Interview and a Giveaway: Author Dee Garretson on First Children, Crickets, and WILDFIRE RUN

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.



Twitter: @deegarretson

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.

34 thoughts on “Interview and a Giveaway: Author Dee Garretson on First Children, Crickets, and WILDFIRE RUN

  1. Jan, I’m so excited you’re branching into interviews! So fun. I love the citrusy animal goodness.

    I remember reading about Dee’s book when it was still Escape From Camp David, and still associate that title with it, but I know it’s the same book, so yah… you have to trust the reader to a huge degree to write well enough for publication so I guess the trend continues in trusting us to find the book to start with! 😀

    1. Thanks, Jess! I wish they could have changed the cover so it said WILDFIRE RUN, formerly known as ESCAPE FROM CAMP DAVID. Unweildy, yes, but then it might strike a chord in bookstores with all the people who knew it by its prepublication title.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed the interview!
    Two things popped out in the conversation: Dee, when you averred to ‘giving yourself permission to take the time to write’, bells rang and a cricket began to tapdance across my conscience! Also, the comment that to have your book displayed at a library would be almost more of a thrill than having it in a bookstore made me nod my head in total agreement, since my affair with our public library has had such a long history, I’ve become more or less a fixture there.
    My lastest endeavor, after brainwashing four kids into believing that *reading is fun*, is my 7th grade granddaughter who is reading up a storm, thanx to getting her envolved with the books of several mg writer-friends. Your WILDFIRE RUN sounds like a winner and we’ll both be looking forward to reading it!

  3. CBlaire, you’ll have to share your brainwashing technique! And I do think one of the biggest stumbling blocks to writing is taking the time to do it, especially when a family member walks by, sees you apparently doing nothing but staring at the computer and says, “Have you seen my…purple socks, form that was supposed to be turned in yesterday, keys, glasses, shoes, the house we are occupying, fill in the blank…on and on. Too bad writing doesn’t look harder. If only we sweated while we were doing it, people might take us more seriously.

    Thanks for reading, Tracey!

  4. Dee, I laughed out loud over “a girl who insists on wearing red cowboy boots all the time is a force to be reckoned with.” No wonder I love red cowboy boots!

    I love reading about your path to publication, because it’s been a wild one, and you’ve experienced a lot of craziness. But you’ve weathered it with grace, and now you get to reap all the rewards! Congrats again!

  5. Jess, hee, I changed the avatars just for a kick. It seemed MG-ish, yes? And yes, I hope the title change won’t be a big barrier for Dee.

    Tracey, glad you enjoyed it. 😀

    Chloe, there’s nothing quite like connecting a reluctant reader with the books that make them smile, is there? Kudos to you for hanging in there. And get writing, missy. 😉

    Dee, maybe we should stock our offices with a misting bottle.

    Donna, I didn’t know you were a cowboy boot kind of person — not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’d just pictured you more Madison Avenue.

  6. Dee and Jan — I’m laughing, because I’m not sure how I tricked you both so well. 🙂 I’m actually a chameleon. I am known for my deep and abiding love for flip flops AND for boots. (I would love to have some wild-color ostrich boots!) In fact, if it weren’t for all the different boots I have, I don’t know that I could endure winter. LOL

    1. Tim, I didn’t think of that. It would be bad if kids wanted the book as a how-to on escaping from summer camps they hated. Though that would be a fun idea for a book. I could cover how to build a model of yourself out of twigs and pine needles so the counselors don’t know you are missing, things like that. I’ll have to think about that. The years I went to camp, our cabin always got the Dirty Sock award, for the messiest cabin. It wasn’t my fault, really.

  7. Hey Jan, Hi Dee, great interview guys! I particularly identified with the bumpy road to publication part LOL. And I have to say, Edward never looked so good – even the goofy hair is right. (can you tell I’m from the Jacob camp, hee hee)

    Good luck to you on your debut Dee, I can’t wait to read your book.


  8. Great interview, Jan and Dee. Thanks for sharing so much of your publishing journey here and elsewhere. One thing I am curious about — was it difficult to find out information about Camp David?

    1. Liz,
      It was very tricky. There wasn’t much before 9/11, and after, there was virtually no reliable information published. I found a couple of great references and then I did quite a bit of research by reading sections of biographies of presidents who have used Camp David since the 1950s. All the historical references in the book are true, but because it is fiction, I just used my own imagination to think up what kind of security systems would now be in place. That part was really enjoyable.

  9. Jan, nice interview!
    Dee, given recent discussions about Google changing the way people research, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about your reliance on the local library. What could you find there that you couldn’t get online? The presidential bios?

    Also, any tricks you used to keep your pacing fast?

    1. Mj,
      There are two reasons I use the library over the internet for research. One is that I don’t trust quite a bit of the information available online, especially when there’s no source given for the info. I took quite a few history courses in college and had the need for checking sources drilled in me. And honestly, it’s just much quicker to go to the library and go through 20 or 30 books at a time to see if I can find something useful. Not that all books are reliable either. There is a book out about the Secret Service, for example, that has been discredited by respected historians for getting so many facts wrong, it’s hard to believe any of it.

      As far as pacing goes, the best advice I remember hearing at a conference one time was to write cimematically. When I’m writing, I try to imagine how a scene would play if there were actors performing it, and that helps me keep things moving along. It really helps with dialogue, because dialogue in writing is so unlike dialogue in real life. I try very hard to make sure the dialogue not only reveals something about the character, but most of the time helps move the plot along.

  10. I really loved this interview. It’s always gratifying to read about other writer’s road to publication, especially for those of still on the road. Can’t wait to read your book, it sounds like a really fun read and it sounds like something my son will love.

  11. Wonderful Interview! let’s see – question — how did it feel to hold your published book in your hands for the first time? did you do a jig? did you take photos the the UPS person delivering them?(um, I did *laughing!*)

    did you sleep with your book by your bedside? what was that day like for you?

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