I’m about—oh—three years into my full-time pursuit of a publishing deal. I’ve drafted a handful of adult novels, and have amassed an enormous collection of rejection slips. While my family is offering incredible—incredible—monetary support as I pursue publication, I still want to contribute in some way to household finances…and am teaching piano and guitar lessons.
It’s Halloween afternoon, cold and threatening to rain (as is always the case in the Ozarks on Halloween), and I’ve agreed to meet a few pressed-for-time students at their homes for their lessons before trick-or-treating festivities begin.
I ring a doorbell, and am greeted by a young boy in a black jumpsuit decorated with white bones, his face painted bright green.
“Cool!” I say. “You’re a skeleton.”
My student rolls his eyes, uses his prop to point at the large hat on his head, and announces, “Nooooo. I’m an undead serial-killing cowboy from Mars. With a hatchet.”
Oh. Right. Clearly. My mistake.
Thing is, though, that’s really how imaginations work when you’re younger. You don’t have to be just a cowboy. Just a Martian. There are no hard-and-fast rules. The world seethes with possibility. I saw that over and over again, as I interacted with young students during music lessons…and as I offered English tutorials…and as I even helped judge the local Reflections writing contest for the Springfield Public Schools (where I was introduced, in one submission, to a super hero named H2O Olivia).
Middle grade readers are apt to tell you some of the wildest stories you’ve ever heard (especially if it gets them out of playing the song you know they didn’t practice a lick the week before)…A recurring tale about an invisible man who kept getting into a student’s backyard during the night instantly springs to mind…
The more I talked to my students, the more I started to feel the itch to open the gate on my own imagination, let it run just as free as my students could.
And that was what led me to writing my very first work for kids…
(Below: Me and my, ah, completely bewildered younger brother…Not exactly serial-killing cowboys, but instead, a couple of snow clowns: Mom’s imaginative solution to getting through a particularly wintry Halloween night…)