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Author Showcase

Weclome Mat Stein to the Reading Tub

RT: Hi Mat, welcome to the Reading Tub! We talked a little bit about the origins of the Geronimo the Frog story in our interview on Family Bookshelf, but we didn't have a chance to expand on the back story. Could you tell our readers something about this?

Mat: Sure. I love telling that story! Geronimo the Frog is a story I created and told my daughter Elisha when she was about four. We also share with with Marissa, one of her best early childhood friends who often slept over at our house. They simply adored the story and begged me to tell it again on many different occasions. That was winter 1988.

I made a mental note that this was a story that I should write down and perhaps publish it. I had already had articles published in trade journals, but that is a far cry from considering being a book author. Life went on and I just never got around to committing Geronimo to paper.

The decision to finally write it down came upon me rather abruptly one evening while on a business trip in Las Vegas in 1993. Around midnight on the night before I was heading home, I was yanked out a sound sleep with the words burning inside my head, "Stop procrastinating and write Geronimo down NOW!"

Unable to sleep, I pulled out a pencil, a yellow pad of paper, and started writing. I spent three hours working on and polishing a dfraft of the story I had been telling for the previous five years. I got a few more hours of sleep, went back out to the field site, and then caught a plane to Reno.

RT: In your *other life* you are an engineer and green builder; a guest columnist for the Huffington Post; and best-selling author of one book on sustainable living and another on emergency preparedness and survival. A children’s book about an environmentalist frog is a far cry from those endeavors. Some elements of the process are standard (e.g., finding a publisher, marketing, etc). What made this book unique from your other work?

Mat: The most obvious thing that separates Geronimo from my other two books is the fact that Geronimo is a fictional character. The other books are nonfiction. When I first dreamed up Geronimo as a bedtime story for my daughter, almost 25 years ago, I did not consider myself to be an author. It was just a cool story to entertain Elisha and her nursery school friends. Being one of the favorite nursery school dads, I love playing animated games with them, basking in the laughter of little children frolicking with friends and parents.

After that sleepless night in 1993, I commissioned an artist to compose three sample illustrations. Then I pitched the story to about 20 publishers. Being an unknown, first time author, I did not have a clue as to how to go about selling my story, other than what I had read in the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market Guide. None of the major publishers were interested; but I did receive positive feedback and encouragement from a couple small publishers. One in particular urged me to be persistent, saying that he felt my story was most certainly worthy of publication. He told me that out of all the books they were considering for publication, Geronimo was his personal favorite. Unfortunately they were a small publisher with just a single open slot for a new children's book and his boss overruled him, picking another title instead of mine.

Over the course of the next few months I continued to pitch Geronimo to more publishers, but life happens. I had a daughter to raise and an engineering department to run. I eventually tired of the effort and set Geronimo to the side.

In the fall of 1997 I was inspired to write When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency. Eric Perlman, a friend of mine who has written and produced a variety of documentary programs for television and video, gave me some basic tips for writing a book proposal. With the help of literary agent and author Michael Larsen, I turned my 20-page book proposal into a more comprehensive presentation (almost 200 pages). Then I started pitching publishers. Initially, I was no more successful at pitching When Technology Fails than I had been several years earlier with Geronimo.

I decided to act on a hunch (that inexplicable feeling) and placed a few well-spaced follow up calls to a small publisher who originally rejected my book. Eventually they not only warmed to the idea, but they offered me a contract and an advance.

RT: Wow! Your journey to becoming a published author is a great testament to the power of perseverance. I have another question about Geronimo and his name. I was intrigued at the beginning of the book when you mentioned that Geronimo was an Apache hero, and that Osceola is the Seminole's hero. All of the other animals have Seminole names, consistent with living in Big Cypress Swamp. Why did you decide to stick with Geronimo?

Mat: At first, I deferred to the Seminole elder's recommendation, and changed Geronimo the Frog to "The Brave Frog Osceola." The change just never set quite right with me.

When I was a child in the 1960s, we often played pretend games of "war" and "Cowboys and Indians." "Geronimo!" was a favorite battle cry as we leaped upon members of the opposing team. To my ear, "Geronimo!" has a better ring to it than "Osceola!"

A few years back I did some internet research on both Geronimo and Osceola. Osceola was actually born into the Creek Indian tribe. After the US military defeated the Creeks and the tribe dispersed, Osceola (about 10 at the time) and his mother joined the Seminoles in Florida. Ultimately, Osceola became an adviser to the principle chief of the Seminoles. He is considered a Seminole hero and is revered by Native Americans across the country for fighting against tribal enemies. Like Osceola, Geronimo also fought against tribal enemies in Florida. In fact he is famous for leading dozens of raids and eluding capture for 35 years.

After I read that Osceola was not born into the Seminole tribe, I felt better about the decision to change the name back from Osceola to Geronimo. I still feel a little guilty for ignoring the advice of the Seminole elder who had provided me with all of the other characters' names.

RT: As someone who is hyper-aware of kids and reading, I wonder if you could share your readers' reactions to some of the more unique names - Echaswa the raccoon, Ooeefuswa the egret, among others. Are all of these names phonetic (sound as spelled)?

Mat: The names are indeed phonetic! I admit that there are moments when I am concerned about how well these names will go over with some of my readers. They are a little complicated and quite unusual. At the same time, I hope their uniqueness will pique all readers' interests, adults and children alike. Plus, I am very proud that Geronimo has an authentic flavor.

The Seminole elder who helped me compose names for my animal characters actually started out with the phonetic spellings for some rather lengthy and complicated Seminole words. They may have been strings of words that she ultimately truncated to create the final versions the character names. All of that research was more than ten years ago, so some of the details of the process are lost to history.

RT: We talked a little bit about the books you read with your kids, and what you discovered in figuring out Geronimo's style. Now I'd like to talk about the plot itself. Children’s books about saving the earth and friendship are quite common. What is it about Geronimo the Frog that sets him apart from other books.

Mat: Back in 1980s and 1990s, I don't recall seeing any children's books of this genre. From your question I would assume that this genre is more commonplace now than it was back then. I'll admit I am not up-to-date on all the latest children's books. What I would offer, though is that Geronimo is a rousing good story, with beautifully orchestrated graphics, complemented by a demonstration of positive social values, including respect for the environment, bravery, teamwork, and perseverance.

RT: What are you most looking forward to as a children's author?

Mat: Now that my children are grown, I am missing the playful joy and sweet innocence of little children. I am hoping that through my children's book(s) I will rekindle my connection with young children and that one day fairly soon I will have grandchildren of my own to read to!

RT: We can't say "thank you" enough, Mat, for sharing so much about Geronimo the Frog; your writing and publishing journey; and your own experiences as a reader.

Mat: Thank you for inviting me to be part of The Reading Tub.

RT: Readers - Check out the rest of our interview with Mat on The Family Bookshelf."

Mat:

Website: http://www.matstein.com




                 

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