Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, Harvard educated and retired executive, Wally Bregman, translator-author of Lessons from Shadow: My Life Lessons for Boys and Girls.
Norm: Good day Wally and thanks for participating in our interview.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Wally: I was born in Chicago and went to New Trier High School and then to Harvard where I had a unique distinction. I was probably the only person to be and an editor of the Crimson (with David Halberstram) and a Varsity football player.
I volunteered for the draft, married my college sweetheart, Robbie, and we went to Germany. Once out of the army, I joined the Leo Burnett advertising agency where I became their youngest Vice-President .
They sent me to London where we stayed for five years. After the first year, I joined Norman, Craig & Kummel Advertising as President of NCK Europe. I returned to the US as President of NCK US.
In 1974, we moved to Modesto, CA where I was made VP Advertising and Marketing for E&J Gallo.
In 1979 we returned to the East Coast, Westport, CT, and I assumed the post of President of International Playtex.
In 1986, Robbie and I bought an abandoned resort on St. Croix, US Virgin Islands which we named the Cormorant Beach Club and turned into an extremely successful venture.
Two years later we sold it and moved to the San Diego area where we lived for twenty seven years.
In that period, we travelled extensively while I served on a number of corporate and charitable boards, consulted and wrote four books: Spray the Bears-Reminisces from the Golden age of Advertising, Seven Friends-Sixty Years Later My Box of Chocolates – An Anecdotal Biography and my latest, Lessons from Shadow- My Life Lessons for Boys and Girls.
My beloved Robbie passed away eighteen months ago after fifty-nine and a half years together. We had three sons and five grandchildren.
Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for Lessons from Shadow: My Life Lessons for Boys and Girls and why did you chose a ten-year old Labrador as the narrator of the book?
Wally: After Robbie passed away followed shortly by Shadow’s companion, Betsy, we were both terribly sad and lonely.
We were together all the time and I think that’s why I anthropomorphized her. I realized that just another book by a dog wasn’t unique but perhaps an enjoyable “life lesson” one might be.
I drew on my own experiences with our children and grandchildren and Shadow just wrote it down.
Norm: What purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story?
Wally: I think my book will provide important life lessons for six to ten year olds in a way that is enjoyable while being instructive. That is a tough task but from the “test marketing” I’ve done it really works.
Norm: What was the time-line between the time you decided to write your book and publication? What were the major events along the way?
Wally: It’s really been almost a year and a half. Frankly, I started out with a burst of speed and then almost abandoned the project. An incident with my ten year old grandson was the catalyst to finish the book. He wanted to run away after a disagreement with his parents. (See “Running Away” in my book)
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Wally: I believe the
chapter on sadness was the toughest for me to do. As I wrote it, I
actually would tear up and have to stop writing
Norm: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Wally: I enjoyed most working with my illustrator, Fatima Sabato, who actually lives in Chile. I found her through a freelance agency, UpWork. I have never seen her or talked to her. I e-mailed her pictures of Shadow and the outline of a chapter. She would send back pencil sketches, I would comment, she would revise and so on till completion. I think she did a fabulous job!
Norm: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Wally: I guess I relearned what we used to say in advertising. “You don’t have to be a dog to sell dog food, you just have to learn to think like one”.
Norm: Did you read any special books on how to write a children's book?
Wally: I did not.
Norm: What do you think makes a good children's book?
Wally: It has to keep their attention. In my case, I wanted to create an engaging character that they would grow to love and by extension listen to. This makes the book marketable to Moms and Dads.
Norm: Can you tell us how you found representation for your book? Did you pitch it to an agent, or query publishers who would most likely publish this type of book? Any rejections? Did you self-publish?
Wally: I sent out fifty letters to potential agents with no success so then I decided to self-publish with AuthorHouse as I had with my previous books. At this point, I also decided to contribute all the proceeds from the book to Best Friends Society, an animal rescue charity that was Robbie’s favourite.
Norm: What makes your book stand out from the crowd and how do you think young children will identify with Shadow and connect the story with their own
Wally:, Shadow herself is
a loveable yet believable authority figure and the “What is
Shadow’s Lesson?” technique for each chapter is special
Norm: Any unique ways you'll be marketing your book that is different from how others authors market their books?
Wally: In the first place, all purchases of the book are charitable deductions. 100% of the proceeds of the sales will be contributed to Best Friends Society (Robbie's favorite charity). Shadow and I are absorbing all costs of production. I think this will be important to potential buyers not so much for the monetary value but as a "Life Lesson".
Secondly, Shadow and I will be available for book signings, photo ops with kids and TV interviews both live and remote from San Diego. We'd even fly to New York for a daytime TV show. Also, kids can write to Shadow with questions and comments and get an answer Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org . So in a way the book is interactive.
Norm: What has been the reactions from readers so far?
Wally: Terrific. All positive. The little ones really believe that Shadow wrote the book and the older ones just love her. I was worried about the “Being Sad” chapter but the feedback from the Moms has been very positive.
Norm: Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us? (We would love to hear all about them!)
Wally: I have a rough draft of a real change of direction. I am closely involved with a charity, The Honor Foundation, here in San Diego that helps Special Warfare Operators (Navy SEALS and MARSOC Marines) transition into the civilian world.
This is a particular problem for these guy and gals. I lecture them on “Basic Training” the essential elements necessary in dealing with the outside world. How to interview, how to dress, how to communicate etc. I have been told that transitioning is a problem for all newly released veterans so I will probably flesh out my lecture into a book.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Lessons from Shadow: My Life Lessons for Boys and Girls?
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Wally: Are you going to write “More Lessons from Shadow” if the book is a success?
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavours