by Allison Schiff)
Ever hear the one about the little girl who fell through the hole in her sock? What about the industrious little boy who built a bridge out of carrots to save his town or the boy who swallowed a car? Well, neither had actor Dan Lauria, 66, famous for playing the father on beloved TV series The Wonder Years -- that is until he spontaneously devised those stories and numerous others to entertain his seven-year-old godson, Julian, at bedtime.
Several of these original yarns are now part of the first volume of a series of children’s story collections, self-published through Amazon and CreateSpace, called The Godfather Tales -- a title, Lauria jokes, which has nothing to do with his Italian descent.
The Godfather Tales is comprised of three stories, all of which have a quirky charm and an aphoristic lesson at the end. In the title story, The Blue Hair Club, a little boy who happens to be named Julian stands up to a bully at school. When he awakens the next morning, his hair has inexplicably turned blue and no amount of shampoo or turpentine will get it out. Back at school, the bully has learned his lesson and stands up for Julian when others make fun of his electric blue hairdo. In an instant, the bully’s hair suddenly turns blue too. Soon, blue hair is a badge of honor -- only nice people have blue hair -- and everybody wants it. The moral of the story: It’s okay to be different.
Julian’s mother Cathryn Farnsworth, an LA-based photographer and Lauria’s coauthor, was so touched by Lauria and Julian’s bedtime story ritual that she began recording the sessions and transcribing them to paper. From there, she edited the stories down and honed them into organized tales.The next step felt inevitably logical -- to publish the stories as a collection.
“One of the main reasons for putting these stories in print is for Julian, but the overall purpose has become to encourage other adults and parents to create things with their children and enjoy the process of creating,” says Lauria, who recently starred as Jean Shepherd in the stage adaptation of A Christmas Story: A Musical in New York City. “Children are creative, but they spend all their time staring at screens, their computers, their phones -- I want to get them to use their heads.”
With a famous name and Hollywood connections, one might think Lauria wouldn’t “need” to go the self-publishing route, but Farnsworth says they never really considered seeking a traditional publisher. And Farnsworth already had experience self-publishing some of her own stories and photographic work.
“At one point Dan came to me and said, ‘I heard Henry Winkler self-published some of his stuff,’” Farnsworth says. “Well, if it’s good enough for Henry Winkler, then it’s good enough for us!”
Besides the greater level of creative control one has with self-publishing, Farnsworth says time was the real motivator. With Lauria on the road for A Christmas Story, the promotional tie-in was irresistible. They wanted the book ready in time for Lauria’s tour. Farnsworth and Lauria were able to get the project off the ground -- writing, editing, rewriting, illustrating, re-illustrating, working on proofs, and finalizing the layout -- in just a couple of months. With a traditional publisher, the process could have taken well over a year or more.
As for marketing, Lauria has appeared at several signings and done readings in Connecticut and New York, including at The Mark Twain House and museum. Lauria was also encouraged by the producers of A Christmas Story in cross-pollinating promotion for the book with promotion for the show, and both benefit by association. Lauria always made sure to work in a reference to The Godfather Tales when being interviewed by press about the play, and after every curtain he trooped down to the lobby of The Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York City to meet and greet and sell and sign books.
But the young actors in the Christmas Story cast all got their copies for free, of course.
“Who knows? Some of these kids could write movies one day and maybe they’ll hire me,” Lauria chuckles.
All told, producing the first volume of The Godfather Tales cost roughly $10,000, including hiring an illustrator, recording an audiobook of Lauria reading the stories (for sale on Audible), designing a website for the book, and basic PR. Farnsworth and Lauria plan to launch two more collections of three stories each, after which they’ll combine the three books into a compendium. They’re currently in the process of working on layouts and proofs for the second volume.
While self-publishing is working for The Godfather Tales, it’s not without its challenges. The books are print-on-demand, which means a lag time from order to receipt. It can sometimes take up to five weeks for people to receive their copy via CreateSpace.
Farnsworth has also found it difficult to set up readings at bookstores, both big and small -- which she wasn’t expecting. A local bookshop in Farnsworth’s native Colorado where she spent a great deal of time growing up never returned her any of her multiple messages. And, after inquiring about arranging a reading/signing at a Barnes & Noble in LA, Farnsworth was told to contact the corporate headquarters. Complicating matters is the fact that The Godfather Tales isn’t being sold at Barnes & Noble. CreateSpace doesn’t print book titles on the spines of books that clock in at less than 100 pages -- The Godfather Tales is 82 pages -- which makes it less likely for B&N to want it.
Lauria and Farnsworth are mostly pleased with their choice to self-publish, but that doesn’t mean they’d say no if a traditional publisher approached them about subsequent volumes. “If anyone knows about a willing publisher, you just have them call me,” Lauria says.
However, the point here is not to make bank, but to spark imagination. Any money raised from the sale of the book will go either to charity or into an educational fund for Lauria’s godson Julian.
Allison Schiff is a writer (and a reader) living in New York City.