Just released: Orson Buggy’s Separation Anxiety

In January of 2011, when my first middle-grade/YA book, How to Slay a Dragon, was published by Bell Bridge Books, a date was set for the release of the second story: a date of January, 2012, a full year away. It looked as if the full Journals of Myrth series would not be available for two more years. What’s worse: Bell Bridge Books began to grow, and soon they were handling far more authors and titles than anyone would have predicted. Consequently the second Journals of Myrth story, How to Save a Kingdom, arrived slightly late, debuting in February of this year instead of January.

But then plans were announced to release How to Stop a Witch, the third (and last?) of the Journals of Myrth series, by August. Having just those revisions ahead of me, plus the full-time job, my web master duties, my Space Coast Writers’ Guild responsibilities, my feeble marketing efforts, and my busy family life, I was desperate for something to do. I introduced Orson Buggy’s Lessons for Losers, the first of a new Bumpy Daze of Orson Buggy series for middle-grade readers, in April of this year, then dusted off one of my older works and put out Hanging by a Thread a month later. Now, well before the holidays, I have released the fifth and final book of 2012: Orson Buggy’s Separation Anxiety.

DEAL NEWS: With the release of the second Orson Buggy book, the Kindle version of the first has been reduced to just $.99. If you are someone who likes to laugh, has ever felt the world is out to get you, or just feels a compelling desire to root for the underdog, check out Orson Buggy’s Lessons for Losers here: http://tinyurl.com/aft3vyk

It’s guaranteed to make you chuckle.

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The Idiocracy of Writing for Children

(As originally seen on Book Blather: http://bookblatherblog.blogspot.com/2012/09/dragons-witches-and-bill-allen.html)

As a writer, I spend a great many hours observing the world around me. (Btw, if this is my boss reading this, I’m talking about my free time, of course.) During all of that time observing, I am often reminded of the 2006 movie, “Idiocracy.” Not familiar with the film? It involves a dim-witted man (played by Luke Wilson) who wakes up after 500 years of suspended animation, only to find that society has been so dumbed down over time that he is now the smartest man on Earth.

Far-fetched? Maybe. But then why does the box for my frozen pizza tell me to remove the plastic wrapper before heating it in the oven? And why does the booklet for my electric hairdryer say not to operate it in the shower? Call me crazy, but when the housing on my lawnmower tells me not to reach underneath while the blade is spinning, how much more of a stretch is it to believe that one day plants will stop growing because we’ve been feeding them energy drinks instead of water?

My point? (Surprising how often I’m asked that question, but this once I actually do have one.) It’s hard to keep young readers reading, especially boys. Enter what I call “gross boy humor.” Somewhere along the line, authors admitted that nothing amuses a ten-year-old boy more than a good belch or a silent-but-deadly gas attack. Now, it’s been a while since I laughed hysterically over a bout of projectile vomiting, but I have to admit I have read some great “gross boy books” that do accomplish the seemingly impossible. They make kids laugh and keep them reading. And if the authors can slip in a good lesson while the kids are distracted, all the more power to them. The question I wonder is this: Are we fueling the idiocracy of society?

Normally my answer to these type of questions is a rousing “No!” but remember, I started off by saying I spend a lot of time observing the world around me, and one thing I have observed lately is the number of twenty-something men who still find gross bodily functions hysterical. Has it always been that way? Admittedly I’m a bit past the twenty-something stage in life. Ah, hell, those years are barely visible from here, but as I recall, my appreciation of a good fart had pretty much faded by the end of my teens. So, could there be another way to keep boys reading? After all, the Harry Potter series remained nearly free of bodily functions for seven books, and J. K. Rowling didn’t seem to have trouble reaching readers.

So how can we keep them reading? When I started my Journals of Myrth series, I was going for that “Bob Newhart” feel. Please tell me you remember the “Bob Newhart Show,” or at least “Newhart.” These two hysterical sitcoms had one thing in common: Bob was the only sane person in a world of zany madness. Likewise, in How to Slay a Dragon, when his name is mentioned in a prophecy about slaying dragons, twelve-year-old Greg Hart finds himself the only sane person in a foreign land called Myrth. Obviously there’s been a mistake–Greg couldn’t expect to win a fight against one of the smallest girls at school–but that doesn’t keep everyone on Myrth from believing he will succeed. After all, no prophecy has ever been wrong before.

Along with the absurd situation and characters, I threw in a bunch of word play, puns and (hopefully) witty dialog that I thought both kids and adults would enjoy. Did it work? Well, the kids who have written me seem to share a common thought: “I loved this book! I’ve NEVER READ ANYTHING LIKE IT!” Okay, that last part could be good or bad, but I’m taking it as their plea for more sophisticated humor.

So, now I’m on to a new series with another twelve-year-old character, Orson Buggy. He’s not a hero, nor does anyone expect him to be. He’s just a normal kid trying to survive the seventh grade while everything that can go wrong around him does. Again, with this series I try to keep kids laughing with absurd situations and the humorous inner dialog buzzing around inside Orson’s head. Am I saying Orson will never have an inappropriately timed gas attack? No. I’m not hiding from reality, after all. But if he ever does, you can bet it will be crucial to the story. And regardless of the style of humor, just like with the authors of those “gross boy humor” books boys love, my main goal is to make kids laugh and keep them reading. Oh, and if I can slip in a good lesson while they’re distracted, all the better for me and them.

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Made It Moment

Author Jenny Milchman is the Chair of International Thriller Writers‘ Debut Authors Program and founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which was celebrated in all 50 states and four foreign countries by over 350 bookstores in 2011. Among Jenny’s many efforts to promote authors, writing and reading, Jenny hosts the Made It Moments forum on her blog, which has featured more than 150 international bestsellers, Edgar winners, and independent authors. The following is taken from her July 7, 201 post of my own Made It Moment.

Thanks, Jenny!

How did I know I’d made it? I remember quite clearly:

I have a near Made It Moment when a fellow conference attendee asks agent Elizabeth Pomada whether it was worth flying across the country to find new talent. She says yes, because she found me. I’m ecstatic.

This turns out to be just one of several near misses of my career. Years later I meet Debra Dixon (a.k.a. DD) at the 2010 SCWG conference in Melbourne, Florida. Bell Bridge Books (BBB) is considering handling a few YA titles, so DD asks to see a manuscript, even though they “have no interest in boy books.”

Obviously I hold little hope. Six months pass with no word. Then an email from DD. Someone’s finally reading my story and enjoying it–”a good sign.” I decide against reminding her they aren’t interested in boy books.

A week later, another email. DD’s on her way out of town but says when she returns she’ll mail out a contract. Everyone read my manuscript and is excited to work with me. An obvious Made It Moment, but I’ve been burned too many times to start celebrating just yet.

When I sign the contract I can’t help but focus on the clause that states BBB can back out if they find me difficult to work with. Every time I question a revision I worry the ax is about to fall. Finally How to Slay a Dragon is released. I feel . . . uncertain. Will anyone read it? It hits #1 in children’s fiction. I still have doubts.

Obviously I’m not good at defining success. How about this? My Made It Moment was when a fellow author thought I had accomplished enough that people would want to hear about my Made It Moment. My advice to authors waiting for theirs. Learn the craft, find your voice, and don’t give up until you make it. It will happen in time.

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Get Lost in a Story Interview

The following interview with Donnell Ann Bell was originally posted on the Get Lost in a Story blog (http://getlostinastory.blogspot.com/search/label/Bill%20Allen). The authors who bring us Get Lost in a Story describe their blog this way:

“This multi-genre group of debut authors hopes to create a forum that not only introduces authors to readers, but where we can all explore our love of great storytelling in its various forms. Get Lost In A Story will emphasize interviews and posts primarily about books, but occasionally about television, film or other media, as long as fantastic storytelling is involved. We also offer debut and established authors a chance to promote their upcoming titles to readers, and in doing so, give readers the chance to connect with new and favorite authors, ask questions and make comments. There will be great conversation, fun giveaways, and something new to delight every day.”

And now, the interview:
DONNELL: Hi, Bill, thanks for joining us. If you could live anywhere on earth, where would it be?
BILL: Hi, Donnell, thanks for having me. A lot depends on whether I can also be anything I want, because then I’d want to keep living in my house, but as a cat, having the humans feed me, pick up after me, give me free massages and generally pamper me anytime I make the slightest of noises. If I had to stay human, though, I’d want to be somewhere in the mountains, deep in the woods, where I could ski in the winter and hike all year round. Of course, the way I ski, it would have to be a woods like the Enchanted Forest of Myrth, so the trees could slither out of my way.
DONNELL: You have to stay human 😉 What’s your favorite room in your house?
BILL: Well, there are times when I have a nearly overwhelming desire to be in my bathroom, but if we’re talking true favorites, I’d have to go with the family room, mostly because that’s where the TV is and let’s face it, my wife and I are TV junkies. My computer’s in there too, so I can always write if I’m feeling particularly crazy. We even have a foosball table behind the couch, but before we can use it we have to play another game we call “Sliding Furniture Puzzle.”

DONNELL: Your resume says you are 700 years old. Is that true?
BILL: Now, Donnell, I know you’re not that accustomed to interviewing men, but we’re really not that different from women when it comes to revealing our ages. No matter what you have heard, I have NOT been telling everyone I’m 699 for a few centuries now. The truth is, people only think I’m 700 because I tell so many “back in my day” stories, but if they ever actually paid attention to what I was saying (something few people ever do) they would realize I tell the same stories over and over again. In fact, the older I get, the more likely you are to hear the same tale again, probably five minutes after I told you the first time.
DONNELL: I enjoy interviewing men, but you’re right. I haven’t asked any their ages 😉 You write children’s stories. Is this something that possessed you as a child or something you fell into as an adult?
BILL: I like to tell people I really had no choice but to write for children, since I never fully matured, mentally, but I actually did grow up at one point. It wasn’t until years later that I returned to the mental level of a seventh-grader.
DONNELL: Why do you think that is?
BILL: When I first wrote what would later become How to Slay a Dragon, I wrote it with adult characters for adults. Then I tried to find a publisher. I might as well have tried to fly. Everyone wanted children’s books, so I brushed off my keyboard and got busy rewriting for children. It was way more fun. Of course, by the time I was finished, the children’s market was completely saturated (Timing has never been my thing.) Fortunately J. K. Rowling made tweens start looking for more books to read, so publishers once again became more open to children’s submissions.
DONNELL: So you do have experience writing adult fiction? Talk about the differences between adult fiction and children’s novels.
BILL: For the YA and tween markets, I strongly believe there’s only one difference: the age of the characters. A lot of people think this isn’t true when it comes to humor. They think the subtle nuances that make something funny for adults will be overlooked by tweens. Sometimes they’re right, but children are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. And when it comes to picking up subtle nuances, kids often catch things adults miss. You know, like monsters under the bed and ghosts in the attic. Even if kids do miss a few things, as long as they catch some of the humor they’re going to want to uncover it all. They might even read the book more than once, looking for things they missed. When was the last time you watched a Disney animation or Pixar film? Those guys get it right. They throw in a lot of adult humor because they know parents are going to have to watch the films too. Much of this goes over the heads of the kids watching, but it doesn’t stop them from enjoying those movies and wanting to see them over and over again.
DONNELL: Your stories seem to carry a theme of bullying and underdogs. You’re now a successful children’s author and a software engineer. How much is Bill Allen like Greg Hart or Orson Buggy? And what message do you hope readers take away from your books?
BILL: Okay, you got me. There’s more of the young Bill Allen in both of those characters than I care to admit, from being the scrawniest kid (and therefore the fastest runner) in class, like Greg Hart, to living a life where everything seems to go wrong, like it does for Orson Buggy (Actually that one hasn’t changed a lot since I’ve become an adult.) I would hope that kids who read the Journals of Myrth books learn that being a hero doesn’t necessarily mean bravely facing everything that comes your way. It’s okay to be afraid of the unknown. You just can’t let it stop you from taking the steps you need to move toward your goals. Orson Buggy is a different animal. I’m not sure how far I will carry that series, but the two books I’ve finished so far are so packed full of lessons, I could barely come up with enough humor to hide them all. Orson has an overwhelming number of shortcomings, but since the books are told from his point of view, he doesn’t know about most of them. Over the course of the series I plan to have him learn a lot about relationships that I hope will stick with young readers.
DONNELL: When you’re not writing where will we find you?
BILL: Probably in front of the TV (see previous admission about being a TV junkie). Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not a total couch potato. I’d like you to show me another 700-year-old who’s still playing soccer and sand volleyball every week. But that’s the point. I’m 700 (actually 699) and still playing soccer and sand volleyball every week. I need my recoup time!
DONNELL: So, as a software engineer, I assume you’re organized and have no problem with technology?
BILL: HA!. . . . . . . . Oh, you want more. Being a software engineer provides a constant reminder of how little I know about technology. Most of my time is spent in total overwhelm mode. When I leave work, I try to leave technology behind. I’m the guy that buys the cell phone that can make and receive calls and hopefully do little else. I don’t have a data plan. I’ve set a personal goal to never send a text message, and so far I’ve been successful. As for being organized, I, er, can be (much like the alcoholic who can stop drinking whenever he wants. He just doesn’t want to.) My wife does make fun of me for constantly making lists of things I need to do and then never doing any of them. Hey, I do my part. I put them on the list. It’s not my fault they can’t be done from the couch.
DONNELL: When writing, do you act out your scenes?
BILL: Hmm…I’ll bet you get a lot of interesting answers to this from your many romance author guests, but no, I don’t act them out. Not that I wouldn’t like to, mostly because I’m a firm proponent of the Benjamin Button approach to living life in reverse, and to effectively act out my scenes I’d need to start off by becoming a kid again. To further answer your question though, a lot of times when I’m first writing scenes I’m not clear on what I want to happen, aside from a few key points. During the edits I know what’s going to happen, so I can picture the scene a lot better in my mind, as if I’m watching the characters act on screen. That’s when I get to add in the details that make it come to life, especially when it comes to the timing of all that sarcastic dialog.
DONNELL: Are you superstitious?

BILL: Absolutely not, knock on wood.
DONNELL: If you could meet anyone, past or present who would it be, and why?
BILL: Oh, I see where you’re going with this. You’re fishing for me to say Donnell Bell here, aren’t you? Well, that would be amazing. A lot of other possibilities run through my mind too. Gandhi? John Lennon? Any one of a dozen Victoria Secret models? But if I really had to choose just one, I think I’d like to meet the guy who invented the four-way stop sign. I’ve got some choice words for him.

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Keen Readers Interview

The following is taken from an interview of me by Keen Readers (www.keenreaders.org). Keen Readers is an information hub for parents and mentors of reluctant readers.  They also support and donate books to reading buddy programs and offer features and writing contests for youth.

–Bill

Q. How keen a reader were you as a child?

A. I was about as far from a keen reader as a kid can get. Back then they didn’t diagnose children with ADHD, but if I’d grown up in today’s world, they’d have slapped a label on me and drugged me up with about an elephant’s gun worth of meds for sure. I couldn’t become lost in a story because I couldn’t concentrate. Well, that’s not exactly true. I got lost in books all the time. If the author was good enough to place a picture in my head, I’d be more likely to run with it than to keep reading. My eyes would continue to scan the pages, but then I’d reach the end of a chapter and realize the story I’d been reading wasn’t actually written down. Then I’d have to go back and search for the last thing I remembered from the actual story, most likely a paragraph or two farther along than the last time I dropped focus, and try concentrating again. I’d work my way through books in this manner, scanning the same pages dozens of times without actually reading them, until I eventually reached the end.

Q. What were your favorite books growing up?

A. I remember liking The Adventures of Tom Sawyer a lot, but it probably took me so long to read that I never bothered to check out Huckleberry Finn. The Hardy Boys books were easier because they weren’t as long, but frankly, mysteries are not the best venue for someone who can’t focus.

Q. What made you a keen reader (or are you)?

A. First off, while I’m still not the keen reader I’d like to be, I’m a lot better than I was as a kid. The sad part is I know this is only because my mind has slowed down. Now when it wanders, I can wrangle it back again before it has time to get too far off course. But back to the question: In college, I had way too much class work to add reading for enjoyment. Then after college I became involved in work and read very few books for pleasure until age twenty-five, when I read the entire Hitchhiker’s Guide series while on vacation, the first funny books (not by Dr. Seuss) I ever remember reading. Four years later I met Nancy, the woman who later became my wife. She was the definitive keen reader. She owned thousands of books, and I spent the next few years looking through her collection for more humorous authors. I remember reading a lot of Piers Anthony, Robert Asprin and Terry Pratchett and loving them all.

Q. When did you decide you wanted to write books?

A. Oddly, I had never thought about writing until I met Nancy, even though I had a first cousin, Raymond Feist, who was a huge success as an author. Nancy wanted to write a book but didn’t know how to start, and since I had no idea what I was talking about, I told her it was easy, just start. To show her how easy it was, I sat down and wrote a first chapter, and then since I was anxious to see where the story was going, I wrote more chapters, and more, until I reached the end. The finished book, which I now refer to as The Book That Shall Never Be Named, was gibberish, but I didn’t know this, so I proudly showed it to my cousin Ray, who told me it was gibberish (not his words. He’s far too eloquent a writer for that.) Ray did like my imagination, though—you don’t spend your whole childhood wandering away from the storyline without developing something—and said he thought I could make it as an author if I’d learn the craft. So, after a couple of decades of learning the craft, I’m trying to prove him right. Don’t let the two decades discourage you. I’m sure I could have learned quicker if I knew how to focus.

Q. How did your professional experiences affect how you think about reading and writing?

A. My first job out of school was as a field engineer, always on the road, doing little jobs for some plant in the middle of nowhere, writing a report about what I did, and then heading off to the other side of nowhere. My reports were so complete and so clearly written that our customers were always raving about them, mostly because up until then they had received little more than scribbles on a dirty napkin. But writing fiction is a lot tougher. There was, and still is, much to learn. Anyone serious about writing has to make the effort to learn how. One thing I heard over and over again was that the three most important things an author must do is read, read, read. I knew I was in trouble. But I was serious about being an author, so I started reading everything I could. My engineering background fit in naturally because it has me analyzing everything I read. What worked? What didn’t? What made me laugh? What about it made me laugh? How was it worded? I think this is probably the reason a reviewer recently said that my voice, whether intentionally or not, often sounded like Terry Pratchett’s. I can’t think of a better compliment.

Q. What’s your best advice to parents of teens and pre-teens who want to encourage their kids to read?

A. Find out what your kids enjoy and let them read about it. I used to love motorcycles when I was a boy and ended up subscribing to three different motorcycle magazines. I would read those issues cover to cover, even the ads, and wish for more. Don’t know where your kid’s interests lie? Not everyone is the same, but I think for most kids humor is a great place to start. If you can keep them chuckling, they’ll keep reading. I market my books to “kids age 9 to 90,” but mostly I’m targeting those hard-to-reach boy readers who have the same issues I had as a child. A lot of middle-grade authors manage that (quite well) by using “gross” boy humor. I use a more “cerebral” approach, making up some absurd situation and throwing in a lot of puns and word play that forces the reader to focus on what they’re reading so they don’t miss out on a joke. It doesn’t matter which route you go. Choose the one that keeps your kids turning pages.

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The Five Catch-22s of Publishing

As originally posted on the Bell Books Blog (www.bellbridgebooksblog.com):

If you are a reader, not an author, or you are new to the world of writing, there are some rules of the game of which you may not be aware. In case you weren’t around during (or more likely don’t remember) the 60s and 70s, a catch-22 is a no-win situation involving circular logic. If you have dreams of being an author, catch 22s are something you must learn to embrace.

Anyone who decides to be an author will soon face The First Catch-22 of Publishing: The Need for Unobtainable Experience. No surprise here. It’s a problem shared by those trying to land their first job in any field. Just be prepared. When you send out your premier novel, publishers and agents are going to want to know what else you have published and how successful those projects were.

Uncertain how to handle this crisis, you will no doubt seek out help, during which time you will surely stumble upon The Second Catch-22 of Publishing: The Mystifying Publisher/Agent Relationship. More and more publishers won’t read submissions unless they are presented by a literary agent, but most agents won’t accept a client who has no publishing credentials. Tough break.

Now, I know what a few of you are thinking, “I’ve already been published. I’m safe from the evil Catch-22s of Publishing.” Not so fast. No matter what level of expertise you have achieved, you will always have to deal with The Third Catch-22 of Publishing: the dreaded “Bring Me Something Different” Dilemma. To fully understand this issue, you have to identify with the poor agents and editors who spend their days in a thankless job where they must wade through a ton of (let’s be honest) not-so-good manuscripts, hoping to find one that stands out from the crowd. They’ve seen the same old stories hundreds, maybe thousands of times, this week, and if they have to read another They Just Might SCREAM!

These hapless souls long for something unique, something that makes their eyes pop wide and their mouths drop open and forces them to shout, “I found it!  I finally found something DIFFERENT.” It’s these rare, cherished moments that give them a sense of accomplishment. They can stand proud, knowing all their hours of hard work truly do make a difference, at least up until the moment the marketing department shoots down the project, claiming “Too much risk. We’ve never done anything like this before.”  So sad.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Fourth Catch-22 of Publishing: The Tootsie Effect. While you’re out on the web figuring out where you can download Catch-22, you might want to also look for Tootsie, the 1982 comedy starring  Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange. Go ahead, I’ll wait while you review the film.

Okay, remember the scene where Michael (Dustin Hoffman), dressed as a woman (Tootsie), has a heart-to-heart with the beautiful Julie (Jessica Lange)? Julie is tired of men approaching her with lame pick-up lines and tells Tootsie/Michael (in no uncertain terms) the line that she wishes men would use on her. Later in the film, Michael, dressed as Michael, runs into Julie and uses her own pick-up line on her, word-for-word, to which he is rewarded with a drink in his face.

Now, I have never had a publisher throw a drink in my face, although once one did drip tarter sauce on my shoe, but I do know that if you give these people exactly what they ask for, just like Jessica Lange, they won’t be happy. It’s not their fault. They are wonderful people who truly mean well. But it all goes back to their having to read so many “not-so-good” manuscripts, and how they’re tired of seeing authors make the same mistakes over and over again. So tired that they create for themselves a set of rigid rules authors must follow. Problem is, prose that never breaks the rules will come across flat and lifeless. You can’t hope to grab their attention this way (see The Third Catch-22 of Publishing).

So what do you do? The only thing you can. Listen to the publishers and agents. Learn their rules. Know why they exist. Respect them. Honor them. Revere them. Now stop worrying. Write what you love the way you love to write it. If you do, your voice will shine through, and no one is going to notice a few rules getting bent, or even annihilated. If you write a good story someone will recognize your work for what it is and want to publish it. Then you’ll have nothing left to worry about…except, of course, for The Fifth Catch-22 of Publishing: “We all love your voice, now let’s turn this over to our line editor for a “light” edit…”

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Children?

As originally posted on the Bell Books Blog (www.bellbridgebooksblog.com):

I cannot begin to count the times when, upon seeing the stack of “dragon” books arrayed before me on a book-signing table, some potential reader has asked, “How old are your children?” a question that always triggers the same response.

“Children?”

If curiosity overcomes their need to sidle away at that point, they no doubt want to know how I came to be an author of children’s books. This is usually when I explain how I really had no choice, as I never fully matured, mentally, but truth be told, I actually did grow up at one point. It was not until years later that I returned to the mental level of a seventh-grader.

Though I didn’t recognize it at the time, the humor-writing seed was first planted when I read Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. To this day I’m not sure what age Hitchhiker’s Guide humor was intended for, but at the time I was twenty-five and thought Douglas Adams was hilarious.

A few years later I met Nancy, the woman who will surely be the topic of many future blogs but back then was just some crazy girl who would later become my wife. I was not exactly what you would call an avid reader, having read exactly four books since leaving college, all of them from the Hitchhiker’s Guide “trilogy.” Nancy, however, owned hundreds, if not thousands of books, mostly in the science fiction/fantasy genre, and hearing of my unquenchable appetite for humor books, she steered me toward Piers Anthony’s Xanth series.

I was an ancient twenty-nine when I read that first Xanth novel, so naturally I didn’t think of what I was reading as a children’s book. This could explain why my first “Journals of Myrth” story, with its many Xanth-like puns, was originally written with all adult characters. Not until I bundled it up and sent it off to that first publisher did I realize the type of books I enjoyed reading and writing were meant for children.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. This guy really didn’t mature, mentally, did he? Maybe not. But once I realized that and rewrote my first Myrth book with child characters, I knew I had found my calling. Problem was, without children of my own to remind me what it was like to be a seventh-grader, I was forced to rely on my memories. I was in serious trouble.

Nancy can attest to the fact that I remember little about what happened before the age of twenty, or after. I do, however, seem to recall those preteen years as the one short-lived period of my life when I knew absolutely everything. Sure, there were awkward moments, some ninety-nine percent of the time, but even then I saw the humor in those many ridiculous, embarrassing situations. I didn’t know when or how, but I knew someday I would use those absurd experiences to my advantage.

Otherwise, what would be the point of having suffered all of that misery and humiliation?

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