On the Work of Writing

I answered some interview questions for a blogger and thought it would be fun to share a little about my publishing experience here, how my latest title came to be, and when/where people can ask me questions in person. Enjoy!

What genre is your newest book? Juvenile business (The Bridge of the Golden Woodfree this month on Kindle, #1 in 3 Amazon categories, with 5,000+ downloads), I hope it helps bridge the gap between what kids learn in school and what they need to know/do to succeed in life.
What draws you to this genre? Seeing a lack of kids’ curriculum on how money is made—how to earn a living. I used to be a recruiter in Silicon Valley; today’s graduates don’t seem as prepared for work as their parents. Many young people don’t know that failure is normal and can nourish future success.
Please describe what the story is about in one sentence. A child with a knack for solving problems learns that helping some hungry fish—who can’t pay him—facilitates his finding a treasure.
What was the time frame for writing your last book? A few days (illustration is the real work—and I had to do some on this book.)
How much research do you do? More for this book than a typical picture book; I had to present valuable tips and business ideas I’ve learned over the years.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day? No (but I spend hours on books/marketing every day)
What is the easiest thing about writing? Ideas that ambush me
When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer? In college … when I should have been doing my homework
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews? Every review can be helpful (even bad ones contribute to visibility—and they offer great feedback)
Which do you prefer: Pen or Computer? And how do you stay organized (any methods, tools you use)? I usually write ideas on scraps of paper in odd moments/places, then I write out the story on my laptop.
How do you relax? Volleyball, music, films, books
What were your biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process? When my first publisher died; I had to learn the publishing business.
What would you have done differently if you could do it again? I would have sought more reviews for my early titles.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know? No matter how many achievements I have, I struggle with self-doubt, fears, and (at the same time) self-absorption.
What’s next? What are you working on at the moment? Non-fiction stories about immigrant kids and more bilingual books
Do you re-read books? One book that you would read again & again? The scriptures
Your influence(s), favorite author(s)? I love history, so anything by David McCoullugh is ideal. Other authors I love: Tolkien, Harper Lee, C.S. Lewis, Clancy, Grisham, Shel Silverstein
What book(s) are you reading at present? Major Problems in American Colonial History by Karen Kupperman
Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed? Write every day and join a writer’s group

See a trailer for The Bridge of the Golden Wood. For business and career ideas, see ChildrenEarn.com. I’ll be contrasting traditional publishing vs. digital/self-publishing at the Kearns Library in Salt Lake County on June 29 at 7 p.m., 5350 S. 4220 West, Kearns, UT 84118. Hope to see you!

Serving Brings Happiness

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.

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Anna’s Prayer Re-released

Almost ten years ago, I was getting ready for my wedding (which I, ultimately, didn’t attend). A publisher approached me about writing a non-fiction story about an immigrant child. I told them I had such a story in my family history. Former LDS Relief Society General President Bonnie Parkin had, in a General Conference talk, told the story of my Great-great Aunt Anna, who immigrated from Sweden as a child—without her parents. I had more details in my Great Grandmother Ida’s journal.

I contacted Sister Parkin and asked if we could collaborate. While she had other priorities on her plate, she sent me copies of Anna Matilda Anderson’s journal (Anna is her husband’s grandmother) and told me I could use it as I pleased.

It was fun to compare my great grandmother’s perspective to her sister’s. Each had her own miraculous experience in her youth, which bolstered their new-found faith. Each had frightening experiences traveling without parents—separating mid-journey to live in different states.

BYU illustration graduate Shari Griffiths was asked to illustrate the story once it was complete. While Shari and I each got painful educations in the publishing process, she did an outstanding job on the art.

The result was Anna’s Prayer, the true story of 10-year-old Anna, who arrived alone in Salt Lake City—not knowing anyone and unable to speak English. Alone in the train station in the middle of the night she prayed for someone who could speak Swedish to come to her aid. The answer to her prayer went beyond what she could have hoped.

The book was well received and sold out in some local Costco stores. After a few years, publishing rights to Anna’s Prayer reverted to me and illustration rights to Shari (who now has several active children—and no desire to illustrate). This year, I purchased rights to the artwork and, finally, have re-released Anna’s Prayer in more affordable, paperback and ebook versions. I’m now working on my great grandmother’s story—as a prequel to Anna’s. I’m so excited to tell this—also true—story to the world! Here are some links to Anna’s Prayer: http://gozobooks.com/annas-prayer.php       http://tinyurl.com/zgnb5ka

Me, Inside & Out

People often ask me how I—a South African, Scottish Swede—came to speak Spanish. I also get quizzed about being so thin. Both are the result of my LDS mission to Viña del Mar, Chile. Actually, my mom was an enthusiastic student of Spanish, so she spoke broken Spanish to us while we were growing up in San Jose, California (she used to call me Carlos).

If they are physically and mentally healthy, and if they meet the standards of worthiness, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the privilege of serving a volunteer mission when they reach eighteen to twenty something years (also at retirement age). I was healthy, but I’d made some choices that were less than worthy. I remember at 18 going to a room alone and declaring—not to God, but to the devil—that I would qualify to serve a mission no matter what! While my determination was admirable, God knew I could not do it alone. It would be years before I realized that it was Christ’s grace that qualified me.

After submitting an application, having ecclesiastical interviews, medical exams, and my wisdom teeth pulled, it was a thrill to bid my friends and family farewell, get some training, and fly to Santiago, Chile. I LOVED the country, the people, and the language. I got sick almost monthly, and learned what real service was (from the people I had come to serve).

We missionaries saw thousands of people embrace the gospel of Christ and receive the blessings of following God’s plan of happiness. I learned that God’s love is tenacious. I witnessed miracles (especially when I could first understand the fast-speaking people). I gained an appreciation for U.S. freedoms while living under a dictator. I distributed food, helped build a house, and got in-person training from a prophet and apostles. I gained life-long friends with some of the most generous people on earth (we mission associates—gringo and Chileno—still gather whenever we can and marvel at the extraordinary things we were able to be a part of). Mostly, I had a profound and personal assurance that I was doing the most important work on the planet. It’s hard to describe that joy.

What I didn’t realize is that a double course of antibiotics (after having my wisdom teeth pulled) had sent me defenseless into an environment of microbes my body had never known.

At first I only had occasional discomfort once I was home. As the years passed, stomach stress became constant and often painful. Despite visits to Stanford Medical Center and countless other doctors, no one has yet identified or remedied the problem. I soon lost confidence in my ability to control my body. This began to impact my social life. While I’ve dated more women than I can remember or number, each date was first stressful, and eventually became a major effort. Soon, I would return from short dates completely wiped out.

Today my diet is severely restricted—as is my energy. My social life is paltry. I struggle to maintain even a runner’s body weight, and my gut remains inflamed. Please believe that this is not typical for a missionary who gets sick. Most I’ve met have found remedies. (Don’t fear travel, it’s perhaps the best education you’ll ever get—especially if you get away from the big cities.)

Still, I’ve been able to do nearly everything on my bucket list. My Spanish has proven helpful in my work and in countless other spheres. The following isn’t to brag (more to enumerate my blessings) —there’s a point I want to make at the end. In addition to gaining a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a film certificate, I have:

  • Been a commencement speaker for college graduation
  • Taught at a university
  • Sung in rock bands
  • Signed Legislation in D.C. (staffers do it all the time if the rep. is away)
  • Visited 4 continents, 12 countries, and 35 states
  • Created and headed two businesses
  • Volunteered at Stanford University Hospital
  • Helped found a Silicon Valley high-tech organization and handled their PR
  • Published 17 books (many award-winners and Amazon bestsellers)
  • Kayaked in whitewater
  • Lectured to large and small groups
  • Worked for IBM, Intel, and Marriott
  • Piloted a plane (not take-off or landing)
  • Hired hundreds of people
  • Been to an Olympic hockey medals game (my favorite sport to watch)
  • Performed for thousands (even alongside the Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
  • Water skied, snow skied
  • Been a Spanish interpreter
  • Acted in radio, TV, film
  • Been published in magazines & The U.S. Congressional Record
  • Had my scripts selected in competition (one produced on radio)
  • Repelled on and jumped from high cliffs
  • Been an ecclesiastical leader / served on a high council

My point is this: Even with my illness and the impact it has had on my life (I have yet to have a family of my own), if I had to choose between the experiences from my mission or those in the list above, without hesitation I would keep my treasured missionary service. Some might wonder whether I would do it again—knowing beforehand how it would change my life. I wouldn’t give up those changes for anything. If they called me to serve again today, I’d be the skinniest, weakest, happiest missionary on earth. My passport is still current.

Publisher Interview via Twitter

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.

Meet Mountain West Authors

Get gifts of fiction, non-fiction, teen fiction, and children’s books—autographed by their creators–at Local Authors & You. I’ll be participating with scores of other authors Saturday, Nov. 7 at the Viridian Event Center (8030 S. 1825 West) in South Jordan, UT. There will be writing and publishing workshops, readings, and book signings. Come meet and mingle with writers.