Today MAX ANDERSON–author of action-adventures and mysteries for middle grade readers–stops by to share some of his secrets for creating stories that reluctant readers love. Mr. Anderson’s latest short story, “Big Foot,” has just been published in LAY-UPS AND LONG SHOTS, an anthology from Darby Creek Publishing.

Did you always want to be a writer?

No I didn’t. I grew up hating to read. My father was the author of over 70 books, and I never read any of them. I’d rather be out playing, as a child, and my interests were more visual as I grew up. That’s why I became involved in the production of dramatic films, video programs, and television commercials. I’d be the last person I would have ever thought might become an author one day.

The events of 9/11 closed many of the doors for my client based video productions and commercials. I was faced with the decision to get out of that business, or find a way to work on something else while I waited for it to return.

I felt compelled to find out why I hadn’t enjoyed reading. What I discovered surprised me, and I charted a course to see if I could make a difference for others who might not enjoy reading today.

Tell us about your short story, “Big Foot,” in the new anthology from Darby Creek—LAY-UPS and LONG SHOTS. What was your inspiration for the story?

From the very beginning of my quest to become an author, my father became my mentor. This was a critical factor in my sticking with the process. But for most of us who are new to writing, the publishing of our work can take a long time. For some, sadly, it may never happen.

I’d had some early success in getting a few books published through a small publisher. There came a time to make a change, because I was writing too much material. I stopped writing book length manuscripts because I had completed 35 of them. Right now I have more than a dozen new book ideas that are ready to be written. Next I focused on finding an agent, and building a stronger platform. I signed with an agent about a year ago.

But while I was searching for the agent, my father suggested I try writing other things. I sold a true story to Guideposts. This was the first short piece I had written. My dad had written a lot of short stories throughout his career. That market is greatly reduced today, but he challenged me to try writing a short story. I wrote a little football story called BIG FOOT. I submitted it to a few magazines, but nothing happened. Then I saw a call for submissions on one of my writer’s online groups. Darby Creek Publishers was planning to publish a sports anthology for tweens and teens. My story fit the age group and the subject matter, so I submitted it. The story was selected to share the pages with children’s authors Joseph Bruchac, Terry Trueman, David Lubar, Dorian Cirrone, CS Perryess, Jamie McEwan, and Peggy Duffy.

This new book was just released on September 1, 2008.

Tell us about some of your other children’s books. I know that you like to write for boy readers primarily. From my school library experience, I know boy readers—especially at the middle grade level—are often reluctant readers. How do you make your books appealing for them?

Because I grew up hating to read, becoming an author of action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys, was a calculated decision. It was a personal challenge, really, to see if I could write the kinds of books I would have enjoyed as a child.

Based on the findings from my research, into why I didn’t like to read, I set out to tell exciting, interesting stories that were highly visual. Readers won’t find excessive details in my books. I use short sentences, lots of heart-pounding action, humor, and dialog. Young readers tell me that reading one of my books is like being in – not watching – but being in an exciting or scary movie. That’s music to my ears.

For many boys, one of my books has been the first that they have ever read all the way through. Families then tend to buy all that are published.

Here are some examples of the comments that I receive:

* “I can’t believe it …. as the concerned mother of two struggling readers (boys ages 13 & 16) .. who is also the daughter of a children’s librarian … I think I have purchased EVERY book recommended for reluctant readers HOWEVER, they have ALL fallen short UNTIL today. We were able to purchase your book from Amazon and we’re hooked !!!

We are now looking for the next one. Any other titles out there ?? Any way to convince you that we need you to write faster ??

I can’t thank you enough for your efforts ………. I actually think I caught my husband listening too!!!”

* “This was one of those books that made me feel like I was right there in the action. I really like the way that you honored those who died in the 9/11 attack and showed that even young people may have a chance to serve our country. The boys seem like normal, everyday boys who like to have fun together and that makes it fun to read about their adventures. “

* “This book was wonderful! I don’t know which book you wrote is better, they’re both my favorites. It’s adventurous, mysterious and leaves you with wanting to know what happens next. I wanted to know what they got in the package. It was so exciting I stayed up almost all night trying to finish the book.”

NEWSPAPER CAPER, TERROR AT WOLF LAKE, NORTH WOODS POACHERS, MOUNTAIN CABIN MYSTERY, BIG RIG RUSTLERS, SECRET OF ABBOTT’S CAVE, & LEGEND OF THE WHITE WOLF are compared by readers and reviewers to Tom Sawyer, The Hardy Boys, Huck Finn, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, Tom Swift, Scooby-Doo, Lemony Snicket, and adventure author Jack London.

Do you experience writer’s block? And if so, how do you deal with it?

So far I can say that I’ve been fortunate in never experiencing writer’s block. I understand it’s a serious problem for writers and sympathize with anyone who faces it. The main reason I don’t encounter it, for the most part, is because before I begin writing, I already know the beginning, middle, and end of the story. I also know who my main character is and what the major thrust of the story will be.

While I’m writing, I use props and photographs to help in setting the scenes. I play mood appropriate music too. That means that while writing a funny scene, I’ll play comedy music in the background. Scary scenes are always written after dark, while spooky or frightening music plays. It’s a very effective way, for me, in order to see the right pictures in my mind.

What I don’t know are the many minor characters, all of the plot twists, or circumstances that will be faced throughout the story. Some of that is as much fun for me to discover as it is for readers.

How do you find your inspiration?

Ideas come from all sorts of sources. Much of it comes from my own days of growing up. Since I used to play with my friends from morning ‘till night, I have a lot of material from those adventure filled days. It’s a wonder some of us are still alive today. But I also find story ideas from the newspaper, reports on the Internet, the evening news, radio reports, magazines, and simple personal observation. Since my film and video productions have taken me all over the country, and around the world, I have a lot of personal experiences, people, and locations from which to draw.

When creating your stories, do you use detailed outlines or write more from a stream-of-consciousness style?

No, I don’t outline. When a story idea first hits me, it has always suggested a title first. I make sure to write that title down, and to create a title page on the computer as soon as possible. I set that aside, mentally, until major impressions begin coming into my thoughts. At first I’ll write those down, no matter where I am.

In the beginning, I used to make those notes no matter where I was. Since my best ideas hit while driving, mowing the grass, or taking a shower, this part of the process can create problems. Driving and note taking became the most dangerous, and showering made for wet floors and messy papers.

After my author-father became my mentor, he suggested a small recorder. Now I keep one of those close during the idea phase. It isn’t unusual for me to be whispering into the thing in the middle of the night sometimes.

Then there comes a time, and I can feel it each time it happens, when I have to stop everything, and tell myself the story, from beginning to end, into the recorder. This usually results in 10 – 12 double spaced, typed pages, but it gives me the framework from which to begin. However, these notes are put aside and not looked at again until the first draft has been finished. I have yet to leave any of those details out, and am always amazed at how the mind works in areas like this.

Normally my writing takes place beginning in the early evening. I’ll write from one to three chapters during each session. A usual completion time for the first draft is two to three weeks.

At the end of each session, I write on a post-it-note what would happen next, if I were to continue writing. This gives me a jumping on point when I sit down to begin the next session. In between times, I can feel my mind working on story elements. Sometimes I have to make notes from these impressions, and sometimes bits and pieces of dialog will come in this way too.

As I write, it is as if I’m watching a film on a screen, and I write what I see and hear. While writing LEGEND OF THE WHITE WOLF, I got so into the story that I couldn’t wait to see how everything was going to turn out, so I finished the first draft in three long days.

Do you have a website or blog where readers can learn more about you and your books?

Yes, I have three of them.

Author web page

Books for Boys blog (Ranks in the top 10 on Google)

50 Pages of Reviews

What advice would you offer aspiring writers?

Never give up on your dream, no matter how discouraging it might get at times. Even if no one in your family or circle of friends understands, don’t worry about it. There is a reason you have that spark inside of you, and not everyone does. Protect that spark, and do everything you can to turn it into a roaring fire within.

At the same time, you need to be realistic. Over 200,000 new books are published each year. Ask yourself why yours is special or different. This is a business, so also try to think like a publisher or editor, and think of yourself as the person who will be reading your proposal or manuscript. Then ask yourself why you would be willing to put your money into this project.

It is important to survey the books that are already in print, but never sacrifice your own unique voice. If becoming published one day is your goal, then make sure you are working toward that goal every day. Join online writers groups, read every book about writing you can get your hands on, and subscribe to at lease one writing magazine. Become a student of the market.

If there were only one point I could make it would be that writing and publishing is a business. It’s nice to think of it as art, and to embrace the creativity factor, but it is a business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *