BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) - As a young child, Sam Smith’s world came to life as his mother read to him “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Years later, sitting on the porch of his Grandview home with his now 12-year-old daughter Anne, then just a toddler, Smith called upon his own imagination, bringing to life the world surrounding them.
“I would tell her stories about the rabbits that were hopping in our yard,” he recalled. “They were these small stories, but as she got older, she always wanted more and more of them and the older she got the more intense they got.”
The stories progressed from porch stories to naptime and bedtime stories and the rabbits developed their own backstories. Sam and his wife Gina added to their family, which now includes three more children, and they became involved in the stories as well.
“It started out as, ‘You need to be brave,’ and that sort of stuff,” he said. “But eventually it became its own story that we really kind of cared about and we all cared about how it was going and what was happening to the characters.”
Finally, after seven or eight years of storytelling, the family convinced him to put pen to paper - or finger to computer key - and write a book.
“I wanted to anyway,” said Smith, who had previously written short stories and blogs and the “occasional horrible poetry.” ”So I wrote the book for them and hoped they would love it, and if other people loved it, that was going to be a bonus for me.”
“The Green Ember” was released in early 2015, and, so far, both of Smith’s goals have been met as his children love it and he receives positive weekly feedback and letters from parents and children from across the country.
“I get e-mail or kids send pictures or ideas for new characters,” he said. “That’s my favorite thing is hearing from kids.”
It makes sense that hearing from children is what is most important to Smith.
Although the words of C.S. Lewis lit his imagination as a child, he said it wasn’t long after that he turned his back on books and writing, shutting down his imagination in a sense.
“I started writing about dogs and spacemen, but at some point, I fell for the ‘boys don’t read’ nonsense,” he said. “Boys think that’s something girls do.”
Smith says that “nonsense” remains a huge problem and puts boys at a disadvantage when it comes to reading.
“It was a big problem for me and I only rediscovered reading in my late teenage years,” he said.
A native of Buffalo Creek in Wayne County, Smith moved with his missionary family to South Africa at 12, as his father worked as a church planner.
While there, a friend took him to a Shakespeare play, which inspired him to read “The Lord of the Rings” and “Ender’s Game.”
“They were just hooks and I fell in love,” he said. “I have been trying to make up for lost time ever since because I spent so much time not reading.”
Although those were the books that reignited his interest in reading, it was a book of poetry written by his grandfather that reignited his interest in writing.
“He was an ordinary guy from the hollers of West Virginia, who went to England in World War II and came back a bit of an anglophile, who loved poetry and English poetry,” he said. “I just felt like the book of poetry was such a gift to me.
“That took it (writing) from something other people do, to something my people do.”
Knowing first-hand the need for sparking imagination in children, Smith, whose day job is working as an adult educator, teamed up with Andrew MacKay a few years ago to form Story Warren.
The website, www.storywarren.com, offers resources to parents and teachers to help foster imagination in their children, which, coincidentally, is the main goal.
In June, the men traveled to Charlotte where Story Warren hosted its second Inkwell Conference, attracting 250 children to an event featuring an author, musician, illustrator and poet.
“We sold out in one day,” Smith said. “It was great.”
Story Warren Press is also the publisher of “The Green Ember” - its first book.
“We’ve invested a lot of money, time and care into our products,” Smith said of the publishing side of the business. “We want to do really high-quality stuff and I’m very proud of the way it’s turned out.”
Smith is careful not to give too much away about “The Green Ember,” but says the two main characters, Heather and Picket, are modeled after his oldest children Anne and Josiah.
“It’s a brother and sister, two young rabbits, who live in a stable, remote area, who have each other to play with and love each other a lot,” he said. “There’s kind of a hint of the trouble happening in the wider world and it reaches them pretty early. It spills them into misadventures and they learn their own family story is related to the problems of the real world.”
Smith is working on the sequel, now, which he hopes will be out next spring, but fans don’t have to wait long for more rabbit adventures as the prequel “The Black Star of Kingston” drops Monday.
Set 100 years earlier, Smith said “Black Star” tells of earlier heroes coming to the land of Natalia, finding their own adventures and dangers.
“It’s just a short story I really loved,” he said, adding he plans to write two or three more of each of the books, which are illustrated by Zach Franzen.
Although Smith says he would love to one day concentrate all of his professional efforts on writing, he says his main focus will always be his family, which also includes Micah, 6, and Norah, 3.
“I feel like I’m not sharing Sam Smith’s book,” he said. “I feel like I’m sharing our family’s story and we’re sharing it with other families.
“We’re all invested and on board.”
Smith’s books are available on Amazon and also www.storywarren.com. He will be a featured author at the Lewisburg Literary Festival on Aug. 7.
Information from: The Register-Herald, https://www.register-herald.com
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