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International Publisher and Presenter Karl Beckstrand is the bestselling and award-winning author of 19 multicultural/multilingual books and more than 50 e-book titles (reviews by Kirkus, School Library Journal, The Horn Book’s blog, ForeWord Reviews). Raised in San Jose, CA (he knows the secret to peeling avocados), he has a B.A. in journalism from BYU, an M.A. in international relations from APU, and a broadcast & film certificate from Film A. Academy. Since 2004 he has run Premio Publishing. His survival western, To Swallow the Earth, won a 2016 International Book Award.
Read the interview to learn more about Karl and why his books for children are so diverse and multicultural!
Your newest book The Bridge of the Golden Wood: A Parable on How to Earn a Living is on work and careers for young people?
Yes. I hope it helps bridge the gap between what kids learn in school and what they need to know and do to succeed in life. Vermont’s Office of Treasurer has selected it as part of their primary school financial literacy curriculum.
What draws you to this genre?
Seeing a lack of kids’ curriculum on how money is made — how to earn a living. I used to be a recruiter in Silicon Valley; today’s graduates don't seem as prepared for work as their parents. Many young people don’t know that failure is normal and that it can nourish future success.
Please describe what the story is about in one sentence.
A child with a knack for solving problems learns that helping some hungry fish — who can’t pay him — facilitates his finding a treasure.
What was the time frame for writing your last book? Did you need a lot of time?
Only a few days. Illustration is the real work! — and I had to do some on this book.
Do you aim for a set amount of words or pages per day?
No (but I spend hours on books and marketing every day). It’s just what I do.
How much research do you do?
I did more for this book than a typical picture book. I had to organize and present valuable tips and business ideas I’ve learned over the years.
Most of your books have characters of color, is that intentional?
Yes, I grew up in a very diverse part of California, so it’s unnatural for me when I see a kid’s book where the characters are all one race. It doesn’t reflect the real world that I’m used to. I participate in Multicultural Children’s Book Day each year on January 27.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
Ideas that ambush me. They don’t leave me alone until I get them written out correctly.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?
In college (when I should have been doing my homework) I would get ideas and scribble them on scraps of paper. I thought I’d try to get published when I was old and retired, but I got lucky at a younger age.
What are your thoughts on good and bad reviews?
Every review can be helpful. Even bad ones contribute to visibility — and they offer great feedback. Still, I’ve learned what kinds of feedback to embrace and what to ignore.
Which do you prefer: pen or computer? And how do you stay organized (any methods, tools you use)?
I usually write ideas on scraps of paper in odd moments and places, then I write out the story on my laptop.
How do you relax?
Volleyball, music, and films are my favorites. I’m always reading something — though I’m not as big a book reader as other authors I know. I read articles, journals, and mostly non-fiction.
What were your biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?
When my first publisher died (the day they were to print my first book) I had to learn the publishing and marketing business. I’ve done a lot of self-publishing since then.
What would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I would have sought more reviews for my early titles. These really affect sales.
Can you tell us something personal about you that people may be surprised to know?
Yes! No matter how many achievements I have, I struggle with self-doubt, fears, and (at the same time) self-absorption!
What’s next? What are you working on at the moment?
I’m about to illustrate a couple of my non-fiction stories of immigrant kids. I’m also about to publish another bilingual (Spanish-English) picture book that teaches colors in both languages.
Do you re-read books? One book that you would read again and again?
I’m always re-reading the scriptures. I think there are many books out there that give you new insights the more you read them.
Who were you influenced by, and who are some of your favorite authors?
What book are you reading at present?
Major Problems in American Colonial History by Karen Kupperman.
Last question: what is the best piece of writing advice we haven’t discussed yet?
Write every day and join a writer’s group. You get great feedback from people other than family and friends — plus it is a great way to network (find editors, readers, agents, publicists, etc.).
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