Books have always been a part of Wendelin Van Draanen’s life. Her mother taught her to read at an early age, and she has fond memories of story time with her father, when she and her brothers would cuddle up around him and listen to him read stories.
Growing up, Van Draanen was a tomboy who loved to be outside chasing down adventure. She did not decide that she wanted to be an author until she was an adult. When she tried her hand at writing a screenplay about a family tragedy, she found the process quite cathartic and from that experience, turned to writing novels for adults. She soon stumbled upon the joys of writing for children.
Feedback from her readers is Van Draanen’s greatest reward for writing. “One girl came up to me and told me I changed her life. It doesn’t get any better than that,” she said. Van Draanen hopes to leave her readers with a sense that they have the ability to steer their own destiny-that individuality is a strength, and that where there’s a will, there’s most certainly a way.
Her first book was published in 1997, and since then her titles have been nominated for State Award Master Lists all over the country. The Sammy Keyes Mysteries have been nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Children’s Mystery four times, with Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief bringing home the statue. Additionally, she has won the Christopher medal for Shredderman: Secret Identity, and the California Young Reader Medal for Flipped. Her books have been translated into many foreign languages, and have been optioned for film and television projects. She lives in California with her husband and two sons. Her hobbies include the “Three R’s”: Reading, Running and Rock ‘n’ Roll. For more info, visit her website, or you can find her on Twitter too!
Let the conversation begin!
Do you begin with character or plot?
Maybe situation? The characters seem to evolve from their circumstances. Plot can be the driving force in a mystery, but the mysteries I enjoy most are made more complex by the main character’s situation outside of it. I’m most interested in the human condition, so most of my writing stems from that.
What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
Sammy’s crush (Casey) has her eat weird combinations of food. This is inspired by my husband who used to pack me odd things in my lunch when I was a teacher. I’d open my sack and go, Really? Some of his, uh, experiments were really tasty…like mac ‘n’ cheese ‘n’ salsa…others not so much…like tuna and peanut butter (bleeech). But to answer your question, probably rattlesnake. Gutted, cooked and consumed in the name of research for Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things, it was a lot of work for not much meat. Good to know if you’re starving in the woods.
What’s the first item on your bucket list?
Finish the Sammy Keyes series! I can’t croak before my readers know who Sammy’s dad is!
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
Play distorted electric guitar, ride shopping carts through parking lots, go for long runs.
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?
My husband is my first and only pre-reader. He’s enormously helpful. Then my editor and agent read it. I don’t circulate the story before it’s a book, but I do talk about it.
In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Anything but a writer! Being a writer seemed so…stationary. And I’m a little hyper.
Easier to write before or after you were published?
Before. No deadlines, no expectations. And when I got to the end of the manuscript I thought I was done! But being published is a whole lot more fun than being rejected.
What’s one rule you’re dying to break?
Just one? Please.
What initially drew you to writing?
Death! Destruction! Dispair! Writing started as a form of therapy during a struggle to cope with the curveballs of life. I could never have dreamed that it would become such a joyful career.