By Sally Matheny
Max Elliott Anderson has quite a past—all of which works to his advantage as a writer. An award-winning film producer, he has produced everything from a nationally televised PBS special to over 500 television commercials.
He writes a monthly column for Christian Fiction Online Magazine and for Book Fun Magazine. Chicken Soup for the Soul, I Believe in Healing and the Guideposts book “It’s a God Thing” have also published some of Max’s true-life stories.
While he is still in video production, Max is now focusing more of his time writing for reluctant readers, especially for boys ages eight and up. Max draws upon his own experience as a reluctant reader, and his knowledge in filming to enhance his writing. His past is making an impact. Ten of Max’s books have been published (Port Yonder Press, Comfort Publishing). Some of his stories have appeared in anthologies published by Darby Creek, Simon & Schuster, and Tyndale.
Max, thank you for taking time to share with us about your writing journey.
Thank you, I appreciate this opportunity.
You began your writing for publication in 2001 and published two books by 2004. After you signed with an agent, nine books were published in 2011. Will you share with us how you acquired your agent and how that changed things for you?
Early on, I made a practice of asking parents and grandparents if they would read and review my early work. This was done through various writers groups and other contacts. One of the people who took me up on the offer was Terry Burns. Later, Terry became an agent with Hartline Literary. Although middle grade books were not his focus at the time, he agreed to represent me because of his personal experience with my writing.
Terry has been extremely helpful in the contract negotiation process. He keeps up on the overall market, tracking where editors are, what they acquire, and what they’re looking for. Terry also participates in many conferences throughout the year. This allows me to concentrate on writing and marketing, without having to be as strong in the business side of things.
When you make school visits, commemorating 9-11, using your book, “When the Lights Go Out,” what type of response do you usually receive from children?
This may shock some readers, but when I speak with middle grade students today, most are virtually unaware of what happened on 9-11. Keep in mind this was already years ago before many of them were born or when they were very young. Schools don’t seem to emphasize much about what happened.
When I first began speaking in schools, I learned very fast how different students’ perceptions and frames of reference were from my own. As I’d talk about my film and video background, or other personal information, I quickly found that they didn’t know who Ronald Reagan was, were clueless about the Vietnam War, and found it hard to relate to a time when there were no computers, TV’s, microwaves, cell phones, and other things they find essential in their lives today. This has greatly influenced my writing.
You’ve mentioned how your years of work in film and video production influences your writing action-adventures and mystery stories. I’m curious; does your college degree in psychology help as well?
Great question. Yes, a background in psychology has been quite helpful in approaching the strengths and weaknesses of my characters. One of my contracted books, Third House on the Left, is about bullying. I’ve never really been bullied, in the sense that we read about it today, but understanding various personality types was helpful in working with this subject. When the main character, who walks with a limp, realizes his chief tormentor is actually filled with insecurities and fears, he understands how to deal with him.
You’ve received three Telly Awards, as well as other awards, for your video production work. Ten books are published, ten more are under contract. Years of hard work are bringing success! What advice do you offer about handling pride issues?
There will always be someone who writes better than you do. There will always be authors who are more popular than you are. The key is to look for the place where you fit best in this world and fill that space. It isn’t so important what others think about you. Knowing who you are, and performing to the best of your abilities are all that matter.
How do you handle rejections?
I just received one in the last couple of weeks. It was for another anthology project. All a rejection says to you is, “What you’ve written doesn’t fit what we’re looking for at this time.” This presupposes that the writing is good, the mechanics are right, you have a strong voice, and you understand the market you’re trying to penetrate. Rejections also prove you’re writing and doing your best to get your work out there.
Max, your father, Ken Anderson, left quite a legacy. He wrote over seventy books, founded Gospel Films, and Ken Anderson Films. I’m sure he taught you many things. Is there one thing that has influenced you the most?
If you feel called to do something, never give up. No matter how many people tell you, you can’t do it—no matter what obstacles get in your way, don’t give up on your dreams.
What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
I’ve had the pleasure of raising two children, a son and a daughter. Now we’re enjoying grandchildren. My purpose in writing for middle grade readers is to instill character, spiritual principles, accountability, and personal responsibility, all in the context of a rip-roaring adventure or mystery. Many adults have written to tell me how my books have turned their children into avid readers. I grew up hating to read. I know…and with a father who published all those books. I’ve learned that processes happen in the brain, while reading, that don’t happen any other way. So I hope that one or more of the elements included in each of my books will connect with the reader and help them shape their thinking about what kind of person they want to be. And I like to remind kids that readers are the leaders others follow.
Thank you for sharing with us. I know our readers will find wisdom and encouragement in your words.
My pleasure, thank you. And remember, readers are the leaders others follow.