A Peek at the Creative Space of Wendy Mass

Joining us this week to share her creative space is author Wendy Mass! Wendy Mass is the author of ten novels including A Mango-Shaped Space, Leap Day, the Twice Upon a Time fairy tale series, Every Soul a Star, 11 Birthdays, Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and Finally. Her books have been translated into 12 languages and nominated for 41 state book awards, and A Mango-Shaped Space was awarded the Schneider Family Book Award by the American Library Association.

Her latest book (out in book stores this week!) is The Candymakers, a puzzle mystery about four 12-year-olds who enter a candymaking contest. Kirkus reviews writes: “Set in a candy factory as tantalizingly fragrant as Willy Wonka’s, this half-mystery, half–jigsaw-puzzle novel is a mild-mannered cousin to The Westing Game and When You Reach Me. . . . Sweets fans will love the gooey sensory details. Earnest and sweet, with enough salty twists not to taste saccharine.” The Candymakers has its own website where you can learn more about the book, watch a video of Wendy talking about writing and researching the book, and find out more about the “I Want Candy!” sweepstakes.

A movie is being made of her novel Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, scheduled to come out in 2011. Wendy wrote about visiting the set on her blog which you can read about here. You will find an abundance of fun and useful information on her website. For writers, she has a great essay on her outlining method (which she refers to below) posted here. And now let’s take a peek inside Wendy Mass’s creative space:

Describe your workspace.
Ah, a room of one’s own. My house is overrun with toddlers so about six months ago I started renting an office about ten minutes away from my house. It’s located right on the boardwalk that surrounds a lake. I love having a place I can go to that’s just for writing. I’ve decorated it with things that remind me why I love what I do, even on the days where the ideas and the words just aren’t coming. Sometimes the door to my office is blocked by an outdoor table from the restaurant next door who set them up each morning and each morning forget about me. It’s always fun asking people to move while they’re eating. Once some nice women felt sorry for me and offered me wine. Here is the view from my window:

Describe a typical workday.
Drop off the twins at Pre-K, do the typical suburban mom stuff—CVS, supermarket, post office, then get to my office and settle in. If I’m in the research stage of a book I might go to the library first, otherwise I’m pretty much in front of the laptop until school gets out. Having written half the books before I had kids, it’s hard to adjust to writing on such a tight schedule. Knowing I have a shorter time each day does make me focus more, so there’s that. Still, if anyone has any secrets on juggling the two successfully, send ‘em my way.  

I call this part of the office Contemplation Corner. More accurately, it’s where i go when the words start to swim on the screen and I curl up on the black and white chair and take a 10-minute power nap. Or 20.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

I found this mirror with the colorful ceramic tiles down in Key West, Florida. I was there about ten years ago for a writing workshop to work on what would a few years later become my first novel A Mango-Shaped Space. I met Judy Blume there, and gave her a copy of a nonfiction book I had written called Great Authors of Children’s Literature, which included a chapter on her. I got up the nerve (I don’t know from where!) to slip a short story into the front with my email address on top. She emailed that night and invited me to her house for lunch. Whenever I look at the mirror, it reminds me of her warmth and generosity, and how grateful I am to have someone I admire so greatly as a friend.   

This sign that spells W-R-I-T-E in symbols rather than letters, was from lovely Cedar Falls, Iowa where I spent a week doing school visits last year. It’s over my desk and whenever I’m tempted to start surfing websites about who celebrities are dating/breaking up with/getting a restraining order against, I look at the sign and remember why I’m sitting here. 

Most of the other stuff was made for me by kids. The sign with my name spelled out of candy bar wrappers makes me hungry every time I look at it (as does the constant wafting of food smells from next door). I love the Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life boxes, because no two are ever the same. This one is filled with the kids’ own thoughts on what the meaning of life is. I wish I had them before I wrote the book because they are really smart. 

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? 
Nope. I wish I had a ritual of remembering my computer chord, since I forget it every other day and have to drive all the way home.

 Everyone should have a larger-than-life-sized stick-on of Johnny Depp on their wall.
What do you listen to while you work?
I never listen to music when I’m in the early note-taking or outlining stage. Sometimes I’ll put it on when I’m further along into the book, and then it’s something fast and upbeat (currently Lady Gaga is in heavy rotation on my iTunes) in an attempt to get my fingers moving faster along the keyboard. 

Don’t Piss off the Fairies. ‘Nuff said.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Water and candy. Then more candy.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

The looming deadline of whatever I’m working on and the wish to not let my editor down by being late. 
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
I take notes and write the outline in a spiral notebook (each novel gets its own notebook). Then I write the actual book on the computer. I think putting pen to paper for the initial steps is a more direct route from your brain.  
How do you develop your story ideas? 
Once I find the topic that I want to write about, I go to the library and find every book or magazine on the subject. I start in the children’s room with the simplest books. Learning about how a solar eclipse works is much easier in a book for 5-year-olds than one for grownups. Then once I understand the basics, I’ll dive deeper into the subject, with the goal of approaching the topic in a way I haven’t seen before. I could have basically put my local librarian’s children through college with all my fines.  
Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I always outline. Sometimes if I have enough time, I’ll outline the entire book first. Mostly now I do a rough outline of the story, then outline each chapter before I write it. If I had a choice, I’d rather outline the entire book first. If I let the muse lead me, she would lead me to wander the streets aimlessly, bemoaning my career choice. The books would wind up way too long and would stray off the topic too much. Some people complain that outlining a novel takes the fun out of writing it, but I gotta say, staring at a blank screen without knowing what’s coming next is a lot worse. Especially on a deadline.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
Someone quiet. An artist might be a nice companion. No clacking of the keyboard keys and I’m in awe of the creative process of people who can paint or draw so it would be fun and inspiring to see that process close up. If it didn’t have to be someone human, my cat Fang was a great officemate (may he rest in peace in cat heaven with all the tuna fish he desires). He used to sit on top of my computer and purr all day. Guess that wouldn’t work with a laptop. I miss him.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
I heard the wonderful Paula Danziger speak once at my local library and she told the story of how she and her good friend Avi would set a goal for the amount of words or pages they would write in a certain time period, and if they didn’t meet their goals, they had to donate a small sum to the other person’s political party. Now THAT’S motivation for you! I need to do something like that. Another thing that has stuck with me is early on in my career, I asked my agent (the wonderful Ginger Knowlton) if she thought I should write any specific kind of book, like any trends that might be coming up, or any topics editors mentioned they were looking for. She said I shouldn’t think about that, that I should only write the books that were inside me, that I was passionate about. At the time I remember being a little frustrated by that, thinking it would be a lot easier if someone just told me what to write, but over the years her advice has proven to be right on target

74 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Wendy Mass”

  1. Linda Lodding

    Thanks for another sneak peak into a writer's creative space. If only I had a view of a lake, a bowl full of candy and Wendy's ability to outline…Looking forward to her next yummy book!

  2. Andrea Mack

    Wow – I love Wendy's books, having discovered them this year. Wish I could write as well as she does.
    It's neat to see how other authors manage their time and space.

  3. Vonna

    Wonderful interview! And a great story about Judy Blume. I just read on Anna Staniszewski's blog about your recent visit to her child's school. Lucky kids!

  4. Anonymous

    I love how its so peaceful!!! Its a place were you can consentrate and do hard work but you just feel like you are at home!!!I love how its all arranged and its just WOW!!!

  5. Anonymous

    Wow your office looks like a place where I could concentrate and do my school work or my drawings… I wish Had a office like that at school…

  6. Anonymous

    Wendy's office is right near where I live! I have gone to that restaurant she is talking about! Thanks for sharing this cool information!

  7. Anonymous

    I would LOVE to have a workspace as lovely as yours, as my train of thought is often brought to a halt because of city traffic.

  8. Laura

    I love your books, you're a great writer and I hope to read more of them!!!! I loved the story of Judy Blume. I would be so lucky to have one like it!

  9. Anonymous

    Your books are awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I could read 1 several times in a row and I would not get bored.

  10. Anja

    I truly think that you have a gift of writing. Your books have touched my heart in a great way. Keep writing!

  11. Anonymous

    I love the books!it can be really hard for me to find a book that I like.right now I am reading about 8 books a month each about 300 pages long.

  12. Pam

    Wendy it looks like you've found a great hideaway to dream and write. May your imagination grow like the mighty oak and always find new ways to branch out on an idea. Mark Twain said we can't even rely on our eyes if our imagination is out of focus.

  13. Anonymous

    My favorite book of yours is Every Soul a Star! I recommend it to all my friends! Thank you so much for being a great author!

  14. Jenn (From the Mixed-Up Files)

    Hey Wendy Mass fans! You guys are so awesome! Thank you for your comments here, and I'm glad you enjoyed my interview with Wendy. Just so you know, this interview is on a separate website from Wendy's so if you're asking her a question and hoping for a reply, I'd recommend commenting on her personal blog at: http://www.wendymass.com/blog/

    And feel free to click around my blog and check out my other interviews and posts. If you're a fan of Wendy Mass, you might also like books by Denise Vega, Bob Krech, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Lois Lowry, or Kate Messner, just to name a few. (And hopefully, someday, me too!)

    Thanks again for visiting and commenting!

  15. bethan

    i love all of your books and today was the best day ever when i got to meet you! thank you so much for signing my book and letting us take a picture!

  16. Anonymous

    I love reading your books I also like to write myself. I just finished 11 Birthdays and finished it in 2 days. I also read A Mango-shaped space, Heaven looks A Lot Like the Mall and I am working on Jermey Fink. After that I will definetly read more!! Thank you so much Wendy Mass. I love your books and with everyone I couldn'nt put it down! -A Philly Girl

  17. Anonymous

    I just wanted to here some thoughts on an idea for a book. A elementary school child's father finds out he has cancer. It would be about the journy the family takes(the mom the dad and the child). To help the father feel better and live longer and in the end the father survives.

  18. Anonymous

    i love your books they are awesome. i am reading every soul a star and its the best. i just read the candymakers and it was terrific. ive read jeremy fink, candymakers, nd planning on reading heaven looks a lot like a mall and leap year. thanks for writing these stories there the best.:)

  19. Anonymous

    i love Wendy Mass's books, i barely read anything else! i'm reading every soul a star and i've read Finally, 11 birthdays, and A mango Shaped space. i cant make up my min which ones i like better. i'm cought between 11 birthdays (the first one i read) and A Mango Shaped Space (my most recent completed one and i cried :'(.) lets wait till i finish every soul a star until i make my choice. i wanna write to her and i will find a way i love her too much not to.

  20. kristen

    I love your zebra striped chair Wendy!I also love A MANGO SHAPED SPACE and all the others I'm putting EVERY SOUL a STAR on hold!I cant wait,I love all of your books.Thanks so much for writing.I have to admit that I DID cry when The cat died….It was so sad):


    P.S Let me know when more books come out please!

  21. Kat

    I just love you Wendy. You inspire me everyday. I only hope i get an A on the book report I did of "Heaven looks a lot like the mall". Cross your fingers.

  22. Anonymous

    I love all your books and think you are a very talented writer I am 11 and have read practicably all of them.Never stop writing your books!!!

  23. Anonymous

    I love your books! I have read Finally, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and right now I am reading 11 Birthdays.
    I love the way you write. Every page has something new. the suspence is what catches my attention! I personaly think that Finally is the best book ever!!!
    Can't wait to read another book of yours! Your books are inspiring!

  24. Anonymous

    wendy- i just LOVE your books
    espicely 11 birthdays!A lot of people in my 5th grade class just adore that book and are hoping to read 13 gifts!I am planing to try to read ALL of your books.EPICALY 13 GIFTS and FINALLY! Hopefuly i acaonplish it!

  25. zoe

    thank you wendy! Im saying thankyou beacause you wote 13 wishes secual to 11 birthdays!I bought the book today and im so excited to read it!

  26. Melissa

    I love the book 11 Birthdays!! Its my first book that I've read from you and it's just amazing! I'm 10 and love it!! I finished it today!! 11/19/11

  27. Kaimi

    Your books are the best.Thank you for writing.They have so much suspense and you don't know what's going to happen next. They are awesome!!!!:)

  28. Anonymous

    Hey wendy i hope you can read this because you visited my school in october i think and you did a writing workshop… as an aspiring writer i was hoping that you could add a section to this website that included print outs of charecter development and story ideas hope you can read this!!! ps i love all of your books especially every soul a star

  29. Kiran

    You are one of my favorite authors ever!!! Can you please write another sequel to the 11 Birthdays series.;) Well, thank you so so so so so much for being an amazing author!!! You have my best wishes. 🙂

  30. Anonymous

    im doing a book report about A Mango-Shaped Space right now! its a really good book!

  31. Anonymous

    Wendy Mass if your reading this I would like to say you inspire me to write. People say I'm a good writer but not as good as you. I wanted to say thank you for inspiring me!!!!!!

  32. Anonymous

    WOW! Wendy Mass is extremely talented! No joke! I am hooked.READ HER BOOKS!!

  33. Anonymous

    wendy mass i love your book i made a list of my fav authers and you came first!

  34. Annisa Vincent

    Wendy Mass, your amazing. I love your books so so much, I'm making my school library order them! 🙂 -From Jakarta, Indonesia.

  35. Johanna

    We love your books….My daughter, 12, just finished 13 Gifts in four days. She would really appreciate it if you would continue with a book about "14." (Obviously, she read 11 Birthdays and Finally (12).) Thank you, Wendy! Keep it up! (Baton Rouge)

  36. Anonymous

    Hi wendy I really love your books.I'm going to a camp that is so much like the moon shadow in your book every soul a star it's like the story coming a live thank you for all the books

  37. Anonymous

    Hi Wendy, me and my friend are obsessed with all of your books and are counting down the days tell Pi in the sky comes put!!!!!!! I wrote to you and you. Worctec back and it was so amazing I was having a bad and then you turned my day upside down right away once I got it!!!! Please keep writing and keep blogging about all of your new books coming out!!!!
    Madison 🙂

  38. Anonymous

    Hi Wendy! I loved your Willow falls series, and hope you continue it. I know you probaly aren't reading this but I know your really busy and thats okay. I just wanted to give you an idea….If you could like just maybe. You could make 11 birthdays in Leo's point of view? I just always wondered how he felt with the whole thing and more about his family and such. You don't have to write me back, or even consider my idea. Just always wondered about him. 🙂 Thanks Wendy!
    -Anna (Mount Olive, New jersey)

  39. Sarah Skate

    You have got to be my favorite author ever!!! How do you think of ideas like that? I've read a Mango-Shaped Space, Every Soul a Star, 11 Birthdays, Finally, and 13 Gifts. Best books I've ever read!!!

  40. Anonymous

    hi wendy i have read three of your books and they were all amazing.
    keep writing cause i cant wait for another book from you

  41. Anonymous

    Hi wendy I LOVE your books so much i'm going to do a report about you. I read that you have twins, my brother and sister are twins. Their names are John and Daphne, they are 7. When ever I get a new book they ask me to read it to them. One night I stayed up reading 11 birthday from 8:25 I finished at 9:48

  42. Anonymous

    hi Wendy!! i am not sure if you are looking at this but….
    i am your biggest fan!!! i love your books so much!!! i hope that you continue writing the birthday series because they are so good!! kepp up the good work!

  43. Anonymous

    I love "11 Birthdays". It is my favorite book. My plan is to read your books corresponding with the next ages I am about to experience. "12 Finally" will be the only book I read on my twelfth birthday!

  44. Anonymous

    I read 13 Gifts and would not put it down. I loved it! I wish I could have her ability to write such good books. I am now going to read Finally and 11 Birthdays. Keep writing!!!<3

  45. Anonymous

    Your books are awesome! My BFF read all of your books, and she suggested a mango shaped-space to me, and I loved it so much I secretly read it in class, when I got caught I had to just read it at recesses! I enjoy your books, and suggest them to all the Fifth graders out there mostly because it is mostly in their lexile. At my school anyway!

  46. Brasil

    I first came across this book as I was prowling through my sister's bookshelves in desperate search of something to read. (My own shelves' content had been thoroughly read several times over.) I had already read A Mango-Shaped Space, also by Wendy Mass, and I was eager to open this newest book and see what it had to offer me. Three hours later, I lifted my head dizzily and realized I had read through dinner, not paying any heed to my mother's calls, or my stomach's grumbles. Wonderingly, I got up and smiled.
    This book is a wonderful story of teenage angst, confusion, and love, both of romance and friendship. It got to my heart and made it sing. It is for any age, sex, religion, ethnicity, or sexuality, and recommend it for all of the above.

  47. elvira bravo

    Hey wendy I love to read you'r books there "r" great I hope that you make more books about willow falls is increadebla how you write the books I hope you give me some tips to write like you about the wonderful places you can go it's AWESOME when you read a books you can't get out of it and thats mostly happens when I read a book thet you write. Hope you write alot more books. with love Elvira bravo. Love you.

  48. Anonymous

    Wendy, you are such a good writer! i love all of your books! they are so funny!! The books always make me laugh! I really hope that you continue writing the birthday series!! I hope It comes out soon!

  49. Anonymous

    i've read alomst ALL your books,and they were AWESOME!!!! i cried when i read A Mango-Shaped Space;it's my favorite book ever!!! please keep writing!

  50. Anonymous

    i've read ALL your books,and they were awesome!!! please keep writing!:)

  51. Anonymous

    I have ALWAYS admired your books. I have read 11 birthdays, The Candymakers, Jeremy Fink and the meaning of life, 13 gifts, finally, and I just finished a mango shaped space. They are amazing.

  52. Sri Uma

    When I started reading your books I really loved them.My first book was Thirteen gifts.I loved it.It also had lot's of specific details.That made it much easier to read.The most interesting part was that some people could see the the items in the store and some can't.

  53. Anonymous

    hi wendy! you are such a good writer! i want to be like you someday! i really like your books! please put out another book for me to read! thanks!

  54. Emily

    Your book ,11 Birthdays, is my most favorite book in the world. i have read it 7 times but it just never gets old. you are pretty much my role model. ALso, i was wondering if you could coe speak at ingian trail intermediate school in Johnson City, Tennessee. When i grow up, i want to be a writter just like you!

  55. Anonymous

    You are the most amazing writer! Your books teach lessons, and they always help me. I hope that I can read all of your books, and Im almost there! Thank you so much!!

  56. Anonymous

    love ur books so much ecspecailly 11 Birthdays so secretive

  57. LOVE Wendy Mass!

    Happy St. Patty's Day!!! Now before mos(mom over shoulder) happens i just want to know if there will be a 14 birthday book!? The others are like, uber good!!!!!!!!! i love u Wendy!!

  58. Katie Miller

    I just finished two of your books! The candymakers and A mango-shaped space. They were awesome. I am doing a informational writing piece about which author I would invite to my Language Arts class and Why and I chose you! Also i chose you for my author study. I LOVE your books. My fav. is The Candymakers. I am determined to read all of your books. I LOVE to read and write.By the way I am 10. And in 5th grade.