Today we’re talking with Burton W. Cole, author of several books including the newest, Bash and the Chocolate Milk Cows, an Inspirational humor/adventure book for middle grade readers.
How did you choose the title?
I want titles that grab attention. There’s not much that grabs my attention faster than the word “chocolate.” So far, I have published three misadventures of Bash and Beamer novels. Raymond “Beamer” Boxby narrates the tales about the crazy things that happen when he spends time with his third cousin twice removed Sebastian “Bash” Hinglehobb. In the third book, Bash concocts a way to make it appear that the cows gave chocolate milk on April Fool’s Day. Hence, “Bash and the Chocolate Milk Cows.”
Did you design the cover?
I am halfway decent at drawing, so with my first book, I pitched the idea that I do my own illustrations to my publisher at B&H Kids. I sent in sketches. He said they were nice, but that he had a former Disney animator and Big Idea illustrator Tom Bancroft in mind for the covers and the 12 interior line drawings. He sent me Tom ideas for the book. It was absolutely no contest. “Yeah, let’s go with Tom,” I said. It was awesome.
How would you describe the book to someone in a text message?
#faith, #fun and #farmpranks.
Okay, actually, that’s my Twitter hashtag description.
Since I text with the one finger hunt-and-peck method, I’d probably describe it with typos. I’ll try to eliminate those. It would go something like this:
Chickens dripping in strawberry-rhubarb pie run amok in a fire station. A goat gets painted in an explosion of circus colors. And the cows give chocolate milk on April Fool’s Day. Just the typical weirdness Beamer encounters when visiting cousin Bash on the farm. Meanwhile, somebody’s holding up stores and feed mills. Beamer finds himself face-to-face with the robber with only his crazy cousin, pesky neighbor Mary Jane, and Morton, the goat of many colors.
Who is your main character and what problem does he/she face?
While the titles of all three of my books—Bash and the Pirate Pig, Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper, and Bash and the Chocolate Milk Cows—would lead you to believe that Bash is the main character, actually, he’s not. Ray “Beamer” Boxby narrates the stories and really is the kid who keeps getting shaken, stirred, bent, stapled, twisted, bruised and otherwise in a pickle.
Beamer is boring kind of guy. He’d prefer spending his days reading comic books and playing video games. His cousin Bash spends as much time as possible outdoors, building crazy inventions and trying daring stuff, like riding cows to the dairy drive-through, building a raft from an old shed door, and teaching his pet pig to ice skate. Beamer also has himself to deal with—his trying to learn how to live, really live, with joy and excitement. He’s a new Christian now, has a lot of questions, and doesn’t always think very highly of himself.
Bash and the Chocolate Milk Cows takes place over April Fool’s Day. Bash brims with pranks, tricks and jokes—including a scheme to make it look like the cows gave chocolate milk on April 1, an elaborate plan that involves all the neighbor kids. Beamer just knows that Bash is going to get them grounded again.
Worse, there’s a robber working the farming community. He’s not a very good robber. Mostly, he gets away with chocolate and no cash.
Beamer is trying to puzzle out what in the world baptism is, is trying to learn how to run for fun, is trying to not get into trouble, even when he helps Bash stuff his mom’s car trunk full of pies and live chickens for a trip to the fire hall just down the road, and is about to come face-to-face with the robber and his gun with only his wild cousin Bash, pesky neighbor Mary Jane and a goat of many colors as the other options to save the day.
What did you bring to the book from your own life?
A lot of the crazy stunts in this series, I made up. And a lot of them, my siblings and cousins pulled on various of the farms we lived on. I tell people I don’t want to see which silly antics are made up and which we did because Mom hasn’t found out about all of them yet.
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a magician, and I wanted to play forward in the NBA. I also aspired to be a syndicated cartoonist, an author of mystery novels, and a rock star trombone player.
Do you still want to be that?
- There doesn’t seem to be much call for trombone players in rock bands. Also, I’m more the smooth jazz and contemporary Christian music kind of guy now, but my trombone skills never quite developed to that level.
- Sometimes I wish I’d continued working toward cartoonist.
- As for basketball, it turns out you have to actually be able to dribble the ball, and it helps if your shots go into the basket at least occasionally.
- The magician thing was ruined by the association with dark arts.
- As for mystery novels, I couldn’t plot enough clues.
- So I became a newspaper reporter and humor columnist. I’ve been a newspaper man for nearly 35 years now—I’m features editor at the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, Ohio—and a columnist the last 23 years.
- Oh, and I write books—with crazy characters, silly situations, a heaping of heart, a blast of the Bible, and even with a few mysteries mixed in.
When did you know you wanted to be an author?
I started writing bad poetry in third grade. By fourth grade, I wrote my first “novel,” four chapters over six pages, handwritten in pencil in cursive. And with my own illustrations. It was called “Vanish the Killer Whale.” That ol’ orca terrorizing on community let my imagination swim all over the place and set my course.
Did anything unusual or funny happen on your journey to becoming an author?
I quit. I’d been trying so hard for so long. I was more than 50 years old, and I just couldn’t seem to get anything accepted. I’d let things go for years, but for about three years, I was working it hard, writing, rewriting, dreaming, pushing, trying to do everything I knew to do. And one night, I stood outside under the stars, crying, telling God, “I quit, I quit, I quit. I can’t do this.” It was when I quit trying to do it on my own, to do it my way, when I sobbed, “I can’t do this,” that I heard that quiet voice that said, “But I can.” I surrendered my writing, my dreams, my ideas, my will to God. And it what seemed like a whirlwind, I suddenly had an agent (because friends in the American Christian Fiction Writers group I was in worked on my behalf—I didn’t do it), and a publishing contract with B&H Kids/LifeWay, and a deadline for Book 2. It happened because I quit—quit trying my way and accepted God’s.
What books have influenced you most?
I read a lot. I grew up reading about every Hardy Boys book I could find at the library. When I ran out of Hardy Boys, I resorted to Nancy Drew. I loved mysteries. I’ve ready all 56 short stories and all four novels that Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes. I couldn’t get enough of Sherlock Holmes.
I eventually discovered that I wasn’t all that great at writing mysteries but I did have a knack for silliness. My humor writing hero is Patrick F. McManus, particularly the short stories he writes about his childhood with his best friend Crazy Eddie Muldoun.
I also still love stories with heart and strong Christian values—let’s not just make it a nice, moral book, let’s go ahead and talk about Jesus. He’s worth talking about. I enjoy Jan Karon’s Father Tim books and the action/drama/romance novels by Dee Henderson.
And yes, I do read the Bible. I’ve read it all the way through several times and am still reading it again and again, trying to soak in so much more of God’s words, wisdom and instruction.
Do you have life philosophy? Favorite verse?
It’s difficult to pick a favorite single verse in the Bible. One my favorites is Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for the good to them who love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” And the 31st verse is, “If God be for us, then who can be against us?” Actually, I love Romans 8.
Psalm 139 is also huge for me. LOTS of great verses there. You should read the whole thing. A couple samples: Verses 9 and 10: “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall they hand lead me and thy right hand shall hold me.” And verses 23 and 24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
What advice would you give a teen who wants to be a writer?
Write! Don’t worry about trying to make it pretty the first time through. Get the ideas down. Write freely. Let your imagination run wild. Write with gusto. Have fun. Once you have it all down the first time around, go through it again to play with words. Find stronger action verbs, brighter descriptions. Delete the unnecessary words and scenes—even if they’re favorites of yours, if they’re not needed, they’re dragging your story down. Have fun coming up with better, stronger and quicker ways to say things. The third time through, you can start getting fussy with your mechanics, like commas and semicolons. Get rid of all those exclamation marks and adverbs. If you have to use gobs of exclamations and bunches of words that end in “ly,” you probably need stronger verbs and more vivid words. And keep having fun playing with words. Then keep going through polishing and cutting and gussying it up. This is you, so sing!
Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper was named “Best Middle Grade Novel” by the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference NASHVILLE, Tenn. – (May 29, 2015) Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper by Burton Cole was awarded a 2015 Selah Award for “Best Middle Grade Novel”
Want to connect with Burton Cole? Check out his author page.