My story starts like many other authors who write for young readers: I was a father with two young children at home, which meant I read a lot of books, especially at bedtime. We surrounded ourselves with books—from the library, from our Book-of-the-Month-Club subscription, and from my classroom at school. From that immersive experience, I began to dream of being an author and for the next few years wrote stories that I shared with my kids at home and my students at school.
I became a teacher because, after receiving a very impractical bachelor's degree in comparative religion (why not? I was curious about things, big things), I obtained a master's degree in elementary school curriculum. My first teaching position was at the World Family School, an alternative school in Bozeman, Montana. After two years and six kids later (not mine, the school's: we just couldn't seem to muster any more), I moved to the public schools across town and taught second grade for five years at Irving Elementary School.
From there I headed to the university up the street and obtained a doctorate in educational research and curriculum design. (Graduation Day is still memorable: my youngest daughter greeted me at home with a voluminous, "Hello, Doctor Dad!"). With my new degree in hand, I headed to Chicago, having accepted a faculty position at a small private college in a very teacher-centered graduate program. My job was to help students—all certified and employed teachers—improve their instruction, which I did for the next twenty-five years.
As a tenured professor I was expected to publish, and I did: articles for professional journals and books for young readers. Over time, the latter started to take precedence (fortunately, the college that employed me was a teaching, rather than research, institution and respected that work). Feeling the support of my institution, I was motivated to write and averaged a book a year for almost twenty years.
Part of writing books for young readers is that you get to travel to schools to talk about books and the writing process. Early on I found that I was a natural storyteller: put a microphone in front of me and I come alive with stories, songs, and personal experiences, all with a tinge of humor. So along with teaching, doing research on children's literature, and publishing my own books, I hit the road sharing my books and stories with the K-5 school-age population.
It didn't hurt that I had some musical skills up my sleeve either. I often peppered my school and library programs with musical renditions of popular books: Donald Crews' Freight Train accompanied by a chug harmonica; Bill Martin, Jr.'s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? performed a la the Chicago Blues Brothers (replete with sunglasses and fedora); and George Gershwin's Summertime sung to the slow rhythmic beat of—what else?—a slinky. Reading books, telling stories, cracking jokes: these have defined most of my professional life.
Then, in 2008, my world changed: the market crashed and the publishing world came to a screeching halt. For the next few years it was almost impossible to sell a manuscript. And schools? They hardly had the budget to invite an author for the afternoon. It was during this time that I discovered the world of independent publishing. I jumped into it primarly as something to do while I waited for the publishing world to turn around. It did; but I didn't. After publishing several books on my own, I realized that I really enjoyed seeing a book through every phase of the publishing process.
Now, a fulll decade after my first independently produced book,it all makes sense: after all, writing to me has always been how I learn, which means that what I'm doing now, as an independent author/publisher, is no different from what I've always done—I read, I take notes, and then I organize my thoughts and publish them in book form. The difference is that I have to pay attention to a lot more that goes into producing, promoting, and selling a book, which has been the great learning experience of the last few years.