Over the past 22 years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching English to immigrants on a volunteer basis in both California and Utah. I’ve also been able to donate hundreds of my multicultural/bilingual picture books to refugee and other charitable organizations for language learning. While I’ve been the teacher, it’s been an education for me. Students from Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, China, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, El Salvador, and Syria have enriched my world. These people are so grateful for the privilege of living in the greatest country on earth. (If you don’t yet know that the United States is the greatest country, find a way to live abroad–not simply visit tourist capitals.) While their language abilities vary, they want very much to master English and contribute positively to the community. Some of their stories are too intense for human consumption (and yet these humans have lived them). Sacrifice and struggle seems to be the price to come here. These people are generous with the little they have and are always grateful for help with perhaps the most difficult language in the West. If you can make time to help newcomers, I promise you, it is the cure for self-focus and “the world is going to heck” thinking. Find service opportunities in your area by typing your zip code in the following site: JustServe.org. You will be happier than you are today.
Astronomy, entomology, awards and wit
MIDVALE, Utah, Oct. 12, 2016 – Three multicultural books teach astronomy, entomology, zoology (and Spanish) — but kids would never know it from the mysteries, activities and giggles.
Cover contest winner “Butterfly Blink: A Book Without Words” is a new picture book fantasy that helps children (ages 2 – 6) cement vocabulary as they describe the monarch from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Blink — and they multiply! The e-book version is free this month and includes habitat conservation information for all ages.
“Bright Star, Night Star: An Astronomy Story” (also a cover design winner) is a children’s book that accompanies an American Indian child in finding constellations, stars and other heavenly bodies. It exposes children (4 – 8) to the starry skies, Monument Valley, and a little space science. It is available in hard or soft cover — or as an e-book.
“She Doesn’t Want the Worms – Ella no quiere los gusanos: A Mystery” was named in the top 10 best books of 2011 by “ForeWord Reviews Magazine.” It is an educational activity book about a bi-racial girl who responds to some unusual animal gifts — that happen to be alive — and includes full text and a pronunciation guide in both English and Spanish. Kids (3 and up) or language learners can find and count insects, reptiles, a cat, and a bat. Get in Spanish-only, English-only, or bilingual versions as an e-book or in paperback.
The best-selling author of these nature books, Karl Beckstrand, has 17 multicultural books and more than 45 e-book titles – all family friendly. Beckstrand finds that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) books can entertain while they educate (STEAM books include the arts). Raised in San Jose, Calif., he will present on publishing entertaining literature Tues. Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. in the Weber County Library 2039 W. 4000 South, Roy, Utah and Sat. Nov. 5 from 1 – 4 p.m. at the Viridian Center 8030 S. 1825 West, West Jordan, Utah.
Award-winning Premio Publishing & Gozo Books’ STEM books capture attention, create repeat readers and are nationally lauded (ForeWord Reviews, Horn Book blog, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews). Not about ethnic or racial diversity, they simply feature black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and mixed-race characters. Find them at PremioBooks.com, online and at select retailers.
Yesterday, I was interviewed on Twitter by Profnet–a media company with enough pull to get my photo up in Times Square. Here’s the transcript:
Profnet: Can you please tell us about your background? I was raised in paradise (San Jose/Silicon Valley) —the perfect climate, much like Valparaiso (Chile, where I lived for two years [LDS mission]). I have a bachelor’s in journalism (never planned to be a reporter) and a master’s in International relations. I teach media at a state college in Utah, and am an arts/media junkie (music, art, films, books, theater—oh, and history!)
How did you begin your writing career and have you primarily focused on children’s stories since then? This was a complete accident because I hated writing (and reading) as a kid. While I should have been doing homework in college, I would get ambushed by ideas for kid’s books and write them—thinking I’d get published when I retired from a “real” job. I joined a writer’s group and met a gentleman who wanted to publish one of my manuscripts. Unfortunately, he died the day we were to print. I got a crash course in publishing/marketing. One other publisher asked me to write a true story about an immigrant child. I knew about a girl in my family history who had arrived here alone, not knowing English. I found the account—and then got hooked on family history. Now I’m writing other true immigration stories. I have ideas for novels—but only one is published so far.
What’s the first thing a writer with an idea for a children’s story should do (besides write it)? Hire a professional editor (even for kid’s books). They are affordable and will save you grief/help you stand out!
Karl, Where do you get your ideas and where can other writers find inspiration? This is a hot button (for someone who works in perhaps THE most competitive genre). If you’re not constantly hit with ideas, then “I’d like to write a children’s book” is probably not justification for entering the field. My desk is covered with folders and papers filled with ideas: things people say, scenarios that explode in my mind, phrases that have a fun meter … I may never get them all published.
How can a writer find and work with illustrators? Should a children’s book be illustrated when you submit a manuscript? Only get an illustrator if you self-publish (which I recommend). Otherwise, find a good children’s lit agent and let the publisher match your work to an artist. I find illustrators through networking (LinkedIn writer/illustrator’s groups, alumni groups, people whose work I’ve seen and fallen for—I just persuaded a genius artist I’ve been stalking for years to do one of my books!)
Once you have your book written, how do you find a publisher? You must be unafraid to communicate (phone, mail, email, social media, in person) and you must be unrelenting (but get an editor before you drive agents/publishers crazy—which you will. The idea is that when they finally look at your stuff, it’s wonderful).
How is the process different with books for children and families compared to books for adults? I try to write to entertain adults–regardless of the target age. Adults are the ones who will buy the book. I don’t want them to cringe when a kid asks them to read a Karl Beckstrand book; I want them to get the nuances and humor that the child may not get. I want the parent/teacher/librarian to stay awake and read my books even when they are alone!
Do you prefer having your books published by a publishing house or do you prefer self-publishing? What are the pros and cons of each? After learning so much from publishers (learning isn’t always a good experience) I realized that I would rather control content, MARKETING, and revenues. Publishers make lots of promises, but the author is—really—always the engine for sales, even if a large publisher promises the moon. I don’t like spending 50% of my time marketing, but I would have to do it even with Penguin-Random House. Publishers used to have distributors in their pocket; now most anyone can access distributors.
Once you have your book published, how do you market it, and does it make a difference whether it’s self-published or not? No big difference: you post it on social media; do giveaways on Goodreads, bookbub, Authorsden, Librarything (give it in exchange for a sincere online review—these are important); send press releases—call the media afterward about being a guest/interview subject; if you self-publish, Amazon’s Createspace.com can get you in with major distributors (but you must still contact distributors to truly get your work to booksellers). I don’t usually pursue book signings for two reasons: Bookstores are not the best place to stand out; and, unless you have a large following in a particular city (which you might) you won’t sell a lot of books. Presentations to groups/schools are great.
What are the biggest challenges in the publishing process? Getting reviews/getting your book noticed.
Can you tell us about your latest novel? It’s Young Adult suspense set in the Nevada silver rush: To Swallow the Earth. It won a 2016 International Book Award (also a Laramie finalist). I inherited the manuscript from someone who grew up exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountains on horseback nearly a hundred years ago. My challenge was to develop the characters while preserving the action and authentic language. It’s about a man and a woman who clash in a land scheme that leaves both unsure who to trust—and scrambling to stay alive. In addition to a tough outcast (half-Mexican, raised by Indians), there’s a gutsy heroine who’s unintimidated in the worst kinds of opposition.
Your work is racially diverse with many of your characters being of color and/or bilingual. My stories are really not aimed at a certain audience—they’re not even about racial diversity. They are exciting/witty stories that just happen to reflect the diversity of the world in a natural way.
You speak Spanish? Yes, my mother spoke broken Spanish to us as kids; then, living in South America made it my second language. Many of my books are bilingual with English-Spanish pronunciation guide. I’m learning German.
What are some of your future projects? I’m working on a graphic novel, an audio book, biographies, and more kid’s books.
Where can we find your many books? Amazon/Kindle, Nook, the major distributors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor/Follett, Brodart, BN.com, iBooks, Kobo, OverDrive, SCRIBD), and PremioBooks.com. If you email me that you’ll leave sincere comments/stars online, I’ll send you any ebook free: Karl@ PremioBooks.com.
How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing? My books are my life laid out in color (my food obsession has found its way into most of my works).
What is your writing schedule? I write or research every day—usually in the morning.
Who were your early writing influences? Who or what has inspired you during your career and ignited your imagination? When I got the measles in the third grade, my grandmother bought me a chapter book: Bicycles North: A Mystery on Wheels by Rita Ritchie. I learned that books can transport and excite. I love Shel Silverstein.
What is your favorite genre to read? I love suspense.
Do you have a favorite comment or question from a reader? I love it when someone says a book I wrote held them captive—or that the twists were totally unexpected.
Man inherits–and publishes–manuscript 108 years in the making
MIDVALE, Utah, May 22, 2015 — What would you do if you came across an unpublished mystery manuscript? If it was good, you might just publish it. That’s what publisher Karl Beckstrand did when he inherited the silver rush thriller from his grandfather.
“It was typed and ready for submission to publishers,” Beckstrand said. But while the story, set in 1880s Nevada, was gripping, “there were holes in the plot and the characters needed to be fleshed out some more,” Beckstrand said.
Because Beckstrand’s author-grandfather had grown up in the back country of Northern California in the early days of the last century “his writing was filled with intense action, but also a real care for the land and its creatures,” Beckstrand said.
Being careful not to destroy the story’s folksy vernacular, Beckstrand decided to fill the gaps and burnish it a bit. “The language practically vibrated with authenticity,” Beckstrand said. “I really wanted to preserve that as I worked on it. I think it came out wonderfully.”
The result: “To Swallow the Earth,” by Ransom Wilcox. “It’s a thriller and a romance about man and a woman, each searching for missing family members, who clash amid a Nevada silver rush scheme that leaves both unsure who to trust — and scrambling to stay alive,” Beckstrand said.
“While it has the hardened male players you’d expect in a story about that era,” Beckstrand said, “it also has a strong female lead character.” Beckstrand is proud of his grandfather’s inclusion of a gutsy woman.
Beckstrand, who has more than 20 published titles, kept his grandfather’s name on the western novel. “I think it’s kind of fun that 108 years after his life’s adventure began, my grandfather’s mystery has been published,” he said.
Wilcox also has a book of short stories on the fanciful reminiscences of his early, rugged years in the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains: “Horse & Dog Adventures in Early California.” Both books may be found via http://www.PremioPublishing.com, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble/NOOK, Amazon.com/Kindle, iTunes, Follett, Ingram, Mackin and select booksellers.
Goodreads giveaway has ended, but ebook will be available at 99¢ through August on most ebook platforms: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25486206-to-swallow-the-earth.