Recently some friends invited us over for dinner. After a delicious meal the husband of the couple mentioned that he was thinking of writing a children’s book. He wasn’t thinking of making a career of it, he just thought it might be a fun thing to do. Actually, this kind of situation has come up quite often in my many years of writing kids’ books. Seems like almost everyone I meet has a kids’ book kicking around in their dream chest.
Mostly, I’m at a loss when friends, or even complete strangers, ask me to help them get published. Sometimes I offer a few words of advice. But mostly I don’t know what to tell them. After all, I first got published over 40 years ago. And that was kind of a fluke. I just walked in off the street and talked with one of the few children’s book editors that would agree to meet with a “walk in” like me. That was a rare event back then. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t happen at all now a days.
Normally, what I do when approached by aspiring authors is encourage them to find some venue for their stories other than publishing. I tell them to go to a local story book hour and offer to read their stories there. Or start a small writer’s group and share their stories there. I belonged to a writer’s group for a while and it really was a stimulating experience. And of course, if you have kids or friends with kids offer to read them your stories at bed time.
Those are the obvious venues. But there are many other creative possibilities for story telling in everyday life. For example, when our son Devin was young I remember helping to organize a camping trip with several other homeschooling families. Part of that weekend, was a story telling circle where everyone sat around the fire telling stories, original and not so original.
It just happened to be my actual birthday that night so I made up a fictional story about a dog I owned when I was a child. In the story, which I called Ghost Dog, the dog was run over by a car on my birthday and ever since then comes back to visit me on my birthday. “All I have to do is call out his name and where ever I am my dog, Sandy, will bark just to let me know she’s there,” I said. So of course all the kids around the fire urged me to call out to my “ghost dog”. Unbeknownst to them I had stationed some older kids in the forest. When I did call out my dog’s name they were instructed to bark. The trick worked like a charm. And all the kids went wide eyed when they heard the “Ghost Dog” answer my call….
I’ve had lots of fun publishing kids books. But I don’t think anything beats that moment of pure magic when all of a sudden in the minds of those kids around the fire, the boundary between reality and story was totally blurred . Of course, I came clean the next day and explained that it was all a hoax. As rule, I don’t believe in deceiving kids ever if it can be avoided. But I guess I just couldn’t avoid it in that case.
Another example of at home story telling that I enjoyed for many years happened during the Halloween costume parties we hosted. As soon a people came in the door I wrote down what their costume was. Then sometime during the evening I ran upstairs and wrote a story involving all the characters at the party. If there were twenty people wearing costumes then the story would involve each of those twenty characters. The plot lines of course were pretty silly, verging on nonsensical. But no one seemed to mind that. I wrote a script with me as the narrator and on separate pieces of paper wrote out a line or two for each of the characters. Then toward the end of the evening we would “tell” the story with each character reading their lines. The result was always entertaining and often hilarious.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that there are plenty of published stories to enjoy. But it’s also wonderful to make up your own stories and share them with just family and friends.