“I still remember how badly I wanted to learn to read. Once I did, I read everything I could get my hands on, encyclopedias, magazines and books. I had very good parents who were big readers as I grew up so my family would often make trips to the public library. My parents encouraged my hunger for knowledge and I would have to make two trips to get all my books to the car, as there was no limit. I hope everyone who reads Tiny Mouse and the Big Spiders will share my affection for the secret world of small living things.”
Article first published as Interview: Don Caviness, Author of ‘Tiny Harrison Adventure Series’ and ‘Hey! That’s My Fly!’ on Blogcritics.
Hello and welcome, Don. Thank you for taking the time to interview with me. So, let’s get started!
Don, I’ve been doing my research about you/your books prior to this interview, but sadly there isn’t a lot out there about you. So why don’t we start with a bit of your history. I do know you’re a North Carolina native…as a child, where in the state was home?
I was born in Piedmont Hospital in downtown Greensboro. It was a very small hospital located directly above a drug store. Not long after my birth, they tore it down and built the police station. Some of my friends, who know I was born there, say that the chain of events was no accident. I have a great aunt who told me she was at that hospital in childbirth during the WWII era, when Greensboro was rocked by an explosion at the military supply depot on English street to the east side of town. The blast blew in the windows of her hospital room. I have not confirmed her story. I think it’s great as it is. I missed the excitement by 20 years!
My Dad worked for a large steel company that had an office in downtown Greensboro in the Jefferson building. My mother took care of me and my sister. Even as a child I realized how fortunate I was to have good parents who spent time with me; ones who cared about not only my physical needs, but that I would be a good person as well. I also had two sets of very good grandparents.
We moved out of Greensboro after the city widened our street and took part of our yard. I was about thirteen. My Dad said they took half of his yard and then sent him a bill for improvements. He had to pay for the curb and guttering that they had put in at the edge of the road. I do not know what the number was, but he says that in comparison with that, I was a deal. (He still has the bill for my birth, $80.00).
We settled in Randolph County to the south. I was thrilled! Our new home was in a forest with neighbors far away. Every day was an adventure.
What was your childhood like? Siblings? What did you do for fun?
I had one sister. When we were young, she would make up games (cleverly crafted so that she would win) and we spent almost every minute together. Our days were spent in a small back yard with a shady corner where all of our “outside” things were. We played at all the childhood stuff. Lightning bugs were big!
I well remember how we would use the most colorful leaves in the fall as money between us. The green at the base, then lime green (extra valuable), fading into yellow with an orange to red tip.
My parents were very frugal, so a trip to Hanging Rock State Park for a swim, or an evening at a skate rink was tops! We watched lots of TV. 70’s TV. Lots of it. Lots…
When we moved out into the country, I had a ten speed bike which was relatively new technology then and I had a whole world of woods with trails, streams and ponds to explore. I bought a pair of knobby tread tires for my bike at Western Auto and may have built the first mountain/trail style bike ever. Back then, ten speed bikes only had slim racing tires. I was in paradise!
So, my childhood was full of simple things. No internet, video games, or Game Boys for us.
Don, I’ve found that most authors I interview developed a love of books during their younger years. When did your love affair with the written word begin? Parents reading to you at night after they tucked you into bed, or something else, no doubt just as magical?
My sister began school years before I did, and I would beg her to check books out of the school library that I might like. She would read them to me. (I am sure I made a pest of myself). My parents, particularly my father, were avid readers. Once I could read, we made often trips to the public library. I would take two trips sometimes just to get all my books to the car.
My Dad kept a subscription with the Reader’s Digest and the newspaper. Both were always very interesting to me. We also had old encyclopedias around. I read nearly every word in them. If you wanted twenty years’ worth of out-of-date cutting edge science, then I was your boy!
In those “pre-affordable VCR” days, the freedom to explore the world, to learn about what you wanted, when you wanted, only came with books. What I read always seemed to become very real to me, even if it was fiction. Also, I still find that I can read something several times and learn new things with each reading. My “Marriage Certificate” for example. (Just a joke I couldn’t resist). I am very happily married to a more than great woman! We have had twenty-nine years together and I would do it all over again if I could.
Since you are a newer author, I’m presuming that you had a separate career prior to your writing? What was it?
I am only a part-time author. Most of my “career” has involved the maintenance of machines. I even worked at a small amusement park for a while. For 15 years I was a master technician; working on materials-handling equipment like forklifts and aerial platforms with one of the largest equipment dealers in the world. Currently, I am a Corporate Service Manager; overseeing the service departments of four branches for a very well-run materials-handling company based in North Carolina. I have been managing for several years now.
At what point in your life did you finally sit down and start putting pen to paper? If writing stories was something you did your entire life, what was it that prompted you to finally publish them?
I love a good story. I enjoy the adventure, the suspense, and the triumph! It seems today there are so many stories that have such clichéd plots, that I am out in front of what happens next and/or disappointed with the outcome. An example of what bugs me in a story would be a plot built around a misunderstanding. You know that eventually the wrong word, or deed, will be found out, yet you just have to endure the frustration until it ends. I felt that I could write something that was fresh; something with unforeseen twists and turns with imbedded mysteries that may, or may not, ever be understood. Something fun!
After all of our children left home, and with my high stress career running full force, I asked myself…if I were to choose an occupation that I would truly enjoy, what would it be? A “what will I do when I grow up?” kind of moment, had by a man of 47. The answer came as quickly as the question. I realize that I may never be able to depend entirely on my writing for my income. However, it’s still fulfilling.
I wrote Tiny Mouse and the Big Spiders, the first book of the series, three years ago. I sent a copy of the manuscript to a publisher and I received an offer to publish. They offered for me to give them everything along with more. So, I sat on the story for over two years before I finally found a way to move forward and have it published. When I published the second book, Tiny Mouse and the Seeds of Titan, another well-known publisher sent me a letter asking me to send them a manuscript. I am too new at this to know exactly what that means. For all I know everybody who starts writing gets these. They do, don’t they?
Why children’s books versus young adult or adult?
I like the innocence of children’s stories. However, I do not think children’s stories should insult their intelligence. It’s a good thing if a child is interested enough in a book to find that ancient relic called a dictionary to understand the story better. It’s also a good thing, from my point of view, if someone (young or old) has to meditate a little over a section of one of my books in order to really understand it. I have tried to write to a small little area of the mind that has a big impact on how we perceive things. That area is the part of our mind that finds the crawl space under a house both scary and alluring at the same time. You know nothing is really under there. Go ahead. Crawl in and take a look. (If you dare)! Common places, when unfamiliar, can be mysterious and powerful.
The entertainment scene today for young adults seems to be full of either demons or vampires, or moving into dating and “partying.” Before all those strong heavy topics is a time that’s much simpler. That time is not a comfortable place for children only. The adults that have read my Tiny Mouse adventures have also been carried away by them. I have found that many folks love to pick up a book or go to a movie and relax. They wish to truly able to enjoy the story without fear of being confronted by disturbing, overly graphic, images.
I realize that my approach is different. In my stories, bad things happen along with good. But there is no need to be overly graphic to get the excitement between the pages. Maybe that’s where the appeal has been. Tiny has had over 16,000 reads so far, around the world. That’s not a lot compared to a hit, but for a first time, unknown author, who has only been out there a few months, I am awed. There are plenty of other authors if something stronger is appealing to you.
With that mouthful written, I can’t say that I will only write children’s books. I get bored easily. I will however, be very choosy about any other types of things I write.
Don, you have begun writing the Tiny Harrison Mouse adventure series. From what I’ve read, this sounds like a very fun series. Can you tell us how you came up with the premise and the various characters?
All around us is this world of tiny things we hardly notice. The most incredible things are going on there. I have been fascinated by insects, frogs, lizards, and small living things all my life. All you have to do is watch them a while. They are smart, fierce, cunning, and brave. How does all the programming to walk, fly, find food, possibly hunt, mate, and survive fit inside the head of a gnat? The amazing world of tiny things seemed like the ideal place for adventure to me. We all know something about it, but never enough.
Just think about the last time you found a big spider in your home. What grace it moved with. You’ve seen one a thousand times. You had to take a close look though, didn’t you? What instinctive horror you shuddered with! So familiar, and yet, so strange… Uncomfortable thoughts crept into your mind. You know they did. How long has this thing been stalking around my house? How close has it been to me without my seeing it? Has it been under my sofa? In my shoes? On my bed? On ME during the night? It has lots of eyes! Has it been watching me? Now you took an even closer look, didn’t you? Then, you either brushed it outside with a broom or…….Squash! To conquer your fears! After the squash you took a creepy look at what you had done………. Didn’t you now?
As for Tiny…
Tiny is a courageous young man of a mouse. He is the reflection of every young person who finds themselves just beginning to find acceptance in the adult world. Their heart is full to the point of busting with the value they know that they can bring if someone would just listen! We have all been there. That is the feeling I am trying to help everyone find…again. I saw him (Tiny) in myself, and later in my sons and daughter. I see him in my grandfather’s stories when I hear them re-told in my mind. A few weeks ago my last surviving grandparent told me a story from her childhood. There again was Tiny!
Tiny has a brother who is a loyal and gifted companion. His grandfather is like the grandfather we all wanted, and some got. He is an inventor and fun loving. Wise and daring. I believe Tiny wants to be a reflection of him. I write the books, and I still don’t know what he’s thinking sometimes.
In our home we have a large terrarium built into a wall. Over the years we have had “guests” living in there. Including, but not limited to: an iguana, a tarantula, a chameleon, another tarantula, another chameleon, and several lizards of various species. We once had a guest come for dinner who ran out of the house! Spiders weren’t her thing. Or were they? The inspiration for Tiny Mouse and the Big Spiders is definitely somewhere in that terrarium. I look forward to developing the characters of the rest of Tiny’s family in future books of the series.
Tiny Mouse and the Seeds of Titan must have been inspired by the countless hours of Star Trek I have watched. Tiny went Sci-Fi! However, the title does not lead at all where you would think. You will not see the plot coming in that one! When I explained the premise of the book to a close friend he thought I had lost my sanity. He read the manuscript and found it to be a very pleasant surprise. I hope everyone does. It’s all about fun. Mostly…
Besides the “fun” concept of the individual books, are there any important messages within the pages for children to discover?
Any of us could find ourselves in incredible circumstances at any time. Do we have the strength of character needed to face whatever challenge we meet? A very small person can make a large difference. We all need to develop a noble side of ourselves. Tiny is searching for nobility.
Your newest book in this series is: Hey! That’s My Fly! Would you care to share the book’s “about.”
As a parent, I wanted to encourage conversation between parents and their preschoolers about sharing. My concept is a bedtime story about two young chameleons who stick the same fly with their tongues. Stubbornly refusing to give in, they learn a lesson.
The cover and all the internal illustrations are scans of hand-painted acrylic originals. I used to paint, a little way back as a young man, and I wanted to see if I could still do such things.
There are questions inside, beneath the actual story dialogue. Just some common sense questions from a father of three to help start things…
I miss my children very much. They were very good children and a lot of fun. All are grown now and have their own lives. That has a lot to do with why I wrote: Hey! That’s My Fly! The book is just out. I hope to have my heart warmed by future reports of families making good use of Hey! That’s My Fly! for bedtime story time.
And lastly Don, what’s next from here? A different children’s series? Adult reads? Or something else?
The third Tiny Mouse Adventure will be written soon. However, there is another project in the works that is a departure from what I have done before. I have a dear friend and brother-in-law, David MacFarlane, who has led a very interesting life. Adventuresome actually… He was a commercial fisherman out of Rhode Island for years. I have listened to hours of his tales about what happened in the life of a typical commercial fisherman; from surfing the wake of a submarine to shipwreck.
David and I are writing the story of his life’s adventure together. David is the uncle of the famous Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, and other popular animated shows. Seth even hosted the Oscars a while back. I have also seen David’s brother on the red carpet in Hollywood too. Those MacFarlanes certainly know how to live a life of adventure!
And Tiny loves adventure…
Interview by Author Charline Ratcliff for Say What? Savannah Mae