Today, we have an opportunity to talk to Steve Frederick. Steve has written the books, Breakfast of Superheroes and Secrets of The Ring.
First, let me thank you for joining me. I appreciate you giving me your links and I want to share those with our readers.
I now have the URL, and the website will be completed in the next couple of weeks. The URL is http://www.thunderboltstories.com/
That is great. Can you tell us a little about yourself and what led you to start writing?
I was “writing” before I learned to write. A neighbor, who was a teacher, had my brother and I over sometimes during the summer. My older brother would write, while I would dictate stories to her. I wrote stories in grade school and high school, but put that behind me when I went to college.
I had a similar journey. I even won a creative writing award in high school but stopped in college. What led you back to story writing?
Toastmasters International, a public speaking group, reawakened my love of crafting stories. At first, I struggled. My speeches were rather flat, and I was terrified to get up in front of the room. But I stuck with it, and after a while, it paid off. My speech about Harvey Haddix, a real-life, star-crossed pitcher who pitched a perfect game for 12 innings, but still lost the game ☹ excited audiences and won me second place in the entire Chicago area in the TM International Speech Contest. I’ve turned that into a picture book, “The Greatest Game Ever Pitched.” I hope to publish that soon.
Then, my son was born, and there was no time for Toastmasters. But soon, my son presented me with another story-telling opportunity. I loved sharing stories with him, both with and without books. We spent many glorious afternoons sitting in the board book section of the library reading and then taking home piles of books.
Then, one morning, I was tired and uninspired, and didn’t really feel up to telling yet another story. I told (my son) I just couldn’t remember any more stories. Without batting an eye, he said, “Well, then make some up!”
When he got into day care, I had the unenviable job of getting him up in the morning, feeding him breakfast, and getting him to school. He was a real grouch in the morning, but I soon figured out that telling him stories made him less grouchy. He loved superheroes, and having taken in my share of superhero comic books and TV shows as a kid, I told him stories I remembered about Batman, Spiderman, Daredevil, the Hulk, and Superman. Then, one morning, I was tired and uninspired, and didn’t really feel up to telling yet another story. I told him I just couldn’t remember any more stories. Without batting an eye, he said, “Well, then make some up!”
So, I created a number of characters, the best of which was based on him, and eventually morphed into the hero of my books, the superhero named Cockroach. He loved hearing stories about himself. When he got into kindergarten, we had our first “Readers are Leaders” day at school. That’s the day parents come to read a book to the kids. I decided to write down one of my stories about him and shared it with the class. When I’d finished, a boy in the front of the room gushed, “That’s the best superhero story ever!” When I go back and read it, that version wasn’t great, but I think the kids were fascinated to hear about a superhero their age. With that encouragement, I kept writing.
The problem was that I was looking to my son as a model for my character, and he kept getting older and changing. It was like trying to hit a moving target. The character kept getting older until I finally froze him at age 11.
It sounds like you get a lot of inspiration from raising your son. Where else do you find inspiration?
Obviously, most of the inspiration comes from superhero comics and TV programs. As a kid, I loved the Superman, Spiderman and especially, the mysterious Batman. But I also have been influenced by things like Harry Potter and The Muppets—kids stories which don’t bore adults. We adults endure a lot of books and movies that kids love, but we find to be just dreadful. I’ve always strived to make them enjoyable for adults as well—and quite a few adults have read the books and enjoyed them.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
Begin. Nothing is more intimidating than a blank page. Write something. No matter how bad it may seem. It is amazing how quickly bad can turn into good and even great with a couple or a few revisions. I just have to force myself to begin.
Keep at it. The first piece you write will probably not be outstanding, but don’t let that stop you, if you have something to say. Tell your story.
I mentioned Toastmasters International, the public speaking group. I went there to learn public speaking. At first, both the content and the delivery of my speeches were mediocre at best. But after getting up in front of the group again and again and again, my speechwriting and my delivery got better. Then a lot better. And then, one day, when I was standing in front of the group giving a speech, I was amazed to look at the audience and realize that they were hanging on every word.
What is the best advice you have ever been given as a writer?
My dad said, “Write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.”
That is good advice. Keep at a work. So many authors who send me work have clearly finished a first draft and that is a major achievement. However, their work suffers because they never went back over it. Editing can be the bane for many authors who love to write. What is your favorite part about writing?
My favorite part of writing is feeling the brain’s creativity. I love the way the mind works when I’m really focusing on something. The flashes of inspiration come more frequently the more I work on the books. I’ll have a dream about a character or an idea will flash into my mind while I’m sitting in church or taking the dog for a walk. I enjoy creating characters and getting in touch with them, who they are, and what’s important to them. They come alive in my mind and I’m constantly thinking of challenges they might face. How would this character react to this situation? What happens when these two are in a room together?
Please tell us about your current release.
The Secrets of the Magic Ring is the second book in a series. In the first book, Kyle Alexander, a clumsy and scared kid, finds a magic ring in a cereal box. It won’t come off his finger, no matter how he pulls and tugs on it. And the ring gets him into trouble. Kyle tries to get up the courage to face criminals and eventually comes face to face with the meanest, nastiest crook in the city. When he does, he’s not sure his magic ring is on his side. His story is everyman’s/everywoman’s story: overcoming his fears to use his powers.
In the second book, Kyle’s newly-discovered courage evaporates in a heartbeat when he learns that Kodiak Bearenski and the Grizzly Bear Gang are out to hurt superheroes. The nasty Kodiak already put one superhero in the hospital. Kyle is scared and frustrated. Although his magic ring is a twin of the ring worn by the great superhero, Captain Nightmare, Kyle has gotten none of The Captain’s super strength. Kyle learns that the two magic rings are very different, and he must figure out—in a hurry— what his powers are and how to use them. He fears that using those powers will put his own life in danger. But superheroes may die if he doesn't!
Can you read us a small exert?
It was the dead of night. Downtown Chicago was quiet and nearly deserted when the roar of an engine shattered the silence. A black van sped east across Michigan Avenue. It crashed through the majestic arched glass doorway of the Markiss Neemun store, sending glass flying in all directions. The van’s doors burst open and four figures dressed in furry grizzly bear costumes leaped out. The Grizzly Bear Gang was striking again.
The tall, broad-shouldered driver barked orders as the gang fanned out, clutching large trash bags. They stuffed shoes, purses, jewelry, dresses, and suits into the bags and tossed them into the back of the van. In a few short minutes, the van was crammed full of bags of overpriced merchandise.
They slammed shut the van’s back doors and jumped back into their seats – except for the driver. He turned to face the security camera, removed the head and gloves of his grizzly bear costume, and gestured at the camera. Then, reaching inside his bear outfit, he pulled out a handful of glittery dust and tossed it into the air. Finally, he too leaped into his seat, slammed the door, and hit the gas. With a squeal of tires, the van turned around and smashed what was left of the doorway on the way out.
That is great! What exciting story are you working on next?
The next story in the series is The Bangle Bombers Blast Banks. In this story, two shadowy figures blast their way into bank vaults throughout the city, and disappear without a trace—except they leave behind a bangle. Police and superheroes alike are utterly baffled, especially since many of them don’t know what a bangle is. Kyle and his best friend try to crack the case. As he does, he has to deal with his Grammy, who has become hugely suspicious of his strange behavior and vows to get to the bottom of it.
Who are your favorite authors?
There are many, of course. Here are a few.
Sandra Cisneros—I love the simplicity and power with which she writes.
Mark Twain—I read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn more than once as a kid, and then later as an adult. I often think of them and their relationship when I write about my superhero character, Kyle Alexander, and his best friend, Carlos Santana.
Lemony Snicket – The wacky, absurdity of his books and the persistence of Count Olaf as he tries to steal the fortune of three orphan kids kept my son and hooked through all thirteen volumes.
J.K. Rowling—The queen of kids’ books (that adults also love). My son and I read all seven of the Harry Potter series together as well. I’m in awe of how she managed to write about a character who gets a year older in each book, and still hold her audience. I’ve thought about trying that with my books, but I think I won’t. I have strived to emulate the way she appeals to adults in a kids’ book.
Pearl Buck—My wife and I were both spellbound as she took us into the world of Chinese society and the struggles of peasant farmers. Sadly, I was unable to interest my son in her work.
Bob Kane and Bill Finger, who created Batman, my all-time favorite superhero. My character’s encounter with Rocky the Rat in the first book and the Grizzly Bear Gang in the second, draw heavily from the tone of the Batman stories.
And Pablo Picasso. I know he was an artist, not a writer, but his Don Quixote inspired me. In this picture, he expressed so much with just a few lines. I’ve tried to do that in my writing.
One thing I always find interesting is how indie authors are networking. Are you involved in any writer groups?
I’ve been a member of a critique group for twelve years. Members have come and gone, but each has been a strong influence and source of creativity and fellowship. It continues to fascinate me to see how various people’s perspectives and their life experiences contribute to the discussions and feedback to help improve. Their comments continue to surprise me. They often tell me things I never would have thought of in a hundred years. Here’s three examples:
Ø I had a scene where a female superhero had a call of nature and had to go to the bathroom at a critical crime-fighting moment. I thought it would be funny because, well, superheroes NEVER go to the bathroom in stories. It was an arbitrary choice to have that female character be the one who inopportunely needs a bathroom break, but some of the women took it as an insult to women, so I took it out.
Ø Another pointed out to me that the rage one character directed at another didn’t make sense. So, I had to create a reason for that rage. I believe this enriched the character tremendously.
Ø In a picture book I wrote, a character tears down the cords on the window blinds to use them as rope. Someone pointed out that those cords are a strangulation hazard and people might be upset.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
A good editor can make all the difference in the world. I was developing my superhero stories over a period of years. I knew a 4th and 5th grade teacher and asked if he would read them to his class and get their feedback. He agreed and I sent him a draft of my first book. He was amazed. He said the kids were so enthralled that they didn’t even want to interrupt the story to go to gym class. “That’s unheard of!” he raved.
With that encouragement, I kept working on it. Some months later, I sent him a “new and improved” version to read to a different class of students. I expected that he would tell me the kids loved this even more. They didn’t. He’s always very honest with me, and said, “It didn’t go so well. I read a couple of chapters and didn’t get the sense that they were into it. I asked the kids to give the story a thumbs up, thumbs down, or thumbs sideways. Most of the kids gave it a thumbs sideways, and there were more thumbs down than thumbs up, so we stopped reading.” Ouch!
Well, I worked on it some more, but was really struggling to find my way. Someone in my critique group told me about a great editor named Pamela Dell. I got in touch and told her I’d send her my latest draft for her feedback. But then, just before I got off the phone with her, I mentioned my experience with the very different feedback from two classes—one group loved the story; the second was utterly indifferent. Her ears perked up. “Really? Why don’t you send me the earlier version as well?”
She read them both and told me that my story had gone off the rails when I made my “improvements.” She suggested that I go back to the old version, and gave me some suggestions for improvement. This included giving my character’s best friend, Carlos, a much stronger role in the story. I thought this would be a lot of work, but when I sat down at the keyboard, Carlos quickly came to life without a lot of effort. He’s now a huge player in the superhero stories.
Very true and draws us back to your dad's advice: “Write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.”
Thanks for being with us today. Let me remind our readers where they can find you: