KR2K Meet the Author with Dean Vivarelli
In this Q&A, Dean Viarelli, author of The Little Frog with the Bottle Top Hat, tells us about his journey towards becoming a published author.
1. Welcome to KidsRead2Kids, Dean! When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Reading and writing was something that I personally struggled with for years and writing a book was definitely not something I had ever aspired to do. However, all of that changed when I held my newborn son in my arms for the first time! In the weeks following his birth, I found myself scribbling down notes of fun and quirky ways to teach him about some of the larger issues he would face in his life.
I can’t remember the exact moment, but somewhere during the first six months of his life, I decided to write him a book. I wanted to teach him that even the smallest of actions can lead to the greatest of outcomes and articulating this in a children’s book just make sense. And this is how The Little Frog with the Bottle Top Hat came to be.
2. What inspired you to create the characters and the story?
There are two main characters in my book. Beau and the Little Frog with the Bottle Top Hat. Beau’s character was the easiest to create. My inspiration for this character came from the type of person I hoped my son would grow into; someone who is caring, kind and thoughtful, yet brave enough to stand up and take action when faced with some of the harder challenges that life will undoubtedly throw at him.
The Little Frog, however, was a bit more complicated. This highly personified character was created to resemble something much more than an animal with human like qualities. While wearing his bottle top hat, the Little Frog resembles the fear and anxiety that often accompanies some of life’s hardest decisions. With his hat, the Little Frog is the voice in our head that often tells us we can’t and when he is not wearing the hat? Well, that’s another story to be told in my next book.
3. What were your biggest struggles in writing the book and what kept you motivated to continue?
Where do I start? That was literally by biggest challenge. Funnily enough, the answer to that question was, you just start. It doesn’t matter whether you start on the first page or the last page or with the idea that just popped into your head... you just start! My motivation to continue writing the book came from my strong desire to always finish the things I start. I think it’s really important to apply both of these principles to everything you do, otherwise you risk spending your whole life doing little bits of everything while never really accomplishing anything.
However, the biggest struggle of all was deciding to publish my book. As I had initially written the book as a keepsake for my son with no intention of publishing it, I had never prepared myself for the fear and anxiety that came with revealing my work to public scrutiny. Ironically, my
motivation to publish my book came from the moral of the story I had just written. Afterall, what was the point of writing a story about standing up and taking action if I was not willing to do it myself? So essentially, I had just written my own destiny.
4. What skills make you a good author?
I don’t know that I would say that I have good skills as such, but I am always looking for opportunities to learn something new and because I had never written a book before I was naturally drawn to the challenge.
When it comes to being labelled a good author, I think it’s all about perception. You need to ask yourself what your definition of a good author is, because ultimately that’s all that matters. Is it the number of books you sell or is it your ability to connect with even just one reader, to see them taken on an amazing journey? For me, my initial intention was to write a book for my son as a keep sake and not only did I achieve that, but I also wrote a book that he absolutely loves.
So, in that context, I consider myself to be a great author. I guess my point is, you don’t need to write a bestseller to be a good author. If you want to write a book, then write a book! And if you achieve what you set out to accomplish then from my point of view you are a good author.
5. What do you think makes a good story?
People need to be able to connect and believe in your story and its characters. I think a good story draws the reader in at an emotional level and creates sense of curiosity so that the reader remains engaged. However, I think the most important aspect of a good story is depth. It is really important that what can be read between the lines supports the story you are telling. Think of it as your stories body language or emotional front, it’s the little things like written tone, hidden messages and the choice of illustrations and colors (in the case of an illustration book) that provide heightened credibility at a subconscious level.
A couple of the many examples, in The Little Frog with the Bottle Top Hat, can be found on the first page, where the Little Frog is seen to be sad and tired after losing all of his friends and having nowhere to live. Although never written, I have tried to portray a deeper feeling of sadness on this page by having the illustrator place dying yellow tulips around the frog. Not only does this show that the frog’s home is dying around him but what a lot of readers don’t realize is that yellow tulips in their flourishing form actually resemble cheerful thoughts and hope. My intent was to hide a deeper meaning of sadness and dying hope. Now, I understand that one could argue the point about the tulips meaning, as only avid gardeners or botanists may know what they symbolize. However, eventually someone will notice the finer details of what you write and at that point you have sparked something special and unique for that reader, giving rise to depth.
6. What do you love most about storytelling?
Telling stories to children is not only a great way to enhance their language and vocabulary but is also allows us to stretch their imaginations and encourage innovative thinking, which is needed in our rapidly changing world. From a writer’s perspective, storytelling provides a creative outlet which allows us to reveal who we are and what we believe in, but more importantly it is an
incredibly powerful tool which can be used to inspire mighty change. In fact, storytelling is so powerful, it has been used by humans since the beginning of time to define values and shape cultures. Today, the benefits of storytelling in managing people is well recognized and it is taught as a leadership tool to executives in some of the world’s largest organizations. Worth thinking about next time you decide to put pen to paper.
7. What lessons do you hope readers will take from your story?
I really hope that young readers will realize the important role they play in looking after our planet and that even the smallest of actions can have the greatest of outcomes.
8. What were your favorite books growing up?
I never really read books growing up because it was something that I struggled with which wasn’t particularly helpful when it came to answering questions about a novel I was supposed to read for a school assignment. For me it was always easier to find the movie and watch that instead. I know! It’s the oldest trick in the book; and I never got away with it. Luckily for me I had some great teachers and what could have turned into trouble always ended in greater support and understanding with none of them ever giving up on me. It took some time, but years later all their support and understanding paid off and for that I am truly grateful.
9. What would you say to a child struggling to read? What advice would you give to help a child become a better writer?
My answer to both questions is the same. The most important thing is to never give up and be kind to yourself. Generally, we are our own worst critics and even when we are doing well and improving there can be a negative voice in our heads that tells us we aren’t. Get to know that voice and understand that it is just that... a voice. Ultimately, your actions are what define you, so if you choose to never give up and keep trying you will eventually get better! And never forget that reading and writing are a skill and any skill takes time to learn.
You wouldn’t expect to learn the piano overnight, so don’t expect to become a good reader or writer overnight. Placing these types of unrealistic expectations on yourself ultimately sets you up to fail and fuels the negative voice in your head. Expect to become a good reader over time and learn to take time to reflect on the progress you have made so you can give yourself credit for all the little improvements along the way.