Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Q&A Series Part III: Why Did You Decide to Write for Children?

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Hi all! Welcome to Part III of my Q&A series, where I use this blog to answer the questions you have for me! Just a reminder, you can send your questions my way via commenting on my blog, or through my Facebook and Twitter pages.

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This week I’ve decided to answer a question I’ve gotten many times since Night Buddies was first released: “What made you decide to write books for children?”

The truth is, writing for children didn’t feel like a choice to me. The idea for Night Buddies (which you can read about in this blog post) came to me so strongly, and I knew it had to be written for children—for people like my son, who needed Crosley the red crocodile in his life and his bedtime stories. When I was younger, I thought one day I might be a writer, and I dabbled in writing short stories intended for an adult audience. But the first time I ever felt that I had written something worthy of being published for an audience was when I wrote Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, and I realized that writing for children was what I was meant to do after all.

Writing for children gives authors so much space for imagination, creativity, and fun. Kids are a fairly freeing audience to write for—all they are looking for in a book is to be entertained, and to be understood. They interact with characters like they would best friends, and once they are loyal to your story, they will love it for the rest of their lives. I love that I can create an entire world, be as goofy as I want, and work hard to make kids laugh instead of write something that seems “true” to real life. Writing for kids is a way to make me feel like a kid again.

But as fun and freeing as writing for children can be, it is also a tremendous responsibility. Writing a good book for children has the potential to turn them on or off to reading for the rest of their lives. But this is another way in which being an author of children’s books can be so rewarding; when you hear from a child whose life was changed by reading your book, you know all the work you put into writing it was more than worth it.

Who was your favorite author as a child? Did his or her work turn you into a lifelong reader? Let me know in the comments!

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Tales of a Dog Breeder: What Being A Dog-Dad Taught Me About Fatherhood

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My son John with dog, Henry.

My son John with dog, Henry.

I know there are a lot of people who claim to be dog lovers . . . but man, I’ve had a bunch of dogs! Thirteen of them since the time I could vote. Eleven Saint Bernards, with two boxers as bookends—and that’s not counting the twenty-three Saint Bernard puppies I bred and shipped out!

The time I spent as a breeder was one of the more memorable adventures of my life. My runt, Fwiddie, birthed twenty-five puppies in only two tries. I kept one who I couldn’t stand to part with (not that parting with the other twenty-four was an easy task, let me tell you), and one died after only a day in a tragic accident.

It was some job. There weren’t enough teats to begin with (only eight good ones) and I had to mark each pup with a ribbon to see that it got its share. Three feedings per day, and another at 3:00 A.M. meant that I felt as sleep-deprived as a new father! Luckily, unlike with a baby, the puppies’ feeding schedule only went on for five or six weeks—but during that time, I could never leave the house for more than a few hours. There was also the matter of shots and dew claws—I would carry twelve Saint Bernards to the vet’s office in a small box.

And then, to top it all off, I had trouble selling them. Saint Bernard puppies grow about a pound for every two pounds of food they consume, and they consume boatloads of that . . . especially when you’ve got twelve of them at once! I finally sold them off after considerable expense—I may have cleared $1000 taking care of those guys.

You’d think that might have done it for me, but there is nothing on the planet cuter than a Saint Bernard puppy. So a year or two later, my little mama produced thirteen more. It took me six months to place all of them, and by then the last ones weighed ninety pounds! As cute as they were, after that run I quit the business of breeding. But it was great in so many ways, and I’m glad I did it. You only need to lie down in the yard amongst a herd of Saint puppies to understand why!

I kept the parents for another seven years. Then came Molly (eleven-and-a-half years old), then littermates Maggie and Dudley, and now Reuben, the boxer bookend. Dudley died two years ago, so Reuben took on the role of being Maggie’s new playmate. It’s been a ride for me!

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Now let me give any new dog owners some fine advice: When you are training your young dog and you tell him to do something, anything—Sit! Come here! Quit that! No!See the business through! Even if you have a broken foot, get yourself up, hobble over, and make the dog do it. Never let him get off disobeying you. If you do, he will surely try it again and prolong the training. It may be inconvenient for you just then, but see the lesson through and it will pay off triple in the long run. You can go upside his head with a rolled-up newspaper, but do this very rarely. Do go over to him, grab him, and show him how to do what you’ve commanded. And most important, never miss a time. Whenever you do miss, it will set the training back. If you can’t back the order up right now, don’t issue it.

Housebreaking can be done several ways, so I’m told. Whatever method you use, try your best to catch him in the act. This is not at all easy to do, but just one time will impress the dog much more than marching him back and scolding him at accident scenes he’s probably already forgotten. Potty training kids is clearly different. With kids it’s all verbal, and there must be a hundred theories about it. I have a beloved anecdote about the time I was potty training my son: I was finishing a Number Two one day, and cleaning matters up, when my two-year-old John marched in, stopped and stared, and announced, “That’s good! That’s how you do it! I’m so proud of you!”

For dogs, it takes two years for them to get it all together, move past the primary school stage, and on through the baccalaureate. After that, their training should be complete, and they can get more human in subtle ways, depending on how much you interact with them. Some (certainly not all) pick up actual wisdom.

Despite all the hard work, sleepless weeks, and the pain of losing a few beloved canine friends along the way, owning and raising my dogs has been, and always will be, a passion of mine. If anybody wonders whether owning a dog is worth their time and money, all I have to say is that I wouldn’t choose to live life without the love and devotion they’ve shown me!

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Q&A Series Part 2: Advice for Aspiring Authors

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One question authors get asked all the time is, “What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a book?” or “How do I get a book published?” So for today’s Q&A, I thought I’d share my answers with any of you aspiring authors out there!

The really true, and absurdly simple, answer to the question, “What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a book?” is just to write one. That’s the great and difficult thing about writing…it doesn’t take a special degree to do it, it takes the discipline of sitting down every day to write your book until it is finished. And if you have a story you want to write, the greatest thing you can do it to let that desire drive you until the last word has been written.

That’s the best piece of advice I have—tell a story that matters enough to you that you will be motivated to finish it. When I decided to write Night Buddies, Crosley and the other characters had been living both in my head and in my son’s life for so long, telling the story so they could come alive for other children was motivation enough for me to finish it. Each book in the series has been driven by that motivation, and I’ve become a published author because I wanted to tell this story so badly.

So if there’s a story you’re dying to write, that’s all you need to write a book. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking you need anything more to make that dream come true.

The harder question, and the one I think most people really mean when they ask how they can write a book, is how do they get it published. There are an endless number of answers to this question, but what it truly boils down to is research. You need to decide whether you want to traditionally publish, or self-publish your book, whether you want to try for an agent, and whether you want to hire an editor. If you want to self-publish, you need to decide how much you want to budget for that, what you want your cover to look like, if you want a print book or ebook, how you want the interior design to look like, etc. I personally decided to self-publish my books, in part because it meant that kids could get their hands on it much quicker than if I had to go through the long, traditional publishing route.

So how do you get your book published? First of all, write the best book you can. Work on it until the manuscript sings, and get some second opinions too. And then, research how you want to do it. Whichever way you decide to go about it, I promise that publishing a book is one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll have!

What other questions do you guys have for me? Keep letting me know either in the comments or via social media!

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Q&A Series Part 1: Where Do I Get My Inspiration?

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First off, I have some exciting news! At the most recent American Library Association Conference, all three of my Night Buddies books were proudly on display! You can see them there at the bottom of the shelf. Just want to say a MAJOR thank you to ALA for that amazing moment and photo opp!

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I was recently looking through my Goodreads page (for any of you who want to give me a follow, follow this link) and noticed that there are so many questions people have for authors like myself. So I thought it would be a great idea to start answering some reader questions here on my blog! Once a month I’m going to be answering your questions, so feel free to start sending them my way via Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads and I’ll make sure to answer every single one of them!

To start this new series off, I picked one of the most commonly asked author question: “Where did you get the inspiration to write your books?”

The truth is, inspiration—for every author—comes in a multitude of ways. But for me, the biggest reason I had for writing the Night Buddies series was my son, John.

As many of you know, I was a single father, and John and I had to find ways to entertain each other during our time together. What started out as reading stories before bedtime quickly escalated into creating our own stories, with our own beloved character…the red crocodile Crosley. After John had grown up, I wanted to find a way to keep our memories and Crosley alive, and share the stories we invented together with other young children who might enjoy them just as much as we did. And so, the Night Buddies: Adventures After Lights Out series was born.

Some other inspirations include the fact that I am a lifelong lover of books and reading, so the opportunity to write stories and help other people fall in love with books was a huge part of my decision to become an author. Stories by Roald Dahl were another inspiration; his imaginative worlds and the way he wrote for children have always inspired me as a children’s author.

And that just about covers it! Let me know via social media or in the comments below what questions you want answered next!

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Book Review Time! The BFG (Film Adaptation Edition)

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I just saw Roald Dahl and Steven Spielberg’s movie, The BFG. (Big Friendly Giant to all you new guys.) It’s totally cool. For those who don’t know, it’s about this eight-year-old girl Sophie who gets snatched away from her orphanage bedroom by an awfully tall giant and whisked away to the giant’s cave way off in Giant Country.

I won’t tell you everything that happens after that. There’s the problem of the nine other bad giants that eat kids. (Our nice giant is a vegan.) And the trip to Buckingham Palace to warn the queen that the bad giants are about to invade. But that’s just plot stuff. The charm and essence of the thing is the BFG’s job. He captures dreams—in a butterfly net, no less—and stores them in jars and sneaks into town late at night and blows them into the bedrooms of sleeping children. With his long, skinny trumpet.

“Nice dreams. Lovely golden dreams. Dreams that is giving the dreamers a happy time.”

A great leitmotif are the Frobscottle and Whizzpoppers. Frobscottle is a bubbly green drink where the bubbles float down instead of up. So instead of burping, it has you making great green Whizzpoppers out of your down part. They lift you off your feet.

Sophie is a proper British girl and is put off by this, but she comes around to it in the end. As it were. Even the queen and her Corgis try Frobscottle and the results are diverting.

You’ve got to love Dahl’s wackiness. He’s the king of wacky. But I think my favorite thing of his is the way he sticks it to the grownups with this naughty stuff. He often said the key to his success was conspiring with children against adults. (I have found with my own children’s stories that the more I can slip past the naughty police, the better. Up to a point, of course.)

About the movie itself: It tracks the book straight down the line (except for changes that the genre demands). The visuals are great. (Hey, this is Spielberg, right?) The makeup is magical. (Think Harry Potter.)

And the acting: They say Mark Rylance (the giant) is the greatest stage actor of his generation. You may have seen him in Bridge of Spies and the TV series Wolf Hall. (A KGB colonel and Thomas Cromwell, respectively.) He deals with the BFG role wonderfully, and manages to get Dahl’s goofy words out cleanly. E.g., ughbwelch, probsposterous, quogwinkles. (I know, this is part of any good actor’s job, but YOU get the book and try rattling off some of these in the middle of a sentence!)

I put Ruby Barnhill (Sophie) at the top, though. She is eight years old in the story and looks it in the movie. Oh, maybe ten—but her front teeth aren’t even in straight yet. She handles the part of a proper little English girl like a twenty-year-old pro. Her delivery and enunciation are right there, and she comes off as a real, live kid. Like she’s done this for ten years. I can’t say she’s better than Rylance—she’s not—and anyway that’s apples and oranges. But I do put her performance at #1. For the true and ample reason that it’s easier to play a grotesque than a real, natural, sure-enough individual person. You can go look it up!

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National Indie Excellence Award Finalist Announcement!

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I’m so excited to announce that my third children’s book, Night Buddies Go Sky High, was announced to be a National Indie Excellence Award Finalist! We placed in the Chapter Book category among two other excellent titles (for a full list of winners, click here).

This is the first award Night Buddies Go Sky High has won, but makes the Night Buddies series an 8-time award winning series!

As an indie author, much of the time you wonder if your book matters in this large market, amid books backed by big-name publishers. But awards like the National Indie Excellence Awards (who have now been around for 10 years!) bring authors confidence and pride in the work they’ve put forth, as well as bring readers a great opportunity to give books they might otherwise not have known about a read.

I’m extremely grateful to NIEA for choosing my book as a finalist, as well as to all the readers who have believed in it all along. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Now it’s time to celebrate!

What do you think of awards for indie authors? Have you ever discovered a book you love because they won an award? Let me know in the comments!

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Book Review Tuesday!

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Last week on Twitter and Facebook, I posted a different children’s through middle grade book each day using the hashtag, #BoysWhoRead, to encourage anyone who wants their kid to become more of a reader to buy or rent (from the library) some of these books! In case any of you missed out on a day, here’s a list of all the ones I recommended.

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I Funny: A Middle School Story, by James Patterson. Do you like an endearing, but absolutely hilarious character? Then you’re going to love this read! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll finish the book wishing you never had to put it down.

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Ungifted, by Gordan Korman. Were you ever put in the gifted program in your school? Better yet, is your child in the gifted program, or wishing he/she was? Then you should try this book. It’s funny, sweet, and filled with many good lessons to be learned for any kid who feels like they are struggling to fit in.

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The Loser List, by H.N. Kowitt. Kids can be cruel, and Kowitt takes that to heart in this story. It’s a book about everything that happens between nerd and cool in middle school—and you won’t want to miss it.

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The Rules: Trust No One. A mysterious town, a sarcastic twelve-year-old, and a bond between two brothers that nobody could break—this novel will have your heart racing as fast as you’re flipping through the pages. Plus, this is an indie book, so it has a special place on this list and in my heart.

 

Remember, if you want to share your book recommendations with me, and with other parents, just post it on social media with the hashtag, #BoysWhoRead! I can’t wait to see what you have to say!

 

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Tuesday Review: The Charlie Bingham Series

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This past week, I has the opportunity to read two wonderful children’s books I think you would all love. Check out my review below.

Maggie Larche’s two little books, Charlie Bingham Gets Clocked and Charlie Bingham Gets Serious are two utterly cute stories! About a boy’s serial misadventures in primary school (I’m guessing in about fourth grade).

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In Clocked, a friend’s pet lizard crawls inside the teacher’s favorite clock, an old-fashioned one with the big bells on top. Charlie and his friends borrow it to catch the lizard, and this sets off a zany and wonderful series of events. The trick is to get the clock back to Miss Walker (whom Charlie has a crush on) without getting into trouble. This turns out to be anything but simple. The clock gets passed from kid to kid like a hot potato and everybody gets totally stressed. I got stressed!

The story really is a primary-grade tour de force.

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In Serious, the first line jumps right out at you:

“Sorry, Charlie. You’re just not hall monitor material.”

But this is precisely the thing Charlie has been yearning to be, for two good reasons. One, hall monitors get to leave class ten minutes before lunch and before the final bell. And, two, they get to wear really cool sashes. Owen, the head hall monitor, tells our hero he’s too much of a goofball for the august position. Charlie decides to prove him wrong by appearing as a line leader and sporting a line leader’s distinctive ribbon. First he has to get a girl to let him have her line leader spot for that day. And just like in Clocked, this sets off a wacko series of outcomes that had me really turning pages.

The stories’ point-of-view is first-person (Charlie’s), and this is exactly what you want in kids’ books. The narrative is clear and real and immediate, and would be no problem for young readers.

Miss Maggie calls these her “silly, funny” stories. She’s spot-on about that, but she may be a little too modest. I can’t imagine kids not enjoying these books.

Five stars at least.

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What Traveling With My Son Taught Me About Being a Parent

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[This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project]

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As a children’s author, I’ve been asked many times, by friends, colleagues, and readers, what is the best piece of of advice I have for parents raising their children today. To tell you the truth, I don’t always know if I have an answer for them. What we pass down to our children—morals, values, passions—is a monumental thing. So here is what I say instead:

I don’t know if this is the best piece of parenting advice out there, but if you don’t travel with your children, you’re missing out on what made up the best memories I have of my son’s childhood.

My son John is a traveler. It all took place from the time he was three, ’til he was six and his mother moved to Cleveland, ’til he went to Germany for his junior year in high school, ’til he left for the University of Edinburgh and never really came back. Has since lived in London, Germany, Russia, Spain, Belgium, and Vietnam, and has traveled to many, many other places.

What we did together as father and son was collect waterfalls. I’m sure we saw every worthwhile one in North Carolina where we lived and saw most of the warhorses in the contiguous U.S. I took him to the Canadian Rockies and the bottom half of Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. We drove about 500,000 miles, rode planes and buses, and wore out three cars. Our red Mazda RX-7 Turbo was a real hot rod for its day and was central to our peregrinations.

Looking back, I think we missed Hawaii, Florida, Delaware, and Rhode Island. That was it. We carried baseball gloves to play catch with at the ends of days. We went through a huge number of books on tape in the cars.

This isn’t to say that our travels were all idyllic.

Once we blew a tire in Kansas in the middle of nowhere; blew it all to pieces. We put on the donut spare and limped into the nearest town right after the tire store closed, and we had to spend the night. I can tell you that Kansas is a very dull prospect (Dorothy was right.)

Another time I picked 6-year-old John up from his mother’s Cleveland house for a three-day adventure to Canada to see Niagara Falls—but it didn’t occur to me to take passports, other ID for John, or court orders. We got stopped at the border, taken into an interrogation room, and I was immediately under suspicion of being a non-custodial father trying to kidnap his son by crossing the border. The fact that I talked my way out of that one, and we still got to see the falls, is a miracle I can’t understand.

There is memory after memory; the times we got sick of each other and the times we clung closer together. Traveling with your children certainly helps them to discover the world, but it also helps you as a parent to see the world again from their perspective—exciting, big, beautiful, and just downright cool.

So what’s my advice to any of you fathers out there? Hop in the car. Don’t forget maps and a GPS. Let your son or daughter hop into the passenger seat next to you.

Go! Go somewhere, anywhere, and make the kind of memories you’ll fall asleep dreaming about when you’re a much older man.

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The 2016 New Year’s Resolution You and Your Child Need to Make

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We are just a few days away from the start of the new year, and with that typically comes a reflection, or an assessment, of where we are at, what we’d like to improve in our lives, and what we’d like the coming year to look like. Some people do this in list form, forming a number of goals, or resolutions, for the upcoming year, others choose one word they’d like to theme the next year of their life. However you do it, I know that you’re looking to make some New Year’s resolutions, and for parents, resolutions tend to involve figuring out how to better their children’s lives instead of just their own.

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But what if I told you I had a resolution that would improve 2016 for both you and your child/children?

For regular readers of this blog, you know what a big advocate I am of parents and children taking the time to read together. And as such, I like to promote the campaign, Boys Who Read, which encourages the younger generation to fall in love with reading while taking advantage of all the benefits that come with it! (Read this article for a list of benefits reading has on child development.)

So as 2016 is rolling in, I am going to challenge any of you parents out there to make a New Year’s resolution of spending at least ten minutes a day reading a book, or short story, or poem with your child. It will not only help them in the numerous ways listed in the article above, but it wall also help you to strengthen your parent/child bond, and maybe even encourage you to remember why reading books can be so much fun!

If you take my challenge, reach out and tell me via Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #BoysWhoRead, or send me a picture of what you and your child are going to read together this year! I’d also love to hear if any of you are going to start out the challenge with a Night Buddies book!

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Wishing you all the best New Year. Thank you for yet another amazing year on this blog, on social media, and at all of the book signings and events I met you at this year.

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