Wendelin Van Draanen
D is for Determined
Books and determination have always gone hand in hand for me. Every summer when I was a kid, I participated in the public library's summer reading program, where I got to put stickers on my own special poster for each book I read. Since I loved reading, I loved the program. I also got a thrill out of seeing my poster become crowded with stickers, especially when I had more than anyone else! But there was this other girl, Karen, who'd get lots of stickers, too, and doggone it if by the end of the summer she didn't always win. Well! One summer I decided that this time I was going to beat her. So I devised a plan to fudge a little. I took credit for reading a whole stack of books I'd only glanced through. When the children's librarian asked me to tell her about each of them, I made up little stories of my own. After all, how could a children's librarian possibly have read every book in the library, right? Wrong. That was the summer I learned that children's librarians do know every book on their shelves. I didn't stand a chance. And, needless to say, Karen won again.
The incident didn't dampen my love of books, however. And fortunately I had the same determination to become a writer (without fudging, that is). I wrote — and was rejected — for ten years before my first novel was finally published. At that time, I thought I was writing a funny book for adults — one that would remind them of their own mischievous adventures growing up. But, since it was in the voice of a twelve year old, the publishers decided it was a children's book. What a happy accident it turned out to be. I absolutely love writing books for kids.
I started writing the Sammy Keyes series in 1997. Sammy's the friend I wish I'd had in junior high. She's spunky, a little sassy, tough on the outside but kind and thoughtful on the inside. Having been a high school teacher and a mother has helped me remember what that age feels like; it has given me a clear perspective on what kids are going through in today's society. Some of it is the same as when I was growing up, and some of it is much more intense.
Now I'm up to my tenth Sammy book, in what I plan as a series of 20. Its working title is Sammy Keyes and the Dead Giveaway . Arg! It was fun, matey! As is the case with all my books, there's plenty of action and humor, but it's supported by an underlying theme that I hope will make kids consider things they might not have thought about before.
When I'm not writing, I love having fun with my two sons: acting zany in the grocery store, tossing ice cubes off the deck, skateboarding, swimming, playing chess, making some wild dessert in the kitchen. I also like to run up killer hills that make my lungs ache and legs wobble, but when I get to the top I can say, I did it! That, and watching the moon. Don't even try to talk to me when I'm watching the moon. That's my moon, baby.
If you are interested in writing, get out and live your life! Do a lot. See a lot. Keep your eyes and ears open. Pay attention to the different ways people speak. Read lots of different kinds of books. And then try writing in different voices and styles — don't be afraid to experiment. Use your own experiences and observations. Make your characters people you care about. Stew. Brood. Then write some more. And key to the whole operation: rewrite. I rewrite my books many times before submitting them, and after my editor takes a look I wind up rewriting some more! It's a good thing I learned at an early age to keep on trying. Stick to it, and eventually you'll get there.
In addition to the Sammy Keyes series, Wendelin Van Draanen is also the author of the Shrederman books and the novels Flipped and Swear to Howdy .
Today you will find Wendelin Van Drannen in California with her two sons and her husband who happens to have a knack for helping her brainstorm ideas for her books.