Reading was a major part of my childhood. It was a skill that I picked up quickly and easily, one that I instantly enjoyed. Books were a big deal in our house, and at an early age, I found reading stories to be my favorite activity. Listening to stories was almost as fun as reading them.
My father was our family’s master storyteller. When putting my brothers and me to bed at night, he used to invent all sorts of exciting and imaginative stories on the spot, keeping us fascinated by his cast of recurring quirky characters. Most of his tales ended with, “And then, the boys went home, took baths, put on their pajamas, and went to sleep. Now, you go to sleep.” Then, he would turn into Sandy the Sandman, offering us magic sleeping dust for our eyes, in the colors of our choice. From him, I learned to dream up on-demand stories about almost anything, a skill that would serve me well when entertaining my own children.
When an elementary school teacher had the class write down our own creative stories and then have them bound into little books, I was a natural. Having learned from my father how to imagine impossibly awesome scenarios, far beyond the limits of normal experience and the natural world, I had no trouble coming up with a tale of aliens from outer space invading people’s homes and making life unbearable for them (eventually to be defeated, of course). I drew the aliens to resemble those from the Atari 2600’s version of the “Space Invaders” video game. My teacher was flabbergasted, and praised me to my parents, as having “such an imagination!” I recall telling my mother that, someday, my little book would become a bestseller. That didn’t actually happen, but I didn’t give up.
A major event in my writing saga was a comic book of my own creation. One day, probably to relieve my San Fernando Valley boredom, I sat down and created a comic book character named “Super String Bean. ” He was a regular guy named Joe Binny, who gained temporary super powers by eating string beans. Of course, he used his super powers to fight crime. His archenemy was a wizard named “Lermin.” (“Merlin” was taken.) Though I did not consider myself a visual artist, I wrote and drew a number of issues of the Super String Bean comic book, for my younger brother’s entertainment. Super String Bean inspired him to take up comic book art, as well; he produced some “Captain Cheerio” comics for my amusement. His comics usually had me cracking up with laughter.
Still, I knew that I had an inner author waiting for the right time to be unleashed. In an enjoyable ninth-grade English course, I wrote an essay and submitted it to a writing contest, winning a cash prize; it was a bona fide validation of my ability, through writing, to produce something that others valued. Courses that involved creativity, innovation and experimentation were generally those that I enjoyed most. Though I also enjoyed scientific subjects, and did well in those areas, writing remained very important to me; abstracts, lab reports, and technical papers were usually fun to compose. While attending university, I often contributed articles and opinion pieces to a Jewish student newsmagazine.
Fast-forward a number of years. With a family of several young, active children and a tenuous research position that wouldn’t last forever, I had to do something. A parenting magazine included an advertisement for a writing course: “We need people to write children’s literature.” Since I was already quite adept at telling my kids fanciful tales at a whim, I gave it a shot. The course taught me some valuable guidance regarding point of view, setting, character development, and related topics. Combined with the mandatory stories that I told the kids on our morning drives to school, the course helped me to produce a short story about some kids who discover a treasure map in their broken robot and try to return the treasure that it reveals, being blocked by pirates along the way. For a while, that story didn’t go anywhere; traditional book and magazine publishers typically have rejection rates of around 98%. Like Super String Bean, my stories eventually became another suppressed but unforgettable part of my past.
Around 2010, self-publishing started to become a real phenomenon, and began to disrupt the publishing industry; for me, it presented a new opportunity. A good friend compiled dozens of his blog posts into a book, and had them published through an independent publishing service. I marveled at his ability to do so. Shortly thereafter, I took up my story of pirates, kids and robots once more; I was determined to write a full-length novel. I added further adventures, and then tried to get the novel in front of several different literary agents and publishers. Their rejections annoyed me; I had no patience to wait several years to be “discovered.” Instead, I followed my friend’s example and pursued self-publishing. I thought of a title, Yaakov the Pirate Hunter, that encapsulated the story in a fun, concise way. For the cover, I threw together a do-it-yourself monstrosity using the publishing service’s template; a toy treasure chest in the sand, blurrily photographed via a crummy cell phone, would have to do. I added a royalty-free stock photo of the large synagogue in Djerba (read Yaakov the Pirate Hunter to find out why), and voila! I was now a (terrified) self-published author.
I thank you for joining me on my adventures, and look forward to what the future holds!