Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Q&A Series Part IV: How Does John and Crosley’s Friendship Develop?

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Welcome to Part IV in my Q&A series, where I answer questions you’ve asked through social media here on the blog! This week, I was asked, “How does your main characters’ friendship develop throughout the series?”

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For starters, Crosley picked out John to be his Night Buddy. There must have been a lot of reasons, but the only one Crosley mentions in the books 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 to not have a middle name, if he’s being honest. And hey, we know that John is really sharp, and Crosley is definitely no slouch, so maybe there’s something in that reason. (more…)

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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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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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Give The Ultimate Night Buddies Gift Package This Holiday Season!

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Hello all! I want to start by saying a massive thank you to those who made it out to Scuppernong Books this past Saturday for my Night Buddies reading. It was a blast!

As you all know, the holidays are coming up, and whatever you celebrate, gifts are likely to be involved. As a father and the starter of the Boys Who Read campaign, I’m a huge advocate for turning books into gifts for our children (you can read my 2015 recommendations here), however I am very aware that what most kids are expecting to receive are toys, toys, toys! But that doesn’t mean you have to pick one or the other—here are some of my recommendations for turning the Night Buddies books into a full-on gift package!

First, you’ll need the books. Give one, or give the whole set, but this is going to be what the entire package is based on. You can purchase the books from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble—the links for each are on the book pages of this website!

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Next, I recommend buying your child’s very own Crosley—or Crenwinkle! You can find all kinds of toy crocodiles online, but here’s my favorite. He’s red, just like Crosley!

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One of the most important components of the adventures Crosley and John go on in these books is the Far Out Flying Machine. While a Night Buddies-specific version is yet to be created, you can find all sorts of toy blimps out there, and most of them even fly! This is a great site with many different options, ranging from $13 to $250.

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And last but not least, the thing no Night Buddies fan can go without, you’ll want to get include in your gift a set of Whatchamacallits. I’d recommend getting a toy tool belt (this is a handy, cheap, and stylish one), and filling it with whatchamacallits that make easy DIY projects! I have a blog post explaining how best to make some of Crosley’s favorites and most-used whatchamacallits here.

Copy of Crosley's GImcrack

And that gives you a pretty complete gift, filled with Night Buddies fun! Be sure to let me know and send me pictures via Facebook or Twitter (@Night_Buddies) if you choose to give a Night Buddies gift to your child this holiday season!

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Should Kids be Reading on Tablets? The Benefits and Drawbacks of Reading on the Screen

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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!

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Writing Essentials: Tips to Build Conflict in Your Story

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After spending the past month at the Bookmarks Book Festival and SIBA 2015 (pictured above), I’ve walked away with a whole lot of inspiration and ideas about what makes a book a success, what people love to read, and what constitutes good writing. So today I wanted to share some of my thoughts on that with you!

When I first set out to write Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, I didn’t realize how essential building conflict in the story was. You can’t just have one main conflict in mind and have that carry the entire story—the book also has to be filled with little bits of tension and little conflicts that keep the reader turning every single page. Each chapter you write should contain a major conflict, each page should be your character finding ways to resolve it. Yes, you should have one main conflict (all the pineapple cheesecakes in the pineapple cheesecake factory are disappearing) but conflict needs to always be in the front of your mind when you sit down to write.

So what are some ways to do this? Here are a few tips to help you figure out how to raise the stakes, build the tension, and create the most dynamic story possible.

Create strong values for your characters. When you know what they value and what they hold closest, it is easier to come up with conflict that will interfere with those values. Let’s say a character doesn’t drink because of an alcoholic parent, and then falls in love with a major drinker . . . conflict. Let’s say a red crocodile who loves cheesecakes more than anything now has them start disappearing . . . conflict. It can be silly or serious, but values that are being tested, internally or externally, create conflict.

Bring the family into it. Families are a huge area for conflict in a story. In Night Buddies, John’s parents question him and his sanity when he talks about his adventures—they even argue between themselves because of it. This isn’t a huge plot point in the story, but it still fills the book with extra tension and drives the story forward.

Think internally. Don’t only think of external events to build conflict, like storms or people, but think about your character’s feelings. Do they feel disappointed in themselves or their life, do they hate their siblings, do they suffer from depression? Emotional conflict is just as, if not more, essential to a dynamic story.

Keep bringing back the enemy. Your story should have an antagonist—think the Joker, or in my story’s case, a band of evil iguanas. The more they show up, the more conflict your protagonist is going to have to face. Not only do they have to deal with the trouble the enemy causes, but they also have to deal with the emotional conflict of either sinking to their enemy’s level, or taking the high road and maintaining their moral as the good character.

So there you have it! There are probably a hundred ways to build conflict in your story, so just always remember that when things seem to be going too well for your character, it’s your job to knock him off his high horse!

What are some writing essentials you’ve discovered? Let me know in the comments below!

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My Journey as a Stay-at-Home Father

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When my son, John, was born, I didn’t embark to be a stay-at-home father. I didn’t know any other dads who stayed at home to take care of their kids full-time, I didn’t grow up with a stay-at-home father, and the concept of being a man who changed his job description from a solid 9-5 to being a full-time homemaker was not something I ever envisioned. But then John came around, my wife and I soon divorced, and there I was with full-custody of a young boy who needed someone to stay home and look after him. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just entered some of the greatest years of my life.

As a stay-at-home father, I felt like two different people. Half of the time I spent with John I felt like a kid again myself. John and I did everything together, went everywhere together, and were about as inseparable as any two friends can be. During the summers we drove through forty-nine states and five Canadian provinces.  We participated in all kinds of father-son activities: football, basketball, baseball, boxing, golf, boating, camping . . . the sky was the limit, and I loved seeing the smile on that boy’s face when he got lost in doing something he loved. John got his first puppy, a St. Bernard he named Henry, and we loved him so much that I began breeding St. Bernard’s. In most of the memories I have of John’s youth, I remember our adventures, his laughter, and the feeling that I was getting to experience life through a child’s eyes for a second time. But the reality of being a stay-at-home father and raising a child by myself wasn’t always so picturesque.

Me and my now grown son, John.

Me and my now grown son, John.

There was the time I forgot to pick him up from the movie theater when he was ten, and when I finally arrived the theater was pitch black and he was nowhere to be found. When I finally got ahold of security, we found him sunk down in one of the seats, asleep and unaware of the panic he struck in me. There was the time when his kindergarten teacher told me John must have a learning disability because he was having trouble with his French lessons, and I almost believed her. Now my son speaks ten languages and holds an M.A. from Edinburgh University—and wouldn’t I love to mail his degree over to that teacher. There were the six years of piano lessons that felt like ripping out fingernails just to get him to practice until we finally threw in the towel. There was trying to be both mother and father, parent and friend, teacher and student. I had no examples to follow, no comrade to turn to on the hard days, no office to escape to when watching Sesame Street for the hundredth time made me think I might actually be going crazy.

But those hard days are incomparable to the victories, both big and small. Getting him to sit at the piano for an hour without complaint, sitting side-by-side on a cross-country road trip, and best of all, reading books and creating stories together every night before John went to bed. In fact, being a stay-at-home father led me to my current occupation as a children’s book author. It was always very important to me that John be exposed to literature and the pleasure of reading from a very young age so I stocked up at the library every week with children’s stories, from Roald Dahl up to Dickens and Victor Hugo. But one night when he was about seven, I suggested to him that he should create his own bedtime companion to keep him company while he slept—from there, the main character of my children’s series, Night Buddies, was created. Every night John and I made up stories about him and his bedtime companion, a red crocodile named Crosley, until that character became another member of our little family. John always held onto his love for reading, and when he grew up and started traveling around the world creating new adventures for himself, I turned my memories of the little boy I once spent every day of my life looking after and our bedtime stories into a book that I would be able to keep forever. Because in all honesty, being a stay-at-home father was the best job I’ve ever held, and given the choice I would always choose to do it all over again.

 

 

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Tips For Writing Three-Dimensional Characters

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Should Your Book Be Made Into a Series?

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I’ve written one blog post before about making the decision to write a children’s book, (link to that post here) but I didn’t mention that the decision to write a series of children’s books was actually a separate decision. You see, most authors don’t take on writing a series the way J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter—we don’t plot out seven books, fully detailed from beginning to end, and expect that they will all reach publication. In fact, most series of books become a series due to luck, demand, or by accident.

J.K. Rowling; author of the most popular modern book series, Harry Potter.

J.K. Rowling; author of the most popular modern book series, Harry Potter.

When I first wrote Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, I knew that my story was complete. It is a self-contained book, has a firm beginning, middle, and end, and doesn’t require further books to make the story whole. But I also realized that when I was finished writing it, I had more ideas in mind for my characters. My story was done, but their stories could continue through multiple books. I didn’t have a set number in mind, I didn’t have all the stories planned out, and I didn’t want the stories to be interconnected. All I knew, and still know, is that my characters are vibrant enough (in my eyes, at least) to carry out a series of adventures.

And that’s when book number two, Night Buddies and One Far-Out Flying Machine, began to be written.

Maybe you’ve decided to turn your beloved book into a series because you aren’t ready to be done with your characters, or because your readers are begging for the story to continue, or because your publisher thinks they can capitalize on your success by writing a continuation (cheers to you, if that’s the case). My point is, a series can be created out of what you thought was a stand-alone book; it doesn’t always need to start with the intention of writing a series. The only difficulty with creating a series out of a stand-alone book is deciding whether your story is worth continuing.

Deciding to continue your work throughout a series of books comes with the challenge of developing your characters with every new adventure, keeping your same writing tone and voice through each book, and always bringing fresh takes to old ideas. It is difficult to always stay excited about the same characters you’ve been working with for years, but when you are capable of finding that excitement, it’s always worth the struggle. Night Buddies became a series because I knew this was the story I was meant to write, and I hope to continue releasing new Night Buddies books for as long as Crosley and John remain exciting, fresh, and fun characters for me to hang on to. I sometimes feel as though I’m in a long-term relationship with these characters and these stories, and with that comes the hard days or the boring days, but with that also comes immense love, commitment, and happiness.

If you’re deciding whether or not you should begin a series, I’d recommend just writing the first book, getting acquainted with your characters, and treating it like a first date. After you’re finished with that one, decide whether taking on those types of stories and those characters will be worth standing by long-term. And when you find those characters you never want to leave behind, be thankful; they don’t come by often.

What is your favorite book series? Let me know in the comments below!

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