Adam Hartlaub recently interviewed Frank L. Cole, author of 8 middle-grade books: The Adventures of Hashbrown Winters series, The Guardians series, and most recently, The Afterlife Academy. Frank talks about his experience with getting published, and where the ideas of his stories came from.
Adam: Hey Frank! Thanks for your willingness to talk about your books. 😊
I guess I’ll start by asking how did you get started? What inspired you to write for the middle grade age group? How long did it take you between first draft and first published book?
Frank: Hey Adam! I have always enjoyed writing stories and did so as a high schooler and in college as well. I started writing middle grade in 2001 with my first novel. That one has never been published, nor will it, because it’s not good. But I tried to get it published. Submitted it to agents and all that and was rejected by at least 100. So between my first draft and my first published book is about 8 years.
Adam: Ah wow! Thanks for sharing the insight. So your first published story, thats the Hashbrown Winters series right? What brought about that idea? And how much did it change from initial draft, or even between the time you submitted it as a manuscript, compared to the final edited published book?
Frank: It was just a random idea I had while trying to publish my first novel. I wrote it for fun and it changed loads before the submitted manuscript. Cedar Fort (my first publisher) didn’t do tons of edits, not like Random House who does major edits. But I did change it initially quite a bit.
Adam: Ah that’s interesting. Yeah I kinda wonder that – publishers reject so many, do they expect it to be completely, or near completely finished at submission? Also how did you get in with Cedar Fort? And later with Random House? Did you have an agent, or were they direct submissions by yourself?
Frank: Publishers want it pretty near perfect, but they’ll still change quite a bit. I just submitted to Cedar Fort my original manuscript, which they rejected and then they asked if I had anything else, so I gave them Hashbrown Winters. Then, after 7 books with them (4 Hashbrowns and 3 Guardians), I was able to get an agent who sold The Afterlife Academy to Random House and my next book as well.
Adam: Ah that’s really cool! Where would you say the voice of your characters comes from? Are they based on events from your own childhood growing up, or inspired by kids in your own family, or other kids you know?
Frank: I’d say mixture of the 3. I have elementary aged children which helps, but I think I naturally have a younger voice so it works well with my books.
Adam: Ah, I’m sure those things certainly help. The voice in Hashbrown Winters is around fifth grade, correct? And Afterlife Academy is around age 12, are the characters in Guardians around that age too? The book covers for Guardians looked more like young adult books, so I was wondering if the characters in that were older, or if that was just part of the marketing for that book.
Frank: They actually are more teen books because the kids are 14 and 15 years old.
Adam: Ah gotcha. That makes sense. Cool, so tell me about Afterlife Academy. I saw the paperback just became available this week. How did that idea come about?
Frank: It was kind of just a moment of inspiration. Woke up one morning (5 years ago, yep, it’s that old) and had this idea for these 2 boys fighting demons and one of the boys was dead (guardian angel-type). I think the key for that story, that makes it unique, is how Walter (dead) accidentally possessed Charlie (alive) and he’s stuck inside Charlie for a large chunk of the book. Their conversations and interactions from that point were fun to write.
Adam: Wow, that’s really cool. I’m sure that made for an interesting dynamic, as far as internal dialogue. But I’ve also heard it described by as a 2-player adventure story. Curious: do you typically write in 1st or 3rd person? If you have a preference, and why.
Frank: 3rd person now, but I’ve done both. Right now I prefer 3rd.
Adam: Ah thats encouraging to hear. I write in third person as well, and I’ve heard from editors at SCBWI events that said 3rd person is typical for middle grade. But I also know the Middle School and Wimpy Kid series are both written in 1st person from the kid’s perspective and drawings. That makes me excited to see how the narration carries in your stories, particularly with Afterlife Academy, where there’s two voices. Also when you write in 3rd person, do you find yourself writing in past or present tense?
Frank: I’ve yet to write in present tense. Don’t know if I will.
Adam: Cool. Same for me. I’ve always told stories verbally that way, “this happened to this person”, so I naturally feel inclined to write that way too.
Adam: Awesome! Well, thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about your stories.
You can find Frank’s books on Amazon:
And on Barnes & Noble:
And his website: http://frankcolewrites.com/