I've found that writing can be a voyage of self-discovery -- finding what motivates us to put pen to paper, creating that personal connection with young readers, and learning how to listen to and trust our uniquely individual voices.
How does John Everson, known to his audience as an award-winning mass market horror author discover his inner child and end up writing a children's picture book?
John shares his journey in today's guest post --
From telling tales of the crypt to spinning stories about Peteyboo and the Worm
By John Everson
I never set out to be a children’s author. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But I’ve spent the last 20 years writing horror stories for adults.
My first novel, Covenant, won a Bram Stoker Award when it came out on an independent press and was subsequently released by a New York publisher in mass market paperback – that was a dream come true for me; my book was in stores everywhere on the same shelves as Stephen King and Clive Barker. Over the next few years, I followed that with five more horror novels.
But something else happened during that time.
I had a son.
Shaun is an amazing, beautiful, smart and funny kid who at 18 months old knew his alphabet and was starting to spell simple words. He’s the best thing that ever happened in my life.
Fast forward a couple years, and while I was still telling creepy stories to adults, I was also indulging in fanciful stories with my son. Shaun and I frequently played a game of imagination – telling each other silly stories, trying to top each other with crazy characters and situations.
And that’s how Peteyboo, a bug with 37 eyes and 18 legs was born. I made that story up on the spur of the moment for Shaun when he was around four years old, and he loved it.
Shaun turns 7 years old this week, and while we’ve long forgotten most of the impromptu stories that we made up during that time, Peteyboo has survived. Shaun kept asking me to tell him the story of Peteyboo and the Worm, and almost every time, he’d stop me, because I forgot a part. So eventually, I wrote the whole thing down, so I wouldn’t forget. (I have a terrible memory… maybe that’s why I am a writer – I put things on paper to remember them!)
I loved those seat-of-your-pants storytelling sessions, because they made him so happy. But they did another thing. They also freed my inner storyteller to a level he hadn’t reached before. When you’re making things up for kids, you can really let your imagination roam. Every time we told stories to each other, it pushed me to be a better storyteller… because I had to come up with inventive things fast and on-the-fly. If they didn’t hold his interest, I knew it pretty quick.
I think Shaun loved Peteyboo for a couple reasons.
One – he was a weird creature, with lots of legs and eyes.
Two, he was a sad creature, because he had no friends. Shaun is an only child, and so yearning for someone to play with rings true with him. I suppose I knew that when I told him the story, and that’s why Peteyboo forges an unlikely friendship with a worm… and the two creatures find ways to help each other and play together. Peteyboo shares a strawberry with Worm, and then shows Worm how to overcome his lack of legs. And later, Worm teaches Peteyboo to trust, as they take a swim in the pond (where not having legs turns out to be an advantage). Together, they’re a better team than either of them are as individual creatures alone.
If ours was a normal household, Peteyboo would have eventually just disappeared into a stack of Shaun’s discarded drawings. But our house isn’t quite that normal – I have lots of books on our bookshelves with my name on the spine. And Shaun would come with me sometimes to book signings at Borders and Barnes & Noble stores. One day he asked me, “Dada, when is Peteyboo going to be in a real book, like your other stories?”
I gave that some thought and realized pretty quickly that trying to start a whole new career as a kids book writer wasn’t going to happen overnight. If I submitted the story to publishers and waited for them to A) buy it and B) pair me up with an artist to illustrate the tale… it would take months or years before the Peteyboo book was out. By then, Shaun probably wouldn’t care much anymore. So I decided to pull together a homemade chapbook version of Peteyboo and the Worm for Shaun. My day job was in desktop magazine publishing, so the layout was no issue, but I needed something to make the book special, not just a bunch of words. And I didn’t want to use clip art.
So I asked Shaun to help. The Peteyboo book became a joint project for us -- I asked him to draw for me what he thought Peteyboo looked like. And then I asked him to draw a strawberry. And the worm… and little by little, he drew a bunch of illustrations for the book, after each one asking me, “is that OK, Dada?” Sometimes I asked him to fill in the sky better, or the grass… and he’d comply, very serious about the whole project.
Eventually, I scanned them all in, designed the pages and printed out a nice chapbook with color art from my son… and thought that was the end of it.
But then the book made its way to kindergarten and First Grade when first his teacher and then my wife read it to the classes. And his friends started asking if they could get copies for their iPads.
I took the next step, and turned the chapbook into an ebook. I even recorded an audio narration of the story, so kids can listen to me read it while they follow along (there’s a link to the audio file at the back of the ebook).
And here we are. Now kids all over the world can download the book from Amazon and read the story of a bug with 37 eyes and 18 legs.
Before Peteyboo, I had written fantasy stories with a teen as a lead character, and those stories could be enjoyed by both kids and adults… but most of my catalogue? Definitely for older readers.
Now, I have somewhat accidentally written and published a book for young children. And Shaun and his friends think it’s pretty cool.
Actually, I think it’s pretty cool too. I loved the process of creating Peteyboo, and I loved its purity of message. I’d love to spend more time working on stories that children would enjoy, because those are the kinds of stories that turned me into a reader… and eventually, a writer.
Of course, I have an adult novel about mutant spiders that I’m contracted to finish first… but there is another story I have in my back pocket that I’d like to get out in time for Shaun to read while he’s in grade school. It’s a story of goblins and half-breed trolls and a witch.
I’m hoping he and his friends enjoy that as much as they have Peteyboo and the Worm.