Wednesday, September 28, 2011

For Writers - Queries with Dee Garretson

Getting ready to send out that query? This tip is for you. It comes to us from Dee Garretson, author of MG adventures, including her latest, WOLF STORM.

Dee grew up playing in Iowa, playing in the woods, helping her dad with his inventions, and writing stories. She earned a degree in international relations, then realized sitting at a desk was not her thing. She went back to school to get a degree in landscape horticulture and taught that for a few years. Finally, she decided writing was where it's at... and here she is!

Here's the official blurb on WOLF STORM:

The movie is Stefan’s big break. He’s on location in the mountains far from home, acting in a blockbuster sci fi adventure. The props, the spaceships, and the trained wolves on set should add up to a dream job, but acting turns out to be much tougher than he ever imagined, and he feels like his inner loser is all that’s showing through.

From the way his famously stuck-up co-star, Raine, treats him, he’s pretty sure she thinks so too. And worst of all, no one will believe his claim there are wild wolves haunting the forest around the set.

When a blizzard strikes, isolating the young co-stars and bringing hungry feral wolves into the open, Stefan must take on his biggest role yet-working together with his costars to survive. With no second takes, they only have one chance to get it right.

Lights. Camera. Action!

You can find Dee online on her website, on twitter, and on vodpod.

Dee says:

Most writers loathe writing query letters, and I did too, until I learned how to concentrate on distilling the important parts of the story I was describing. It’s hard to judge your own story with all the secondary characters and subplots clamoring for attention, so I’ve found it helpful to practicing by writing queries based on classic books or movies. In honor of October and Halloween, I decided to do a sample query based on Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Before I write any query, I answer some questions:

1. Who is the main character and what about him/her is interesting?
2. What does the main character want at the beginning of the story, and if it changes, what does he/she want later on?
3. Who is the antagonist, or what is preventing the main character from obtaining his/her wants?
4. What are the stakes if the main character fails at obtaining the goal?

Based on how I answered those questions for FRANKENSTEIN, here’s the main part of the query:
Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant young scientist, is obsessed with discovering the secret of life. He prowls the cemeteries and charnel houses of 18th century Bavaria, determined to unlock the mysteries of life and death. After years of work, he succeeds beyond all his expectations, managing to bring life to a creature made from body parts of the dead. The scientist’s elation at his success is brief. It disappears the moment the creature opens its eyes and Victor realizes he has created a monster. Distraught at the horror of his creation, he unwittingly lets it escape into the night.
Tormented by the knowledge of the creature’s existence, Victor dreads the reappearance of it in his life. He never imagines how terrible the return will be, until the monster murders Victor’s brother. When Victor confronts the creature, it vows to kill all of the rest of the scientist’s family and friends unless Victor creates another monstrosity, one that could be a companion to the monster in all its loneliness and misery.
Victor is faced with a choice-appease the monster by doing as it wishes, or follow his conscience and face the consequences of a creature set on revenge. When Victor chooses, the monster kills Victor’s dearest companions, driving Victor on a hunt that takes him to the icy regions of the Arctic to find his creation so he can destroy it. The chase will end in the death of one or both.

Actually, both Victor and the monster die in the end in non-glorious ways. I suspect if this story were written today, Victor and the monster would engage in a hand-to-hand battle, the monster would fall into an ice crevasse, leaving Victor to believe the monster is dead. Since the ending should be open enough for a sequel, the monster wouldn’t actually die. He’d merely be injured, so that in book two he could come back to take over the world with his army of polar bears angered by global warming.

Notice I didn’t mention Victor’s fiancée, Elizabeth, who is killed by the monster right after the wedding. Introducing her and the circumstances of her death would show there was a bit of romance in the book, but the added length would far outweigh the benefit of describing this subplot. This query is already longer than some. You will often run across advice to keep the description under 200 words, but if the story demands a lengthier description, so be it.

I also didn’t mention how this story is told by Victor as he is on his deathbed on a ship trapped in the ice of the North Pole. Again, that would add way too many details. It’s not the real setting of the story and it’s not important for the purpose of a query letter. It would be tempting to go into detail about the monster, but trying to explain an eloquent eight-foot tall creature with black lips overwhelmed me, so I didn’t attempt it, and I don’t think the query needed it.

Sometimes, a query-writing attempt may tell you your story needs more-higher stakes, a more defined antagonist, or a more unique main character. That’s why it can be a good idea to write a query even before you start a story. It can make the whole long process much easier. I have another example on my blog where I wrote a query based on The Wizard of Oz. Here’s the link:

Wizard of Oz queries

This Week's Links:

Reading Out Loud - Not Just For Kids (Writer Unboxed) Casting a spell.

How Do You Know When You Have a Great Idea? (Writing Bar) Video

Outline Schmoutline (Jaye Wells) Another look at storyboarding.

Where Elephants Are Waiting to Fly (Karen Rivers) "I've always wanted to write a book..."

Is There an App for That? (Novel Matters) Index Cards

What is a Story? (Jane Friedman)

25 Things Authors Should Know About Theme (Publetariat)

15 Point Checklist to Make Your Writing Come Alive (Write to Done)

8 Writing Tricks You Won't Read Anywhere Else (Gatekeepers Post)

7 Character Types that Build Your Story (Adventures in Children's Publishing)

7 Tips to Improve Your Novel's Pacing (The Other Side of the Story)

6 Keys to Opening Up New Possibilities in Your Story (Words and Such)

5 Ways to Keep Your Writing Engine Running (Write it Sideways)

5 Essential Tips for Creating a Children's Book (The Creative Penn)

Writing High Concept (Harry Potter for Writers)

Writing From the Teen Perspective (YA Confidential)

Teendom (Word for Teens) Excellent.

Ready, Set... Where's the Action? (The Other Side of the Story) Maintaining tension in scenes.

Gettin' Physical: Character Description (Beyond the Margins) A few good rules to remember.

Now go. Write.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

For Writers - Banned Books Week and Judy Blume

In honor of Banned Books Week, I'm digging back into my SCBWI Conference notes with some nuggets of wisdom from Judy Blume - one of the most challenged authors, and a gamechanger in the children's book world. She was a surprise guest at the conference and a delightful one at that.
There were plenty of takeaways from her visit, but something that resounded with me was the message for writers to stick with it and never give up.

Judy Blume said:

We all started writing not knowing what we were doing, and I am no exception. It may not get easier (there is always the anxiety about writing well), but eventually we can say “I know how to do this!”

Let yourself go when you write! The inspiration will be inside you. When it hits you inside and it's right, then you have to write it. Don't worry who your audience will be, just write.

(Note: None of the above is a direct quote since I don't have a transcript of the interview, but I was taking notes as fast as I could!)

October workshops:

October 3-31 From Homeroom to First Bell - The Hero's Journey in YA - Online
Author Jen McAndrews and Moi explore the Hero's Journey in YA fiction, including
breakdown analysis of popular teen books and movies. Registration here - deadline Oct. 3.

October 17 Writing a Young Adult Series - The Thurber House, Columbus OH
How to develop series fiction for teens and tweens, from the first idea to the last climax.

October 28-30 From Homeroom to First Bell - The Hero's Journey in YA, ECWC, Seattle, WA
Jen and I, same class description as above. We'll talk really fast!

This week's links:

10 Tips Writers Can Learn from Bad Movies (W.I.P. It) Love it.

10 Ways to Increase Story Tension (Cheryl's Musings) Yes.

9 Things That Happen When You Read (Psychology Today) How 'bout when we write? : )

5 Elements of a Riveting First Line (Wordplay) Excellent!

The Psychology of Attraction: Fear (Livia Blackburn) Cool!

Storytelling is Healing (Face The Page) Nice.

Writers Are Like Onions (Victoria Schwab) Re: want & fear & books & bravery & madness

What Elements Make a Good Book? (Wordplay) Excellent quotes.

Finding the Heart of Your Story (Adventures in Children's Publishing) Tip from Donald Maass

Why Writers Write and Readers Read (Writer Unboxed) Common Cause

What Makes Novels Page Turners? (Kill Zone) Keep readers wondering.

Introducing... Backstory (Beyond the Margins) Make your readers crave it.

Thinking about KidLitCon? (Jen Robinson) <<Adventures in Children's Publishing) Love it.

Character Development (Pubrants) Get to know your MC before writing the opening scene.

Does your MC Get the Best Lines? (Character Therapist) If not, think again...

Is your YA Setting Hitting the Wrong Nerve? (YA Confidential) Good

Avoiding Stop-the-Action Description (Artzicarol Ramblings) Keep readers from skimming.

Write. Revise. Rest. Repeat (Bluestocking Blog) With bonus links on each step.

Emotions: Show, Don't Tell (Chatterbox Chitchat) Readers want to FEEL something...

Tragic Monsters (Paranormal Point of View) Write villains who stay in your heart

Now go. Write!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For Writers - Follow Your Passion... and the Market

Happy Tuesday!

Given the turn of events since I returned from the Most Excellent SCBWI Conference in LA last month, I'm behind in sharing some of the nuggets of wisdom I picked up from the indescribable line-up of children's book industry luminaries who were there. Here's a wise bit of counsel from Jon Sceiszka:

Combine your passion with the market.

As writers, we are told time and time again not to chase the market, but this was a good reminder that we should at least be aware of it. For example, Jon loves history, but he found it was difficult to get boys to read chapter books. They tend to gravitate toward thinner books with fun covers. So, he wrote THE TIME WARP TRIO to appeal to boy readers while giving him the avenue to write what he wanted to write.

So, follow your passion. Write what moves you. But also have an idea how your work will fit into the marketplace.


This Weekend I'll be at the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference in Cleveland. Ohio SCBWI friends, I hope to see you there!

Next month I'll be presenting at the Emerald City Writers' Conference with Jen McAndrews. RWA followers, I'll look for you there!

We'll also be offering a month-long online class, digging into the mythic structure in YA fiction. You can register through Carolina Romance Writers.

Finally, check out the cover reveal for my next series, LIGHTS, CAMERA, CASSIDY (in post below). I'm lucky to have had all my book covers so far designed by the lovely and talented Theresa Evangelista, who has done it again with this new MG series (coming in March 2012.)


"There are no new ideas" Ha. (Face the Page)

Children's Authors Who Broke the Rules (New York Times)

Simple Habits for Writers that Make a big difference (Change The World With Words)

Universal Story - Test Your Story (Plot Whisper for Writers and Readers)

Playing to Win (Kristine Rusch)

Best Advice I Ever Got (Anna Staniszewski)

When the Going Gets Tough (Writer Unboxed)

What Writers Can Learn From the Bestseller Lists (Alan Rinzler)

Up The Stakes (Genreality)

How I Learned To Read My Work Out Loud (Beyond the Margins)

Reading Fiction Improves Empathy (The Guardian)

A Writer's Main Objective (KidLit.Com)

The Deadly Sin of Writing #7 - Treating the reader like a Moron (Kristin Lamb)

14 Do's and Dont's for Introducing Characters (Anne R. Allen)

9 Essentials for Writing Your Climactic Scene (Publetariat)

7 Ways to Develop Dazzling Dialog (Jody Hedlund)

5 Writing Secrets from William Shakespeare (Tips and Tricks)

5 W's of Writing (Genreality)

5 Writing Tips Learned From a 2-Year-Old (Buried in the Slush Pile)

To Plot or Not to Plot #2 (Ingrid's Notes) (Part #1 from last week here)

Headhopping Gives Readers Whiplash (The Editor's Blog)

Why Writers Write and Readers Read (Writer Unboxed) Looking for a hero

How Do You Know When To Stop Tweaking Your MS? (Deadline Dames)

Sidekicks: Who is the Robin to Your Batman? (Plot to Punctuation)

First Novels - When to Hold and When to Fold (Project Mayhem)

Why I Pushed My Heroine off a Cliff (Almost) (Writer Unboxed)

Making Your Hero Sympathetic (Word Play) Why he absolutely must pet a dog

Curiosity Killed the Cat... (Harry Potter for Writers) ...But Captured the Reader

How to Avoid Dated Writing (The Literary Lab)

Voice Matters - Does Yours Fit Your Genre? (Fiction Groupie)

Word Choices Affect Voice (Writers' Notes)

Voice is Not Everything, (but it is vitally important) (The Sharp Angle)

Monologue on Dialogue (Fiction Muses)

Backstory - How Much and When (Paranormal Point of View)

I Said, He Said, She Said POV (The Other Side of the Story)

If You Can't Describe Your Story, There Probably Isn't a Story (Scott Egan)

Misconceptions About Outlining (Wordplay)

Now go. Write!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

For Writers - Lynn Sears Williams

Aaand we're back. Thanks for your patience, everyone. This has been a tough couple of months, but I'm on doing better every day... and now I have a whole new realm of experiences to draw from for future stories. It's all fodder, right?

A few items of business before we get started:

First... the winner of DEAR BULLY is: *drumroll*


Please send your mailing instructions to gerb (@) lindagerber (.) com and I'll get it out to you.

Also, for my Ohio area friends, I hope to see you next weekend at the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference in Cleveland! I'll be presenting one workshop on the art of suspense, and one on visual storyboarding with the four-act structure. Come say hello!

I'll also be presenting on the Hero(ine)'s Journey in YA fiction with Jen McAndrews at the Emerald City Writers' Conference in October... which I've just been informed is sold out, so...

If you're interested in the workshop, but won't be at the conference in Seattle next month, you can join us for a month-long online class wherein we will dig into the mythic structure in YA, including breakdowns of recent YA fiction and film. Register through Carolina Romance Writers.

Now, with the business out of the way, I am pleased to welcome Lynne Sears Williams to the blog for this week's Tip Tuesday (or Wednesday, as the case may be...) Lynne's new book, THE COMRADES, made its debut last month. Here's the official blurb:

9th century Wales...

Evan, king of Powys, returns from a wedding to find a village ransacked, with women and children dead. Neighboring Gwynedd has broken the peace, crossing the mountain to pillage and murder. The dead babes tear his heart, and Evan vows to break the heart of Gwynedd.

Gwynedd's most guarded treasure is a pampered princess. In a bloody raid, Evan's comrades return to Powys with Gwynedd's heart.

Evan knows holding the princess will be dangerous and her safe-keeping may mean the difference between the lasting peace he desires and a bloody war. He's prepared for her to be kept safe but unprepared for the girl's intelligence, compassion and damnably kissable mouth.

Morleyna's secret gift of Sight reveals a cruel betrayal that sends Evan on a mystical journey where he discovers his only chance for redemption rests in the hands of his captive.

Her brothers will arrive to claim their sapphire-eyed sister. Will her kinsmen, bent on revenge, destroy Evan and his comrades? Or will destruction come from Morleyna who may be the reincarnation of someone whose beauty captivated a nation?

You all know how much I adore Diana Gabaldon, right? Here's what she had to say about The Comrades: "Three more engaging Welshmen have never been written! By turns hilarious, poignant, bloody--and bloody accurate--historical fiction seldom gets as good as this."

You can find out more about Lynne, and about The Comrades on her website, facebook, and on her blog.

Lynne's tip:

"Diana Gabaldon's advice holds true for all authors: read, read, then read some more.

I would add to not block where your characters are going or decide how they should act; you may be sad or delightfully surprised as events play out. Let *them* speak and do. Since I do not have a plan -- I write in chunks -- I'm amazed how the characters solve their issues. At the end of the day, it's *their* story."

And now, lots of links:

Books for Boys webinar FREE with John Scieszka! (Event Register) <<< TOMORROW!
Boys don't read??? (The Other Side of the Story) Ha. Just ask my son. : )
Boy and Fiction: Is There Any Hope? (New York Times)
1 Reason To Know Your Characters Well (Mystery Writing is Murder) "To stress them out!"
3 Ways to Determine if Your Writing is Crap (Jodi Hedlund) Help is helpful.
5 Ways to Improve Your Fiction (Huffington Post)
5 Things Writing Experts Won't Tell You (James Killick's Blog)
6 Dialog Traps to Avoid (Indie Author)
10 Tips for Becoming a Top-Notch Proof Reader (Procrastinating Writers)
10 Stages of Story Development (W.I.P It)
10 Things NOT to do When Building Characters (Julie Musil)
101 Best Fiction Writing Tips (Write it Sideways pt.1, pt. 2, pt. 3, pt. 4)
Gaining Perspective (Cathering Knutson) Art takes time.
Ooo... Spooky Story Starters (Spilling Ink) Fun. : )
How to Find Cliches in Your Writing (Beyond the Margins) "Take your time. Write what you mean."
Anxious Writer 200 Questions Before Lunch (Beyond the Margins) Very funny.
Details and Generalities (Adventures in Children's Publishing) Excellent post.
Internal and External Inspirations (Writer Unboxed) What inspires you as a writer?
One Teen's Thoughts About YA (Julie Musil) Worth reading.
YA Writers: Read it or Don't Bother Writing it (Fiction Groupie) AMEN.
To Plot or Not to Plot (Ingrid's Notes) The difference between narrative and story.
Frustration: Your Novel's Best Friend (The Bookshelf Muse) "Frustration is awesome."
How to Start a Story (Beyond the Margins) great beginnings.
What to Expect - Writing Workshops for Kids (Imagination Soup)
Mad Libs or Method? On Doing Research While Writing (Grub Street Writer)
So What if Your Book Doesn't Sell? (Jennifer Represents)
There is No Such Thing as an Overnight Success Story (Nathan Bransford)
Nefarious Narrative Distance (The Bluestocking Blog)
Who's Your Audience? (Beyond the Margins)
How to Plot Your Novel (Jill Corcoran Books)
In Fiction, Opposites Attract (Wall Street Journal)
Breaking the Rules Can Lead to Failure... or Possibly Magic (Adventures in Children's Publishing)
Finding Your Writing Process (The Other Side of the Story)
The Difficulty of Finding Ideas that Publishers Like (Jody Hedlund)
Perfection and Productivity (Mystery Writing is Murder)
Dialog - It's Not Just Talking (Scott Egan)
Cramped Middles (Fantasy Faction)
Make Your Ending As Big as Possible (The Sharp Angle)
Should You Outline (The Sharp Angle)
The Power of Deadlines (Cheryl's Musings)

Now go. Write!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

One More Day

Many apologies. Unexpected setback today. This week's tip Tuesday and the Dear Bully winner will be up tomorrow. Please check back! Thanks.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Dear Bully

To start off, thanks for the emails and texts. I appreciate your concern and support. It's been a dicey few weeks, but I am feeling better every day and hope to be back to 100% right soon. Energy/concentration allowing, we will return to Tip Tuesdays next week.

Today, we are celebrating the release of the DEAR BULLY anthology. This book was the brainstorm of Megan Kelly Hall and Carie Jones, YA authors who wanted to do something to reverse the trend of bullying we had been seeing in our schools and on the news. The proceeds of the book will be donated to Stomp Out Bullying, an anti-bullying organization. I am honored to have contributed a piece for the anthology.

Here is the official description:

You are not alone

Discover how Lauren Kate transformed the feeling of that one mean girl getting under her skin into her first novel, how Lauren Oliver learned to celebrate ambiguity in her classmates and in herself, and how R.L. Stine turned being the “funny guy” into the best defense against the bullies in his class.

Today’s top authors for teens come together to share their stories about bullying—as silent observers on the sidelines of high school, as victims, and as perpetrators—in a collection at turns moving and self-effacing, but always deeply personal.

Reviews, background, and additional essays can be found at

Please help support the cause. DEAR BULLY is available online through indiebound, barnes & noble, amazon, and at a bookstore near you.

FREEBIE: I happen to have one extra copy of DEAR BULLY to give away. If you'd like to be entered to win, leave a comment below, telling us about your experience with/thoughts about bullying. This drawing ends 9/13/2011. Winner to be announced on next week's Tip Tuesday post.