Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Care and Feeding of Fan Mail

It took a solid week, but it’s finally done. Pfew. First I sorted. I actually hired my son to help me with the sorting. Flipped mail in one pile, Sammy Keyes mail in another, Shredderman in another, and then Runaway, Kisser, Swear to Howdy, and The Gecko & Sticky each in their own. And after they were sorted by book, the stacks were sorted by state. I’ve learned over the years that people from the same school will all send separate letters (and enclose no SASEs) and you wind up going, hey wait a minute—didn’t I write this address on another envelope fifteen minutes ago? Better to bundle them by school first and ship the replies off together in one big envelope.

Anyway, sorting took nearly a day. Then I had to update my reply letters. And seeing how I have different letters for each of the books / series, there was a lot of updating to do. Plus I had to update the page with a list of book titles and their short descriptions (because people often ask if I’ve written any other books besides the one they’re writing about).
And after printing like mad (and running out of ink TWICE) I gathered my bookmarks and posters and window clings and envelopes and pens and Sharpies and stamps and postage scale and paperclips, and I looked at the enormous pile in front of me and got to work.

I tried hiring my son to address the envelopes, but I gave up on that. My sons can’t seem to address envelopes. The balance of it comes out all wrong. There’s e-mail. Who needs envelopes? Why lower? (Because that’s where the postman looks for it.) What’s wrong with up here? (That’s the stamp zone. Besides It just looks wrong up there.) Where? Here? (No. You need to start in the middle. The MIDDLE. Or maybe a little above. No! That’s the stamp zone! Stay out of the stamp zone! Here. I’ll make a little mark.) I’m not a kid, Mom!

It’s been a battle with every birthday / Christmas thank you note session since they were four. The center of an envelope has some sort of force field around it which my sons can apparently not penetrate.
So he got “fired” and I got “hired” and it was an inky week of addressing and writing personal notes on the general letter (specific to the book being written about).

And here, for your laughing pleasure, are a few excerpts from around the country:

• “My favorite part is when Joey ate the fish.” (Boy in Missouri—he’s talking about a live goldfish in Swear to Howdy)

• “This book also made me have so many mixed emotions my heart was bound to erupt like a volcano covering my whole body in lava composed of different feelings.” (Girl [duh] in New Jersey, re: Flipped)

• “Anyway, I just had to write to you instead of calling you at 10:49 PM like Nolan did to Mr. Green.” (Boy in Washington, Shredderman)

• “Can you write a book about a gothic gorilla?” (Girl in New Mexico)

• “I have 1 dog, 3 cats’, 2 fish tanks (1 is an 80 gallon fish tank.), and 4 people (including me). Don’t you think that’s a lot of pets? I sure do. Lots of pet food. Don’t you think?" (Boy in Minnesota)

• “For my project I need information about you and your job, too. You can also send me some books and materials, too. Also, I finished a book and would like some advice on how to get it published. Send that at the same time.” (Girl from Indiana)

• “I loved the voice! Such feeling! Such voice! Such mind-picturing images! I love it all!” (Girl from Arizona, re: Flipped)

• “Obviously this book wasn’t for me. Because of the lack of livened things up and the characters being so boring. I didn’t like the book. I would greatly appreciate if you would write back.” (A boy from Arizona, re: Flipped)

And then there were the gems. The ones that kept me slogging through the assigned author letters. The ones that made me feel like what I do really does matter. Here are a couple excerpts to encourage those of you who write – because what you do does (and will) matter:

“As I was reading the last few pages, I felt as if I could do something with my life. I felt like life had a huge purpose. It was as if I was lifted from the hole I was in to start with. I love how Evangeline realizes she only needs to be who she is, and learn to forgive, to truly be happy.” (Regarding Confessions of a Serial Kisser)

“I am the oldest of four. My mother has bipolar and she did drugs for a while and my father was never really there…then the time came when we were put into foster care. .. While reading your book it made me think of one social worker I had named Margret. She was just like Julianna and she made a huge impact in my life. Because of your book I realized I wanted to do something so I can impact people’s lives and make them feel the way I did when I read your book.” (Regarding Flipped)

All the sorting, time, materials and postage…in the end, it’s worth it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Brief Delirious Delusions

Writers experience episodes of delirious delusion.

I'm done! Yippee!

And then quicker than you can say whiplash, you're rewriting again, fact-checking again, reaching for another glimpse of your delusion.

Worse than the mechanics of rewriting is the doubt that creeps in when editing a manuscript. Especially in a series, when you have a whole body of work to keep consistent.

You ask yourself, Why didn't I keep better notes?

Is it 'Senior High-rise' or 'Senior Highrise'?

Did Billy Pratt ever see Hudson's car before?

When's Mikey's birthday? Is he still eight, or is he now nine?

On the heels of submitting Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack, Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls landed on my desk. THUMP! 303 pages of what was supposed to be a breeze of a check-over. (Or is it check over?) Nancy (my editor, for those of you who are new to this) said that the copy editor had found very little to mark up on this second pass through the manuscript. "It's very clean." She even told me she was sure it would be fine if I didn't look it over.

It was tempting, especially since the schedule for getting the book finished up is tight and I'd have to turn it around quickly. But I insisted on taking another look at it. (And now you know why I'm a day late with this blog post.) I started optimistically enough, with a little stack of blue Post-its (or is it Post-Its?) and the notion that I would plow right through, leaving only a handful of pages flagged.

I held back on the little tweaks because, good grief, you can tweak a 300 page manuscript forever and still find places to tweak some more. But after a while I was cutting my little Post-its into slices and--still holding back on the minuscule tweaks--plastering skinny blue flags all over the place.

The scary thing is that after all the rewriting I've done, after Nancy read it over several times, after two different copy editors scoured it for errors (both in syntax and logic) I still found mistakes. Mistakes that would have been very embarrassing if the book had gone to press with them still there.

Mistakes that, as those of you who follow this know, are in the bound galleys.

For instance: hawking vs hocking. I'm surprised that one of the copy editors didn't catch that one.. The difference is subtle, but still, the definitions are clear. (This has to do with pawning, by the way, not loogies) And it's one of those mistakes that--should it have made it to press--would have bugged me big time!

So it took me much longer than it should have to go through the manuscript, but the lesson for me is, always give it another look if you have the opportunity. I may be nearing the end of this series, but this is no time to slack off!

For you Sammiacs, I feel sorta bad that there are two whole installments now that you can't see yet, but at least you know there won't be big pockets of time between "episodes" any more. I'd tell you that I'm plotting the next one (because, good grief, my deadline is in December!) but you might shoot me. And besides, I really have to answer fan mail. (If one of these letters in these sacks by my desk is yours, I'm SO sorry for the delay--it's just been hard to keep up with everything that's been piling up on my desk and in my life.) Maybe next week I'll post some funny lines from the mail--it can be very entertaining. Meanwhile, thanks for checking in and for the fun comments from last week. I really do enjoy you guys!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Justice Jack Prologue

Okay you Sammiacs!

I put the final touches on Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack today!

282 pages of crazy fun.

(And did you notice, the title is still being tweaked?)

And because I am bleary-eyed and still have miles of un-fun to go before I sleep, this is just a quick check in to say Hi and thank you for your enthused comments from last week … and deliver to you the Prologue (first manuscript page). Hope it makes you chuckle over Sammys past. What a wild ride this has been.

Until next week, THANK YOU for checking in!

Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack


Wendelin Van Draanen


     The City of Santa Martina has some odd ducks swimming in its waters. There’s Madame Nashira the fortune teller that lives in the Heavenly Hotel. There’s the Elvis impersonator who works nights at Maynard’s Market. There’s the Psycho Kitty Queen who used to be a beauty queen but now has a gazillion cats and looks like a ninety year old Barbie.

     We’ve also got a cockeyed taxidermist, a whole school of pro-wrestling maniacs, Dusty Mike who hangs out at the graveyard, and a hunched old lady who likes to walk her two-hundred pound pet pig.

     And that’s not even taking into account all the bikers and gang guys and—oh yeah! How could I forget?

     Heather Acosta.

     So really, I thought I’d seen it all. I thought this crazy town couldn’t surprise me with anything new.

     And then I met Justice Jack.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Permission Denied!

Music’s a big part of my life, so it winds up slipping into my stories from time to time. Often I make up my own song for the story, or I’ll simply use the lyrics as written by the artist(s). The “permissions” people at Random House always clear using someone else’s copyrighted work with the copyright owner(s), and up until Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls (coming out in September), there has never been a problem being granted permission.

But cut Sammy and friends loose in the Santa Martina Cemetery on Halloween night, and this is what happens to a popular song…(Caution, you are about to read an unauthorized excerpt!)


“You know, the guy in costume? The one who lost his candy bag?” I look at Billy. “Where is it, anyway?”

Billy pats his pillowcase. “If I see him, I’ll give it back.”

Casey snorts. “Sure you will.”

“Dude, I’m serious. I’m no sugar-lootin’ ghoul. I’m a good ghoul!”

Casey chuckles, and then quietly he starts singing,

“He’s a good ghoul, loves his mama,

“Loves Jesus and America, too.

“He’s a good ghoul, crazy for Elvis,

“Loves horses and zarapes, too….”

And Billy chimes in louder with,

“’Cause I’m free! Free fallin’!

“Yeah, I’m free! Free fallin’!”

“Are you guys crazy?” Marissa says. “Do you want that guy with the shovel to hear you?”

“He won’t hear us,” Billy says. “He’s long gone.”

“What song was that?” I ask, because it was pretty obvious they weren’t just making it up.

Holly turns to me. “‘Free Fallin’, Tom Petty.”

Casey nods. “Also covered by John Mayer.”

Marissa and I give each other a Never-heard-of-it shrug, but very quietly Holly says, “My mom used to sing it.”

So now Marissa and I look at each other like, Oh, maaaaan, because to make a long, sad story short, Holly’s real mom is dead and Holly has no idea if she’s buried, or cremated, or what happened to her because Holly and her mom were homeless and her mom was a junkie and when Holly was, like, ten, she found her mother dead from an overdose. And since Holly was just a kid with no relatives and no money, she wound up in foster care.

Anyway, the point is, I know it really bothers Holly that she doesn’t know what happened to her mom’s body, and all of a sudden I’m feeling awful for Holly. I mean, maybe nobody visits these graves we’re walking by anymore, but at least at one point someone cared enough to bury them and put up a grave marker, right?

Thankfully Holly seems to be thinking nice thoughts about her mother because she gives a little smile and says, “But when my mom sang it, there were no ‘ghouls’ or ‘zarapes’ in the lyrics. It was ‘girls’ and ‘boyfriends’.”

Now I’m hoping Billy won’t say anything that’s meant to be funny but winds up being hurtful because I don’t know how much he knows about Holly and her mom and their awful past. But before he can say anything at all, Marissa changes the subject, “How are we going to get out of here, anyway?”

Casey points across the new section. “I’m thinking we’ll make a break for it across there and climb the fence.”

Marissa looks at him, horrified. “You’re serious?”

“Sure, why not? ”

Now, I knew it wasn’t the “make a break for it” part that was the problem. And I knew climbing the wall section of the fence wasn’t the problem, either. It was the wrought iron posts on top of the wall section that were the problem.

Specifically the pointy spears at the tippy top of each post.

See, Marissa has a history of getting stuck on fences that don’t have spears, so I didn’t even want to picture what might happen on one that did.

“Trust me,” I tell Casey. “You do not want Marissa to climb the fence.”


I ran the excerpt a little long because some of you have been asking for there you go!

Anyway, I thought the change in lyrics was fun but apparently holders of the copyright disagreed.

Permission denied!

They’re not required to give a reason. And it’s their right to say, Nah, we don’t want you putting ghouls in for girls or zarapes for boyfriends.

The copyright rules do allow for the use of two lines of a song without permission. The interesting question with a song is, what constitutes two lines?

The other interesting thing is that the advanced reader copies were printed and sent out months ago, full of mistakes (as usual) and copyright infringements (uh-oh). I know there’s a value to the uncorrected proofs—that some people collect them because they’re fairly rare, and scholars like to compare ARCs to the final book. And usually I’m of the mind that there’s just not enough shelf space in my life to care about ARCs after the final book is out. (Although I do have a black & white ARC of Hotel Thief, which I admit is pretty cool.) But with the change in cover art (as I posted about before), the error (it was a mistake in the mystery, which I realized after the ARCs had gone to press) and the copyright problem with “Free Fallin’” the Night of Skulls ARC would probably be interesting to anyone who follows such things.

So yes, I changed the above excerpt. I had to! And I was under pressure to do so quickly because (as these things usually go) the book is supposed to go to press any day now. So when the actual book comes out check back here and compare the passages, if you care.

Oh, and if you do you’ll notice there are other changes in the passage because the excerpt above is from my file before it went through editing and copyediting, and before I added that The Almost also covered the song. So this is like the original finished manuscript text…which (even though it had been rewritten about 20 times at that point) was obviously not nearly finished!

I hope some of you found this at least somewhat interesting (and / or enjoyed the sneak peek at the upcoming book). Permissions is one of those little areas in publishing that you don’t spend much time thinking until you receive a Permission Denied, but it can mess up your writing schedule in a big way!

Thanks for checking in! See you next week.