Thursday, February 04, 2010

How & Why I Became A Writer For Children

I would have to credit my parents’ influence for preparing me as a writer. In fact, my first published book, Newspaper Caper, is dedicated to them. The dedication reads, “To my parents, Ken and Doris Anderson, who have written so many important chapters in my life.”

My father was one of these can-do people who blazed a pioneer’s trail in the field of Christian film production for use in churches. He also was the author of over 70 books. But he traveled a lot, causing my mother to shoulder much of the load. And this was in a family of seven children. I have two brothers and two sisters older than me, and a brother and sister who are younger. In a family that size, there are things that can fall through the cracks. I’m sure no one was watching to see if little Max was reading books or not. I wasn’t.

Because of my father’s work in film, I gravitated to the more visual side of communication. As a child, I was absolutely fascinated by the filmmaking process. In fact, at the age of 8, I was “killed” by a hit-and-run driver while riding my bike. Fortunately, since the film I was in was being shot in black and white, the blood coming from my nose, mouth, and ear, actually originated in a chocolate syrup bottle.

My mother read to us when we were young, and when my dad was home, he was home. On many nights, in a totally darkened room, he’d tell us some of the most fantastic, exciting, and scary stories I’ve ever heard. The combination of parental input, coupled with being around film production at a very young age, gave me the seeds I needed to begin writing stories of my own. Before I started writing, I too, often told my own children original stories at night. I have also been involved in the production of films, television commercials, and video programs all of my life. These elements tend to find their way into the stories I’m writing today.

I grew up in a time before television. Imagine that! We had radio dramas, especially on Saturday mornings, but most of our fun came from situations we’d make up ourselves. It wasn’t unusual, during the summer, for me to hit the back door when the sun came up, and not return until dark. During that time, along with a core group of friends, we invented characters, situations, and adventures that captured our imaginations. We lived way out in the country, surrounded by lakes and dense woods.
                                                                                                            I know that many of the characters in my books consist of kids I grew up with, went to school with, or played with. As I’m writing a story, I feel as if I have physically entered into the various scenes myself, mentally. I also hear the dialog in my head and actually interact with others in the scene.

For me, the title always comes first. This is quickly followed by who the main character is, what his conflicting issues are, his challenges, strengths, and weaknesses. That is followed by a flood of impressions during which the entire story bombards my mind. I used to try to write it all down, and this was quite frustrating. Then I switched to a process of recording the story elements into a small tape recorder. Those notes are typed for future reference.

So, the basic story comes all at once. Then, as I write, the rest of the story literally unfolds as if I’m seeing a movie for the very first time. I don’t do any extensive outlining, though I already know the beginning, middle, and end. It’s all the other, more intricate elements, like additional characters, scenes, and issues, that show up as I go.

I believe that my film production experiences have everything to do with the kind of writer I am today. It might sound funny, but when I began to write, and people asked me about my work, I would often begin by talking about the manuscripts or stories as films. Then I’d have to catch myself and say, “No. I mean the book I’m writing.”

Many of the locations for my books come from places in the country or world where I’ve previously produced films and video programs.

Since I think visually, I write visually as well. My films…I mean books, don’t have large blocks of type to bog down readers. I don’t spend a lot of time on details to pad the books in order to make them longer. Like a good film, my books get the preliminaries out of the way as soon as possible, set the conflict, and then the adventure begins. The reader had better hang on tight from that point to the end.

Young readers tell me that reading one of my books is like being in, not reading, but being in an exciting or scary movie. I like hearing that a lot.
                                                                                                      Since I have extensive experience in the production of dramatic films for children, I learned something very early. We made a couple of films that featured a girl’s story. Boys hated those and wouldn’t watch them. However, girls were much more tolerant, and actually enjoyed the adventure films we produced about boys. I like to think of my books in terms of that same model. I also felt that there were plenty of books already being written primarily for girls. Though my books are first intended for boys, I know girls are avid readers of them as well. I’ve also gotten interesting feedback from adults. One woman told me she stayed up way too late one night because she just had to find out how the book ended. She was late to work the next morning.

I’ve heard from their wives, that some men have picked up one of my books because of all the excitement they heard from their children. They were skeptical that any book could be all that interesting. But this became the first time they had ever read a book, all the way through, in their lives.

Parents and teachers know that reluctant readers present a very serious problem. In some cases, my books are not the answer when a child has vision problems, or struggles with conditions like dyslexia. When it comes to a truly reluctant reader, the key is to find something that is of interest to that child. It could be as simple as comic books at first, or the sports page in the local newspaper. I’ve encouraged parents to choose material that is below grade level in the early stages, including picture books, even though the child might seem too old for those.

Stepping up from there, I’ve heard from several parents that the key in their home was to begin by reading out loud together. Many have found that it didn’t take long until their child wanted to take my books and read on their own. One of the funniest things I heard was when a very reluctant reader boy stormed into the room and told his mother, “I know what that guy is trying to do.” “What?” his mother asked. “He’s trying to get me to read the next chapter.” He went on to explain how the chapter he’d just finished, ended with a cliffhanger, nearly forcing him to read the next chapter, which is exactly what he did.

In addition to the above examples, some parents have used computer time, video games, or playing outside, as rewards. “Read three chapters, and you can…” Certainly each family will dictate what works or is appropriate. All I can tell you is that once kids get hooked on one of my books, they don’t want to stop reading. I’ve heard it over, and over again from parents or from the children themselves. I think it goes back to the fact that my books truly are visual, like the highly visual world where our children are living today.

At the time I started writing, I was concerned about boys who were growing up without a positive male role model in their lives. In a small way, the adult males in my stories are an attempt to provide models that a reader can tuck away in his mind, for a time in the future when he might start his own family. Regardless of how his real-world family experience might have been, he would have the seeds of the husband, man, and father he could become one day.

My job is just to sow into the next generation the most important things that have been sown into my life to this point.

Max Elliot Anderson

NOTE: Comming in June, 2010, book # 1 in the
Sam Butler Adventure Series
Lost Island Smugglers!


Anonymous said...

My friend and I were recently talking about the prevalence of technology in our day to day lives. Reading this post makes me think back to that debate we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as memory gets less expensive, the possibility of copying our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I daydream about all the time.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]r4i ds[/url] DS NePof)

Pete said...

Truely inspirational, I'm very humbled by your work, I've only written a few stories with my son. We both love the process and sparking each others imagination. The smiles and laughter as we read the stories back at bed time is truely priceless.

I know that I'm no Wordsworth but the stories do bring such joy to our lives, so surely thats enough?

Have a look and see what you think.
All the very best