Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday Spotlight on J. Anthony Garreffi, a local author who will be signing his books at Tower Books on Sunday, November 24th, at 1:00 PM. Anthony has written several cause focused children’s books about Santa Claus, with two purposes in mind; to raise awareness concerning troubling societal challenges, and to provide much needed financial support to worthy charitable organizations who are working each day to address those challenges.
I asked Anthony to tell me a little about himself and his writing, and this was his response:
I was born and raised in Clinton, MA. To say I was a “wild child” growing up would be an understatement. I was fortunate though to have good people in my life who helped me channel my youthful energy into sports and other healthy and creative pursuits. Whether in pen & ink, color marker, writing lyrics & music, performing in a “power folk” band or building educational interactive multimedia; telling a good story with an educational message is what motivates me to write and create.
I’ve earned degrees in Business Management, and Computer Technology in Education and have been the owner of several creative businesses, a “corporate warrior” for fortune 500 companies, and a learning tech entrepreneur. But my two most life changing and rewarding roles have been husband of 31 years and father to my teenage son.
I Caught Santa – A ‘ChristMax’ Carol, the first book in the series, was written 26 years ago. But as often happens in life, circumstances required me to set the project aside before completion. Fast forward to 2019, in a few weeks, I’ll be releasing Book 2: Respect Your Toys. Sometimes I get overwhelmed, when I think about how, like many of the characters I write about I’m also getting a second chance to finish what I started. By bringing my stories to life, I can share them with those who are meant to enjoy them. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Tower Books –though they should totally check here first!)
The books are in several other locations but none more special than Tower Books 🙂
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
Currently we are focused on reaching and keeping a wonderful Facebook following at https://www.facebook.com/EverLearnMedia
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from I Caught Santa – Book 2?
A little background:
I Caught Santa – Book 1: A ‘ChristMax’ Carol presented the issue of homelessness through the eyes of a young child who meets his beloved Christmas symbol, Santa in the guise of a homeless man, Max.
The Charitable Component:
After I completed work on the book and was planning my local book tour, I immediately reached out to my 2018 (and 2019) charitable partner WHEAT Community Connections. WHEAT located in Clinton, MA, provides services to the home “less” and those at risk. I presented the book/story to Jodi Breidel director of WHEAT and asked if she’d be interested in partnering with me on the release of the book. I’d donate all proceeds from 100 books, which came out to $500.00, if they’d help me sell those books locally. She was thrilled to have a fresh new product to share with her local supporters. We came up with a simple and fun marketing campaign, and rolled it out during the book tour. The partnership was a great success, so much so that we ended up raising $700.00! The experience is proof that consumers are not just looking for well-made products, they also like to choose products and companies that are giving back and helping to make a difference, in their communities.
I Caught Santa-Book 2: Respect Your Toys!
What’s next? We, are so very excited for the release (fall of 2019) of Book 2: Respect Your Toys! This story which picks up where the first story leaves off, transports the reader/listener to Santa’s magical workshop at the North Pole. An unnatural calamity has befallen Santa and the Elves. So many broken toys are returning for recycling, and they just can’t keep up. In order to save his magical workshop and the North Pole itself, Santa’s going to need all the help he can get from his new hero friends… spoiler all my stories have a happy ending 🙂
Another Charity Partner
Obviously, recycling/waste management is the cause and theme of the story, and in an effort to replicating the success of our WHEAT partnership, we’ve enlisted a new 2019 charitable partner, Terracycle, a provider of zero waste recycling services. In conjunction with the roll out of our “Lightning Strikes Twice” book tour, we will be running a local BROKEN toy collection drive. Every broken toy we properly recycle takes added pressure off Santa and the Elves! For, 2019, it’s 2 books… 2 missions… and twice the opportunity to make a positive and constructive difference in the community!
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out [newest release/spotlighted release]? How did you overcome that challenge?
My current book series is written for a young audience. The writing didn’t present a huge challenge but the fact that it’s a picture book did. The biggest challenge I’ve found, when creating a picture book, especially if you won’t be doing the illustrations yourself, is finding an illustrator that meets a high standard for talent, product quality, professionalism, and affordability. The good news is there are many web platforms available today that make the search for an illustrator much easier e.g. Guru.com, Freelancer.com and my new favorite Fiverr.com. Artists from all over the world will bid on your project and the platform does the hard work of keeping the buyer and seller honest in the transaction once a deal is struck.
Not all artists operate at the same level of professionalism so it’s important to not only review their portfolios but to REALLY read through the history of their reviews. If you’re still not convinced, ask for references and call them! My first experience using this process connected me with a competent illustrator with an original style but the person was difficult to work with and ultimately delivered a low-quality finished product. I was forced to work countless hours to improve on what was delivered before I could go to print. I have a strong design and graphics/media skill set, so I was able to salvage the work. If you don’t, then it’s even more important that you find the right individual. Let me tell you as an independent author, publisher, operating on a shoestring budget, I did not enjoy eating the cost of re-illustrating Book 1. The good news… my current illustrator has all the qualities I respect…the “moral”, do more planning and searching upfront and you’ll avoid the kind of mishap I experienced.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
I believe everyone has at least one good story to tell. However, don’t confuse good story “telling” with good story writing. The latter is much harder than the former. That’s why we appreciate good literature. This is even more important if you’re writing a picture book. The story that you write may “read” well, however, the real challenge comes when you begin building the book. I’ve found that translating the action and emotion of the characters from the written word is the most difficult part. If this step is not done well, you risk ruining a good story. A badly conceived illustration/picture is NOT “worth a thousand words” 🙂
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
Well, in the near…near future, I will be kicking off our 2019 “Lightning Strikes Twice” local book tour! We’ve booked 22 events across multiple towns and Worcester. That’s going to keep me busy from Oct 26th to Dec. 21st! After the tour winds down, I’ll be taking some family time during the holidays however, I’ve got an aggressive production schedule set for the development of the third and final book (I think 🙂 in the I Caught Santa series. I’m calling Book 3: My Own Sweet Home. Like book 1 and 2 there will be a companion song. So, in my “spare time”, I’ll also be writing lyrics and music and going into the studio to record. The theme of Book 3 is adoption, a subject very close to my heart and I can’t wait to get started!
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
I love spending time with my wife of 31 years and my teenage son and our extended family. They are a deep source of inspiration to me. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing however, every two years or so we take a multi-state road trip by car and bond as a family enjoying the beauty of our country. I cherish that time.
What is one thing that most people don’t realize about you?
I’m really an introvert masquerading as an extrovert. I truly love my quiet time creating and contemplating. That said, running an indie publishing company and authoring content for the public, forces me to operate outside of my comfort zone more often than I like. It’s not that I don’t enjoy meeting people, performing my stories and songs, and doing promotion, I do, I just need more alone time afterwards to “recharge” than an actual extrovert probably would.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your writing career?
The value of assembling what I call a “Mastermind Alliance” or “Council Of Creativity”. This is a group of 6-7 friends, family, professionals e.g. librarians, book store owners (Thank you Patti 🙂 School teachers, etc. that are open minded, detail oriented, and love a good story. These are the folks that you share your initial work with to test the construction of the story the “likeability” of the characters, authenticity of the scenes, etc. I’ve found this early advice though challenging to hear at times has helped me become a better writer and produced a better end product. If it can be avoided don’t write in a vacuum!
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
Uugh!… The endless editing! There may be a writer out there who can sit down to his/her word processor or yellow lined note pad and write the perfect manuscript with no errors but for the rest of us mortal writers, we have to write, rewrite…write rewrite until just the precise combination of prose and grammar align to communicate in a clear, original and imaginative way. My greatest fear is ordering a big stack of finished books only to find out I’ve misspelled “the” someplace…no really 🙂 I overcome this fear by relying on my “Council Of Creativity” many who have strong grammar and punctuation “personalities” (again, thank you Patti and Michael 🙂 It always amazes me that even after several rounds of editing, one of them will pick up the “strays” that were missed Definitely don’t go it alone, get fresh eyes on the text and/or early illustrations as often as possible.
Anthony, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions. We look forward to seeing you here on November 24th!