Wendelin Van Draanen - Author
Wendelin Van Draanen is the award-winning author of the Sammy Keyes mystery series, as well as the Shredderman series, How I Survived Being a Girl, and Flipped. She lives in California with her husband and two sons where they have weekly, rock-n-roll jam sessions as a family.
RIF: Have you always liked your first name?
Wendelin Van Draanen: I've always liked my name because it is unique. I didn't have to share it with anyone in school.
RIF: What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing?
WVD: I always say I love the 3Rs: reading, running, and rock-n—roll! I love to read mystery novels. I enjoy running with my two Whippet-breed dogs, Bongos and Jazz. And I love to play rock-n-roll music with my family. We have jam sessions once or twice a week: my youngest son and husband play the drums, my oldest son plays lead guitar, and I sing and play the electric guitar.
RIF: What was your favorite mystery series as a child?
WVD: I loved the Hardy Boys. My parents would buy me Nancy Drew and my brothers would get the Hardy Boys. I preferred reading my brother’s books, because I was a real tomboy and so I identified more with the Hardy Boys than Nancy Drew.
RIF: When and why did you start writing?
WVD: I didn’t enjoy writing as a kid but I discovered the wonderful world of writing fiction as an adult. Fiction is therapeutic for me because, for example, I can have bad guys in my stories and bring them to justice, which doesn’t always happen in the real world.
RIF: What do you like most about writing?
WVD: I love it when I crack myself up while writing a story. I just love it when I get to a scene that’s very funny and I make myself laugh out loud.
RIF: Why did you decide to write a mystery book?
WVD: When I was a teacher, I noticed my students were still reading books I read as a child, like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I thought there should be more current books that reflect the world kids live in today.
Also, I wanted to write the type of book I enjoyed reading as a kid, a book with suspense, humor, and lots of action. The mystery genre allowed me to do all three!
RIF: What are some key elements of a good mystery story?
WVD: In my opinion, a good mystery has cliffhanger chapter endings, a fair depositing of clues by the author, and a main character that is not perfect.
RIF: You used to be a math teacher. Do you think math skills are important skills for a mystery detective to have?
WVD: Definitely! Solving a mystery is like solving a puzzle. With math you are often solving for x (e.g. 13 + 15 = x). It is the same way with mysteries. A mystery detective is trying to piece things together in order to solve x, that missing piece that will crack the case.
RIF: You were a tomboy as a child. Do you think that influences your writing (e.g. that your main character goes by the name Sammy not Samantha)?
WVD: Absolutely! It’s good for girls to break the rules of being a girl. There’s no fun in being too girly too early. I think girls should go out and explore their environment and get to know the world just as boys are encouraged to do.
RIF: Speaking of boys, you have two sons. Are they are your test audience?
WVD: Yes, they love being able to read a book before anyone else does. And they’re very helpful, especially when it comes to the boy characters in my stories. They’ll let me know if certain dialogue doesn’t sound like something a real boy would say.
RIF: What advice would you give to kids who want to write a mystery story?
WVD: First, come up with a main character (or sleuth) that you can identify with and that you like. Second, make sure the main character’s life is complicated. There should be things going wrong in his or her life because that’s where you’ll be able to derive subplots that will help keep the momentum of the story going. In Sammy’s case, she has a school life, a home life, and the fact that she’s living illegally in a senior citizens-only apartment building. All of these create good suspense, which is an important element in a mystery story.
RIF: Do you have any other advice for kids?
WVD: Yes, never give up. I wrote the first four Sammy Keyes books before one was published.
Also, dream big and work hard. But remember, it’s the hard part that makes your dreams come true.
Do you think you have what it takes to be Sammy Keyes and solve a mystery? Then read the police report and examine the evidence in the Sammy Keyes Casebook .
Want to hear Wendelin singing and playing the electric guitar? Listen to the song, Sammy Keyes.