Monday, July 23, 2012

Favorite Authors - Donald J. Sobol

In any list of influential writers in my life, Donald J. Sobol has to appear pretty high on it. He created the Encyclopedia Brown series, featuring an amateur sleuth that solved school day crimes. He uncovered lunch money thieves and gambling rings, usually dropping clues along the way so you could be in on the big "Ah-Ha" moment at the end of the book.

They're all short, goofy and a lot of fun and have never been out of print since he wrote the first novel, Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective back in 1963. Sobol wrote 28 of them before his death on July 11th at 87. 

While I eventually moved on to more influential authors, which I'll write about later, Encyclopedia Brown and his mysteries have always held a special place in my heart. And my books - The main character in my Moonstone Bay Mysteries is named Smith, after the Smithsonian and is a bit of a tribute to Sobol's boy detective.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rainy Days

It seems strange to me when I run into people who hate it when it rains.  As the title of our blog suggests, Kris and I are not those people.  We love walking the dogs in light rainstorms or bunking down at home with a good book during the bigger ones.  Often storms inspire us to write.

I can sympathize with those who don't like having their plans ruined by weather or those who have survived terrible hurricanes, tornadoes, or other weather related disasters and come out of them shaken.  I remember when I was with my little cousin one time he started screaming when a storm blew through because he had recently encountered a tornado and he worried that it would happen again.

Mainly I'm talking about the ones that make the grass greener and occasionally put on a good, but safe, show.  I like to think that loving storms is a trait that I learned from my dad.  My parents can't recall me ever slipping into their bedroom during a bad storm.  When I did wake up late at night to find the sky covered in black with bright flashes of light filling the air, my first reaction was to go down the stairs to my parent's porch to watch the storm with my dad.  Sometimes my mom would be out with him, occasionally my brother, even my sister, although she didn't like the thunder.  Me, I loved it.  My dad would quietly play his guitar and after a big streak of lightening we would count the seconds until the thunder followed after it.

I loved the energy that it contained and although it was sometimes startling, it was always marvelous.  I think that's why I love writing on rainy days with a lit candle nearby and a steaming cup of cocoa.  It reminds me of when I was little and I could stand amazed as I watched the power of a storm sweep in and take me over.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Let's Get Grimm-The Brothers

Where would children's stories be without the fairy-tales that passed down from generation to generation?  The Grimm brothers didn't write the stories so much as collect them.  Their collection was important because of the wide birth of people that they took the stories from.  Most similar projects stayed along class lines.  You can imagine that the tales a princess was told at night in the castle was different from the ones that her servants would tell their children.  The brothers tried to collect from many different areas which created a very unique and obviously lasting set of folk tales.

But the tales were often richer and darker than the ones that most of our parents told us.  To me, the Grimm's original stories remind me of things my brother would have told me before turning out the lights and warning about bed bugs.  Women getting their eyes gouged out by birds, witches being forced to dance in red-hot slippers until their death and evil mother's who had their children killed.  The original Grimm's stories were not for the faint of heart.  Even at the time that they were published, they were considered too gruesome.  The brother's had to edit many of the stories, including the switch of Snow White's mother to a 'step-mother' so that it wouldn't seem so shocking when she tried to have her daughter killed.

Children's stories haven't always been about trying to get your kid to fall asleep or eat their vegetables.  Many stories and ideas marketed at children were meant to teach them lessons, not all of which were pleasant.

I plan to occasionally take a look at the darker side of children's stories and consider why I like that the genre has remained just a bit Grimm.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Why I write Children's Fiction

I never thought I would write kid's books, honestly. Obviously, I started in with them and loved reading, my entire life, really. I remember every family reunion, showing up with my book, looking desperately for a place to hide away and read. But I started in to adult fiction (Fantasy, primarily) at a fairly young age and never really looked back. Every once in a while, I'd re-read something for nostalgia's sake, but was woefully out of touch with current trends.

Well, apart from Harry Potter, Lemony Snickett and Percy Jackson, I guess. I knew of them, but had only read the Potters, which Lindsay is obsessed with. However, when my wife suggested that I tried my hand at writing, a small germ of a novel appeared in the back of my head. I'd been writing a horror novel for a while, pecking away at it in my spare time at work, but the idea of starting fresh in a new world was irresistible. I also found out about a contest for a publishing contract and I couldn't resist.

So 11 year-old James "Smith" Campbell was born. The son of two scientists and book smart but a little introverted, Smith got his nickname after an attempt to run away and live at the Smithsonian. Sent to live with his aunt and uncle in a small fishing village called Moonstone Bay on the coast of Washington, he learns to make friends and explore the new world he finds himself in.

I really wanted something that showed my appreciation and love for the Pacific Northwest and the kooky things that are rumored to live in the area. The Whispering Ferns, my first novel in the area was about a ghostly figure in the woods, but even as I planned the book, sequels were brewing, with sea monsters, missing tribes, magic ravens, secret passages, pirates and sasquatches.

It really wasn't something I thought I'd love so much. Both the writing and the characters, but I found myself falling in love with the genre again. I re-read my old favorites - Bellairs, Dahl, Banks, The Hardy BoysAnd I picked up some of the new novels - I especially love Skullduggery Pleasant.

I had - and have - concerns that my books are a little old fashioned. Today's protagonists are are lot more cynical and worldly, while I made it a point to make Smith's books exist in a kind of timeless place. When things were a little more innocent.

I had some interest in the book, an agent wanted to see more, but nothing really ever panned out there. She liked my ideas, but they weren't modern enough. Luckily, e-Pubbing came along. But more about that later.

In the end, I loved writing for kids and plan to continue. If nothing else, I'd love it if the quiet boy in the corner of a family get together at some point in the future is escaping with one of my books.