Lisa Graff: “Writing a Novel (Or, My Ode to the Internet)”

Posted April 16, 2012 by Sara | Novel Novice 0 Comments

Today, we are delighted to be featuring an exclusive guest blog from Lisa Graff, author of the new middle grade novel Double Dog Dare as part of her official blog tour! Oh, and she’s giving away a copy of her new book to one of YOU lucky readers!!!

Thanks for stopping by, Lisa!

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Writing a Novel (Or: My Ode to the Internet)

This is how I originally pitched the novel Double Dog Dare to my editor before she decided to pick it up for publication: “There are these two fourth-graders, see? And they’re mortal enemies. And they get involved in a dare war? And there are all these funny dares, and they get wackier and wackier, and stuff, and then there’s a REALLY BIG dare! The end. And oh yeah, the book’s also a little bit about divorce.”

Okay, so perhaps I was a little more coherent than that, but not by much. Let’s just say I am lucky I have a good editor, and that she really trusts me to know where I’m going when I start out with a story.

But here’s a little secret I implore you not to share with my editor: I very rarely know where I am going. I am not the kind of writer who starts out with a plan. I hate to outline. I like to see where my characters and my story go, and rewrite as necessary. I usually rewrite about ten times (sadly, that is not an exaggeration).

This system usually works out pretty well for me. But when you write a book entitled Double Dog Dare, it turns out that people expect you to put some double dog dares in it. And they should probably be really good double dog dares, and the last one should probably be amazing. And my problem when I started writing this book was that, well, I hadn’t really thought too many up. The only dare I’d ever done as a child was to eat two small pebbles of dry cat food. Not exactly the stuff of great literature. So I did what any good writer does when faced with something she doesn’t know much about: I turned to the internet.

Facebook status, 9/29/09:

LISA GRAFF needs some inspiration: What are some wacky dares that you and/or your friends pulled off as youngin’s (warning: I may steal them for my book…).

The ideas rolled in. One friend ate an entire gallon of ice cream. Another was dared to run through the forest in her underwear. One person was dumb enough to climb into a clothes dryer (which his older brother promptly turned on). None of these were things that would fit perfectly in my book, but in dissecting these dares, I did begin to see a pattern emerge. Nearly every one of the dares fell into one of the following categories:

  • Feats of endurance
  • Feats of bravery
  • Feats of embarrassment
  • Feats of eating super disgusting food

Now I was getting somewhere (thank you, Facebook!). Suddenly I was awash with ideas. A feat of endurance? My hero, Kansas Bloom, would duct-tape an ice cube into the crook of his arm until it melted. A feat of bravery? Kansas’s rival, Francine Halata, would sneak into the boys’ bathroom. A feat of embarrassment? Kansas would definitely be forced to wear his little sister’s tutu to school. And a feat of eating super disgusting food? Well, how would you like to lick a lizard?

At this point the novel was practically writing itself. All I needed was a SUPER AMAZING FANTASTIC final dare, one that the two kids could perform together, in a grand finale, on stage at the school talent show. Originally I wanted them to teach a guinea pig how to ride a unicycle (!!), but luckily my very intelligent editor gently suggested that this made absolutely zero sense. So, of course, I turned to the internet again. Namely, YouTube. And while typing “How the heck should my novel end?” into YouTube is perhaps not the speediest way to figure out the climax of a book, I did eventually find the inspiration I was looking for. Not to give anything away, but I sure am glad for the power of the interwebs.

Speaking of YouTube! (Was that a good transition or what? Can’t you tell I write for a living?) I would like to direct your attention to a video that I myself posted, to announce a contest I’m holding in conjunction with Philomel Books. It’s a Rube Goldberg machine contest (a hint about the book’s finale? Perhaps…), and it’s open to kids ages 6-13. Watch the video for more info, or check out my contest page here.

Philomel is also giving away one copy of Double Dog Dare to one reader of this here blog. All you need to do to enter is to email me at with the subject line “NOVEL NOVICE.” The winner will be chosen at random on May 1st. And don’t forget to follow me on all the stops of my blog tour for more chances to win. Here’s where I’ll be:

Thanks so much for letting me visit your blog, Sara! It’s been a blast (just one more reason to love the internet!).

– Lisa Graff

Sara | Novel Novice

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