Friday, November 8, 2013

Writing Fun Books for Kids in One Easy Step -- Step 1: Write a Fun Book for Kids

by Steve "Not a Guru" Hockensmith

Meet the world’s worst creative writing teacher. Me.

I’ve written half a dozen mystery novels (including Midnight Ink’s The White Magic Five and Dime, coming to a bookstore near you next summer!), but what do I say when aspiring writers ask me how to do it themselves? Something along the lines of, “Gosh, I don’t know. Uhh...just keep writing until you figure it out?”

I’ve had more than 30 short stories published in magazines and anthologies, but how do I respond when folks ask me how to write those? Something like, “Umm, I’m not sure...but if you work at it long enough you’ll probably get the hang of it.”

And now as of this week I’m officially an author of kids’ books, thanks to the publication of Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab, a middle-grade mystery I wrote with “Science Bob” Pflugfelder. So what words of wisdom do I have for anyone who’d like to follow in my footsteps?

Come on. Guess.

That’s right. “I’ve got bupkis. But good luck!”

I do think I had an advantage when I started working with Science Bob, though. Well, maybe two advantages. The first was that I was collaborating on a book for kids with a guy called “Science Bob.” How could you go wrong?

The second advantage was that I’d already failed. Twice.

I’d been interested in giving middle-grade books a try for a while, so a couple years ago I started writing one. I had an O.K. premise (though in hindsight it wasn’t particularly fresh) and, hey, I like to think I can put words together (just don’t ask me how). Yet when I started showing folks the first 50 pages, the response was overwhelmingly underwhelming. To sum up the consensus: Meh. Fortunately, all I’d written were those first 50 pages, so it was relatively painless to cut and run.

I started over with a new idea -- one that I now realize was also a bit stale. But that wasn’t even the problem. Projects based on stale ideas are huge successes all the time. Just look at...nah. I’m not going there. James Cameron might read this blog, and what if he’s thinking of making Nick and Tesla: The IMAX 3-D CGI Adventure in Sensurround and Smell-O-Vision?

Anyway, when I started sending around the first 50 pages of Attempted Kids’ Book #2, the crickets I’d heard before went right back to chirping. It was another non-reaction reaction. More shrugs, more “It just doesn’t do it for me.”

So I gave up for a while. Then along came Nick and Tesla, and guess what? Somehow, it just felt right from day one. And when people started reading it, instead of crickets I heard, “I love it!” Why?

I’ve still got bupkis. In terms of theories, anyway. But I do have something tangible: a kids’ book that folks seem to like quite a bit. I have no idea why it turned out so well.

Good thing I didn’t let that stop me, or it wouldn’t exist.

Steve Hockensmith’s novels include the Edgar finalist Holmes on the Range and the New York Times bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls. Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab, the first in a series of collaborations with "Science Bob" Pflugfelder, was recently picked by Amazon as the best middle-grade book of the month.


Beth Groundwater said...

As they say, Steve, the third time's the charm! Good luck with the new book, and I hope you and Science Bob sell a lot of copies.

Steve said...

Thanks, Beth! We seem to be off to a good start. Good thing I'm not in charge of the launch, because I'm a crummy marketing guru, too!