An author whose famous book Will Allen and the Great Monster Detective has been created to help children get over their irrational fears, the work of Jason Edwards is archetypal. As an author, he was inspired to write this book for his daughter who suffers from severe anxiety issues. Interestingly, another work that inspired him to write this book was a story about a toilet. He created the character, Great Monster Detective, which helped his daughter surmount her fears. Numerous psychiatrists, therapists, counselors and psychologists visits also could not help his daughter but his book Will Allen and the Great Monster Detective certainly did. Jason Edwards says that he loves writing children’s books because he thinks they are more fun and is a bigger fan of popular works like Harry Potter and Spiderman comics than of classic literature like Hemmingway or Fitzgerald due to his own arrested development. In his writing process, he takes time to develop a consistent piece of work and his creative process is kind of sloppy and less disciplined.
Tell about Will Allen and the Great Monster Detective and your other books?
Will Allen and the Great Monster Detective, the first book in my Chronicles of the Monster Detective Agency series, is the story of a smart but timid boy beset by fears that have literally come to life. Together with his best friend, he searches fruitlessly for help, until a mysterious business card appears that instructs him how to summon the Great Monster Detective, Bigelow Hawkins. With Bigelow’s help, Will must learn how to confront his monsters and reveal the secret of the dreadful HIDDEN BEAST before it’s too late…
Although it comes across as a frightfully funny mix of Ghostbusters and Monsters Inc.., I actually wrote this book for use as a tool to help children overcome irrational fears. You see, I was inspired to write this story by…a toilet.
Allow me to explain. When my daughter was very young, she developed severe anxiety issues, most notably regarding automatic-flushing toilets. My wife and I tried sending her to counselors, psychiatrists, therapists, psychologist, etc., to no avail. Since we could not FIND anyone who could help, I INVENTED someone instead: the Great Monster Detective – a character who could see her fears the same way she did and help her to face them. That seemed to help her, and it occurred to me that there must be many other children (and their parents) who faced similar issues, and might also benefit from the services of a monster detective. That was what set me in motion to write Will Allen and the Great Monster Detective. My hope was, and remains to this day, that by inspiring young readers to confront their fears and metaphorically modeling behaviors that can help control them, each of those readers, like Will Allen himself, might grow from a person who is cowed by fears into one who conquers them.
At the end of Will Allen and the Great Monster Detective, Will has become so good at fighting monsters that he becomes a monster detective himself. He then begins helping other kids conquer their monsters, which leads to the sequels, Will Allen and the Ring of Terror, Will Allen and the Hideous Shroud, and the upcoming Will Allen and the Terrible Truth (coming out later this year). In al of these books, each monster, be it a harpy or a man-eating toilet, represents one of the typical buried fears that plague children, and in order to defeat the monsters, Will and his clients must confront those fears. In this way, potentially traumatic issues such as losing the affection of your parents or dealing with peer pressure are addressed in non-threatening way.
What is it about kids books that you love so much?
What I love about kids’ books so much is the same thing I love about kids – they’re more fun! I mean, I’ve read and enjoyed my share of science fiction, spy novels, and mysteries (I am especially partial to Michael Crichton’s work), but my favorite books remain the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series. Maybe this is because of my own arrested development – I’d still take a book of old Spiderman comics or Calvin and Hobbes strips over Hemmingway or Fitzgerald any day.
What is your creative process like?
Although I’ve always loved to tell stories, I am not one of those writers who planned from an early age on being an author, so I never went to writing classes or the like. As such, my creative process is rather sloppier and less disciplined than the ideal. I am driven by inspiration: the main ideas, themes, and key points for a book usually strike like a bolt of lightning, but it takes me quite a while to percolate and develop them into a coherent piece of work. I use the computer a lot, cutting and pasting ideas to organize the key points and events in the story into their proper sequence. Once I begin building off of that framework, I write in a very piecemeal way – each scene has a life all its own and I, being semi-schizophrenic, enter into it and let the characters speak through me.
Needless to say, I do a LOT of rewriting.
What have you done to promote your books that has worked and what hasn’t?
First, a note about what hasn’t worked. My book series is intended for the 7-13 year old reader, and as such, they are aimed at kids that usually are not yet using social media (in fact, my own 12 year old is not on Facebook, but my 17 year old is), so the website and the Facebook page I produced for the Monster Detective Agency have received scant attention.
Overall, my most successful marketing tool has been the entertaining educational programs that I perform at schools, libraries, and bookstores. My author visits are a little different from the norm: it never appealed to me to come in to a venue and lecture kids (and I don’t think it appeals to the kids either), so I brainstormed about what kinds of activities kids would like, and about what kinds of programs my potential hosts would find appealing and valuable. It was my determination that kids wanted something FUN (brilliant, no?), while my hosts, the librarians (both school and public) wanted kids to learn research skills – the ability to find books in the library all by themselves. So I created an educational program in which children would have an exciting adventure and develop library skills without even realizing it. I created the MONSTER HUNT. In this program, which is based upon the concepts and characters from Will Allen and the Great Monster Detective, boisterous adventurers between the ages of 7-14 hunt down and capture a lurking monster! Kids develop research skills because they learn to use the library catalog and Dewey Decimal System to track down clues hidden in books throughout the aisles that will help them locate the monster’s secret lair. In the end, the children share all their clues and use them to find and capture the monster, for which everyone is rewarded by being commissioned as deputy detectives in the Monster Detective Agency.
This program has proven so successful and popular that I have performed it at over a hundred schools and libraries across the country, and I have many libraries that commission me to perform for them year after year. In the book signings that follow, I often sell more copies in a day than are purchased through my distributor in a month.
What advice do you have for those interested in writing for kids?
(not of anything in particular – just maintain an overall sense of debilitating fear)
Seriously though, I am probably the last person to be giving a writer advice. I have neither the experience nor expertise to be telling anyone what to do.
So naturally, I’ll give some anyway.
When it comes right down to it, the only advice I can give to budding authors is to LOVE YOUR STORY.
I know that sounds obvious, but hear me out. If you are writing a book because you want to be a writer, because you want to be the next Steven King or Danielle Steele – GIVE IT UP! (You see? I told you I shouldn’t be giving advice!). If you have images of fame and fortune and hobnobbing with celebrities, GIVE IT UP.
Oh, I know that successful writers will always say different – never give up, if one book is rejected just write another, keep on plugging, etc. It’s the same as the advice people selling lottery tickets give: you’ve got to be in it to win it.
You have a better chance of being struck by lightning.
When I think of people writing with those hopes in mind, I compare them to people trying to make it in show business. A lot of those who set out to be actors will spend much of their lives as waiters, and the odds of reaching the red carpet are similar to those of that lottery ticket.
Writing is not much different. Don’t misunderstand me: many people are successful enough at writing to earn a decent living at it, but for me, the only reason to put yourself through the long, painful series of sacrifices, challenges, frustrations, and rejections, is because you LOVE YOUR STORY (Or love writing itself). Love it. Believe in it with all your heart. Of course, what motivates any other writer could be completely different, but it was only my need to share with the world this gift, this grand inspiration, that saw me through it all.
And ignore what you hear from self-congratulatory success stories. Lotto winners always tell you that you can do it too.
About Author Jason Edwards
Mom’s Choice Award winning author Jason Edwards is a man of many hats, including storyteller, developer and performer of children’s programs, and an authority on children’s anxieties. Mr. Edwards possesses a B.S. in Psychology, a M.A. in Education, and has more than 20 years of experience developing innovation ways to entertain, instruct, and inspire children. It is a mark of his success that his books have won the Mom’s Choice Award for family-friendly media and have been endorsed by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America as a useful tool for helping children address anxiety issues.
Jason has performed his entertaining educational programs at over 100 schools and libraries across the nation. His signature Monster Hunt and Destination: INSPIRATION programs, his gift for teaching and inspiring children, and his talent for illuminating anxiety issues for children and adults alike, have been featured all over the country in newspapers and on radio and TV, including The NY Daily News, WCBS TV, Talk of Connecticut Radio, and the Sirius Satellite Book Channel. His published works have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and on the internet.