by Ann Rousseau Smith, SCBWI CenCal News Liaison
Wendelin Van Draanen, a member of the SCBWI Central-Coastal California region, has written more than thirty novels for young readers and teens. She is the author of the 18-book Edgar-winning Sammy Keyes series, and wrote Flipped, which was named a Top 100 Children’s Novel for the 21st Century by SLJ, and became a Rob Reiner directed Warner Brothers feature film.
Her first non-fiction book, Hope in the Mail: Reflections on Writing and Life, is part memoir, part writing guide, and part publishing insight.
ANN ROUSSEAU SMITH: Congratulations on your newest book Hope in the Mail: Reflections on Writing and Life! You have written many novels, why a non-fiction book, why now?
WENDELIN VAN DRAANEN: Thank you! I dipped into non-fiction because writers I met at conferences and on book tours—and teachers I worked with while doing school visits—seeded the idea in me. I have learned a lot about both writing and publishing over my career, and with the encouragement of people who have heard me speak, I realized that sharing what I know about craft and publishing could be really helpful to other writers, especially those who needed encouragement to not give up.
ARS: Is there a difference, you can share, between writing a novel and writing a non-fiction book?
WVD: Yes! There’s a huge one. With a novel you can make stuff up! With non-fiction, you have to stick to the facts. I love the organic nature of writing fiction—of discovering new things about your characters and coming upon twists in plot that you hadn’t planned for. With non-fiction, there’s really none of that. You analyze content for relevance, and structure it much more analytically.
I wanted to achieve a balance of accessibility and nuts-and-bolts takeaways, so finding that balance took real contemplation and culling. It was hard!
ARS: Can you elaborate on the title you chose for this book, Hope in the Mail?
WVD: My husband and I were living in a small, rundown rental in a rough part of town, trying to be optimistic about the future. We were both writing, submitting our work to agents and editors in New York and getting generic rejections in return. So when one of us would get discouraged, the other would say, Did you put hope in the mail today? That was code for, Did you submit your work to someone new? Did you create the possibility that someone somewhere might say ‘Yes’? Putting hope in the mail helped me endure the ten years of rejection I got before I placed my first novel. I was consistently and persistently putting hope in the mail—having my work out there circulating—so each day of those ten years I could honestly say, Today could be the day. And then one day it finally was.
ARS: Who do you feel is the audience for Hope in the Mail?
WVD: I wrote it in a way that’s suitable for teens, but it’s definitely also for adults. Specifically, it’s for the writer who is trying to stay motivated in face of all the other demands on their time. I had a full-time job and two little kids when we were living in that rundown rental, and I want Hope in the Mail to be a lifeline for anyone walking in similar shoes. We need to support and encourage each other to make time for our creative pursuits; to stop putting them last on our endless to-do lists. I see this book as a tool for writers who need an encouraging friend to get them going and keep them writing.
ARS: I have read many positive reviews of your book, some by people who do not even aspire to be authors, who enjoyed reading Hope in the Mail for the sheer joy of reading your writing. How does that feel?
WVD: That’s so nice to hear! I aimed for a blend of entertainment and education, and this tells me I’m at least in the ballpark. There are stories woven throughout the book—stories about life and how certain events and experiences informed my thinking and writing. They’re told with the purpose of showing how to release the writer inside you, but that readers enjoy the stories just for the sake of their entertainment is a wonderful thing.
ARS: What are you working on now?
WVD: I know a lot of creative people have struggled with their art/craft because of all that’s going on in the world. But I find that the best way to escape the things I have little control over is to submerge myself in my writing. It’s just a nice refuge to spend time with my imaginary friends, and it’s an environment where I can control what people do and how it’ll all turn out. So I almost feel bad saying this, but I’ve had a pretty productive pandemic. I’ve sold my next YA novel and two STEM-based picture books, and am presently working on a new middle grade novel. Many years ago I began writing as a form of therapy. Today it’s still helping me find a path forward.
Thank you Wendelin!
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Images provided by Wendelin Van Draanen and the SCBWI Central-Coastal Region.