Friday, December 30, 2011

Revision strategies – A Chapter Worksheet

Now that 2012 is upon us and the holidays are nearly over, I’m ready to get back into some serious writing. I spent the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas revising my middle grade science fiction adventure, so I decided to share some things I’ve learned now that I’ve been through extensive revision processes with my first two books. For this one, I wanted to approach it more systematically than I have in the past, in hopes that it would make the process easier and I wouldn’t end up like the poor writer in the photo.

Once I have a draft I’m fairly happy about, I go back and revise by chapters, trying to ensure each chapter holds together as a unit itself and adds to the story as a whole. The chapter checklist below is something I came up with to make sure I’m not missing anything in a particular chapter. It works well for my type of plot-based stories, but I’d be curious to see how others writing more character-focused stories approach the process.

So here’s my worksheet for each chapter:

1. Chapter # ___

2. Chapter length in pages____

3. What event makes the plot move forward?

4. Which new characters are introduced and what does reader learn about them?
      a. if the goal is to make the reader like the character, how is this achieved?
      b. if the goal is to make the reader dislike the character, how is this achieved?
      c. if the goal is to leave the reader unsure about the character, how is this achieved?

5. How are existing characters or character relationships developed?

6. Is there backstory? Is it woven into the action? (avoiding the dreaded information dump!)

7. Worldbuilding/Setting details-What senses are used to describe setting?

8. How is the theme developed?*

      a. External conflict – what actions/information add to the theme?

      b. Internal conflict-how do the characters change/develop?

9. Chapter ending-why would reader want to continue to the next chapter?

*My main goal is to tell a good story, but I’ve come to realize by reading some of the reviews of my books that my themes may not be obvious enough. By trying not to hit the reader over the head with the message, I’ve sometimes gone too far in the other direction and made it too hard to recognize there is a theme. I’m still trying to find the right balance of theme development without ruining the pacing of the story.

How does this compare to your revision methods? Any other tips you’d like to add?

~ Dee Garretson

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Five Debut Mid-Grades for 2012

Here are five new middle grade novels I'm looking forward to next year:

Glory Be - Augusta Scattergood
releasing January 1, 2012
Glory Be
A Mississippi town in 1964 gets riled when tempers flare at the segregated public pool. Augusta Scattergood has drawn on real-life events to create a memorable novel about family, friendship, and choices that aren’t always easy. 

The Mapmaker and the Ghost - Sarvenaz Tash
releasing April 24, 2012
The Mapmaker and the Ghost
A simple decision to map a forest lands 11-year-old Goldenrod in the midst of a true blue adventure involving a gang of brilliant troublemakers, a mysterious and very ugly old lady, and an exceedingly unexpected—and long dead—questmaster.

Chained - Lynne Kelly
releasing May 8, 2012
The touching story of a boy and an elephant who have a friendship that’s stronger than any lock, shackle, or chain.

One for the Murphys - Lynne Mullaly Hunt
releasing May 10, 2012
One for the Murphys
In the wake of heart breaking betrayal, Carley Connors becomes a foster child who finds herself in the hands of the bustling, happy Murphys, a family that shows her a side of life she’d believed did not exist.

Small Medium at Large - Joanne Levy
releasing July 3, 2012
Small Medium at Large
Because being 12, flat-chested and harassed by the school’s popular girl isn’t bad enough, Lilah Bloom’s life changes forever when she is hit by lightning and can suddenly hear dead people.

Any here you might add to your reading list?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Is the Multi-Author Series the Wave of the Future?

Happy Hoppin' Holidays! Happy Boxing Day! (If you want to know what Boxng Day is, here you go.) Did Santa bring you everything you wanted? I hope so!

But I digress. What I really want to ask you is, "did you see the recent announcement in Publisher's Marketplace?"

NYT bestselling author of THE MAZE RUNNER James Dashner's INFINITY RING series, beginning with A MUTINY IN TIME, with subsequent books written by Carrie Ryan, Lisa McMann, Matt de la Peña, Matthew J. Kirby, and Jennifer A. Nielsen, an alternate-history time travel series combining books, "Hystorian's Guide" collectible maps and interactive feature (named for a secret society featured in the books), and an online game where readers travel back in time to fix history, to David Levithan at Scholastic, for publication beginning in September 2012 simultaneously in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

Holy Hotdogs! What a team of heavy hitters. I immediately dashed off to do some snooping and found an informative article in the New York Times. Basically, in the seven book series the main characters will "encounter historical figures like Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Louis XVI and Harriet Tubman. Children reading the books and playing the online game can interact with the characters and press them for historical information. Playing the game — which will be available on the Web, smartphones and tablets — should lead children back into the books, which contain clues and information that will not be online."

It sounds like it's going a step further even than the game cards contained in The 39 Clues series, which my oldest son adores. (Confession time: I haven't read the series. Throw me into the middle grade dunk tank.) Mr. Dashner, in the NYT's piece, hoped that the interactive content of The Infinity Ring would spur reluctant readers to read more.

It certainly sounds exciting and innovative. (And I love me some time travel!) Do you think these sorts of multi-author series, with gaming/reading interactivity, are the wave of the future? Does this sort of thing excite you, or make you scream "please god, not more screen time for the kiddies!?"

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Hope & My REAL Rejection Letters

On Wednesday, I posted on my own blog about the mountain of rejection letters I received while trying to find an agent for Nightshade City. I've reposted it here today and I think after you read it, my reasons will be clear. Around this time of year, I'm hopeful we can shed a bit of inspiration for those currently in that uphill battle to get published. With any luck, my story will help.... :)

This is not some random picture I pulled off Google, these are the actual rejection letters I received from literary agencies from 2008-2009. There are about 75 letters in all, not to mention 100+ email rejections. I'm sure you can do the math. I wanted to toss these into the trash as even now they're a bit hard to look at, but my husband forced me to keep them. He said I'd be happy I did later on, and he was right. Since my first book, Nightshade City, was published, it's won the Westchester Fiction Award for 2011, it's been named a CBC Best Book of 2011, and is a Goodreads Choice Award and SCBWI Crystal Kite Finalist for 2010. I'm invited to speak to kids and other writers on a regular basis and they actually are interested in what I have to say, which is pretty darn cool for a girl who four years ago decided to write a random book about rats--of all things. Nightshade City also resulted in my job with National Geographic, as a Nat Geo editor read it and then contacted me to see if I'd be interested in writing for them. I guess what I'm trying to tell you guys is it's darn hard to get published, but my story is one of the many examples that it is entirely possible and there are many good things to come if you can weather the storm.

Around this time of year we all wonder about our goals in life and if we'll ever reach them. I cannot say I didn't get defeated back then, with my ever growing pile of rejection letters, but I can say, I didn't give don't you do it either.

I mean it. Don't give up or I will hunt you down and slap you around a bit! 
Me holding my first copy of Book II
of the Nightshade Chronicles,
The White Assassin

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fitting the Pieces Together

When I was a kid, we used to do jigsaw puzzles in the winter, often over the semester break. A few months ago my wife purchased a couple of puzzles. And at first I was like, “Okay, sure,” knowing that I had so many other things to do that involved deadlines and pressure and people counting on me that the puzzles would probably just sit in their boxes.

But now that we’ve started one during the dark time of the year—and I was actually the one who initiated it—I’m totally digging it. We’ve been carving out a little puzzle-time a few nights a week and I love how the rest of life drops away as I get absorbed in the satisfying task of searching for the right piece.

As the puzzle started taking shape, I was totally struck by how putting a puzzle together is like my writing process. I can see some of the big things that will happen in a story and sometimes I can see how “I think” they will be connected, and I can even somewhat define the parameters of the story, but there is a lot left to figure out and to play with.

And with writing, we not only figure out where all the pieces go; we create the pieces.

And, yeah, sometimes the pieces you see are blurry.
You can have some amazing scenes and ideas, but without all the pieces you don’t have a story. And sometimes the most non-descript parts of a story—the times between the big scenes—can be the most difficult to figure out.

Unfortunately our puzzle had a missing piece.
Happy Holidays! And safe travels if you’ll be heading out to visit friends and family. We’re heading to Northern Arizona to visit friends and to do a little hiking.

Monday, December 19, 2011

From a middle-grader's perspective

source for this lovely photograph HERE.
There are so many things a twelve-year-old notices that an adult doesn't, don't you think?

The sky changing colours to a shade named on the spot, like Crayola orange or sun white. The new birdcall that's joined the morning chorus. The NHL flag on the car next door, thereby making the neighbours fellow hockey fans.

To me, this innate curiousity built into youth is an extraordinary thing. It's the plucking of specific details from their surroundings, the blindness to the dog doo-doo they're just about to step in but the complete awareness of the homeless person crouched in the gutter. And the fact that this -- this super power fades, weakens as you grow older adds another layer to the idea.

This is really key, I think, in writing middle-grade. There's an awe, a genuine appreciation of the way things are without the constant worry that grown-ups carry around with them; even I, a not-yet-full-adult, experience gray days where nothing around me seems to give off the slightest bit of light. That's not to say that middle-graders never worry; it's just that they notice things. Things that adults would otherwise miss.

So look for that light. The river: it looks solid enough to stand on, if ice were black. The bus: it just gave off a sound like the fart the geo teacher always lets loose. The clock bells: they ring out the tune of "Yankee Doodle"; the building should probably get that fixed.

So tell me: what's one small, special thing you noticed today?


Friday, December 16, 2011

A Surprise Book, A Surprise Gift

** Before I begin, I must explain that this post is not a result of a publisher or author request. I was never contacted by anyone asking me to publicize the book I'm about to discuss. I do so simply because I feel compelled to share a great discovery with you all. I feel the book more than deserves it. Okay, now on with the post. **

Something happened a few weeks ago that doesn’t often happen: I discovered a fantastic MG series that I had no idea existed, one that has been out for a while without my knowledge. Still can’t believe I’d never heard of it, since I am usually very up-to-date on MG books/series. I don’t know how I happened upon the book on Amazon, but I downloaded the sample and gave it a look. As I read the sample on my Kindle, I was blown away by how intriguing the concept was, and how much I enjoyed the voice. I immediately bought the first book in the series. The book I’m talking about is Dean Lorey’s MONSTER HUNTERS (released a few years ago), which is the first book of his NIGHTMARE ACADEMY series. To me, this type of discovery of an unknown book is like receiving a surprise gift. And I highly, highly recommend this surprise gift.

Here is the summary from the publisher’s website:  

Join Charlie Benjamin on a “fast-paced, action-packed” adventure. When Charlie’s nightmares bring monsters to Earth, Charlie gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn to control his powers at the incredible Nightmare Academy. “Marvelous creatures” greet Charlie and his new friends as they embark on “a straight-forward thrill ride” of “rip-roaring monster slayings” in a debut novel that’s “pure entertainment.”

To add to that summary a bit, here is my own: 

Charlie Benjamin has been a loner ever since he can remember, but that's not exactly his choice. See, things happen when Charlie falls asleep. Strange things, like the night he is invited to a sleepover that results in all the kids being hung from the ceiling in cocoons--all the kids except Charlie, that is. Ever since the "Terror at the Sleepover Apocalypse," as it is called in the local newspaper, Charlie finds his house to be his entire world. He rarely leaves his house, and is even home-schooled. But when one of his nightmares leads to a strange monster called a silver tongue invading his house, Charlie meets a couple of monster hunters named Rex (a Banisher) and Tabitha (a Nethermancer), along with a Facilitator named Pinch. Charlie is invited to join the Nightmare Academy to help hone his craft. Because, turns out, the Gift is strong with Charlie (he's like the Luke Skywalker of the academy). Charlie's gift is so strong he can open portals that most "nethermancers" can only dream of opening. The academy is a Camp Half-Blood type place (Percy Jackson) that houses kids who have the Gift. But none of the other students have Charlie's type of power. And Charlie's power will be needed to deal with a vicious monster named Barakkas, whose presence could spell doom for all. I'd go on, but trust me, you'll want to invest your time in reading this book, and the ensuing series. And if you have a MG boy out there, RUN to your local bookstore and get the book(s)! Your MG-er will thank you over and over. You have my word on that.

As I now read book 2 (MONSTER MADNESS), I wonder if this type of thing has happened to anyone else. Have you ever happened upon a great MG book (or series) that had been out for a while but you had no idea existed? Do tell.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Loss, Grief, and Young Readers

I am currently reading this wonderfully imagined novel, A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd. I'm not done with it yet, so it may be a bit presumptuous for me to write this post, but I think I know where the story is going. I could be wrong, but that's not really the point.

I'm the father of a young adult, and a middle grader (well, technically Madison is only 10, and not in middle school yet, but she reads above her level). Luckily my children have not had to endure much loss, but loss doesn't always have to be a death in the family. Loss can be moving away from friends, divorce, heck, even summer camp can feel like a temporary loss.

The loss in my own life almost all occurred in those middle grade years. My dad was out of the picture when I was ten. My mom died when I was eleven. Then, just to make things worse, my aunts and uncles decided to separate me from my older sister when they determined our living situations, in their infinite wisdom. Yeah, needless to say, I was a messed up, angry kid.

But I managed to survive. Loss hurts like salt in an open wound at first, but eventually it simply becomes part of who you are. The trick is getting through that first part. One of the best ways to get through the hard part is to escape into stories. Storytelling has a magical ability to heal, or at least to give you solace from the storm, when things are at their worst. Movies, TV, theater, all these venues for telling stories are great, but none of them really compare to books.

Books can take you anywhere, and sometimes where you need to be is very far away from where you are. Middle Earth. Narnia. Krynn. Westeros. There are so many places full of so much wonder and beauty in books, it can make the pain of real life seem less ... sharp, for a time.

But then there are also books that face the harsh truth of this topic head on. Books like A Monster Calls, that deftly look the pain of suffering dead in the face, and show with courage that life goes on.

I'm glad my children haven't had to endure much loss in their lives, but if they did, I'd be sure to share books like this with them. Or books like Danny, Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl, or Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson, or Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Story, by Greg Neri, or The Deathday Letter, by Shaun David Hutchinson, or even, Marley and Me, by John Grogan.

What books about loss and grief, or even just to help one through loss and grief, would you recommend for young readers?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dean Koontz for Middle Graders? + Giveaway

One sure thing about kids is that whatever age they are, they want to be older. The "big" kids are always so strong, so fast, so smart, so cool . . . I remember when my son was in third grade and had a high school reading buddy. His buddy was his hero--just because he was *gasp* a high schooler.

When people think of Dean Koontz, they do NOT instantly think children's author. They think of adult horror and suspense, and rightfully so. However, that is not the only hat he wears these days. Believe it or not, he is also a picture book author and children's poet.

His picture books, SANTA'S TWIN and ROBOT SANTA: THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF SANTA'S TWIN are a huge hit with my high school students and my middle grade son. As you can tell, they're a bit twisted, and MG kids usually love anything twisted.

In addition to his Santa PBs, he also has a couple of picture books about his dog, Trixie: I, TRIXIE, WHO IS DOG and TRIXIE AND JINX. Both are adorable.

The most middle grade friendly of his children's books is THE PAPER DOORWAY: FUNNY VERSE AND NOTHING WORSE, a collection of poetry reminiscent of Shel Silverstein.

Poems like "The Monstrous Broccoli Excuse," "Boogeyman," "Frankenbunny" and "You Get the Pickle You Asked for" will be instant hits with most middle grade readers. And they get the added bonus of being able to say they read Dean Koontz!

I will give away ONE copy of The Paper Doorway to a commenter on today's post. To enter, follow Project Mayhem and leave a comment! The lucky winner will be notified by email on Wednesday. Good luck.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Writing with a Soundtrack

Often when I visit another author's blog, I see a fancy-schmancy playlist. Usually it includes songs that inspired the story or music the author was listening to while writing. Not only does reading the list of unfamiliar names make me feel incredibly old - never do I see Roxette or Bon Jovi listed - ha!, but it makes me wonder if I'm missing out on potential creative inspiration.

When I write, I pop in my earbuds to block out background noise. If I have wifi, I'll click on over to Pandora and pick an instrumental station - piano is my favorite. Occasionally, I'll do string quarters or something. But I absolutely cannot listen to music with lyrics while I'm writing. Most of STORYBOUND was written to constantly repeating Christmas at the Keys, because I always worked in a coffeeshop that didn't have internet, and it was the only music I had saved on my laptop at the time. But, as fun as Christmas in July is, it doesn't make a very impressive author playlist.

I've tried to hip-it-up a bit. On my last writing day I braved a Tom Petty station on Pandora, but (though Tom Petty is as cool as ever), I just couldn't focus in on my writing.

What about you? Do you write to a soundtrack? I'll take any suggestions! What music inspires you? Do you have any imagined soundtracks to some of your favorite books?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fairies, Fairies Everywhere—Tales, That Is

The following was originally a guest post I wrote for Teen Reads last month. I thought I'd share it here at Project Mayhem because it seemed so timelyfairy tales are just really "in" right now. Loving it, loving it!! I mean, you have to admit, the trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman looks pretty cool:

As writers we look to many different sources for inspiration, and I think there is a lot of wonderful material to be had in traditional tales—and a lot of wonderful ways to twist it all up and make it your own.

Have an enchanting holiday season,

-Dawn Lairamore


With major television networks premiering shows such as Once Upon a Time and Grimm and a number of fairy-tale-themed movies slated to hit the big screen in 2012, including retellings of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel, fairy tales seem hotter than ever. And why not? There’s a lot to find appealing—magic, adventure, romance, fantastical creatures, heroes performing daring feats, good versus evil. Fairy tales are fun and familiar. They entertain, with the added bonus that there’s usually a moral or two thrown in for good measure.

Fairy tales in one form or another have, of course, long been a staple in the world of children’s books. One of my favorite books as a child—and still to this day—is Robin McKinley’s BEAUTY, a lovely retelling of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST with the ironic twist that Beauty isn’t beautiful.

This is the perfect example of a fractured fairy tale, a fairy tale in which some element of the original story has been changed. Fractured fairy tales are right up my alley, because while I love traditional tales, I also love stories that do the unexpected or contain some type of twist. And, as entertaining as stories of old can be, I think it’s quite obvious to modern readers how outdated some of the mentalities behind these tales can be. There’s a delicious sense of rebellion in revisiting them with modern sensibilities in mind. I enjoy how fractured fairy tales challenge the archaic or superficial in old stories—the role of female characters, the focus on wealth or materialism, the emphasis placed on beauty and good looks.

A very common fairy tale motif features a princess being saved from a dragon by a handsome prince or courageous knight. When I sat down to write my own fractured fairy tale, I thought, what if the princess wasn’t so helpless and was perfectly capable of rescuing herself? What if the dragon wasn’t a ferocious beast but a timid creature with a heart? What if the handsome prince wasn’t a hero but a villain? And what if the princess and the dragon actually teamed up against him? And so, my first novel, IVY'S EVER AFTER, was born—a fairy tale about a princess seeking out her own “ever after,” rather than having one thrust upon her.

The sequel, IVY AND THE MEANSTALK, continues that idea of twisting a traditional fairy tale. JACK AND THE BEANSTALK has always been my least favorite fairy tale, because Jack never seemed like much of a hero to me. He seemed like a lazy, thoughtless boy who stole and did other not-so-nice things. So MEANSTALK is my reimagining of JACK AND THE BEANSTALK with a rather dim view of Jack.

Most of all, I love fractured fairy tales because these new takes on the familiar offer an important reminder: “happily ever after” isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are as many unique adventures out there as there are characters—and readers—to have them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

And the winner of GUYS READ: THRILLER is...

After my consultation with that mysterious oracle,, the winner of


Shannon O'Donnell

Congratulations, Shannon. Project Mayhem will be in touch soon. Thanks to all who entered. I enjoyed choosing lines for you.

Monday, December 5, 2011

2011 Debut Middle Grade Books - How many have you read?

The kidlit community of readers, writers, bloggers, teachers and librarians is terrific for supporting new voices. In the spirit of that, I’ve put together a list of all the 2011 debut middle grade books I could find. I know I've missed some, so If you know of any others, please post in the comments and I’ll add to the list. I like the thought that one of these might be an author to add to a favorites list in the future.

Many thanks to book blogger, the Story Siren and her terrific list of YA and MG debuts, which helped me get a start on this, and to @chorkie from Twitter for tipping me off to that list. Here’s my question for Project Mayhem readers-What makes you pick up a book by an unknown (to you) author?

A DOG’S WAY HOME by Bobbie Pyron
ALICE-MIRANDA AT SCHOOL by Jacqueline Harvey
CALLI BE GOLD by Michele Weber Hurwitz

CINDERELLA SMITH by Stephanie Barden
COLD CASE by Julie Pratt Leonard
DOGSLED DREAMS by Terry Lynn Johnson
FETCHING by Kiera Stewart
FLIRT CLUB by Cathleen Daly Maurissa
FLUTTER by Erin E. Moulton
JUNIPER BERRY by M.P. Kozlowsky
KAT, INCORRIGIBLE by Stephanie Burgis

MY UN-FAIRY TALE LIFE by Anna Staniszewski

SPARROW ROAD by Shelia O’Conner
STIR IT UP by Ramin Ganesram
THE EMERALD ATLAS by John Stephens

THE FOURTH STALL by Chris Rylander
THE MAP OF ME by Tami Lewis Brown
THE PRINCESS CURSE by Merrie Haskell

THE RENDERING by Joel Naftali

THE WIZARD OF DARK STREET by Shawn Thomas Odyssey
VANISHED by Sheela Chari
VILLAIN SCHOOL by Stephanie Sanders

~ Dee Garretson

Friday, December 2, 2011

Reviews Discussion: Beating a Dead Horse

I'm the third Mayhemer to bring up reviews (are we tired of this discussion yet?). Rather than focusing on the ways reviews affect our reading and/or purchasing habits, or their subjective nature (these are great discussions, by the way; stop by if you haven't already),
I'd like to talk to the authors out there:

How do you deal with reviews? Do you read them? Avoid them? Enjoy them? Dread them? Do reviews affect the way you write? Do they affect the opinion you have of your own abilities as a writer? I've heard of bad reviews paralyzing authors, but I've been fascinated to learn that for some authors good reviews do the same.

Any advice for those of us new to the publishing world?