I recently worked with Don Rush on his delightful and very unusual children’s books which wife Cathy has been involved with too. Robby’s Quest for Seed and Robby’s Quest: Ocean Bound are about a group of courageous birds. We have Robins, Sparrows, Mourning Doves and a Blackbird making up a small loyal flock who find themselves facing very big adventures for such little birds. They face long journeys, nasty cats, lost children and natural disasters. But this tight-knit band of feathery friends overcomes adversity through sticking together and using their ingenuity. Kids will learn a little about birds without realising as they read these lovely adventures.
I talked to Don about his stories.
Tell us briefly about Robby’s Quest for Seed and Robby’s Quest: Ocean Bound
Robby’s Quest for Seed is a story about a close-knit group of birds that decide to migrate south from Ohio for the winter. Everyone in the group has a role; Robby is the leader and Benny makes sure none of the little birds fall out of the formation. They are diligent about performing their responsibilities. The birds vote on most of the important issues they must decide. During the trip, Joy is lost and nearly becomes lunch for a cat names Hershey. Ultimately, the searchers save her. Later when the birds arrive in Florida, they find that a hurricane has destroyed the entire area. The birds get some advice from a Dalmatian and they head west. After some drama on the way, they finally arrive in Arizona, safe and sound. Ricky steps up his role and becomes a leader.
Robby’s Quest: Ocean Bound is about the same flock with a couple additions, Ruby and Josie. Ruby is Ricky’s new girlfriend and Josie is Joy’s new best friend. This time Ruby suggests the flock fly to San Diego because the Arizona summer is too hot. Again, they have their roles and a specific formation. They arrive in San Diego and split up to investigate their new home. Ricky and Ruby fly to Coronado Island, the Doves fly to the pier and Jay and Josie fly to the beach. Later Joy and Josie fly out to a cruise ship where they fall asleep and end up lost at sea. They get some help from Wanda the Whale and eventually are found in Mexico.
What’s the story behind these stories? Why did you write these books?
I tried a couple times writing books about management styles but the words escaped me. I’m medically retired and on disability. I had too much time on my hands. My wife and I would sit outside in Arizona and watch the birds. We put up a birdfeeder and the little birds would kick the food to the ground so the bigger birds could eat. The other birds would sit on the block wall and patiently wait their turns. We really enjoyed watching them and one day decided to write a story. We finished the first book the day Riley, our grandson in Minnesota, was born.
Were they easy stories to write?
Once we began writing the books things went fairly well. My wife and I would kick around ideas about the birds and what they might do on a trip like this. Once the characters had a personality it seemed to go pretty well. We tried to come up scenarios that a child would enjoy reading about. We modeled the birds and the other characters in the book from people and household pets. We had a blast writing the books. I published the first story on Amazon KDP. Several people suggested they wanted a paperback so I self-published on Createspace. We learned some hard lessons like don’t ever publish a book until you are ready. I’m not a patient person and that’s probably why I have health issues. I wanted to publish the books to leave something behind for our kids and their kids. After getting some help from yourself editing these books and building new covers we re-published a nicer looking product than previously.
Which character are you most like? Robby? Benny? Naughty Joy? Hershey the cat?
I’m more like Robby because I always liked being the manager or leader. and our daughter in her younger years was like Joy, high-maintenance. Benny was created after my real brother Benny, somewhat grumpy but actually friendly once you get to know him. The cats Hershey and Nomi are our household pets. Hershey actually is a big, fast and strong cat with a mischievous streak. The Dalmatian Sammy was my daughter’s favorite pet.
The covers are fun. Tell us about them.
I was looking for an illustrator on the internet and found Kaui on Craigslist. She actually only lives about an hour from me so I liked the idea of having a local do the drawings. Kaui made some sketches and we agreed on the appearance. She came up with the idea of the U.S. map in the background with Robby and the others on the cover. We were talking about a picture with the maple tree and bird feeder but this cover seemed appropriate. The illustration was actually the front cover of the first book until I learned how to make a cover. Then I inserted the illustration in the cover so it looked more professional. I really liked the covers especially the watermark on the back cover. Our thought is to have a different color cover on every book we publish.
What are you working on now? Will it be out soon?
We are writing Robby’s Quest: Return of the Cat. Hershey and his family decided to move to Nevada. At the same time, the birds are traveling to Las Vegas for a few days. At Lake Mead near Vegas, they run into Hershey once again. After they escape (a near miss once again) the birds fly to Vegas and meet a Pink Flamingo named Penelope or Penny for short. Joy wants to see the world and Penny tells the birds where to see the sights like the Eiffel Tower, pyramids of Egypt, skyline of New York with the Statue of Liberty, all right down the street. Joy is excited to be able to visit all these wonders of the world all in one town.
We are not doing very well marketing tour books and with the illustrator, book reviews, editing, promotions, the cost is making publishing the third book more difficult. I’m trying for spring 2013. I already have a sketch for the third cover from another artist. I think she captures the Lake Mead scene very well.
Why do you think there are so few books with birds as their characters?
I’m not really sure. I never paid much attention to birds until I had the time to admire them. I’m hoping to change that if I can get our product in front of the kids.
When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
I don’t think I’m an author just yet. To me an author is someone that can write a novel. I like Stephen King and I really liked the style of Capotes “In Cold Blood”. I can see myself writing crime novels someday. I love CSI, Criminal Minds and other similar shows. I think my books are mainly just short stories for children. Personally, I think my vocabulary is somewhat limited. Even though I took three semesters of English in college, I still struggle with my words. Over the years, I thought about writing a story but never felt I had the ability. I wanted to prove myself wrong. If nothing else, I managed to publish something and I’m proud of that effort.
What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?
I think self-publishing is the way to go. I hate the thought of sending my work to a publisher. These people live in their own little worlds. They are unresponsive and generally difficult people to get in with. A publisher won’t read your work without submission from a literary agent and literary agents won’t even call you back.
OK, I’m stepping off my soapbox. The new author should make sure their product is ready, edited properly and looks appealing. Then get the social media thing going like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, etc. Building a website is critical. The website serves as the hub to everything. Once you have the hub you can direct traffic to it and the reader can learn where to buy the books or what you are working on, all at one site.
OK, enough of the serious stuff. What are your three favorite bloke’s gadgets and why?
I like my cell phone, especially since I learned how to send texts and pictures. I’m like a kid in the candy store.
I’ve always been partial to computers. Cathy and I use to build computers back in the day. We ran a bulletin board from our computer called the Dawg Pound where people could call into our computer, leave messages to each other, play games or download files. We learned a lot about computers as a result. We had three phone lines and would take 50 to 100 calls a day. This was all before the internet. We just bought a new computer with Windows 8. I hate learning new software!
We love our car. We bought a 2012 Chrysler 200 and it’s awesome.
Can’t forget our pets. Hershey crawls up on my lap and lies across my chest. He is a cool cat.
What food can’t you resist? Probably not seed I imagine!
I like popcorn and that starts as a seed! I really like shredded beef tacos and steak with hashbrowns. I am a diabetic so I have to watch what I eat. I love pie and cake but don’t touch them anymore.
Please describe your perfect day away from writing.
I enjoy taking day trips and driving to San Diego for a couple days is my favorite. I love the area. I use to live there back in the early 80’s. I certainly couldn’t afford to live there anymore but I love the ocean. Coronado Island is probably my favorite stretch of beach in the world. I can watch the ocean for hours and forget everything going on in my life at the time. We use to enjoy driving to Laughlin, Nevada to spend a day or two but gambling just isn’t much fun anymore. It’s very difficult to win anything.
And finally, anything else our readers need to know about you?
I never expected to make a million writing and selling our books. I would be happy if we could cover expenses. I really enjoy doing this and it fills my day. I told my wife that even if we won the lottery I would still write and market these books because it’s been so much fun and I feel good about leaving something for the kids. Our books can stay on the market forever and hopefully our children and their children will keep these titles up and running.
Where to find Don, Cathy and their books:
His website is here.
Here’s his Smashwords page.
And you can buy Robby’s Quest for Seed here:
And Ocean Bound here: