Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Interview with co-authors Jesse and Kevin Howard

1.      What inspired you to write your book?
My inspiration for writing this book came from my oldest son and a childhood toy.

Just before my 8th birthday I spent over a month in the hospital with a bone infection in my leg. One morning during that stay, a friend of my father’s woke me. Hanging-on the curtain rod around my bed was a cute stuffed animal, a monkey named Kookabuk. My father’s friend went on to tell me a wonderful story about how Kookabuk was there to help me get better. During that time, I developed an incredible bond with my new friend. Kookabuk became a cherished source of friendship and strength. I improved and was discharged from the hospital not long after. Fast forwarding to adulthood, I always wanted to create children’s stories using Kookabuk as the main character, but could not come up with a storyline.

Many years later I married and started a family. My first born was diagnosed with Autism at two-years-old.  As he grew he began displaying challenging behaviors. Struggling to figure out how we could understand what’s was going on with our son, we sought the assistance of many therapists and professionals. One of his therapist suggested using social stories.  She explained that social stories are tools used to help children understand and prepare for new situations. Taking her advice, I began creating social stories for my son. The first one was about a child going to the doctor to have his blood drawn. We read it together several times before visiting the doctor’s office. It worked! My son had his blood drawn without incident. Other social stories followed. While writing one of them, I realized I finally had the storyline for Kookabuk!

My friend Kookabuk helped me through a very difficult time as a child, and now I am very happy he’s back (47 years later) to help others. 

As Kevin described, the inspiration for the book series and the characters within are really from his personal experiences, as well as his relationship and journey with his son (my nephew). Kevin discussed the concept with me years ago and we had always planned on writing the series. Life as teachers and parents can be very busy, and we finally had some time to dedicate to Kookabuk over the last year or so. Personally, my greatest inspiration is to entertain as many children as possible while simultaneously putting forward the idea that friendships can develop between all different types of children.
2.      What is it about?
The Kooky Adventures of My Friend Kookabuk is a wonderful collection of social stories created as a guide to help you and your special child approach new experiences and challenges in a positive way. Successfully navigating through a world filled with uncertainties is difficult for all children. The struggle is often magnified for children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A social story is a fun and powerful tool in helping to address specific challenges that your child may encounter. Our social stories are thoughtfully designed to encourage the participation of all those who love and support your child. 
In this story, Emily helps Kookabuk learn how to share one of his most prized possessions. Most children are inherently very protective of their toys. While Kookabuk’s reluctance to share his green shovel is very typical, his reaction is elevated and prolonged. Fearful that Emily is confused and afraid to play with her son, Kookabuk’s mom steps in to guide their social interaction.

3.      What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?
I hope readers recognize that embracing similarities and accepting differences makes the world a much better place for everyone. And, random acts of kindness turns ordinary people into heroes. 
I hope children reading the book who have Autism themselves come away from the book with increased self confidence and a greater desire to share when playing with others. For neurotypical children, I hope they recognize how much fun can be had playing with a child with Autism or any child who is different from them. With a little patience, understanding, and kindness, they can forge a friendship with someone who may seem different from themselves.

4.      What advice do you have for writers?
The advice I would share with writers is: Be true to your work. Do not let self-doubt or the doubt of others interfere with your creative thought. In the end, it will be your name next to the title and you don’t want to have any regrets.
Simply keep at it. I now realize that I did not publish anything until I reached the advanced age of 36 because many times I would have an idea, start writing, get frustrated, and give up. Having a great idea is a huge first step, but dedicating time and energy to see that idea through to completion is the challenge for me. But if I can do it, so can you. That’s just the truth. Also, you really have to deeply believe in your ability to write and be true to your writing style. Your level of education and training don’t matter as long as you have a unique voice.

5.      Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
I am not an expert on the publishing industry; however, after my experience I would bet that many writers would choose to self-publish as I did. Cost, time, and control were all factors that made self-publishing attractive. Because information is easily accessible and technology is more user-friendly, people are now more empowered to do things on their own. Consequently, the DIY (do-it-yourself) crowd is causing the dismantling of many established systems.  I believe traditional publishing may begin to fall apart as well. 
From my limited experience, I really do think self-publishing is the way of the future. In publishing our first book together, Kevin and I have worked endless hours, spent lots of money, and have had daily phone conversations that last hours at a time to get the job done over a 14 month or so period. But it was worth it. We controlled every aspect of the project, chose who we wanted to collaborate with, and in the end the final product truly turned out better than we had hoped for. Also, being first time authors, I am glad that we went the self-publishing route because we were forced to learn so many things.  In general, with social media and online retailers, etc, it’s hard for me to imagine that traditional publishers will continue to dominate the market over the next 25 years or so. They will probably always have a role, but that role may change, much like record companies in the music business.
6.      What challenges did you have in writing your book?
In many ways the challenges I faced in writing this book were similar to those I’ve experienced in the past. The usual excuses and customary distractions repeatedly presented themselves throughout this process. The biggest hurdle, as with any of my previous undertakings, was finishing. I have learned over the years that persistence, perseverance, and determination are not just words, but rather instructions to live by.  I did not allow time, money, family, or work-life deter me from my goal.  Anytime I felt overwhelmed and wanted to stop, I referred back to one of my favorite quotes: “The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.”  Accepting some “roadside assistance” every now and then, I managed to stay on course. Now equal to my other accomplishments, the first installment of The Kooky Adventures of My Friend Kookabuk is finalized. 
For me, the biggest challenge was making our partnership as co-authors work smoothly and effectively. It certainly helps that we are brothers and have the kind of relationship where we can say anything to each other and know that it won’t change our feelings towards each other. There are times when we don’t agree and the discussions can be intense and passionate. I also tend to be a bit impatient and have some obsessive compulsive tendencies, so luckily my brother knows that about me and takes it all in stride! But I can honestly say that I am incredibly excited to continue working with my brother on this series and on other future projects because we have designed our own unique approach to co-authoring, and it works for us amazingly well.

7.      If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
I believe this book has the ingredients for the making of a classic children’s book: stunning illustrations, adorable characters, a fun meaningful storyline, and a memorable name. Additionally, this book has the unique combination of being entertaining and instructional.  Included, at the end of the story, are strategies that provide helpful suggestions to guide parents/caregivers through challenging situations.
It’s truly unique. There are thousands of social stories for children, pretty much all children’s books are social stories. However, our book has the combination of being entertaining and fun, while also sharing a positive message for all children (be patient, kind, and understanding and you can play nicely with anyone). Also, we add tips and suggestions for parents and caregivers at the back of our book. These suggestions are from our personal experiences and are intended to help parents to begin to think in terms of behavior management strategies. For parents of children with Autism, behavior management can be a particularly daunting challenge, so we hope our advice provides some relief.

Jesse Howard is a special education teacher in Westchester County, NY who received his Masters in Education (Childhood/Early Childhood/Students with Disabilities) from Manhattanville College. Raised in a family of special education teachers who embraced their passion to live a life devoted to the well being of all children, his career has focused mainly on early childhood and students with disabilities. He made learning creative and experiential for his students and developed a strong connection with parents. Realizing the importance of the role of the parent as “First Teacher,” Jesse encouraged parents that time spent reading with children was a critical as well as a rewarding experience.  From these experiences, plus his love of writing, grew the foundation of his philosophy surrounding the Kookabuk series. 

Kevin Howard graduated twice from the University of South Florida, receiving both a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and a Master’s Degree in Education. He spent the first 14 years of his early professional life in private industry, and is now approaching his 20th year as a public school teacher, trainer, and coach. While his resume is packed with a wealth of experience and education, Kevin confesses that his most rewarding experience has come from fatherhood and being the parent to a child with Autism. Kevin created and co-authored The Kooky Adventures of My Friend Kookabuk to share the knowledge he gained raising his son. The Kookabuk series is a collection of social stories that serve as a source of information, inspiration, and guidance for parents and children alike. 

For more information, connect with Jesse and Kevin on their website, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Kookabuk Shares His Shovel is now available on Amazon and CreateSpace.

Continue to follow the Kookabuk Shares His Shovel blog tour tomorrow at Motherhood Moment!
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©. 
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