I’ll start this backstory with how I end it. This book could not have been made without the prayer, help, guidance, support and endurance from a bunch of folks. God blessed me with a unique desire and talent and expected me to act. So here’s the story of the story.
I came up with the idea for a children’s adventure book about UT’s mascot, Smokey, some years ago in college, but didn’t put pen to paper until 2008. It was then, on a muggy summer’s day that the story came back to me. My wife and I were swimming when I told her that I had an idea for a book (bless my wife for having to listen to all my ideas). Being the kind-hearted woman she is, she did not dismiss the thought, but encouraged me to go ahead and write it down. The next day at the pool I had my Target journal in one hand and an ice cold Diet Coke in the other. I scribbled out four or five pages of raw ideas and a plot. I even tried my hand at drawing some of the characters – albeit with limited success. After about two or so hours, I called it a day and we went to eat Mexican. And that was all she wrote for a while.
The framework of the story was trapped inside my journal and would remain there for another year or so. It wasn’t until after the birth of our daughter that the action picked back up. I started reading her children’s books and started thinking to myself “I can do this.” I decided to really focus on mine. I just wanted to get it done. Complete it. Get it out of my head on some wide rule.
After a lengthy spell of writing, rewriting and rewriting some more I finally had the book in what I thought was a good place. I contacted my friend’s mother, Susan Kelton, who had been published, and started asking her questions. She gave me some great advice and a contact number for children’s book author, Rhonda Todd. Little did I know that connecting with Rhonda would change the course of the book. Rhonda was honest. She told me that my book was about 3000 words too long and that no parent would want to read something that long to their kids at night. I tried to reason with her that my book was different and had a certain je ne sais quoi quality to it. I couldn’t possibly trim such a masterpiece. She basically said, sorry bub. Ouch! Well, thank goodness for Rhonda. She was right. I hired an editor named Nancy Day and she helped me trim the fat, a lot of fat. The word count went down to around 1400. Characters, scenes and sentences were left to try out for next year’s team. It was a painful process. I felt like every sentence, every phrase was essential (as you can probably gather from the length of this story). Mr. Naïve should have been on my business card. But, I finally started to trust in trimming. And lickety-split, the script was done.
I tested it out on my daughter countless times and asked her what she thought of the characters. She was a great sport about it. Sometimes we even acted out some of the characters together. I was often hiding in a cave (under the bed sheets) from Mr. Chomper.
The next step was to get it illustrated. I posted the job on Craigslist in Knoxville and somehow Adam Taylor in Oregon managed to see it. He submitted some sketches to me and directed me to his portfolio on the web. I just loved his characters and color. I compared every other candidate to Adam, and he simply couldn’t be touched. He brought the story to life with his art and captured the characters perfectly. They could not have turned out any better.
I would love to continue with the telling of this story and some of the other neat details, like how I found Kirin at Coburn Printing and the tremendous help she was and continues to be. I’ll do my best to do so in the near future. But for now, I will end by saying again that this book would not have been possible without the guidance, support, encouragement and endurance from a bunch of folks. A bunch! Most importantly, I prayed and others prayed for me through this whole process. I am so thankful that God gave me the desire and creativity to write the story and that He thinks enough of me to give me opportunities and open doors. I began this journey without a clue. But by His grace I was connected to people along the way that helped me reach the end.
Special thanks for all the help from:
Rhonda Friend Todd
Rachael Mink – web designer to the stars
Jay and Ashley Moneyhun
George and Stephanie Wallace
Jon Mike Hardin
Harrison “Hard Hat” Slatery
Jack and Sylvia Lacey
Carol and John Acker
Becca and Michael Williams
Karlo and Erica Rodriguez
Andy and Jennifer Crook
Terry “B.A.L” Troutman
Keith “Big Brother” Akard
Jonathan “Scotty” Mayfield