Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Writers Wednesday

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

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!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Wee Words for Wee Ones.

In this season of family togetherness is seemed appropriate to share "Grandparent Poems" collected by John Micklos and illustrated by Layne Johnson.

Micklos' collection of twenty-two poems celebrate the special experiences and memories that grandparents, both past and present, bring to their families. You'll find many familiar poets here: Lee Bennett Hopkins, Nikki Grimes, Mary Ann Hoberman and more.

Johnson's detailed illustrations offer heart-warming portraits of families in a variety of settings.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Write. Sketch. Repeat.

My selection is "Animal Tracks: Wild Poems To Read Aloud" by Charles Ghigna with illustrations by John Speirs.

Ghigna's collection of 32 short poems is an invitation to silly fun that incorporates riddles and puns in verses about a wide variety of animals. The book is an entertaining read-aloud even though some of the wordplay may need interpretation for young readers. But isn't talking about what we read half the fun? An index of the 108 animals mentioned makes finding a poem about your favorite animal easy whether you're looking for hippo, egret or worm.

Speirs' cartoon style watercolors add a jaunty note to compliment the verses.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Writers Wednesday

Mike Artell, the author of SKULLS is featured today and you are in for a genuine treat! Mike is an author, illustrator, and cartoonist with over forty books published. Despite his humble claim that he's not profound you will find some wonderful nuggets of encouragement while you're entertained by his sense of humor. Enjoy!!! 

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
            I’m not sure. I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh and that led to me writing jokes for magazines. Those jokes morphed into simple panel cartoons for trade journals and that evolved into part-time freelance writing/drawing for greeting card companies. One of the greeting card companies had a children’s book division and the art director saw some of my greeting card work and asked me to illustrate a book. After I did that, I asked if they’d be interested in seeing some of my children’s book ideas. They did, liked what they saw and gave me a contract for six books. That’s how I went from class clown to children’s book author/illustrator.

What do you learn about yourself in the process of writing?
            Hmmm…I dunno. Nothing profound. I guess the greatest insight I’ve gotten is that if I don’t stand up and get away from the computer every couple of hours my hamstrings get tight. Is that deep enough?

How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
            Wow. Another deep question. Let’s see…my career success directly influences my income which affects my ability to buy tickets to New Orleans Saints football games.

What do you do when you are not writing?
            I play music. I’ve been playing in bands since I was a teenager.

What led you to write Skulls? 
            My personal interest in the subject and my awareness that young readers (especially boys) like “edgy” non-fiction.

What would you like readers to take from it? 
            A receipt from the bookstore where they bought it.  Yes! Writers do share that goal! 

What are your current/future projects?
            I’m working on a funny graphic novel and a how-to-draw book about military aircraft.

What motivates you?
            I’m a little embarrassed to answer questions like this because I know the question is sincere but I swear to you, I just don’t take myself this seriously. The truth is I just like to make people (especially kids) laugh and I’ve found a way to do it by creating funny words and pictures. It’s my job – it’s not a hobby or an avocation – it’s my job. I treat it like a job. I try to create wonderful books, but I want to create wonderful books that SELL. What motivates me is creating a book that kids love that sells well. Sorry if that sounds unromantic or mercenary, but I think most aspiring authors/illustrators fail because they never understand that publishing is a BUSINESS.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
            I really don’t have a “process” as most people think of it. I’m working on a half-dozen projects at any time and I jump from one to another. When I get deep into a project I may put everything else down for a while and concentrate on it for a couple of weeks, but I do so much traveling that I’m almost never able to work on a single project uninterrupted for more than that. No special routine except that I tend to do my best writing/illustrating in the morning.

How long does it take you to complete a book?
            Humor books and drawing books typically take 4 -6 months. Drawing books a little longer. Non-fiction science books and fiction books take 1 – 3 years depending on how much research I have to do.

What challenges did you face in getting your first book published? 
            Same as anyone else – publishers receive thousands of manuscripts every year but they can only publish a few dozen books. I had to learn to write something that was “different” yet appealed to a broad market. That’s something all writers have to learn. And ultimately writers have to find a way to get noticed. It’s tricky. My background in sales and marketing was immensely valuable when I started out because I understood that I was trying to market a product (my book) to a customer (the publisher). I understood how to “pitch” an idea and how to promote it once it was accepted.  

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
            My biggest influences were comic book writers/illustrators and newspaper comics writers/illustrators. I’ve never been a big novel reader and still mostly read non-fiction. I’m a student of wordplay so most of the “book” writers I enjoyed were humorists such as Ogden Nash.

What are the most important elements of good writing?
            Whew. I understand the question and why you ask it, but I’m not the guy to ask. I’m convinced that most aspiring writers don’t simply want to be good writers. What they REALLY want is to be published. And if they have not been published they assume it’s because they need to improve their writing skills. I just don’t think that’s true. Again…publishing is a business. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your writing is if you’re sending your work to the wrong publisher at the wrong time and you’re marketing it in the wrong way. I don’t know much about how to be a good writer, but I’ve had more than 40 books published so I do know something about how to be a published writer. And I’ve sold a lot of books so I guess people think my writing is pretty good.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
            Nope. Really has never been much of a problem for me.

What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to aspiring writers?
            Finish your book, send it to a publisher and start a new book. Stop massaging it, tweaking it, fine-tuning it or polishing it. You’re doing all that to avoid sending it to a publisher and risking rejection. I get it; I know the feeling, but publishers NEVER come to your house. You have to send your work to them. And please stop showing your work to your friends and relatives. They will ALWAYS tell you that what you’ve written is wonderful, even if it’s not. When it comes to getting published, the publisher’s opinion is really the only one that matters. 

Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book(s)? 

            I have the cutest grandkids in the world. Please don’t doubt me on this. I have photographic proof. 

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer