If you have a reluctant male reader in your life, today’s post should hold particular interest for you. My guest is Dee Garretson, debut author of the middle-grade thriller, WILDFIRE RUN. Released by HarperCollins, it’s been described as “MacGuyver meets 24,” and is a blend of fast pacing, unique setting, and science-based solutions to life-threatening challenges.
Jan: Welcome to Tartitude, Dee. Will you begin by describing your book’s premise?
Dee: How about if I share my query letter? Before I do though, I just want to add there is a very strong girl character in the book as well, so I’m hoping the story will be enjoyed by girls as well. A girl who insists on wearing red cowboy boots all the time is a force to be reckoned with. Now that I’ve said that, here’s the description part of the story in the letter that got me my agent:
Just once Luke Brockett would like to do something slightly dangerous, but when your father is the President of the United States, that is not an option. Always surrounded by Secret Service agents and kept in a bubble of safety, Luke sees Camp David, the presidential retreat in the woods of Maryland, as the only place where he can almost normal. For one week in August, Luke’s mother has arranged for Luke to have a ‘summer camp’ experience, if summer camp had only three kids and the counselors carried automatic weapons. The experience comes to a quick end when a forest fire surrounds Camp David. Luke and his friends are trapped inside, left on their own, the Secret Service agents incapacitated, forcing the three to outwit security systems designed to be unbeatable before it’s too late.
On top of the rich external conflict, I was intrigued with Luke’s character and his world’s paradoxes. He’s privileged, yet unable to make basic decisions without permission from his bodyguards; surrounded by people, but lonely; aware of the constant peril which threatens his family, yet kept ignorant of the security measures which protect them. Circumstance requires him to grow from helpless anxiety to a position of authority in a short time; I think you make his change credible. How did you come to understand him so well?
Jan, I love you! The book was purposely designed to be so fast-paced, I was worried Luke’s character arc would get overlooked. My understanding of that type of character came from my college years. Even though I’m not a social, outgoing person in a traditional sense, I’ve very interested in people, in particular what influences they way they act. Some of my friends in college were from very wealthy, privileged backgrounds, and I was astounded at how different their reactions to life were from mine, me being an average kid from small-town Iowa. In a sense, even though they had all the advantages, it was tougher for them to learn to deal with real life, and that made a big impact on me.
Your family has been involved in every step of WILDFIRE RUN’S production, from inspiration to publicity. Can you tell us about that?
My father was a huge influence in my life. He was very much his own person and, to use a cliché, marched to his own drum. My main character’s inventiveness is based on my father as I imagined he would have been as a child. Growing up, our house was full of mechanical things my father had taken apart and sometimes put back together. As a teenager, I was embarrassed by the fleet of broken down lawnmowers lined up on the side of our house, and my father’s lack of concern with the engine grease he always had embedded in his skin, but now I remember it with nostalgia. I hope my own children remember with nostalgia the time I made them wiggle through a mockup of a tunnel made with cardboard cutouts of jeep doors, because I wanted to make sure the characters in WILDFIRE RUN would be able to do that.
I don’t get to see my extended family much, but I’m lucky to have such smart and creative relatives who were willing to listen and offer advice on certain aspects of the story. My sister and brother have taken marketing my book to the extreme though, so if you are accosted by strangers in bookstores trying to convince you to buy my book, they’re probably related to me.
🙂 Your family sounds like teh awesome. Maybe they can give lessons to mine when the time comes.
Dee, book trailers are becoming an increasingly popular method of author promotion. Yours was made by a young lady who’s doing well for herself. Tell us more.
I hadn’t even heard of book trailers until I saw Cindy Pon’s for THE SILVER PHOENIX and I immediately knew I wanted one for my story. I’m a big movie fan, and making a book trailer was a close as I’m going to get to being a movie director. I knew I could pull together the basic idea of the trailer and track down the images, but I didn’t have the skill to put it all together for pacing and to add the right kind of music. I was lucky enough to know a very talented and professional college student studying broadcast production, and asked her to make the trailer. A few weeks after she and her boyfriend finished the trailer, she announced she had an internship on the Oprah show. I’m glad I got her first! I don’t think she has even turned twenty yet, so I’m sure she will go far.
Here’s something I haven’t seen: Your publisher made a video game to celebrate your release. It’s challenging!
That was a nice surprise and impressed my children. Mom as writer is not very exciting most of the time, especially when I’m really in a bad mood over something that isn’t happening the way it’s supposed to happen.
Yes, interesting things happened around your book’s name. 😉 Care to elaborate?
Ah, the title snafu. (Sidetrack-I love the word snafu, and the origins of it, but I won’t go into here because you would have to bleep me.) I didn’t realize quite how many people are involved in the basic decisions about titles and covers. I honestly believe one reason I got an agent to request a partial was because of the original title, ESCAPE FROM CAMP DAVID. I love the title and think it intrigues people who see it. Marketing people made the decision that not enough children would know about Camp David, so we began to search for a new title. I was thrilled when HarperCollins decided to make the book the first in a series, and they wanted a series title as well. The second title was DANGER’S EDGE: WILDFIRE AT CAMP DAVID. The advance reader copies were printed with this title. Then, more people got involved and decided the series title shouldn’t be on the book, and the use of Camp David was still making some unhappy. The final title of WILDFIRE RUN was chosen, but the title changes have caused some marketing problems. The School Library Journal and Kirkus both printed their reviews using the second title, WILDFIRE AT CAMP DAVID. Luckily, if librarians and teachers want to find it, they’re the ones with the right set of skills to track down the book.
You are a huge supporter of libraries and early signs indicate the appreciation runs two ways.
My husband says I support libraries with all the overdue fines I pay. (Jan interrupting to ask if there’s a writer for whom this doesn’t apply? Hee.) It’s true; I’m terrible about returning books on time. I don’t know how I’d survive without libraries for so many reasons. It would have been extremely difficult to do the research I needed to give WILDFIRE RUN an accurate feel without my local library. Also, my house would be just a maze of narrow pathways through stacks of books if I had to buy all the ones my family reads. I was very pleased when the book was selected as a Junior Library Guild choice for the fall in their new high interest middle grade category. I also created a book club discussion guide and put it on my website in hopes that would be of use to librarians. As a haunter of libraries my whole life, the thought of my book in a library is a bigger thrill than having it in a bookstore.
You’ve always been interested in story, but your path to publication wasn’t smooth. (LOL, are they ever?) Which particular snags caught you, and what did you learn from them?
The biggest snag was my own ignorance about the business of publishing. The very first query letter I ever sent out was one line: “I’m submitting my manuscript entitled….” You can imagine how well that did. Forcing myself to finish something was another snag. I found it was very hard to juggle family and job and still give myself permission to take the time to write. And it wasn’t just writing, it was taking the time to learn to write well, by studying, reading, experimenting and attending conferences. There is a huge investment of time that you have to believe will pay off, even if others around you doubt that.
You give experiential talks about writing. You have to tell our readers about the Barbies. 🙂
I love talking to writers, because they don’t have expectations of normal behaviour. Back when I was teaching, I learned some tricks to hold an audience. One of them is to use something unexpected. I give a talk on how to develop character voice, and who better to demonstrate that than Barbies and Kens in various personas. I used some writer friends’ suggestions on how to make a sparkle Edward Cullen. and I’m quite proud of myself for figuring out how to turn a Ken into Hemingway. Sorry if that makes Ernest turn over in his grave. The Barbies at our house are usually just lying around naked anyway, so I figured they might enjoy some clothes once in a while.
What are you working on now?
WILDFIRE RUN is the first in a somewhat non-traditional series in the sense that the next book has different characters, but is still an extreme adventure. The second book, titled WOLF STORM at the moment, is about kid actors on location filming a blockbuster sci fi movie. They get trapped in a blizzard and have to figure out how to survive all the things I throw at them. Plans are for that book to be released September 1, 2011.
I have a running joke on this blog about the importance of Vitamin C. When I interviewed Laura Kinsale, she chose to play along by snapping pictures of her beloved dog, Ventoux, as he played with an orange. Dee, as my first interview subject here since Ms. Kinsale’s visit, do you care to continue the citrusy tradition?
My cats are not fans of Vitamin C, unless crickets are a source of it, but they are fans of being dressed up as oranges. Can’t you tell from Tigger’s expression?
I love how the stem makes his eye color pop. Hee. Should anyone reading this want to follow you elsewhere, what are their options?
For someone initially reluctant to embrace the internet, I feel like I’m everywhere now.
Thanks for being here, Dee. Good luck with your debut, the Barbies and may your title-fu for the next book make up for this one’s.
And now, readers, the giveaway: Dee has one hardcover copy of WILDFIRE RUN for our contest winner. To qualify, leave a comment and/or question in the space below. Dee will pop in from time to time to answer your queries. If you wish to qualify for a second entry, you have three choices: tweet about this contest, place a link in your blog, or a link on your Facebook page. (Of course, nothing prohibits you from doing all three.) Then record your url here.
Entries will be accepted until 8 PM EST, Sunday, October 3, 2010. The winner will be chosen by RNG and announced here next week.