Today I have for you a fun guest post by author Derek Kent, a.k.a. Derek The Ghost. Derek is here to share with us some thoughts on inspiration. He is the author of the popular Scary School Series. Be sure to check out the giveaway and my reivews of his books. Now here is Derek the Ghost:
A Ghost’s Inspiration
By Derek Taylor Kent
Hello everyone. My name is Derek Taylor Kent (AKA Derek the Ghost). I’m the author of the middle-grade book series Scary School from HarperCollins. Book one came out last year and received some great notices and even won the Children Literature Network award for funniest chapter book of 2011! Book 2 of the series came out June 26, 2012 and Book 3 the June after that. In case you don’t know much about it, it’s a series about a school where just making it to lunch with all your arms and legs is considered the great day.
For this blog, I will talk about what inspired me to become a writer. It’s a question I get asked a lot. As a children’s author I do many school visits and it’s one of the most common questions asked by kids. So, I have a few stock answers in my back pocket that I’m always ready to pull out.
However, now that I’m sitting down and really analyzing the question, I realize that inspiration is a very mysterious thing that deserves to be delved into more deeply than my back pocket.
I think a profession is very special that requires inspiration before even being considered. Do accountants get the question: What inspired you to become an accountant? Or: what inspired you to become a lawyer? Or even: What inspired you to become a doctor? I’m not saying that great stories of inspiration aren’t possible for those professions, I’m just saying that I don’t think it’s a question they get asked a lot because inspiration is not a prerequisite. Plus the story of inspiration probably wouldn’t be very interesting. Most would probably be: I was inspired by the idea of having a steady, well-paying job for the next forty-five years.
Sometimes, I envy them for having that stability, but alas, that will probably not be the case for me, because I am inspired to write children’s books. I get paid in the sound of children’s laughter and the joy of enriching young minds. I also get a little bit of money, but not yet enough that I can quit my day job fixing things in my apartment complex. But, to be honest, I’d rather have half my arm down a toilet drain than be crunching numbers or looking at blood all day, so it will do for now.
I believe that inspiration for a profession can be broken down into three categories:
- Childhood environment.
- Moments of epiphany.
- Adulthood passions.
I’ll go through how each one of these inspired me to become a writer.
I grew up in a very artistic household. My mom is a very popular artist named Melanie Taylor Kent. I’ll wait while you Google her to see her artwork. Pretty amazing, right?
When my mom’s art career took off, my father quit his job as a lawyer to stay at home and run the art business. So I grew up in an environment where the example was that pursuit of creative endeavors can not only be viable, but can be hugely successful. Granted, it was the 80s.
My mom’s art business was huge. She was doing commissioned works for Disney, Warner Bros., Lucasfilm, Steven Spielberg, Hanna Barbara and countless others. Plus, my mom was always very, very encouraging of mine and my sister’s creativity. She seemed to desperately want us to follow in her footsteps. I wasn’t a good artist, but my sister is. I gravitated more toward writing and acting, and Mom’s eyes, I was William Shakespeare and Robin Williams rolled into one.
So, I had a lot of support at home, as well as an in-house example that creativity can be quite lucrative. I was probably doomed.
But that’s not to say that there wasn’t an example of hard work being essential. My mom taught art classes in LAUSD schools for ten years. When she started trying to sell her paintings, every gallery and publisher rejected her. She had to go to art shows in parks for years to prove that there was a market for her art and that it could sell. And that’s exactly the stage that I’m at right now. Every weekend I’m at bookfairs and author festivals, signing my books and trying my best to create a sensation one book at a time.
I have no idea if it will eventually pay off like my mom’s did. But I am a little bit hopeful because kid’s books are pretty much recession-proof, while her art business was not.
Number two. Moments of epiphany.
I think we all know these specific moments of great clarity and happiness where our destiny seems crystal clear before our eyes. I remember when I was nine years old I wrote a story in my fourth grade creative writing class. It was a story about how far I would go eat my favorite food, which at the time was Stouffer’s frozen noodles romanoff.
The teacher read the stories in class the next day, but I was out sick. However, the teacher sent home a card with my sister. It was a get-well card from my class, but on it, my classmates had written how funny the story was and that the teacher had said it was the best story in the class. Apparently I had everyone on the floor laughing, but I wasn’t even there to see it. It’s probably much better in my imagination anyway. I had an epiphany that writing stories that would make all my friends laugh was what I wanted to do. The following years I would be writing skits and plays constantly to perform for the class and all of that pretty much continues to this day. It still comes very easily for me to make my friends laugh and also nine-year-olds.
Number Three. Adulthood passions.
When I was fifteen years old, I became obsessed with Dr. Seuss. Like all kids, I loved him when I was six, but I reread his books when I got older with a whole new appreciation for the imagination, poetry, and creative wordplay.
I really, really wanted to be the next Dr. Seuss. So, I started writing children’s picture books in his style. The intention was to have my mom illustrate them and we could sell them as a mother-son duo. There were just a few problems. My stories were epic. Way too long for picture books. They turned out to be more of a cross between Lord of the Rings and Wizard of Oz told in rhyming couplets than your average five-minute picture book. Nobody had every seen anything like it. The other problem was I had left for college and my mom was going through a divorce and she couldn’t finish the illustrations (although there are countless incredible sketches of the fantastical world we created).
But I kept plugging away with this epic book series for ten years. I even got an agent for it at one point, but nothing would ever come of it. Just as my Dr. Seuss dreams were fading, I started reading the Harry Potter series. I had another moment of epiphany that occurred through following my passion for literature. This is what I should be doing! Writing novels where I can create an entire unique world and not be foiled by the constraints of picture books.
It was my love of Dr. Seuss that gave me the bug for writing children’s books and my obsession with Harry Potter that inspired the idea of writing novels.
There were several failed attempts of novels at first, but eventually I finally got my first book deal with the Scary School series. And now, I receive emails from kids every day telling me how much the book makes them laugh. And every time I get one, I’m nine-year-old Derek again having an epiphany that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
Scary School by Derek Taylor Kent
You think your school's scary?
Get a load of these teachers:
"Ms. Fang," an 850-year-old vampire
"Dr. Dragonbreath," who just might eat you before recess
"Mr. Snakeskin"--science class is so much more fun when it's taught by someone who's half zombie
"Mrs. T"--break the rules and spend your detention with a hungry "Tyrannosaurus rex"
Gargoyles, goblins, and Frankenstein's monster on the loose
The world's most frighteningly delicious school lunch
The narrator's an eleven-year-old ghost
Join Charles "New Kid" Nukid as he makes some very Scary friends--including Petunia, Johnny, and Peter the Wolf--and figures out that Scary School can be just as funny as it is spooky.
Hardcover, 237 pages
Published June 21st 2011 by HarperCollins
Four Stars: A fun collection of stories for young kids.
Derek the Ghost has decided to record the many events and stories of his classmates at Scary School. Derek accidentally died last year in a school fire, but kids who die at Scary School are rarely ever dead. Most return as vampires, zombies, ghosts and other fantastic creatures. Scary School is certainly not your ordinary school. It is a place where monsters and humans go to learn. Always expect the unexpected at this wild and wacky school. Most of all be extra careful, wouldn’t want you to get eaten by a dragon, or T Rex or giant Squid!
What I Liked:
- I was a little surprised that Scary School is not a standard story line, plot driven book. Instead it is set up in multiple short story chapters. Each chapter introduces a student and tells of an adventure or experience at Scary School. Most of the students end up learning a valuable lesson by the end of their chapter. I liked that this book is a collection of stories that come together in a loose story line that basically takes the young reader through the months as they follow each character’s chapter. At the end of the book, all the stories culminate into the Ghoul Games. An event where the students at Scary School must compete against all the other monsters, and if the monsters win they will eat the students. Fear not.... for those of you worried about a dramatic outcome for young readers... all ends up well in the end.
- I loved all the little life lessons at morales that I learned from each of the student’s and their experiences. There are many great ideas for young minds.
- I ended up liking that each story could stand alone as a short story. Perfect for younger readers who are inclined to read a bit each day. This would be a good book to read aloud to children at school or at bedtime each night. Since it is broken up into short story chapters.
- I liked meeting all the unique students, staff and monsters of Scary School as well as exploring the grounds of this interesting school. This book is great for young kids with imaginations! One of my favorite kids was a boy who was never afraid because he believed he was dreaming all the time!
- I absolutely loved the illustrations in this one! They are fantastic and they go perfectly with the stories!
- I liked that the Scary School Website has games and quizzes and many other fun features that tie into the books. Be sure to check out the website, it will enrich your reading experience.
And The Not So Much:
- At first, I was a little alarmed that students were eaten and killed all the time at Scary School, but I was delighted to find that no one is really dead at Scary School. Everyone usually ends up coming back to life in one way or another.
- I wished that Derek the Ghost, the narrator of the book, was better developed. There is just a tiny snippet on him at the beginning and a couple of more paragraphs sprinkled throughout the book, but I wanted a complete chapter on Derek so I could know what kind of boy he was before he died and learn a few more details about him.
- If you are not a fan of paranormal creatures or discussions on death, dying, dragons eating students and people crushing heads, this may not be a good choice for you. The violence is more like cartoon violence, but I know some parents do not like to have any violence in their children’s books. Everything in this book is in good fun, but a keep in mind there are discussions on the above topics in this book.
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.