Multi-talented Derek Taylor Kent is my guest today and you are in for a treat. Derek is an author, screenwriter, performer and director based in Los Angeles. You probably know him best for his award-winning book series SCARY SCHOOL (written under his pen-name Derek the Ghost). Derek is sharing his new bi-lingual picture book EL PERRO CON SOMBRERO. There's a delightful story behind the creation of Derek's new book, but I'll let you discover the details in Derek's words. Enjoy!
How did your interest in writing for children develop?
I had always been writing crazy stories and poems since I was seven years old. Writing stories was my passion as soon as I learned to write. The biggest thing happened when I was fifteen years old and randomly became re-obsessed with Dr. Seuss. I took a creative writing class in high school and tried writing stories in a Seuss-ian style and my teacher helped me hone my craft and fully understand rhythm and meter. I tried writing picture books in a Seuss style for about ten years ( I wrote dozens) which never took off. After college I became obsessed with Harry Potter and realized I needed to be writing novels that weren’t constrained by the need for illustrations. It took me about two years to finish my first chapter book, called Rudy and the Beast: Book 1 – My Homework Ate My Dog! It didn’t get a book deal, but it did land me my agent and a publisher liked it enough to suggest a different take, which become the Scary School series I am now most known for.
How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
I think when you’re a writer it influences all other areas of life because you are always looking at the world through the prism of an observer and storing things away for later use. Everyone you meet or have ever known can inspire characters in your stories, and anything that happens to you is likely to inspire plot and conflict.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Most of my time is spent either:
- Walking/running with my dog
- Shopping for food/cooking food. I am a ridiculous foodie and love trying new places and being adventurous in my eating and cooking.
- I still love playing basketball and coach my league team.
- I’ve gotten very into the realm of Virtual Reality and have been working on and writing projects for that medium.
- Most recently I’ve been helping my girlfriend launch her health coaching business, which you can check out at MichelleFreitas.com.
Briefly, what's your book about?
El Perro con Sombrero is a bilingual book about a homeless dog named Pepe who’s sad because he has no family. But then a lucky sombrero lands on his head and turns his life around! It’s perfect for ages 4 to 8.
What inspired you to write the book?
During a trip to Nicaragua, I was shocked by the number of homeless dogs that lived on the streets. I was working on a movie set and I wondered what might happen if one of the dogs wandered onto the set and became a movie star dog. I was already thinking about getting a dog, and when I got back, I knew it was finally time to adopt one. So I got my pup named Zander. He was so hilarious and mischievous, I just had to write a story about this antics.
What are your current/future projects?
I have many books in the pipeline. You will probably be seeing more El Perro con Sombrero books in the future. I also have a new middle-grade book called Principal Mikey that will be coming in 2016. It’s about a 10-year-old kid who becomes principal of his school.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
I try to write every day. When I’m feeling inspired and loving what I’m writing, I can often write for 5-7 hours a day and finish projects very quickly.
What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Reading Kurt Vonnegut in high school and college solidified in my mind that I wanted to be a writer. I loved how he would incorporate hilarious and inventive short stories within the context of his larger stories. Also how he would snub his nose at the rules, like when he shockingly introduced himself as a character at the end of Breakfast of Champions. My other biggest influences were Louis Sachar. The comedy and tone of Sideways Stories from Wayside School was the basis for the Scary School series. JK Rowling and Dr. Seuss were what made me fall in love with children’s books all over again as an adult.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you deal with that challenge?
The most challenging part is definitely when you’ve spent months or sometimes years focused on a specific project and it doesn’t get published. It feels like a huge waste of time and can make you question your own judgment. I deal with it by self-publishing, so at least I can get the project out there, and just getting to work on a new project so I don’t have time to dwell on it. If you have a lot of insecurity, rejections can be soul-crushing. That’s why it’s a very important trait for writers to have a strong belief in themselves and their ability in order to dust it off and just delve into the next thing. I had a lot of practice dealing with rejection during my 20s when I was acting, so if other writers out there are struggling with this, I’d suggest doing activities where you get rejected all the time so you learn how to deal with it.
Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book?
It’s a great tool for starting kids on learning Spanish, or also for Spanish-speaking kids to learn English. Mothers have been reporting to me that their kids love repeating all the Spanish words in the book because they are fun to say, but were surprised that it triggered an interest in learning a new language and they were asking for more bilingual books!