When Michael Simpson noticed some behavior problems with his step-son, he wanted to address them through reading — a hobby his step-son already loved. But he couldn’t find a suitable children’s book.
So he created one.
“B Dogg Goes to School” allows the reader to choose B Dogg’s next actions and discover the consequences as he or she goes along.
Book Buzz caught up with Simpson to see how his idea came to be — and what obstacles he encountered in creating an interactive e-book.
Book Buzz: Is this your first endeavor into writing? What made you choose a children’s book?
Michael Simpson: Believe it or not, I feel like writing is in my blood. My mom was an aspiring writer when she was pregnant with me. She actually had a company agree to publish a novel she had written, but starting our family took all of her time. Some of my earliest memories are the ones she wrote about for my back cover [of "B Dogg Goes to School"], her reading to us every night at bedtime and many evenings.
As I grew into a teenager, like most I was moved by music. I would listen to a song and think to myself — that sounded good, but it would have been better if he said this — and I would add to or change popular songs in my head. That eventually led to me writing my own songs, and I now have over a thousand in notebooks. I have also written several short stories that were inspired by my mom’s Steven King bookshelf in her room. Oh yeah, and a screenplay, I have a full-length script for a comedy about telemarketers I finished in 2010, which I have already started a sequel for.
The idea for B Dogg came from a situation with my step-son. After years of behavior issues both at home and at school, and on the bus and at the store, pretty much all the time, I noticed he was happiest at bedtime when his mother was reading to him. I sat in the other room, listening to them together, and wished there was a book that she could read to him to help with his behavior somehow. Since I couldn’t think of one, I decided to create one.
BB: “B Dogg Goes to School” employs a choose-your-own-adventure method. Why use this format for the book? How do you think it benefits young readers?
MS: Coming from the angle of wanting to help my step-son, I started by analyzing his day and its issues. If he got in trouble on the bus, what was that moment like, and then I thought about what it was like from his point of view. I wanted to teach him in a way that he could grasp why these behaviors are wrong and what it really causes as a bigger picture.
Children can be exhausting even when they behave “perfectly,” so we were tired as parents and frustration was affecting our relationship with him. It was a cycle, and only he, a little child, had the power to change it. I wanted him to understand the bigger picture, but how could I possibly do that?
Pondering that question led to the interactive aspect of the book, almost an instruction manual to walk him through those situations and to show how the two choices lead to different results for everyone involved. An accidental bonus of this is the re-readability of it; you can read it several times and get a different story each time. I encourage parents while reading, to have conversations about the choices B Dogg has to make and how their children feel when in those exact same moments.
BB: Were there challenges in creating an interactive book like this?
MS: Creating was a challenge, but an incredibly fun one. Putting myself in the shoes of an elementary school age child was a blast, so the writing wasn’t as tough as the illustrations. I was blessed with a man who was a dream to work with. We spent a few dinners talking over the concept, where I wanted it all to go eventually, the purpose, the ages of the audience, just really discussing the project before we did anything. The choices, the interactive paths the story could take took some deep thought and planning. I needed it to branch off, but come back to the same point, so I had to outline it first before writing out the sentences. I ended up with something that looked like a totem pole.
BB: Right now, “B Dogg” is available as an e-book. Do you have plans to publish print copies or write another story involving the B Dogg character?
MS: Let me warn all writers now — the challenges in creating your work pale in comparison to the challenge of what to do with it when it’s done. I listed what I have written earlier in this conversation, and 100 percent of the time I hit the same wall — the Internet. There is such a flood of false information that one almost can’t stop from getting lost.
I wanted to go the traditional publisher route, and found mostly outright scams posing as publishing companies or legitimate ones who refuse unsolicited works. So I though about hiring an agent, but found only unclear information and more scams. I decided to go with the ebook because it seemed at least possible.
The No. 1 site for book traffic is Amazon, but due to my pictures and interactive links, there were a lot of conversion problems. I honestly don’t think they have ever had a book like this. Out of almost desperation, I created my own site to sell “B Dogg Goes To School” directly.
I found [a few printing companies] in a funny way. I asked my Mom about the saying “The simplest answer is usually the right one,” and what is the simplest answer to find a printer. I didn’t want to do it online, and driving around seemed inefficient. She replied to use the phone book. It was genius and worked great so far.
I had a wonderful meeting with Shuman Heritage Printing Company, and we are ordering the printed copies this week. They are located just off of Cottage Place in the middle of town, and I was extremely impressed by the people there. Soon you can look for “B Dogg Goes To School” not only online but also in bookstores!
Greetings And Readings in Hunt Valley and Barnes and Noble at the Inner Harbor have been supportive and open to putting copies on their shelves as soon as the printing is done, and to allow me to do public readings and signings there, so I’m very excited about that.
B Dogg is going to be an ongoing series, I’ve started outlining, I believe, six more so far. Having three more finished and available by Christmas is the goal.
BB: Illustrations were done by Scott Gladfelter. How did you decide to use his illustrations?
MS: I owe this becoming a tangible reality to Scott. If I had any specific hopes for getting the illustrations done, he far surpassed them. Anything good I can say about him would be an understatement.
We met because he and my wife worked together caring for disabled adults, and he drew a boardwalk style caricature of her and a coworker. It was hilarious but amazing. When I finished writing B Dogg and began the search for who to help me with the images, she suggested Scott. We spoke a few times and then started on sketches.
One thing I loved and was grateful for with Scott was his total commitment to me getting what I wanted out of his drawings. I had worries of how he would take it if I wanted to change something, or if I didn’t like where a certain look was going. He was happy to change things for me and assured me constantly he wanted it to be just right for me and what I wanted. He’s a natural, very gifted.
We spent some time sharing ideas and sketches back and forth with B Dogg, but most of the background and side characters, I wrote descriptions and he drew from that. It was like he hit a bullseye in my opinion. I love how it came out and think readers will too. He lives in the Glen Rock/New Freedom area and I would be honored to do the rest of the series with him.
Name: Michael Simpson
Lives in: York
Hobbies: Writing, travel, games and puzzles, church, studying music
To purchase: www.mybdogg.com