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Interview with Vivian Vande Velde, Now You See It...
Vivian Vande Velde is the author of more than twenty books for young readers, including Heir Apparent, Wizard at Work, and the Edgar Award–winning Never Trust a Dead Man. She lives in Rochester, New York.
Wendy isn't as blind as a bat—there are bats that can see better than she can. Which is why, when her new glasses break, she's all too happy to wear the dorky pair of sunglasses she finds on her lawn. They seem to match her prescription, and that's all that matters if she's going to be able to make it through her school day.

But the glasses correct her vision too much—she begins to see things that no one else can see: cheerful corpses, frightening crones disguised as teenyboppers, and portals to other worlds—places where people are all too aware of the magical properties of her new shades…and will do anything to get them.
Q: Now You See It…, your most recent teen fantasy book, is about a fifteen-year-old girl who finds a pair of "magical" sunglasses. The sunglasses allow her to see another world and, ultimately, lead her to a time-traveling, dragon-filled adventure. When writing a book, how much do you think about incorporating subtle lessons about life, family, and growing up?

A: I absolutely never set out to write a lesson. When I was growing up, I could always tell which books or stories were supposed to teach me something or be good for me and I stayed away from them whenever I could.


That said, stories that are just pure adventure are kind of shallow and, after you've read a few of them, you ultimately find they are unsatisfying. As with the kind of movies that are all car chases and explosions (as exciting as some of that is): If that's all there is, in the end you're left with the feeling of "so what?"

I try to balance the adventure with the lesson. It's not a formula (like, two parts adventure for one part lesson, or anything like that); it's a sense that the character needs to not only survive the crisis or solve the mystery, but must somehow be affected by it.

Q: In Now You See It…, you've created little blue guys called spreenies, and they're the perfect explanation as to why one can't find the pen that was just there and why socks arbitrarily disappear. When a clever idea for a character pops into your mind, how do you develop the personality traits, characteristics, and idiosyncrasies?
A: Are you saying that spreenies *aren't* the reason why the change always falls out of my wallet and into the bottom of my purse?

For me, the character starts to come alive the first time he or she opens her mouth. If I'm still in the planning stage before setting words to paper the character is very nebulous. I can be planning that she should be resourceful or he should be timid; but because this is just in my mind and is so easily changed the character isn't real to me. As soon as he or she starts talking, there's an attitude. It might be empathetic or sarcastic, or unsure, or confrontational, or weaselly, or whatever. The way the character chooses to express him or herself might suddenly reveal a personality that isn't even what I'd originally thought. And though I know I could always go back and change anything (or everything), right away things stop shifting and start to get focused.

Larry, the spreenie in Now You See It..., was originally conceived to play a tiny role: His one-scene purpose was to almost get killed (when Wendy first arrived through the magic portal) in order to show how bad the bad guys were. But when Wendy told him that she thought he was dead, he threw himself on the ground and asked, "Were you ready to give me mouth-to-mouth?" Once those words were out of his mouth, he just wouldn't shut up. (Larry obviously thinks *he's* the book's main character.)

Q: You were raised in Rochester, New York, and have spent most of your life there. As a matter of fact, Now You See It…is set in your hometown. How much of your real life do you sprinkle into your books?
A: There are bits and pieces of my life in just about all my stories. Sometimes those pieces are more hidden than others.

My eyesight is just about as bad as Wendy's, so I've had to wear glasses since I was about two and a half. (And I've always hated wearing glasses, so when Wendy is going around not being able to see and talks about guessing and extrapolating that's me.)

Here's another true piece: Though I'd seen my mother's photo albums all my life and had always enjoyed looking through them, it was only after she died about three years ago that I truly saw her in those pictures. I mean, before that, it was as though I was seeing her (even pictures of her as a woman younger than I was when I was doing the looking) through a mom filter. Suddenly, however, I found myself thinking, Wow, look how young she was. I'd look at her face in pictures where she was a teen (growing up in France, before World War II) and think, She had no idea what life was going to hold for her. She didn't know the war was coming, and she didn't know she was going to meet and marry my father (a U.S. Army corporal), or that she would move with him to the United States and only see her family a handful of times after that. I started thinking that I really would have liked meeting her as a young woman. So one of the threads running through Now You See It... is that Wendy meets and comes to appreciate her grandmother as a teen.

One more true piece: The blue and white dress that Eleni wears is my mother's. My mother is wearing it in a bunch of pictures, and despite many years and several moves (including that one across the Atlantic), she kept it. A couple years ago, my daughter tried it on, and I got goose bumps seeing her in it. That was when I knew I would write this story.

Things in Now You See It... that aren't true: Though there's a Highland Park in Rochester and an annual lilac festival such as the one mentioned in the story, there's no James Fenimore Cooper High and no Westfall Nursing Home. I've never seen a dead person (or an elf, or a spreenie), neither my grandmother nor my mother ever suffered from Alzheimer's, and my bad eyesight was never cured. (Unless you count wearing contact lenses instead of glasses cured.)

Q: With almost twenty Harcourt books, including Companions of the Night (Harcourt, 1995), Being Dead (Harcourt, 2001), and Dragon's Bait (Harcourt, 2003), what helps you keep plots, settings, and characters fresh?
A: For the most part, I write stories that I would want to read. Some of those are for younger kids, some for older, sometimes set in the here and now, sometimes not. I don't have a grand scheme for my writing career, nor do I have a file full of notes for what I'll write next. Each time I finish a story, I've invested all I've got into it and haven't a clue if I'll ever have another idea again.

Q: Many of your young adult books have received coveted honors. For instance, Heir Apparent (Harcourt, 2002) won the Anne Spencer Lindbergh Prize and Never Trust a Dead Man (Harcourt, 1999) was given the Edgar Award. What do you think makes your stories appealing to teens, parents, and librarians?
A: I'm delighted about the honors and gratified that *anybody* reads my stories because I'm writing them to please myself, not any hypothetical reader or awards committee. Since I'm writing for myself, I don't talk down to my readers; and because I have a short attention span, my books turn out to be good for reluctant readers.

Q: What do you like most about writing teen fantasy?
A: I can write about subjects that interest me (such as fear of dying, or not fitting in, or being accused of something you didn't do) that are universal themes, and yet because of the fantasy element, the specifics are different from what my readers would have ever experienced, so I don't sound judgmental or preachy. (For example, those don't drink and drive ads on TV come across as pretty lame. Yet the first story in Being Dead says the same thing in a way that I hope will stick with teens.)

Q: When you pick up a book, what do you enjoy reading?
A: In adult books, I enjoy science fiction and fantasy by Connie Willis, Barbara Hambly, C. J. Cherryh. I read a lot of young adult books and highly recommend fantasy by Jane Yolen, especially Sword of the Rightful King (Harcourt, 2003), historical novels such as Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard and When My Name Was Keoko, and mystery (Following Fake Man, by Barbara Ware Holmes). Chris Crutcher's Whale Talk is an absolutely stunning book.

Q: Can you give us an idea as to what you're working on?
A: Next up later this year are two books that will be put out by other publishers: The Book of Mordred (Houghton Mifflin) is a story about King Arthur's son the one who is usually cast as the villain in the downfall of Camelot; and Witch Dreams (Marshall Cavendish) is about a teen who has the power to see into other people's dreams, and uses this ability to solve the murder of her family.

I'm currently just finishing up writing a collection for teens—all stories that take place on Halloween.

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Vivian Vande Velde

Vivian Vande Velde

Now You See It...
Now You See It...

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