As readers, we pick up a book and finish reading it in a day or two or maybe a week or two. As writers, the process is much longer. As part of my book review process, I wanted to add author interviews when possible. I think it makes the book we're reading more special when we know a little bit about what happens behind the scenes. An author interview is like going on a backstage movie tour. Thank you to Dee Garretson for taking us backstage, ahh I mean back book.
When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing stories when I was about ten years old just as a natural progression from all the stories I made up in my head. I stopped writing once I went to college and didn’t start again for several years. I still made up stories in my head, and I wanted the challenge to see if I could get them down on paper in a way that other people would want to read them.
What is the hardest part of writing?
The hardest part for me is spending the time to get the cadence right. I think storytelling is very similar to music – I want the reader to be enveloped by the story and drawn along with it. Balancing just the right amount of dialogue, description and action to make the story flow is the last step in a revision and the most time-consuming.
What were some of your favorite books growing up?
HARRIET THE SPY– I’ve always had a fondness for spies!
FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER- Even now I can’t resist any book set in a museum
A WRINKLE IN TIME – This was the beginning of my love of science fiction.
How many books have you written?
It’s a little hard to put an exact number on it. WILDFIRE RUN is the first book I’ve had published, but before that I wrote a historical mystery which I totally rewrote so many times it’s as if I have written four different mysteries.
What inspired you to write WILDFIRE RUN?
Way back when Jimmie Carter was president, I remember hearing all the criticism of his daughter, Amy, for reading a book during a state dinner. All I could think of at the time was that would have been me if I had been in her situation. It made me aware of the strange lives presidential children lead. I didn’t think much about it again until the presidential primary races in 2008. There were several candidates with younger children or grandchildren, and it led me to again to wonder what life would be like for children in that situation. I knew that sort of character could really inspire me to write a story about them.
Your book, WILDFIRE RUN, is set in Camp David. What research did you do to find out about such a secretive place?
Researching Camp David and the Secret Service was extremely difficult because I wanted an accurate feel to the book, yet for security reasons there is not much factual information available, particularly since 9/11. I read every nonfiction book I could find that had mentions of the place and of the Secret Service. I purposely stayed away from any fiction, because I didn’t want to be influenced by other writers’ imaginations. The rest of it just came from me thinking about what would make sense in a place like that, and then I let my imagination really go on the defense weapons. Interestingly, the part about the pool being built over the old bomb shelter is true, according to one of the nonfiction books I read. Richard Nixon really wanted the pool in a particular site, and it cost quite a bit of money to reinforce the roof of the old bomb shelter so the weight of the water wouldn’t collapse it.
Is your main character Luke based on anyone you know?
He is based partly on my father (the inventiveness), and partly based on a boy who used to live in our neighborhood (the action-oriented part). I find all my characters tend to be composites of more than one person, plus whatever I need to add to their personalities to fit the story.
What is one of the most unexpected things you learned writing WILDFIRE RUN?
I was fascinated by all the little details I learned about Camp David. Unfortunately, in the interest of pacing some of them didn’t make it into the book. One detail that did is the bit about Roosevelt’s fear of fire and the wall that he could push open in his bedroom. Since he was in a wheelchair he wanted to make sure he could get out in an emergency.
How do you keep the action so exciting in each chapter of WILDFIRE RUN?
I’m a huge movie fan, especially of adventure-type movies, so I imagine each scene in my stories as if it were in a movie. That way I can make sure I have enough going on to keep the action moving. Also, I know real kids don’t stand around just talking for too long without doing something, and I try to remember that as well.
How long did it take WILDFIRE RUN to get published once you finished it?
I finished the book in June of 2008 and started querying it. I signed with an agent in September of that year, but the book didn’t go onto submission to editors until the end of January, 2009. Within a few weeks we had an offer for a revise and resubmit. It took me about a month to get the revisions done and then the offer came in April. The book was released on September 1, 2010, so that means it took a little over 2 years. Publishing can be a very long process!
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in WILDFIRE RUN?
To keep the action flowing, my editor and I decided we needed to cut back on some of Callie’s character development. I really regret that, because I love her character.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a writer when he or she grows up?
The common advice is to read, read, read, and you can’t go wrong there. I think the other part of it is that you need to go out and experience life before you can write about it. Try lots of hobbies or sports, learn about odd subjects, and find out about other people outside of your family and friends. Good writers tend to be good observers, and that’s a skill that can be developed.
Tell us a little bit about your next book.
WOLF STORM is another middle grade adventure story about of group of young actors on location in the mountains filming a science fiction movie. They are in an isolated location working with a group of trained wolves, and when a major storm hits, they find themselves alone trying to survive. They soon realize there is a pack of wild wolves who don’t like the presence of the movie wolves on their territory. I had a terrific time writing this, researching wolf behavior and movie making. The main character, Stefan, is a newcomer to the movie business, and it was fun to build the conflict between him and the girl playing his sister, Raine, a veteran star who is very unhappy working with an amateur.
Many thanks to Dee Garretson for taking the time for such a thoughtful interview.
Be sure to check out the book trailer for Wildfire Run:
Also be sure to comment on the previous blog post giveaway for your chance to win a copy of Wildfire Run.