I’m thrilled to be kicking off the Project Mayhem blog with a giveaway of a signed hardback copy of WILDFIRE RUN. I was so happy when Hilary asked me to be part of this blog. Writing is such a solitary occupation that being able to connect with other writers keeps me going and inspires me.
Mayhem is a good word for life these days. WILDFIRE RUN will be released on August 31st, and I’m working on revisions of book two, WOLF STORM, while also juggling the moving about of my children, who are suddenly old enough to have lives and complicated schedules, but not old enough to have driver’s licenses. Where is the time freeze button? Life was much simpler when they took naps and didn’t expect to go out at night. Anyway, it’s a good mayhem, and I wanted share some of the things I learned on my very long journey to get to the published stage. I could natter on about writing for pages and pages, but for now, I’ll just focus on three things that helped me get to this point.
When I first started writing, I assumed it couldn’t be too hard to write a book. After all, I’d read thousands of books. (I’m old enough to be able to claim this.) My early attempts sounded good to me, not so good to everyone else. Major ego deflation, but necessary to let me know I needed to improve. Over the years I wrote short stories, picture books, mysteries, and one failed romance so bad I’ve blocked most of it from my memory. I helped someone write his memoir. I rewrote stories over and over. All in all I wrote thousands of words, and by the mere act of writing, I learned. Just trying to get words on paper forced me to learn.
My first breakthrough didn’t come, though, until I decided to go beyond the advice to read, read, read, and to really study what made particular books work. I picked a few authors whose books I loved and took those books apart. I figured out what made me laugh, why I was interested in the characters, and most importantly, why I kept reading and rereading. In the process, I learned a tremendous amount about pacing, dialogue and description. I still go back to certain books for inspiration when I hit a dry spell.
My next light bulb moment came when I was struggling to write a synopsis, the bane of a writer’s existence. This is where other writers reading this will emit a sympathy groan at the sight of the word ‘synopsis’. I discovered a book on writing which not only helped me manage a synopsis, but also helped me develop characters who were more than cardboard versions of heroes, villains, mean kids and sidekicks. The book is called WRITING THE FICTION SYNOPSIS. Good title, right?
Shockingly, the book’s worksheets actually wanted me to organize my thoughts, to list the characters’ goals, motivations and conflicts. I hate to admit it, but I’d never really been organized about writing. I was one of those writers who just wrote, thinking the story would miraculously happen. Maybe it does for some writers, but I’m not that talented. My stories needed some intensive care and planning to be readable and interesting.
The last major breakthrough came when I realized I had to find a plot that would spark some interest, and a mystery story I had rewritten four times didn’t have it. At conferences I pitched the mystery to many agents who were polite but clearly not excited, which was incredibly frustrating for me, because I thought I finally had something with all the elements in place.
As a last ditch effort I signed up for an intensive writing workshop, and from it I concluded my mystery was not the right story for me to focus on as an unpublished writer. The workshop organizer stressed over and over that unknown writers have a hard time getting noticed with quiet stories. It’s not impossible, but it adds more difficulties on top of an already difficult process. There is a market for quiet stories and many people write them beautifully, but I decided in my case it was time to try another approach.
I decided I needed a loud story, a story I could describe in a few sentences, a story that would make people (agents and editors) lose the glazed look in the eye I had seen so many times before. I trunked the mystery and wrote something else. That’s how WILDFIRE RUN came about, the story of Luke Brockett, the son of the U.S. President who gets trapped at Camp David after a disaster. Luke and his friends Callie and Theo have to find a way to escape the security systems gone haywire before a wildfire overtakes them. When I got the offer from HarperCollins to publish the book, it made all those years of work worthwhile. I’m excited that the book has been selected by the Junior Library Guild for the fall in their new high interest middle reader category. You can view the book trailer of WILDFIRE RUN below. A teacher's guide and a book club guide can be downloaded from my website: http://www.deegarretson.com/
One of my writer friends, Alice Loweecey, who has had an equally winding publishing journey, has a saying I’d like to appropriate to end this post: “Never give up! Never surrender!” That’s a good motto to live by in the publishing world.
So I hope everyone reading this sticks around with us. Other members of Project Mayhem will share some of their publishing journeys in later posts, and I’m very interested to hear their stories as well. To enter for a chance at the copy of WILDFIRE RUN, please follow us and comment below. (My children are very excited because I told them they would get to pick the winner in a random drawing.)