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!