Sunday, February 1, 2009


Shari: You write wonderful books for reluctant readers. How many of those books have you written? Have they all been published?

Max: Thank you, I appreciate that, and the opportunity to talk about the subject of reluctant readers, especially tween boys. I’ve completed a total of thirty-five manuscripts for this age group. In addition, one of my short stories is included in the book, Lay Ups and Long Shots, from Darby Creek Publishing. Seven other books have been published.

Shari: Would you tell us about them?

Max: The titles are Newspaper Caper, Terror at Wolf Lake, North Woods Poachers, Mountain Cabin Mystery, Big Rig Rustlers, Secret of Abbot's Cave, and Legend of the White Wolf. I would describe them as action-adventures and mysteries that are filled with exciting stories, humor, a lot of dialog, and heart-pounding action and adventure. Kids tell me that reading one of my books is like being in an exciting or scary movie. I should point out that this is good scary, not dark or evil scary. The books have completely different characters, settings, and plots, so you can pick up any book and begin reading, without having to start with any particular title.

Shari: Are many publishers looking for books for reluctant readers?

Max: From what I see in trade publications and newsletters, they are. But publishers are also looking for well known authors, or authors with a solid platform. Platform, of course, means that the author has several ways to help get the books sold. I’m not that famous, and I don’t have something like a national radio show, so I continue working on my platform in other ways. I write articles, short stories, give interviews, speak, maintain email lists of schools and homeschoolers, along with a number of other initiatives. My blog, Books for Boys has been holding # 4 on Google over the past several weeks. So if someone is looking for that subject, they will find my blog near the top of the Google list. I also have a short story under consideration at Boys’ Life. Something like that, with a circulation of 1,300,000 would help a lot in name recognition.

Toward the end of 2008, and into the first part of this year, my agent has sent quite a few proposals to interested publishers. So we’re hopeful to see some doors open before too much longer.

Something that interests me is that James Patterson, author of a ga-billion books, has a ten-year-old son who is a reluctant reader. I, too, grew up as a reluctant reader, even though my father was the author of over 70 books. I never read any of them. Mr. Patterson has started a web site to help in the fight to reach reluctant readers. That site is

Shari: How would you describe a book for a reluctant reader?

Max: It would be a book without a lot of large blocks or paragraphs of words. Sentences tend to be shorter, with lots of dialog. They must be fast-paced, and grab the reader right away. In the case of my books, almost all chapters end with a cliffhanger, so the reader simply must keep reading. My books are printed on bright, white paper, with larger type and wider spacing between the lines. Vocabulary needs to be more simple to grasp, without talking down to the reader. These are some of the elements that I use when writing. The interesting thing I have found is that my books are also enjoyed by avid readers, girls, and even adults. So writers need to make sure to tell a good story. If you do that, the readers will follow.

Shari: I bought some of your books for my grandson. He really enjoyed them. Do you visit schools where you get feedback from your readers?

Max: Yes. In fact, I’ll be speaking in a school this week. My program is called Imagine My presentation is very interactive, so I get a lot of feedback during the process. Most often I speak to just one class or one big assembly. But this time I’m speaking to the assembly, where I’ll give the first ¾ of my program, and then go to a couple of individual classrooms and do the writing assignment, followed with question & answer. It’s not only an opportunity to connect with potential readers, but I have the schools send a pre-order form home with the students. It’s a nice way to add to their enjoyment of the experience.

Shari: Will you tell us about your latest book and how readers may purchase it?

Max: All of my books are available on, and all are rated by Accelerated Reader. That’s important to kids because they can earn points in school by reading them. My most recent full length book is Legend of the White Wolf. What I’ve written about that one is, “They didn’t call him a liar; they just couldn’t believe his story. Brian Fisher was determined to prove it was true even though it involved the risk to his own safety. His rescue of a wolf pup from a steel trap results in a mysterious relationship with surprising results. The story is set in the lower elevations near Yellowstone.”

The most recent book is Lay Ups and Long Shots. It includes my short story, Big Foot, which is a football story about a boy with a dis-ABILITY. One of his feet is much, much larger than the other and it causes him to be teased and bullied, no matter where he has lived. After his father dies suddenly, we learn a special secret that only he and his son knew.

People can send orders to me for my books and I sign all of those books. Email for details at However, I don’t have the right to sell Lay Ups and Long Shots. That one is available in most stores or on Amazon and other online outlets.

Shari: If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you would be?

Max: Actually, when I’m not writing, I’m a producer of video programs and television commercials. I’ve shot, directed, or produced over 500 national TV commercials for True Value Hardware, and done a number of commercials for my state senator. Most of my work comes from industrial or medical clients, although, with the severe economic downturn, that part of my life is pretty quiet right now. I grew up around film production since that’s what my dad did. It kind of got into my blood early, and I’ve always enjoyed the process. That work also gives me a different opportunity for writing video and commercial scripts.

Shari: Would you describe your work space?

Max: Both of our children are grown and out on their own, so I took over our son’s bedroom, turning it into my writing room. I have a separate computer there along with all my reference books and tools for writing. The room has windows on two sides which are a must for me, creatively. I can close the door and be completely isolated. I have a stereo set up in there too, and an extensive CD library of classical music along with several others. When I write, I burn a candle right next to the computer. I only write scary scenes after dark, and keep the room dark too. Next I find some really spooky music and play that. It never fails to put me in the right mood. Then, when I write something really creepy, I get chills all over, just like I hope the reader will. For sad scenes, I’ll choose very sad music and that can bring tears. And for comedy, I’ll put in funny music. That’ll make me laugh at times. But I can’t have any music playing that has lyrics. I can only write to instrumental music.

It’s good if you can have a designated writing place because, once you get there, it helps to put you in the right frame of mind to start writing, and to experience the full creative process. I marvel at writers who can work with the TV blaring, kids screaming, and a lot of interruptions. That’d drive me crazy I think.

Shari: Will you tell us how you work? (Time of day, attire, process, etc.?)

Max: My last book-length manuscript is called Scanners. About it I’ve written, “What do bar codes, scanners, tattoos, and 666 have to do with the life of a twelve-year-old boy? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

Alex and his friends, Noah Bates and Tim Price began working with him, in his father’s grocery store, for the summer. But it wasn’t long before some money was missing, a lot of money. And it always happened on the weekends.

Alex didn’t care what it took, he was determined to catch the thief. Only he could never have imagined how big it was, or how many people were involved.”

I completed Scanners in March of 2007. Again, that was a conscious decision to stop, after writing thirty-five of them, and concentrate on becoming a more attractive prospect for publishers. I often tell other writers, who haven’t yet been published, that writing your book is the easy part. The truly hard job is all of what comes next.

I dress normally when I write. I’ve read about how some people slouch around in P J’s, or a robe, but that wouldn’t work for me. I believe that you change, mentally, depending on what you’re wearing. Just remember back the last time you wore a Tux or evening gown as compared to jeans or shorts and a T shirt.

The best time for me to write is beginning in the evening. I like to finish two to three chapters, and I’ll never start a chapter that I can’t finish in that session. When I come to the end of the session, I place a post-it-note on the freshly printed pages that says, “Next.” On it I scribble a few notes about what would happen next, if I were to continue writing. But something funny happened with Legend of the White Wolf. I don’t write to an outline. So the story is happening fresh, as I go along. I began writing on a Friday evening, and the next thing I knew, it was tomorrow. That was a little shocking, but I just kept on writing, and the first draft was finished in three days. I did this because I couldn’t wait to see how the story was going to turn out.

I don’t edit as I go, and don’t read anything until the first draft is finished. I will have made notes, and there are scraps of paper scattered around with pieces of dialog, a funny line, or a fine point I want to include

I like to write summer scenes or stories when it’s hot, and winter when it’s freezing cold out. There have been times when I’ve cranked the heat up, during cold weather, just to simulate the summer heat.

What I enjoy most about writing is being able to plunge into a different world with characters that I get to create. I’m the most at peace when I’m writing, and I love everything about the process. Then, when a parent, or a young reader send a letter, or an email, to tell me how one of my books has touched their lives, or when I find that a reluctant reader is now a reader, because of one of my books, that makes everything worthwhile.


Deb Hockenberry said...

Hi Shari,
This was a wonderful interview & Max gave some great advice on how to write for reluctant readers!

Shari Lyle-Soffe said...


Thank you. Yes, Max really knows his stuff when it comes to reluctant readers.


Anonymous said...

Great interview. This is obviously a very creative person and author. I really like your last paragraph about why you write and what the satisfaction of it is for you.

Anonymous said...

I'm hoping to be able to showcase authors whose books reach out to those reluctant tween boy readers at the MNSCBWI Conference this fall. Thanks for the heads up on this author!

Katie Hines said...

This is a great interview. I'm glad to meet an author I haven't met before.

Max, if you'll contact me, I'd love to have you as a guest on my blog. I interview a writer each Wednesday.

katiebug1957 at nctv dot com

Mayra Calvani said...

Great interview, Shari and Max. I once read Max's Leyend of the Wolf and loved it. I can see why it would appeal to reluctant readers.

Suzanne Lieurance said...

Wonderful interview. I love Max's books. He does so much to motivate reluctant readers.

Max has been a guest on my show, Book Bites for Kids. Nice to see him "featured" here now, too.

Suzanne Lieurance