Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Stop Comparison in Its Tracks: Parenting in the Digital Age

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I’ve written a few times about the ways in which social media has an effect—both positive and negative—on children today, and how we as parents can best help them navigate through it. But the one thing I think we can’t separate from social media is the rise of the problem of comparison in our youth.

Every time they open Instagram, they have the opportunity to see someone who is living a life “cooler” than their own. Your child can come home thrilled about an A on his math test, and then feel crushed moments later when he sees on Facebook that someone else got an A+. With their self-worth tied up in how many likes their newest post gets instead of being the best version of themselves, it can be hard to figure out what to say and how to get children to see that comparing their lives to someone else is a sure path to misery and low self-esteem. (more…)

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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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Writing Tip: Commit To Your Projects

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People often talk about writing a book as similar to giving birth to a child. You conceive the idea, spend many months forming it into existence, and then birth it out into the world to develop a life of its own. While that metaphor makes sense to me, I’ve always looked at writing the Night Buddies series a little differently…

Writing a book is like entering into a long-term relationship.

You fall into head-over-heels love with your book idea, and jump into a relationship with it. You spend long nights alone together, you envision a long and prosperous life together. Maybe you’ll become a New York Times bestseller. Maybe this book will allow you to quit your day job. This book is “the one,” and it’s about to change your life forever.

But when you’re a few months into the writing process, that puppy dog love starts to wear thin. You start trying to put some distance between you and the book. “I’ve worked on it enough this week, it’s time for a break.” You get into arguments, the plot holes start to show themselves. You realize your book is actually going to take a lot of work, and it doesn’t look so pretty and fun anymore. You might start to resent your book; you may even start to hate it.

But that’s the thing about long-term relationships—they require commitment. You have to keep showing up for them even on the hard days. You have to resist the pretty new people (or book ideas) that come along and try to tempt you away from what you know deep down is actually working. And the more you commit to it, the more it prospers and develops into something beautiful, and yes, something potentially life-changing.

The only way to ever complete a project and try to see your big dreams come true is to finish what you start. You can look up every writing tip in the book, but it won’t matter how well you write if you don’t commit to writing your projects through to completion.

Commit to writing your book through until you type the words, “The End.” Commit to editing that book until it reads exactly right. Commit to working on your book until all the kinks are smoothed out. Savor late nights alone with your project. Remember why you originally fell in love with it. Don’t give up on it, even if you send it out into the world and it gets rejected, or poorly reviewed, or ignored. Keep committing to it every single day, and you will see the benefit of that commitment change your life.

You’ll get to hold your finished book in your hands and think, “That was the best commitment I’ve ever made in my life.

Do you prefer to think of writing as birthing a child or committing to a relationship? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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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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How to Filter What Your Child Should Be Reading

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This is a tough topic for me to approach, because as a children’s author and an advocate for #BoysWhoRead, I would like to believe that there are no books that should be off-limits for children to leave. All books have the power to expand our children’s minds and help them with their studies, their critical thinking, and their ability to empathize, but just as we filter what our children watch on television, it is important to many parents to make sure books are “age appropriate.”

But how do we go about doing this? Books aren’t categorized like movies into ratings from G-R, and most likely you don’t have the time to read every book your child brings home before they do to make sure it meets your standards for appropriate. And many times you won’t be able to spot all of the content in a book by a quick flip-through and reading of the back cover. That being said, here are some practical and helpful tips to help you filter what your children are reading, and how to decide what you should be filtering for:

Understand your child’s reading-level: This is a suggestion based on filtering by what your child will be able to understand. Part of helping kids fall in love with reading is providing them with stories that will challenge their reading skills, but not frustrate them to the point of putting the book down and never wanting to pick one up again. Children’s books are labeled by age ranges and reading-levels, which will help you determine whether or not a book is going to be the right reading-level for your child.

Take another look at those reading-level labels: Maybe your child is above their own reading level, I know my son John was when he was growing up, but if you want to filter for appropriateness, this is another tool for you to use. Typically the level of appropriateness correlates with the age range a book was intended for, so if your second grader wants to read a junior high level book, not only might it be too far above their reading level, it cold touch on subject matters they simply are not ready for.

Understand the difference between inappropriate and mature: Some books are risqué simply for the thrill—Fifty Shades of Grey, for example. Other books simply touch on mature themes, such as peer pressure, sexual abuse, etc. Risqué books aren’t necessary for your child to read before they are old enough to filter for themselves. Mature books should be allowed based on your judgment of your child’s maturity level. Some young children are ready to be exposed to tough subjects through literature. And the best part about letting your child read these kinds of books is that it opens the channel for you and your child to talk openly about these hard themes they will probably have to come to terms with at some point in their life.

Read Amazon/Goodreads reviews: You might not have time to read a whole book before you give it to your child, but reading reviews is quick and easy! If there is anything truly inappropriate or shocking, the reviews will most certainly call it out.

When it comes down to it, know that only you know what your child is and isn’t ready for. If you are truly bothered by a certain word, character, or theme in a book, you have the right as a parent to keep it on a higher bookshelf until your child is ready to make the decision of what to read on his/her own.

Are there any books you have kept your children from reading? Do you believe that filtering what kids read is wrong? Let me know in the comments!

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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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