The Colored Water Fountain
by Dr. Calvin James
Illustrator: Jordan Pizzuti
Calvin James Creates (2021)
Dr. Calvin James began his creative journey when he was nineteen. He taught himself how to play guitar, started writing music, and founded a record company, Climax Records, Inc. in 2001. He released his first album, “City” in 2004. Around 2011, he took an interest in writing and gradually shifted his focus away from music to writing children’s stories. Once he finished graduate school in 2018, he decided to share all the music and stories he had written and founded Calvin James Creates in 2019. The mission statement of his company is to share children’s stories, novels, and music that promote the values of truth, kindness, friendship, love, and hope. The first two music videos released under the Calvin James Creates brand were “Hurricane” on October 16th, 2020 and “Listless Christmas” on December 4th, 2020. The first children’s book that will be released is “The Colored Water Fountain” on December 1st, 2021.
Hi Calvin, Welcome to Reader Views Kids, we’re delighted to talk to you today! Tell us a bit about “The Colored Water Fountain.”
“The Colored Water Fountain” is about a world that has been remade by a great flood, but unlike the flood in the bible, the waters bring a new beginning. All humans are reborn as immortal children. Animals are caretakers of the earth. No one remembers the world that was, but some things from the old world remain. When the two main characters, Asher and Adeline, find a sign that reads, “colored” water fountain, they set out on a quest to uncover its meaning.
What was your inspiration behind writing a storybook for kids on this subject?
Unfortunately, racism and people who judge others based on the color of their skin may always be a part of our society. I wanted to create a way to explain to my son and all children that this is not the way the world should be.
“The Colored Water Fountain” has such an original feel to it – how did you come up with the idea of a new world?
So many stories have been written throughout time. It’s hard to write something truly original without clichés. So with all my stories, I look inside myself and ask: What am I trying to say? Is it worth saying? If it is, how will I say it in a unique way? These questions help me create something original.
What motivates your young protagonists?
Initially, it’s the same thing that motivates all children, curiosity. Some things in this world, the characters already know and understand their purpose; the sun, the sky, the trees, etc., but The Colored Water Fountain is the first object they encounter that they do not understand. Although The Four Spirits who caused the flood gave children their Gift of Forgetting, you can never completely bury the truth. Asher is not only curious, he also feels a connection to the fountain and he is driven to find out why.
When is the right time to start talking to kids about prejudice and racism?
As soon as you can. This type of topic is not one you want to let your children learn from someone else.
“The Colored Water Fountain” seems like an educational opportunity for both kids and adults. I’m sure the kids could teach adults a thing or two. Is your book intended for kids and adults?
C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” I completely agree with this statement. I want parents to have books that not only their kids will enjoy and learn from, but they will enjoy reading to their children and learn from as well.
Kids are not born racist, so how do you think we got to where we are in the world today?
That’s a complex question, but the short answer is, it is taught. My son is four years old. His daycare has white children, asian, hispanic; a myriad of races and ethnicities. At this time, none of them judge each other because they haven’t been taught that yet, but when they go to a doctor’s office and they rarely see a black doctor, eventually they may think, “black people aren’t doctors”. When they watch TV and see hispanics one time too many portrayed as criminals, they may start to think, “hispanics are criminals”. When they see they are not portrayed on magazine covers or in movies, they may start to think, “I’m not beautiful”. This is why we must teach children about racism and prejudice as soon as possible. It’s not just about what we will tell our children because the influence that media and their environment will have on their outlook cannot be underestimated.
How did you find your illustrator? What was it like working together to bring your story to life?
I worked with an illustrator, Jordan Pizzuti. While I was working on my doctorate for Physical Therapy, one of my clinical instructors mentioned that her niece was an illustrator. This was about six years ago. “The Colored Water Fountain” was already written so I had a rough plan for the direction of Calvin James Creates. Once I finished my doctorate, I got in touch with my clinical instructor and got Jordan’s info.
Through the years of writing music and collaborating with musicians, I’ve learned to give people their space. I don’t want to restrict another’s creative vision because they may come up with something even better than I had in mind. So with Jordan I gave minimal direction and let her have the freedom to create the world I described through her eyes and not just mine. I think she did an excellent job.
What do you think is the biggest challenge writing for a young audience?
The thing is, I don’t see it as a challenge. The challenge is writing a good story that is well told. In addition to asking myself, “what am I trying to say? Is it worth saying? If it is, how will I say it in a unique way”, I also ask myself these questions, no matter the audience: What does my character want? Why do they want it? What are they willing to do to get it? Who will they become once they have it? If the answers to those questions are compelling, I craft a story within the principles of storytelling.
What is the most important message you hope readers take away from “The Colored Water Fountain?”
Love one another regardless of race, sex, what you believe or don’t believe. We are far more alike than we are different, but it’s our differences that make us beautiful.
What do you like to read and what are some of your favorite children’s books authors and stories?
I really like stories about lore and history. That’s probably why “The Colored Water Fountain” and most of my other children’s books have the feel of an old fairy tale. I’m fascinated by the beginnings of worlds.
There are two children’s books that’s had a huge influence on my writing. My favorite is “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. There’s something heartbreakingly magical about the way the author crafted that story. I’ve probably read it a thousand times. “The Lorax” by Dr. Suess also had a huge influence on me.
Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?
Besides “The Giving Tree” and “The Lorax”, “The Silmarillion ’ by JRR Tolkien has had the largest influence on me out of any book I’ve ever read thus far. The entire story is the lore of Middle Earth, the origins of Suraon, Shelob, The Dúnedain, Galadriel, Gandalf, Elrond… It’s amazing.
You have a number of books planned for children – what’s next? What social issues will you bring to the world in your next book?
Long, Long Time (May 2023) is the next book. It’s about a boy’s mother who is struggling with an illness and they are unsure of how much time they have left together. Jordan and I are looking forward to telling that story.
What do you enjoy outside of writing?
Writing music, staying in shape, but what I enjoy most is spending time with my wife and son. They are my sanctuary.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?
About life came from my father. When I was nineteen, he told me, “always follow your heart. It has the best sense of direction and don’t upset your mother because I’ll get in trouble.”
The best piece of advice about writing comes from the book, “Story” by Robert McKee. I feel this is an essential piece of literature for all aspiring writers. There’s about forty quotes that I treasure from this book, but please allow me two:
- “Characterization is the sum of all observable qualities of the human being, but it is not character. True character is expressed in choices under pressure. Deep inside, despite appearances, who is this person really? How they choose is who they are. This revelation of true character in contrast or contradiction to characterization is fundamental to all fine storytelling.”
- “The life story of a character offers encyclopedic possibilities. The mark of a master is to select only a few moments, but give us a lifetime.”
Do you have a website or blog (or both) where readers can learn more about you and your works?
Yes. Readers can go to my website www.calvinjamescreates.com to see the releases date of the next seven children’s books, the release date of the first novel “The White”, watch music videos, and download music at the “SHOP” link.
Do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging picture book authors?
Several, but here’s what I think is most important.
- Learn the principles of storytelling then write, write, write, and then write some more.
- Know your limitations. Work on what you’re good at then build a team around you for the things that you aren’t.
- Don’t become emotionally attached to your work. Once you decide to work with others (illustrator, marketing advisor, editor), they may want to cut, add, or change parts of the story. If you’re not emotionally attached, you’ll see that this is often for the benefit of the tale. If you are, the story may suffer for it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If you want to become a writer, whether it’s a picture book author, novelist, or screenwriter, write in the genre you love, write honestly, and focus on a clear idea. “The more beautifully you shape your work around one clear idea, the more meanings the audience will discover as they take your idea and follow its implications into every aspect of their lives.” Robert Mckee. Ok, I snuck in a third Robert Mckee gem there. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my books and storytelling.
Calvin, thank you so much for joining us today on Reader Views Kids!
CONNECT WITH DR. CALVIN JAMES
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CalvinJamesCreates
YouTube Channel: Calvin James Creates