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.
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!
You can call me old school, but I don’t do the e-reading thing. I like to sit down with a book in my hands, flip through the pages, write in the margins, and keep all the screens at bay even if for just a few hours. Reading, to me, is an escape from the world. And lately, it seems like the world is full of nothing but smart phones, laptops, and tablets.
But what about the next generation? The parents raising kids now, not those of us who raised our kids thirty years ago? It seems they won’t be able to avoid keeping tablets in the house, and with cheaper books and easier access, shouldn’t switching from books to screen actually be a benefit to today’s children?
In some ways, yes. Books are more easily available than they have ever been. Children’s e-books are usually made with interactive features now, so kids can feel even more like they become part of the story they’re reading. They can guide the content, write pieces of the stories themselves, draw pictures of the characters, and take their creativity to entirely different levels.
An article on amplify.com said it best: “Kids aren’t just passive receptors anymore, they expect to be able to interact, remix some of the content, and work collaboratively with others to do things with the content.”
Kids are excited to sit down with these e-readers, because it’s no longer a time just to clock silent reading hours—reading has turned into another kind of game time. And while I am glad that books are getting out there and children are reading, I would also argue that this is the exact problem.
The experience of reading changes when it is filled with hyperlinks, game times, and endless upon endless distractions. It distracts from the general enjoyment of reading—losing oneself in a narrative. Why have interactive features when you can instead take the place of someone else’s consciousness, and live a different life than your own for a few hundred pages? An article on mom.me quoted a study which said, “Of those who took part in the UK’s National Literacy Trust survey, only 12 percent of those who did their reading on a screen said they enjoyed reading, while 51 percent of those burning through pages said they liked to read. Print readers, even if they mixed it with screen reading, made up a larger percent of above-average readers compared to those who only read on a screen—15.5 percent vs. 26 percent.”
Long story short, we can turn reading into a sort of game time, but real game time is only going to be a tap of the screen away from their book. Why spend a few hours reading when Angry Birds is just as easily available on the same device?
I think kids and parents benefit from putting away the distractions, locking the screens away for just an hour or so, and sitting down to read books together. You can still encourage your children to create stories and imagine for themselves—that’s how the character Crosley from my book series was created—but without a tablet and all the distractions tablets come with in the way, hopefully the pure pleasure of reading a book will continue to be passed on through the generations.
Do you prefer reading books or on tablets? Let me know in the comments!
There are two main elements to a story: plot and character. There is debate amongst writers whether one of these aspects is more important than the other, which is why some books are plot-driven while others are character-driven, but the reality is that your book will not succeed if your characters feel inauthentic. This is where one of the most difficult aspects of storytelling comes into play—creating three-dimensional characters.
Luckily, when I started writing the Night Buddies series I had already been creating my main character Crosley for years (by making him the star in my son’s bedtime stories). I had a fully formed character who felt like a real friend in my home, and that led to an entire series being based off of him. But I couldn’t rely on Crosley alone. A book is made up of an entire cast of characters, all who need to feel as real as the others, and I knew I had a lot of work to do in order to make my other characters as three-dimensional as the character I had spent years of my life developing. Along the way, I came up with a few techniques for fleshing out the entire cast. I hope you find them helpful!
1. Always ask why. It is one thing to decide, “I’m going to write about a red crocodile,” and another to think, “What is it that makes this crocodile red? How is he unique?” You want to think of original, entertaining personality bits, but to make that character come alive, you need to know exactly why he is the way he is. Why is your character afraid of the dark? Why does he have a tattoo on his earlobe? Why does he have an insatiable hunger for pineapple cheesecakes? Knowing the why makes him relatable and easy to understand, both of which help bring him to life.
2. Base the character off someone you know. Next to Crosley, there is a boy named John who stars in the Night Buddies books who is based on my son. When you base a character off of someone you know well, you can pinpoint unique ways that person talks, unique parts of their appearance, and unique stories from their life that will come across on the page the way that person comes across to you in real life.
3. Create a character sketch. Character sketches are very important to do, but I don’t believe everyone needs to use the same template for making one. For instance, I’ve seen templates that make you consider their mother’s maiden name or their favorite time of day, but sometimes those details are irrelevant to the story. Here’s what I go by: know their backstory, know the relationships that are important to them, and know where they should be emotionally at the beginning of the story and at the end. Any other details you want to know are up to you—it can be fun to spend hours figuring out every detail of your character’s lives, but don’t get so caught up in it that you forget what’s important to your story!
4. Show, don’t tell. Your character won’t feel real if you spend pages telling the reader their likes and dislikes, how they came to be where they are, whether they have allergies in the summertime. If you make a list of things to tell the reader, the character feels like a list, not a person. Instead, show that they’re shy by how they cross their arms when in a public place. Show that they have allergies by how they sneeze when the wind starts to blow. Show that they hate broccoli by how their mouth tenses up when their mother forces them to eat all that is on their plate. What you show the reader will always be ten times more important, and feel ten times more real, than by what you tell them.
Do you tend to prefer character-driven, or plot-driven novels? Maybe a healthy dose of the two? Let me know in the comments below!
So you’ve decided you want to tell a story to your child every night before they go to bed, but you’ve read every book in your house over and over, and the only thing you can think of on your own is, “Once upon a time . . .” But as someone who created a series of books out of my simple bedtime stories, I can tell you that becoming a master storyteller isn’t so complicated. Here are my top tips for telling bedtime stories your child will adore!
Cater to your child’s interests. Think about which books your kid loves to read. Are they about horses, sports, magic, pirates? Draw your subject from there, or even combine some of them! You could tell a story about a magic pirate and his horse companion competing to become World Champions in a horse race. The more creative you get with your child’s interests, the more interesting your story will be to them.
Keep it short. Kids don’t have very long attention spans, and by bedtime they should already be pretty wiped out. Just keep the storyline simple—you have a character, there is a problem, the problem gets bigger, and then the character resolves the problem. You should be able to keep it under ten minutes. If you have more to tell, continue on the next night.
Make your child the star! You’re always telling your child that they can be anything they want to be, right? Well here’s your chance to tell them a story about becoming president, discovering cures for diseases, getting a record deal, or whatever it is their biggest dreams are. Even if you put them in stories that are unrealistic, like how I put my son John in the Night Buddies stories, hearing about themselves as protagonists in the stories you tell will boost their confidence and help them realize that you truly believe in them to do and be anything they want.
Tell the story together. I’ve said before that my son John is the one who came up with our red, talking crocodile friend Crosley, and I think it truly goes to show that the best stories are ones that you and your child come up with together. Ask them to create a character, a storyline, or a setting. Tell the story back and forth to each other a sentence at a time. They will feel proud for having created something fun, and it will bond you two closer together.
What are some bedtime stories you’ve told your child? Any tips for the new storytellers out there? Let me know in the comments below!
I guess you could argue whether you ever “decide” to write a book—sometimes the idea is just in you and you feel obligated to write it down, or sometimes you’re just born to be someone who never walks away from a blank page. For me, writing the Night Buddies books fell somewhere in between needing to write it and deciding to write it. Let me walk you through just how it went.
First off, I was born a reader. And when my son John was born, I knew that I was going to do whatever I could to introduce him to the joys of reading too. (To see a post about how to go about getting your kid to love reading, click here.) Like I’ve mentioned in this blog before, to get John to really get into story-telling I had him come up with his own character; and that’s when Crosley, the first character for the Night Buddies series, was created.
But having a character for me and my son to talk and imagine up stories about was not something I immediately imagined would lead to me writing a book. That was something that occurred to me in slow bits, over many years. I had always been a lover of books, and I had written a few short stories here and there, but when I started thinking about Crosley being a character for the page and not just in our home, a short story just didn’t seem like enough. That’s when I started thinking about a book.
But when deciding to write a book, you can’t just think about one character. I had a good start, but a long road ahead. I had to think about another main character—and who better to star in my stories than my own son? Then I had to think more in-depth about the story and what my two characters would do together, I had to think about why Crosley was a red crocodile instead of a normal green one, I had to come up with a host of other, secondary characters. In short, I had to develop an entire world. But the more I thought about these things, the easier it started to get. And by the time I had everything thought out, the decision was already made.
I was going to write a children’s book!
From there, of course, there were many challenges along the way. But by committing myself to this project and having the firm goal of, “I’m going to write a full-length children’s book” in my head, all those challenges were easier to overcome.
If you’re thinking you might have an idea for a book, or maybe the only idea you have is that you want to write a book, I suggest that you decide to do it. You’ll have a lot of work ahead of you, work that could take years to complete, but I can tell you this . . . turning my little idea of a crocodile named Crosley into a real, tangible book was the best decision I have ever made.
It’s the day I’ve been looking forward to for awhile now. Yesterday, my third children’s book, Night Buddies Go Sky, was officially released!
In all the excitement leading up to this day, I thought I would share with you all exactly how the Night Buddies series came about. And if I’m being truthful, I have to give credit to my son John. We used to read together every night, but one night when it was late and he wanted the stories to continue I advised him to start making up his own adventures, and that’s how Crosley the red crocodile was born! We came up with Crosley stories all the time until he became a member of our family.
Once John was already grown, I realized that between Crosley and my son John, I had the makings of a book in my hands . . . and that began the long journey to where I am today. I had written short stories in college, and have been a long-time book addict, but deciding to write a children’s book was the biggest writing project I had ever taken on. It became clear to me early on, however, that there were only two, very basic things I needed to make the Crosley book a reality—always use more imagination than I first thought to use, and write the thing every day until it’s done. The combination of these two things has gotten me through three books so far!
In Night Buddies Go Sky High, our two Night Buddies John and Crosley fly over to the Pineapple Cheesecake Factory to top off Crosley’s supply. Once there, they find Big Foot Mae staring at a mysterious new dot in the sky . . . and it turns out Brother Crenwinkle has seen it too! They decide to investigate the thing, so they modify their racing blimp for extreme altitude and take off into the stratosphere. What they find will absolutely warp your mind!
In honor of the book’s release, I’m giving away five free books on Goodreads. All you have to do to enter the drawing is click on the link below and click “Enter to Win!” The giveaway will be open through April 16, so be sure to tell your friends to enter too!
Finally, I just want to say a thank you to all my readers. Your support has been instrumental in continuing to bring Crosley to life book after book, and we both hope you’ll enjoy this new adventure!
1. Find a partner to adventure with. If you asked either John or Crosley to go on a Program alone, they’d call you nuts. It’s important to have someone to go on your adventures with, not to mention loads more fun! Team up with your brother or sister, your best friend, or you can even create someone in your imagination to adventure with. As long as you have someone to share your experience with, your adventure will be all the more worthwhile.
2. Build your adventure craft. The Night Buddies wouldn’t get very far on their Programs without their Far-Out Flying Machine, and likewise, you’ll need to find something to go on your adventures in! Look around your house for an old cardboard box, some tape, scissors (with your mom or dad’s approval) and markers, glitter, or stickers to decorate it with. Make your adventure craft look however you want it to look . . . just make sure it’s uniquely yours!
3. Decide on a goal. Each Night Buddies Program has a specific goal in mind, and it usually has to do with stopping the evil Iguana Gang. Decide what you want to accomplish on your adventure—whether it’s stopping evil, discovering something new to you, or solving a problem that has been bothering you—and then go after it. Every good adventure has an end goal in mind, but make sure you remember to have fun along the way!
4. Always, always use your imagination. It is possible for you to do anything, go anywhere, and meet anyone, as long as you are open to using your imagination. If you allow yourself to see your living room turn into outer-space, your adventure craft flying in the sky, and yourself as the hero bringing all evil to justice, you can go on an adventure every day. Whenever you read about all that John and Crosley do on their Programs, remember that you can be with them every step of the way, as long as you are using your imagination just right.
We over here at the Night Buddies Headquarters are absolutely crazy about the holiday season! Holiday treats, time with family, and of course, gift exchanges are some of the things we love the most. So we wanted to sit down with the stars of the series and ask what item is on the top of their Christmas wish lists this year. Here’s what they said:
John: It was hard for me t’ figure out just what t’ ask for this year. Ever since Crolsey and the Night Buddies became part of my life there’s not much that would make me happier! But I guess the one thing would be if I could bring my dad along on one of our Programs. I think he’d be really into it!
Crosley: Ya know what I want this year? I want another handy whatchamacallit for my tool belt. (Yerk!) Got t’ be prepared for all the new Programs we have ahead of us!
Big Foot Mae: I don’t want anything fancy, but I do think I could use a new pair of coveralls to wear at the factory. (It’s hard to find good ones my size.) But I hope they still got pictures of pineapples on ‘em!
Crenwinkle: All I ever want is some more steamed root beer. I go through ‘em kind of quick!
Fast Fanny Farnsworth: As much as I love working at the All-Night Emporium and helping John and Crosley with their Programs, I think all I want for Christmas this year is a day off. Crosley sure can drive me nuts, and sometimes I think I need a vacation!
Doesn’t seem like they’re asking for too much this year! Whatever is on your Christmas list, we hope you have a very happy holiday and remember to enjoy the time you have with your loved ones. And if you’re still looking to find the perfect gift for someone on your list, we’d recommend giving them a Night Buddies book!
Hey Night Buddies! Crosley here!
An’ have I ever got somethin’ for YOU! Namely, the genuine warranted recipe
for Crosley’s Super Fantastical Cheese Wulgers. (Wulgers bein’ a crocodile
word for somethin’ that’s been wulged, okay?) They’re nothin’ next t’
pineapple cheesecakes in my personal estimation, but it appears a whole lot
o’ people think they’re BETTER! That’s crazy, but there’s no accountin’ for
taste, I guess. I will admit they’re awful good.
So here’s what ya start out with:
One pound o’ sharp cheddar cheese
Half a pound o’ butter
Two an’ a quarter cups o’ white flour
A heapin’ tablespoon o’ dill seeds
A not-heapin’ teaspoon o’ salt
A quarter teaspoon o’ red pepper
Right. So let the cheese an’ butter warm up t’ room temperature. Dump the
flour in a big bowl an’ sprinkle all o’ that little stuff on top. Chop up
the cheese into about 15 pieces an’ dump this in, along with the butter.
Then, what ya do, ya wulge it all up into a dough ball with your greasy ol’
hands. Cut the ball up into three or four pieces an’ roll each piece out
into a rod about one an’ a half inches thick. Wrap each rod up in aluminum
foil an’ stick in the freezer about thirty minutes t’ get the dough hard
enough t’ slice with a big knife. Take the foil off an’ slice into cookies
about five t’ the inch. Preheat oven t’ 300 degrees (F), put wulgers on
cookie sheets an’ bake 45 minutes. It’s good t’ switch ends o’ the sheets
halfway through. Take out o’ oven an’ scrape wulgers off the sheets pretty
quick. Then let them suckers sit an’ suck air for one or two days. Ya’ll
be mighty pleased!
For those of you who have been following this blog regularly, you know that we over here at the Night Buddies Headquarters are gearing up for the release of Night Buddies Go Sky High, the third book in the Night Buddies series! If you haven’t seen the cover yet, here it is again.
Well, we have some pretty big news to share with you. Grady Harp, the prominent Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer, posted an amazing review for Night Buddies Go Sky High! For those of you unfamiliar with Harp, he is a 66-year-old gallerist, retired surgeon, and poet who has reviewed over 3,500 books, CDs, and movies for Amazon, as well as a reviewer for Literary Aficionado. In turn, he has attained a kind of celebrity, a number 7 ranking, a prominent profile on Amazon, and a pretty hefty following.
Some snippets of the review include:
“Hetherington’s manner of dialogue writing is unique and at all times a delight.”
“Where Night Buddies Go Sky High excels is in the pacing of the story – lots of lingering time to laugh, but equal momentum time to make the adventure exciting for children.”
“Hetherington is so adept at writing for children that his books become instant classics – and that means that after lights out, parents will tiptoe in and grab some of this confection for themselves! Highly recommended.”
We couldn’t be happier with the review, and we hope you all go out and give it a read! Thanks so much for continuing on the Night Buddies journey—we will continue releasing more information about the release in the coming weeks!