Monday, November 08, 2010

Beyond the Book: THE CANDYMAKERS by Wendy Mass

Beyond the Book: THE CANDYMAKERS by Wendy Mass

Four children have been chosen to compete in a national competition to find the tastiest  confection in the country. Who will invent a candy more delicious than the Oozing Crunchorama or the Neon Lightning Chew?

Logan, the Candymaker's son, who can detect the color of chocolate by touch alone?

Miles, the boy who is allergic to merry-go-rounds and the color pink?

Daisy, the cheerful girl who can lift a fifty-pound lump of taffy like it's a feather?

Or Philip, the suit-and-tie wearing boy who's always scribbling in a secret notebook?

This sweet, charming, and cleverly crafted story, told from each contestant's perspective, is filled with mystery, friendship, and juicy revelations.

I haven't done a "Beyond the Book" post in a while, and I'm afraid I've neglected my Fall books thus far. But yesterday I attended a wonderful event that centered around Wendy Mass's new novel The Candymakers, and that was incentive enough to kill two birds with one stone and write about the event as a "Beyond the Book" post.

Yesterday's event was part of the Thalia's Kids' Book Club series at Symphony Space. It started by a wonderful reading from The Candymakers by actor Maxwell Beer, who plays Jeremy Fink in the movie of Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life (which we hope will release in 2011).
Then, author Rebecca Stead (When You Reach Me) asked Wendy a series of questions, starting with something to the effect of, "What's with you and candy?" referencing the fact that candy seems to play a role in many of Wendy's books. Wendy shared some childhood memories of candy: her parents never really had candy in the house, so of course Halloween was especially exciting, and she had such fond memories of coming home for trick or treating and dumping out all of her candy and sorting and counting it all. She also recounted how she and sister would make "Starburst people"--they would soften the candy in their hands and then mold them into shapes. Incidentally, as some of you know, I have my own weird relationship with candy, and when we first started working on the book together Wendy and I shared our obsessions with candy. Wendy eats a lot of candy now as a grownup, especially since her new office is five doors down from a new candy shop in town. But hey, that's one of the perks of being a grownup--as Wendy put it, she doesn't have to ask her parents for permission to eat candy any more.
Another question Rebecca askes Wendy was, "What were you like as a kid?" to which Wendy responded, "I was weird! I think kids are weird. My own kids are weird, and I love that and think we should embrace our weirdness."

After Rebecca was done with her questions, she asked Wendy to give the audience a writing prompt. Wendy said that when she was writing The Candymakers, she sent out a questionnaire to kids and asked them to invent a candy, and then she used their answers in the book. And so, she asked the audience to write for five minutes about what kind of candy they would want to invent, and then the kids were asked to volunteer to read what they wrote. I have to say, I myself was stumped when faced with the prospect of inventing a candy out of my own imagination, so I was really impressed with all of the answers. There were several that "exploded in your mouth" including one candy that was supposed to shoot out of your mouth and then explode like fireworks. There was some candy designed to fool teachers: invisible gum so that teachers couldn't prove that you were chewing gum and give you detention, and candy that looked exactly like a pencil so that your teachers didn't know you were eating candy. There was candy that made your tongue change colors to match your outfit. There was root beer float candy, chocolate caramel tacos, and more. Really great stuff. Here's a video of two of the candy ideas:

And then it was the kids' turn to ask Wendy questions, and once again, I was really impressed with their questions. And also with Wendy's answers!

Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: Wendy said that she believed it was Paula Danzinger who said that ideas come from three places: experience, observations, and imagination. Wendy likes to eavesdrop on people, including on moms and daughters in department store dressing rooms.

Q: Who is your favorite character in The Candymakers?
A: Logan, because he's such a sweet character, and has such an amazing sense of wonder.

Q: How do write characters?
A: Wendy answers the same ten questions about her characters as when she first started writing. Some of the questions include "What does the character look like," "What are their favorite hobbies," and "What are they afraid of."

Q: Do you write your books chronologically?
A: Wendy will generally write the beginning scene first, and then the very end, and then go back to the beginning and then write chronologically, but always working towards that end scene. She's also the type of author who has to make sure that each paragraph is the best it can be before moving on and writing the next paragraph.

And after the Q&A, Rebecca and Wendy signed books for a looong line of people:

I first started working with Wendy with Heaven Looks a lot Like the Mall, then Every Soul a Star, and now The Candymakers is our third novel together. As Wendy mentioned yesterday, The Candymakers was initially titled The Candymaker's Son and it revolved mainly around Logan, the title character. But after one full draft, we both realized that the story wasn't quite working, and that the supporting characters needed a voice, too. And so Wendy went back the drawing board and worked on what pretty much became a brand-new novel from four perspectives. It's a beautifully-crafted novel with rich, layered characters (and candy) and lots of surprises. And, of course, lots of candy descriptions and candy making.

And so, if you were to create your own kind of candy, what would it be? I think mine might be called "Blueberry Surprise" and would be a candy I could eat in layers, because I always loved eating candy corn in layers, and also eating the chocolate from the outside of peanut butter cups first. So, the outside layer would be a hard candy Nerd-like layer, followed by a milk chocolate layer, a malted layer, more chocolate, and then in the inside would be a blueberry. Or something like that. And it would be zero calories or fat. And would contain your daily dose of vitamins and fiber. Ha.

What would your candy be?

P.S. I just realized that it's a little ironic that I'm talking about a children's book about candy after our discussions last week about obesity. This is actually something Wendy and I struggled with a bit while working on the book, but in the end felt that candy is one of the joys of childhood, and balance is key. Wendy made all of the candy in the book organic, with all-natural ingredients, and although the kids do eat things like chocolate pizza for lunch, they also eat a well balanced diet and are also very active!


Libby Koponen said...

This was fun to read: I especially enjoyed the questions Rebecca asked and Wendy's answers....and it was interesting and encouraging that after the first draft she practically started over, with your suggestions to guide her.

Was this the case with EVERY SOUL A STAR, too? That had different narrators, too.

Rebecca Stead said...

This was such a fun afternoon. My candy (yes, I did the writing prompt!) was a bite-sized salted caramel wrapped around a crunchy granny-smith-apple center. Like a caramel apple you can fit in your mouth! With, um, salt.

alvinaling said...

Rebecca, that sounds DIVINE. I love salted caramels! I think you need to produce that candy.

Libby, re: EVERY SOUL A STAR, the original proposal was called THE BOY WHO CHASED THE SUN, and was just Jack's perspective (although he was named Jason at the time!), but the first full draft I saw had all three voices. I believe we did ask at an early stage if Wendy could bring in a female perspective.