem to stop her from creeping back into my mind…and out onto paper. With each new book I hoped that one of those publishers who’d asked me to think of them again with my next project, would see Sammy Keyes the way I did. It wasn’t until after the first four books were written that I finally got my “yes,” and the ensuing contract was for all four books. So “four” has significance to me. It was the launch of this wonderful life, the evolution of characters I would have the luxury of getting to know book by book, year by year…it was a license to love Sammy with all my heart because she’d be in my life for as long as I could imagine. But now, here I am, getting ready to face the final four, and what’s been making this increasingly difficult is that I find myself obsessing about the last book. I’ve known for years how I want the last book to be structured, but there’s a new character that keeps appearing in my thoughts, demanding to be written in. One that shouldn’t be in the book because she has no business being there. One that promises to not interfere, but I’m not sure it’s possible for her to do that. Someone I can’t seem to shake. Me. I feel a little Inception-like—if you saw that movie—where I’ve been in my head with Sammy so long that I’m not sure what’s real…or where I belong. And the whole thing makes me weepy and confused, which is ridiculous because I’m still miles away from that 18th book. A thousand pages! All of us know that our time is going to run out eventually. It’s not knowing when The End happens that makes it bearable. And maybe this heightened emotion I’m experiencing is caused in part by the fact that Sammy has spent half of Night of Skulls in a graveyard or a funeral home or trying to understand death and beliefs in the hereafter, but I can’t seem to shake this looming feeling of The End. The consolation here is that Sammy may reach The End (of the series!) before I reach The End (for reals) (which better be how it goes, ‘cause if I reach The End first, how will Sammy get to The End?), but in the end, she will continue to exist much longer than I will. Which is something I can live with. Something that will help me get to—and through—The End.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Labor of Love

So, to continue the discussion from last week regarding the book-to-movie experience, I want to start with some back story about Flipped the book. I wrote it because I had this idea I wanted to explore, not because I had a contract to write it. And in the process of exploring that idea I became consumed first by Juli, and then (unexpectedly) by Bryce. It became one of those labor of love experiences that was worth all the time and effort and emotion, even if it had never been published. Upon publication it did receive some stars, but also some criticism. Some reviewers thought the character of David (Daniel in the movie) was contrived. (Obviously they didn't know anyone who'd come into this world with the umbilical cord wrapped around their neck.) There was no big push by my publisher, or large marketing budget behind Flipped. But it went out into the world and people started talking about it. One kid passed it onto the next and on and on and on. Word of mouth is what made the book catch on and it became, as my editor later described it, the Little Book That Could. That didn't happen in its "opening weekend" -- it happened over time. Flipped the movie was never supposed to be a blockbuster. It had a small budget (by Hollywood standards) and was a bit of a puzzle to market. And although it performed respectably in the original 3 major cities, its subsequent expansion was to 6 other big cities, and this is where I started to get a little worried. I don't see Flipped as a big city movie. It's quiet. Heartfelt. About real people. I started getting e-mails from people asking why it wasn't playing in their town. Asking if there was something they could do to get it to their town. So I asked people I know at Castle Rock whether there was some clearing house for requests, or how to go about letting these people have their voices be heard. To make a very long story short, I was encouraged to contact the head of Warner Brothers. This seemed excessive to me, but I did wind up e-mailing him and he did e-mail me back a very nice response which lined out some of the reasons for WB's decisions and strategies. I was impressed that he took the time to write such a thoughtful response. But it still left me wishing I could do something to get the movie into places where there were people dying to see it. So I called my local multiplex and was told that if enough people went to the on-line "comments" segment of the chain theater websites and requested a movie, the chains would actually listen. So I put the word out about that, even though I was skeptical. (In my experience it's much easier to affect a change at an independent bookstore than it is a chain bookstore where everything has to go through "corporate.") A few days later Rob Reiner called with the wonderful news that the movie would be opening in 350 theaters. The line kept "dropping" so the next day I called the Castle Rock office to verify that I'd heard correctly and was told that the number was up to over 450 theaters. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not claiming any responsibility for this "sudden expansion." But I was so happy to now have something to work with! So I put out an e-mail to my friends and contacts with a link to a Yahoo site that would allow the user to see if the movie was playing in their area, and I asked them to please pass it on. I heard "I'm on it!" from so many people. Librarians posted it on their list-serves. Friends sent it to their e-mail contacts. Principals told their teachers, teachers told their students. It was SO nice to feel like there was a growing army of people out there helping to spread enthusiasm about the movie, and I have the feeling that things will continue to grow over time. It's still playing in theaters, then it will be out on DVD, and I predict that in time it will prove to be the Little Movie That Could. One more little thought before I call it a night: In order for a book to become a movie, it seems that every star in the universe has to be aligned. And that's for a book that has obvious movie potential! I know that the only reason I'm lucky enough to have had this experience is because Rob Reiner loved the book and wanted to make it into a movie. It was his cache in the industry and his vision that made this a reality. I know that movie making is a business, but I get the sense from him that this was first and foremost a labor of love for him. Which is exactly what the book was for me. (Next week: Sammy!)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Stars and Gripes

It’s been another interesting week in the book-to-movie experience. Actually, it’s been two, but I didn’t want to talk about it last week. This week I’m okay with it. That’s probably because I know more this week than I knew last week and knowledge is king. Or something like that. If you’ve been following this blog you know that turning a book into a movie takes time. Lots of it. And along with time spent is a building anticipation of the day you are finally going to be able to see it on the silver screen. First, however, come the reviews, and today’s post is about that process. Book publishers release ARCs—advance reader copies—prior to a book’s publication. These are sent out to book reviewers and industry people so that summaries and recommendations can be made about a book prior to its on-sale date. The same basic thing happens with early screenings in the film industry. Production companies arrange screenings, reviewers go, and you keep your fingers crossed that the reviewers like the film and will say glowing things about it. In the book world, reviewers simply summarize and opine, and if you’re lucky, they grace your book with a star. We authors don’t get “three out of four stars” or any such ranking. We get no stars unless our book really stands out in the reviewer’s mind, and then we get one. One little star. But that star is cause for great celebration partly because stars are awarded in a notoriously miserly fashion. Now, if several reviewers all deign to stamp your work with a star, it actually matters because marketing budgets get increased, publicists have more to work with, and the publishing house holds its breath a little in anticipation of big awards being granted. If the reviews are not good, your book’s momentum for success comes to a sad, painful halt, and your book will probably be out of print in short order. If the reviews are mixed—meaning some reviewers like it and others don’t, then it comes down to finding the portion of the population that agrees with the reviewers who like it and selling to them. And the person in charge of doing that will most likely be the author. Over my career, I have gotten mostly positive reviews, and enough stars to keep me happy. But I’ve also been subjected to reviewers who “just don’t get it.” When you have one reviewer giving you a star and another slamming you, you start to see that it’s just subjective—an opinion. But when you realize how much that person’s negative opinion can shape your book’s success, you want to say, hey, wait a minute—what qualifies you to say that? What I’ve learned these past two weeks is that the movie business is very much like the book business. The reviewers give out stars. Or tickets. Or tomatoes. Or thumbs up or down. Or whatever. And marketing strategies are tied to reviews and early box office success. So even if you have good reviews, or good mixed reviews, if you have a “small film” (meaning small production budget) going up against 3-D or huge special effects movies, your initial box office (cash brought it first weekend) might not be enough to warrant further distribution. In other words the big multiplexes—where the majority of people go to see films—don’t want to take it in. With Flipped the movie, a lot of reviewers loved it and there were some wonderful articles in the LA Times and USA Today about it. There were other reviewers who made their cynical opinions quite clear, and the combination resulted in a situation similar to mixed reviews in the book industry. The question then became how do we get the film to that portion of the population that will agree with the reviewers who understand the film? The answer is ongoing, and I’m afraid it’s better left for next week when I have more data. Meanwhile, go see Flipped while you can. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt film, and I'm sure that, unless you're a cynic, you'll agree!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

News Flash!

We interrupt this blog's strict weekly scheduling for a special announcement! I just heard that Flipped will be opening in about 450 cities tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 10th) YAY! If you want to see if Flipped is playing in your area, click on this link, select Friday Sept 10th (when it opens) and type in your zip code and "Flipped". Then take your friends and go see it! Please pass it on!

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I'm a list maker. It's like my little daily road map, and without it I'm lost. Actually, I'm a lists maker. I have a large, lined Post-it on my (cheap little) portable events calendar. Next to (or, actually, sort of underlapping) that large, lined Post-it is another large, lined Post-it that has a list of things I have to remember to buy. In the kitchen, attached to the side of the refrigerator, is a magnetic pad of paper where another list builds. Usually it says DOG FOOD and MILK. I should just get a pad printed that starts with DOG FOOD and MILK. We go through a crazy amount of DOG FOOD and MILK. What I like about lists is how they make my brain feel. It's so relieved to have a list because once an item's on the list my brain is excused from having to remember it and lets out a happy little cerebral sigh. (Is sounds like, Ahhhhhh, thank you!) So my brain loves the lists, but I--the whole of me--love the ch-check! that I boldly deliver when something on the list is complete. Ch-CHECK! Oh, yeah! I will go so far as to add things to the list after the fact, just so I can go ch-check! I will also use The List to force completion of a task I've been avoiding. See, once the task makes The List, I've got to face it. There it is, amidst a stack of other tasks, and as the ch-check!s mount and I'm left with only a few items remaining, I will finally bite the bullet and do it.

How can a list be so powerful? I mean, it's not a law, or anything, that you have to do everything on your list, but--at least on a day-to-day level--there is nothing more glorious than a list fully checked.

People often ask me how I manage to do so much. Well, I'm not Superwoman or one of those people who don't require much sleep. (I need eight hours minimum.) What I do have, though, is The List. The key is to make your list manageable. Don't write Paint The House on your list. Write: Decide on Color. (next line) Buy the Paint (next line) Mask the Windows in the Living Room (next line) Remove the Switch Covers in the Living Room.... You need a separate line for each semi-major step in each room or you're not getting enough ch-check! therapy. (It is therapy, too, excellent for your soul and your productivity, so don't deny yourself.) Writing a novel is like painting the house. You need to break it down into manageable steps and give yourself ample ch-check! therapy along the way. And since most of us spend our days juggling more than we can really manage, it's easy to have Write Three Pages (or whatever a reasonable goal for your circumstances might be) never make it onto the list. So put it there. Somewhere between Water Plants and Soccer Practice put Write Three Pages. Somewhere between Take Out Trash and Call Landlord put Write Three Pages. If it's something you want to do, add it to the list of things you have to do.

If you're anything like me, it's the only way you'll get it done.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

My "Ms Leone" Letter

So many incredible, wonderful, big things have happened to me this year, but there’s one seemingly little thing that I hold nearest and dearest. I got a “Ms. Leone” letter. For those of you who haven’t read Runaway, let me explain. Holly Janquell is almost thirteen, living a tortured life, moving from one foster care situation to another, withdrawing or acting out, and hating the world. In an effort to help her, her teacher, Ms. Leone, gives Holly a journal with the well-intentioned advice that writing in it might help her to “turn the page.” Well, Holly thinks Ms. Leone is completely out to lunch. What good is writing when she’s having to deal with people “sani-flushing” her head in a toilet? So at first Holly’s journal entries are just angry rants at Ms. Leone. But after Holly runs away, she starts “talking” to Ms. Leone through the journal, relating her near scrapes and scavenging adventures as she travels across the country toward the coast in her quest to become a “sea gypsy.” The journal becomes Holly’s lifeline and her therapy. She learns to express herself and sort through her emotions, and even tries her hand at poetry. And in the end (spoiler alert!) when she’s in a safe home and has learned to trust again, she decides to send the journal to Ms. Leone with a note saying that she wanted to thank her for helping her turn the page. I had the idea for Runaway for years before I hit on how I wanted to end it. And when I thought of the ending, I got all emotional and weepy and just…overwhelmed. I’m sure that’s partly because I’d been a classroom teacher for fifteen years and receiving a letter like that from a student like Holly would definitely be overwhelming. Teachers put so much into their students, so much into helping them through that year of growth and discovery. Then the kids move on, and that’s it. Off they go, like birds from the nest. My “Ms. Leone” letter didn’t come from one of the many students who’ve fluttered through my classroom. Oh, I’ve gotten really nice notes over the years, and compliments on the positive influence I had in their lives. But that’s not a Ms. Leone letter. It hasn’t traveled through the depths of despair to reach me. My Ms. Leone letter came via e-mail from college student who happened upon Runaway in the library. She finished it in a night, and the letter she wrote me afterwards explained that terrible things had happened in her life and that, like Holly, she uses writing as a form of coping, but that she still has times when she considers ending it all. Reading Runaway, she said, gave her a sense of hope that maybe a good life is out there for her as well, and she signed off by saying, “Know that your work not only inspires, but saves lives.” So yes, Rob Reiner’s made a wonderful film out of my book Flipped. Yes, I’ve got red-hot irons in the fire. But the thing that means the most to me is my “Ms. Leone” letter. None of the “glory” even compares.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Charmed Weekend

A year and a half ago I started talking about how when Flipped came out I wanted to have a "Red Carpet Premiere" for my friends and family and people who had been supportive of my writing endeavors. I had no idea what it would take to pull together something like this, but I really liked the idea of creating a Hollywood-style event for the people who have been good to me.
It just seemed like fun.
Well! I didn't know anything about securing the film or renting a theater or whether rental places in this area even had red carpets, but over the past six months I've learned a lot.
Necessary, but by no stretch fun.
Then after we'd finally confirmed a date, a location, and a reel of Flipped, I had a brainstorm.
Or so I thought.
Mark says I can never keep things simple, and he's probably right. But this idea was, that I just had to do it. So I set up a "matinee" showing that would run before the friends and family showing, and gave "passes" to all the local library branches and whatever schools wanted to participate in raffling off the passes as fundraisers.
This GREATLY complicated things, as I was now dealing with a lot of different entities and their individual needs. I generated fliers, acquired movie posters, designed invitations, and gave presentations at principals' meetings. I became an e-mailing machine.
I also ordered things from party supply companies--why keep it simple when there's so much potential fun to be had?
Well, about three weeks ago, I was a nerve-frayed wreck. There was just too much for me to coordinate. I was losing it. Overwhelmed. A wreck.
I was definitely not having fun yet.
Mark (kind of shaking his head at me, 'cause, you know, I should have kept it simple) suggested that I hire a party planner.
You have to understand that I'm not the party-planner kind. If I can do it, I do do it. But I was to the point of desperation, so he handed me a number and I called.
The party planner was delighted to hear of my upcoming Red Carpet Event, and would have love-love-loved to help, but she would be out of town in August.
She gave me another number.
That woman would also have love-love-loved to help, but she was having a baby in August.
She gave me another number.
That woman was available and not only would she love-love-love to help, but she would do everything from check names off at the party to find me a caterer...for a mere seventy-five dollars an hour.
Seventy-five dollars an hour???
(Mind you there was no mention of the heavy lifting of say, red carpets and chrome posts and plants and such.)
Mark's reaction was the same, and so we shelved the party planner idea and I forged ahead. And as the day of the party grew nearer, a friend came over and helped me stuff 400 plastic eggs with little fuzzy chicks and jelly beans, helped me process (sign) all the books I was giving away as gifts, and helped me write the names of all the guests on stick-down stars that would mock up the Avenue of the Stars.
With that done, I was feeling a little better.
Then I bought plants (cheaper than renting) and ran around for DAYS getting supplies and food (because out-of-towners were invited over to our house for breakfast the following morning), and cleaned my house, and "made over" my son's room for company, and did all that pre-party-prep that turns women into exhausted shells of their formerly perky selves.
Then, a few days before the party, I found out that Madeline Carroll (the lead female--"Juli"in the film) was going to be attending. And that Callan (Bryce) and Israel (Garrett) and Stefanie (Dana) might also be coming.
I became a hotel booker and press agent, ringing up the media and finding movie stars places to stay. I didn't know about local press feeding into Los Angeles affiliates, but my journalist friend told me what to ask the stations, and I did. I was on the phone for hours, explaining to journalists that this would be the first time the two leads were at a premiere because at the earlier (Warner Brothers premieres) Callan had been tied up shooting another film and couldn't make it.
This was all very exciting, but it was also stressful for me.
I'm not Warner Brothers.
I don't have a team of professionals helping me.
I'm just me.
Stuffing eggs.
Making my own Avenue of the Stars.
In a little local theater.
In a little town.
And I had four movie stars coming?
I had bought this "City Scape" from one of the on-line party supply companies. We'd measured the distance from the base of the angled outdoor marquee to the sidewalk and had bought this "City Scape" with the intention of using it as a photo backdrop which would hold Flipped posters and be used to snap pictures of each group that entered the theater. But I couldn't assemble it at home because it was too big to transport after it was put together.
So the morning before the party, my son and I arranged to go to the theater before their regular programming and assembled the city scape in the lobby.
Basically, it was black cardboard that needed taping, cross bracing (cardboard tubes), back bracing (cardboard wedges) and little white lights put on. The assembly was actually not bad. It didn't look great, but it wasn't bad. But we were to the point of attaching the Flipped posters when I realized that this mammoth piece of cardboard in the theater lobby was too tall to stand up, too wide to fit out the door, and too cumbersome to store anywhere.
So we wound up folding it along the seams, stuffing it in a back room, and telling the manager we'd be back the next day to put it together outside.
To make a long, very frustrating story short, cardboard and wind don't work well together (unless you're trying to create a Flying City) and the City Scape wound up in the Dumpster.
Then--and this is the day of the party that the City Scape got Dumpsterfied--the manager tells us that a package from Warner Brother had just arrived. It turned out to be a gigantic plastic enlargement of the Flipped poster, which we hung from the marquee as the backdrop. It was perfect! (Thank you WB!!)
Then we rolled out the carpet (and taped it down with red duct tape), put up the velvet ropes, arranged the plants, put on the music, set up the check-in podium, and before long the matinee winners were lining up to get in.
The Flipped stars weren't supposed to arrive until the matinee was well underway, but I didn't actually believe they would show until Callan (Bryce) rolled up to the curb in a black Porsche. Then suddenly Madeline and Stefanie and Israel were there too.
How cool is that???
I'd come up with a timeline and while the press interviewed them in the lobby during the matinee, I had them sign the books I was giving away to any of the matinee kids who had found a gold coin in their stuffed plastic egg (which was buried inside their popcorn).
And when the movie was done playing, I went down to the front of the theater and, one by one, I called down the actors to join me.
The kids who had won tickets through their school or library were so jazzed to be at the movie in the first place -- they'd gotten dressed up, walked the red carpet, had photos taken with me in the lobby and had gotten free popcorn and soda -- but now, right before their eyes, the characters they'd just seen on the big screen were walking through the aisles.
Talk about applause!
Everyone was stunned! Amazed! And in a kind of state of disbelief.
And I felt so happy that I'd been able to coordinate this day for the kids in my community. It really was unbelievable.
As the kids filed out, each stopped for a picture with the group of actors (and got their free book if they had a gold coin). The actors were SO patient and kind to the kids, and even though it took a while to get through everybody, they never complained.
Then we had a short scarf-up-some-food break before we started letting people on the carpet for the friends-and-family showing.
That part was a blast for me. People from New Hampshire, New York, St. Louis, San Diego, the Bay Area were there. People I haven't seen in years were there. And they were all totally glammed up! I got hugs, gave hugs, and my son took each party's picture in front of that amazing banner with the 4 movie stars.
After everyone was seated, I gave out "Fuzzy Awards" -- little Oscar-style statues that I'd super-glued fuzzy chicks to. They went to 12 people who, in one way or another, stood out in the way they'd helped me as a writer.
Then we watched the movie!
And when the credits rolled and my name went by, the theater roared!
Then I gave everyone a movie-tie-in book, and sent them off to an informal after-party meeting place, then tore down the decorations, and rolled up the carpet.
It was an awesome night.
And, in the end, it was SO much fun.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Box Office Insight

Since I’ve taken you along from the beginning on this book-to-movie process, let me share what I’ve pieced together this week about “box office.” Flipped opened in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Austin last weekend and did “moderately well” at the box office. It averaged around $5,000 at each theater where it was shown, and, to put that in a little perspective, that was slightly better than Angelina Jolie’s Salt did per theater in its opening weekend. Of course, Salt played in a lot more theaters so had a much bigger overall box office, but still. Statistics are for the skewing. Now, if Flipped had had a huge box office, the next phase of this adventure might have been different, but, based on the box office in those three cities, Warner Brothers has decided to release the movie in the following “markets” on August 27th : New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Toronto and Indianapolis. And then, once they see how it performs in those markets, “a decision will be made about further expansion.” The reasoning here seems at odds with the “product” to me. Flipped in not a flashy “big city” film. It’s a heartfelt film, one that I see playing much better in smaller communities than in metropolitan areas. I have to trust that WB knows what it’s doing, but I admit this strategy has me worried. If the film doesn’t connect with city-dwellers, will the rest of the country even get the chance to vote at the box office? There’s not much I can do about it except urge those of you who live in one of those six cities listed above to go see the movie opening weekend (and take all your friends!). Being new to all this, I had no idea how it worked, but now I do…and now you do, too. Meanwhile, I’m focusing on the positive: We’ve got our special Red Carpet Event screening(s) in six days, and I’m really looking forward to doing this for my community and my friends. I have a different long list of things I have to do for each day between now and then. It’s definitely a divide-and-conquer-(or-be-conquered) situation. In addition to hosting both screenings, we have house guests coming Friday, and Sunday we’re having breakfast here for people who have traveled long distances to attend. Which means I have to clean the house! And figure out seating! And get lots of food! And figure out where people are going to sleep! None of which has anything to do with what needs to get done before the Event (which is considerable, given that I never seem to do things the simple way). I am, in short, panicking. So why am spending time writing this blog entry? Because I promised. And because I really appreciate that you check in. I wish all of you could come to our RC Event. Wish me big reserves of energy—I’m gonna need it! It'll all be behind me next Sunday. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mark and Wendelin Zipping In A Tree

I’d never been zip-lining before, but for part of our vacation “therapy” that’s exactly what we did. The forest was huge and gorgeous and the mountain men that ran the “Adventure Camp” were great. The actual zipping was fun, but it was being up so high in the trees that I liked the best. It reminded me of being a kid and climbing trees.
And the tree fort we built when I was growing up.
And how much Juli Baker loved her sycamore tree.
I lost track of days, and wasn’t aware that the Flipped movie release in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Austin had happened until I got messages about it.
Seems appropriate that I spent the day way up high in a tree.
We’re on our way home now, so I’ll be able to share some more things with you soon, and posts will go back to normal—or as close to that as I know how to get. (I’ll also make the time to answer comments from previous posts. For now know that, short or long, I always really enjoy reading your comments.)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tales from Tinsel Town

This will have to serve as both the follow-up post from last week and this coming Sunday’s post because my schedule’s a little manic right now. Regardless, here’s the info I promised about the Hollywood premiere of Flipped:
The morning of the premiere I’d been asked to participate in a press panel with Rob Reiner and his co-screenwriter and the film’s producer. It was being held at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, which is famous to me only because it seems that lots of interviews I read in Rolling Stone are held at the Four Seasons.
We were given an address of 300 S. Doheny. We arrived on time.
Trouble is, there was no hotel of any kind at that address.
We checked the address.
Yes, it was South Doheny. There was a 302, but no 300.
So where was it?
We called the Warner Brothers publicist who’d set it up with me.
The call rolled over to voice mail.
Fortunately, Mark had the wherewithal to call the Four Seasons, and got through to someone who told him that they were located at…300 S. Doheny.
Mark told them we were at that location and there was no hotel. So the receptionist told him that they were up the street a few blocks at the corner of Doheny and some other street.
But we headed up the street, and seven blocks later, there it was at 400 North Doheny instead of 300 South Doheny. But they tell people they’re located at 300 South Doheny!?
There must be a reason, but you got me.
I guess you’re just supposed to know where the Four Seasons is.
It’s that famous.
Anyway, we did get to the press conference on time and it went really well. Rob is a very comfortable person. He stays on message, but you never get the feeling that he’s selling you something. He’s frank and just tells it like he sees it. I like that.
So we did a half an hour with print journalists and half an hour with (what I think was) radio journalists. Then we said our see-ya-tonights and headed out.
Fast-forward to the premiere: We arrived at 6:30 as instructed, parked in the parking structure, as instructed, and I switched out of my Converse and put on my heels. Mark and my younger son advised against it, but I told them I was going with the heels.
“You’ll be sorry…”
Fortunately we had, by coincidence, parked right alongside one of the women from Castle Rock who’s writing the script for Confessions of a Serial Kisser. And since she’s been to many red carpet premieres, she took us along, walked us to the will call tables, got our tickets and an escort and put us in line to walk the red carpet.
An escort? Yup. You can’t walk it without one. There’s lots of security and people checking tickets and we wound up in line right behind the boy who plays Garrett in the film. That was fun because the boys got to talk and it helped us relax a little.
And when it was our turn, my escort asked how to pronounce my name correctly, then we stepped out from behind the poster partition into a bunch of flashing cameras.
Each person on the carpet has an escort. The escort announces your name and your role in the movie (in my case it was “author of the book”) and then photographers start calling your name, getting you to look at them. The photogs were about 5 deep and it was a little…unnerving. I mean, it was fun for the first few minutes, but it took us about half an hour to go 50 feet. And after the photographers, the news stations with video cameras interview you. A lot of them ask the same questions, but the woman from a Tokyo station surprised me by asking me to give her my “beauty secret”. I told her, “Sweat every day,” and when he looked a little shocked by that, I added, “as in exercise.” Yup there you go—my one and only “beauty secret”. Ha!
Anyway, the boys were greatly relieved to get off the carpet and into the theater, where there were tubs of popcorn and sodas waiting. We found our seats (which were assigned) and admired the theater (it’s big, with beautiful dark blue velvet curtains, a lower level and an upper level), and then it was show time!
The first time I saw Flipped, I think I was in such a strange state that I couldn’t really assess it. But this time I got to enjoy it as a movie and you know what? It’s really good! I thoroughly enjoyed it and now I really want to see it again. It’s like I’m over thinking about how it compares to the book, and can just enjoy it for what it is.
Afterwards we went to a party at a restaurant about 5 blocks away, and talked with people involved in the film. There was a buffet with meat and pasta, but there was also a lot of “kid” food (because the movie did have a lot of kids in it!) including mini milkshakes (served in shot glasses with tiny straws). It was nice to visit with people we’d met when we’d gone out to Michigan to watch them film the movie, and nice to watch people celebrating their accomplishment.
But there was also a lot of … I wouldn’t even call it schmoozing…it was a lot more aggressive than that. We saw managers and agents take their young “talent” around to meet the big wigs, and they’d do the whole, I’m so-and-so, we met at such-and-such, I represent [insert moderately well-know actor names here] and this is [introduce young talent]. I guess that’s just part of “the Biz”, but that is so not me! I don’t even want to talk about my books when people ask me about them because I’m worried that they’ll think I’m trying to “pitch” them. I could never survive in those circles.
This is actually very valuable for me to know. It makes me re-appreciate what I do and where I live and that my family has such a solid and very healthy lifestyle. The red carpet was fun, but it’s nice to be home.
Nice to be back in real shoes.
Now, for those of you who would like to see what it was like, here’s a little 2 minute video that Mark put together of being on the red carpet. Hope you enjoy it! Video Link

Sunday, July 25, 2010


We made it to Hollywood, but the internet connection here is terrible! The premiere of Flipped is tomorrow night. A real post will follow as soon as I'm better connected. I won't be wearing my Converse to the premiere, so keep your fingers crossed that I don't trip! Back with a real post as soon as I can!

Thanks for checking in :-)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Red Carpet Rundown

I received an invitation in the mail this week.
It came with a 30 cents postage-due scrawl from my postal carrier, but that's okay. I'll pay.
It's full color, about 7 inches square, and has two kids in a tree on the front, and a lovely scene including a cloudy sky and green fields with distant "farm" houses and trees across both sides of the interior.
There is no printing on the left side, but on the right side?
"Warner Bros. Pictures invites you and a guest to the world premiere of FLIPPED"
(There was a little card inside stating I could bring 3 guests, so yes, the boys are definitely coming with us.)
The back is black and states in rather small print (but firm, extensive language) that video taping inside the theater is strictly prohibited. (Which means we can't even have the camera with us to tape any of the goings-on outside.) (Rats.)
It's being held at the classic Cinerama Dome on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood--a theater Mark and I have always wanted to see the inside of. It looks like half a golf ball, and if you go to Wikipedia you can see what they did to decorate it for Spider Man 2 and Shrek 2. (I doubt they'll convert it into an egg under a chicken for us, but that would be funny!)
Now, we can't take our friends and family with us, so we've been planning own Red Carpet Event for months. We're renting a local theater, a red carpet, etc., and everyone's supposed to dress up like they're going to a Hollywood premiere. My philosophy is that it's good to remember the people who have supported you along the way and treat them to something nice when something good happens in your life. We've got some fun things planned, and I'm really looking forward to it.
And because I can never seem to "keep it simple", I decided that it would be a nice thing for local kids to get the chance to attend a "Red Carpet Premiere" too, so I've arranged with the local schools and libraries to do raffles for tickets to a "matinee" on the same day. So we're hosting two screenings, one with 200 kids from the area, and one with friends and their families and our families.
This should have been a lot easier to set up than it was, but most of the coordinating is behind me at this point, and that's a huge relief.
So there's the World Premiere that I'm looking forward to for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I'm a guest, not the host! And then there's our mock-up premiere that I'm looking forward to so I can treat the people who have been supportive over the years to a fun evening out.
And then there's the matinee.
200 kids with soda and popcorn?
I'm just holding my breath on that one.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Infiltrating the Funeral Parlor

As you may recall from previous posts, I’ve had some varied experiences when it comes to researching my books. And although research can be fascinating, it can also be a little terrifying, not because of the subject matter, but because I’m afraid I’ll get hung up on again. Once while I was on book tour, a woman showed up at the tail end of one of my presentations wanting to interview me. She knew nothing about my books and expected me to answer questions that had all been covered in my presentation. Now she was someone who deserved to be hung up on. I go overboard trying to not be that woman. I read and take notes and compile data and cross-reference and get my facts down and learn the lingo, and when I’m finally to a point where I just can’t go any farther without actually talking to someone, I call. The “call” I made this week was to a mortuary. And because I really, really, really didn’t want to get hung up on, I didn’t make a phone call, I made a house call. Or home call, I guess, because this was a Funeral Home (and Chapel). So okay. I’ve been inside a funeral home before, so it wasn’t the chapel and office and conference room that I was, uh, dying to know more about. It was the back rooms. You know. Where the bodies are kept. Let me take a little aside here and tell you that I finally recognize that I’ve gone about this whole writing career thing wrong. Some authors set their characters in Paris, then Madrid, then London… Trips to these places, for them, are tax deductable! Business expenses! Fun! My characters are homeless. Or limbless. Or living on a couch in a cramped apartment. Or, in this case, infiltrating a funeral parlor. Yeah, I’m an idiot. Anyway, it’s Sammy Keyes that’s getting tangled in this mortuary situation, of course, which, of course, means she’s not going to be happy sitting in the Funeral Chapel. Which, of course, means I’ve either got to make like Sammy and infiltrate the place from the back, or ask for help at the office. I decided to save the back door approach for another time, took a deep breath, and went to the office where I explained to a very pleasant-looking woman that I was a children’s book author and would really appreciate a little help with research I was doing for my latest novel. Now, it’s been very interesting over the years to see the varied reactions people have when I approach them with this request. Annoyed. Insulted. Excited. Surprised. Suspicious. It always feels like a crap shoot to ask, because no matter how I phrase it, the reaction is always unpredictable. It completely depends on who I ask, not how I ask. One thing is pretty standard, though, (well, unless they just hang up on me), and that is, it takes a little minute for what I’m asking to sink in. And then there’s the look of, are you a for-real writer? Anyway, I watched all that click through her mind, and even after I gave her a quick rundown of my publishing credentials and explained that really all I wanted was a tour, I was still holding my breath… especially since there were other people in the office. Men. In serious gray suits. With finely controlled hair. The woman eyed me cautiously and asked how much of a tour I’d be interested in. “As much as you’re willing to show me,” I told her. Then I eyed her and said, “You do embalming here, right?” What’s interesting is, she relaxed after that. Like, okay, this woman understands what she’s asking. After that, she got clearance from the guys in gray, and we made an appointment for me to return at four o’clock for a tour. (There are privacy issues with corpses, and they would all be tucked nicely away by four o’clock.) So okay. Of all the people I’ve interviewed (and places I’ve infiltrated) this whole funeral parlor thing was pretty high on my fear scale. I did not want to do it. I did not want to explain myself. I did not want to be misunderstood—or not given a chance to explain. And how do you explain that you have this character who’s heart is in the right place, but who does stuff like sneak in the back door of a funeral parlor because she’s looking for some guy she’s nicknamed the Vampire because she thinks he may have killed someone and she thinks he works at a funeral parlor? It sounds so disrespectful to the business; to the solemn work of preparing the deceased for their final resting place. But at four o’clock when I returned and let on that I really needed to see the back, the transport vehicles, the embalming room, the refrigerator, and then explained that my character was an impetuous, scrappy sleuth…but that she had a really good heart, that’s when my tour guide started warming up to me. She got a spark and a bit of a mischievous look, and when I met her husband (who’d just finished packing up a body for transport to Mexico), he really got into helping me, too. “She could hide here”… “She could go in through here”… they were kind and helpful and into it, and I left that funeral parlor feeling happy.
And like I had two accomplices. I was definitely not expecting that.