Writing has been an integral part of my life since graduating from Pittsburg State University in December 2001 with a degree in journalism. I spent ten years writing as a sports journalist before shifting my career to education, then, for the past ten years, I have taught literature and writing as English teacher in the United States and China.
I always imagined I would return to writing in some capacity. Maybe as a parttime journalist or as a novelist when I finally got around to realizing the ideas that have been swimming around in my head for years.
I did not see expect what has come to fruition—a career as a children’s book author.
My journey into the world of children’s literature, specifically picture books, began with heartbreak and tragedy. My wife and I have tried for several years to have a baby. She’s been pregnant three times and all three times miscarried. But the third loss broke me. I fell into a deep depression. Every day was a struggle.
One day, during a class I was teaching, I was working with a student on her writing and helping her make connections with her story and characters. I decided we would write a short story to help guide her through the process. During that session, a soothing feeling overtook me. At that moment, while we were working together, I found myself telling a story as though I were telling it to my own child.
I went back home and wrote the first draft of that story. It was my way of dealing with all the pain and sadness I was feeling. It was cathartic.
I wrote the protagonist, Bobby the Bear, as a father figure who was helping and guiding and teaching all his animal friends. After that first story, I wrote a second. What was coming out of my writing was a way to express the emotions of fatherhood (or at least what I thought fatherhood would be) and the lessons I would teach to my child or children. After I finished writing those two stories, I didn’t think I would go much farther. I was using the practice as a release, a healing mechanism that slowly guided me toward better days.
But after a few weeks, I went back to those two stories. I started to think about my nieces and nephews and the lessons and morals I would want to share with them. You see, I live in Shanghai, China, and have for more than a decade. I don’t get to see them nearly enough, and because of COVID-19, I haven’t seen them or anyone in my family for more than three years. So I found that writing these stories was a way to connect with them.
Bobby the Bear morphed into more of an uncle figure teaching his nieces and nephews the lessons and morals I was hoping to share with my own children, a message for a more general audience, so I decided to see whether these stories were worthy of publication. I continued to work on the manuscripts and submitted them to a few publishing companies to see if I could lift my stories from the pages of my notebook and develop them into a picture book. To my surprise and gratitude, I found places interested in them.
Following my search for a publishing partner, I was brought into the Bookpress Publishing family who provided me the platform to share my stories with other children around the United States and the world.
Since I signed my first contract with Bookpress, I have written eight more Bobby the Bear stories for a total of 12. I have also written two retellings of well-known Chinese folktales and am in the process of completing two more Bobby the Bear stories and four new stories related to Chinese history and culture.
I hope my books bring entertainment and enrichment to children and parents. I hope the stories cultivate the parent-child bonding experience so precious to their relationship. I hope they can teach and inspire children to read and explore different worlds and cultures through exciting characters and beautifully illustrated pictures.
Life can be cruel. Life can break you. What I have discovered, though, through my personal heartbreak and tragedy, is that life always opens new doors.
Writing children’s books has allowed me to stay connected with the children my wife and I lost. It has allowed me to stay connected to the nieces and nephews that live a world away. And it has allowed me to reconnect with myself and find happiness in a time when sadness and pain dominated and controlled my very existence.
I don’t know if my wife and I will be blessed with a child. But regardless, I found light in the darkness of grief and despair. I found my inspiration. I found my muse.