How My Middle School Son and I Created a Science Fiction Franchise
Searching for a deeper connection with your middle or high schooler? Wish you could create something together and build a stronger parent/child bond in the process? Perhaps you could write a story together, self-publish it, and sell it on Amazon.
Nearly four years after we first discussed the idea of writing a science fiction story, I never could have foreseen that my middle school son and I would be publishing our second book in The Tinker and The Fold series, and in the process create a young adult sci-fi franchise with thousands of books sold and an international following.
I remember the day well. It was January 20, 2013. We were driving to my daughter’s seventh birthday party when my son Evan, then nine, and I began discussing an idea for a science fiction story. I’m not even sure how the topic came up as we were winding down the spruce lined road. It just kinda came up as so many random conversations do.
I began sharing an idea I had for a sci-fi story when I was in college, but never got around to writing, for one reason or another such is life. Evan latched on to the concept. Before long, he and I were spending several hours every weekend building Lego models of aliens, spacecraft, and flying saucers. These creations lined the shelves of his room and led to discussions of the various alien civilizations that created such intricate machines.
We started jotting these ideas down on copy paper. First we worked on character descriptions and later drew pictures of the various aliens that would come to populate the story. We found inspiration for their names in the science fiction we both loved: Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Star Trek; and subsequently hid dozens of names from our all-time favorites throughout the books.
Before long we had piles of copy paper. So in order to keep it all straight, we three hole punched the piles and organized them in a three ring binder. At this point, the story no longer resembled my original idea. It had evolved substantially as we worked out the details over many months. I had simply provided the spark.
Looking back, I marvel at all of the hundreds of conversations we’ve had creating The Tinker and The Fold. I realize now as a forty something executive and father of three, my imagination isn’t quite as sharp as it once was. Yet that is precisely what Evan has in spades, an unencumbered imagination full of incredible ideas searching for an outlet.
Evan’s imagination is not governed by experience, nor is it limited by convention. It is free in ways I, as a middle aged male, can no longer be, but in ways I can truly appreciate through the lens of experience and time.
So what do I bring to the equation? Well, as a professional manager, I know how to see projects through to completion and I understand the power of deadlines. I also understand how to organize plots and storylines so that we can turn free flowing ideas into a cohesive journey for our readers.
Yet, though I make it sound as though we planned it all, it rather happened organically as we both embraced the process of creation together. The book series just kinda happened.
Nothing engages a child as imagination does. For so brief a time, our children live imaginary lives. They replicate the adventures of their heroes: Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Luke Skywalker, The Avengers, Iron Man, Doc McStuffins (funny example I know, but this is currently my youngest child’s fleeting hero). Then, in an instant, it’s all over. They’re grown up. Gone by in the blink of an eye.
One of my favorite childhood photos of Evan, he couldn’t have been four years old, is him dressed as Clark Kent pulling his shirt apart to reveal Superman’s iconic ‘S’. He was such an imaginary child, and was dressed in costume every day.
I’ll never forget shopping for a maternity bra for my wife at Kohls the day my first daughter was born. Evan was dressed as Captain Hook from Peter Pan. We sword fought our way through the entire store until we finally accomplished our mission and dispatched to the maternity ward to deliver our bounty.
Spiderman, Iron Man, The Flash, Batman, Indiana Jones, every Jedi under the sun (and even a couple Sith) and all of their myriad devices, weapons, and accoutrements littered the floor of our house.
Like I said before. There are no limits on a child’s imagination. I was reminded of this every weekend when we worked on the story. I’d have writer’s block and Evan would bust out with, “What if Tii-Eldii was a fugitive hiding from The Fold and used giant worms to get around?”
I could cite hundreds of examples like this. In writing The Rise of The Boe (book #2), it was Evan’s idea to cut the plot short and use the last five chapters to kick off book #3. This left us with a really enigmatic ending that we hope readers will enjoy that we feel complements book one’s cliff hanger.
Most interesting is how Evan’s friends at school have reacted to the books. We’ve had middle school parents approach us and say things like: ‘my son refuses to read, but he couldn’t put your book down. He read it in a weekend. He’s never read anything that fast. I got curious so I read it, too, and to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it, and I don’t like science fiction.’
What a compliment! Now if just one parent of a middle schooler who hates reading shared this sentiment with us, it would be statistically irrelevant, but we’ve heard it now from dozens of parents.
It’s gratifying to see how the synergy of our voices has created a story that is truly multi-generational, transcending labels like young adult fiction, yet that is where it squarely belongs.
We hope that The Rise of The Boe will be as well received as The Problem with Solaris 3, and continue to speak to both middle school readers and their parents alike. If we can encourage more kids to read and write creatively, we will have accomplished much.
This is the first in a series of blogs that will reveal the process through which Evan and I created The Tinker and The Fold. We will go beyond the creative process and cover topics such as setting up an Amazon page, finding a great artist to design your cover, editing, formatting and layout, and getting your book into Barnes and Noble and Walmart (yes we are in both of these), and much more.
We hope to see you again!