Please welcome this weeks guest Max Anderson for The Journey. He answers the question: How have you seen God work in your writing journey?
Confessions of a Reluctant Reader…
Only God Could Do This
By Max Elliot Anderson
My father published over 70 books during his lifetime. Some of his books included a couple of popular kid’s series, yet I never read any of them. I grew up in a family with six other siblings, so it was easy for some things to be missed. In my case, no one noticed that I didn’t spend a lot of time reading. Or, I might just have been good at hiding it.
We lived in a rural area of Michigan near Muskegon. Our home was situated on several wooded acres, with few other houses anywhere nearby. Not far away was Wolf Lake, where I spent endless summer hours. It was common for me to hit the back door, before breakfast, and not to return until dark. And I wonder how many miles I put on that rusty, old junker of a bike back then?
Along with my friends, I used to roam the vast woods surrounding our house. The area included miles of trails, a river, lake, and lots of climbing trees. What boy could be expected to think about reading a book with such a variety of places to run, play, swim, and ride my bike?
Looking back, I can see now that I was a person who learned by watching, as opposed to reading about something. Show me and I get it right away. Read about it and who knows? My friends and I invented a host of pretend characters and situations from cops and robbers, or cowboys, to war games.
If I wasn’t involved in action, often a little dangerous, I wasn’t happy. Skinned knees, elbows, and knuckles were not uncommon. In some of those situations, my father used to smile and say, “Boys will be boys.” This drove my sisters crazy! But the wisdom of his words still rings in my ears as I observe boys today.
Our daughter teaches third grade in a public school. We have had many conversations concerning the boys in her class, and issues surrounding reading. This has provided a real life lab for me to discuss some of my ideas concerning the kinds of material boys like to read and why. It’s sad to know that so many boys live under a medicated cloud when all they really need, in many cases, is to run, jump, yell, and play until they drop. Whoever came up with the idea that a boy should sit quietly in a chair for most of the time when the sun is up, in a typical classroom setting, just doesn’t understand boys.
Lest anyone think my situation is unique, with an author for a father, and not caring to read as a child, consider this. A recent article in People Magazine reported the story of author James Patterson. Mr. Patterson is one of America’s most prolific authors. He has a young son, and this boy doesn’t like to read. So Mr. Patterson has established a web site at readkiddoread.com. The central focus of this site is to encourage kids to read, especially reluctant reader boys. I’ve also established a blog, Books for Boys, at http://booksandboys.blogspot.com
Later, as I attended school, I found other ways to hide my lack of interest in reading. It was common for me to approach book reports a little differently than other students in my class. I’d read the opening chapter from the book, the middle chapter, and the last chapter. From there I had a pretty good idea who the main character was, and a gist of the story. Then I’d just make things up as I went. A little later on, I suspected that the reports were only busy work so I decided to test the theory. Right in the middle of one of my reports I wrote, “If you’re still reading this, I’ll treat you to a steak dinner at the restaurant of your choice.” If I remember correctly, I got an A on that report which, of course, the teacher never read. I didn’t understand at the time that it was the reading of the book which was intended for my benefit, and the report was the less important part.
In spite of my lack of reading for enjoyment, I managed to finish high school, and graduated from college with a degree in Psychology. It was during my college years that I began to read more diligently because I loved the subject matter.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I began to explore why I hadn’t enjoyed reading as a boy. I visited bookstores and the library where I looked at hundreds of books for kids. That’s where I saw some interesting patterns in many of the books. They had too much detail for my taste. Descriptions of people, places, and things tended to be far more than I wanted, too. Large blocks of words, sometimes several long paragraphs together, would have defied me, as a child, to jump in.
Even as an adult, I am easily distracted. If I hear something, I have to look up to see what it is. That causes me to lose my place on a page, and it’s frustrating to go looking for the spot to begin again. A radio or TV in the background, or people talking in another room, are equally distracting to me while reading.
At the same time, I came to understand that reading is one of the most important skills we need in order to prepare for a successful future. Not many people get to grow up like I did, where my dad was also a motion picture producer. I spent as much time as possible hanging around the studio during production. In those early years, I decided I also wanted to tell stories through film. At the age of eight years-old, I was “killed” by a hit-and-run driver, while riding my bike. But…since the movie I was in was being shot in black and white, the blood that ran from my nose, mouth and ear, came from a chocolate syrup bottle. It was during these years that I learned about characters, setting, plot, timing, and dialog.
I found I could pursue a career in the film and video production world without spending a lot of time reading. Try doing that if your dream is to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. But since I was primarily a visual learner, it made perfect sense for me to find my way into more visual forms of expression. I’ve produced, shot, or directed over 500 national television commercials for True Value Hardware Stores for example. All the while, I wrote countless proposals and scripts, but never considered that actual writing. After all, hadn’t my father written a ton of real books? And I’ve told thousands of stories, visually, for industrial, medical, and retail clients in my video production business.
Armed with a new understanding of the critical importance of reading in our education, I set out to write the kinds of middle grade fiction I would have enjoyed as a child. They are short on detail and description, and contain a lot of humor, action, adventure, mystery, dialog, and heart-pounding action. You might say that I’m on sort of a mission in order to get kids interested in reading, especially boys.
My books are written so that most of the chapters end in a cliffhanger. The reader simply has to find out what happens next. Children tell me that reading one of my action-adventures or mysteries is like being in – not reading – but being in an exciting movie. That’s probably because I think visually first, and write like that in my books.
I might say I’m writing middle grade books for boys, but I’m happy to report that in addition to reluctant readers, my books are equally enjoyed by avid readers, girls, and even adults. I’ve completed thirty-six middle grade adventures and mysteries; ten are published and I have contracts for ten more. I’ve written nearly fifty short stories and published several of those, any my work has been included in anthologies by Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts Books, Tyndale, Regal and more. I’ve written scores of magazine articles and write two monthly magazine columns.
Today I’m reading a book my dad wrote in 1949 as he traveled across China. It’s so interesting and I should have read it years ago. Don’t wait as long as I did to start enjoying books. Reading allows children to exercise a God-given gift that is shrinking in its use and importance. That gift is our use of imagination. Too much of what we experience today comes from others who decide, by the music they use and the pictures and words we hear from a screen, what we should think, how we should feel, and what our reactions should be. Reading engages all aspects of our imagination.
Only God could turn a reluctant reader like me into an author writing for kids today. But I believe He had a plan, years ago, in the way I grew up, and in the career I followed, that prepared me to do exactly what I’m doing now. And I like to remind kids that, in the end, readers are the leaders others follow.
Max Elliot Anderson grew up as a struggling reader. After surveying the market as an adult, he sensed the need for action-adventures and mysteries, for readers 8 and up, that he would have enjoyed as a boy.
Using his lifetime of experience in the production of dramatic motion pictures, videos, and television commercials, Mr. Anderson brings that same visual excitement, humor, and heart-pounding action to his stories. Young readers have reported that reading one of his books is like being in an exciting or scary movie – good scary and not dark.
He writes a monthly column about middle grade readers, and short stories for young readers. His work has appeared in Guideposts, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and many others.
Readers compare Mr. Anderson’s books to the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, a modern-day Tom Sawyer, Lemony Snicket, and adventure author Jack London.