Saturday, March 31, 2012

Author Linda Gerber Shares Secrets to Writing the Modern Day Nancy Drew During MWG Conference

Linda Gerber is the author of best-selling YA books TRANCE, THE DEATH BY BIKINI MYSTERIES series, and two SASS titles. Her books have been honored as ALA Popular Paperback picks, Women's Sports Foundation and Literacy Lab recommended reads, and Junior Library Guild selections. Her past writing gigs include serving as Regional Advisor for the Tokyo SCBWI, and appearing as the guest author with the CSI Exhibit.

Linda will present a breakout session and a master class about young adult writing, during the Missouri Writers’ Guild “Write Time! Write Place! Write Now!” Conference.

Her breakout session, titled “From Nancy Drew to You: Mystery Writing for Teens” will teach attendees basic mystery elements and outline ways writers can incorporate those elements into their stories by preplotting, using proven plot devices, creating setting, upping the tension/conflict and avoiding clichés and other common pitfalls. During her Sunday Master Class, called “Get Real: Writing for Teens and Tweens,” Linda will distinguish between young adult and middle grade fiction, share her top teen writing tips, identify trends and provide market insights.

She currently lives and writes in Dublin, Ohio, blissfully ignoring her husband, four kids, and one very naughty puppy.

Sarah:  Linda, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your upcoming appearance at the Missouri Writers’ Guild. We’re looking forward to having you as a part of our notable faculty for this year.

Linda: I’m looking forward to being there!

Sarah:  To get us started, on your web site, you mention that you love to travel and are already planning your next adventure. Places that you’ve lived include Japan, Finland and multiple U.S. states. Plus, you’ve traveled and visited countless more. How has living in multiple places influenced you as a writer?

Linda:  Well, aside from the obvious - eight of the ten books I’ve written* are set overseas - traveling around has fed my writer’s imagination. Every new place holds new possibilities of stories waiting to be told. The trick is finding the time to write them all!

* Published or soon-to-be-published. Does not include the manuscript graveyard under my bed...

Sarah: I love the title of your breakout session. Nancy Drew is such an iconic children’s mystery series that everyone can relate to it. Will you be incorporating Nancy Drew into the session in any other way?

Linda: Absolutely! You can’t talk kids’ mysteries without touching on Nancy Drew. We’ll look at what Nancy and her contemporaries (Trixie Beldon and The Hardy Boys) brought to the mystery table, and how tween/teen mysteries have evolved since.

Sarah:  Do you think writers of adult mysteries would be able to apply some of what you’re teaching in your breakout session to their own writing?

Linda:  Very much so. The examples I will use are from MG/YA books, but the elements of weaving a good mystery yarn have no age limits.

Sarah: What are some of the distinguishing differences between mystery writing for adults and mystery writing for teens?

Linda: Age of the protagonist. Voice. Context. The same situation/mystery is going to impact a teen sleuth differently than, say, a hard boiled detective or seasoned PI. By virtue of their youth, teens have a unique perspective and approach to problem solving that adds a different layer to the way the story and the character evolves.

Sarah: What would you say is the most common cliché when it comes to mystery writing for teens? What can writers do to avoid that particular pitfall?

Linda: What I call Scooby-Doo plotting. This is characterized by cardboard characters, illogical situations, obvious red herrings, and big reveals that could easily include the dialog, “You meddling kids!” How to avoid? Research. Read some really good mysteries to see how it’s done. Fine tune your craft. Let yourself be surprised. Don’t talk down to your audience (teens are pretty savvy and have a fine-tuned B.S. meter. They really can wrap their heads around complex plots and characters, I promise.)

Sarah: In addition to learning about common mystery clichés, what else can attendees of your breakout session expect to learn?

Linda: We’ll discuss the elements of a good mystery, how to pre-plot your mystery, some techniques to keep the game afoot, and look at some examples of recent Edgar winners to discuss what makes a mystery great.

Sarah: I’ve watched several of my writing friends struggle with determining the best genre in which to pitch their manuscript. You’ve written eight books in multiple genres, including some that cross over like mystery/romance, paranormal/thriller, and more. Did you have trouble figuring out the genre with any of your books? If so, how did you approach what can be a tricky dilemma for some writers?

Linda: I’ve been lucky in that my first two books were part of a multi-author series for which I didn’t need to contemplate genre, and with the rest of the books, I leave it up to my publisher. But the best advice I’ve heard in the past is to determine where a bookstore would shelve your books, and that’s your genre. I know that sounds simplistic, especially if your book could fit into several genres, but the reality is, everyone along the food chain - from agent to editor to sales and marketing to retail - wants to know how to categorize your book so they can sell it. So go with the most logical genre and branch out... for example, women’s fiction with strong romance, history, and some supernatural elements. (Bonus points to anyone who guessed I’m talking about Diana Gabaldon’s Highlander series, which crosses genres quite nicely.)

Sarah: In your Master Class, what do you mean by “Get Real”? Could you give attendees a more in-depth look of what to expect during your 3-hour class?

Linda: Ha. Well, when I first started presenting on this topic, “Get real” was supposed to not only convey the sense that an author has to be completely honest and real when writing for teens, it was also a phrase a lot of teens used. Now, not so much later, it’s a good example of why we don’t want to write with a lot of current slang unless we aim to seriously date our books. This is one of the things we’ll discuss when writing for teens and tweens. We’ll also cover how MG differs from YA, and how both differ from adult, how to understand the way teens communicate in order to write effective dialog, how to capture a teen voice, how not to be a poser, what makes teen characters - and readers - tick, what’s hot and what’s not in the teen market, who’s looking for what, and as much fun as we can fit into the three hour slot.

Sarah: And finally, what new project are you working on now?

Linda: The first two books in the LIGHTS, CAMERA, CASSIDY series just hit the shelves, and books three and four will release in June and September respectively. When I’m not launching or promoting those, I’m working on a MG historical fantasy and a YA thriller, depending on the day and my mood.

Sarah: Linda, thank you for taking the time to tell us more about your upcoming appearance at the Missouri Writers’ Guild “Write Time! Write Place! Write Now!” Conference.

If you’d like to learn more from Linda, click here to register for the Writing Conference and don’t forget to sign up for her Sunday Master Class. Attendees will also be able to buy her books from the conference book store. In addition, Linda will have bookmarks, postcards and charms to give away. In the mean time, I’d recommend subscribing to her blog as she regularly posts links to various writing articles each week. Find her at or follow her on Twitter @gerbsan.

Click to Register Now!

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