SKANEATELES — Whenever Tim Green needs help developing his sports-themed novels for middle readers, he turns to a a pretty reliable focus group for assistance — his five children.
In fact, after recently releasing “Home Run,” the 17th book in his sports-themed, middle-reader series, the Skaneateles resident visited his youngest son’s class at State Street Intermediate School last week to read for the students the last chapter of one of the next books he is working on and plans to release next spring.
Green said it is “a fabulous opportunity” for him to gauge the reactions of his son and his classmates as he shares with them his latest story.
“If I have to make critical decisions about plots or characters and I don’t feel strongly about it or if I’m at a crossroads and I don’t know which way to go, I always ask my kids,” the former NFL player-turned-lawyer and author said in a phone interview. “My kids have had a huge imprint on my stories and the characters and what happens.”
Green spoke about “Home Run” after returning to Skaneateles from a tour that took him to schools across the country — most recently New Jersey — to talk to children about the importance of reading and literacy and share his books with them.
It is all part of his mission to get children — boys and girls alike — interested in reading by showing them that even an athlete such as himself loves picking up books.
Green said he gets a daily response on both his website and Facebook page from children all over the country, particularly from boys who may also be athletes and tell him that they never read a book until they picked up one of his and were drawn in by the sports theme.
In fact, at the school in New Jersey, Green said he spoke with a librarian whose 11-year-old daughter was a reluctant reader. The librarian would set a timer for 20 minutes to have her daughter read for that long and could never get her to read beyond that limit — until, that is, she found Green’s book “Unstoppable.”
“She just devoured it. She kept reading. She’s read every one of your books,” Green said the librarian told him. “I actually get a lot of girl readers as well. It’s not just limited to boys, though boys tend not to be the readers that girls are. I think part of it is they think maybe you’re kind of wimpy if you’re a reader. Maybe they associate it with that. My background kind of shatters that myth.”
But, part of that background is that Green “was a voracious reader” growing up, he said, and still loves books to this day.
He studied English literature as an undergraduate at Syracuse University and had the opportunity to take some creative writing classes and study with the likes of literary legends Tobias Wolff and Raymond Carver.
“I was around some incredible writers. Knowing them and being exposed to them kind of emboldened me to say, ‘They’re actually real people. Maybe I can do this too,’” Green said of how he got into writing. “Books were kind of magical for me. It’s something that I always dreamed of doing.”
He started out writing suspense novels for Warner Books until a creative director from Harper Collins read one of his books and suggested he take his style with short chapters and lots of action and apply it to children’s novels.
“If you could do this same kind of writing, make it for kids and about kids, and have that same kind of style, I think we’re going to get a lot of kids — especially boys who are not readers — to pick up a book and read,” Green said the director told him. “I think you have an opportunity that you could have your own brand that people recognize in that space.”
Having always read to his children as they grew up — books such as “Holes,” “Ella Enchanted” and “Maniac Magee” — Green said he loved those stories and already thought about writing one when the company approached.
His first middle-reader book, “Football Genius,” was an instant hit that made the bestseller list, and Harper Collins eventually asked him to write two books a year, one on baseball and one on football.
“I’m having such a good time with the kids stuff and the impact that I’ve had on kids that I didn’t even know,” he said. “I love doing this. … Right now, I’m really in love with writing for kids and the response that I get.”
In “Home Run,” Green said, he took three main characters — Josh, Benji and Jaden — who appeared in other books of the “Baseball Great” series and came up with a new odyssey to take them through in the story.
In the previous book, Josh’s parents separated, so Green said he looked for a way to play off of that plot in the latest book.
“I already had the characters and their personalities and their back stories,” he said. “A lot of it was just imagination — looking for conflict, looking for a plot that I could twist and turn to come up with a surprise ending.”
The football novel that is set to come out in the fall centers around a boy who is deaf but aspires to become a football player and fit into his new community, Green said, and the storyline is inspired by two boys he met — one in Iowa and one in Kentucky — during his recent tour.
“Both fans of my books, both football players as I was, and they were both deaf and had cochlear implants,” Green said. “The challenges and obstacles and experiences that they had really were the grist for that story. … Even though the conflict and everything is somewhat from my imagination, a lot of the anecdotes from the stories were taken from these kids’ real lives.”
He said the two boys face such difficulties as people who think they are mentally impaired because of their speech deficiencies, their own embarrassment over the look of the implants and their challenges in sports.
“I try to make every book different. I don’t want any of my plot lines to look the same,” Green said. “I think that helps when you’re a reader. You’re constantly immersing yourself in other stories and conflicts and characters and writing styles.”
Now, Green said, he gets “more requests than I can fulfill” from schools all over the country to speak about education and literacy, so whenever he releases a book, he begins a tour whose schedule is set a year or more in advance.
He said he uses all of the proceeds from his speaking fees to buy books for schools and libraries that otherwise could not afford them as a way of giving back and continuing his mission.
And he approaches that mission, he said, the same way he approached his football career.
“I work at my craft. I work at writing. I try to get better and better and better as a writer,” Green said. “You have to be diligent. You have to be indefatigable. You can make yourself better than you were the last one.”
Journal Editor Jonathan Monfiletto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (315) 283-1615. Follow him on Twitter @WOC_Monfiletto.