Garret Freymann-Weyr And The Fantastic Tollbooth Contest

Care to punch up your prose? Do your chapters demand more details?

Win a critique from Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty member Garret Freymann-Weyr!

For the next two weeks Garret will be in the Tollbooth, offering you the chance to win a critique! How do you enter? Read on and post your entry in the comments section.

And without further ado — here’s Garret!


I wrote a story for an anthology called STARRY EYED and the publisher/editor asked that all the contributors do tweets, contests, and giveaways.  Now, I may write YA novels, but I am a woman kindly referred to as “of a certain age.”  What I know about Twitter begins and ends with the Arab Spring when it was a tool of revolution, not self-promotion.  However, I am lucky enough to be a Visiting Professor at Vermont College of Fine Arts and help was on the way.  One of my students (the splendid and sharp Jim Hill) introduced me to the alarmingly accomplished Tami Brown and Catherine Linka and they proposed that I have a writing contest on their blog.

GFW headshot

So, here I am and I’d like us to write a little something that focuses on detail.

As a teacher, I am comically obsessed with detail. As a non-teaching person, I find that focusing on detail is really helpful when it comes to understanding others.  For example, if you discover the one thing that a friend, co-worker, date, or what-have-you, is most passionately attached to (sometimes it is a child, sometimes it is butterflies, and sometimes, as was the case with a dear friend, it is the Oxford comma) then you have found the key to best connect with him/her.

I would like for each of you to think of a beloved room from childhood. If you are working on a manuscript and are having trouble with a particular character then uses this exercise for that character and choose a beloved room for him or her.  Pick one item in the selected room that have some meaning to you or the character. List the item along with its meaning and history.

s0663771_sc7For example, I would pick the room in which I slept at my grandfather’s apartment when we visited him.  On my list would be the bars of Toblerone chocolate left on our pillows, the blue, brightly- flowered and shiny bedspread, the sliding glass door to the balcony, and also the volumes of African and diplomatic history on the shelves, which reflected both my grandfather’s career as a diplomat and his lifelong his interest in the ways colonialism had left ruin in its wake.


For a character I am currently working with in my next book, I would pick her bedroom in the house in Cambridge where she lived for the first nine years of her life.  In it would be her father’s toy soldiers, her basketball, a tennis racket, her mother’s old text books from medical school, and a discarded hair ribbon from a beloved play-mate. If you do this exercise, I am willing to bet that you will find a portrait of either yourself or of your fledgling character comes into focus.

The one that leaps off the page and grabs me with details that are alive, vivid and full of meaning is the one which wins the book.  Plus, I will return your writing with my comments.  The next two best ones will also get my comments on their work.   Since I am not your teacher, the huge advantage here is that you can IGNORE what I say.  Or not.

Thanks for playing, read you soon, Garret

Thanks, Garret!–

So here’s how to play this game.

Select an item- fishing line, combination lock,  wrestling trophy… you get the idea. Then write about it. Your description of this physical detail may be up to 250 words but it could be as short as ten or twenty. Post your descriptive passage in comments, or if you’re shy post an “I’m entering the contest” message here and email your entry to Submit your entry by 3:00 pm, Wednesday, November 20. For the rest of this week and next we’ll post Tollboothers’ favorite passages with telling details. In the meantime, Garret will judge your entries and next Friday, November 22 we’ll announce the winner!

What do you win? A full fledged critique of your entry from Garret Freymann-Weyr, a copy of her new anthology Starry-Eyed– and a deeper understanding of your character. What a lovely detail!


13 thoughts on “Garret Freymann-Weyr And The Fantastic Tollbooth Contest”

  1. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says:

    This is a fantastic offer! Although I too am “of a certain age,” I also fit another stereotype–the tech geek with limited social skills. The good news is that I tweeted this for you, Garret. The bad news is that it went to a handful of followers. Nonetheless, I hope you get a lot of entries and some good stuff to work with!

  2. Sharon Van Zandt says:

    I tweeted this, too, Garret. Sounds fun!

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  7. Kathy Quimby says:

    I posted to FB and tweeted. This looks like lots of fun. If I weren’t committed to my workshop piece….

    1. Tami Lewis Brown says:

      Kathy you don’t have to write something new– just pick out a detail from that workshop piece and go with it!

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  10. Hannah Barnaby says:

    I’m game! Although I may be bending the rules a bit here, this is a series of short descriptions from my WIP:

    It is cold outside and the lack of streetlights make the night denser, the stars more garish. A crescent moon hangs in the sky like the ghost of a banana. I stand at the end of the driveway and listen to my own breathing. I trace my favorite scar, the one that crosses my left hand like a fledgling river.

  11. Claudia McCarron says:

    Great contest! Count me in!

    My coat is nearly new. I wonder who would donate such a nice one–it’s clean, and has one patch near the elbow. It’s brown–not a mud brown but a sort of golden color. Joseph from the home said it was the color of leaves. He used to live on a farm, so I’ll take his word for it.

  12. Susanna Paterson says:

    OK – here’s mine, expanded on a section of a short story. And (eep) 30 words over (sorry).

    I follow Ma, who’s just settled herself down in her chair.
    “Lillian’s gentleman’ll be here any minute,” she says. My heart seizes with excitement to have someone new in this quiet, quiet house. Ma doesn’t notice. She’s dumping a new puzzle out on the card table in a small clatter of cardboard parts. She’ll glue the pieces onto plywood when she’s done and put them on our wall.
    We have eleven puzzles of summer gardens hanging in our living room, each more cacophonous than the next. Eleven cacophonies that mimic how my heart’s thumping through this blue silk, though to be honest, sometimes being in here with the gardens just makes me feel dizzy. They take up the walls like they’ve sucked in the soul of the white paint and spit it out into puffy little clouds or chimney smoke. Ma likes puzzles with cottages and chimneys. She has six grouped on one big wall, the bowers all the colors of stale candy. Weaving beneath are the little wobbling lines from where the pieces fit together and I can’t tell if they remind me of bricks stacked together tight or fracture lines that are about to send each cottage, rosebush, robin, and white, white puffy cloud crashing down in pieces to the floor. The thought of that makes me shivery. Because under all the flowers and swans and sky is Ma’s precision: the click of a piece finding its mate, the snap of the picture being built. Standing here, my dizzy heart thumping hard, I have the sudden dread that I’m the one who’s going to someday tear them all down.
    I’m going to send them all falling to pieces.

  13. lisa doan says:

    Henri smeared the frost off the glaze and peered in. He didn’t see anything remarkable, though he knew perfectly well that all rats have the same taste. Aubusson carpets, orange and yellow silk curtains and velvet divans in rich purple and dark green. Over-sized leather chairs were pulled up near a crackling fire and dark wood bookcases filled with leather-bound books lined the walls.
    Squinting, he made out the long narrow hall that led to haphazardly placed bedroom doors. The female of the house opened the nursery door and Henri laughed when fluffy clumps of cotton, piled up to the ceiling, bulged out into the hall. She pressed her ear against the soft cocoon, listening for the high-pitched sighs that toddlers made when they stretched.

  14. Kip Wilson Rechea says:

    Thanks for doing this! Here’s mine, just drafted into my WIP:

    Vater sat at the table, his cane propped up against his good leg. It was a small table with spindly wooden legs that wobbled whenever you touched the tabletop from any angle at all. Four of the cheapest chairs you could buy sat around it, but now that there were only the three of us, the table was pushed in against that fourth chair at the wall, much like the way I’d been pressed into the dank wall in the alley by Emil’s thugs the other day—cut off, helpless, and painfully alone.

  15. Katherine Anne Smythe Newman says:

    I came upstairs to look for him. Since getting him last month, he had seldom left my side. I heard telltale snuffling sounds from my bedroom and realized he had gone in but couldn’t figure out how to get out. The door must have closed on him. I opened it carefully, not wanting to startle him. He was still so timid..

    There he was, a pile of silky black fur, and those eyes, big and golden brown, almost human in their expression. I bent to pet him and spoke soothing words, reassuring him of my devotion to him and to his comfort. Thats when I saw.

    At first I didn’t know what it was. A pile of beige foamy bits covered the center if my bed. My first though was “oh dear, he’s feasted on the quilt.” But then other details came into focus. Pieces of worn, tan cloth, practically threadbare. Then I saw two stiff stuffed legs, two arms, and what was left of the head of what had been my dearest companions as a child.
    I had him in my cradle. He was a gift from a cousin in Boston when I was born, my mother told me. One of my first baby pictures showed him at my side — propped up in pillows as was I — about 4 months and still not able to sit on my own. Back then he was covered in stiff coarse hair and had a pink ribbon on his neck. But he was always a “he” in my mind.
    In the years following, he want everywhere with me. To my grandmothers summer house, on family trips up and down the I95 corridor, and once survived an assassination attempt by my younger sister, who in some fit of anger, had tried to throw him out the window of our barreling VW bus. I buried my face into him and sobbed when I was hit by my father in one if his fits of uncontrolled anger. I didn’t care that he wasn’t soft — somehow his stiffness and no-nonsense orange plastic eyes were more comfort to me than some fleecy toy.
    He had gone with me to sleepaway camp. He was strapped to my backpack as I hiked across Europe with my boyfriend when I was 16. He went with me to college, witnesses unspeakable acts of drunken debauchery, and never judged me when I skipped class to sleep in. His black-threaded stitched straight mouth never wavered or betrayed emotion.
    He came with me to live with my boyfriend and was a third in my marriage bed. Only after my first child was born, did I let him go, to stand guard over my newborn son. In years following he would watch over my two daughters in similar fashion. He was my good luck totem, my symbol of the love and protection I wanted to impart to my children. It did not matter that his fur was nearly gone, his pink ribbon a memory, and the stitching on his face faded so he was close to expressionless. My teddy bear was still my Teddy.
    Now, though, he had suffered a egregious injury. I could not believe so much stuffing had come out of him. One ear was totally torn off and he looked so sad and forlorn. At age 43, with 3 children, one would have thought I would have taken this all in stride. Not so. “Bear!!!! Youbadbad dog!” I screamed. Then I picked up what was left of Teddy and sobbed, so loudly and hysterically that my husband came running tailed by my 12 year old daughter. “Oh my God mom , what’s wrong?” Then they saw too. “Don’t worry, Dearie. I can get you another Teddy,” my husband said, his voice betraying a hint of the rediculoisness of the situation. My daughter was far less nuanced; “Aw geez Mom, are you kidding me? You are crying over a Teddy bear? Really?!!!”
    And yet I was. Very definitely. Crying like my heart would break over the bit of stff and nonsense that had been my friend my whole life. Bear, the dog, tried to apologize. He kept licking my hand and tried to nudge his muzzle under my arm. But I was not quick to forgive. When I was able to. Impose myself I grabbed my grandmothers old sewing kit, and tried to repair him as best I could. The results left Teddy’s face looking lumpy and slightly deranged, kind if like some wounded warrior who suffered greatly on the battlefield and is now trying his best to carry on, with the aid of painkillers and his knowledge of duty, but will never be the same despite all efforts.
    My four year old daughter saw him high on the shelf the next day. “Mommy what happened to your Teddy?” She asked. I told her about Bear’s big mistake, even Ashe snuggled next to us, nestled cozily in my bed, with those brown eyes pleading for forgiveness and the desperate need to be back in my good graces. My daughter asked me to get Teddy down from the high shelf for close inspection. She examined him closely with her fierce hazel eyes and soft little strong hands. I petted Bear and told him that all was indeed forgiven. My daughter’s blond curly head turned to me as she lifted my injured, stoic Teddy to my face and she said, without a trace of sarcasm or sadness, “It’s ok Mommy! Look! He still loves you!”

    (I know it’s too late and too long but I couldn’t resist!)

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