Author Interview by MC Simon
Sterling B. Freeman: Author & Illustrator of Goodnight, Little Dreamer
1. Why did you decide to start writing children’s books?
Honestly, that credit would have to go to my mom. As a creative arts person, I’m creating all the time, even things that I may not have a purpose for at the time. The original words for this book I had written just because I had the idea and wanted to get it out of my head. But I was more focused on making music a brand. So, initially, I didn’t see it as a relative connection with what I was trying to do with music. Therefore, it just sat on my phone, and I pretty much forgot about it. It wasn’t until sometime later that my mom and I were having a conversation about one of my collections of riddles and art she’d tried to publish for me when I was a kid. I then told her about this other kids’ story that I had written that she could use instead. She was totally unaware that I had it just sitting around. Initially, I really didn’t think it was the best move for me. But my mom loved the story and insisted it would be great as a book. As the project began to take shape, I found the relativity it had to my concept as an artist and how it connected with the light bulb idea for branding. The Little Dreamer and the light bulb were a perfect fit. I became hooked and thought not just to make one book but make it a series.
2. What sparked the idea for the book? What inspired you to write your first book?
The idea for Goodnight, Little Dreamer, at least the words, originally came from the idea of how to communicate the importance of sharing information. There is a saying, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. But if you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” It is a way to communicate that information through a metaphor, which, in its purest form, could be told as a childhood story. I was working on how I could communicate big ideas in a small, elemental form. Metaphors are an essential way of knowing how to do that. It is a way of explaining one thing by giving an example of another thing. Therefore, the Goodnight, Little Dreamer story is a metaphor for the importance and power of sharing information. In life, there are a lot of people who don’t know how to do better. Or don’t know how to get out of the problems or situations they’re in because sometimes they lack the information. They don’t know how. And we can’t do better if we don’t know better until someone teaches us, or until we gain exposure to the information. So, this little boy having the problem of falling asleep may be a big deal for a child. But until the mother teaches him how to count sheep, he had no way of solving that issue. If we don’t learn how to fix it, we can remain stuck, and it will keep us up at night struggling with the problem.
3. What was your favorite book when you were growing up? What books have influenced your life the most?
I had many favorite books growing up:
“The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss
“There’s a Nightmare in My Closet” by Mercer Mayer
“Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown & Clement Hurd
“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card
“The Giver” by Lois Lowry
“Hatchet” by Gary Paulson
4. What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you ever want to be a writer?
When I was little, I remember I had the idea of being president at some early point. But the one I remember the most was wanting to be a lawyer. For the classic reason of adults saying I should be one because I liked to defend what I believed was right, not just for me but for others. But I never once had the thought of being a writer – even though I would put my thoughts on paper all the time.
5. In middle school, you entered your first children’s book writing contest for young authors. What made you decide to do it. What dreams did you have before it? What about after?
Once again, that credit for entering the contest would have to go to my mother. I was literally just a wild card when it came to creative arts, and I did it on my own. If I had the idea to do something at that age, I just did it. And my mom would always encourage it and support me. Whatever my imagination led me to do, especially if I could draw or write it, I tried it. I would do anything from creating blueprints for robots to making my trading card games. As a matter of fact, I feel certain that my mom still has sample copies of most of the things I created as a kid.
6. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t think of myself as a writer. I think of myself as a person with ideas who writes his thoughts on paper. That way, my thoughts are there when I need them. But it wasn’t until the book was formatted and ready to publish that I realized I was about to become a real author — only because it was a finished book sitting in front of me. And I realized that I had written it and was the illustrator. “Writer” never really clicked in my mind until then.
7. Did your mom who is also an author, influence your career?
As far as bringing it to fruition, she was more of a teammate than an influencer at the start of my book-writing career because I had no idea how to go about publishing an actual book. But, the same as the metaphor for the book, “the sharing of information,” made the difference.
8. You were featured on the local WFMY Channel 2 News as a young entrepreneur for starting a business designing custom art and graphics for clothing. Can you share with our readers more about it?
Entrepreneurship was first introduced to my brother and me when I turned 3-years-old, and my brother was only a few months old. To keep us busy while she worked in her home business, my mom started a gumball and candy vending business for my little brother and me. As a kid, maybe around third grade, I used to draw art to go inside my classmates’ binders. You know, where that plastic slipcover on the front is? I would draw pictures for money. I would sell my services of artwork as far back as in third grade – until I got in trouble for it. But still I would do it here and there. As I got older, people would say, “Oh, this drawing would look good on a t-shirt, or this would be a good logo for this.” So, I got the idea of doing art on t-shirts. And I think I had to draw something on a t-shirt one time for some intramural sports or spirit week and I bought fabric paint for that. I think that may have sparked the idea of being able also to turn it into a business. In the summer of eight grade, I talked to my mom about it. When my mom found out, she insisted that I started a business and helped to make it happen. She told me I could probably start at the flea market. So, we rented a space inside. That’s where the Xpressions Custom Art Apparel officially started. I did hand-painted designs, heat press, and screen prints for all ages on tees, pants, hats, etc. I also created logo designs. Not too long after, we moved to a business incubator and opened a store there.
9. You are an experienced illustrator. How did you choose the book cover?
The cover design is another metaphor. When I was thinking of the cover, I also thought of the process of sharing information and how most people get inspired to acquire knowledge. An example is how people see someone succeeding at something, and then it interests them to figure out how that person did it. Most of the time, that’s how we become interested in learning new things. We try to dig into their story or tune in to how they acquired that information. So, on the cover, you see the boy succeeding at falling asleep. And, in opening and reading the book, you get the back-story information of how he achieved it. In turn, another child learns how to fall asleep if they have trouble sleeping. Also, although he’s sleeping, the thought bubbles indicate that his imagination is awake. That’s pretty much what helped me decide on the cover.
10. How did you come up with the title?
Well, by the time you close the book, your child should be dreaming – or about to. Therefore, the title is just what you would naturally say to your child as you finish reading the book, and he or she is falling asleep. The “little dreamer” represents every child.
11. How is a typical working day for you as a writer?
A typical day for me as a writer is me pacing back and forth in my apartment with breaks to listen to music. Whenever I create, I must have room to walk. Movement helps me think.
12. Do you have any other creative projects in the works now? Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Yes, I am working on a couple of things. I want to add a Goodnight, Little Dreamer coloring book. I think it would be an excellent way for kids to use their imagination after reading the book. I’m in the process of getting it set for publishing and will have it ready sometime soon. Other than that, my primary focus will be on marketing and promoting the book. Of course, I already have ideas for the next book in the series, which means the possibilities for the future of the Little Dreamer book series are unlimited.
13. Do you have any author bucket-list type goals?
Of course, like any author, I hope that the book is a success. But I also have many more plans for the Little Light Series – not just as a book series but as a brand. My only “bucket list” goal is to get it all out before I “kick the bucket.” But at only age 26, I’m very optimistic that time is on my side.
14. What is one of the hardest things to do as a children’s books author?
Everything seemed a bit hard for me at first because it was my first time. The writing was the easiest because it doesn’t require many words to write a children’s book for 2-6-year-olds, and I’d already written them months before. I guess the hardest part was the artwork because I didn’t plan to be the illustrator. I only intended to develop the characters, and my mom would find the illustrator to take it from there. But when I saw some of the illustrations, I decided it would be best if I did them myself. My former art professor Dr. Carter also suggested that I do it myself. Otherwise, no one else could capture the ideas and words that matched the characters with faces and their lives. I realized that only I could do that. So, I decided to do it. My mom assured me that she would handle the publishing process since she is experienced at it.
15. Do you have any advice for other writers?
I advise that they write for a personal purpose, even if it’s just for fun. In a lot of different mediums, people get caught up in trying to write what they feel people will like. But you are a part of “people.” Evoke your own thoughts but use your readers’ frame of reference. When you do this, like-minded people will connect with your message.