Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

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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It’s Book Festival Season! Come Meet Me.

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Book Festival

Hi All! Today I want to share with you the news that I will be attending two events in North Carolina next month in September. I haven’t done an event for some time now, and I am very much looking forward to sharing the news of Night Buddies Go Sky High’s release, and meeting as many readers as possible!

The first event I will be attending is the Bookmarks Books and Authors Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from September 10-12. This is a very exciting event for children’s authors especially, and there will be a lot of fun activities for kids to enjoy! The program for this year’s festival describes the event as follows:

“Bookmarks is the Triad’s literary resource for connecting readers with authors. The Winston-Salem based nonprofit produces the Carolinas’ largest annual Festival of Books and Authors, an Authors in Schools program, and a series of Author Talks presenting bestselling and award-winning writers. In 2015, Bookmarks created a Summer Reading Program to encourage K-12 students across North Carolina to respond to books through written, visual, or video responses.”

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This festival heavily promotes the idea of getting more kids to fall in love with reading, which is exactly the vision I had when I came up with the “Boys Who Read,” campaign. Encouraging a young generation of boys (and girls) to fall in love with books instead of only focusing on their iPads and video games is something I, and Bookmarks, believe will empower and strengthen them. The festival is completely free to attend (though some discussion panels require tickets, visit their website for more details) and will be an excellent opportunity for authors and readers to connect!

And if you weren’t already convinced to attend, David Baldacci is giving the opening keynote. Needless to say, this festival is going to be huge.

I am also going to be attending #SIBA15 in Raleigh, North Carolina from September 18-20! This is a tradeshow for southern independent booksellers to meet authors, and hopefully discover new, fresh books! The schedule of events for the weekend can be found here.

I can’t wait to get out there and meet other authors, booksellers, and readers this coming month. Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter/Facebook if you are planning on making it out!

 

 

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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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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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From Father to Master Storyteller: Tips for Telling the Best Bedtime Stories!

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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!

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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!

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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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Night Buddies Go Sky High Is Finally Here!

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Night Buddies Go Sky High

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.

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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!

 https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/130452-night-buddies-go-sky-high

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!

 

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Other Children’s Book Titles I Highly Recommend!

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With the release date of Night Buddies Go Sky High fast approaching but still not upon us, today I thought I would take the liberty of recommending great children’s books that are similar in some way (content, writing style, etc.) to the Night Buddies series so that you and your child can find the perfect book to read together!

Captain No Beard: An Imaginary Tale of a Pirate’s Life

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This book aims for an audience a little bit younger than the Night Buddies books, but it’s definitely worth the read. The story is about a young kid named Alexander and his cousin Hallie who turn Alexander’s bed into a pirate ship called “The Flying Dragon,” and go on crazy adventures! It’s similar to Night Buddies in that it plays with language and dialogue that is unique to the characters, which makes the story really come to life and fun to read. The book won Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2012 in the Children’s Indie Category, and after giving it a try you’ll be sure to understand why!

Akimbo and the Crocodile Man

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I had to put this book on the list for a number of reasons, including the fact that one of the main characters is named John, and there a number of crocodiles in the story (sound familiar?). The second in a series, this tale revolves around a boy in Africa named Akimbo who is invited on a field study with crocodile expert John. But when John gets attacked by one of the crocodiles they are working with, Akimbo has to find the bravery to go on his own in a dangerous place in search of help. The book is filled with adventure, and is very fast-paced! Like the Night Buddies series, boys between the ages of seven and ten would really enjoy this read.

Tales of the Time Dragon

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Kids being led on adventures through time by a big red dragon? That could be similar to a certain kid being led on adventures by a big red crocodile! This book is great because it combines a fun fictional story with real historical knowledge, and includes maps, a list of historical facts, and a glossary. It’s about two kids who get sucked into their computer when doing a research paper, and end up traveling through time. It’s recommended for kids in either first or second grade, and I would say it’s a definite must-read (this coming from a history buff like me)!

What are some of your favorite children’s books? Leave a comment below to let us know.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

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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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