Today, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome James Milson to my blog. Jim and I met last year on Twitter. He’s a lovely man and I’m honoured to count him among my online friends. Tell us about yourself, Jim!
Well-seasoned, but not yet grizzled. That’s me. The father of four grown children, after a career in business management I am retired on disability with more new parts than a corner hardware store, and create One-of-a-Kind Artist Collector Teddy Bears, Raggedy Dolls and Rustic Sea Glass and Natural Stone Pendant Jewelry for my online store on eBay– Old Glory Bears and Raggedy Dolls. When not making things, I write stories for children and the young at heart, primarily “The Adventures of Little Red Bear” short story series, and toss in a little poetry now and then just for fun on days when I seem to be a bit more mental than usual. I am an Eagle Scout, former Scout leader, and love the outdoors, wilderness and nature. I started working 30-40 hours a week in a music store teaching guitar, banjo, bass and others at age 14, put myself thru college teaching music and working in bands, have accumulated a small guitar collection over the years and still bother them a bit in spare time, along with trying to perfect the art of artisan bread baking. Always up for a road trip and adventure, and old enough to know better but still young enough not to really care. It’s always a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
What a great philosophy of life! Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know about you?
Full disclosure. The gravatar image here and on most of my sites and pages is not really me. Readers should probably know that, to avoid any confusion. It’s a Panda Bear named “Sun Tzu Too”. He is handsewn, and I made him from German Mohair a few years ago. Being a somewhat mellow fellow, he likes to lie about in a field of wildflowers finding shapes in the clouds and contemplating the nature of things. He graciously allows me to use his image because he is very kind, generous and, quite frankly, much better looking than me.
Aw, I’m sure that’s not true. If you could morph into any creature what would it be?
Unquestionably, a bear.
If you don’t mind me asking, why a bear?
Well, if I could transform into a bear I would be able to hopefully keep pace more easily chasing after my friend Little Red Bear. Lagging behind and always scurrying to catch up, I have worn out three pairs of good Writing Boots traipsing over mountains, thru creeks and streams, followed by one holler after another recording and documenting his adventures for the stories. A wolf might be faster, but probably run the risk of scaring away most of the smaller story characters. And I am a little too leery of heights to consider being a bird. So yeah – a bear, please. A fast one. And good looking, if you can manage it. Hope I’m not being too pushy.
I prefer teddy bears to real ones. Hope that’s ok. What kind of music do you listen to, Jim? Do you have an all-time favourite song?
When writing Little Red Bear adventures, if listening to anything at all, it is quiet nature sounds. Birds singing, the buzz and whirr of insects and tree frogs at night, the call of Whip-poor-wills, streams babbling and leaves rustling in the breeze. Whichever fits the writing as it all helps set the mood and place me mentally in the wilderness for the story. Most music for me is distracting from the flow of thoughts while I write. When in the workroom making teddy bears and such, it could be Classical, Bluegrass, Country, Classic Rock, New Age, Southern Rock, Metal, the Blues, Pop Tunes or just about anything depending on the mood. It gets especially loud sometimes with Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Rolling Stones. And a lot of Smooth Jazz. No particular all-time favourite song or artist. A good many all tied for first.
I’m the same as you. I can’t write with music playing. And I love Jazz. On a different note, if your life were a movie, would it be considered an action film, comedy, drama, romance, fantasy or a combination?
Hard to tell. It’s not quite finished yet and don’t really know what the Author has in mind. Might want to check back later. So far, there have been mixed periods and elements of action/adventure, comedy, and drama, with a disturbing hint of Greek tragedy tossed in that has me a little concerned. But hopefully, there’s a lot more yet to come. Personally, I’m rooting strongly for a surprise plot twist and heroic ending!
Talking of heroic endings, when did you start writing?
In the fourth grade, our teacher Mrs. Drew leaned a painting against the chalkboard with no other direction and gave us an hour to begin writing a story about it, then to be completed as homework. The painting was a country scene, with a family on a wagon going down a dirt road. Simple enough but I was inspired! A few days later, she read my story to the class, the only one she read, and posted it on the wall for Open House for all the parents to see. When she returned the story later, she told me that she knew that I would be a writer someday, and kept reinforcing that confidence thru the year. My interest in writing began with that story, and has always served as a reminder of how important our words and actions are to guide and shape impressionable young minds. I do not remember the names of many teachers from years ago. I will always remember Mrs. Drew because she believed in me.
She sounds like a great teacher. Where do you get your ideas from?
First off, I do not consider myself an “author” as much as an old-fashioned “storyteller.” For me, there is a difference, and ideas for stories come from everywhere, all the time. I have enough ideas and story notes to write for three more lifetimes and the list keeps growing. Often, a story character’s name or the title for a story will pop into my head, frequently waking me up around 5am, and that is all I need to get started. Since the initial fourth grade writing assignment, I have always seemed to have the ability to come up with a story for almost any photo or picture, so still am constantly inspired by those. Show me a picture and I will write you a story. Or, I can see someone or a family sitting in a restaurant and write a story about them. Ideas and inspiration are everywhere when we are open to them. That being said, I take no credit for my writing or ideas, feeling that I am just the scribe putting it all down for others. I never try to force my plan, ego or ideas into a story, rather simply letting the story that wants to be told unfold. I try to open my mind, then listen, and the words and stories just seem to flow thru my fingers on to the keyboard. Which explains why I am a pantser and not a plotter, having little idea where things are going story-wise once started. An opening sentence goes on the page and we’re off and running. It all just comes from somewhere and I go with it, with me just the vehicle to deliver the message. Herman Melville put it well in “Moby Dick” – “Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who that lifts this arm?” The words flow and I put them on paper. Well, the laptop, specifically. I can no longer read my own writing. Getting older, I now seem to think in English and write in hieroglyphics. I haven’t found a pill or herbal tea for that yet.
How did you come to write your Little Red Bear stories?
I try to write stories that are entertaining, meaningful and somewhat educational for both children and adults. I care deeply for nature, wildlife, and the environment, because if we remove any, then humans follow right along out the door behind them. And that’s troubling because I have become somewhat fond of humans over the years. I also care deeply for children, for theirs is the future. What children care about now they will hopefully be more inclined to care for in the future, so I try to help that caring along a bit. Everything is connected. I work to introduce that theme while trying to generate a love, interest and appreciation for nature and the outdoors, along with positive values like kindness, respect for others, helping others in need, and more into the stories, hopefully in a fun and entertaining way so reading is enjoyable while also getting the messages across. But it is more difficult now, as kids these days are more advanced than my generation growing up on “Howdy Doody” and “The Mickey Mouse Club”, and can smell an object lesson or story moral coming a mile away so you have to sneak it up on them. And with tweens, that is harder than trying to sneak dawn past a rooster. I take the messages in my writing and the responsibility for them very seriously, but never myself. As I said, I’m just a guy at a keyboard taking dictation from a bear in my head telling his stories. Who in the Universe is telling Little Red Bear the stories, I have no idea. Red talks. I type. It’s a job. But hopefully the world is a little better place when we’re all finished someday.
I hope so too. How long does it take you to create a story on average?
Here’s the deal with that – it’s complicated. Writing short stories, I sit down at a blank screen with a story title or character name in mind, and once the first sentence is put down it could be non-stop from there, start to finish, stopping only for restroom breaks and refreshments. That is just how it works for me. So a “story” can be written in a day or so. And for standalone stories like “Haystack Harry”, “Susie’s Bear” and others on my Blog, add a day or two of editing and reflection and that’s it. So a week, tops. But for the Little Red Bear stories assembled into a collection of adventures, once I select six or seven stories, the real work then is sitting down and weaving them into a coherent group, so that the characters, action and messages flow seamlessly and believably from the very first page thru to the last. The Little Red Bear collections are more similar to a novel in that way, comprised of different short stories, seemingly unrelated, but not. For me, that assembly process can take several months as new ideas and themes emerge along the way, thereby necessitating more revisions and edits, sometimes to the point of almost starting a story over to make it fit and work with the whole. Complicated.
Fascinating. What are you working on now, Jim? Would you like to share anything about it?
I have just finished a standalone short story for a children’s charity anthology primarily aimed at children, about a delightful little girl with displays of madness in all its forms; that it is okay to be different and how to handle feelings of anger. The next collection of Red’s stories, “The Adventures of Little Red Bear: The Second Holler Over!” is underway, also. I have about a dozen stories titled and in process on the list and will need to choose which six or seven fit nicely together for the next collection and which to hold over for later. That’s the hard part, because I want everyone to be able to read them all right now. Then the involved process of stitching them all together begins. The next collection will introduce some additional new, recurring characters, including a strong, female character based loosely on Calamity Jane who may be the most fun writing I have ever done. I literally am laughing out loud writing her character and action, and truly hope that transfers to the page for readers. The most challenging part is trying to keep her dialogue clean and ‘G’ rated for young readers! She has a real potty mouth but is a hoot and I cannot wait to introduce her to everyone. But that’s all you get for now. Red won’t let me say anymore.
I can’t wait to meet her. She sounds fab. Tell us about your recent release!
“The Adventures of Little Red Bear: The First Holler!” was released in June, and so far being very well received. Some reviews have likened it to Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows and the Beatrix Potter tales, and adults are enjoying the stories very much for themselves, reading ahead to finish and then going back again to read it to their children and grandchildren. So that’s pretty cool. At this stage of my life, it’s never about the money here. The online store helps pay the bills and the writing is for fun. If the books make one person smile or teach a positive lesson to a child along the way, we’ve done our job. Little Red Bear and I celebrate each five star review with a pizza. I get one slice because I am perpetually on a diet and he gets the rest. He’s a bear. It seems to work okay for him. Where do you even measure a waistline on a bear? He eats and eats, puts gobs of gooey honey on everything and never shows it. Maybe I’m a little envious. Another good reason to transform into a bear, I suppose.
Hahaha! That would cover a multitude of sins. How can readers find you? Do you have a web page, Facebook page or any buy links?
You betcha! “The Adventures of Little Red Bear: The First Holler!” is available on Amazon in Kindle and Print versions. And several stories, poems and other fun things are always on my Blog as Free Reads just for fun. I am always busy creating new Collector Teddy Bears and items and adding them to the eBay store. And I am on Facebook and Twitter to happily connect there, too. Here are some links. And thank you for inviting Little Red Bear and me in for a visit. We invite everyone to stop by and visit us anytime!
Thanks for stopping by, Jim. It’s been a real joy chatting with you.
Thanks for having me, Siobhan.