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.


Stefunny said...


That's so rewarding. I too fear being rejected when i'm trying to find locations to shoot my movies.

When I fully adult and some kids want to make a movie in my mansion, I'm totally going to let them.

sammy4ever said...

that sounds so fun and scary at the same time, ha!
i can't believe it! the thirteenth book isn't even technically published yet and already we've got all this information on the fourteenth! you are by far my favorite author!
"Men. In gray suits. With finely controlled hair." I laughed my head off at that!
i'm in my mom's office right now, sitting on her floor while she works, and i read your post out loud to her. when i got to the part with "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?" i kinda said it all really fast and in one big breath in my "over-excitement" and my mom was like "whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down! read it again, read it again!" haha, well, anyway, i've actually never been in a funeral chapel, so it will be interesting to read about Sammy's adventures in one. and when you say she nicknamed some guy "the Vampire" was it because he looked like a vampire? the real ones, not the sparkly fake ones from Twilight. just really anxious to know more about SAMMY KEYES AND WHATEVER THE FOURTEENTH BOOK IS CALLED WITH A WORKING TITLE LIKE NIGHT OF SKULLS. OR SOMETHING.
hold on one sec, i've started to hyperventilate....
okay, i'm good.
so these people who helped you seemed nice. and it's funny how the husband got really into it, i love that! and you're not an idiot! how can you say something like that! you're the best author ever!!!!! but i don't get it, what do you mean your characters are homeless?
oh, and i commented on your last post, but it published it three times so i deleted two, but then the next day it wasn't their and it was really long, so i didn't feel like retyping it. sorry bout that...
(: smiley face (: smiley face (: smiley face
well, that was a little random. hehe (: (smiley face)

sammy4ever said...

just so you know, i realize i spelled "there" wrong near the end. i wrote "their" with an "ei" instead of an "ere". or whatever. yeah.

Red Boot Pearl said...

This is so cool on so many different fun to have them get into it!

My little brother worked in a funeral home and after the stories he's told, I would be terrified to go poking around the underbelly of one!

Anonymous said...

Now I'm trying to imagine all the other places you must have been... :P Wow lol. You should start another series, What I Go Through to Write Sammy Keyes and All My Other Books. Hehe xD
and at least you're brave enough to TALK to people. I'm not shy but I have this thing where I just hate asking for help or something in a store. It always happens. Like, we were at a restaraunt the other day and my friend told me to go ask for straws and I'm like, "No wayyy" because I hate talking to people who work in places. For some reason they make me feel reealllyy awkward. But then in SOME places I can all of a sudden talk to anyone, even the weirdest people. Like when I'm at the mall with my friends and they dare me to go up to the dude in Subway and ask if they have "a spoonful of My Little Pony hot sauce". THAT I am not afraid to do, but I'm afraid to ask for straws. Only because I'm really self-concious in some places but in some places I don't care. (I went back to our table when the guy at Subway said no, they don't have a spoonful of My Little Pony hot sauce. Then later they overheard us talking about the dare and they gave us evil-death-glares that basically meant, "If you ever come back here and do something like that again, we'll be shoving a spoonful of hot sauce down your throat.".)
So at least you can talk to people. My mom tells me I'm going to get nowhere in life if I can't bring myself to ask for things at places. :[ Ah well what can I do. I think I shall go make my own breakfast now since mother dear has left to drop Paige off to swimming lessons and Siera is babysitting Serenity and I have nothing better to do than lazily stick a Pop Tart which I hate into the microwave since I am too lazy to push the button on then toaster. Then I will go to my room and sleep until 2 until my mom wakes me up and tells me I have to go to L.A Fitness when I DO NOT WANT TO BECAUSE I am a lazy arse this week! :[ Maybe I'll go visit a funeral home... You know the funny thing is, I've never seen a funeral home around here... :| Hmm.
I'm not longer indenial *checks calender on phone* 92 Days Until Wedding Crasher. How I love thee calender that tells me how much days left because I am too lazy to count. :] in two days it will be 90. Then ten days after that it will be 80. Then eighty days after that it will be 0! If I think about it that way it's not so bad...

N3WYORKD3VIL said...

I hate asking for anything. I'm scared to go to McDonalds and ask the cashier for food. I make me sister go do it. THEN, I tell her to give me the change. I'm gonna die in eighth grade. I can't talk to a teacher. I just can't.
"Jennifer, do you understand square roots?"
No, no I don't. Do I ask for help? No, no I don't.
A funeral parlor, for some reason, sounds so intresting. I wanna go there one day :) But not to plan out a funeral. Years ago, my house used to be a church and funerals would be held here. They kept bodies in the basement. Now, I play fooseball and pool in the basement :) My sister taunts me with water.
"Jennifer, come in the pool! Its so cool...and refreshing...and not in the sun..."
She's evil. Then my cousin joins in. Then my brother does it. Then my parents do it. I have no one on my side. Imma stay inside all summer with the A/C. If it breaks down again, I will go to the library. If THAT breaks down, I will do in the middle of the street, lie down in the middle of the sun, and let myself burn to crispy bacon. And then eat myself. I will most likely be starving because I never eat breakfast. I was screaming and laughing at the same time while reading. My cousin wanted to know what was so funny so I read it to her. She made me slow down, though. She said i was reading like the person in the backgroundof a commercial who reads side effects and says really fast, "Results may vary."

Pooja Dimba said...

Wow your a serious detective... well it sounds like it.
I would never have the guts to go somewhere like that.
I would have some kind of conversation in my head saying, "Oh, just go. Your not gonna die!!!" "Yes I'm gonna die!!!"
Anyway really cool post!

Anonymous said...

Your posts are so much fun! Love it, love Sammy, love the grey suits' hair...

Anonymous said...

I love that you actually go out and research this stuff like you do, because it seems like many authors just research online. It's very cool to know while I read the books that they're realistic in how things are able to happen.

I also love reading these blogs, because the way you write reminds me of how Sammy narrates. I can really see her in you, and it makes me love the books even more. Thanks for having a blog that always cheers me up.


Cammycrazygirl said...

Great. So now I have to freak out because there's a guy nicknamed "Vampire" in SK 14 and thirteen hasn't even come out.
Nah, I love it.
I stayed up superly late last night because I was reading SK and the COMM, and then a little more than halfway through the DG. I started reading really late, cause I go to bed really late.
Like, really really really really late.
Ahhhnyways like I said, I was rereading DG, and I googled "Eminent Domain" and went on Wikipedia. REally, they need to use smaller words on there. I can barely keep up. But yeah, then I went to a readable website. And this is what part of it said (yeah I know that it's really long)

In recent decades there has been growing concern about the manner in which some states and units of government exercise their power of eminent domain. Some governments appear inclined to exercise eminent domain for the benefit of developers or commercial interests, on the basis that anything that increases the value of a given tract of land is a sufficient public use...(you don't need to see all of it, cause there's alot)

For example, in one case a town wished to exercise eminent domain over a residential neighborhood, so that an upscale condominium development could be built on that land. To advance that goal, they defined any home within the neighborhood as "blighted" if it did not have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an attached two car garage, and central air conditioning. The homeowners challenged the definition in court, and were ultimately successful in fighting the municipality's efforts to take their homes.

That sounds like what happened in Sammy Keyes, sorta. The Coralee Lyon/Earl Clooney mess I'm guessing was your genius brain only. Okay, that had noooothing to do with the post. And I almost asked an online lawyer if they had a spoonful of My Little Pony hotsauce, but I would have to pay. Grrr.

Elizabeth said...

I'm so glad they embraced the spirit of what you were trying to learn! (I'm guessing they won't end up cock-eyed... ;). What a wonderful surprise for you! And by the way, I really appreciate that you were concerned about disrespecting their practice, that you cared that much. Thank you for being one of the few people that I truly respect.

Ayesha said...

Hello everyone!
I've been following this blog for quite a while and just wanted to say I am really glad that I have found fellow Sammy Keyes fanatics. I started reading the series when I was in grade eight, and was hooked immediately. I am now heading off to college in the fall and will continue to follow the story of Sammy. I can hardly wait for October to come around- I'm very excited to see what kind of trouble Sammy gets into next.

To Wendelin: I really admire that you take so much time to do research to get every detail right - it really makes the reading more enjoyable. When you do your research, do you usually go straight to the source (like going to a funeral parlor) or do you also use the internet and books? Or a mixture of both?
Thank you for taking time to write this blog- its the one thing I really look forward to on Sundays.

stuckinmexicogirl said...

This is kinda random but Wendelin, have you ever considered writing "Waiting for Rain to Fall" and then performing in your band? I know I would buy it and I know that a lot of other Sammiacs would buy it too! Just an idea.
The funeral people sound cute. How they suggested where Sammy could hide and such? Cool. :D

N3WYORKD3VIL said...

YESSSS! Waitin' for Rain to Fall! That would be an awesome song. That one idea stopped the pain in my arm for one second. Its been hours and my arm still hurts froma shot. I miss my blood. I feel so empty inside...

Anonymous said...

Wow that would actually be really cool. I would totallyyy buy it. And then, my band could do a cover of "Waitin For the Rain to Fall"! Well, it's supposed to be a slow song and they'll all slaughter me with their words, "This is PUNK BAND and we are not singing a ballad!" but with my amazig persuasive skillabilities I can easily bribe--er, I mean PERSUADE them into doing a cover! Woahh.. Here isn't even a real version and yet I am planning on a cover!!! Hmm. :P
I think I asked you this before but I never got a reply: Do you like, write your band's songs and stuff? Because in Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception you made up this wholllleeee song thing for the performance at the Faire, and in Runaway you made a lot of realllyyy good poems and I don't know, I just feel like the type of things you write are way too good for just some regular poet. Because you're reallyyyy good. I especially liked that song/poem thing about that woman, Louise that Holly met. I loved that one. And "Neon is my Night Light" was good tooo. :]
Sometimes I reeeallly get into some lyrics I make up in my head so I sit down on the piano and play around a bit with the words and notes. I write songs with the help of my guitar also but the piano is always the best way for me. Playing guitar is mostly for the band... Although I really like it. I've just played piano since forever so yeah. I have that piano app of my iPhone so just in case I think of something randomly I find a tune and write it down on a note. I'm so weird sometimes... I got into songwriting a few summers ago, when me and my older sister did it together at times. But the thing was, she was never truly interested. She had good enough songs but they had no emotion in them and so I started writing more and soon I didn't even bother showing her because she didn't really show any interest in it. She's more of the plain author type. I've always been better with music. In history class my weird history teacher made us do a quiz to see what parts of our brains were smarter than the others. I turned out to be "interpersonal smart" and "musical smart". Which means I work better with myself and I'm good with music. I learn better wth music and I memorize with beats (omg I'm such a dork I know). Like, if we need to memorize a paragraph in a class or some sort of list of something, I end up tapping something and memorizing it like that.
My parents aren't too happy with it. They want me to go to medical school. *sigh*. :[ I hate doctors. I hate blood. I hate medical stuff. I hate learning about bones and muscles and blood cells and all that crap.
Why they bought me a piano and a guitar? I don't know.
But anyway... How are you so good at poetry!?
I'm not sure how good I am, I l've always wanted a real songwriter's opinion. I'm gonna be a lyricist when I grow up. Well, that's what *I* want at least. Not for 3OH!3 because they write their own songs and besides, a lot of their songs are basically "Your girls a freakkk cuz that's what I toldddd herrrrr!" and stuff like that. Maybe I'll work with someone like Tyson Ritter, if The All-American Rejects aren't broken up by then. Or someone new. I have no idea <3

N3WYORKD3VIL said...

Medical school? Maybe our parents met and they decided our careers for us already. I don't wanna be a doctor. I was gonna die looking at my blood in that tube when they took my blood out. OWW...I wanna beee...uhh. Maybe a lawyer :) I don't know why. I like to argue:) And I always have an answer for something. AND. I'm a good lier ;)

Anonymous said...

haha xxCammyLoverxx has no life

Anonymous said...

I'd been avoiding allmy friends and parties for 10 days now (since the Fourth). Urghh tooo much crap going on between my friends and I don't wanna deal with stupid fights and drama so I'm skipping :( boreedddnesss. :[ thanks for understanding anonymous, it's glad to know that people these days TOTALLY GET IT. :D
Trust me I've dealt with haters before it honestly doesssnnnt bother meeeeeeee. :]

Marpie said...

Hi! Wow I haven't visited this blog since November. :)
I'm a big SK fan like everyone else because I know xxCammyloverxx (Stephanie) in person and I saw on her blog why she's not been out lately and about how she hates when people say stupid things online and so I just had to defend her. It's not big and it is not really bothering her at all, but I think it's stupid that someone would comment here just to put someone down. Like she said it's not funny, it's not cool and it's not benefiting anyone at all so ok. And maybe people should learn to keep their mouths shut because she has her own problems to deal with and spamming her facebook or insulting her here isn't doing you any good besides get a lot of messages from her friends saying "F-OFF". It happens on formspring, facebook and everywhere and I've had enough of seeing it. Especially formspring. She's not any of the things you call her and you've seen a million defend her so give it up. It might not bother her but it bothers me and everyone else.
Sorry for that. :(
Wendelin Van Draanen,
I sent you an email a few months ago with questions and I had no idea they could also be answered here! I'm definetly coming here every week!
I can't wait for Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher! Sadly there is not a lot of my friends who read Sammy Keyes but it is always on my list of favorites and suggestions! :)

Cammycrazygirl said...

You should totally write Waitin' For Rain To Fall and get your band to play it. Maybe it would become famous, and then people would read the book where it came from, and then get obsessed with THAT. I'm getting ahead of myself here. But that could totally happen.

Cammycrazygirl said...

You should totally write Waitin' For Rain To Fall and get your band to play it. Maybe it would become famous, and then people would read the book where it came from, and then get obsessed with THAT. I'm getting ahead of myself here. But that could totally happen.

Cammycrazygirl said...

Grr it always posts it twice.

Jinnyd said...

I've always wondered exactly how writers research for their books, like if they do more reading or going out and talking to people about it (and you do a great job of it, too, because the SK books are SO AWESOME and everything seems so real and I wish I lived in Santa Martina).

CAN'T WAIT FOR SK14!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Thanks to (almost) everyone for their comments :-)

A few replies / answers:

S4Ever: If you said it fast, you said it like Sammy! Homeless girl = Runaway. Read it if you haven't. You will love it, and it is tied to SK

RBP: Your brother could write stories! Someone I know called and told me they dated a guy whose parents ran a mortuary. She had lots of stories!

NYA: I used to be shy like that! Really.

Sara: Hey, thank you!!

CCG: See? Eminent domain is an interesting ethical dilemma. Good to know about and consider how you feel about it.

Ayesha: I use a mixture, but nothing can add up to being there!

StuckinMex: You know I am! We're finishing the "family band" project (which is rock), but WFRtF will be more like the Flipped songs. Before the end of the series, definitely. Thank you for thinking it's a cool idea :-)

xCLx: Medical school? You seem more suited to art school, but what do I know :-) Just the you that comments here!

NYA: All teens are natural lawyers :-)

Marpie: Did I answer you at the e-mail address? I hope so! I try to stay on top of things, but...!

See you all on Sunday!

Optimistic4ever said...

I just realized I hadn't commented!!! Someday, I'm going to be an awesomne author just like you, Mrs. Van Draanen. I'm really not sure what else to call you. Well, I won't be just like you. I'll be writing my own stories and stuff of course. But I'm going to be awesome like you!!!