Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Thrashed Draft

If you're a regular visitor to this blog you know that I'm working on the 15th Sammy Keyes book and that it will feature a 'kinda loser guy,' who, at last mention here, didn't have a name.
Well, he does now. His name is Justice Jack, and he absolutely cracks me up. I'm not going to give any more details about him here, but it struck me as I was ripping the fourth rewrite of Chapter 5 in half that what I'd just torn up demonstrated more about writing that I could possibly explain.

So I taped it back together and scanned it in, and for any of you aspiring writers, I think it serves as a great illustration of how you're just not done until you're done...and that may take a lot of doing.

After my third pass through this chapter, I thought it was in really good shape. So, just to feel good about my new chapter, I thought I'd read through it one more time. And look! I butchered it. Again!
The shocking thing is that this is very much what the page looked like after my first rewrite. And my second. And the third!

How can that be?

It just is. It's what makes a book readable.

Well, that page isn't readable--it's a mess! But this is how it's done. Or, at least, this is how I work.

A couple of things if you actually look at the scan:
1) The header says "Cult of Justice Jack" -- that's just the working title. It won't be Cult. I'm not sure what it will be yet, so that's just a place holder word for now.
2) You'll see that much of what is scribbled on this page has to do with weaving in the mention of a college fund. One little (seemingly inconsequential) idea can really mess up a page!

Hope you enjoyed a peek at the process (or, at least, my process). See you next week!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thank You Caradith

I wrote a post a few months back titled The Power of Small about how Flipped came into the hands of director Rob Reiner. I was reminded of "the power of small" this week when I the following quote came into my in-box:
“I read The Running Dream on my way to the World Championships. I nearly missed my flight for reading it and inhaled it before I touched down. It’s a truly touching story that feels very real.” Katrin Green, Paralympic Gold Medalist
Katrin lost her foot when she was five. She was in a farming accident in her homeland of Germany. She now lives in the United States and runs with a prosthetic leg (just like Jessica in The Running Dream), and she won a gold medal in the Beijing Paralympics. (The Paralympics always take place shortly after the Olympics but get very little news coverage, which I'm hoping is something that changes in the years ahead.)
Katrin was not someone I knew personally. Nor was she a friend of a friend of a friend.
So how did I wind up with this amazing quote from her?
We go back to The Power of Small.
Back, once again, to a librarian.
Caradith Craven is a LMS at a middle school in Oklahoma. She set up my first school visit several years ago, and I went back to Oklahoma to visit again after her school won the Exercise the Right to Read challenge.
Caradith is a powerhouse of action. She transforms her library and hallways with displays and artwork reflecting the visiting author's books, but through her actions she also transforms kids. She guides and nurtures and makes even the toughest kids feel like they have a safe-haven in her library. (I know this because she sends me little stories about special kids, underscoring how my books resonated with them, but I know the reality is that it's not my books as much as it is Caradith -- she takes the time and has the patience to connect with them and find out what books will work for them.)
When The Running Dream came out, Caradith once again sprang into action. She loved the book so much that she convinced her school to try their first "all-school" read (meaning that everyone from the principal to the teachers to the janitorial staff reads the same book). In this case (and since the book is only available in hard cover), each teacher reads part of the book each day to their students in (say) first period. Other schools have done this with my books Flipped and Runaway, and I love the concept of an all-school read because it's a bonding experience for the entire school.
The picture I've included is from Caradith (she's on the bottom row, third from the right), and as you can see, she also had T-shirts made. (She sent me one and the entire 7th grade class had autographed it.)
So yeah, this'll make an author swell with happiness. You just look at that picture and go, wow. But she didn't stop there. She took a copy of my book and went to Sabolich--a prosthetic manufacturer which has a facility near the town where she lives. And she went in and asked to talk to the marketing director.
Hello? The marketing director?
Well, she gave the marketing director the book and told her she had to read it. Which, amazingly, she did. And, it turned out, she loved it too. So (condensing the story here) the marketing director gave it to one of Sabolich's sponsored athletes--Katrin Green--who happened to be catching a flight to the World Championships. The quote above is the result of that.
So, once again, I'm reminded that one person can make a big difference in our lives, but the really interesting thing to me is something more intangible than that:
We never know who that person might be.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hold A Mighty Heart!

I remember when my mom was 'large with life' with my sister, people would ask if she was hoping for a boy or a girl. Her answer was always, "As long as it's healthy, it doesn't matter."
I thought that was just her being polite. Of course the baby was healthy! And it better be a girl 'cause doggone it I already had two brothers and I needed an ally!
My wish came true, and that was a very happy day in my life, but it wasn't until not that long ago that I truly understood the wisdom of my mother's words.
I think it's good that as we women go through the building of babies (which is what I like to call it), we're blissfully unaware of everything that can go wrong. We ponder names. We nest. We debate the merits of different strollers and cribs and color schemes. We grow bigger and bigger until really, all we want is our body back. Then we endure labor and scream out such profound things as "I wish I were a marsupial!" and in the end we forget the pain and gaze upon our perfect little miracle with love and awe, still blissfully unaware of the many things that, in a cruel twist of fate, could have gone wrong.
When our second son was born he had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.
I was in the midst of pushing when the nurse descended on me with an oxygen mask. I told her I didn't want it and she said, "It's for the baby."
I didn't understand the depths of the significance of this, but I sucked in oxygen, and in the next few minutes the doctor un-looped my son's neck and, with a final push, our son came into the world completely healthy.
We were immediately swept up in the miracle of new life, not fully aware of the bullet we had dodged until years later when my husband came home from work with the story of a colleague's son who was severely handicapped and forever bound to a wheelchair because the umbilical cord had strangled the oxygen from his brain during birth.
For those of you who have read Flipped, I'm sure you now see that the story line of Uncle David (Daniel in the movie) comes from a very personal place. And it's not that I ever intended to share this story in a blog post, but something happened this week that has compelled me to do so.
I got an e-mail from a girl in China who had seen the Flipped movie.
She and her boyfriend have been in love for three years but they have not been able to allow themselves to be happy because of a "pragmatic problem"--her boyfriend has a "retarded older brother"--one who was born with the umbilical cord around his neck.
The parents were allowed by the Chinese government to have a second son (the boyfriend) so that he could, in the Chinese custom, care for his parents (and, in this case, also the older brother). Which means that, if she goes ahead and marries the man she loves, she marries into the responsibility of caring for the brother.
In her letter she wrote that after seeing how the Baker family maintained their strength and kindness and still loved each other despite what they'd been through with Uncle David she was encouraged to "face the difficulties in life and try my best to hold a mighty heart!"
To hold a mighty heart.
What an exquisite expression.
And what a extraordinary experience for me to see my blissful ignorance grow into an understanding of my good fortune and blossom into a novel, then became a movie that crossed the seas and gave courage to a young woman in China.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cookie Warfare.

One fun part of the writing process is weaving funny events from your real life into your stories. Especially when the reality is stranger than fiction and everyone assumes you just made it up.
This is the case with the Sammy Keyes book I'm working on now. As those of you who read the series know, Dot DeVries is one of Sammy's friends, and her parents are from Holland.
My son has asked me in the past why Dot was even one of Sammy's friends because she doesn't have a big role in most of the books, and he has a point. But the reality is, it's hard to have scenes with too many friends. The dialog gets bogged down with attributions, and it just gets messy and cumbersome.
So it's true that Dot has taken a back seat for many of the books, but I couldn't just write her out because I've known since the fifth book that Sammy would be going to Dot's house the first week of December of this (her eighth grade) year for the DeVries' Dutch celebration of Sinter Klaas.
That was ten books ago.
It's finally time!
Now, the way the traditional Dutch family celebrates Sinter Klaas is a MUCH milder version of the one the Van Draanen family ramped up to when we were teenagers. Traditionally, you put your shoes out by the fireplace with carrots and apples for Sinter Klaas's horse and sing a little Dutch song. In the morning Sinter Klaas has exchanged the carrots and apples for Dutch treats. This goes on for the first four days of December, and on the 5th of December Sinter Klaas tosses cookies through the ceiling and leaves a small gift for you at the door.
Yes, that's right. Cookies come through the ceiling.
Now, I'm not going to go into the details of how this happens or my family's adaptation of this quaint custom, but I will tell you that what you'll read about in the story is very much how the events played out in the Van Draanen household.
It starts with carrots in the shoes and ends in cookie warfare.
I'm sure anyone reading the story (Dutch or not) would think the scenes are the result of an overly active imagination on the author's part, but I know (and my family will know), that, yeah, that was pretty much the way we "celebrated."
I like this part of writing. The slipping in of scenes--or even just phrases--that are like a private tribute to special people or a special time in your life. And even though my husband's not Dutch, we've carried on the Van Draanen adaptation of Sinter Klaas here at home. It's just fun.
Actually, wild is a much better description.
And throughout the year as I find little cookies in light fixtures and on top of hutches and behind the refrigerator, it reminds me of fun times, now and then.
So I'm looking forward to having this "cultural activity" documented in a book. I think it'll be pretty cool on several levels, including being able to point to the book and say "Read Chapter 3" to my sons' future wives.
After all, it's important that they understand what they're getting into.
Dutch or not, there's no getting out of cookie warfare.
Er, I mean Sinter Klaas.