Novella: Argonaut

Yeah, I haven’t written anything here for a while.

Because, you know, there’s a pandemic happening, and things are strange and uncertain. And for the most part, things feel kind of paused, frozen in a stasis of some kind, as we all wait for what comes next.

Within that, it hasn’t felt like the ideal time to write, even though we have more time for such, given we can’t do much else.

It all feels a little like watching static on a TV screen. Things are happening, but nothing really is. Nothing really seems to change.

But I am still working different things, and recently, I took a shot at entering the Griffith Novella Competition for 2020.

I didn’t win, which is fine – the calibre of entries is no doubt high, and my story wasn’t essentially written for the distinct theme of theme of the competition. But I had a shot at it with a story in which I tried to capture a part of what it felt like growing up in regional Victoria in the early nineties.

That story, titled ‘Argonaut’, is just going to sit on my hard drive gathering virtual dust, so I figured I’d post it here.

If you’re looking for something to read, or you’re, for some reason, interested in what it felt like growing up in Kinglake (before the 2009 bushfires), feel free to take a look – and if you have any thoughts/comments, let me know.

Argonaut

screenwriting upgrades

Here’s a writing exercise that I absolutely don’t recommend, but could be helpful if, you know, you have time on your hands.

Over the last month or so, I’ve been working on converting one of my unpublished manuscripts into a screenplay, both as a means of providing an alternate path to some form of publication (given shrinking opportunities in publishing, with the impacts of COVID-19 set to narrow such even further), and as an exercise to see whether I could do it, and what might come from actually sitting down and writing something in an alternate format.

I’m not entirely new to screenwriting – my first novel, Rohypnol, was optioned for a film version, and I worked on the screenplay with the production team from Seed Productions. But still, I’m no expert, and given the format-specific considerations of screenwriting, it’s a very different challenge, one which makes you look at your work in a new way, focusing on visuals and dialogue, without the capacity to explore each character’s emotional responses in-depth.

That different angle has helped me improve much of the dialogue in the novel manuscript. Once you’re writing down what you want people to say, you think about the exchanges in a different mindset, and it made me re-examine each of the spoken terms and responses in the story, and has made them feel much more natural and realistic.

But additionally, it helped me come up with an entirely new ending to my novel, which better summarizes the key themes and concepts, and feels much more satisfying as a whole.

I’ve never been great at endings. It’s very difficult to come up with something that feels complete, that feels like it’s pulled all the threads of the story back in and solidified the world into a new, different reality, incorporating the lessons learned. It generally takes me a while to think and re-think how the ending will look – and when I put the original ending of this story down in screenplay form, it didn’t feel satisfying. If I were watching the film version, I think it would have felt incomplete, like it was a bit too abrupt.

So I changed it in the screenplay, and I’m now working on changing it in the novel as well. Which, of course, then also means re-examining every part of the manuscript, ensuring that every story element, every chapter, every scene, all moves towards that final goal. For the most part, I know that it does, but it’s another month of work to check through, section-by-section, in order to ensure that everything’s in its right place.

So, as a writing exercise, it’s been very beneficial. But it’s also a significant exercise to undertake. As a lesson, it may well be worth considering how your particularly dialogue-heavy sections would work in screenplay mode, and how you would feel if you handed them to professional actors as something you wanted them to read out.

Would it make sense? Would it flow well, and feel real – and would it convey the emotion you’re looking to express, if they had no other cues, no other indicators other than the words on the page?

Of course, everyone visualizes their story differently, but for me, it definitely made me see at least some elements in a different light.

Hopefully, that leads to better outcomes for both versions of the story.

 

Tips for Book Promotion Amid COVID-19 Lockdowns

It’s very difficult to contemplate the full extent of the impacts of the current shutdowns around the world due to COVID-19, and they only look set to get worse, at least in the foreseeable future.

The amount of people affected by the virus, both directly and indirectly, will be in the billions, and while our main focus needs to be on slowing the spread, and saving as many people as possible from the outbreak, the resultant actions will also mean job losses, income reductions and rising hardship across the board. And among the sectors hardest hit will be artists, with the shutdowns making it increasingly difficult to gain exposure, to build an audience, and to generate income from their work.

That, of course, incorporates authors, and those seeking to promote their books to audiences.

I’ve written before about the already challenging environment for authors in Australia, with fewer literary events, fewer bookshops and fewer opportunities for exposure. More than compound these problems, COVID-19 has virtually eliminated these avenues entirely – which means that authors need to turn to online promotional methods to get the word out, and build buzz through digital means.

Now, that’s not impossible. I’ve also written a detailed guide for how authors can, for example, utilize social media platforms for promotion, which is one element that all artists need to consider. The problem is that it can take time to build social media traction – and while you can (and should) use ads on Facebook and Instagram to expand your reach and awareness, that’s not always so simple, with the complexities of ad targeting providing their own challenges.

But digital tools can work, and can offer great reach potential, if you know how to use them. To help, here are some quick tips for how authors can maximize their online presence and expand their audience reach.

Social Media Ads

Social media advertising is complex, and targeting the right people, on the right platforms, can take years of research and understanding in order to get it right. But it can, absolutely, work – and you should, absolutely, be considering it in the current environment.

So how can you reach the right people for your book?

A key option you should consider is Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences, and expanding your presence by reaching the exact right people who’ll be interested in what you do.

lookalike

Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences cross-match your existing audience data with other people on Facebook who share similar traits. Through this, you can get your ads in front of people who may not be aware of you or your books, but who will likely be interested, based on their related habits.

And they can be very accurate – Facebook has a database od some 2.5 billion people, and for each of them it has a profile, which includes a list of everything they’ve engaged with, every Page they’ve followed, every Like they’ve ever given. With that insight, Facebook can provide very accurate audience matches – it’s not simply matching, say, someone who like British crime shows with books by Agatha Christie, it goes far deeper, and connects hundreds of correlating trends in order to hone in on those who are very likely to be interested in the same things.

So how can you use this?

Probably the best way to do this is to first create a Custom Audience in your Facebook ads options. You can find this in the ‘Audience’ section of your Ad Setup. Under ‘Create New Audience’, click on ‘Create New’, then ‘Custom Audience’. When you do that, you’ll be given a set of options – select ‘Facebook Page’ as your source for your Custom Audience info.

custom

As you can see here, one of the options here is to create an audience of ‘Everyone who engaged with your Page’ with a time frame. This is significant, because for most people, a lot of their Facebook Page likes are from friends and family, and you don’t really want to target them. Targeting those people who’ve actually engaged with your posts is a better option – and if you’ve only just started talking about your new book, you can narrow down the time frame, further refining your audience.

From here, you can create an audience of people who’ve engaged with your Page, and you can then target these people, who’ve shown interest in your writing in the past, with Facebook ads about your new book.

But we want to expand beyond this – the next step, from here, is to go through the Lookalike Audience process. Lookalike Audiences are available via the same steps as a Custom Audience, but when you get to the set-up stage, you need to enter an existing, created audience to use as the basis. And you now have one, in the Custom Audience you just made of people who’ve engaged with your posts.

In the data source, select the name of the Custom Audience you just created, and use that as your basis for lookalike matching.

looker

Now, Facebook will provide you with an audience of people who match the profiles of those who’ve already engaged with your content, and will likely be interested in what you do.

From here, you need to experiment and see what results you get, then double down on the results and hone in further. You can then look into more complex ad targeting options (Facebook Pixel, segmentation, etc.), but for starters, this will help to expand your audience on Facebook, and reach people who are increasingly likely to be interested in your books.

Instagram Stories

Think you’re too out of the loop to utilize Instagram Stories? Think again.

Stories are where Facebook sees social media interaction headed – in fact, Facebook has repeatedly noted that Stories are on track to overtake the main News Feed as the key engagement surface in its apps.

fb new feed f83

This chart was created in 2017 – Facebook hasn’t provided an updated listing, but you can see that Stories usage will likely overtake the News Feed, if it hasn’t already. And that’s definitely worth noting.

Stories are most popular on Instagram, where they get prime placement at the top of the app.

Insta1 (1)

More than half of all Instagram users engage with Stories every day – and in Australia, that equates to more than 4.7 million Instagram Stories users, every day.

With that type of placement, and that type of reach, you need to consider how you can use Stories in your promotional efforts.

You can re-share Stories that mention your book, which is a good way to amplify word of mouth, while you can also create quick snapshots and updates which are non-intrusive, and easy for your audience to take in.

Of course, the only people who’ll see your Stories are those who already follow your Instagram profile, but you can promote your Instagram presence on other platforms in order to grow your audience, and direct people towards your Stories as a means to keep them updated.

Another good way to build your Stories audience is by doing Instagram Live streams. Instagram Live video streams are available in the same place as Stories, so by getting your audience to tune in, you’re also promoting your Instagram presence, and promoting your Stories at the same time.

If you haven’t considered Stories, you should – they have great reach, they’re simple, and there’s a heap of creative options to consider to make your Stories look great.

Virtual Book Launches

Another opportunity to think about is virtual book launches, and engaging your community via digital tools like live-streaming.

Author Lauren Chater recently launched her new book via Facebook Live, and while many have dismissed streaming, and indeed Facebook generally, as a less effective promotional vehicle for books, right now, with everyone stuck at home, it’s actually far more effective than you might expect.

chzates Lauren’s stream had, on average, 100 concurrent viewers throughout, which is a solid audience for a book launch. And while Lauren won’t get the benefit of in-person engagement, and a multiple bookshop tour, Lauren’s digital launch showed that you can still effectively connect with an audience, without being physically present.

At the time of writing, Lauren’s launch video is up to 4.2k total views – which is an added benefit, you not only get that immediate audience who tune in when the video is live, but also repeat views over time. The video also has 339 comments, people who Lauren can respond to, and further build her audience. Not all of those viewers, of course, will end up buying the book – but if even a quarter of them do, that’s a solid start, and could help to kick-off a big word-of-mouth push.

These are just some of entry-level options you can consider for book promotion via online means. And while they won’t give you the immediate exposure to a reading audience that a literary festival appearance would, they each provide ways in which you can expand your audience, and give your books a push – even if you can’t leave your house to do it.

In a Tub – by Amy Hempel

Reasons to LiveMy heart – I thought it stopped. So I got in my car and headed for God. I passed two churches with cars parked in front. Then I stopped at the third because no one else had. It was early afternoon, the middle of the week. I chose a pew in the center of the rows. Episcopal or Methodist, it didn’t make any difference. It was as quiet as a church. I thought about the feeling of the long missed beat, and the tumble of the next ones as they rushed to fill the space. I sat there – in the high brace of quiet and stained glass – and I listened.

At the back of my house I can stand in the light from the sliding glass door and look out onto the deck. The deck is planted with marguerites and succulents in red clay pots. One of the pots is empty. It is shallow and broad, and filled with water like a birdbath.

My cat takes naps in the windowbox. Her gray chin is powdered with the iridescent dust from butterfly wings. If I tap on the glass, the cat will not look up. The sound that I make is not food.

When I was a girl I sneaked out at night. I pressed myself to hedges and fitted the shadows of trees. I went to a construction site near the lake. I took a concrete-mixing tub, slid it to the shore, and sat down inside it like a saucer. I would push off from the sand with one stolen oar and float, hearing nothing, for hours.

The birdbath is shaped like that tub.

I look at my nails in the harsh bathroom light. The scare will appear as a ripple at the base. It will take a couple of weeks to see.

I lock the door and run a tub of water.

Most of the time you don’t really hear it. A pulse is a thing that you feel. Even if you are somewhat quiet. Sometimes you hear it through the pillow at night. But I know that there is a place where you can hear it even better than that. Here is what you do. You ease yourself into a tub of water, you ease yourself down. You lie back and wait for the ripples to smooth away. Then you take a deep breath, and slide your head under, and listen for the playfulness of your heart.

From ‘Reasons to Live‘ by Amy Hempel

 

Character perspective

I sometimes wonder about the impact of writing on your mental health.

Not in a general sense – studies have shown that there are strong correlations between creative writing and mental health benefits, largely due to “cathartic expression of thoughts and feelings”.

I have little doubt that creative writing can be good for you mentally, but when you’re actually doing it, when you’re in the process of creating characters, and really getting into their heads, their motivations and logic, sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. And that can spill over into your day-to-day life.

I’ve noted this when I’m writing particularly tough characters or scenes, and forcing myself to try and understand and see things from their perspective. After I’ve finished my writing session for the day, I might feel down or angry, and for a moment, I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because of that delving, that shifting of your perspective into that of the character. It’s not a lingering feeling, it generally goes away again pretty quick. But I have wondered what it must be like for my wife, and for others who live alongside at times unintentionally moody writing types.

Novelist Jeff Vandermeer, who wrote the excellent Southern Reach Trilogy, touches on this in his essay about writing the series.

Vandermeer writes about how he struggles to concentrate on anything other than the story when he’s working, and that often impacts on his real-world perception:

“It’s as if my writing self has signed some contract with the outside world, allowing my everyday surroundings to be overtaken by the terroir of my novel. As a result of this contract, a lot of weird stuff happens and I’m able to transform it into fiction.”

Vandermeer further explains some of his surreal experiences, which all tie back into the themes of his novels, and can only, logically, be linked together by his brain trying to make sense of the various inputs and mashing them together. The experiences can make him feel paranoid and disoriented, which is similar to my own view – and when you’re writing about things like a father seeking revenge against the person who killed his son, and really trying to understand the true hurt and anger and pain of that perspective, that can, at times, be problematic.

I guess, the only thing you can do is to be aware of such – when you’re working on something, and you’re heavily, emotionally invested in the work, it’s likely going to have an impact on your perception. But it’s probably not your perspective that’s problematic, it’s seeing things through the characters’ eyes which alters your response.

Maybe take a moment to decompress when writing, shift out of that mode and dial it back. Do something simple to break away from it, and try to remain aware of your own perspective versus that of the character.

Or maybe it’s not everyone, I don’t know. But I certainly experience the overflow of character emotion into my real-life.

 

 

 

Art history

It’s incredibly frustrating that so many people seemingly fail to recognize the connection between arts and broader societal shifts.

Arts is often seen as an easy way out, a lazy career path. ‘Oh, you want to paint pictures and write stories – go get a real job’. And I get it, I understand the practical perspective that creative arts don’t directly impact anything of ‘real world’ significance. But that perspective is wrong, and that viewpoint fails to connect the dots between the messaging people consume and how that impacts their thinking – and how that then translates into more widespread social movements, enabling change.

I’ll give you some examples:

  • In 1906, after reading Upton Sinclair’s novel ‘The Jungle’, which explored the horrendous working conditions or primarily immigrant labourers in Chicago’s meat-packing industry, US President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned an investigation into the sector. That initial action paved the way for the current Food and Drug Administration, upholding standards in the industry.
  • In a more modern example – in 2014, researchers found that adults who’d read the Harry Potter series as kids were significantly less likely to be prejudiced toward minority groups
  • An even more modern example – just this week, Oklahoma leaders announced that the state will embed the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre into the curriculum of all Oklahoma schools, following the inclusion of the real-life event in the recent TV expansion of Watchmen.

These are works of fiction that have inspired real change – real-world impacts as a result of creative arts. It’s not always obvious, but the art that people consume, that people connect with, it can change their perspective. And on a broad enough scale, that can literally change the world.

That’s why it’s so disappointing to see the current Australian government reduce the focus on arts and cut arts funding, why it’s so disheartening to see literature getting less and less focus at our major writers’ festivals and events. Those shifts, in large part, are driven by commercial realities, which govern priority based on financial return. And I get that, I understand the business logic – but what we’re potentially losing by reducing the focus on arts is likely more significant than any spreadsheet would suggest.

That’s why we need more arts funding, why we need to support art where we can, and encourage exploration of creative elements. Because that’s how we grow, how we advance. Maybe you don’t see it, initially, but arts provide perspective, like nothing else can.

That doesn’t mean that every book has to have an overt political meaning, but what we need is perspective. From all different people, in different art forms. The capacity to see things through someone else’s eyes is world-changing, and nothing facilitates this like art.

That’s why arts funding is important, and supporting local arts groups is key.

Think about this when you see a local event on, or a new book from a local author. Think about it, too, when you go to vote.

Your support is key to maintaining our cultural foundations, which is what so much of what we now take for granted is built upon.

Social media for authors

So, there seems to be quite a few questions from authors around how to best utilize social media for book marketing. And there’s a lot to it – to provide some extra help on this front, I’ve expanded on my recent posts on Facebook and Twitter tips and put them into a downloadable PDF, if anyone needs.

Through my day job as content and social media marketing manager for leading social media news website Social Media Today, I’ve provided insights, training and consulting to a range of companies in order to help them formulate more effective social media marketing strategies, while I also regularly appear on ABC local and Radio National programs to discuss the latest social media updates and shifts.

And while the presentation here is fairly basic (I’m no designer), the notes provided will put you on the right track to maximizing Facebook and Twitter for book promotion.

Feel free to share with anyone who needs:

Social Media for Authors

Fictional awareness

People are sometimes surprised when I tell them that the biggest challenge for writers these days is awareness. With fewer bookshops, fewer literary events, and limited budget for promotion, simply letting people know that your book exists is a critical challenge.

But it’s more than that – these days, people just don’t read books at the rate they used to.

For example, a recent study by Pew Research in the US found that 27% of American adults have not read a book at all in the last year, a stat that’s almost doubled since 2005 (the researchers note that the rate of non-book readers first hit 27% in 2015).

book lover
The most likely culprit, based on comparative trend data, would be the rise of mobile devices, and with social media being the most used app type, it’s likely due to the fact that people are now more likely to scroll through their social feeds in bed before going to sleep, as opposed to getting through a few more book chapters instead.

digit trends

The arrival of colour TV in the 60s was the first major impact for books, and as you can see in this chart, those distractions have only increased in the 2000’s, so it makes sense that we’ve seen relative declines.

The extended impacts of this shift are likely far more significant than we realize. Given that books help expand our thinking, and improve cognitive process, it’s not a stretch to say that society is now less intelligent and analytical as a result – but again, the key point from a writing perspective is that getting people to even consider taking the time to sit down and read your book at all is hard, and it’s not even because of the market itself, and the other storytellers you’re up against. You’re actually going up against complex social platform algorithms that are designed to hold people’s attention using psychological tricks and incentives.

Given this, you can assume that people are less actively seeking books to read, which again points to the challenges of awareness. If people aren’t even looking for books, your potential for exposure is already significantly hampered.

Raising awareness is hard – and while the common counter-argument to this is that authors should simply “write better books”, often implying a need for more commercial sensibilities, I would argue that, given these noted limitations, this isn’t even a significant element. There are plenty of good books out there that are just not reaching an audience – quite simply, they’re not even being given a chance, which makes an objective analysis of quality, based on sales data alone, impossible.

And there’s more – Hollywood film studios are now taking fewer risks with smaller budget movies, and focusing on blockbusters, in order to provide a cinematic experience that can’t be replicated via newer big-screen TVs and home entertainment systems. That means fewer book-to-film adaptations – or at least, fewer art house films based on novels – which is a pathway that’s long been a key pipeline to connecting more general audiences to literary works.

The flow-on effect then is that publishers also shift focus. Logically, publishers need to primarily sell books, so you end up seeing more and more of what’s making money (i.e. what sells in Big W), and less risks on new voices and styles, limiting publishing opportunities. That, consequently, changes the focus of festivals, who also need to sell tickets, further shrinking your window for exposure, and again making it harder to gain awareness.

Add it all up and it doesn’t look promising. Who’d be a writer, honestly?

And yet, we persist.

We write because for most of us it’s part of who we are, because something compels us to keep at it, to keep working towards creating something, hopefully, great. But on balance, getting people’s attention is not going to get any easier, and getting them to actually read your work even less so. Building a sustainable career as a fiction author is getting more difficult, and while technological advances have also facilitated new avenues in terms of self-publishing and building your own audience, establishing enough of a presence to fuel a reliable sales pipeline remains a significant challenge, especially without mainstream media reach.

Which brings us back to awareness.

Again, the key challenge for authors is raising awareness, getting your book in front of the right people, in order to even pitch them on what it is in the first place. This has always been a challenge, but the odds are now stacked against you even more.

So how can we get more people looking our way, and spark more interest in our own, and others’ literary works?

Like it or not, social media is key, building a presence and maximizing your reach opportunities. Taking part in events is essential, doing talks, getting in touch with libraries about potential functions. Authors now need to be marketers – which, for many, is the opposite of their personality. But you have to do it. If you build it, they will not come, necessarily, but if you build hype, they will indeed start looking in your direction.

From a broader scope, the decline in book readership points to an increased need for literary arts funding from government, and a greater focus from government-funded arts bodies on promoting local authors and their work.

If literary festivals (or as they’re increasingly titled, ‘words and ideas’ events) are increasingly funded by the private sector, it’s only logical that their programming decisions will also be increasingly driven by bottom-line results. That means more exposure for the few, less share of voice for the many. And again, less awareness as a result, completing the circle of decline.

And the trends do indeed show that literary culture is declining.

It may not seem so drastic, it may not seem like this decline is having a major impact. But you can arguably see the results of this in all levels of public discourse.

And while again, some would say that we should simply let it go, especially in terms of literary fiction, the more niche and high brow of the book genres, the impacts will be far broader than you would suspect.

That’s why we need greater representation for authors, and opportunities for local writers to showcase their work, wherever possible. We need to show new writers that there are opportunities for them, and that they should feel free to write what they’re passionate about, as opposed to trying to fit into a certain genre box.

Literary culture has underpinned centuries of civilization, helping us to better understand the world, and opening discussions which would otherwise not have happened.

We should be fighting for it, and looking for ways to build platforms of opportunity.

Writing for kids

I began an interesting project recently in writing a book series for my 9 year-old son.

So, for context – my son is at the age where he’s just starting to get into reading, and the books he’s into are the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ books, the Minecraft-themed variation of the same (‘Diary of a Minecraft Zombie’), and things like the ‘Treehouse’ series by Andy Griffiths.

I read through a few of these books and… well, I wasn’t overly impressed.

A page from Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Of course, my opinion is largely irrelevant here – I’m clearly not the target market, and all of these books have sold millions of copies. The fact that I don’t think they’re that great is neither here nor there, but I do feel like we have more responsibility, as writers, to give our kids a bit more than one-liner jokes and random sequences of events which seem to be unplanned and directionless, and not indicative of literary structure in any way.

A sample from one of the Treehouse books

But, so the counter-argument goes, that’s what kids read. You need to spark their interest in books somehow, and if that means a few books worth of diary entries as narrative, then so be it. Publishers love it, readers love it, authors get paid, all good. Right?

Well, kind of.

My view here is that while this might get kids reading, it’s still maybe not the best approach.

I mean, my kids will eat McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I let them, but it’s my responsibility to teach them healthy eating habits. Kids might read crude jokes, but it’s not really demonstrating what literature can provide.

And while I do realize that there are better options out there for kids, which do address such concerns, I wondered whether I could do it – could I create an engaging, immersive narrative for my son, which would also showcase more literary sensibilities, along with ties to real-world concerns?

It’s pretty ambitious, but here’s how I approached it.

First, I leaned on my understanding of the Disney story structure. Having two young kids, I’ve obviously got pretty recent memory of all the latest kids movies, and I know, from reading Christopher Vogler, a former story consultant at Disney, how Disney, in particular, applies the principles of The Hero’s Journey to its films. Having that basic understanding is fairly informative, as the same basic elements apply to every screenplay aimed at younger audiences. So I understand the progression, and the emphasis on pace that’s required to hook and hold younger audiences. Applying it is another thing, but seems like a reasonable starting point.

Next, I read a heap of kids’ books. Some just in sections to get the voice and pace, some in full, to understand the whole scope. It’s a crash course, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in kids lit by any stretch, but again, it’s just to get an idea, a flow. A sense of the presentation style that appeals.

I then mapped out a story over three books. Most kids’ book series go for longer, but I felt like three was a good starting point. 20k words per book, three parts, that’ll test my capacity to hold his interest.

Then I set out to write.

The story – which I think probably reads better than I’ll describe it – is about a young boy who discovers that his mother and absent father are shapeshifters, which is actually part of human evolution that humans have moved away from over time. The concept is that humans evolved from fish, then settled into human form – but actually, we were supposed to keep evolving and develop the capacity to shapeshift as required, which would then better connect us to the wider world and everything within it. Some humans retained this capacity, but they’ve had to hide it due to fear of being targeted, captured, experimented on, etc. The main character’s mother didn’t want those concerns for her son, so she left his father and ran away, and she never told her son about it. But now the boy’s father has tracked them down, which is where the story begins.

It’s been interesting to note my son’s reception to the story. The first book seemed to go pretty well – he was excited to have a story written just for him, and he was engaged, and able to reiterate the scenes and key elements back to me. So it was a success, at least in early implementation.

The second book didn’t go as well. With the next one, I tried to add a bit more complexity, utilizing abstract thought and character self-reflection. I think I might have tried to be a bit too clever, because when I asked if he’d read it, he started avoiding an answer, before eventually admitting that he got bored with it and stopped. Which is annoying, and cutting, even from a child, but as I say, I think I tried to get a bit more in-depth and slowed the pace down a little too much.

The third book introduces internal reflection by the characters, integrated directly into the narrative, but I’ve tried to maintain the pace, and focus on movement more specifically. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m confident that this one will hold his attention.

But who knows? I guess this is one of the challenges of writing for a younger audience, no one knows for sure what will work – which, by extension, probably means that when you do figure out what engages them, it’s best to keep doing that

Maybe that’s why we have so many snackable books for kids, and maybe the ends do justify the means, in the sense that they’re at least getting kids reading.

It’s interesting to consider, and I wonder what the longer-term reading habits are for kids who start on these types of books.

But, essentially, what I’m saying is kids are tough, and writing for them is a skill within itself. Also, they’re mean – they’ll tell you what they think straight up.

If you’re interested, here’s the first book in the series (below) which you can download and read for yourself. Yeah, I’m not sure about the title either – you’ll note that all my novels have one-word titles. It’s not my strong suit.

Hopefully, the third book will hit the mark with my son.

The Next Evolution – Part I