Reluctant Reader Grows Into Author of Popular Adventure Series for Youth
Author Interview with Max Elliot Anderson, Tweener Press Adventure Series
By Lisa M. Hendey
I have a “tweener” living at my house – my son Adam is ten years old and a voracious reader. Interestingly, his reading tastes vary greatly from those of his older brother, who is chronologically thirteen but has the reading tastes of a college student. Therefore, Adam views his older brother’s books as “hand me downs”, and uninteresting ones at that. While he loves to read, I still need to closely monitor his selections to ensure that they are age appropriate – many of today’s chapter books contain information that is more “worldly” than I feel is appropriate for a child Adam’s age. As a result, I’m always on the lookout for books for Adam.
You can imagine my delight when I became aware of the work of prolific author Max Elliot Anderson and his Tweener Press Adventure Series. Aimed at readers ages eight through thirteen, Anderson’s books are filled with action packed adventure and each contain important moral messages as well. Adam was attracted immediately to the latest book, Legend of the White Wolf (Baker Trittin Concepts, April 2005, paperback, 160 pages), which is billed as “a wonderful mixture of Indian lore, truth, God’s love and redemption, and adventure.” As a mother, it’s great to be able to offer my child a book by which he will be both edified and engrossed. Max Elliot Anderson is a light for parents looking to teach their children both a love of reading and sound Christian principles.
I had the opportunity to interview Max Elliot Anderson recently and am pleased to share his perspectives on writing for “tweeners”.
Q: Max Elliot Anderson, thank you for your time and participation in this book spotlight interview. Would you please share a bit about your background and family?
I come from a family of seven children. Two are younger and the rest are older. My father produced Christian films for as long as I can remember. These were rented to churches before video took over. I doubt if many churches have their 16MM projectors any longer. My wife Claudia and I have been married for 37 years. Together we’ve raised a son and a daughter who are now adults.
Because of my early exposure to film making, I chose to produce video programs and television commercials for my profession. I have a client production company, The Market Place, and another company, M V P Productions, through which I produced and am distributing the abstinence film, Tracy’s Choices http://www.maxbooks.9k.com/photo2.html
Q: What led to your career as a writer? What challenges have you faced in this vocation? What are some of the rewards of being a writer?
This is something I never would have expected. Even though I’ve written hundreds of scripts and proposals in my video business, I didn’t view that as “real” writing. I saw it more as simply one of the necessary steps in the process of producing programs and commercials. In a similar way, I was selling projects, but never thought of myself as a salesman. At my core, I’ve always been a producer.
Then a little over three years ago, the area where I live, which is heavily into manufacturing, began to feel the negative effects of the economic slowdown. Most of my clients were manufacturers. A few months later the country experienced 9/11, and, with it, my production business came to an abrupt halt.
I wrongly expected this to be a short-term obstacle, and determined to hold on until my production work returned. Who would have expected that to take over three years? Still, I wasn’t willing to radically change professions, because I truly love the video and film production process.
It was at this time that I sensed the prompting, a voice almost, that said, “Why don’t you write The Scarecrow?” http://www.tweenertime.com/tweener/theScarecrow.do
This was a screenplay I had written years ago that had never been produced. However, the prompting was definitely that this should be written as a book. I have a famous author father for crying out loud, I kept telling myself. What business do I have with writing books? To complicate matters, I had grown up as a reluctant reader and hated reading. So I decided to do some research into why I felt this way.
When it comes to obstacles, there were many. Because of my research, I chose to write adventure books, primarily for boys, and more specifically for boys who hated to read. I wanted to write the kinds of books that I would have enjoyed as a child.
Once I had done that, it was impossible to convince the mainstream publishers that there was a need for what I was doing. After all, there are approximately 70,000 active publishers in the U.S., cranking out something like 170,000 new titles every year. Who was I kidding to think I could join the ranks of published authors?
The rewards are clearly in the creative freedom that this form of expression allows me. The smiles on kid’s faces, and the warm comments from parents, make it even better.
Q: Your books are specifically aimed at a specific and unique age group - "tweeners"? Who is this audience and why are you seeking to reach out to them?
Tweeners are children between 8 -13. They aren’t “little Kids” any longer, and they aren’t exactly grown up either. Yet this is the most critical period in a young person’s life when they are making most of their life’s choices and decisions. After the age of 14, this process is pretty much set. I can’t tell you how many people have written or told me personally how much they appreciate someone who is writing for this, “most neglected,” segment of the population as they put it. I chose this age for a couple of reasons.
As I said earlier, my wife and I have already raised two children. But we raised them during the time when our culture was telling kids that there were no rules, no moral absolutes, and no need for responsibility or accountability. In other words, if something went wrong in your life during that time, all you had to do was blame it on your past or someone else. It was never going to be your fault. At the same time, many marriages broke up, leaving a lot of kids without a traditional, two parent home.
Now, you can say that my expectations were aimed a little high, but I determined to write books that would point kids in a better direction. I’ve written 32 manuscripts so far. My fiction stories deal with what could be real, but they also depict family life and community in a way that can still be, if a person makes that choice early. The Bible reminds us to train up a child in the way he should go so that when he is old, he won’t depart from it. I think this is both a spiritual concept as well as a practical one. By that I mean, if we model certain things in front of our children, this will have either positive or negative results in their lives. So my books depict life as it could be. I want kids to read them, file those pictures away on the hard drive of their minds, so that when they become adults, some of those concepts will be there. This was a special concern for me as I thought specifically about boys who might be growing up without a positive male role model.
Q: In today's society where our children are bombarded by so many violent and worldly images, a series such as yours is truly refreshing! How can today's parents of young boys counter the tide of popular culture?
I think parents sometimes forget that they are the parents. I sympathize with the single parent when it comes to something like this. I know we had a tough enough time in our own home with two parents sharing the load. But in study after study, regardless of what a child says in the heat of battle, our children are still looking to us for answers and direction. What you hear coming out of their mouths may be completely different from what’s actually in their hearts at that moment. So I’d say, set rules, boundaries, limits, whatever you have to do in order to hold that line. And begin this early because it only gets harder. Studies also tell us that a child’s views concerning alcohol, drugs, sex, relationships…everything, is directly affected by what they learn from their parents. A quick trip around the television channels will tell you what others want our children to think. These negative messages also bombard them through their magazines, radio, music, peers, and advertising. So, parents have a much stronger position with their children than they might think.
Q: I loved the adventures confronted by the characters in your stories! Where do your ideas come from?
Thank you. They say that much of what a writer puts on paper comes from his own life and experience. That scares me a little because, to read most of my books, you might think I have a criminal mind. Still, many of the settings are places where I’ve been and several of the characters are people I’ve met or imagined. But there is something very unique in the way that the adventures have arrived. As in the case of The Scarecrow, I have felt prompted to write each individual manuscript so far. These stories come to me fully formed, with main characters, setting, and plot already in place. People closest to me, who know me best, call it divine. They might be right.
To make this point even more clear, I don’t read a manuscript until the first draft is totally written. When I do sit down to read it for the first time, it’s as if I’ve never seen the story before. I’m often amazed at how it all fits together. Even in the writing process, minor characters show up, from out of nowhere, and they become extremely important to the story.
In the case of my latest book, Legend of the White Wolf, the first draft was finished in just three days. When I read it, I could hardly believe what I had written.
Q: Your books are interlaced with wonderful, moral underpinnings. Why is this an important aspect of your writing? What specific goals do you have for your books?
This goes back to, “train up a child.” I think we have a responsibility to be a positive influence on the next generation. In my research phase, I found many books that glorified the dark side. It was common to find books about all kinds of evil, but not much that attempted to show kids a better way. Now, you have to remember that I never read for enjoyment as a child. I knew nothing about the contents of some of the popular books that have come along. You can’t begin to imagine my surprise when I read that my books, NEWSPAPER CAPER, TERROR AT WOLF LAKE, NORTH WOODS POACHERS, MOUNTAIN CABIN MYSTERY, BIG RIG RUSTLERS, SECRET OF ABBOTT'S CAVE, & LEGEND OF THE WHITE WOLF were being compared by readers and reviewers to Tom Sawyer, The Hardy Boys, Huck Finn, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, Tom Swift, Star Wars, Scooby-Doo, and adventure author Jack London.
Q: Do you have plans for future installments of the series? Is there any reason you do not write about the same characters in future books?
Interesting question. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve completed 32 manuscripts. Seven have been published. Next in line for publication are RECKLESS RUNAWAY, and THIRD HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Readers have already been asking me what happens next in some of the published books. As each was written, I had no plan to take the stories any farther. But I went back and looked at a number of them, and there is the potential for other installments. I just don’t know if I’ll pursue that or not at this point, except for one. After Legend of the White Wolf was published, I felt a very strong prompting for a follow-up. Again, the next story is very clear to me. But, at the same time, I have at least six other stories that are already in line.
The reason for so many different comparisons to my “un-series” is because I chose to use different characters in each. I could never understand how all these fantastic things happened to the same set of twins, or friends, in each book of a traditional series. To me it added to the silliness and was another barrier I erected so I wouldn’t have to read them. But at the same time, I believe that my approach is more realistic and more honest, while respecting the intelligence of the reader.
Q: Max Anderson, thank you again for sharing the gift of your writing. As a mother of two sons, I must say your work is greatly appreciated! Are there any closing thoughts or ideas you'd like to share?
This might sound purely promotional, but I can assure you it isn’t. If you have a struggling or reluctant reader, especially a boy, then you have just learned about a set of books that will more than likely be the key you’ve been looking for. Beyond that, the books are loved by avid boy readers, girls, and even adults. This has all come as quite a surprise. What I’m finding is that readers don’t want to stop after just one book. Many families have already bought every one, and look forward to the next. There is something very special going on here, and I simply have the privilege of being involved in the process.
Much more information is also available on my web site at http://www.maxbooks.9k.com , but I’ll end this with some comments. These are typical of what you would hear if people could sit across the table from you over a cup of coffee.
Here is what a Christian school administrator has written for other Christian schools across the country: “…I can recommend every book without hesitation for your children to read. While reading “Terror at Wolf Lake” I had trouble putting the book down. Max Elliot Anderson, the author of this series, has the unique ability to keep the reader on the edge of their seat following the adventure and escapades of the main character, Eddy Thompson. As a grandparent I am encouraged that the book very creatively and appropriately weaves Christian character traits and biblical principles through the life and actions of the main character and his friends. Parents, you will find this to be true of every book in this series.”
A Mom: “I gave my son (11) a couple of your books for Christmas. He is definitely a reluctant reader...I have to be on his case constantly to get him to read. When he opened the package I could tell he was not too thrilled with getting books...until he saw that you wrote them. ‘Oh, these are THAT guys books...thanks, Mom!’ Later in the day I mentioned to him that I expected him to read the books. He said ‘You don't have to tell me that, Mom...I want to read them!’ As a mom who is almost never without a book in her hand, it really warmed my heart to see him excited about reading! Thanks, Max! And please, keep them coming!”
For more information on books by Max Elliot Anderson visit http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/external-search?search-type=ss&tag=catholicmomcom&keyword=Max%20Elliot%20Anderson&index=books or http://www.maxbooks.9k.com
Lisa M. Hendey, wife, mother and webmaster of http://www.CatholicMom.com and http://www.ChristianColoring.com is an avid reader and writes from Fresno, California. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.