“Through writing, I open up my heart and soul in ways I never could in everyday life. The joy, the pain, the wonder and loneliness I felt in growing up, meld into stories which I hope will help kids believe in themselves and have compassion for those around them.”—Wendelin Van Draanen
Wendelin Van Draanen is the winner of the 1999 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Children’s Mystery Book for Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief. Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes is a 2003 Edgar Award nominee.
Visit Wendelin Van Draanen's Web site at www.wendelinvandraanen.com for the lastest on The Gecko and Sticky, Sammy Keyes, Shredderman, and more!
How in the world did I wind up writing a book about a kleptomaniacal, talking gecko lizard? I’m the first to admit–talking animals are not my thing. First person, realistic fiction–that’s what I like. And yet, after Sticky appeared as a sidekick television character in my Shredderman series and uttered his first “Holy guaco-tacarole!” I was hooked. He’s so funny. And so full of mischief.
I always develop a backstory for my characters to get to know them. Even if they’re secondary characters, I have to understand their background and motivations before I let them into the story. The premise of the third Shredderman book (Meet the Gecko) is that a television crew comes to town to shoot an episode, and Shredderman helps out the star of the show. Not wanting to deal with the legal complications of using a real television show, I made up my own: The Gecko and Sticky. In the process, I came up with the hero (Dave Sanchez–a boy who has the “superpower” of being able to walk up walls, and is known as the Gecko), the sidekick (Sticky who is, as you already know, a talking gecko with . . . h’hem, sticky fingers), the villain (the deadly, diabolical, and definitely demented Damien Black), and Damien’s sidekicks (the Bandito Brothers, who are, in fact, not brothers, but a thieving mariachi band).
It was definitely wilder than anything I’d come up with before, but hey–it was just a made-up TV show, right?
Ah, how diabolically infectious made-up TV shows can be!
Sticky, you see, got under my skin. His “Ay-ay-ay”s and his “What the jalapeno was that?” and his “You cut me to the quick, senor” enchanted me, and I was sorry when his role in the Shredderman books was over.
After the Shredderman quartet was complete, I began getting lots of fan mail from kids (and teachers) asking me to please write more Shredderman books. It was tempting, because I love Nolan and the gang. But I’d completed my mission with the quartet; so instead, I started writing The Gecko and Sticky.
My first attempt resulted in an over 200-page manuscript. That was closer to a Sammy Keyes novel than a Shredderman book. So I hacked it up, threw it out, and started all over.
My next try had me at 150 pages–still too long, and something about it wasn’t quite right. So I chucked it and asked myself what in the world I was thinking, writing in the voice of a lizard.
But then on a flight from New York to California, I started hearing a voice. It wasn’t my voice. Or the guy snoring in the seat beside me. It was, you know, a voice. One in my head.
Yeah, we writers hear them, and although we will almost certainly deny it if you press us about it, we also listen. It’s how I wrote Swear to Howdy; how Bryce appeared in Flipped; where Holly’s poems came from in Runaway . . . and it’s how the narrator took over the storytelling for The Gecko and Sticky.
It’s a man’s voice in my head. (Okay, I concede that I might need some help.) But he’s funny as all get-out, and I like to listen to him. He’s the voice of someone who loves the art of storytelling; of someone who will hold a child’s wide-eyed attention as he shares the wild antics of a boy and his mischievous gecko; of someone I’d plead, “Just one more chapter, please?”
So I hope that explains it, because I really must go. He’s talking to me again and I’ve got to get back to Dave and Sticky. They are, after all, in the midst of some deep, diabolical doo-doo . . .