15 Days of Giveaways: Wendy Mass

This interview originally ran in October of 2010. Since then Wendy Mass has published 13 Gifts, the latest book in the Willow Falls series, and Beauty and the Beast, the latest book in the Twice Upon a Time series. Look for her next book, Pi in the Sky, in bookstores June of this year. To win a copy of the advanced reader copy of The Candymakers leave a comment on this post. 

Congratulations Adriana! You’ve won the copy of THE CANDYMAKERS! Please email me with your mailing address and I’ll send the book out to you.

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

8 Responses to “15 Days of Giveaways: Wendy Mass”

  1. Veronica Bartles

    🙂 I actually DO share my workspace with an artist! My husband is a very talented artist, and we sit side-by-side in the evenings as he draws or paints and I write. Every now and again, we'll pause to share what we're working on. And it's the best!! I think every writer needs an artist to share a workspace with.