the long exhale

Hello, friends. More about me in a minute. First, a round-up of Countdown's year, on this last day of 2010.
It's been gratifying and exhausting, in the most exhilarating way, to watch Countdown make its way in the world this year. Since we last visited here, Countdown has been on several year-end lists:

A Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year, 2010
An Best Book of 2010, Top Ten Middle Grade Books
A Booklist Editor’s Choice for 2010
A Book Links Lasting Connection of 2010
A Best Books of 2010, The Christian Science Monitor

  I wanted to share with you, as I let go of Countdown and turn my attentions fully to book two of the Sixties Trilogy, some secrets of Countdown. They are contained in the end-of-year interviews, reviews, and divulgences below. I offer them as resources if you are teaching Countdown, and as enrichment if you'd like to know more about how this book came together. And who doesn't like a few secrets? hee. Onward:
Jennifer Buehler and I spent a happy hour together in November at NCTE in Orlando, and the result is this lovely 20-minute podcast at Read-Write-Think all about the creation of Countdown, and just what was I thinking? "Every once in a while a book comes along that breaks new ground by doing something that's never been done before.  Deborah Wiles' 2010 documentary novel Countdown is such a book." You'll hear my paean to designer Phil Falco and to my editor, David Levithan, and learn about their vital roles in Countdown, as well as the connections *I* was making as I wrote the book. Thanks so much, Jennifer.

Earlier this month, David and I were interviewed by Laurie Beth Schneider at The Mixed up Files of Middle Grade Authors: Team Countdown: An Interview with Deborah Wiles and David Levithan. Laurie gave us lots of space to share in depth about the creation of Countdown, and you'll find here also my thoughts about the large arc of history vs our personal stories, and what I think about how we present historical fiction for young readers. Thanks so much, Laurie.

Scholastic sales rep and good friend Charlie Young sent me this Countdown review by a young reader (Girl Knows Books) in Prince George's County, Maryland (where Franny lives, in Countdown),and I love it so much, I want to share it with you. Favorite lines: "I loved this book and couldn’t put it down, so I finished it in two days. The writing and plot were magnetic, the characters were so real that I could either hate them with all my might or love them to bits. It’s just the right book for the kid that likes reading emotional stories, and the girl that needs to realize all she has. It really is."

 And isn't that what it's all about? It is for me. Countdown lives as long as it is embraced by readers and taken to their hearts. I always say I write for ten-year-old me. Here's a secret: I write for ten-year-old you, too. I expect you to rise to the occasion... and you do. Stretch! Grow! Become! The best stories, for me, offer me a way to see beyond my usual norms. They ask me to think differently -- to see what that's like -- and to feel and connect and... change.

Somewhere in the year's interviews, you'll find that I consider the Countdown scrapbooks kept by the young Franny, full of newspaper clippings and sayings she has collected and songs she has heard, and photos she has seen. I think of the opinionated biographies as written by the adult Franny, who has the perspective of age and time on her side, so she can see the throughline of history and how it is connected to each of us and how our personal decisions are touched by that history.

And, somewhere along the way, I was heavily influenced by social revolutionary and amazing writer John Dos Passos and especially his U.S.A trilogy -- The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money. From one description:

"The trilogy employes an experimental technique, incorporating four different narrative modes: fictional narratives telling the life stories of twelve fictional characters; collages of newspaper clippings and song lyrics labeled "Newsreel"; individually labeled short biographies of public figures of the time such as Woodrow Wilson and Henry Ford; and fragments of autobiographical stream of consciousness writing labeled "Camera Eye." The trilogy covers the historical development of American society during the first three decades of the twentieth century."

Sound familiar? Franny's internal musings serve as the Camera Eye of Countdown. The scrapbooks serve as the Newsreels. And the biographies of Countdown are as opinionated as the ones in U.S.A.

The differences? I am focusing on the sixties. I am writing for young readers. I am following one heroine, one narrative line. And the story, of course, is mine. I want to offer young readers a terrific story, first of all, and along the way, a way to look at history, a way to sink into story that's visual, tactile, and auditory. The playlist for Countdown (on this resource page at my website) is as much a part of the experience as the elements inside the book. The reader's heart is as much a part of the experience as mine.
I issued a challenge and an invitation, with Countdown this year: come in. Wade in the water with me. Fall into this story. Become a part of this story, part of this history. Be one with all that has gone before you, and all that will be. Make peace.

It has been a good year. Thank you for traveling with me.


  1. Happy New Year Debbie! Was so glad we ate dinner together and connected at the Suwanee book festival - will have to do it again next year! Good luck with the new book process!! Can't wait to hear all about it (and to hear about all the yummy things you and the family make in your kitchen!!)

  2. Hey, you! Happy New Year, Kathy. I loved seeing you in Suwanee, and hope we get together again soon. Much love and good luck in the new year. Debbie


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