Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Story Behind The Story: Vivian Vande Velde on Being Dead

Being Dead by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 2001). Sometimes touching, sometimes really scary, sometimes just on the creepy side stories of the dead. "Drop by Drop" is guaranteed to keep you up at night (and checking under your car). "October Chill" is affecting, emotionally haunting--the kind of story that leaves its readers imagining what does or doesn't happen next. Ages 10-up.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

Being Dead is a collection of ghost stories. I'd written a few ghost stories over the years; then--being the basically lazy person I am--I decided if I put together the stories I already had, they would be about half a book. That meant that I only needed to write half as much as I normally would, and I'd have a book.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The oldest story in Being Dead is also the shortest. "The Ghost" was originally published in "Upstate Magazine" in 1986.

"For Love of Him" was originally in Bruce Coville's Book of Ghosts in 1994. (For some reason, those credits never made it onto the copyright page of Being Dead.)

"Dancing with Marjorie's Ghost" and "October Chill" were written in the 1990s but hadn't been published.

"Shadow Brother" was the book that pushed me over the edge. I wrote it in 2000 in response to hearing about a particular anthology--but at the same time with the idea of putting together my own collection. It did not make it into the anthology.

The two remaining stories are "Drop by Drop" and "Being Dead"--which ended up being the first and the last stories in the book.

The Harcourt hardcover came out in 2001 with a spooky cover by Dominic Rouse which--depending on how you hold the book and look at it--is both a skull, and a graveyard scene with hands in the foreground. (My own personal interpretation is that the hands are releasing a soul, but I have no idea what Dominic Rouse would have to say about that.)

The Harcourt paperback came out in 2003 with a cover by Gary Isaacs--a girl with her skull showing through her skin.

I did not have a title for this manuscript when I sent it to editor Michael Stearns. He suggested we use the title of the last story for the collection. Neither of us knew at the time that there is an adult book by that same title. (I have to admit I don't read too many adult books.)

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Of the seven stories, my own favorite is "Drop by Drop." And yet it does unsettle me. (And I don't mean the ghostly goings-on part.) I hate to give away the ending, but I will because that's what I started with: I wanted to write about a teen who is being haunted and who discovers that the reason she is being haunted is because *she* is the one responsible for the death that resulted in there being a ghost. I could have had Brenda, the main character, know but not tell the reader; but that didn't seem like playing fair. Yet how could she *not* know she was responsible for another's death? Something that had been bothering me for a long time was how tv and movies show some pretty irresponsible drinking, and I wanted to write a story where drinking and driving had disastrous consequences. So all of that was going through my head before I even sat down in front of the computer. Once I started, I concentrated on making Brenda likeable so that readers wouldn't just dismiss her reckless behavior but would have been identifying with her all along. I wanted readers to think, "That could be me." It was very difficult for me to write about a little girl dying, and a teen ruining her own life.

See also:

The Story Behind The Story: Vivian Vande Velde on Companions of the Night.

"Trick-or-Treating with Vivian Vande Velde" from By The Book, Author Interviews & Book Reviews for Kids by Julia Durango.

Vivian Vande Velde on Banned Books.

Note: editor Michael Stearns has recently moved from Harcourt Brace to HarperCollins.