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Byron lives in Michigan and is a father. He has moved for his career several times and the stress of moving with young children led him to write his book – Life with Graffy, discovering bravery.
The book is about a boy that struggles with moving, which is something Byron’s own son struggled with.
Personal Website https://www.byrongifford.com
Byron loves Stephen King, especially the latest
A great local bookstore is Prince books and coffeehouse
Welcome to another episode of discovered wood Smith. Today I’m talking with Byron Gifford, who has he is a father and he’s written a children’s book based on his life experiences of moving with two small children. It is called life with grafitti discovering bravery. So if you have kids, this would be a great book to read. It has great lessons in it, and some wonderful pictures and illustrations that Byron has done himself. Again, I hope that you’ve been enjoying these interviews, finding some good books and new authors that you enjoy. And if you’re a writer that you’ve been sticking around for the episode be where we discuss topics that are of interest to new writers. So if you like what you hear, please give us a review. Give us some stars or thumbs up wherever you listen to the podcast. And here’s Byron. Oh, well, Byron, thank you for joining me today. I appreciate you take some time to talk to us about you and your book.
Excellent. Thank you, Steven, proud to be here. Very glad to talk to you and have your audience learn something from this.
I hope so. And I think we’ve got a lot to talk about. So tell us a little bit about who you are, where you’re from your background, things you like to do besides writing stuff like that?
Okay. Well, most importantly, I’m a father, a husband, and an executive that’s worked in the banking credit union industry for over 25 years. I’m originally from Berlin, Illinois, and eventually moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan. While I was in Michigan, this is where I started my banking career, developing my skills myself into what’s really been a wonderful career so far. And I mentioned that because I’ve relocated for my career six times across the United States, and three of those with young children in those household moves. And the emotional impact on my young kids is really what fueled one of the story ideas for my new book.
I think that’s great. I think some of the best stories have always come from personal experiences and getting out your feelings on things. Yeah. So tell us a little bit more about that book setting, got inspired, fueled by your kids? Tell us a little bit more about it.
Sure, about the book. So life with Grassi discovering bravery, was published this month officially, it’s an early chapter book for children. And in the school age range of kindergarten through third grade, and really independent readers that are ages five to nine. I did, I wrote and illustrated the book. And it’s a personal story. And most of the story is very true. It tells the story of a young boy named Evan, who struggles with the news of moving to a new city. And one of my son’s is Evan. So when I write in the book about Evan, that is about my son,
just as long as he doesn’t grow up not liking his parents and sue you for dress, right? So good to assume that won’t happen. Sorry, go ahead.
He was he was very proud to be about this story. And he had some really nice input into it. So it was really a good project to work on with your son. So really, the dream coming true and having involved my son with it was was magical. So, you know, in one of those movies, Steven, you know, he lost the community that he loved he all of his friends and the stable where he loved to ride horses. And you know, in the story, this Evan, just when he was feeling his worst, he meets Rafi, who’s a special stuffed animal who helps him meet new friends during such a challenging time. And, you know, a few adventures occurred just in this first book. And, you know, we went through these moves, as I mentioned three times with with young children and a lot of people go through the same thing. And so I thought this would connect with people, because as I was kind of just reading into some of the experiences we had, you know, the US Census Bureau states that about 14 million American families alone move into a new home every year. And so the challenges that we faced and evident the story faces really are real. And you know, the children of your listeners may have experienced this. And I’m hoping that this will help kids learn that, you know, being brave, that will help combat some of the loneliness, especially now, with everything that’s kind of going on in the world, that they’re unable to perhaps attend school and openly interact with other children.
Yeah, I’m sure that’s been hard, especially for the younger ones. And what, what have your kids said about the book? And what have other people said about the book? What feedback have you gotten?
My kids, you know, they’ve, they’ve been extremely supportive. And I’ll say, my wife as well. And so this was just a really great first project to work on, and to share it with them throughout, again, for their input on the experiences as well. And then, you know, to see it come to life was a very proud day when it was first received in the mail. And we were able to kind of go through it and read the book together another time, having kind of the images and the illustrations match up. So it was a really good experience. And the feedback from the readers has been amazing. Because, you know, I did this for children. And, you know, I’m just so grateful for what I’m hearing the feedback has strong kids that are, you know, having a hard time focusing on finishing a book or not able to put it down is what one parent said. Another said that their child is rereading the book The next day. And then one of the most touching stories I heard was, a parent told me that their son put the graphene tube book on his Christmas list, which even exists, so they really touched my heart. And that’s why I did it. So you know, I write to bring joy to the kids and to ignite their imagination.
That’s pretty great. I mean, you don’t get good feedback back like that all the time. And especially kids, you know, they’ll tell you if they don’t like something. So I think that’s pretty great. You’re getting such good feedback that people are liking it. Yeah. Yeah. Very good. And you have this traditionally published correct?
Actually, no, this is self published. Okay, I worked with a very great, an editor who is also a book coach. So she really walked me through the process, but it is self published at this time.
And doing all the illustrations and putting all this art in the book, did you have any trouble getting it published by going through the self publishing avenues?
No. And I think it again, tremendous credit to my editor, because she had worked on some children’s books projects in the past. And so she was able to set me up with the parameters in the software that I use to illustrate, she gave me some early feedback on the illustrations to make sure that, you know, I understood some of the, you know, parameters and so forth. So with without her probably would have been a lot more challenging. So I owe her a lot of gratitude. And so notes, no struggles at all, as the images were completed, I pass them over to her. And then she would kind of piece it along in the book and keep the draft moving along. So it was really nice.
You sound like the editor went great. And the writing the drawing and everyone’s loving it. What were some things that you learned from doing the book that maybe you would have done different or you are going to do different for Book Two?
Okay. Yeah, there’s definitely one and I am kind of listening to your podcast, which I find very impressive. I’ve learned quite a bit just listening to the episodes that you’ve got on there. And so, you know, I heard a few of your guests mentioned, they would have possibly looked to market it earlier in the process. Yes, you know, looking at kind of the excitement that I’m feeling and hearing now and the feedback, if I could go back in time, I probably would have marketed it by trying to build a larger following around the images talking about the story that’s developing, to get people you know, again, amped up, ready for launch. So instead, I chose to do more of the marketing as as I was launching.
And that’s, first of all, thank you for saying that. And I’m glad so many different people have been running into the same issue and helping each other to overcome that issue. And marketing seems to be one of the bigger things everybody wants to write the book, I think, in the back of our heads, we all get that feeling of Oh, I’m gonna write a books, put it out there and everyone’s just going to flock to it and love it and it doesn’t usually always work that way. So what type But marketing are you doing for the book now?
marketing right now is through my website Byron Gifford calm, I’m really trying to focus on, you know, increasing my knowledge and skills around social media, what can be shared what, how you should share it. So I’ve been put trying to post quite a bit of stuff around in the social media space, primarily Instagram and Facebook, I’ve also been contacting schools, and speaking with teachers, which is starting to get a lot of really good reception in through that marketing channel, I’m scheduling right now zoom in Skype school visits with classes. So I’m really excited to speak with those children and interact with them virtually for now, at least while we’re kind of in this mode of being remote. I have some plans to contact, I’ve kind of created a list of some smaller, very popular bookstores across the United States to generate some kind of more local excitement for grassy and in my name, you get them a little bit more broadly known, versus just you know, one day being and just the will say, the big stores. Right.
So I know, other young other authors who write for young children have had the same problems issues, they want to go talk to the kids, they want to get into the schools. And it sounds like you’re having some success for that. Could you give us a little more details? What are you doing for that? Are you are you just basically cold calling them and saying, hey, or is there something more that you’re doing to get the attention of that?
Cold Calling? Yes, that that’s part of it. The other is because I have younger children. And we’ve moved a few times, I’ve got a few little say schools in the back pocket that we’ve kind of progressed through in the various states. So I’m just reaching out to those teachers that we build kind of that community with over time through our children, and talking to them and sharing the book with them. So they’ve just been very excited to bring this to their to their classes. So that’s really how I’m getting started with this. I’m finding that because of the year that we’ve had, it sounds like there hasn’t been as much of that going on, because of really how the house, how will we have this author visit. And so I think that now everyone’s gotten to maybe a more comfortable level around this zoom school paradigm that we’re in. And so kind of talking about how this is going to pan out and play out, I think I’m really excited to see that moving forward. So I’d say cold calling, I would recommend it. I’ve called some local schools as well. And sure it takes a couple days to get some phone calls back because not everybody’s at the physical school. But it’s happening. So I’m hoping to get these initial visits down, get some feedback, and have them also helped kind of spread the word of how it went for our sessions.
Yeah, nice. And I think we’re talking about marketing and how more people should do marketing early. I think the point there also is your networking, that getting to know people, it’s not just your sending out 3000 emails and seeing how many you get, it’s people you’ve already been in contact with, they already know you. So that plays a big part in being able to get into the schools and things like that. And I think in general, networking is something a lot of authors need to work on.
Absolutely. And I think that’s how you you reached me or located me through trying to network through some of the self publishing. support resources.
They’re there. Yeah, I think, was it 20 bucks to 50k. On Facebook, you post and and that was actually from you reaching out the network? Because you said, hey, are there any other middle grade authors out there? You know, I want to talk to you, let’s chat. Yeah. And it worked? Absolutely. What type of software and services do you use for your writing your marketing or anything like that?
Okay. Yeah, believe it or not Microsoft Word. I know, there’s probably more efficient tools for writing. And I think I might look into those for my next story. But, you know, and that’s really how I wrote the service in Microsoft Word for the illustrations. My process was once I had a final draft, I created a storyboard of the images that I wanted throughout the book. And I sketched them first on paper and scan them into procreate. And then I digitally from the iPad, inked and colored each one. And then like I said earlier, I would pass those images over to my editor who would use InDesign and Canva to put the final product together.
The the pictures in the book, your editor, put that all together and got it to be one unit, I guess. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Okay. That because that, to me, doesn’t sound typical. That sounds like it would be somebody different. Or you would have done it yourself. So how did that actually come come about? Is it another skill the editor has?
It is, she’s, boy, I can’t even describe her her background and her knowledge. But she’s been in the business for over 10 years. And because of kind of the companies that she’s worked for, she’s running her own company right now. She’s got a team of people that help new authors from a marketing perspective, and so forth. So I worked with her exclusively. And so her services were to actually piece and put the book together. So she really helped. Because there were some changes that need to be made. Because as you know, if you don’t have if you’ve got too many illustrations, then you don’t have enough text to support those illustrations. So is very key. And she was helping me understand how to kind of map out what the right illustrations would look like my went to her with ideas, and then we kind of had different idea brainstorming sessions as well.
And I like that that’s different. And that’s one of the great things I’ve been realizing even more about independent publishing, is, you don’t always have to follow the same path everybody else has. There are different people that can offer their skills in different ways. And traditionally published, you probably wouldn’t have ever heard of somebody doing that, you know, they would have had completely different people. So I just love hearing those types of things. It’s it makes, makes people realize, hey, there’s no right or wrong way of doing any of this. Yeah, absolutely. great experience. Well, good. Um, okay, so let me get off of it. Do you have before I do, do you have anything else about the book or the writing that you’ve done? You’d like to say?
Oh, yeah, well, you know, a little bit about a little bit about me, I guess you could say, a couple like, quick, quirky things. But, you know, I thought I would share with you kind of like, the writing process for me was one unique thing about me that really helped me keep focused during my sessions was listening to movie music scores. And which ones while there was a few that I played on repeat during the entire process of the writing and then illustrating so if you can imagine, for the hundreds of hours that were invested in here, I listened to the two same soundtracks the whole time, because it just kept me in this this like flow state. The writing if you’ve seen this, the new show Howards End, they turned it into a one shot series or a season. But Nico muhly. I had him on repeat while I was writing. And then the newest movie with Ben at Ben Affleck this year, called the way back some phenomenal music on that by Rob simonsson. So that was on repeat through the entire illustration process.
Nice. And I I do that too. I know, a lot of people don’t like to listen to music while they’re writing. But I do that too. I have different playlists. Sometimes, depending on what type of scene or book I’m working on. I tend to gravitate towards the Star Wars a lot, and matrix for the action pumping type sounds and all that. But I do have several others that I’ve accumulated through the years right. soundtracks are big for me also. That’s great. What else? Did you have something else?
You know, I think that you’ve asked a couple of your, you know, guests that have joined kind of like, why did you start writing and what made you finally start, I thought might be something that might be helpful to others, based on the experience that I grew up with, and kind of coming into this decision to do this story. As a child, you know, as a kid, I always loved reading. And I always had ideas bouncing around in my head as a kid. And we grew up with, you know, not a lot of money. And I remember saving allowances for months and months and months and finding ways to earn money to buy my first brother wordprocessor. You remember those. But, you know, there were over 200 hours back in the 80s. And so back then that’s a lot of money for a kid to save up to purchase one of those. But I would write these stories that would be you know, no more than one page in length, and I thought they were excellent. And I lost touch with it. But I always had an itch that I couldn’t scratch, you know, an inclination that pulled at me. And like so many people. My career became the focus than marriage, creating a family. But it was when I found myself telling my kids that you can be anything you want one day and having them pose the same question back to me that I started to really reflect, you know, they would ask what did you want to be daddy? And surely the answer was never a banker. And although I love the work I do, I could confidently answer them that I wanted to be a writer. And it really made me reflect. And I, how could I tell them that anything was possible if I couldn’t make it happen? Very good point. You know what, why didn’t you write Daddy, they would ask me. And, you know, my response was, well, son, I never took the time, but I will one day. And over the course of a few years, having those conversations with your children repeating it a few times, it really made me feel worse inside. And so, you know, I made a commitment that I was no longer going to say that I’m going to be something and be another, I didn’t want to look back on my life and not have accomplished this one dream that I always had. So as a family, it was 2019. Or we’ll say, New Year’s Eve 2018. We’re looking into 2019, we all made a resolution to learn one new skill in the coming year in 2019. And I chose that I was going to take a writing class. So it was a local fiction writing group, by a wonderful local community of writers, I had a great teacher, a great group of classmates, and this is where graph II was born. So an earlier version of the story. So the character of graph, he was one that I made up before bed one night with my son, Evan, and he loved and still loves stuffed animals. And each one of them has a name, a unique voice that I use to talk as that. And a personality. And so grafitti is that stuffed animal today, that he my son Evan and I talk with most nights before bed. And so this is really the the story that’s coming to life is when this young boy finds this stuff giraffe, how he becomes special and helps helps Evan. And so, you know, I guess the long story short is really take from your personal experiences, because I found and I think all and many more people will find that people gravitate and will connect with those.
Yeah. And I love that you do the voices in that because I have done the same thing for my kids. Have you? Have you ever thought of recording yourself reading it to your kids? And like putting it on YouTube or something?
I haven’t yet. But you know, I definitely. Believe it or not, I have these ideas that, you know, when we get back to being able to interact with larger groups of people, whether it’s at a reading at a library or at school, I absolutely would want to shift voices and talk as Drafi. I think that it would deliver such a great excitement in the room.
And you said you’re up in Michigan. Currently I live in Virginia, Virginia. Oh, yeah. Well, if you ever are going to do that, let me know. Because if I could make it, I’d love to come here. You talk like a draft? You got it? All right. So you said you’ve got another book? Are you working on doing a series of books for this character, these characters?
That is my plan. I want to continue using the Grassi. I think that again, what the response, I’m getting people already asking for another book. So I do plan to continue it. The great thing about stuffed animals is that kids have many of them typically. So it’s going to be I’ve got some ideas from addition for some additional new characters to join in on the fun. And, you know, but one of the themes that I always want to bring it to these stories is what are real challenges that are the children of Evans age in the story are facing, and kind of help build that message around that whether you know, my own son has encountered in himself, and I’ve got some life experience to bring to it, or whether it’s some of the things that I plan to talk with other parents on things and challenges that their children are going through and how I can help bring the characters into this into the next book.
Nice. And have you thought of, after this series, any other change in the series or some other books?
You know, you I’ll say, the itch that I always had was wanting to write it wasn’t always a children’s book. That’s just how this one kind of came out of me. But yeah, one day it would be great to take on the challenge of a novel as well.
So growing up or even now, do you have any favorite books or authors that you like to read?
Yeah, I do. You’ve heard this. I heard this from many of your guests, but
it’s hard not to put him at the top. But I will say that, you know, I personally liked his latest book that came out this year. I read it during the pandemic, you know, quarantining if it bleeds, the short story collection Yeah, yeah, Mr. Hagen’s phone. Well, I think I was just fantastic. And I read that story to my oldest boy as well. And he really enjoyed it. Nice. I’ll also give some credit to have you heard of ba Paris?
No, I haven’t
been to Paris, she’s got four books out. And they’re kind of thriller suspense based. But what I really like about her style is that she hooks you in the beginning, she’s got cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, which means, which makes it very hard to put down. So I think that’s some learning that I want to bring into my next book is put some more cliffhangers at the end of my chapters.
Well, you don’t want to get the kids to hooked on it. And then the parents are like, okay, we’ll read more tomorrow, like, no, I gotta know what happens. And then they’re up all night. Your parents calling you nasty messages now? Exactly. So you’ve also moved around the country a lot on where you live now or somewhere else you have lived? Are there any favorite local bookstores you’ve got?
that come to mind and the states that I’ve lived in? I know that we’ve got a very popular local bookstore called Prince books and coffee house in Norfolk, Virginia. Apparently, it’s the bookstore to visit. with just the quarantine the pandemic, we’ve been primarily shopping online. But that’s definitely a goal to pop over there and kind of get the experiences that I’m reading about the reviews online.
Nice. I like finding out where bookstores are. Because if I or other authors are traveling, it’s always great to know some great bookstores. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I agree. All right. Well, before we close this half of the podcast, do you have any last minute advice you would give new authors?
Yeah, I’ll kind of in closing, I’ll give you one piece of advice. And then kind of in the second part, I’ll share a little bit more from advice perspective. But one of the things that really helped me stay focused once I got in the groove was setting goals. And that means one more thing that I would have done differently was probably be a little bit more strict with myself at the beginning. So powerful, and I personally get motivated by goals and taking on the illustrating was a lot of work. So the only way I got through it so rapidly was because of those daily and weekly goals to stay in place. And I compete with myself. So it kept me motivated. And in most cases, I hit my goal early. So I think whether you’re drafting or illustrating or both, set the goals and you’ll see yourself stand paced better.
That’s great. It’s funny, because I’m in a mastermind group with Jay Thorne. And just Saturday, one of the other members brought up about goals and resolutions, because it’s becoming the new year. And we had a big discussion about that. So it’s interesting that you brought that up also. Great. That sounds like a mastermind class. That’s, that’s great. Yeah. You instructors for the mastermind, or you’re one of the participants. No, I’m one of the participants. It’s run by Jay Thorne and Chris Kane. The, the it’s from the author, or the career author podcast that Jay used to do. It grew from that. Wow, great. So tell us again, the name of the book where we can find it and where we can find you online.
Okay. The book is life with Grassi discovering bravery. And you can find it on Amazon. And to find me You can go to my website at Byron Gifford calm. And then on Instagram on Byron underscore Gifford. And then just my name. If you’re looking at looking for me on Facebook, it’s just Byron Gifford.
Great. Alright, Byron will appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today for the interview. And we are going to do a second half to the podcast. But thank you for this first half today.
Thank you, Steven. I really enjoyed speaking with you. I certainly hope it provides some guidance to others, and that everyone stays safe and has a wonderful set of holidays.