This book is the third in my series of Dirkle Smat Adventure Books aimed at early readers who are just venturing into the chapter book world. Dirkle and his four friends discover a long lost secret entwined in the roots of a 100 year old oak tree and it leads them on a quest for an ancient Viking shield.
Tell us something about yourself.
I was raised in the all-American suburb of Bloomington, MN and from a very early age knew I wanted to be a writer. Once I graduated from college I dove into screenwriting because at that time I couldn’t think of anything more rewarding than to see a story go from my imagination to the big screen. Although I wrote seven screenplays, I never had anything produced, and many years later when I rededicated myself to the craft, I found that my passion had changed to children’s literature.
What inspired you to write this book?
I had the idea that I wanted to write a series of adventures with recurring characters, and then I thought about the kinds of stories that I used to like to read when I was a child. I was intrigued by stories that had secret passageways, magic devices, time travel and otherworldly discoveries. My hope was that the things that intrigued me as a young reader would still interest kids today, and hopefully help them become lifelong readers.
How did you choose the title?
All of the books in this series begin with the main character’s name – Dirkle Smat.
Dirkle Smat Inside Mount Flatbottom
Dirkle Smat and the Flying Statue
Dirkle Smat and the Viking Shield
Dirkle Smat Meets a Time Traveler (coming soon)
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
Mine was the most traditional of paths. I studied the publishers through the listings in “Writer’s Market” and after 8 re-writes of my first book, I confidently sent the manuscript to twenty publishers that I felt would be good fits for my book. All twenty eventually sent back the “thanks but no thanks” letter, so I sent out twenty more. I had gotten 18 of those back by the time I got the call from the publisher that wanted my book.
Do you have any writing rituals?
One of my biggest self-criticisms is that I don’t set myself a strict schedule of writing. I think about how much more productive I would be if I stuck to a daily writing schedule! But somehow, even though I’m kind of hit and miss (write for an hour, run errands for two, write for a half hour…) I manage to get things done. The fourth book in my series is at the publisher waiting for the illustrator to finish the cover art.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
As I planned my books, I felt the names were going to be the hook that drew kids in and hopefully kept the stories fresh in their minds. For the main character, I thought of and dismissed several silly names over the course of a couple of weeks, but then all of a sudden the name “Dirkle Smat” just popped into my brain and I knew it was the right name. The others, Toonie Oobles, Fiddy Bublob, Quid Smat and Bean Lumley also just spilled out of my goofy imagination.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
I was given the option of publishing the books in paperback or hardcover, and I chose paperback because I wanted them to be more affordable to young families. But as it turned out, these little chapter books are so narrow in paperback that there is no room for printing on the spines and it makes them hard to pick out on a bookshelf. Perhaps hardcover would have been the better choice so that kids just browsing for books might be more likely to stumble onto them.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
I think that one of the reasons I wanted to be a writer is because I have always been such an avid reader. As a kid I was always in the middle of a book, and as an adult that hasn’t changed. I read mostly mysteries, and love Stuart Woods, Harlan Coben, Nelson, DeMille and Tami Hoag – – – among many others.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I’m pretty excited about this. While my fourth Dirkle book goes through the publishing process I have begun researching and writing a nonfiction book for kids. This book will explain why our states have such strange shapes – the boot heels, panhandles, funny notches and variety of sizes. It turns out that each state has a rather interesting history to explain its borders, and you can’t help but learn a little American history in the process. But I have 50 chapters to write, so it’ll take a while.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
During the writing process, take advantage of the multitude of classes and workshops offered everywhere. You may have a built-in talent for spinning a tale, but every one of us can use the advice of people who have been successful to help us hone our craft. And when it comes to getting published – don’t give up. As I mentioned above, I had to send my first book to 40 publishers before I got “the call” and I have thought many times that I am SO glad I didn’t give up when the first 20 were returned. Believe in yourself, and keep writing. Just like anything else in life you get better with practice.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
My series is aimed at kids roughly ages 5-10. It is ideal for kids who have mastered picture books and are ready to move on to chapter books, but who perhaps are not quite ready for the more lengthy Harry Potters or Lord of the Ring type of books. Teachers have told me that my books are very good for reluctant readers because the stories are filled with adventure and mystery and draw them back to the bookshelves for another book.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?