This past year after a fun school visit full of laughing and joking around with the students, a student came up to me and said, “You don’t seem like an author, you seem like a dude.” I was not sure what he meant, but since he wanted to shake my hand, I took it as a compliment. So, I guess I am just a dude who writes children’s books. My wife and I have five kids (great research material!) and until last summer we had a turtle, but he ran away.
Tell us about the genre of your work.
I write humorous middle-grade realistic fiction. That is a mouthful. I may be combining a couple of genres, but it adequately describes my writing. I think humor is essential to make it through life and middle-grade realistic fiction is a wonderful place to start.
Why did you choose this genre?
I love the middle-grade ages. There are so many emotions that are new to them. Before reaching that age, children are often much less inhibited. It seems that the emotions, such as fear and embarrassment blossom in the middle-grade years. Kids begin to realize social aspects of their world. They also notice the opposite sex in a fun and tender way. As my wife was helping our daughter clean her room recently, they found a note a boy had given her in the third grade. It said, “Dear Maddie, I think you are pretty. Do not tell anyone that I wrote this because then they will know that I wrote this and I will have to say that I didn’t write this. Love Nick (the one in your class).” I think that really sums up the emotions of the early middle-grade years—love, fear, embarrassment, peer acceptance.
I chose this genre because I remember these years well. They have a special place in my heart. I find that adults and children alike hold on to the memories of these years. Again, they are the years when we felt embarrassment, social fear, and true love (or so we thought) for the first time. They are relatable to us all.
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?
There are four books in my Raymond and Graham series. One of which was nominated for several awards, including the 2010-2011 Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Award.
I also have a new series of books coming out in early 2013.
What ages do you direct your books?
I write to ages eight to eleven.
Can you tell us about the series?
School Library Journal described my Raymond and Graham series as "a rollicking, laugh-out-loud look at fourth grade through the eyes of two lifelong pals." Now that Raymond and Graham are the oldest kids in elementary school they know everything is going to go their way.
Unfortunately, whether in the classroom, on the baseball field, or at summer camp, life just doesn't seem to go as planned. The comedy ensues as they try to do whatever it takes to become popular, only realizing, in the end, the value of simply being themselves.
Raymond and Graham Rule The School, ISBN 978-0142414262 (First book in the series)
Raymond and Graham Dancing Dudes, ISBN 978-0142415085
Raymond and Graham Cool Campers, ISBN 978-0142418758 (Newest book in the series)
My books can be found in most places where books are sold.
Do your books have a teaching objective? If so, what is it?
The themes of friendship, being oneself, and enjoying life, even with all of its ups and downs, are prevalent in all of my books. I want the reader to realize that life never happens the way you expect, but hang in there, do your best and be yourself. Things will always work out. I try to express these themes in a humorous format. We all need to laugh at ourselves in life.
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?
Everyone in my Raymond and Graham series is based on someone I knew growing up. I changed either their first name or last name, sometimes both. That said, I did change their personalities somewhat to develop my ideal characters. My first book is even dedicated to one of my elementary school teachers, who is the inspiration for a character in the book. She was the old scary teacher that no one wanted to get. We had heard all of the terrible stories about her, all told by students who never had her as a teacher I might add. However, she ended up being our favorite teacher. The dedication at the beginning of the book reads, “To the memory of mean old Mrs. Gibson, the best teacher we ever had.”
How did you develop the character/s of your in each of your books (If you have more than one)?
I love to explore the emotions of the middle-school years, and I develop characters at each end of the emotional spectrum. For instance, I have a main character who is a little unsure of himself, nervous about what others think, and embarrasses easily. His best friend, on the other hand, has plenty of confidence to spare, is overly vocal about his feelings toward others, and has the highest of self-esteem. The fun begins, as these two best friends go through life together.
Is there a unique character or a recurring character if you have more than one published or to be published book?
My main character’s grandpa is not a major character in my books, but is my favorite recurring character. He is a quirky, outspoken, know-it-all of old guy. I always save him for the perfect scene in each book. For instance, in one book, when the main character’s father is unable to attend the school maturation program with his son, Gramps steps in and attends the event in his place. When you are shy and embarrass easily, crazy Gramps is the last person you want to be next to you, especially when he is eager to answer the questions and comment publicly on the subject matter.
What is your favorite thing about your book/s?
My favorite thing about my books is looking back at being a ten-year-old and laughing at the things that, at the time, seemed to be life or death events. I often find myself chuckling aloud as I write. It helps me laugh at the ups and downs of my life today. Hopefully, in thirty more years I will be laughing as I write about the things I find so important today.
Is your book illustrated? If so, would you tell us by whom, and if you worked with an illustrator, can you discuss that experience?
My first series was illustrated by the award-winning Stacy Curtis. It was great working with him. Stacy’s depictions of some of my characters were exactly how I imagined them. While publishers typically do not encourage interaction between authors and illustrators, Stacy and I have gotten to know each other very well. We chat on the phone, e-mail frequently, and often visited schools together. It is a fun relationship.
How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?
I do not know if writing one genre is much different than writing another. The process of developing themes, characters, and storyline is universal. I believe the difference lies in the voice. Achieving an authentic, relatable voice of a child can be quite difficult. Not sounding like an adult trying imitating a child can be difficult.
Are there any problems in getting children’s’ books published?
Getting published with a traditional publisher is always difficult. There are many aspiring writers out there and there are just so many books that will be published each year. That said, publishers are always looking for great books to publish. I think the biggest mistake people make is submitting a manuscript before it is ready. The submitting process is not the real process. The real process involves joining a writing group, attending conferences, getting quality critiques, learning about the industry, and reading books in your genre.
Why and when did you begin writing?
Like many, I have always wanted to write. Upon graduating from college I thought, “Okay, so what do I do now? Do I just start writing things? Is someone going to send me some money?” Without looking further into the industry, I went back to school and earned an MBA. I was involved in international business for about fourteen years. With children’s books always in the back of my mind, once my kids were in elementary school I was inspired to begin what I had always wanted to do. I was fortunate that it worked out and I have been writing ever since.
What is your writing schedule?
I would like to say that I have a specific schedule for writing, but I do not. Many writers write a little bit every day. I am trying to be more like that, but at the moment, I write in spurts. I may go a few weeks without writing anything. However, when I do write, I write in the mornings or later in the evening. I typically write for no more than three or four hours at a time, however, if I am on a roll I have, at times, spent ten to fourteen hours writing.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
I recently signed a contract with Viking Children’s Books for a new series. It will also be humorous realistic fiction book, but the characters in this series will be in middle school rather than elementary. The first book is scheduled for release in spring 2013.
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and get published?
My advice for aspiring writers is to read, practice and seek critique. Under no circumstances should a manuscript be sent to an agent or a publisher without having others look at it. I am not taking about your spouse, friends, parents. Go to writing conferences and learn as much as you can about the industry. Join a writing group with other writers. It will not only provide you with a critique, but will afford you the opportunity to critique others’ work, which will help you become a better writer. And lastly, keep at it. Do not give up. This can be a very slow industry. Have patience.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?
Learn to enjoy writing for the sake of writing. Write from your heart. Writing solely to get that publishing contract can be very frustrating.
What do you do when you are not writing?
When I’m not writing, I’m thinking that I should be writing. I have writer’s guilt. However, my non-writing activities include mountain biking, doing anything with kids, and playing my banjo. I’m not a very good banjo player, but I love it. It is very annoying to the rest of my family, and I am only allowed to practice in a bathroom in the far end or our house.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
I have many “Made It” moments when, at the time, I felt like I was on top of the world. Here they are in chronological order: Getting my first bike when I was a seven, hitting my first homerun, getting that first kiss, buying the first car, college graduation, my wife saying “Yes” when I proposed, having kids, learning to play Foggy Mountain Breakdown on my banjo, receiving that call from Viking Children’s Books with the first book deal and the following year seeing my book on the shelf at the bookstore, receiving that first “You’ve inspired me to be an author” letter from a young fan.
You can find Mike on the following websites:
Barnes & Noble
Mike Knudson's Website
Mike Knudson Manuscript Critique Service