Friday, January 28, 2011

How do you do it?

About a year ago I had something that has ended up defining my writing and lack of it at times - a little monster we call Loki (her online name).

At first I was cocky. It was easy to take care of her and write, as long as I didn't nap in the day. I was so damn smug. The only problem with this scenario was that she didn't sleep at night. So between us, I was getting less than four hours in 24. Not optimal.

And as she got (gets) bigger of course it got worse. Those premium nap times where I could get in a thousand words or so disappeared and I was a junkie without a fix.

I'm still struggling to get the balance right. When I sold my first book I scrambled further. Between marketing, kid, life and work, my poor writing wasn't finding an outlet. And its hurting worse with the recent addition of a shattered lower leg (with all that entails.)

So I'd like to ask you, dear readers: how do you balance your other responsibilities with writing? Because I certainly won't stop writing, and every new hint helps!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

For the Love of Books

I don't know when my obsession with stories began, probably with the gripping plot of the first book I was allowed to bring home from kindergarten, TIN CAN SAM, but it was in full force by the time I reached middle school.

I remember spending most lunches hunched over the circular tables that were scattered around the cafeteria. If I try hard, I can bring to mind the distinct smell of my daily cup-o-noodle soup, but what I recall most clearly is the weight of a thick book in my hands and the way everything else faded into the background. It didn't end when lunch was over, either, as I can produce copies of several progress reports that cite my biggest shortcoming as a student as "reading novels during class."

Is there anything like being that lost in a good book? What is it about those story-worlds that can so captivate a reader? Even after devouring the final page, some of the best reads left me longing for more. A few rather embarrassing examples:

1. While reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy for the first time, I insisted on wearing an old key ring on a chain around my neck for days on end. This resulted in an unpleasant rash, which I suppose was fitting for my misguided desire to bear the One Ring.

2. I paid the $25 lost book fee to keep the library copy of the out-of-print SOLO's JOURNEY (Hey! This was before the internet's magic!). Then, I proceeded to grow out my fingernails and file them to little points, so I could be more feline.

3. In other cat-book confessions, I greeted my cat with phrases from the dog-eared glossary in my copy of TAILCHASER'S SONG and did my level best to find a way to stalk about on all fours comfortably.

4. My long-suffering parents endured being called "Ma" and "Pa" for several weeks after I finished LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. And they let me bake lots of biscuits, which somehow felt prairie-ish to me.

5. I wore long skirts, did my hair "up", and spent many hours prowling the suburban landscape looking for inspiration and pretending to belong in ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.

What about you? What books grab hold of your imagination like that? Make a clean confession of it. We already know anyone reading this blog is a book groupie. No need to be shy! What embarrassing things did you do to be part of a story-world?

Monday, January 24, 2011

WE WANT YOU! Project Mayhem open to new members!

Hello ALL! PROJECT MAYHEM is currently seeking two new middle-grade writers to join TEAM MAYHEM!

Team Mayhem Requirements:
1.Traditionally published middle-grade novel OR agented middle-grade writer, who is not yet published OR established middle-grade book reviewer who has a positive edge.
2.Great attitude (no snarkers, please!)
3.Ability to write at least 2 posts a month.
4.Keeping up with post deadlines
5.Writing useful posts on the writing process, publishing process, book reviews, etc
6.Major love of middle-grade literature!
7.Not necessary, but preferred: Snazzy dresser! ;)

We are super excited to welcome 2 new members who will help us spread the word about Project Mayhem and all the wonderful middle-grade literature the world has to offer.

Please send the following to
1. Name
2. Blog and/or website link
3. List of published work if applicable
4. Agent name/house if applicable
5. Tell us some cool things about you!
6. What's your top 3 middle-grade novels
7. Why do you want to join Project Mayhem?

Submissions will remain open until February 14th and new members will be contacted the following week and announced on the blog! New members will be decided collectively by current Project Mayhem Team Members.

Please share this link and help us spread the word!!!!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Writing Nonfiction Children's Books - An Interview with Mary Kay Carson

Meet Mary Kay Carson, a nonfiction children’s author who has had more than thirty of her books published. She’s written about a huge variety of topics in the areas of wildlife, space, weather, nature, and history. I was very interested to find out more about this aspect of publishing, because I think it sounds like a terrific job! One of her recent books, THE BAT SCIENTISTS (Houghton Mifflin, 2010) , was named one of Booklist’s top ten sci-tech books for kids in 2010. Check out the trailer for it at the end of the post.

What advice would you give someone interested in a career as a nonfiction writer for children?

Tell stories! Just because it’s nonfiction doesn’t mean it should read like an encyclopedia. True stories of people’s lives, history’s happenings, and scientific discoveries make for dramatic tales.

As far as the nuts and bolts of getting published, nonfiction is generally easier to break into than fiction. The general route is to first build up some credibility as a writer in the genre by getting some magazine articles (print or online) published. The step up to books often begins with pitching ideas to editors for titles that fit into already existing series. Spending time looking through library shelves and online browsing publishers’ catalogs can give you ideas.

Like with any career, you’ve got to nail down what you want and then set goals to get there. Why do you want to write nonfiction for kids? Be honest! Do you have a teacher/scientist/historian inside you who wants to turn kids on to certain subjects? Are you dying to see your name in print and figure nonfiction is an easier route than fiction? Is it a way to earn a living? A combination of these—or other reasons? It’s important to figure out what motivates you, because making money and getting published are two very different things! And you want to go for what will satisfy what you want.

How did you move from magazine articles to your first book?

I began writing nonfiction for kids at Scholastic. I was on staff at their elementary classroom magazine SuperScience for a couple of years. So when I left New York and went freelance in the early 1990s, I took those contacts with me. My first book was a theme unit for teachers about space for Scholastic’s professional books division. I’ve written a lot of teaching materials (teacher guides, classroom activities, supplemental background content, film strip captions, etc.) over the years. The first book I wrote for kids, came out in 1998. Epilepsy is a book in a series called DISEASES AND PEOPLE put out by Enslow, a library market publisher. The science editor there contacted me because another science writer for kids had given her my name. (This is why it’s good to know other writers!) She asked if I was interested in writing a book for the series. So I submitted an annotated outline and sample chapter and was then offered a contract. Ten years later Enslow asked me to submit science series ideas, and I ended up writing a series of books for them about the solar system. (This is why it’s good to stay in contact with editors over the years.) The 12 titles in the FAR-OUT GUIDE TO THE SOLAR SYSTEM have just been released.

Do you pitch projects or are you asked to cover certain topics?

For books, it usually works one of three ways. An editor contacts me and wants a very particular work on a specific topic written, often with word count, reading level, subject matter dictated. This is how it always is for classroom leveled readers, which I write a lot of. Sometimes I’m even provided with an outline and sources—and very little time. A draft of 4,000 words might be needed in two weeks. An example is Amazing Stuff! Materials at Work, a reader for Macmillan-McGraw Hill. Readers like these are fee for service (called work-made-for-hire) books. A lump sum is paid, no royalties.

The opposite end of the spectrum is pitching to trade publishers. I send out cold query letters to editors that pitch a book idea of my own. If someone nibbles, then I write up a traditional nonfiction proposal with an outline, sample chapter, market review, etc. This is how I got the contract to write Emi and the Rhino Scientist for Houghton Mifflin. (Yes, books do come out of the slush pile!) Another book for Houghton Mifflin I wrote, The Bat Scientists, was published this fall.

In the middle of these extremes is being asked to pitch ideas within a subject area. For example, an editor at Sterling Publishing I’d written a middle-school biography for (Alexander Graham Bell: Giving Voice to the World) contacted me. She was looking for science series ideas for kids aged 9-12. They went with a natural disaster series, two of which I wrote, that ended up as very cool books with pages that flip up and flip out. Both were just published, Inside Hurricanes and Inside Tornadoes.

For THE BAT much input, if any, did an editor have in deciding the content before you began to write it?

Not much! That’s the freedom of trade books—it’s pretty much up to you. I submitted an annotated outline of The Bat Scientists for approval. And the editor made some very general suggestions. But the content of the book changed a great deal from the outline once I started interviewing scientists, etc. That was fine with the editor. She wants the best book possible, and as a trade publisher isn’t constrained by trying to fulfill state content standards, etc.

The process of integrating the text with the pictures and illustrations seems complicated. Do you just concentrate on the text, or do you have a part in deciding which pictures you need to go with it?

Nonfiction authors are asked to do a lot of the image and illustration research and placement. It’s just part of the job. Sometimes, the writing has to be worked around the graphics. The interactive nature of Sterling’s Inside books demand that. I’m finishing up Inside Weather, and wrote the outline and text using a book dummy that had all the vertical and horizontal gatefolds. I needed to come up with diagrams, illustrations, and images that took advantage of a 36-inch wide or 20-inch tall page within the text. It’s actually a big help as a writer to know what illustrations there will be. There’s no reason to write a paragraph about the types of clouds when there’s a terrific 20x9 inch diagram illustrating them all at their respective heights in the atmosphere.

Narrative nonfiction books like The Bat Scientists (Houghton Mifflin, 2010) are different. The fabulous photos by photographer Tom Uhlman (my better half!) were taken specifically for this book. He and I traveled together to see the scientists at work, talk to them, and take photos. Together we choose a selection of the best photos for each chapter. But it’s the book’s designer who makes the final decisions, marrying images with the flow of text on a spread.

Thanks Mary Kay! And I just had to post this picture of Mary Kay and her husband. I think the subject of working with a spouse could take up a whole blog post by itself. Find out more about Mary Kay and her books at her website:

~Dee Garretson

Monday, January 17, 2011


Thank you so much for all the wonderful comments and support for my debut book release of GOSSIP! I had a terrific and successful first book event (which I will be sharing on my blog shortly). Now, for the winner of the GOSSIP Giveway, congratulations to 

Thanks again to everyone who entered! Theresa, please send me your mailing address and I will have the book and  swag mailed right out to you!

Rose Cooper

Friday, January 14, 2011

Web Ventures

Lately, I’ve been hearing the same thing from a lot of writers seeking publication. “I have to get my website up,” they’ll say, or, “I have to start a blog. I’ll never attract an agent or editor without one.” And, indeed, in writing circles these days, it seems like a lot of emphasis is placed on the oh-so-important “web presence.”

But I sometimes wonder if the significance of web presence is overestimated by those seeking to be published. Granted, if you’re writing non-fiction, where having a platform (a way to reach readers and sell your book to your target market) is considered crucial by many agents and editors, a web presence is probably pretty important. But if you’re a novelist, is it really all that critical to getting your foot in the door?

Don’t get me wrong—a web presence certainly doesn’t hurt your chances of getting an agent or editor. And if you enjoy blogging and designing websites and have plenty of time to do so, then why not? But if you’re not blessed with copious amounts of free time or a burning desire to launch yourself into the blogosphere, should you force yourself to do such things in the name of getting published? I worry there are writers out there pouring time and energy into endeavors that are perhaps not especially necessary, taking away from their time to write, polish their manuscripts, or nail that killer query letter. And many I’ve talked to recently seem convinced that publication will never happen unless they do. Some are even putting off sending out query letters, as they feel they can’t even approach an agent or editor without first being established online.

When I signed with my agent, I had nothing in the way of a web presence—and I do mean nothing. Zip, zero, zilch, nada. No website, no blog, no Facebook account, no Twitter account, no MySpace page, nothing. Basically, I had an e-mail address. The same was true when my agent found a publisher for my novel.

Now, in the months leading up to the publication of my book, I did make a point of launching a website—, if you’d like to check it out (shameless plug)—and I did join Facebook. Both have been great ways to get word of my book out there, and it’s been fun and rewarding to meet some really wonderful people who love children’s books as wholeheartedly as I do. Obviously, I’m also blogging here on Project Mayhem, and what a great experience that has been! So I’m not knocking the web thing. But I do wonder if the importance of having a web presence before being published is sometimes overemphasized.

Having a strong book is obviously the most important thing. Personally, I think if an agent or editor loves your manuscript, it’s unlikely they’re going to turn you down because you don’t have a blog.

But I’d love to hear other opinions on this. Anyone out there who has had their web presence play a major role in being published? Please, share your thoughts and experiences.

-Dawn Lairamore

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I'm writing this while I jump up and down. And screaming a bit. Yes, I can multi-task THAT well. But the reason behind all my excitement is because it's the release day of my book, Gossip From The Girls' Room, A Blogtastic! Novel. 

I am giving away one signed copy of GOSSIP! To enter, leave a comment and tell me your favorite funny book. Ever. Contest ends at midnight.

For chances to win more signed books and swag, join me on my blog at!

Thank  you for all your support!!


Friday, January 7, 2011

Parent Writers – Working at home with kids

Guilt, I haz it. When I learned of the thousands of handwritten pages by J.R.R. Tolkien in the Marquette University collection, I had to remind myself he lived in a different time altogether where he could sit down for hours without distraction and create a whole alternate universe. I have trouble writing a thousand words a day set in real times! Tolkien had four children he loved dearly, but we all know he didn’t do the day-to-day jobs of cooking and washing clothes for them.

 I constantly struggle with setting aside time to write, and I’m terrible at multitasking. In fact, walking and talking sometimes fit my definition of multitasking. Usually, I either get up very early in the morning or work late in the night when everyone else is asleep in the house, because I just can’t write with too much commotion around me. So I made this little short video to look at the lighter side of juggling two very different occupations. How do you all do it? ~ Dee Garretson 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

And the Winner is... What are your Newbery Predictions for 2011??

You like me!!! You REALLY like me!!
So, as you can imagine all us Project Mayhem bloggers who had a book release in 2010 would LOVE to find out we were nominated for a Newbery. Long shot, sure, but what children's writer doesn't daydream about that? I mean seriously, can you imagine? 

When I was still looking for an agent and the agent I really, really (really) wanted already rejected me, I used to have out loud conversations with myself (don't ask and at least they were in private), in which he would call me out of the blue, saying he'd changed his mind. Well, guess what! That's exactly what happened! So, in my mind, anything is possible after that!

I read so many wonderful middle-grade novels this year, I'm clueless as to who will get the Newbery nod. So, I ask you, what are your predictions? Who do you think will get picked! We'll know next week, but we would like to hear from you. Newbery picks books on merit, not popularity. Which books of 2010 just spoke to you. What books did you read that STILL have you thinking?

Bring it! ;)