The greatest bedtime stories, and perhaps the most memorable, were those quirky, silly, colorful tales from Dr. Seuss. I can remember being obsessed with The Foot Book (ironic, since I'm now terrified of feet). As much as I adored those books, I never thought that one day I'd have the privilege of editing similar ones when I got older.
Russ Towne is a children's author who lives in California. His rhymes are just as zany as his stories, and it is my pleasure to introduce the Curiouser readers to Russ.
What is your occupation?
I’m an author of eighteen books including fifteen for young children, and three anthologies of fiction and nonfiction stories. I’ve also compiled the selected works of about forty writers and poets into one anthology each of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
My other profession involves another of my passions, investing. I founded a wealth management firm in 2003 that I continue to operate today as the chief investment officer. It too started as a hobby. I’d built a business that served high-tech companies in Silicon Valley and around the world and retired during the dot-com boom.
Retiring early was one of my dreams, but it soon became a nightmare. I quickly grew bored. I volunteered in an elementary school as a reading tutor, and in a high school class teaching fundamentals of investing and business, but was losing the battle of boredom. I began investing to give myself something to do and found I loved and was wired for it. I was soon managing a growing number of investments for friends and family as a free service. They convinced me that I should turn it into a profession, and after some arm-twisting convinced me to do so. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
When I began investing as a professional, I swore I’d never again retire or do anything professionally that I didn’t love. I’ve been able to keep those promises to myself with writing and wealth management. I love what I do and I believe it shows in my work (though it normally feels much more like play to me).
2. What are some of your most notable accomplishments regarding your career as a children’s author?
I believe it is the quality of the stories themselves, and of the feedback I’ve gotten from readers. I’m also proud of the number of books I’ve written in my first four years as an author. I’ve been interviewed by our local newspaper. Several of my books were selected by the director of a United Way chapter to be featured as part of their effort to increase early childhood literacy, and YouTube clips were made of each of my selected books as they were being read.
What is your favorite made-up word from your books?
I’m going to cheat and give you more than one. They’re names of characters from my books:
Grumbly and Gruffina Grumpadinkle
4. What is your favorite children’s book and why?
Horton Hears a Who. I really relate to Horton, his predicament, dedication, integrity, duty, and perseverance. There are so many positive messages for children and adults between the covers of that book. Fifty years later, I can still recall several, including, “A person’s a person no matter how small!”
I also love the message that everyone’s contribution is important. The rhyming schemes and illustrations make it a delight to read for children and adults. I consider the book to be a masterpiece of children’s literature, and believe Dr. Seuss was a master of the genre. It is not a coincidence that most of my children’s books have rhyming schemes. It is a nod to the master himself.
5. How did you come up with the first book idea you wrote?
I’d been writing song lyrics for a couple of years, and was mentioning to a friend that what I start with as an idea for a lyric quite often is nothing like what I end up with. As an example, I told him my latest song idea and then said that before it was done, it would probably be about (I made up a list of the craziest unrelated things I could think of at the time): A green giraffe named Clyde who stands on his head in the rain eating a blue banana, (etc.). Shortly later, I got the crazy idea to challenge myself to see if I could write a story that featured all those crazy things (and a whole lot more) and that is how my first children’s book Clyde and I was born.
What inspired you to write it?
I was inspired by the imminent birth of my first grandchild, Thomas. I love reading to children and thought it would be especially fun to read a book I’d written to my grandchildren. I’ve even begun writing books where each of my grandchildren is a part of them. The first two are, Rusty Bear and Thomas, Too and Zach and the Toad Who Road a Bull. With another grandchild already born and another on its way, I’ve got to get cracking. A pair of twins sped up the timeline and I don’t want any of my grandchildren thinking I play favorites!
How do you overcome writer’s block—especially when you’re rhyming stanzas?
I’ve learned not to try to overcome writer’s block. There are so many other things I also love to do that when the words aren’t flowing, I focus on the other passions until the words begin to flow again. Writer’s block is not a big problem for me.
Writer’s gush is much more of a challenge and opportunity to me. There are many times when I just want to go to sleep or focus on other things, but the words gush too powerfully to ignore. I’ve tried, but they are so insistent that it is far better for me to drop what I’m doing and begin capturing the flood while I can and before they vanish like the morning mist on a hot summer day. Sometimes I’ll end up writing all night and be astonished when I see the sun beginning to lighten the sky.
7. I’ve always felt like your writing is a cross between Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss. Did they inspire your writing at all?
That’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. Thank you! Dr. Seuss certainly inspired me. I don’t think I was exposed to all or most of the creations of Roald Dahl until I was quite a bit older, though I enjoy some of his stories quite a bit.
8. What advice do you have for children’s authors looking to self-publish?
I’d recommend connecting with other children’s authors. Blogging is a wonderful way to do that. Learn all you can from them and help them in any way you can. There is a wonderful community of terrific people in the blogosphere and they can be a fantastic source of support, information, and inspiration. For example, if you aren’t an illustrator, connect with someone who is. I’ve been blessed that I quickly found some of the best. Find what you don’t do well and either get trained by someone who is good at it, barter their skills for some of yours, or pay for their services. Find someone you love to work with. It doesn’t pay to cut corners.
When I held each of my new books in my hands for the first time, I was surprised to learn that instead of being thrilled I felt a sense of loss. It dawned on me that the fun and excitement for me was in the journey, and the way I could get the feeling back was to begin writing a new book.
(Editor's note: Authors, please read the next two paragraphs. They are vital.)
I’m a wildly successful author simply because success for me is having fun, learning, and growing at every step in the adventure. I now usually have at least two or three writing seeds planted and at various stages in their development at a time.
I don’t equate success to sales, money, awards, etc. If I rely on such things for my success or happiness, I grant to others the power to determine whether or not I’m successful or happy, and that seems silly to me. I’ve been quite poor and quite well off. I learned a long time ago that once a certain income threshold is met, any additional income doesn’t make me happier (and I’m often less happy), and that the lower that minimum threshold is, the better off I am. Success to me is about doing what I love with the people I love and who love me.
9. Why did you choose to self-publish over pitching to agents?
I’m expanding my answer to include publishers as well as agents:
I’m lazy, hate rejection, and love doing what I love. There isn’t a single step in the submissions process that I like, let alone love. I’m not even fond of the word submission. If my work resonates with enough people, perhaps at some point publishers and agents may begin contacting me. That isn’t a strategy, but it would be kind of cool if it began to happen because it would create a new set of challenges, opportunities, and adventures. I’ve even thought about paying someone as an experiment, perhaps as a gig, to pitch my work to agents and publishers, but have not yet done so and don’t know if I ever will.
10. If you could meet any author, who would it be?
If the answer can include those who are no longer with us on this earthly planet (except of course through their creations), my answer is Dr. Seuss.
View His Amazon Author Page Here
View His Website
An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. Her blog posts have been featured on popular websites like The Book Designer and Positive Writer. She is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist and her novel-in-progress, The Suicide Tree. She lives in Oklahoma with her two dogs, Chanel and Wednesday.