Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Sit Down to Write Your Children’s Book

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So one day it hits you—that perfect idea, the one you know is your key to becoming a children’s book author. You do a little character developing, you download Scrivener, you’re ready to take that idea and turn it into a children’s book, right?

Wrong. Almost every person believes they have a book inside them, but without taking the time to consider your writing goals, those books never make it to “The End.” Before you sit down at your computer and start typing out that great bestseller you’ve been brewing, I suggest you take some time to sit down and think about these questions.

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Why are you writing this book? Do you desire fame, wealth, or critical acclaim? Do you believe in and love your story? Do you simply want to read the book to your child, family, or friends? I’m not going to say that any motivation for finishing a book is better than another (though I’m not holding my breath to become a millionaire author anytime soon), but I do think that without knowing what’s motivating you, you’ll lose steam around page thirty and your book won’t ever be completed.

What time commitment are you giving to this book? Will you write every day? Should you set a daily word count? Are you planning on writing whenever the mood or inspiration strikes? Giving yourself clear and realistic expectations for the amount of time you will dedicate yourself to this project will keep you from being frustrated if it takes you awhile to finish. Knowing ahead of time that you only plan on writing 100 words a day will allow you to realistically be aware that you’ll be working on this book for over a year or years to come.

How much of your story do you know? You don’t need to be the person that writes an in-depth outline before you start writing chapter one, but you should have an idea of what the beginning, middle, and end of your story will be. If you start writing the book with a strong, developed beginning, no clue as to what will happen in the middle, and a vague idea of the ending, you could get lost and give up the whole project.

Would you want to read this book? This is the most important question to ask yourself—and the one a lot of wannabe authors don’t give enough importance to. If you don’t believe your book is important, if you’re not having fun writing or reading it, and if you don’t care about your book as if it was your own child, you won’t have the energy to fight to get it written and eventually published. Don’t bother to start writing something if you don’t start the project with more passion than you’ve ever felt in your life.

Deciding to write a book is deciding to start one of the longest, craziest, emotional, frustrating, and rewarding journeys you’ve ever been on. If you feel confident in answering all of these questions, you’ll be prepared to see your book through to its end.

Are you a first-time writer? What are some of your answers to these questions? Let me know in the comments below!

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Choosing the Best Setting for Your Book

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When many new writers are first gathering ideas to start writing their books, often one of the last things they think about is where the story is going to take place (unless they are writing fantasy, in which case setting is one of the first things to think about). Sometimes authors forget to give setting any attention at all. But here’s something to remember: where your story takes place might not drastically influence the plot of the book, but the story still has to take place somewhere.

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When I set out to write the Night Buddies books, I originally focused my attention on forming the characters that would be most important to the story. But when I actually got to the point where I was ready to sit down and start writing, I realized something important—I had no idea where these characters lived. Setting cannot, let me repeat, cannot, be ignored. So if you’re where I was when I began writing and haven’t given much thought to the setting in your story, here are three pivotal things to consider to get your story, and your setting, back on track.

What type of settings are you familiar with? If you’ve never lived in a city, writing about city life accurately may be become difficult. Think about the places you know like the back of your hand, places you can picture with your eyes closed, and incorporate aspects of them into your book’s setting. All those details will help make the story come alive. Of course, you can choose to research a setting you aren’t familiar with, but often the best details about a place aren’t something you can look up online—they come from the experience of living there.

Downtown Atlanta skyline at dusk

What type of setting will best fit the tone of your book? If you’re writing a lighthearted children’s book, it’s appropriate to incorporate fun, whimsical locations. In Night Buddies, for example, I set a few scenes in a zoo where there could be more talking animals like Crosley—it added another dimension of fun and silliness to the books, which was important because I wanted kids to have a blast reading them. If you’re writing a horror novel, maybe a place that experiences a lot of rain and cold should be used instead of sunny Southern California. Choose settings that will enhance the tone of your story, and it will become that much more well-rounded.

Does your setting add to the story? I chose to set the Night Buddies books in a city, and part of what went into that decision was that the adventures take place at nighttime. A city has a lot of bright lights, so Crosley and John can get around relatively easily, and are able to see what is going on around them. In a small, country town they would probably be spotted by neighbors, and they would be completely in the dark when trying to get around. Little details like this about your setting should add logic, mystery, and excitement to the story you’re writing.

What do you think about setting? Is it one of the first things you think about when plotting a book? Leave your thoughts in a comment below!

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Writing on Vacation is Hard To Do: Here’s How to Keep Your Story Alive on the Road!

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One of the difficulties that comes with being a writer is that your job is never finished. You don’t get to come home at the end of the day and cut off thinking about your job completely, and you don’t get to take a two-week paid vacation; as writers, our thoughts are always consumed by the story we are writing. For people who like to travel, like me, this difficulty is made even harder. Writing on the road is not an easy task, but here are some pieces of advice I’ve learned and used through the years to make writing and traveling coexist as easily as possible.

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Write at the beginning or end of the day. Chances are, if you’re traveling with others, they won’t want to be up at sunrise ready to start the activities of the day. Or if they do, they won’t be awake late into the night. Choose which time of day you have the opportunity to be alone and use it to write. Bonus: you’ll get to see some beautiful sunrises or the midnight glow of the moon in a place you’ve never been before.

Write during downtime. Every vacation has downtime. Maybe you’re trying to kill time before your next bus or train arrives, maybe there’s an hour wait before your table is ready for dinner, or maybe everyone has decided to take an afternoon nap. When you aren’t actively doing something or spending your time with loved ones, use the time to write. It will put your mind at ease to accomplish something, and you’ll be able to enjoy your next activity that much more.

Think about your story while driving. This piece of advice is mostly relevant to road trips, but it can also be applied if you have a long drive to reach a certain destination from your hotel. When you’re driving, you can’t do much else other than think. Use the time to think about your story—what you want to happen next, if your characters are developed enough, what you think you need to work on, and what you think you’re succeeding in. Brainstorming and analyzing your writing is sometimes just as important as actually getting the words down, and you’ll feel more prepared when you find time to sit down at your computer next.

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Enjoy your travels. Your writing will benefit from you living your life to its fullest. I know, I know. It’s hard to turn off that little voice in your head that tells you you need to be writing. But when you are in a new place, seeing new sights, and spending time with the people you love, it’s important that you dedicate time to fully immersing yourself in the moment. Your story is always there to come back to at the end of the day. By letting yourself truly enjoy your vacation, hopefully you’ll experience a number of things that you can use in your writing later on. A writer’s true job is to live . . . otherwise there would be nothing for them to write about.

Do you try to write when you travel? What advice do you have for staying on track even when you’re away from home? Let me know in the comments!

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Book Trailers 101: The Tools You Need to Make Your Trailer Work

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As authors, we write books for people to read. We don’t make movies; we want people to follow our stories through our words.  So where do we start when we have to all of a sudden turn our literary stories into visual ones?

Well, when I was making my trailer for Night Buddies Go Sky High, I began by thinking about what a book trailer ought to do.

1. Give readers information on what Night Buddies was about.

2. Give readers a feel for what they would find on the page.

3. Generate enough interest in a viewer to look more into reading a Night Buddies book.

When you’re creating a book trailer, you have to understand that most likely, the trailer won’t sell the book. Trailers are used as a jumping point, meaning that they should be intriguing enough, cute enough, or funny enough for someone to think, “I want more.” With that in mind, I knew I had to focus on how to give readers information about my book and give them a feel for its style in an intriguing, cute, or funny way. No pressure.

I think the best thing you can do as an author is work with what you have. I knew I wasn’t going to make a million-dollar, special-effect-filled, Hollywood-style trailer. My book didn’t call for one of those. What I needed was something simple, short, and to the point. I decided to use what visual tools I already had—the illustrations from my book—and combine them with my strongest asset, my writing.

What I ended up with was this:

I utilized what tools I couldn’t use in a book, mainly audio such as children’s cheering and music in the background that gave a sense for the whimsical, cute nature of the story, to make the trailer that much more interesting to watch, but overall I just let my characters tell the story, just like they do in the book. I’m of the mind that book trailers don’t have to, and really shouldn’t be, complex. If you have an interesting story, and a book trailer that really represents it, you don’t need to worry about making it feature-film status.

Do you enjoy watching book trailers? Have you used one to promote one of your books? Link it in the comments below!

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Making the Decision to Write a Book

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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.

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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!

Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecke Scare cover

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.

 

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I’m a Self-Published Author: Here’s Why You Should Be Too

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In today’s world, self-publishing is an option available to every author, on any budget. With the mass of books being released this way, you might wonder if putting your book out in the world without a traditional publisher is worth it. Will anyone read it? Are you wasting your time?

As someone who has successfully self-published three juvenile fiction titles, I’m here to tell you that in a lot of ways, self-publishing is actually better for authors than traditional publishing. Here’s why:

Once you are satisfied with your book, you can release it.  When you want to publish traditionally, there are a number of hurdles you have to overcome before your book is released. You’ll spend months seeking out agents, months revising the novel once (and if) you find an agent, months seeking a publisher, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s close to a year or longer of having a completed novel that nobody is able to read. And even if you do lock down a publisher after all that searching, it’ll probably be a year or two before they release your book. When you choose to self-publish, as soon as you’ve written your book and spent time editing it or having it professionally edited, you can release it—you would have a book on shelves for people to read in the same amount of time it would take for you to finish your first round of agent querying!

Your have full control over your story. Traditional publishers may decide to publish your book under certain conditions: it needs a love triangle included, the crocodile should really be a dinosaur, etc. They want the books they publish to resemble what is already selling, and if your story aims to be a bit different, they might ask you to change it. When you publish your own book, it is 100 percent your story, on your terms.

You reap the benefits. Let’s say you write a bestseller. Or even just a moderately successful novel. If you had it traditionally published, chances are the contract you signed gives a huge amount of the royalties to the publisher—most take up to 85 percent. You’ll also have to share 15-20 percent of the profits with your agent, leaving you with . . . well, you get it. When you self-publish, you earn a much higher percentage of your royalties. With Createspace, one of the most popular self-publishing services, for example, authors earn 40 percent of the royalties. I’d say that’s a pretty outstanding difference.

How you go about marketing is up to you. Even with traditional publishers in today’s world, marketing is a responsibility mostly left for authors to take care of themselves. But if you self-publish, you can decide if you want to take on a publicist, who you want as your publicist, and how exactly you want to go about promoting your book. Since all the money for marketing is coming out of your wallet (which I know can be a bummer), you get to decide what levels you will go to in order to publicize your work. You don’t have to settle for a subpar publicist and mediocre marketing if you’re not on your publisher’s list of most-anticipated novels; your book is your priority, and you can publicize accordingly.

When we put so much effort into writing and perfecting our stories, I think it is only natural that we have as much control over the publishing process as possible. I certainly know that I wouldn’t have chosen to publish Night Buddies any other way.

How do you feel about self-publishing? Would you consider going that route to publish your book? Let me know in the comments!

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How Roald Dahl Inspired Me as a Children’s Book Writer

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Even before I got into writing the Night Buddies books I was a fan of Roald Dahl—author of books including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach. He is known as one of the 20th century’s best children’s authors, and I can certainly say that as a reader his books never failed to captivate my imagination and pull me inside the stories; he had me hooked from his first word to his last. But when I took on the task of writing my own book series, I started looking to Roald Dahl not only as my favorite author, but also as one of my biggest writing inspirations.

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Dahl began his writing career by writing down the things that he knew. His first published story was about his experience as a fighter pilot in World War II, and his first children’s book, The Gremlins, was about “mischievous little creatures that were part of RAF folklore.” This is where I learned my first lesson in storytelling: writing what you know, even in books that take place in worlds far from reality, will always get you the best results. In Night Buddies, even though the books are entirely fictional, I had to use emotions, situations, and types of relationships that I knew in my life in order to make them come alive on the page.

Books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reach children because they are unique, they are told from the voices of children who differ from the norm, and they use more imagination than most people could ever dream of having. Dahl didn’t feel the need to make everything in his books “pretty,” the way some children’s authors do, and is in fact known for his dark humor and sometimes grotesque scenarios. This kind of writing inspired me to write the Night Buddies books in the most real, authentic way I knew. The creativity he used in his stories inspired me to keep thinking further outside the box in order to create books I can now say I am proud to have written and feel confident that children will love.

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“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful.”

This quote by Dahl stuck with me throughout my writing experience, and should inspire any of you attempting to write your own children’s books. In the process of writing a book, sometimes it is easy to get caught up in using impressive language or trying to come up with sweeping universal themes, but remembering that what children need is a book that they are going to have fun reading makes the entire writing process much less intimidating, and always leads to a better book being written.

If you haven’t read one of his books, I suggest you drop everything and go pick one up now. You’ll be a happy reader—and a better writer—for it.

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Writing Your First Children’s Book

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When I sat down to write the first book in the Night Buddies series, I didn’t quite know exactly what I was getting into. Writing a book is hard work, and writing for children is an especially difficult task that requires an immense amount of time, dedication, and above all, imagination. The easy part is coming up with a vague idea for what you think will be an exciting story . . . the hard part is turning that idea into a full and complete work of fiction that will keep kids up past their bedtimes just to figure out what happens next. So for any of you out there attempting to write your own children’s book for the first time, these are the best tips I can give you to help make the process as smooth as possible.

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Read what’s already out there. Browse the New York Times bestsellers lists, scroll through Goodreads to find out which children’s books have the highest ratings, walk through the aisles of your local bookstore to see which books have the biggest displays, and then READ them. The more you know about children’s literature, the more prepared you will be to write your own book.

Spend a good amount of time imagining before you start writing. I would go as far to say that children’s literature is the genre with the most amount of imagination involved, and all of the most popular stories are the most creative ones as well. The more time you spend imagining the world your book is set in, imagining the characters you’ll be writing about, and imagining all the trouble you can stir up in a couple hundred pages or so, the more fun your book will be to read.

Spend time with children. If you don’t know anything about kids, how are you going to know what they would enjoy reading? You need to spend time with kids to remember what it is like to think like them, play like them, and imagine like them. Then, you take that knowledge and incorporate it into your book, making it something kids can easily relate to!

Take it seriously. Writing a book, especially a book for children, should be fun. But the only way you are going to be able to see the book through from start to finish is by taking your writing seriously. Have a set time each day to write, have a set goal you have to achieve each day before you go to bed, and think about your story in every free moment you have. If you aren’t so obsessed with your story that it’s constantly on your brain, chances are readers won’t become obsessed with it either.

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Writing and Parenting: Where to Find the Balance

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When I was first coming up with the Night Buddies stories, I was a single parent trying to figure out the balance between spending ample time with my son John while still working enough hours to be able to provide for us. The actual writing of the books didn’t come until later, when John was grown and able to take care of himself, but I know that many of you out there with that novel idea formed and ready to go in your heads aren’t as keen to wait for your child to be on their own before setting pen to paper.

So what if you didn’t have to?

Finding a balance between writing a book and being the best parent you can be is no easy task, but I believe it can be done. Here are my top five tips for how to find the best balance between the two!

1. You are one person, and especially as a parent, you only have so many things you can devote your time to. Your priorities should revolve around your children, your job (if writing isn’t your full-time profession), and your writing if you are going to get your book written. Other things should fill in the space between, but shouldn’t make you lose focus of your priorities. You don’t want to stretch yourself too thin in an effort to do it all!

2. Keep a consistent schedule. If you wake up an hour earlier than your child to get writing done, do it every day. If your child has a bedtime of 7 pm, make sure you stick with it. Routine is good for you, and for your child. When your time is appropriately scheduled, you will be able to see the small gaps of time you might not have known you had in order to get some writing in. Scheduling your time will also allow you to have a stopping point that you shouldn’t try to work past. If you schedule yourself two hours of writing in the evening, from 7pm to 9pm let’s say, but you don’t go to bed until 11pm, don’t try to work your way through until the end. Your schedule needs room for relaxing too!

3. Teach your kids about your work. When you explain to them what you are doing and how important it is that you do it, they’ll be more respectful of your writing time than they would be if you just locked yourself away with no explanation. Children are curious people! If you’re writing a children’s novel, read chapters to them as you go along. If you’re writing more adult content, simply tell them that you’re writing a book and that it’s very important to you. This will teach them to value passion and work, and is an important lesson for them to learn, even at a young age.

4. Sometimes it’s okay to do things the easy way. If you signed up to do a bake sale with your children’s school, you don’t need to bake dozens of cookies from scratch if you don’t have the time for it—this was what pre-made dough was made for. It’s easy to fall into the trap of always trying to be the “superhero parent,” but sometimes it’s okay, even necessary, to grab a pizza for dinner, tell your kids that they need to entertain themselves for an hour, or ask someone else to host after-school playdates. Being the best parent you can be is important, but being the best parent is an unrealistic goal to achieve, especially when you have writing to get done!

Courtesy of Pixabay

Courtesy of Pixabay

5. Don’t be afraid to enlist help if you need it. Author Sarah Dessen hires babysitters for the afternoons to watch her daughter, even though she’s doing her writing from home. If you can afford childcare, or your family members offer to watch your child for an afternoon, it’s not admitting defeat to accept the help! Everyone needs help now and then, and if your writing is important to you, accepting help in order for your writing to not suffer is something you should never feel bad about.

Just remember, being a parent is not an excuse to not achieve your goal of being an author. Whether you have time to write for four hours a day, or only twenty minutes every morning, you’ll be able to get that book written as long as you stick with it!

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John and Crosley: The Makings of a Dynamic Literary Friendship

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Crosley picked out John to be his Night Buddy, for starters.  There must have been a lot of reasons, but the only one Crosley mentions is middle names.  Crosley doesn’t have one, and neither does John, so they have this in common.  Crosley thinks it makes you a little sharper, too.  And hey, we know that John is really sharp, and Crosley is definitely no slouch, so maybe there’s something in it.

The two characters couldn’t help but hit it off with each other.  John doesn’t want to go to bed, so Crosley rescues him and takes him out on adventures.  Crosley for his part gets a genial and very capable partner for his “Programs.”  Sharing these adventures, the good and the bad parts, bonds the two all the more.

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John and Crosley are very different, obviously, and before I go any further, I have to confess something.  After I finished The Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, I realized I had used a device made famous by Cervantes and Mark Twain.  (When you steal, steal from the best.)  I don’t know whether Mark Twain had Sancho Panza and the Don in mind when he wrote Tom Sawyer (I promise I wasn’t thinking of any of them when writing my story), but Tom and Huck are very similar to Cervantes’ two protagonists.  There Tom is, the impractical romantic (Don Quixote), and there’s Huck, the no-nonsense, pragmatic sidekick that Tom needs in order to stay grounded (Sancho).  Two pairs of opposites who rely on and complement each other.

Exactly like John and Crosley.  John is the sensible, down-to-earth partner, and Crosley is goofy, full of wild ideas, and ready to fly off to Mars at a moment’s notice for a few pineapple cheesecakes.  And just like those other characters, they appreciate and honor each other’s differences.  They are a team that’s better than the sum of its parts.  This, and their mutual adventures (and maybe a little insomnia) are the essence of their friendship.

And having no middle names doesn’t hurt.

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