Greyson Gray: legend, terrorist foe, 12-year-old
NORTH LIBERTY– Some people struggle their entire lives trying to figure out what it is they are passionate about, and what they want to do. For Benjamin, “B.C.” Tweedt, the answer is clear.
He wants to be a writer.
Tweedt, who’s not yet 30 years old, has made his dream a reality with the publication of two novels aimed at the young adult, or fifth through ninth grades. The books, “Greyson Gray: Camp Legend,” and “Greyson Gray: Fair Game,” follow the adventures of the title character and his friends as they unmask evil plots not unlike the Hardy Boys of years ago. And, he is currently working on a third book in the series.
A native of Dallas, Texas Tweedt moved to central Iowa as a young child and though he’s still has a proud Texas heritage, he’s been an Iowa boy ever since. Tweedt said he developed a love of writing, thanks in no small part to his mother, a writer of children’s’ books and English teacher for over 30 years.
“I got a love of writing and love for education from her,” he said. Tweedt also loves creativity and the ability to have an impact on people, which led to attending the University of Iowa and the pursuit of a degree in cinema.
Self-described as quiet and introverted, Tweedt said he found it hard to impact people in a face-to-face manner. “So, I’ve thought through mediums, media, to do that. I love making movies and still think about that,” he said. However, the U of I program is geared more toward the theory of film making rather than the actual production aspects. Tweedt decided moving to Hollywood in an attempt to break into the movie business was unrealistic, so he went to his backup plan: education. Like a good movie, education also offers an opportunity to, “move people and build them up in character and wisdom,” he said.
He focused on English literature and history. A fan of history, Tweedt admitted he hated the classes he sat through in school and decided he could teach it differently by making it fun and engaging.
Graduation led to an opening at the Heritage Christian School in North Liberty and the opportunity to teach literature, initially to fifth through eighth-graders, then later, sixth through eighth.
“I loved it,” Tweedt said of his four years in the classroom. “I love working with that age group. They’re quirky. Most of them don’t really care how they look or how they feel. They can still enjoy class, they’re not ‘too cool for school.’” It’s also the age group he worked with for three years as a sports camp counselor at Loras College in Dubuque and still does currently with his wife Julie in a youth group at Parkview Church.
“I know those kids, I hang out with them, I know how they talk, I know their humor,” he said describing how he developed the characters for his books. The first was written six years ago, prior to his time at Heritage, and was built off of notes he would jot down after a day at the sports camp. Tweedt said he would write down funny things he’d heard the kids saying to each other or humorous events he’d witness. He stressed the fact that none of his characters are based on Heritage students, and added, Greyson is a complete fabrication while others in the books are a composite.
The first book was published during his third year at Heritage, and naturally some of the students read it, leading to questions and speculations on their part. “Is this this kid?” They’d ask. “No. Nope. It’s not; I swear,” he’d say.
Figuring out the characters was easy for him as a writer. The hard part, he said, was turning them into a book.
“I had all these notes, all these funny things, but I just didn’t know how to put it all together.” Then, a man with a hat and a whip inspired him. In the 1980s actor Harrison Ford brought to life the character of Indiana Jones. For Tweedt, his 12-year-old hero was born in the image of Jones. “It was the feel I was going for: adventurous, high-stakes, you’re worried for the characters and then say, ‘that’s outlandish, that’s crazy, but I don’t care.’”
Ford wore a signature fedora hat and carried a whip. That resonated with Tweedt.
“I like the fact he has this look. You see the hat, you know its Indiana Jones,” said Tweedt. For Greyson, Tweedt gave the kid a red hat and, a red fanny pack. “You see the hat, you know its Greyson.”
Why does the hero wear a fanny pack when relatively few do these days?
“It has everything he needs,” Tweedt said pointing out that it’s functional, practical and something a little different.
Just like Greyson.
“He doesn’t have any super powers, he’s not super anything. He will just always do what’s right, no matter what, he’ll do what he thinks is right. He’s daring to do good,” Tweedt said.
Although Tweedt is a Christian, his books are secular in nature, complete with some toilet humor, flatulance jokes, and even a kiss. The characters in Tweedt’s book are a bit crude at times, as their real-life counterparts can be.
“It’s not a Christian book,” he said, but added that Greyson, just like a ton of kids today, struggles with questions of faith, whether there a heaven or hell, and is there a right religion? Greyson talks with a pastor at one point in the series, and comes away forming his own opinion.
“It’s not preachy,” Tweedt said. “I’m a Christian so I understand that (faith-based) world view. Kids are struggling with faith issues so I walk them through that with Greyson. He’s got a sharp moral compass, but he’s also a flawed human being, just like we are.”
One struggle Tweedt overcame was finding the time to follow his passion for writing. He left Heritage and took a warehouse job. While some may find that an odd career jump, Tweedt said he is able to think about his writing during the day while performing his duties, and, when he gets home, there are no grades to compute and no lesson planning to be done.
“I can write and just be with my wife, and pursue that passion,” he said.
Another struggle centered around how to get his books published, and out in front of potential readers. Many would-be authors languish in the process of honing their manuscripts to the satisfaction of an agent, who then considers presenting them to a publisher, and watch in desperation as the rejection letters pile up. Others have turned to self-publishing, an industry growing by leaps and bounds.
According to Forbes, between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published annually, at least half of which are self-published, not produced by a publishing house such as Bantam Books or Simon and Schuster. Bowker, the official ISBN (catalog number for a book) agency reported 391,000 self-published titles in 2012, up 59 precent over the previous year, and up 422 percent over 2007. E-books equaled 40 percent of the 2012 total.
“A couple of summers I sent out query letters to the major publishing houses. That’s how it was done my mom’s generation up until a couple of years ago. A friend pointed out an article in a newspaper about self-publishing and some of the success stories with people selling hundreds of thousands of books,” Tweedt said. Until that point he’d thought of self-publishing as the B-team.
“The A-Team authors can get published and the B-Team authors self-publish and end up with hundreds of books sitting in their basement they hope to sell,” said Tweedt. But with the advent of Print On-Demand (POD), Tweedt said the risk and investment are much lower.
It has even given him a new perspective.
“I wasn’t considering (writing) as a career, I was just like, I know some people that read it have enjoyed it, now that it’s a little cheaper and no real risk, I’ll see what happens,” he said.
The initial response to the Greyson series has been positive, even from firms such as Kirkus Reviews and Clarion, which specialize in writing book reviews.
“This actually is good,” Tweedt said. “Before, my mom, my wife says it’s good, but now when these people are saying its good… maybe I can make this a career.”
But going the route of the lone wolf has its pitfalls too, like getting the books out in front of potential readers. “Marketing is the hard part,” he said. In an ever-crowding sea of authors, getting noticed becomes tougher as readers try to separate the wheat from the chaff. “No matter how good it is, how bad it is, anyone can publish a book. And without the publishing house’s money to pump into the market, it’s really hard (to be noticed).”
Tweedt has tackled marketing head on with such things as his Dare Wear website, where readers post photos of themselves wearing a red hat and fanny pack while doing something daring. Tweedt plans to attend the Iowa State Fair– the setting for the second book– where he will have a booth and sponsor a food contest, “Bacon, bacon, bacon with Greyson.”
“I’m just trying things, word of mouth, getting it out there. I have faith that this series will catch on and people will see it for what it is: a very unique, adventurous and funny book that kids of all ages nowadays can latch onto and get excited about. It fits a good niche now between a dystopian view, and a little bit lighter side.” If there is a message to Tweedt’s books, he said it would be, “dare to do good, no matter how hard it is.”
Tweedt’s books are available at Amazon.com as well as Barnes and Noble.com. Find it locally at Prairie Lights Bookstore in downtown Iowa City and the Iowa City Public Library. Visit Tweedt’s website at www.GreysonGray.com.