Interview with SAMMY'S FLAME author Sam Ashkenas
We are thrilled to be releasing a wonderful new children's book called SAMMY'S FLAME on March 15, 2018. Until then, enjoy this interview with the author. We hope you feel as inspired by the story as we are.
Hi Sam, what made you want to write a children's book?
I feel in today’s world people don’t read enough, so I want to get them started early. I want to prepare kids for a lifetime of reading. And I want to challenge them on an intellectual level. A children’s book has to be entertaining for kids, but it also needs to be meaningful. As a children’s author, it’s my job to teach a lesson without being too preachy. It’s a delicate balance, especially since children’s books have to appeal to the parents or guardians as well as the kids.
Do you feel obstacles in your life influenced Sammy's Flame?
When I was two-and-a-half I was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Sammy certainly doesn’t show signs of autism, but what we do have in common is having to face bullying. I was made fun of for my lack of social skills, and Sammy was made fun of for his lack of fire breath.
What lessons or themes are you hoping Sammy's Flame will teach young children today?
Sammy starts off as the kid everyone envies. He has incredibly supportive and loving parents, and he is an athletic super star in his town. But, as the story later reveals, his true strength lies in his determination and refusal to give up. Because that’s far more important than athletic prowess.
Will there be a sequel to Sammy's Flame?
I’m not done with Sammy. I think there’s a lot of potential here, and I anticipate, but do not guarantee, that a sequel to Sammy’s Flame will come. Part of me just isn’t ready to put the character aside yet, because Sammy is the first fictional character I’ve ever gotten on paper. In some ways, Sammy is like a treasured imaginary friend.
Do you see yourself pursuing being a novelist, a children's book author or both in the future?
I’ve never written a novel. My memoir is a lengthy book, but when it comes to fiction, I prefer stories that are shorter and faster paced. I’m a firm believer that it is generally preferable to tell a story in as few words as possible, so long as you don’t cut out important details. So, while I won’t say I’ll never write another adult book, my primary focus is definitely children’s literature. My favorite things to write are picture books, but I intend to branch out to an audience that is at least a little bit beyond
that reading level.
What was the most challenging part of the process and what was the most rewarding part?
The most rewarding process has been getting the illustrations in. Sammy’s Flame is being illustrated by Dorene Uhrich, and as she rolls in pictures with gradually more and more detail I can really see the book come to life in a way that will appeal to children.
As for challenging, really the whole process is not for the timid. To start with, I spent several months looking for an agent, all in all being rejected by thirty-two of them. After that, once I got picked up by Acorn, I had to edit the manuscript. And I have to say, editing a seven-hundred word manuscript is extremely challenging. Because it’s so short, every little detail is crucial. People think picture books are easy because they’re so short. But that’s not the case. Picture books are large, in color, and often hardback. As such they’re expensive to print, so picture book publishers only take the very best stories. Then they take a knife to them. So yes, it’s quite a challenge.
What advice do you want to give to others out there looking to publish a children's book?
The most important thing to do for any type of writing is to read what you want to write. In the case of children’s literature, do you want to write a picture book? If so, what age level? Picture books go all the way from interactive play things for babies to sophisticated stories still appropriate at the beginning of elementary school. Or maybe you’re beyond picture books? I’m a big fan of early reader chapter books, which is, in my opinion, the next step as they fundamentally transition children away from picture based stories and towards prose based ones. Or perhaps you want to go all the way up to middle-grade or young adult? I recommend trying out different writing styles and reading as much as you can to figure out your age group. After you have an idea of your audiences age, write your way to the end. Don’t worry about making it good, that will come later. The true writer must understand that first drafts will always be terrible. But that doesn’t mean the finished project won’t be good.