Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Edgar Dress, Part Two

Well, shoot. I can't find a picture.

So I'll have to try to paint one in your mind.

Edgar Dress #2: Cave girl. Full-length. Tomato red. Fitted. Long slit.Tiny red beads all over it.

Good enough, yes?

Because it's not really the dress itself, it's the way I found it.

I was in Homewood, Alabama doing an extended visit to middle schools, soaking in Southern hospitality as I shared in the post from earlier this month. During the visit I learned that I'd been nominated for a second Edgar, and in the excitement of that I told my hosts the story of the $29 Little Pink Dress.

Being from the South, they loved the story.

They weren't convinced about the wearing of white shoes so early in the calendar year, but after polite murmurings and hoisted eyebrows, they let it slide.

Especially after I got to the part about winning the Edgar, and what Mary Higgins Clark had said.

Anyway, on my last day in Alabama, there was a big "luncheon" being held in my honor at a swanky restaurant, and the superintendent, principals, & librarians were all going to be in attendance.

Well, right next door to this swanky luncheoning local just so happened to be a "vintage clothing shoppe." "Let's go!" the ladies who drove me to the restaurant said. "Maybe you'll find your Edgar dress!"

Not likely, I knew, considering we only had about 10 minutes to shop. Which, after stepping inside, I was really regretting. The place was big! And packed! No secret closet, man, this place had rooms and rooms and rooms.

We found the "gowns" section and almost immediately I spotted the red cave-girl dress. Amid other showy gowns, it was understated, and (key to this 5'10+" author) longer than everything else around it.

I pulled it out and all the ladies went "Ooooo."

"It would go great with white shoes and gloves, don't you think?" I asked.

"Hmmmm," they all went, their eyebrows twitching.

And then I saw the price tag and squealed, "It's twenty-nine dollars!"

Having heard the Little Pink Dress story, the ladies knew: it was meant to be. So I tried it on speedy-quick, it fit, I paid, and we scurried across the street to lunch.

There is a third story, it involves black. And a sharp-tongued aunt. And, of course, $29.

Maybe next week!

Until then, here's wishing all of you a Happy New Year and an outstanding 2014.

See you in the comments!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

With a Ho-Ho-Ho & a Fa-La-La-La-La

The Edgar Dress #2 story is going to remain closeted for another week. I have to find a picture (which might take a while), and I'm still unpacking from last night's gig, where our family band played the "Second Annual Risky Whippet Christmas." It was a lot of work to prepare for the show, and haul gear, etc., but it was worth it for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which being that a lot of our friends came.

It struck me how it's been a hard year for many of us, and how nice it was to be able to be together and do something joyful. It's easy for adults to lose the "fun" in their lives, as it tends to get swallowed up by responsibility and general fatigue. But last night, everyone let go a little and recharged a little. There was dancing. And singing. And a crazed rendition of Partridge in a Pear Tree. And loud fa-la-la-la-la-ing through Deck the Halls.

There was also jingle-belling through Metallica.

Which came after audience singing the "oooooooo!"s in the choruses of Beatles' Helter Skelter.

Helter Skelter and Enter Sandman may not seem like appropriate songs for a Christmas Bash, but that's only if you aren't familiar with the comedic aspects of the Risky Whippet band. We turned Enter Sandman into Enter Santa-man, and with Colton's deep, "Ho-ho-ho"s and the demonic shaking of the jingle stick it became a Christmas song. Of sorts. Connor was all against it (and on paper it does sound really dopey), but by the third set the audience was all for it, and it turned out to be awesome fun.

So the Edgar dress will have to wait, and I instead post a picture of my Santa skirt. And now, with a ho-ho-ho and fa-la-la-la-la, I wish you, my faithful blogettes, a very merry Christmas. Sing. Jingle. Embrace life. Enjoy your friends and family. Have some fun.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Edgar Dress, Part One

Well, I've checked the archives and I cannot find any Edgar dress story, so grab a mug of cocoa and settle in.

Actually, this story has five parts. Only three are entertaining, so I'll spare you two of them, and tell you only the first one tonight.

I had never been to New York City. I learned that Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief had been nominated for an Edgar via a call from my agent on my classroom phone. It was nice to be nominated, I knew, but the importance of it was a little lost on me. I was already late getting out the door to pick up my kids, and I was really hungry for an after school snack.

After school snacks are a vital part of a teacher's life, you know.

It didn't really sink in that attending the Edgars was a such big deal, or potentially fun, until the embossed invitation arrived from Mystery Writers of America. It was classy, with a stylized graphic of Edgar Allan Poe in a bow tie, and it instructed the recipient to "Dress To Kill."

I loved that!

And after planning the trip with my editor, Nancy, I was now in the spirit of things and started taking the invitation seriously.

Unfortunately, there is no "serious shopping" around here. Not within the time constraints of a full time job and two little kids, anyway. And after the initial frustration of department store boring, somebody suggested I try Sherry's Secret Closet. "She sells vintage Hollywood gowns."

Yup, discards of the stars.

I was game, and when I found the little side shop where Sherry had her wares, I saw how the store got its name. It was small, all right, and the "dressing room" was just a curtained-off storage space--no mirror, no hook for clothes, just random boxes precariously stacked.

Sherry greeted me, then got back to her phone call. As I flicked through the racks I couldn't help overhearing her hushed conversation, and it didn't take long to suspect that she was being hounded by bill collectors. Or maybe she had a second occupation snuffing people out! It was a coin toss.

She had a friend in the shop. A flamboyant guy who watched me move about from his perch on a torn velvet-seat stool. "Try that pink one," he said as I pulled out a blue dress.

"Pink's not me," I informed him.

I selected about five dresses and each time I came out to look in the mirror the guy went tsk and raised an eyebrow. "Try the pink."

"No, really. Pink's not me."

Plus, it was chiffon.

And short.

With little cape-y wings.

And rhinestones.

None of the five dresses I picked worked, let alone made me feel like I was dressing to kill. And as I was wrestling around in the "dressing room," discouraged and pretty much fed up, an arm jetted through the curtain. It was holding the pink dress. "Just put it on!" he said. "You'll look smashing!"

So I did. And it was...awesome.

And only $29!?

So I bought it, and decided that white gloves and white shoes and some cool vintage jewelry borrowed from a teaching colleague would complete the look.

Uh, did I mention I'd never been to New York before?

Well, I learned something as I walked my short pink dress and white shoes and gloves into the Grand Hyatt Hotel the night of the Edgar gala.

Everyone in New York wears black.

Immediately, I felt...ridiculous. But people were very kind and welcoming. One of the MWA organizers even sized me up and said, "Now that's how it's done!"and Mary Higgins Clark told me "Darling, you look like a princess!" and Nancy whispered, "Twenty-nine dollars? Are you serious?" after I told her my little story. So, yeah, I started having fun.

So much so that when they announced that Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief  won the Edgar for best juvenile mystery, I ran my little white shoes up to the podium, my little pink chiffon wings flying behind me.

Anyway, there you have it. The Edgar dress story. Part One.

Next week, Part Two!

Meanwhile, see you in the comments, and happy bargain shopping!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Breakfast in Birmingham

Many years ago, when the kids were still little and it was a huge deal to leave them, the school & library director at my publishing house asked if I'd be willing to participate in an event in Birmingham, Alabama.

I had no clue how hard it would be to be to get there (very), or what participating in this event would entail (uh...breakfast?).

Yes, it took all day (and 3 planes) to get to Birmingham, and the following morning after breakfast with a small group of librarians, I went back to the airport and flew home.

"I am never going to Birmingham for breakfast again!" I told Mark (and the kids and the dogs and the dishes). And when other questionable invitations would came along, Mark would say, "Wait. Is this another breakfast in Birmingham?"

After all, it had been a colossal waste of time, and for what?

Well, the funny thing is, about a year after the infamous Breakfast in Birmingham, librarians from a group of middle schools in Homewood, Alabama invited me to come visit all their schools. As in, paying school visits.They had a bunch of them lined up.

"We met you in Birmingham!" they said, "At the breakfast!"

Well, this was an invitation for much more than scrambled eggs, so off I went again to Birmingham, where the ladies picked me up and drove me to nearby Homewood. This was in 2001, and it's when I learned what Southern hospitality is all about. It's when I got my first taste of real "swaeet tea." It's when I learned the secret to fixin' lima beans (bacon, and lots of it). And it's when I learned the phrase "swear to howdy."

I loved everything about that visit. From the kids at the schools, to the people who taught them, to the way food was always on the table, to the humorous phrases they used, to the way the whisked me into a second-hand store after I told them my little Edgar dress story. (Have I told you my Edgar dress story?)

In fact, I was so charmed by it--by all of it--that I took notes.

Notes that would become the voice and the flavor of Swear to Howdy--a book I wrote with Alabama in mind; one I had those same librarians read and weigh in on before publication.

Clearly, I got much more from my breakfast in Birmingham than I could ever have imagined. (I was in Tennessee earlier this year and a woman came up to me at a conference and said, "I'm sure you don't remember, but I met you at a breakfast in Birmingham years ago..." I about hit the floor.)

In 2006 my "Southern belle" friends had me back for more school visits, and we have stayed in touch since. I've tried to "explain them" to Mark, but really, their hospitality is something you more have to experience than can explain.

So I let them know we were embarking on this wild road trip tour, and that we would take a little detour into Homewood if they wanted to have a reunion. Almost right after I sent the message, one of them messaged back, "I'll cook!"

So after speaking at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery, we'll head to Homewood to meet up with the ladies. And the next day you know where I'll be dragging Mark, right?

Into Birmingham for breakfast!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Beet Soup

When I taught high school, I had a student with the last name of Borsch.

There was also a Keyes.

And an Acosta.

You get the picture.

I didn't fashion the characters after the students, I just lifted their names out of my grade book. It's a good source. Way better than 10,001 Names For Baby.

UNTIL I got published and my former students started hearing rumors about the names in the Sammy Keyes series.

That's when the questions (and the rumors) started.

And now that my former students have children of their own, well, I have some explaining to do.

"No! Officer Borsch is NOT your dad! Your dad was a good student. Very nice! He just happened to have a great name for that particular character. Did you know that borsch(t) is a type of soup? Made of beets? Usually served cold? With sour cream? No, really! Your dad never told you that?"

(Whose face is beet-red now?)

"And he's a great character! How far have you read? Oh, just through Sisters of Mercy? You have to read a few more books, but you'll see! He's one of the BEST characters in the series. I love Officer Borsch!"

At my talk at the "Santa Martina Public Library" I confessed that I was a little worried about the whole naming thing, but it turned out that none of my former students were there to call me out on that. They just wanted to say hi after so many years and have their kids meet me.

Plus they thought it was pretty cool that their names were in books translated into a whole bunch of foreign languages. Even if you can't read the language, you can pick out the names!

So overall, it was a big relief, and a wonderful experience. Still, it's probably a good thing that my grade book is closed for good.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bathroom Break Interrupted

A guy hurried past my table as I was signing stock for a bookstore event that had just finished.

(Whoa, I wrote that like I'm telling a joke. I'm not. This happened yesterday. Promise.)

He was on his way to the bathroom.

(I'm not making that up, either.)

He was tall, and had dark, up-combed hair with a wide blonde streak. The fingernails on one hand were painted black. The others were not.

Interrupting his beeline toward the back of the store, he came skidding to a halt in front of my table.

Then he just stared at me.

"Hi?" I said with a little wave.

"Are you...?" he asked, looking at all the evidence on the table. "OH MY GOD! You're the Sammy Keyes lady?"

"I am."

"You came to my school when I was in FOURTH GRADE. I loved these books! And you sang a song....?"

Painted nails snapped as he tried to remember.

So I helped him out, "Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy..."


(He was not hard of hearing, he was just...excited.)

"I really gotta go," he said, obviously swimming. But as he started away, he said, "I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S YOU! I'm an ENGLISH major now!" and as he disappeared across the store, I could hear him singing, "Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy..."

There are some moments in life I'll never forget.

This was one of them.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Epic Road Trip Update

You should see our office. It's like a Rock 'n' Roll Road Trip war room. Only this time we'll be packing books and pens, not music gear.

Well, okay, maybe we'll bring along a cajon, so Mark has something to tap on besides my shoulder. Or the dash. (The tapping can get very annoying, as Sammy will attest.)

And maybe a guitar. So I have something to do when it's his turn behind the wheel as we drive across Texas.

(Have you ever truly considered how wide Texas is?)

So yes! This means the plan is coming together.We have independent bookstores in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Colorado who are onboard for the "southern half" of the states. (The "northern half" we'll do next Fall.) On our wall, there's a big ol' map with little pink and green dots all over it as the yesses come in and the plan starts shaping up. On my desk, there's a fat binder with correspondences, notes, and pictures, and a massive spreadsheet draped over a mound of smaller maps and bookstore lists. There's also my master list of notes from requests people from the blog have made. Highlighted! Scribbled on with stuff like, Work this in! and Must go!

(There's also a teacup somewhere in this mess.)

(And a $10 off coupon for World Market.)

(And I could swear Mark brought me a cookie earlier.)

*I ate it*

You ate it!?

Anyway, yesterday I also had the wild idea that we need to have Nancy (my editor) join us for a few days on the road. Or a week, if she can stand it! Get out of NYC and into our van as we blaze across Mississippi! Yes, it's adventure time, city girl!

(I really need to stop having random conversations in the middle of my posts, sorry.)

If you want to be part of this and you haven't yet chimed in on a place (state, city, bookstore) you'd like us to visit, do so! If you have some wild (or, okay, even tame) idea you'd like to suggest, speak up! I'm really looking forward to meeting some of you in person. It's one of the reasons we're going as far east as, say, Georgia.

That's all for tonight! As always, thanks for checking in. See you in the comments!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Freaky Coincidence

8th Graders Doing the Wave!
We drove over 8 hours to get to a middle school that was supposed to be only 4.5 hours away.

That constipated beast, Los Angeles, was in our way.

It was dark (and late) when we finally rolled up to what the GPS told us was the location of our hotel room.

As fatigue would have it, it turned out not to be our hotel room. It was, instead some swanky villa estates. But we couldn't tell for sure that we weren't in the right place because...well, did I mention it was dark? And late? And that we'd been driving 9 hours?

I flagged down a security guard at the swanky villa estates and was given directions. They involved going out the way we'd come, turning right, and right, and right again.

No, we couldn't shortcut, or believe me, we would have pulled a Sammy Keyes.

After three rights we almost blasted past the hotel entrance because it was dark. And late. And we'd been driving for 10 hours. Did I mention that?

Sure I did.

And in case you're wondering, the dark part is true. I don't know whether this desert town's residents are into the green aspect of starry night lighting, but the roadways were just...dim.

And, seeing how it was late and we'd been driving for 11 hours, I'm sure we were a bit dim ourselves.

The hotel room may not have been inside a swanky villa estate, but it still turned out to be way too much luxury for two weary travelers. Unfortunately, the restaurant was already closed.

Luckily, the PTO prez had left a gift bag for us


Which was a good thing because there's no way we wanted to venture out for dinner and we were famished. It was late. And dark. And we'd been traveling for 12 hours!

Sorry. My intention was not to go on and on for hours about the trip. The traveling to do school visits is always the hard part. And I shouldn't complain. At least Mark was with me this time!

No, my intention was to tell you about a freaky coincidence.

This middle school in the starry night desert booked me almost a year ago. They have Swear to Howdy as part of their core curriculum. I will just come out and say that I am an instant fan of any school that has STH as part of their curriculum. Not because it's my book specifically, but because of all my books it's the one that takes courage to adopt. It's meant to be a discussion book. It serves its purpose well, and in the process has been known to make a certain type of educator uncomfortable.

So knowing that this school loved and taught and discussed Swear to Howdy, made the 13 hour drive seem worthwhile. A frog stranglin' rain couldn't have kept me away.

Anyway, sorry. Right. My intention was also not to talk about STH. My intention was, as I said before, to tell you about a freak coincidence.

In anticipation of my coming to visit, the school encouraged kids to also read Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, or Flipped, or The Running Dream.

A lot of teachers read The Running Dream.

The freaky coincidence? Last week, the elementary school adjacent to this middle school was struck by tragedy. An elderly man hit the gas instead of the brake and rammed his car through the fence and into a metal box of some sort, causing metal parts to go flying onto the playground. One boy's leg was so badly injured by flying metal parts that doctors wound up amputating his leg below the knee. "It's the same leg as [TRD's main character] Jessica," the vice principal told me.

He also told me that in the one week between the accident and my arrival, the schools had already done bake sales and raised $12,000 dollars.

In a very odd way, it felt like my book had come to life. For the boy's sake I would erase every page if it meant what had happened to him could also be erased, but that's not possible, so the goal's got to be to get him, like Jessica, to a new starting line.

After my presentation--which contains slides of an amputee putting on his prosthetic leg--I asked the students to include the boy when he attends their middle school next year, and I think they will. It's a really good school, with a brave staff. I think maybe I'll go back someday.

Even if it's a 14 hour drive to get there.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Odds & Ends & A Wave.

Hello there, faithful blogettes.

Hm. That's kinda close to baguettes, huh?

Whatever. The point is...


I hope you had a fun week, and lots of adventure on Sammy's favorite day. I have e-mailed all the book winners and want to thank everyone who participated. Loved the pictures and the creativity involved. The prize for "funniest" goes to a submission for "Lady Lana" on a tabletop holding her cheeks, with a mouse in the foreground. Cracked me up!

Our Halloween: We live off the beaten path, so Mark and I have taken to doing reverse trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. We head out with a bucket of candy and stop cars and adults and kids trick-or-treating and give them candy. And since it was a nice night out, we also threw handfuls up at people sitting on balconies sipping their adult beverages.

That was quite entertaining.

Switching subjects, I know there are questions out there.

Here are some answers.

Sammy movie news: Hope to have something for you by the end of the year.

Shoelaces: I haven't forgotten.

Contest for name in last Sammy: I haven't forgotten.

The picture on this post: Mark and I are playing around with images to wrap the van on our Epic Road Trip Adventure. We're thinking this would look good / funny / interesting on the back window. It would be in color, but Mark cobbled this together for tonight's post to give you an idea. Comments?

[OMG which way does our wiper go? I have to look. (You know, the wave?)]

That's all for now. As always, thanks for checking in. I'll see you in the comments!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Treat, No Trick!

Okay, here's the deal. I've got 5 hardcover copies of Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls sitting on my desk. They are "turtlebacks" or library editions--which are very durable (and even more expensive than the book-jacket version of the hardcover).

I'm pretty sure everyone here knows that Night of Skulls is a Halloween adventure, so in the spirit of Sammy's favorite holiday, I'm going to sign them and give them away.


Here's the drill:

Send a picture of you in costume as one of the Sammy Keyes characters* to this e-mail address and include answers to the following questions in the body of your e-mail:
    1. What character are you? 
    2. What book is the character's from? (Or hold the book in your picture, if you want to.)
    3. Is it okay to post your picture on the internet? (Yes or No)
    4. (Yup, that's me!)
    5. Do you want to be identified? (No / First name only / First + Last Initial  / Tag me!)
In the e-mail's Subject Line put: COSTUME CONTEST

DEADLINE: Sunday, 11/3, before 5 PM Pacific time.

RESTRICTIONS: Books can only be shipped to addresses in the United States. (But that doesn't mean you can't send a picture if you just want to be part of the fun.)

WINNERS: I will consolidate all the photos (without names) and let Mark pick the 5 entries that he thinks are the best. (I hate picking because I always want to give everybody something...) 

NOTIFICATION: We will e-mail the winners before next Sunday's blog entry is posted (and ask for best mailing addresses via e-mail). 

You never know how many people are going to participate in something like this, so don't think you'll never win! And let me remind you--it's easy to dress up as Sammy. Or Casey! Have a chicken hat? You're Billy Pratt!

Hope you'll play along!  Regardless, have fun, safe, and Happy Halloween!

*Here are a bunch of costume ideas, in case you didn't see them on the Sammy Keyes FaceBook page:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Incredible Human Plateau

I've been busy helping out a friend in need. At first I thought I'd be doing one thing, but it turned out there were lots of additional things to do and ways to help, so I dove in and became a full-service friend.

I love feeling useful.

At one point my friend's mother asked, "Is there anything you don't do?" and in response I talked about my parents. How their immigrant position on Things-Needing-Doing was if you could figure out a way to do it yourself, you did it yourself.

Their approach was very "Nike", too, (and way before there was a Nike): Don't complain--just do it.

What I pondered on the long drive home from my stint as a full-service-friend was the lifespan trajectories of knowledge, ability, and means. When we're young, we're soaking up knowledge, we're gaining in ability, and we're figuring out how to pay for what we want. Our goals are all ahead of us.

As we get older, we (hopefully) get smarter, more skillful, and acquire financial balance, but at some point the benefits of what we've gained become compromised by what we're starting to lose.

They call middle age "over the hill" for a reason.

And once we're well over the hill--when we're achy and old, with wobbly legs and bad eyes--how do we apply all we've gained in life? People won't even listen to your wisdoms, and you can't really enjoy your money. Money's role becomes to make you as comfortable as an achy oldie with wobbly legs and bad eyes can be.

So where is the sweet spot? That hilltop where the view is great? That point on the graph where you've acquired skill and knowledge, and are comfortable enough financially to enjoy some of the perks of all your hard work?

My breakthrough with this mental graphing was to switch from hill to plateau. Instead of being a point, I mused, why not stretch the "spot" into a "line"? Maximize the time you're on top before you lose the ability to do the things you love to do. I started seeing that the trick in all this is to stretch that plateau out for as long as you possibly can.

So how do you do that?

Well, there are a lot of variables, of course, and everyone's situation is different, but I think the length of that plateau is largely tied to one's physical well-being. It's what allows us to still do when we finally have.

I'm not a fitness fanatic. People assume I am because of The Running Dream, but running (and now weight training) is something I do for my health (both mental and physical). I do need tricks to keep me sweating. I need encouragement, just like most people. Exercise is work. But graphing the trajectories of knowledge, ability, and means on my drive home encouraged me. Especially when I visualized stretching the plateau.

I am so gonna stretch my plateau!

They'll call me the Incredible Human Plateau!

Yeah, that's me!

I don't mind getting old. I just want to be able to put all the knowledge and skills I've worked so hard to gain to good use for as long as I can.

It really feels nice to be useful.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Finding My Inner Fiona

The interesting thing about being a writer is that over time you realize how much the characters you create give back to you.

How much they teach you.

It's an odd realization, because you're the one who created them. It's not like an actual child whose life you initiate, who goes on to absorb the world and then reinvigorates your life with new knowledge and ideas. Everything a character is - on the page - is something you put there.

And yet...

I have learned so much from my characters.

It's astounding, really, how much I have learned from my characters.

Being a writer makes you define what you think. It makes you explore your views and those of others. It makes you face your sense of life and either redefine it, or support it. You move your fictional people around in heroic ways. And although all credible heroes are also flawed, those flaws are forgiven in the end because the hero's intentions, their direction, their purpose is ultimately good.

I have learned much from Sammy Keyes about determination and friendship, about compassion and forgiveness. From Holly in Runaway I've learned about survival (and I don't mean all the stowing away and living off abandoned movie theater popcorn). From Rusty in Swear to Howdy I've learned about courage and holding on with all your might. From Nolan in Shredderman I've learned to look at the root of hate and ask myself why? Why is this person so mean? From Juli and Bryce in Flipped, I've learned to have patience...with myself and with others...and I've learned that a parent's role is to lead by example.

These are all main characters, but it is not the protagonist in The Running Dream who serves as a model for me at this time. It's the best friend, Fiona.

I'm not at liberty to say anything more, but for those of you who look for my posts every Sunday night, please forgive this tardy entry. Know that I haven't been slacking. Far from it. I've been very busy, finding my inner Fiona.

I've learned so much from Fiona.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Literary Pumpkin Patch

I am between trips, so today's entry is a little photo journal of the special lunch Central Middle School hosted for me when I visited them last week in Oklahoma. Those of you who know me (and Sammy!) know that Halloween is my favorite "holiday" so you can imagine how giddy I was when I saw all these painted pumpkins and decorations on display at the school lunch tables.

There was Sammy Keyes and the Dead Giveaway...

Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise....

Then Night of Skulls, front and back...

And the Curse of Moustache Mary!

 They did some "stand-alone" titles too! Like Flipped (book and movie versions)...

And The Running Dream...

Swear to Howdy...

Confessions of a Serial Kisser...

And The Gecko & Sticky!

So much work went into putting these table decorations together ... and I don't know about you, but painting even one of these pumpkins would have been a monumental effort for me!

Then there were skits, put on by faculty and kids, including 3 different "Sammys". I wish I had a picture of the three women who played the Bandito Brothers from The Gecko & Sticky. They were dressed up like the characters (in full mariachi regalia, plus mustaches) and were hilarious! "Ms. Krockle," the fierce science teacher from The Gecko & Sticky, was also present (played by the assistant principal), as was Elvis.

This school really knows how to make an author's work "come alive" for the students, and I feel so lucky to have my books as part of the whole Central Middle School Experience. As a kid, how could you not want to read when teachers dress up as Bandito Brothers (Bandita Sisters?) or your teacher walks out with an Elvis swagger and gives you a taste of what the story's about?

I wish I could have magically transported all those pumpkins home in my carry-on, but I'm glad I've got pictures to remind me what a special place CMS is, and how lucky I am to be part of that school experience.

Thanks for checking in--see you next Sunday (and, of course, in the comments)!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Little More from Oklahoma

It's been an interesting few days in Oklahoma, and we've been going non-stop. By we I mean me and a few other authors: Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray), Gennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts. And Laundry. And Homework) and Sonia Gensler (The Revenant).

The thing about children's book authors is that they're nice. (Well, most of them are, anyway, and all of these were.) And it was fun to get to know each other a little bit and spend time together.

We all participated in a conference, but also did assemblies and presentations at schools in the towns that were hit by tornadoes. Between school visits we toured places where houses and stores used to be, and heard stories from kids and teachers about where they'd been and what they'd seen and how frightening and devastating the experience was.

To the left is an image of what the gym at Highland East School school looked after the tornado. Yes, that's the basketball hoop, upside down. "Loud and terrifying" was the way the tornado was described by most people, which is probably an understatement if you were part of the group gathered in the gym.

I'm getting picked up to travel to Edmond, OK to do two more days of visits, so I'd better pack up! Just wanted to check in with a little more info--see you in the comments!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

OK Mini-Post

Tomorrow I'll be visiting 3 middle schools in Moore, Oklahoma as part of a support / fundraising effort for the kids and schools that were affected by the tornadoes that blasted through this area in May.

By visiting, I don't mean sauntering through. Or just clicking through a slide presentation. I want to connect with these kids and their teachers and what they've gone through, which means I'll wind up being emotional and spastic and exhausted by the end of the day.

Which means I should go to bed right now because I'm in a different time zone and I've got a super-early start time in the morning.

But I will be back with more, and hope to have a picture or two to share.

'Til then, good night from Oklahoma!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Indelible Years

Looking over old class photos, remembering
Yes, my elementary school reunion happened, and it was a lot of fun! And it struck me again how powerful the growing years are. How they mold you (or scar you), and how they stick with you for the rest of your life. It was interesting to reminisce and listen to what people remembered. Besides recalling things about each other, there was quite a bit of talk about teachers. Which ones were nice. Which ones were mean. And which ones went crazy.

The kids in the neighborhood were like family--you saw them every day, you went to school together, you played in the street together, you played at their houses, you spied on them (and they spied on you!). They had a part in shaping you, and no matter the time or distance, you will always remember them.

I write for young people not because I can't write for adults, but because I think writing for young people matters; that what you experience during your growing years--in real life as well as in literature--will influence the person you become. What you're imprinted with during that time can be indelible.

Sammy Keyes is the person she is because I truly believe that she can help young people find their center. She's there for the fun and adventure that comes with having a good friend, but she's also there to help kids believe in themselves and face their fears on their way to becoming strong, confident adults.

Having so many of us travel long distances to see and celebrate the kids we knew in each other reminded me of the importance of who we were to each other back then, and how our shared experiences helped us to become the people we are today.

I'm so glad I went.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Olly Olly Oxen Free!

My first published book is titled How I Survived Being A Girl. It was bought by the same editor with whom I've worked on all my books, but she was at HarperCollins at the time so it's not part of the catalog I have at Knopf and (long story short) it is now out of print.

When I wrote HISBAG I had no idea what it meant to be published. Oh, I had a theoretical idea, but having written several books that never saw publication, I didn't think through the hazards of giving characters names too similar to those of the people on whom those characters were based.

Maybe I just didn't believe that this one would ever see the light of day (or bookstore shelves) either.

Nicknames seemed safe. Who would ever claim to be those characters? In real life (and in the book) the people next door were called Freeko and Fattabutta. (You read that right, and I will skip over the whole explanation of this because, really, nothing can explain away those names. Or excuse the things we did to them. Those are tales better left to the pages of a novel.)

When HISBAG came out in 1997 my mother suggested that I take out liability insurance in case Freeko and Fattabutta decided to sue me. I wasn't worried. We'd moved away ages before, and they didn't seem like readers.

Definitely not readers.

But fast forward to 2013 and sudden I am worried. Not about being sued. And not about any of the adults from the neighborhood. The last one standing moved into a 'home' earlier this year. (Which makes me very sad. She was an awesome neighbor. And such what a tolerant person! Her house was headquarters and she had so much patience for the wild neighborhood kids tearing through her house and yard.)

No, I'm suddenly worried because next weekend I'm traveling back to my hometown for an "elementary school reunion."

No kidding!

Most of me is super excited about it. Some of these kids I knew from K-6th. Formative stuff happens during that time and it'll be so much fun to reminisce about our shared experiences and hear each other's varied recollections. Just to see these people again after all these years and find out where they've wound up is going to be great. It's way better than a high school reunion. It's way more...pure.

But someone in the reunion group posted a comment about how I'd written a book about the neighborhood. And all of a sudden I'm going Uh-oh! I mean, it's been quite a while since I've read the book. What did I say about people? I remember that Andy down the block became Little Andy in the book. (Do you think he'll figure that out?) And will Wobblehead know who she is?

There's even a map in the beginning of the book pointing out who lives where!

And it's clearly The Neighborhood.

I guess all I can do at this point is hope that the "kids" take the book in the spirit intended, and recognize that it represents a magical time in our lives--a time where you could go "bombs away" on boys from the top of the jungle gym and no one posted you. A time where there were no rules in four square (back slaps and spins were fair and fine and expected). A time when getting slammed in dodgeball just meant you'd better move faster the next time someone hurled a ball at you.

I hope I still have some of my moves, 'cause there's no hiding from this, and I may just need to dodge and duck if enough of them have read the book.

Olly olly oxen free!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Consolation Surprise

So random Twitter people were selected for the Killer Cruise giveaway, and as far as I can tell none of the winners were my blog regulars.

Which makes me sad! I think the regulars here are the  nicest group of the internet. You're always so supportive of each other (and me, too!) and I was hoping at least one of you would be picked. So this morning when I was pouting about it to Mark he pointed out that I have a few of my own early copies of Killer Cruise that I could donate, and before you know it, we had a plan and got to work.

We printed the comments that were left at the blog over the last 6 weeks. We cut them into strips by name (making them approximately equal in size regardless of the length of the comment). The more active someone had been at the blog, the bigger their chance was of winning a book, but even if a person had left only a single comment over that span of time, they still had a chance to win.

Then we stuck all the strips in a hat (well, a grocery bag) and picked three names.

As luck would have it, the odds bore out in favor of multi-commenters.


Will the following people please start jumping up and down:
  1. "Optimistic4Ever" (I guess it pays to be optimistic!)
  2. "Gabrielle" (Mark actually pulled your name out twice. Lots of comments from you!)
  3. "Yusa" (I'm glad Mark picked your name--happy birthday!)
If any of the three of you happen to have also won at Twitter, please let me know so I can give the book to our first runner-up (who I won't torture by mentioning by name).

If not, please e-mail me your mailing address so I can ship you a book!

For the rest of you... I'm sorry again! Doing the best I can...

FYI, sometime during the week I'm putting up the new Twitter campaign (Free Book Fridays). The giveaway will run every Friday through the end of the year, but I'm making only one post about it so this Twitter stuff doesn't interfere so much with our regular programming (whatever that is, right?)

Anyway, know I appreciate all of you so much. See you next Sunday (and in the comments, of course!).

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Win a Killer Cruise!

I’m excited! Random House is doing a giveaway on Twitter for 3 autographed hardcovers of Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise.

Here’s how it works: : Follow me @WendelinVanD and tweet "I want to win a Killer Cruise! #SammyKeyes"

Do it before September 8th and that’s it! You’re entered.


On Sunday, September 8th we will announce three random winners  on Twitter and get book-mailing info from them via direct message.

So…go on! Tweet me!

PLEASE NOTE -- Because of shipping costs, we can only mail books to addresses in the USA.

PS After this we'll do a Twitter "Free Book Friday" through the end of the year with various Sammy Keyes titles. It'll be fun!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Little Heads-Up

I wanted to give my regular readers a little heads-up about next Sunday's post : 

Instead of my usual newsy or personal post, there'll be instructions for a Random House sponsored contest for winning autographed copies of Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise via Twitter. I know some of you aren't on Twitter, but maybe you have a friend or parent who is so you can enter?

Just wanted to let you know!

Hoping you're having a good week,

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Long Hike Home

My wonderful sister & me.
Wearing tributes to our dad (the tie),
our brother Mark (the Scout shirt)
and our mom (the hair scarf)
Today we fulfilled my mother's wish of having her and my dad's ashes scattered in the High Sierra. These were the mountains where our family often backpacked; where we kids learned survival skills, the merits of packing light, and an appreciation of nature.

Mom would always stop and examine flowers on these treks--she had a real love of wildflowers, even the small, plain ones that the rest of us easily overlooked.

She also was intrigued by rocks. Any family vacation we took, she came home with rocks. (Her license plate was an abbreviation of Rock Gatherer, which sort of sums things up.)

After Dad died, Mom took to traveling to distant lands and (in keeping with her quirky sense of humor) packed along rocks from one end of the earth to deposit on another. She relished the thought of "confusing archaeologists of the future" with her naughty rock shuffling. Which is why it was fitting that on this trek up the mountain we carried along rocks from her collection, and packets of wildflower seeds.

Dad's ashes have been waiting in a closet for 35 years, Mom's for only a couple of months. They're mixed together now, high in the Sierra, overlooking a stunning mountain range and valley, and the Cliffs of Valhalla (a word my sister tells me is a Norse or Germanic word for heaven). And scattered among our parents' ashes are Mom's rocks and the flower seeds we hiked in, sprinkled with some tears of their daughters.
Time to go home...
Dad's triangle tied with the ribbon from
Mom's wedding bouquet

My sister and I were there with our own families, and after the ashes were scattered, everybody took a turn clanging the metal triangle our dad made to call us home when we were kids. (I can't believe my sister backpacked it all the way up to the scattering site, but she's quite a hiker.)

For all the difficult "last set of switchbacks" my mom and dad coaxed me through over the years, this was a trek steeped in only love and gratitude; a long walk where I spent time appreciating all they did for me, and all they taught me.

It was an honor to make this journey for them.

An honor to take that final hike home.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Favor

I'm terrible at asking for favors. I like doing favors for other people, and I enjoy it when someone does something nice for me, but asking them to do something for me? It gives me the willies.

And yet, ask I did.

What got me over the Favor-Asking Threshold was wanting to do a favor for somebody else. See, Mark has a good friend (Dan) who loves the LA Dodgers. I think it's fair to say that the root of this extreme Dodger love is not the team itself. The players may be fan-worthy, but they come and go.

It's also not the City of Los Angeles. Or the contagious Dodger love effused by one-time player and longtime manager Tommy Lasorda (who, quite famously, says he bleeds Dodger blue). No, Dan's love for the Dodgers is rooted in the voice of the Dodgers--Vin Scully--the man who's been doing play-by-play coverage of Dodger ballgames for 64 seasons.

Let's pause and consider sixty-four seasons.

I do understand the love of Vin's voice. Growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles, it was the summertime soundtrack for our neighborhood. Our neighbors, the Myers, were huge into baseball and hearing Vin's voice reminds me of slip-'n'-slides and hot dogs and ballgames in the street.

But for Dan, Vin's voice was more than that. It was a constant in his life--a familiar voice full of storytelling and picture-painting and comfort.Talk about bleeding blue, Dan has never not listened to Dodger baseball.

Now, I have a friend who works for the Dodger organization. She is also an incredible puppeteer ("Feed me, Seymore!") and a scriptwriter. I met her during the book-to-movie process for Flipped, so I haven't known her all that long, but she's someone I recognized immediately as being sincere, astute, and forthright. It didn't take long to also see that she had a great big heart, and that she was someone I wanted as a friend.

My big-hearted, beautiful friend
Which is the very worst kind of person to ask a favor of.

I mean, it's just wrong to impose on a new friendship or someone's big-heartedness!

But Dan's girlfriend (learning of my Dodger connection) took me aside and asked about the possibility of getting something signed to Dan by Vin for his birthday. And knowing how much it would mean to Dan to have something signed to him by Vin, I approached the Favor-Asking Threshold and knocked.

My friend was receptive and after over a month of plotting and juggling the logistics of an epic birthday surprise, Mark & I traveled to Dodger Stadium with Dan and his girlfriend, and Dan got to shake hands with Vin and tell him what he meant to him.

Dan & Vin Scully in the Press Box Hallway
I've got to say that Vin Scully is a classy guy. He looks you in the eye. He listens. And he's funny, too. When Dan told him about falling to sleep to his voice as a kid, Vin quipped, "Yes, I'm afraid I've put a lot of people to sleep over the years."

So Dan met his idol, and he did get a signed baseball. (Mark had one tucked away in his cargo shorts and when we asked Vin if he would mind autographing it for Dan, he graciously agreed. It was only afterwards that my friend told me that their contract specifically states that they cannot ask for autographs).

As if that wasn't enough, Dan also got to meet (and get pictures with) Tommy Lasorda, and Fernando Valenzuela (a star pitcher for the Dodgers in the '80's) and Nancy Bea, the Dodger's organist since the late 1980's.

All before the game!

And then...what a game! The Dodgers (who were down from the get-go) came back to beat the Mets in the bottom of the 12th inning. It was certainly a magical night at (what Vin has dubbed) the Magic Castle.

Vin with The Running Dream
Mark and I got to meet Vin, too, and I brought him my most sports-based book as a gift. And although he probably gets all sorts of stuff from people he doesn't know, I brought it for him anyway because I wanted to give a piece of me as a token of gratitude, instead of asking for a piece of him.

Our friend told us afterwards that she had never arranged a meeting with the sportscaster before. And I could tell she was anxious about it--that she was going way out on a limb to make this happen. But she was super happy that it all worked out, and I was over-the-moon happy that I'd helped facilitate a dream-come-true moment for Dan.

And now, despite the excellent outcome, I have stepped away from the Threshold.

You won't find me near it again for a long, long time.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


When our boys were young they went through a short phase of being into a Nickelodeon animated show called CatDog. In case you didn't share that experience, the show featured a cat conjoined with a dog. Two heads, no tails. (Don't get into the physiological impossibility of it. It'll get you nowhere. Simply give into the utter ridiculousness of it.)

During that time, our younger son was excited beyond belief to be giving his brother a CatDog "doll" for his birthday. It was large, with a plastic middle that could accordion in and out enabling the heads to talk to (and meow and growl at) each other.

Now, this is actually not a post about CatDog.

It's a post about keeping secrets.

About how hard it can be.

"Do you want to know what I got you for your birthday?" young son asked his brother who was in the upper bunk.

"No!" cried the birthday boy. "Don't tell me!"

What followed was an exchange of pleas and commands, followed by an (eavesdropping) parent intervention. "Don't tell him," we finally ordered young son. "Now go to sleep!"

After we left, there was a short stretch of silence and then our older son cried, "CATDOG? You got me CATDOG?"

We barged back in and scolded the gift-giver who said, "I didn't tell him! I promise! I just whispered it into my pillow!" He gave us an incredulous look. "And I was so quiet!"

Quiet or not, the secret wanted out. It wanted out very badly. And even though the intention was to only tell the pillow--to bury the secret deep inside the pillow--the secret didn't want to stay inside the pillow. It wanted to escape the fibers and genie up through the air and into the ears above.

It wanted to infect someone else.

Yes, infect. This week I've decided that a secret is like a virus. It's easy to spread accidentally, hard to contain even consciously, and it gives you a fever.

A fever that seems only to break when you tell somebody else.

I consider myself to be a very good secret-keeper. I like being trustworthy and dependable. I know how to keep my mouth shut. As Sammy would say, "It's in the vault."

But the past few months I've had a little insight into why people don't get away with murder. Or heists. Or even lesser crimes.

They give themselves away.

The fever hits, out it slips, and all it takes is infecting one other person for it to become airborne.

Just one.

Even if that person promises they can keep a secret.

So with that very basic (yet significant) thought, I will sign off for the week wishing you good secrets, well-kept.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Newsy Sammy Bits

I've really enjoyed the reaction to last week's Epic Road Trip idea. Thanks to everyone who's sent in e-mails and/or comments. I've got a file going now and the idea's moved from Wouldn't-That-Be-Cool to Okay-Let's-Really-Do-This! We won't be highway bound for over a year (which seems like forever, I know), but it'll take that long to piece it all together and do it right. And it'll be fun to share the prep news with you as things shape up.

Meanwhile, in only two days Elvis is rolling out on the paperback of Sammy Keyes and the Showdown in Sin City. So if you've been waiting for the paperback to release, the time is now! (I just love this cover, done by illustrator Karl Edwards. It's pink, but somehow that's okay for this book!)

And Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise will be out on September 10, which is right around the ol' calendarical corner. (Sorry.) It's my homage to the mystery genre and contains nods to classic mystery writers (and their characters), and it's my take on a locked-room mystery, with coded clues (a first for Sammy), disguises (definitely not a first!), and (of course) red herrings!

And there's also Sammy & her dad stuck together on a "boat."

Finally (not to mention finally), I've turned in Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye--revised and ready to read by someone besides me (and Mark, of course). I'm sure when Nancy's done with it there'll be stuff to add (and probably subtract), but it's feeling pretty good. Like I wrapped up things y'all asked me to wrap up. Well, mostly. I found I also opened some new cans, but you didn't want it too tidy, right?


Anyway, thanks for checking in. If you haven't already weighed in on the Epic Road Trip, don't be shy. Suggest away via e-mail or in the comments.

See you next week!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Epic Road Trip

I have what seems today to be a great idea. A month from now it may not, but today? I'm all excited about it.


Okay, buckle up. Because what I'm thinking is Epic Road Trip.

Mark's book is coming out in February. (I thought it was May, but no! February!) As you may already know the title is Road Rash. (Whoa. I think I'll ask him for the artwork. It may not be the final artwork, but it's close. And very cool! And I'm so glad his dad got to see it before he passed away. "Huntley" is a proud family name on his dad's side of the family. Covered wagon people. Hearty (and hardy) pioneers. You get the idea.)

Anyway! Road Rash is the story of a 17 year old drummer (Zach) who joins a band (Bad Habit) and goes on a "tour" of the western United States in an old motor home (the Bad-Mobile). A band on the road is a recipe for trouble (although they are not Troublemakers, so don't get your books confused!), and the book is a wonderful ride (breakups, breakdowns, and all).

So what I'm thinking is (as a tie in to the whole Road Rash theme), Mark and I should get our hands on an old motor home and go across the whole country (up, over, down, other-over [or through], up) visiting all the bookstores we can. Aside from talking about our books, I think we as a couple would make for unique bookstore presenters about the writing process, and how we contribute to each other's work.

And (since it's an old motor home) instead of leaving it alone in its old-motor-home appearance, I'm all excited about getting it painted (or shrink wrapped?) with graphics of Road Rash and Sammy Keyes books. Just picture a funky motor home rolling along with book cover images all over it! And words, of course. And all that social media info. We could tweet updates from the road, maybe post short daily videos so people can feel like they're on the adventure with us, and do giveaways to people who tweet us back.

February is too soon to pull this idea together, so it needs to be later -- maybe to coincide with the release of the last Sammy Keyes book. So it would be like the, So Long, Sammy, Hello, Zach epic road tour.

And why I'm telling you all this way at the beginning of the planning stage (rather than when it makes sense to tell you) is because (well, I'm excited and you're you and) the route is presently wide open. So I want YOU to tell me...

What city and what bookstore in that city do you want us to visit?

(If you're not comfortable putting that info in the comments, send it to )

And if you have other ideas, don't be shy. This is going to be epic fun and I want you to be part of it! Talk to me!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Our Hudson

Last week I talked about the origins of Officer Borsch.

This week I want to talk about Hudson.

From the moment I wrote about Officer Borsch I knew exactly who had inspired the character. But Hudson? I didn't really know anybody like him. He was more the cool old guy that I wish I knew.

What's funny is, it turns out I did know him. Or someone very much like him. I just didn't make the connection until this week.

Hudson first appeared on the page in 1994. Eighteen books and nearly twenty years later, Hudson has aged only one year. So maybe I didn't recognize the Hudson in my life because he wasn't an old guy yet. Maybe it took him passing Hudson in age for me to see what a cool guy he really was.

I'm talking about my father-in-law. A man who loved books and knew how to apply knowledge. A man with an enviable combination of high intelligence and artistic ingenuity.

I use the past tense because this week we lost our Hudson, the remarkable Ed Parsons. I feel a little like I imagine Sammy would if Hudson Graham were to pass away. Like our polestar is gone.

I learned so much from Ed, not about textbook things, but about life and how to treat other people. He was inspiring in so many ways, but there was never any fanfare to it. He worked hard, never complained, and was generous in ways you don't truly understand until it dawns on you that time is everything.

He was also a little secretive (or, as Hudson would say, private), and had a great sense of humor.

And he loved cool old cars.

What took me so long to see this?

I've often said that when I grow up I want to be Hudson. (Or, you know, the female equivalent of Hudson.) I have a ways to go, yet, but it sure helps to have had an example of how it's done.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Genesis of Officer Borsch

Officer Borsch acts like his squad car's a Porsche and thinks that all kids are delinquent juveniles, but he'll change his mind when he's in a bind and Sammy wrestles down a nasty crocodile...

So where did the Borschman come from?

Pre-kids, Mark and I were living in a duplex in a not-so-great part of town. Well, it was actually half of a little house on a full city lot in a bad part of town. It looked like a cute little cottage-like house from the street, but it was weirdly divided down the middle and the "central heating" was the water heater, located in the corner of the kitchen. This was the place where the refrigerator half-blocked the doorway to the bedroom.


One night we came home and discovered the front room was turned upside down. The couch pillows were all flung around, stuff was strewn about--just chaos. The bedroom was the same, and the back window was pried wide open.

We called the police and the reporting officer is the person who became the character Officer Borsch.

"Do you usually keep house like this?" he asked me after he'd taken in the front room while sucking on a tooth.

"No!" I cried and couldn't believe he was serious.

"Just askin'" he said (dead serious).

And after he'd taken a half-hearted tour of the kitchen and bedroom and had noted the things we'd already determined were missing, he seemed to be preparing to leave. So I asked, "Aren't you going to take any fingerprints?"

He scoffed. "Couldn't lift anything off of these surfaces."

And that was it.

I was mad and violated and frustrated and disillusioned all at once.

And we never got our stuff back.

Writers pull from their own experiences, so years later when I was creating Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, I thought back to my encounter with the SMPD, created Officer Borsch, and had my (very satisfying) little revenge.

What's funny is that at one of my book signings at the "Santa Martina" mall, there was a long line and I could hear bits and pieces of conversations as the people in line move closer to the signing table. The books are very popular in the inspiration city, and one of these approaching conversations was about "Officer Borsch." "I think I know who it is!" one woman said, and after a volley of whispers ensued she approached the table and asked me, "Is Officer Borsch [So-and-So]?"

"I will neither confirm or deny," I told her, but I must have been grinning (at least a little) or glinting (maybe a lot) because she cried, "I knew it! I knew it!" I hurried to point out that I had neither confirmed or denied, but it was hopeless.

So that's where the character came from, but the original Officer Borsch in no longer the guy I write about. Sammy's Officer Borsch has become much more than some gruff guy who "presses his shirt from the inside out." He's become someone I understand and empathize with. Someone I like.

Maybe the real-life responding officer was simply misunderstood (or overworked, or also disillusioned, or just burned out), but I sometimes wonder what the evolution of the inspiration officer has been. Has he "grown" like Officer Borsch? Did he make it to Sergeant? Is there a compassionate guy under all the gruff?

I'm sure I'll never know, and that's probably for the best. Better to imagine that there's more to him than I met that night, than find out that there isn't. you have a favorite Officer Borsch moment? (I'll just fess-up with mine right here: It's the "oinkers in love" scene from Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Moustache Mary. Laughed 'til I cried.)

As always, thanks for checking in. See you in the comments!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Backup Plan

A few weeks ago, Mark posted for me because I was a crazy woman. (Hm. Technically, he should post every week, huh?) Anyway, now that I'm no longer "underground," I'm realizing that--although Mark shared my having reached the end-of-the-series news with you--I haven't said anything about it.

So let me back up and say, I was a obsessed with getting the rough draft of Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye done before we took our trip to England. I just wanted to get that last sentence down on paper (and in context, where it meant all it should). I've had that last sentence in my head for years and I just wanted it to be. And beyond the micro of getting that last sentence out, there was the macro of wanting everyone who's followed Sammy's story to know how things ended. If our Boeing 777 went down, I didn't want Sammy's story to be cut short, too.

It was silly, I know. I mean, I fly all around the country all year doing school visits, why was this any different?

But it felt like it was, so I transferred the Kiss Goodbye file to a thumb drive and wrote an ominous note telling my in-laws that they should send the file to my editor's (Nancy's) e-mail address "in case of emergency". Then I told Nancy that it was sitting on my desk in case our plane went down. She asked me why I didn't just e-mail it to her and tell her not to read it. So I told her, "Because it's not done and I don't trust you not to read it." "Oh," she said. "Good point."

Well, as you know I made it home safely. And when I saw my thumb drive sitting on my desk I sort of laughed at my obsessiveness. Of course we got home safely. Air travel has great statistics!

And then that Boeing 777 crash landed in San Francisco yesterday.

"Wow," my son said when he saw it on the news. "That could have been us."

I guess it could always "have been us" -- in the car or on the bike or (especially in London) in the intersection--but it still made me think it was a good thing I'd left a backup.

Anyway, maybe next week I'll talk about the actual book a little. Officer Borsch (h-hm, make that Sergeant Borsch), is in it a lot. His metamorphosis has been so interesting, and I think maybe I'll share where he came from, if that sounds good to you.

'Til then, buckle up. And wear your helmet. And look all directions before crossing the street!

As always, thanks for checking in. See you in the comments!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Hundred Years From Now

I'm late! Jet-lagged from the trip. And, I'm afraid, here to talk about monuments.

But first, from last week, the "assignment" was a vacation (because I really, really, really needed a vacation after the events of the past 2 years), the location was London (which ya'll figured out!) and the picture posted of the Sherlock Holmes tiles was underground at the Baker Street subway stop. The "mind the gap" was what we heard each time we got on or off the subway train--a reminder that there's a gap between the car and the platform and to watch your step!

So. Monuments. There are a lot of them in London. There are statues and plaques and buildings and, well, designations everywhere. Compared to anywhere in the USA, London is old. London has centuries of history, and the landmarks to prove it. But what struck me is that monuments and designations are just delays in the inevitable.

People move on.

People no longer care.

The old eventually gets swallowed up by the new.

Everyone still knows the iconic Sherlock...but Hollywood has kept younger people caring with movies. But this figure? I was excited to see it, but how many people under 25 know who this monument is for?

What drove this home was an old church we happened by as we walked through Soho. We could see it through a section of old iron fencing, but it wasn't visible otherwise because the new buildings erected all around it were so much taller and were positioned so close to it. Tall, modern buildings dwarfed and obscured what was once (I'm sure) the jewel of the neighborhood. And in the narrow strip of land between the fence and the church was a stone-carved plaque to some deacon who had served at the church for nearly 50 years, like, 100 years ago. He must've been some revered and respected leader, but at this point, does anyone know who he is? Does anyone really care?

No one likes to think of themselves as being gone when they die. When I was a kid, people would talk about novelists' books living on for them. I didn't aspire to being a novelist, so that seemed like a futile route to me. And, as it turns out, it is. Most of us have never even heard of the best-selling books from a hundred years ago, let alone read any of them.

The movie industry definitely promotes the delusion of life-ever-after, summed up by Fame: "I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly, I feel it comin' together, people will see me and cry. I'm gonna make it to heaven, light up the sky like a flame, I'm gonna live forever, baby remember my name."

Well, no. You're not. You're going to be out with the next season's wave of stars and probably wind up turning to drugs and alcohol and die before you would have if you hadn't been obsessed with fame and living on forever.

People ask me what I want my legacy to be. I have a really good body of work that I'm proud of, but I don't need or want a statue or a landmark or a movie about my life, and I don't expect to be remembered a hundred years from now. This isn't meant to be depressing. On the contrary, I think this is healthy (and realistic). I think recognizing the value of your presence is very much life-affirming. Knowing that today is what matters and that the interactions we have now are what's important helps keep the focus on life, instead of legacy. It also levels the playing field. The way I see it, the only legacy that really matters for any of us--famous or not--is how we treated people day to day while we were alive. I plan to keep focusing on that.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Five Clues and a Picture

Popping up briefly to share that this week I went underground "on assignment."  I'll connect with you next Sunday. Sorry this message terminates here. Hope you don't mind the gap! (Any guesses?)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Slammin' Sammy!

Hey guys!  Mark here, subbing for Wendelin because she’s, well… slammed.  (Example of the glamorous writing life: As I write this at 11:00 p.m. she’s sitting five feet away from me in the office, going over credit card bills with our younger son, who – along with his older brother – came home from college last night.  Bringing with them the cliché of all college clichés – TONS of dirty laundry.  Which wasn’t done by them last week at college because they, in turn, were slammed with finals.)  And she’s also catching up on all sorts of other tasks – both important and mundane – because she’s been slammed lately with ‘other stuff’.  Namely…

Two nights ago, Wendelin typed the final sentence in the final chapter of the final installment in the Sammy Keyes series, ‘The Kiss Goodbye’.  It's always a good feeling when you finish the first draft of a book.  Sure, there’s the whole re-write/edit/rinse/repeat process, but when you finally get to the end of the initial draft and it ‘works’, it’s a wonderful feeling.  Well, I think for her this is like that, times ten.  Or times eighteen, to be exact.  Made even sweeter (in my opinion) by the poetic way she’s been able to bring this whole saga full circle, yet not circuitous, clearly going forward to whatever life brings Sammy.  (Or more accurately, to whatever Sammy brings life.  Because here’s a little secret: Wendelin didn’t write Sammy as much as Sammy wrote Sammy.  Wendelin happened to be the one with the magic talent to listen closely and get it all down, quick, before it leaves to that place where dreams go when we wake too quickly and don’t take the time to recollect and capture…)

I can remember sitting in the Orange Julius in the mall in ‘Santa Martina’ way back when, talking about this idea she had for a character who was a kick-butt girl, yet real, and vulnerable.  Who lived with her grandmother due to being semi-abandoned by her mother (with no father anywhere in the picture… not even a name or a face… just an old catcher’s mitt).  Yet who, despite her meager existence (or because of it?), was interested enough in justice and fair play to stick her nose where it didn’t belong when she thought someone was getting a raw deal.  But not some sort of pre-canned ‘child genius junior detective’.  (She already had enough issues in her life – she didn’t go looking for trouble as much as it seemed to seek her out and demand attention.)

And speaking of those issues, to me the core of the books wasn’t the mystery at all.  It was the whole ‘fitting in’ thing.  You know, when you’re twelve or thirteen and suddenly you leave the K-thru-6th land of ‘children only’ and you’re thrown into this weird menagerie of half-grown semi adult creatures… of several sub-species.  The spoiled rich kids.  The jocks.  The popular ones.  The nerdy outcasts.  And all of those (all of us?) who don’t fit neatly into one of the above boxes, but are somewhere on the continuum between them, just trying to fit in.  Who just want a good friend or two who understands them and makes them feel like they’re not facing the universe alone.

And wouldn’t it be nice if one of those friends was a scrappy tomboy of a girl who was astute enough to figure out who set the fire… who built the meth lab… who was killing the starlets… And yet, who was young enough and impulsive enough that - when faced with a desperate thief – didn’t run and hide, didn’t call her grams or call 911, didn’t duck and cover, but instead… waved?

That’s a friend I want!