A lot of people know that I'm a fan of noir fiction, crime, mystery, and old pulp stories. Many of my short stories and novels focus on these genres, but I also dabble in horror, sci-fi, and even westerns. And those closest to me know that poetry has pulled me through the worst events of my life and made the best events even better, but when people ask me what I write, one of the first things out of my mouth is, “I write children’s books.”
Now, I haven’t published any children’s books (which is always the follow-up question), but ever since I was a kid scribbling out longhand stories about the squirrels behind my house, I knew I wanted to write books that appealed to readers who haven’t hit their teens, or who have but are decidedly in the camp of those who don’t want to grow up just yet ... or what doctors call “Toys-R-Us-itis.”
There’s something appealing about writing for readers at that age, kids who don’t just want that sense of escapism and adventure, but who desperately need it. I recall escaping into the world of books because it was fun, but also because I was made fun of a lot as a kid. I looked a little goofy with big glasses, jug-handle ears, and because I grew up in a low-income trailer park in rural New York. The world was an awkward, confusing, embarrassing, and frustrating place, and I felt like I was always making mistakes. Being able to go to the library and read a Choose Your Own Adventure, or to pick a sword-and-sorcery tale, a book of ghost stories, or a Three Investigator’s mystery from the bookshelves gave me a sense of control and a place to turn to when life got tough. I wouldn’t have said as much when I was young, but that’s inherently what it was.
It was fun and comforting, and those stories of good versus evil, of companionship and loyalty, of imagination and absurdity, they each contributed to who I am today. They each taught me a lesson about right and wrong, and how to carry myself in the world.
Now, I know we live in a modern world of iPhones in every hand and a blaring, color-explosion TV show for every ADHD flick of they eye, but I still say nothing will beat that feeling of curling up in bed at the end of the day with a book and leaping into a fantastic new world.
As an adult, I still do that, and I often look back on my library afternoons in elementary school as some of the best days of my life. And I sometimes re-read those old books: the Lloyd Alexander Prydain Chronicles, the Roald Dahl books, E. B. White, even Frog and Toad. I love the feeling I get from flipping through those pages and feeling the innocence and importance of the morals hidden within. As I write books for all kinds of readers, from noir detective mysteries to steampunk-westerns to more literary stories in the shadow of Steinbeck, I also want to create children's books that harken back to that age of innocence, books for kids that entertain, offer an escape, teach important life lessons, and to speak to kids without dumbing life down for them.
And to borrow an idea from Cormac McCarthy, I write children’s books because it helps me believe that I’m not just carrying the fire, but that I’m passing it on. Reading as a kid was so vital to me, to my development, my memories, my life, and I want to be a part of that for other kids. It’s all I can see myself doing, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it, even if I’m not published yet ... yet.
But I’m getting closer. I finished one middle reader novel called The Little Blue Knight vs. The End of the World, something for the 8-12 age bracket (depending on maturity, of course) and I’ve been shopping that around with agents. Not a lot of luck yet, and the opening may need a tweak, but I have high hopes. I’m tinkering with an idea for a sequel to that book, as well as another new middle reader about growing up in a trailer park (which will include much more Goonies-type adventures mixed with my own memories of day-long hikes through the woods and fields surrounding the park). It’s exciting to put on my children's writer hat at the end of a long day, even if no one outside of beta-readers and myself are sharing the fun just yet, but I’m looking forward to the day when I can get my books into small hands and maybe inspire some kids to write their own stories.