Sunday, February 28, 2010

News For The Cammy Crew

I've got some marginally philosophical things to talk about, but I'm saving them for later. Today it's just a Me-And-My-Editor report.
First off, the weather here didn't cooperate, so we were stuck indoors most of the time she was here.
Too bad, but better than the tsunami warnings she was faced with when she arrived in Hawaii! Sheez. She was looking forward to leaving New York City snow behind for a few days and wound up being rushed to higher ground for safety from flooding.
Anyway, back to her being here.
I have a "partner desk". I just love the thing. It's dark wood, with lovely carved detail, and drawers on both sides. It's really old, and not huge -- just right for me. And this week, it was just right for me and my editor. I just cleared a spot for her and she opened her laptop, and I opened mine, and we worked at the desk much longer than girls on vacation should.
So I read her some of the comments posted here. She laughed, and said Awwww, and was in general touched by the things that were posted. See, Nancy's the one who pulled me out of the slush pile. She's the one who went to her boss and said she believed in me and wanted to buy these books about a girl named Sammy from this unknown author. So she's been with me from the very beginning, and the comments made here by The Cammy Crew touch her they way they touch me.
Just so you know.
Now, usually we have the "Five Year Plan" conversation over the phone, but this time we got to have it in person. What this entails is determining when a book is to come out (what season, and what month in that season), and when the paperback will be released. Random House divides the calendar into three seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall. (There is no Winter in publishing, despite the fact that 2009 was a long cold spell for many publishers due to the economy, among other factors.) So "Spring" is the first 4 months of the year, Summer the next four, and Fall the final four.
The now-conventional wisdom is that Summer is a good time for paperbacks. But you want to have enough time available for the hardcover to sell. (In other words, they don't want to release a hardcover in Spring and the paperback in Summer...there just hasn't been enough time for the hardcover to sell.)
You also don't want to be in competition with yourself. In other words, have more than one of your own books on the same list. Which means (for an author that doesn't seem to know that it's okay to take a break) that scheduling can be a bit of a juggle.
Am I going into too much detail here?
Sorry. I just think the decision making parameters make it easier to understand the decision.
Regardless, what Nancy and I did was calendar out the Final Five Sammy Keyes books (plus the paperback of Wedding Crasher).
That's right -- it'll be over at Book 18.
I showed her my basic plot ideas for the remaining books, including when Sammy will find her dad, and what is going to happen in the last book.
We were both excited.
And a little sad.
Sammy has been part of our lives for so long and she's "real" to us. So the thought of driving toward the end is...bittersweet.
But how amazing is it that a person who got rejected by publishers for ten years is planning out the eighteenth book in a series?
Pretty darn amazing!
So on we go.
And here's what I now know about the near future:
  • Random House is sending me on "blog tour" in May for the paperback release of Cold Hard Cash. This is a new way of "touring", and I'm all for it. I've been on traditional book tour many times and although I always enjoy meeting people at events, it's really quite exhausting (a different city every day) and expensive, and air travel is such a pain these days. Anyway, I've never done this before, but my understanding is that I'll be answering questions at a different blog every day during some week in May. I'll be sure to post the info as it becomes available.
  • Random House liked the idea of a "Fan Page" on their website for me. The format is just rough at this point, but I'm encouraging them to include submissions that would range from comments to poems to art. It would be a great place for those of you who have artistic inclinations to post your Sammy-related (or Flipped-related, or Runaway-related...etc.) creations for the world to see.
  • They want to have some Sammy mystery-related puzzle on-line. But when Nancy and I were brainstorming what the puzzle might be and what someone would get for solving the it, we couldn't really come up with anything that wouldn't incur prohibitive costs (like postage or prizes, etc.). And we sure didn't want it to be nothing. And then...
  • Then I hit on the idea of posting chapters of a Sammy Short. Like a mini-book, available only to people who solved the puzzle. The story would be divided it into sections (probably 8), and every week you could go to the website, solve a puzzle, get an access code, and read the next chapter. All free to you, except for the investment of a little brain power. I really like this idea (if I do say so myself!) because I think it will make waiting for the October release of Wedding Crasher a lot more tolerable. Am I right?

So that's a brief overview of what's planned. I don't know where we are with the shoelaces or charm. They like the idea a lot, but if anything will materialize from it is unclear. I'll keep at it, though, and let you know.

Thanks for checking in--see you next Sunday!


Sunday, February 21, 2010


I have so much to do tonight. My editor is coming in tomorrow from NYC to stay with us for a few days, and I'm woefully behind on everything. (The unexpected guest this weekend definitely had something to do with that!) But I promised I'd update every Sunday, so here I am with a few random thoughts and bits of info. First off -- geez, before I even have the chance to get permission to post the new Sammy Keyes cover here so you could be the first ones to see it, you discover it on Amazon. I didn't even know it was the final version, but I guess it is. So sorry! But for those of you who haven't seen it, now you have. And YES that's Billy Pratt with the chicken hat. (Isn't that so Billy?) Good call. The rest is all very significant.... For those of you following along with the back-and-forth process of getting a book ready, the manuscript has been through copy-editing and is now back on my desk for a final go-through. And I've remembered something I should really put in, so I have to add a little segment. About Sammy's dad. Only you don't know what or where or how it's related to her dad. (Is that torturous of me, or what? Sorry!) And now, a proclamation story. I didn't know anything about how proclamations get issued, but after doing some research last week and sending around some e-mails, I got a call from the Oklahoma governor's office last week and the governor will be issuing a proclamation for the Exercise the Right to Read winner, stating that April 21st, 2010 will be Central Middle School Day. Some Important Person will read it in front of the school while I'm doing a school visit there. I wonder if it will be scrolled. It should be scrolled, don't you think? It's a proclamation, not a certificate, after all. Maybe I'll bring some gold ribbon and if the Important Person produces a certificate, I'll run over and scroll it up and say, Honestly--it's a proclamation. Get with the program! Anyway. I'm excited about my editor showing up tomorrow. The first time I met her in person was at a conference. We'd "known" each other via phone and mail for at least a couple of years. Maybe even three. Anyway, she took one look at me and thought, Hm. Eating disorder? (because I'm almost 5'11" and was run ragged from being the mom of two young boys and having a full-time job teaching). And I took one look at her and wondered, Hm. Midget? (because she's barely 5 feet tall and I was wearing heels and she was in flats.) Well, I eat like a horse, and she's definitely not a midget (just petite), and once we had that cleared up, we sat cross-legged facing each other on twin beds of her hotel room and in less than five minutes were were somehow discussing death. So yeah. We have meaty conversations, which I like. And I'm sure one of the many things we'll discuss while she's here is Sammy Keyes and what's going on at Random House with things we've brainstormed here at the blog. So I hope to have some inside info for you next week. Hope so! Meanwhile, whereas you're a faithful follower of this blog, and whereas I appreciate the enthusiasm with which you embrace news about my books, therefore I, Wendelin Van Draanen, proclaim the week beginning Sunday, February 21st, 2010 to be Spunky Reader Week. Consider that scrolled and wrapped in gold ribbon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Death and Other Happy Matters

I've had a fear of death since I can remember. It's the whole facing your mortality thing, I'm sure, and something I have in common with all other humans. Well, except for the ones who have zero doubt that Heaven awaits them. Me, I haven't been that good. Sometimes the fear's a gripping one--one that makes me flush with panic; one that makes it hard to breathe. It's over. Forever. It didn't help any when people I loved died. It was just so heart wrenching and awful. Just like that they were gone. Forever. One of my ways of dealing with this is to avoid the cemetery. I just wind up crying my eyes out, so why would I go? I'd rather "visit" with them in places I'd spent time with them. To me, a cemetery is a morbid, depressing place. And then I started researching the next Sammy Keyes book and I found myself learning about the way other cultures use the cemetery as a place of celebration. At first this notion seemed so strange to me. Party? In a cemetery? But the more I read about how these cultures remember their dead, visit their graves, share stories, and have family reunions in graveyards, the more I started thinking that our culture has it all wrong. I mean, I do not want to be a bunch of bones in a box in the ground where glum visitors hang around for a little while and then leave. But if they brought me my favorite foods and laughed and danced and remember-when'd, and told the new generation wild stories about me...well, that would be kinda cool. Maybe our country doesn't celebrate the dead this way because we're "transplants". My parents came from Holland, so all our ancestors are buried in Europe. I've been to my grandparents' graves twice, and it was very somber. But even so, after my siblings and I are gone, who will ever visit them again? Or maybe it's because our culture fears death in ways others don't. As much as we'd like to avoid facing it, death is unavoidable. And so I think our approach to dealing with it is all wrong. Celebrating with the dead would make death seem not so finite, and would remove a lot of the fear of "The End". One of my favorite things about being a writer is that I'm always surprised by what I learn. I never in a million years thought that researching a Sammy Keyes book would make me feel better about death. Not that I'm ready to go anytime soon! But when I'm a bunch of bones in a box in the ground, come visit me. Bring some friends. Tell some funny stories. Dance a little. Oh, and pack me a frappuccino, some salmon sushi, and a few chocolate chip cookies. I'd like that.

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'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!