Monday, March 31, 2014


by Sherrie Petersen

Photo credit: quicksandala from morguefile.com 
Research is one of my favorite things to do when I’m writing a new book. I can lose entire days trying to answer a simple question. (Do they have carpet or tile floors in the Deep Space Network at JPL? What type of food vendors do they have at the airport in Corpus Christi?) The internet has made searching for information FAR easier than it was for novelists even ten or fifteen years ago. But the internet is also full of misinformation, which is why it’s so important to use multiple sources to get your answers.

Here are the top research tools I used when I was working on WISH YOU WEREN’T.

Google

It’s the number one search engine for a reason. When I was researching NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, I did so many searches for JPL, rephrasing my terms to find different results, that I started to worry about the FBI or the MIB showing up on my doorstep to take me away and ask questions later! It was surprising though, how using a synonym (or spelling out the name instead of using the common acronym) for a word could render completely different search results.

Takeaway: Use multiple search terms to get the broadest array of answers to your questions.

Phone/Email

Sometimes I would find information that looked valid, but it had an old date on it, or I would find more than one version. At times like this, it’s useful to make personal contact: email someone or pick up the phone and call them. You’d be amazed how willing people are to answer seemingly strange questions once you tell them you’re an author working on a story.

Takeaway: Personal contact gives you the most up-to-date information and might even offer you tidbits that you never would have found any other way.

Personal Visit

This isn’t always feasible, but it’s hands down the BEST way to research a setting. I took my family to a JPL open house (they only hold them once a year) and then returned a few months later for a personal tour to make sure I had all my details right. During the open house they handed out maps (invaluable), took us in clean rooms and got us excited about all the new projects going on. During the personal tour we got to go inside buildings that we missed during the open house and since it was just us, I was able to ask a lot of specific questions without worrying that I was holding other people up. Both experiences were fantastic and provided information I couldn’t have gleaned from the Internet.

Takeaway: Make the effort to visit actual locations so that you can give readers the most believable descriptions.

Observation

One of the things readers have always complimented me on is my character dialog. Since I have two children and I work at a school, it’s not hard for me to make the kids in my books sound real. I’m around them all day – I know how they talk. In middle grade this is SO important because if a ten-year-old sounds more like the 40-year-old author, you’ve already lost your young reader. If you’re writing for kids and you don’t have easy access to any, offer to babysit, take your nephews for the weekend, visit a toy store or a playground and listen to the conversations. Whoever your main characters are, make their voices authentic to their age, their station in life and their sense of who they are, so that they’re believable to your readers.

No matter what type of novel you’re writing, research is the core that gives your story authenticity. If you’re doing it right, you’ll learn more than you’ll ever be able to fit between the covers, but the payoff is more than worth it: your readers will embrace the world you’ve created and fall in love with your story.

Which of Sherrie's techniques might be most helpful for you to try?

About WISH YOU WEREN’T

MG sci-fi/fantasy
Marten doesn't believe in the power of wishes. None of his have ever come true. His parents ignore him, his little brother is a pain and his family is talking about moving to Texas. Not cool. So when he makes an impulsive wish during a meteor shower, he doesn't expect it to make any difference.

Until his annoying brother disappears.

With the present uncertain and his brother’s future in limbo, Marten finds himself stuck in his past. And if he runs out of time, even wishes might not be enough to save the ones he loves.

Goodreads / Read the first two chapters on Wattpad
bn.com  / amazon  /  kobo
And right now if you buy a printed copy on Amazon, you’ll get the e-book for free!

SHERRIE PETERSEN still believes in magic and she loves to write (and read!) stories that take her on fantastic adventures. In addition to writing middle grade novels, Sherrie moonlights as a graphic designer, substitute teacher, freelance writer, school newspaper advisor, yearbook advisor and mother of two children. She spends her free time watching movies, driving kids around and baking cookies. Or eating them.

WISH YOU WEREN’T is her debut novel.

Find her on:  Twitter / Facebook / Blog / Website 

Thanks for having me on your site, Laurel!!

Monday, March 31, 2014 Laurel Garver

by Sherrie Petersen

Photo credit: quicksandala from morguefile.com 
Research is one of my favorite things to do when I’m writing a new book. I can lose entire days trying to answer a simple question. (Do they have carpet or tile floors in the Deep Space Network at JPL? What type of food vendors do they have at the airport in Corpus Christi?) The internet has made searching for information FAR easier than it was for novelists even ten or fifteen years ago. But the internet is also full of misinformation, which is why it’s so important to use multiple sources to get your answers.

Here are the top research tools I used when I was working on WISH YOU WEREN’T.

Google

It’s the number one search engine for a reason. When I was researching NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, I did so many searches for JPL, rephrasing my terms to find different results, that I started to worry about the FBI or the MIB showing up on my doorstep to take me away and ask questions later! It was surprising though, how using a synonym (or spelling out the name instead of using the common acronym) for a word could render completely different search results.

Takeaway: Use multiple search terms to get the broadest array of answers to your questions.

Phone/Email

Sometimes I would find information that looked valid, but it had an old date on it, or I would find more than one version. At times like this, it’s useful to make personal contact: email someone or pick up the phone and call them. You’d be amazed how willing people are to answer seemingly strange questions once you tell them you’re an author working on a story.

Takeaway: Personal contact gives you the most up-to-date information and might even offer you tidbits that you never would have found any other way.

Personal Visit

This isn’t always feasible, but it’s hands down the BEST way to research a setting. I took my family to a JPL open house (they only hold them once a year) and then returned a few months later for a personal tour to make sure I had all my details right. During the open house they handed out maps (invaluable), took us in clean rooms and got us excited about all the new projects going on. During the personal tour we got to go inside buildings that we missed during the open house and since it was just us, I was able to ask a lot of specific questions without worrying that I was holding other people up. Both experiences were fantastic and provided information I couldn’t have gleaned from the Internet.

Takeaway: Make the effort to visit actual locations so that you can give readers the most believable descriptions.

Observation

One of the things readers have always complimented me on is my character dialog. Since I have two children and I work at a school, it’s not hard for me to make the kids in my books sound real. I’m around them all day – I know how they talk. In middle grade this is SO important because if a ten-year-old sounds more like the 40-year-old author, you’ve already lost your young reader. If you’re writing for kids and you don’t have easy access to any, offer to babysit, take your nephews for the weekend, visit a toy store or a playground and listen to the conversations. Whoever your main characters are, make their voices authentic to their age, their station in life and their sense of who they are, so that they’re believable to your readers.

No matter what type of novel you’re writing, research is the core that gives your story authenticity. If you’re doing it right, you’ll learn more than you’ll ever be able to fit between the covers, but the payoff is more than worth it: your readers will embrace the world you’ve created and fall in love with your story.

Which of Sherrie's techniques might be most helpful for you to try?

About WISH YOU WEREN’T

MG sci-fi/fantasy
Marten doesn't believe in the power of wishes. None of his have ever come true. His parents ignore him, his little brother is a pain and his family is talking about moving to Texas. Not cool. So when he makes an impulsive wish during a meteor shower, he doesn't expect it to make any difference.

Until his annoying brother disappears.

With the present uncertain and his brother’s future in limbo, Marten finds himself stuck in his past. And if he runs out of time, even wishes might not be enough to save the ones he loves.

Goodreads / Read the first two chapters on Wattpad
bn.com  / amazon  /  kobo
And right now if you buy a printed copy on Amazon, you’ll get the e-book for free!

SHERRIE PETERSEN still believes in magic and she loves to write (and read!) stories that take her on fantastic adventures. In addition to writing middle grade novels, Sherrie moonlights as a graphic designer, substitute teacher, freelance writer, school newspaper advisor, yearbook advisor and mother of two children. She spends her free time watching movies, driving kids around and baking cookies. Or eating them.

WISH YOU WEREN’T is her debut novel.

Find her on:  Twitter / Facebook / Blog / Website 

Thanks for having me on your site, Laurel!!

Saturday, March 29, 2014


It might seem like I've been neglecting this little corner of the Interwebs, but in fact, I've been gearing up for a solid month of awesomeness.

Here's what's in store:
Prepare for lift-off! (photo by earl53 from morguefile.com)

A fabulous guest post about researching your fiction from Sherrie Peterson. She'll  share a bit about her exciting new MG science fiction release WISH YOU WEREN'T and has a great giveaway also!

Twenty six days of all things cool in poetry including...
  • Work by famous and emerging poets of yesterday and today that will stir your heart and soul, tickle your funny bone, and inspire you to see the world in new ways.
  • Inspiration and tools to add spark to your fiction writing and help you try poetry writing as well.
  • Informative and fun introductions to all kinds of poetry forms and vocabulary, from acrostics and assonance to spoken word and vernacular.
  • Giveaways of a poetry collection and a writing resource.
Please come back Monday for the festivities!

What does your April have in store?

Saturday, March 29, 2014 Laurel Garver

It might seem like I've been neglecting this little corner of the Interwebs, but in fact, I've been gearing up for a solid month of awesomeness.

Here's what's in store:
Prepare for lift-off! (photo by earl53 from morguefile.com)

A fabulous guest post about researching your fiction from Sherrie Peterson. She'll  share a bit about her exciting new MG science fiction release WISH YOU WEREN'T and has a great giveaway also!

Twenty six days of all things cool in poetry including...
  • Work by famous and emerging poets of yesterday and today that will stir your heart and soul, tickle your funny bone, and inspire you to see the world in new ways.
  • Inspiration and tools to add spark to your fiction writing and help you try poetry writing as well.
  • Informative and fun introductions to all kinds of poetry forms and vocabulary, from acrostics and assonance to spoken word and vernacular.
  • Giveaways of a poetry collection and a writing resource.
Please come back Monday for the festivities!

What does your April have in store?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I'm a few days late to the theme reveal party for the A-Z blogging challenge, in part because I was hosting an actual party at my home this weekend for my daughter and her friends, Scandinavian themed. The girls watched Disney''s Frozen, ate Swedish meatballs and Danish, played Freeze Up and painted some Scandinavian-style wood cutouts. Decorations included Finnish paper stars and lots of spray snow. 

So, I love playing on a theme. But Scandinavia A-Z isn't quite up my alley (beyond lutefisk and Ikea, I'm kind of at a loss), so....

In honor of National Poetry Month, I'll be talking poetry, from the wry and colloquial to the deep and sublime, and everything in between. I'll share some of my own work, some favorite writing tools, and introduce you to poets and forms you might not have heard of.

I hope you'll come back to enjoy a sampling of the wide, wild world of poetry.

Do you like theme parties? What's the coolest one you've ever attended?
Sunday, March 23, 2014 Laurel Garver
I'm a few days late to the theme reveal party for the A-Z blogging challenge, in part because I was hosting an actual party at my home this weekend for my daughter and her friends, Scandinavian themed. The girls watched Disney''s Frozen, ate Swedish meatballs and Danish, played Freeze Up and painted some Scandinavian-style wood cutouts. Decorations included Finnish paper stars and lots of spray snow. 

So, I love playing on a theme. But Scandinavia A-Z isn't quite up my alley (beyond lutefisk and Ikea, I'm kind of at a loss), so....

In honor of National Poetry Month, I'll be talking poetry, from the wry and colloquial to the deep and sublime, and everything in between. I'll share some of my own work, some favorite writing tools, and introduce you to poets and forms you might not have heard of.

I hope you'll come back to enjoy a sampling of the wide, wild world of poetry.

Do you like theme parties? What's the coolest one you've ever attended?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When I read Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca, it really resonated with me. What I especially liked was the way she develops non-romantic friendships between the teen guys and the girls who "invade" their once-all-boys school that goes co-ed.

photo by click, morguefile.com
Perhaps it's because my nearest sibling is a brother that I had loads of guy friends all through school. Boys brought something cool and interesting to the table that many girls didn't.

In grade school, it was the boys who eagerly went along with my imaginative play ideas. If I said the monkeybars were a spaceship, Duane would say, "Yeah, and I'm gonna run the lasers!" Jen, on the other hand, would stand there with her arms crossed over her chest and tell us we're dumb. Then she'd go play hopscotch or some other boringly conventional game.

In our monkeybar spaceship games, I often chose to play the comms or navs officer or the doctor. Soon other girls created roles they liked and would join our crew. We ran some pretty kickin' missions. There was something magical about mixing our different strengths. Our "soft" and "rough" ways of approaching the world balanced each other.

Those fun times of childhood carried on into junior high, high school and college when I got involved in band, choir and theater and started playing Dungeons and Dragons. Mixed groups were what I preferred. Occasionally romances would develop. But most of the time, we just enjoyed each other. Had fun. Had amazing conversations. Challenged one another. Offered support, listening ears and advice.

Sadly, guys and girls being great friends not a dynamic I see as often as I'd like in YA. Romantic attachments, flirting and mind-games is the predominant way guys and girls relate in books for teens. The romances that develop are often about surface attraction--the characters have no common interests, traits or goals. I'd love to see more "book teens" enjoying the benefits of cross-gender friendships, like Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna and Neville do.

What's your take on guy-girl friendships? Know of any YA books that represent healthy cross-gender friendships well?
Tuesday, March 18, 2014 Laurel Garver
When I read Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca, it really resonated with me. What I especially liked was the way she develops non-romantic friendships between the teen guys and the girls who "invade" their once-all-boys school that goes co-ed.

photo by click, morguefile.com
Perhaps it's because my nearest sibling is a brother that I had loads of guy friends all through school. Boys brought something cool and interesting to the table that many girls didn't.

In grade school, it was the boys who eagerly went along with my imaginative play ideas. If I said the monkeybars were a spaceship, Duane would say, "Yeah, and I'm gonna run the lasers!" Jen, on the other hand, would stand there with her arms crossed over her chest and tell us we're dumb. Then she'd go play hopscotch or some other boringly conventional game.

In our monkeybar spaceship games, I often chose to play the comms or navs officer or the doctor. Soon other girls created roles they liked and would join our crew. We ran some pretty kickin' missions. There was something magical about mixing our different strengths. Our "soft" and "rough" ways of approaching the world balanced each other.

Those fun times of childhood carried on into junior high, high school and college when I got involved in band, choir and theater and started playing Dungeons and Dragons. Mixed groups were what I preferred. Occasionally romances would develop. But most of the time, we just enjoyed each other. Had fun. Had amazing conversations. Challenged one another. Offered support, listening ears and advice.

Sadly, guys and girls being great friends not a dynamic I see as often as I'd like in YA. Romantic attachments, flirting and mind-games is the predominant way guys and girls relate in books for teens. The romances that develop are often about surface attraction--the characters have no common interests, traits or goals. I'd love to see more "book teens" enjoying the benefits of cross-gender friendships, like Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna and Neville do.

What's your take on guy-girl friendships? Know of any YA books that represent healthy cross-gender friendships well?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Every year, I toy with the idea of joining the A-Z blogging challenge, and I always talk myself out of it. It has the potential to be a huge time suck. But it's also a great way to make new connections, and I could use some of those. As part of my new year's housecleaning, I unfollowed seventy-some blogs I used to read that have gone inactive. That's a lot of lost connection.

April is also National Poetry Month, which would make it very, very easy to come up with a theme for posts. Poem a day, featuring the letter of the day. I could introduce readers to some poets they may not know or simply forgot. I could challenge myself to write a new piece or three to work into the lineup. With planning, I could get a majority of the posts prepared well ahead of time.

So what's the problem?

I don't seem to be able to maintain enthusiasm for anything for very long. Inevitably, I hit a low every single month and it's a struggle to do much other than soldier through those eight or nine days doing the absolute minimum. It's "just" a hormonal thing, and a pretty rare one that only about 8% of women deal with. But because there have been so many studies linking depression to creativity, I wouldn't be surprised if a number of my writer friends also suffer from the same thing. Unlike clinical depression, PMDD clears up quickly, and that can make you feel extra crazy. And then guilty. Really, really guilty for these short spurts of do-nothing.

Apparently dietary changes and supplements are the first line of attack with the fewest side effects. So if you also find yourself going through monthly 7-14 day stints of feeling really blue, lethargic, unable to enjoy or engage with anything, irritable, having sleep problems, or any of these symptoms, studies show that upping your intake of magnesium, calcium, vitamin B6 and l-tryptophan will improve how you feel. There are other medication options your doctor might also want to try.

I've been encouraged by others' willingness to share their struggles with depression and bipolar disorder. I hope this encourages those out there who feel absolutely terrible a week every month of the year. It's a chemical thing for us, too, friends. Try the dietary changes. Talk to your doctor. Don't just keep sucking it up and toughing it out alone.

Have you participated in the A-Z challenge? If so, what did you enjoy most about it? Do you struggle to be a joiner? Why?
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 Laurel Garver
Every year, I toy with the idea of joining the A-Z blogging challenge, and I always talk myself out of it. It has the potential to be a huge time suck. But it's also a great way to make new connections, and I could use some of those. As part of my new year's housecleaning, I unfollowed seventy-some blogs I used to read that have gone inactive. That's a lot of lost connection.

April is also National Poetry Month, which would make it very, very easy to come up with a theme for posts. Poem a day, featuring the letter of the day. I could introduce readers to some poets they may not know or simply forgot. I could challenge myself to write a new piece or three to work into the lineup. With planning, I could get a majority of the posts prepared well ahead of time.

So what's the problem?

I don't seem to be able to maintain enthusiasm for anything for very long. Inevitably, I hit a low every single month and it's a struggle to do much other than soldier through those eight or nine days doing the absolute minimum. It's "just" a hormonal thing, and a pretty rare one that only about 8% of women deal with. But because there have been so many studies linking depression to creativity, I wouldn't be surprised if a number of my writer friends also suffer from the same thing. Unlike clinical depression, PMDD clears up quickly, and that can make you feel extra crazy. And then guilty. Really, really guilty for these short spurts of do-nothing.

Apparently dietary changes and supplements are the first line of attack with the fewest side effects. So if you also find yourself going through monthly 7-14 day stints of feeling really blue, lethargic, unable to enjoy or engage with anything, irritable, having sleep problems, or any of these symptoms, studies show that upping your intake of magnesium, calcium, vitamin B6 and l-tryptophan will improve how you feel. There are other medication options your doctor might also want to try.

I've been encouraged by others' willingness to share their struggles with depression and bipolar disorder. I hope this encourages those out there who feel absolutely terrible a week every month of the year. It's a chemical thing for us, too, friends. Try the dietary changes. Talk to your doctor. Don't just keep sucking it up and toughing it out alone.

Have you participated in the A-Z challenge? If so, what did you enjoy most about it? Do you struggle to be a joiner? Why?