Sunday, March 24, 2013

Blessings in Disguise

This week I'm back to answering questions posed in the comment section two weeks ago.  I'll start with one "RowAn" posed: The question posed was: How did the [Sammy Keyes] series begin to take on a life of its own (if you think it did)?

The answer is: I definitely think it did, and it really kind of snuck up on me.

When I started Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, I was not planning or plotting a series. Sammy was the first to take on a life of her own, and she did that early in Hotel Thief when she punched Heather in the nose. I was like, Whoa! Ouch! YES!

And then, of course, I came to my adult senses and realized Sammy had to pay some consequences.

And the way she paid her consequences made me like her even more.

So Sammy found her way into my heart pretty early on, but it wasn't until I was done with Hotel Thief that I realized I didn't want to leave Sammy in the place where the book ended. After all, she was still living in the Senior Highrise! Her mother was still gone! She didn't know who her dad was!

There was more to find out.

And then came the idea for Skeleton Man, which was based on a spooky house down the street from me and the rumors that the kids in my classroom had whispered about.

So I sent Hotel Thief out to editors and agents and immediately got to work on Skeleton Man. And when Sammy was issued 20 hours of detention due to her use (and abuse) of the school's PA system at the end of that book (again, consequences to pay!) I got the notion that it would be a riot to see her serving her detention with nuns and immediately started on Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy as soon as Skeleton Man was done. Then, once done with Sisters, I started on Runaway Elf. By the time I was done with Elf, I knew I was in trouble -- it had finally dawned on me that I'd been following Sammy through junior high school and we were only four months into her survival of that!

I say in trouble because I may have written 4 books in a series but no publishers were biting.

As many of you already know, I was rejected by publishers for years. But it only takes one yes to annihilate all the no's, and when my yes finally did come I had the wonderful benefit of having written the first four books in the series, which gave me the ability to go back and rewrite like crazy. After four books you have a much better picture of the world you've created, and the characters who inhabit it.  You also have a much better picture of what you're doing and where you're going.

So I began with no plan, but with four books behind me I could see where I was going and could develop a plan and put it in place before Hotel Thief was an actual book.

I very much like having a plan. So although the series did take on a life of its own, it became my job to lead it toward the final book, the final scene. If you have a destination in mind, the whole process becomes easier. I have one in mind for each title, and I've also had a destination in mind for the series as a whole. That doesn't mean that each book hasn't (at times, anyway) taken on a life of its own, because each most certainly has!

After all, these books feature someone we know (and love) as Sidetrack Sammy!

But the destination is still the end goal, and it's my job to get Sammy to it, sidetracks and all.

Like probably every writer out there, I wanted things to happen now. I wanted Hotel Thief snatched up and published the minute I'd finished the first draft! I was very frustrated over the years it took. But sometimes what seems like a curse ends up being a blessing in disguise. I don't think the series would have been as cohesive if Hotel Thiefˆ had been picked up right away. In the end I'm thankful for the rejections and delay. Funny how things turn out.


Kylie said...

That is really interesting. I knew that the series wasn't picked up right away, but I didn't know that it wouldn't be until you finished the fourth when it would be. I think that is what happens to many of (in my opinion) the best series. Like Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling went through numerous rejections before someone finally accepted it.

When you were writing the series did you try to include the tiny details that you could use in other books. Like Sammy going backpacking with Cricket. Did you think Cricket mentioned to Sammy that she was a scout so Sammy could go backpacking with her. Or was it more like you needed someone for Sammy to go backpacking with and cricket fit. I don't know if that really made any sense. If I can think of a better way to word it all will be sure to post it.

Thanks for answering our questions!


Gabrielle said...

When I saw the title of this post I just had a feeling it was going to be good! And it was! Everything happens for a reason,You just had to be patient on whena publisher would finally say yes,and if they did say yes right away maybe the other books would've turned out different. I always love how each book has a little life lesson in it. Everyone have a great week!!


Yusa said...

And now only 2 more books left i'm gonna cry...

RowAn said...

WOW! Thanks for answering my question! That's awesome! I always thought it was supposed to be a series originally, because everything fits in really well. :)

Jessica said...

That's a neat way of looking at it. I came across a copy of "What Happened at Miss Minchin's Boarding School," which was an earlier version of "A Little Princess," and it was interesting to see how much better the final (now "classic") version is. I can sometimes tell when a series hasn't been planned from the beginning, and I bet it must drive the author nuts not to be able to go back and change something. Is there anything that happened in an earlier SK book that you feel "trapped" you or that you sometimes wish you could change?

How far in advance did you know the answers to the "big questions"? Obviously you couldn't plan Warren and Lana until you decided on Casey and Sammy (or maybe you did, because of the dynamics with Heather, not even factoring in the added squick factor of your mom dating your boyfriend's dad?), and I remember reading that the double thirteen happened serendipitously because you messed up Sammy's age in Hotel Thief (though it totally felt planned!), but how about Sammy's dad? Did you know his identity by the time "Hotel Thief" was published, or did you decide closer to "Sin City"? (Hopefully you can answer that without there being any spoilers for those who still haven't read "Sin City" yet, and the way I asked that isn't meant to hint at any spoilers, either.)

Isabel said...

2 more books....gave gone so far...I want to spend more of my time with the SK series and Sammy. :'(
And, I have a question too. Since I'm writing a book, and it's the supernatural type, it's also mystery. The problem is, I have the clues and steps, I just don't know where to put them.
I mean, seriously, in your books, Sammy has the steps going, then the 'Big Bang' comes, when everything fits perfectly.
SOOoo... Can you give me some tips, or pointers or something to have the suspense and the clues unraveling and at the end fitting perfectly...PLEASE? (It feels like I'm begging...I kind of am, on the sake of my book, then yeah.)
Chow, of as I noticed in Runaway, Chiao, or was it Ciao? Never mind.

Optimistic4ever said...

All your stories about the publishing process are very inspiring :) I've heard this story a million times, but each time, you tell us something new about it, so it never gets old

Jessica said...

Have you seen the 2012 Sports Kids of the Year? It's a real-life Running Dream, racing together and even the message they're trying to send:

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Jessica, just watched--wow.

Isabel said...

I saw was amazing....

Karen said...

I think that "Whoa! Ouch! YES! --Wait, she couldn't just do that and have nothing happen!" is one of my favorite things about your writing: the reactions and fallout to each event lead to other parts of the plots happening. A visit from Lady Lana winds up with Sammy on the West Side, picking up clues. School drama leads her out to Justice Jack's hideout. The events of the three plots are so intertwined, and influence each other so much, it makes me wonder, What if it hadn't happened that way? Would Sammy still have figured out the mystery? (I mean, okay. It's a book. A mystery novel. By definition, the story is not over until the mystery is solved. But it doesn't feel that way when you're in the book!)

If you have a destination in mind, the whole process becomes easier is a good thing to know. Applies to a lot of things besides writing.

...Wait, the double thirteens happened because Sammy's age was off in Hotel Thief? I never would have guessed! It makes so much sense that Lana would have done that. I would also love to hear about other things that you feel "trapped" by, or wish you could go back and change.

Isabel: I know of ciao (Italian), chao (Spanish), and tchao (French), all pronounced "chow," so you have a number of languages (and spellings) to choose from!

Karen said...

I'm on slow Internet right now, but real life Running Dream? I will have to check that out.