Saturday, February 1, 2014

An Interview with Author Dave McDonald

I won a copy of Hamster S.A.M Odd-ventures in Space in a giveaway. I just adored it. It is a children's book but it was so well done (I have reviewed it here on my blog) and there was a lot of humor. Plus I am a big kid anyway. So I asked Dave if he would do an interview with me and he agreed. Dave joined goodreads in August 2009 and wrote another book called The Secret Adventures of Hamster Sam: attack of the evil boll weevils . Both of his books are rated 4 stars and above. He has also recently been reviewed on Publisher's Weekly and I am very happy for him. You can read the review here. And you can read Dave's Biography here. So let us get started.

1. When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t ever remember thinking I wanted to be a writer, and as a young teen I had other aspirations. In fact I had 2 occupations focused in my crosshairs: I wanted to be a cartoon voice actor like my “heroes” Mel Blanc, Paul Frees, June Foray, Daws Butler and Don Messick. The other unusual career I dreamed about is one that I practiced in my backyard: Hollywood stunt man! I was quite the daredevil and practiced all sorts of falls, jumps from rooftops and, miraculously, I survived some stunts (or more appropriately, “acts of stupidity”) involving fire that I won’t even mention, for fear of kids trying it. In school I was a struggling reader- so the thought of writing for a living never crossed my mind.

2. Why did you decide on children's books?

Humor! Or, to be more specific, child-like humor. The things that make me laugh are things that are best suited for kids books: Physical comedy, visual gags, bad puns. I guess like a lot of kid’s entertainers and writers - I never really grew up.

M: Don't worry, neither did I.

3. Who were your influences?

Well, humor is the central theme of my work, and I come by my absurd and silly sense of humor honestly from my dad. I remember when my young cousins came to visit one summer, he had them all convinced that he was a spy for the CIA, and he concocted this huge storyline about all of the highly classified cases he was working on; he even had fake business cards made up to prove it! Beyond that, I was a big fan of Saturday morning cartoons (back when you only had cartoons on Saturday- no cable TV!). Bugs Bunny and the Warner Brothers animated shorts were my favorites, as was Rocky and Bullwinkle and Super Chicken, both of which featured very limited, low budget animation - but the writing and voice talent was top-notch; they were really radio dramas set to pictures. The more absurd the better; and this type of humor shows up in my Hamster S.A.M. books in abundance-for better or worse! Other influences come from another form of entertainment I enjoyed as a young kid, but is now sadly extinct: Listening to record albums. I enjoyed the comedy albums of Stan Freberg, the nonsensical music of Spike Jones and the wildly funny and gifted storyteller/comedian, Bill Cosby. Some of the cartoonists who’ve had an impact on my own style include a few giants from the comic strip world: Charles Schulz, Walt Kelly and Peyo- all incredibly gifted creators.

4. I won a copy of Hamster S.A.M. Odd-ventures in Space from goodreads signed by you (thank you so much!). I really enjoyed it. Did you intend for grownups to enjoy it too? In particular I believe a lot of the jokes were maybe more for adults. Not in a bad way, let me clarify that.

Absolutely! The cartoons I mentioned above were famous for that; young kids didn’t “get” some of the jokes at first, but once you did - wow, it was like you were on the inside of some top secret joke society! Including jokes of this nature is a way to involve the parents, since kids will most likely ask mom or dad what a joke means; and so in this way it creates a broader reading experience; kids are sharing the book with others.

5. I love that the story as well as the information at the back of the book is educational. Did the book start out that way? Or did you intend to write a "regular" children's book at first?

Intentional. My background is in television, and as a producer/writer/director of children’s programs, my shows would similarly combine fact with fiction. When I toured as a professional puppeteer, my show wrapped positive character traits in a bundle of zany humor. When I transitioned to comics, I continued the trend.

To be clear, my intention is not to create educational comics; my philosophy is to sprinkle bits of information into a fantastic and funny story, with the idea being only to make a connection to reality, or what I feel are interesting facts. I want to tease the reader, make them curious, make them want to go and explore, to learn more…on their own. I think that if you are able to get kids to laugh, then you’ve opened a door; the reader is willing to listen, and so I use that opportunity to gently inform.

6. Tell me about your, pardon me, Hamster SAM's meeting with astronaut Gregory H. Johnson and why you decided to include the information and interview in the back of the book.

Again, the feature interview was a way to introduce young readers to someone who has actually flown in space, and to let them know why we are sending astronauts to the space station, and provide them with some information about what it’s like to go there. I also wanted Hamster Sam to be the one to interview him in an effort to maintain the fantasy and humor element of the story while still managing to make the connection to reality. I wanted my readers to want to keep reading; even though the story was over the characters and humor continued through the feature. Personally, meeting Greg Johnson was like meeting a rock star! I am in awe of people who have that amount of knowledge and talent, and who have accomplished such a fantastic and historic feat. And to top it off- Greg was about the most “down to Earth” (pun inteneded!) and friendly guy you’d ever want to meet!

7. Tell me about your travels to school and libraries where you teach students how to create their own original cartoons and comics.

When I’m not writing and promoting my books or handling freelance writing assignments, I am an accredited teaching artist. My cartooning and comics programming is curriculum-based and arranged through several state and local arts councils. I offer assembly-style programming and a 4-day artist in residency program, where I teach students how to develop their own characters and make their own comics. I also provide professional development workshops to educators at state conferences, where I train the teachers how to lead their own classroom comics activity. I am excited about presenting a cross-curricular comics session next week at the Space Center in Houston during their annual Space Exploration Education Conference- Hamster Sam will be at the actual site of NASA’s mission control! I only hope that as a result, I don’t hear the words, “Houston, we have a problem!”

8. Where is your favorite place to write? For example outside on the patio, at a nearby park, at a desk in your home, etc?

I do have a studio for drawing final art and using the computer, but writing and creating rough drafts of my books usually occur at the kitchen table! I do keep notes all year long, like when I get an idea for a funny joke or visual gag, I’ll write it on an index card or if I’m traveling I’ll write it in my phone. I have an entire rubber storage tub filled with partially drawn “bits” and sketchbooks filled with characters and ideas.

9. What is your must have foods/beverages while writing?

Usually I’ll just have some coffee. But since you mentioned food, I will admit to being a huge fan of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream!

10. What can we expect from you in the future?

I am currently working on the next Hamster S.A.M. story, which is due out Fall of 2014. It’s a Wild West tale tentatively titled, The Great California Cheese Rush!

11. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’d like to let your readers know that if they’d like to learn more about Hamster Sam and me, they can become a Hamster Sam fan on Facebook, they can follow me on twitter @DaveMcDonald4U, also Instagram @hamstersamcam, and I invite them to visit my website/blog, where they can join a mailing list:

That was an awesome interview. I laughed at lot and am just really excited about what you do. I wanted to respond to each one of your answers! I am even more excited about a new Hamster S.A.M. story. The Wild West should be really interesting. I want to thank you again for stopping by it was great to have you. I hope when your new book comes out you will come back to talk about it. I know I will be waiting anxiously!

Find Dave in the following places:

Dave's Website:

Hamster S.A.M on Facebook: click here.

Dave on Twitter: click here.

Dave on Instagram: @hamstersamcam

Dave's Blog - Click here.

Dave on Goodreads: Click here.