If you catch your children staring at people, don’t be too harsh. They might be the next great author.
“How do I get ideas for my stories? I look at you!” said children’s author David A. Adler during a visit to Fort Craig Elementary on Oct. 18.
The author has written 220 published children’s books and is most known for his “Cam Jansen,” “Jeffrey Bones,” and “Andy Russell” series. He also visited students at Foothills and John Sevier Elementary schools while in town.
He told the students at Fort Craig that his son called him a “snoop but that’s where I get the ideas for stories.”
To illustrate this, the author asked a little girl name Olivia to stand next to him.
“This looks like a crown, not just a headband. So this is Princess Olivia. This is her Royal Cape,” he said, while pointing to her coat.
He explained that even though fiction stories are not true, they are inspired by real people and events.
He said, “Everything except that Olivia looks like a princess is not true. I change the name because it’s not true. But when I write the story, I’ll be thinking of you Olivia.”
He said his popular “Cam Jansen” series about a girl with a photographic memory is based one of his classmates from school.
He told the students, “It was a boy in my class. I changed the name and made the character a girl.”
The author’s book “The Many Travels of Andy Russell” is based on his son’s affinity for pets. The family’s adventures with so many pets created a multitude of story ideas for the series.
After a couple of gerbils, who the author said he didn’t realize were “married,” had a large family, he said, “It was a mess but I thought, ‘This is great! I can use this in a story!”
The author challenged the students to write but said creating a book takes more than a good story.
“Ideas are the easiest part of writing.”
Adler told the children that making an idea into a book requires a great deal of work, including research, writing, re-writing, editing, reading, re-reading.
After his presentation to the students, Adler said even more important than the story is the importance of character development.
“Readers will forgive a lot. If they like the character, they’ll keep reading. Then you really have to catch the interest of the reader in the very beginning.”
Adler said he wrote a book proposal with a strong character but the storyline was “terrible.” The editors did not reject it because they liked the character so he just had to craft a better story.
He said for a writer to be successful, they must find their character’s voice.
“The hardest thing is to fit the voice to the story. “The Babe And I” took 11 years to write because I was struggling to find the voice.”
His first character was developed 40 years ago. Adler told the students he began his career in writing after an encounter with his inquisitive nephew.
“I thought, ‘I could write a story about a boy who has many questions. And at the end of each answer say, “A little at a time.” The book was published in 1976 and since then the author has written hundreds of stories ‘a little at a time.’
The author said he works on multiple projects at one time and in different stages. “I send an outline to an editor and I don’t just sit and wait for her to get back to me. I work on something else.”
He said his upcoming book on algebra called “Mystery Math” is in the final stages of editing with the publisher. He is also working on a biography of Harriet Tubman and just began a biography on Sam Houston.
The author’s body of work includes numerous fictional series, fiction books, historical biographies, historical picture books, a non-fiction series of Holocaust books for young readers, and math books.
In fact, before becoming what he calls an “accidental author,” Adler was a middle school math teacher.
He said, “When my son was born, I took a childcare leave. My wife kept working; she’s a psychologist. That’s the year I came up with Cam Jansen. That led to steady work.”
Adler and his wife reside in a suburb of New York City. His three children are grown and he said he enjoys spending time with his two young grandsons.
The author primarily speaks and visits schools near New York but travels occasionally to schools around the country. He not only talks to students about the writing process, but he also shares how the book is printed and bound.
At Fort Craig Elementary, Adler told the students that once his story is complete after a long writing process, the book is illustrated.
He asked, “Does that make sense? I write my story but I don’t know what the characters look like.
The author instructed students to close their eyes and imagine what the clown looked like in his book, “You Think It’s Fun To Be A Clown.”
After reading the story, he asked a group of kindergartners about the clowns they imagined. “Each of you saw a different clown.”
“That’s why I like writing stories. No one else will tell your story.”