If you are familiar with Rotary International, then you know that its motto is “service above self.” When I became a member of this 115-year old organization last month, I quickly saw that its members walk the talk of this club’s mission.
Let me tell you about one of its members, Tommy Head. Besides founding the Childhood Cancer Society, he has authored a book which is now available on Amazon.
You will be touched by Tommy’s story and may even pick up a copy of his book for someone this holiday season.
Question: What was your inspiration for writing Adventure Ted: Night At The Enchanted Theme Park?
Tommy Head: For over 15 years I have been helping/supporting families battling childhood cancer through a 501(c)(3) non-profit I created in high school called Childhood Cancer Society. Our emblem and primary fundraising product was a Teddy Bear with our company name on it as well as the phrase “Kids Are Beary Special”. Over the years we would sell bears at events, but generally, people did not buy the bears separate of the events. Over time I formed the opinion that this was because parents wanted to support our cause in the moment, however, they did not want to buy something for their kids that had the word “cancer” on it. So I wanted to create something that had all the intrinsic value of helping children (with cancer or other challenges) but that did not include the word on the teddy bear. It was in a moment back in 2013 when I had the thought to combine the two words “Adventure” & “Ted” into an Instagram handle. The thought was that @Adventure_Ted would go around to different places and generate awareness for childhood cancer in a fun way. Unfortunately, that on its own never really took off, but served as a foundation for a larger idea years later.
Over the years of working with children battling childhood cancer, I noticed a certain mindset of the ones who took the disease in tremendous stride. These are kids who were generally able to look past the day’s challenges and look forward to the little blessings in each day. This is true of adults as well. When there is a life-threatening crisis, you tend to find an appreciation for the little blessings. In the case of these children, they find adventures even in something as arduous as going to the hospital. The Child Life departments do a good job of facilitating this by having a library of toys, books, games, etc. At one point a few years ago, as I went to New York Presbyterian to visit my father recovering from a liver transplant , I had the same realization as many of these kids. “I’m going to the hospital, which isn’t ideal; however, I get to see my dad who is alive, which is a huge blessing! We’re going to have a meal together, chat, play some board games, and that’s what it’s all about”. In the presence of this thought, it all clicked for me at once into the single phrase: “See the adventure in all that you do.” The eventual trademarked motto of Adventure Ted.
That night in January 2018, I came home and wrote the broad strokes of the entire book, Adventure Ted: Night At The Enchanted Theme Park.
Question: And the impetus for it being packaged as a children’s book?
Tommy Head: The idea of Adventure Ted is much larger than a children’s book, it is a brand of positivity dedicated to helping children and their families overcome challenges. However, we needed something to introduce the brand and I thought that the book was the best way to tie it all together. For now we are developing our brand and raising awareness to our cause through the book and website www.AdventureTedWorld.com . In the short term the website has a store where we have the book and a few items from the story available for sale. All the items are intended to provide the intrinsic value I mentioned earlier of helping children and their families feel courageous, hopeful, inspired, and of course adventurous. My future dream for the brand is to achieve licensing deals with companies that are looking to add a brand like ours into their portfolio, which will allow me to enter many markets all at once including games, clothing/apparel, and eventually even a cartoon series. These additional revenue sources would allow us to help many more children and their families.
Question: Are there people in your life who inspired you to create one or more of the book’s characters?
Tommy Head: I would say there are many, however, my biggest inspiration for the book and its main character Adventure Ted, would be my parents. When I was 7 years old, I had a hematological disorder called ITP, which mimics some of the symptoms of leukemia. Back then, there was not really any treatment for it, except a platelet transfusion if it dipped below the critical level, which you had to monitor with weekly trips to the hospital for bloodwork. In the beginning, I hated it. No child loves getting shots or blood taken. However, every time I left the hospital, my parents would take me to Toys R Us to get an action figure, which I loved! Before long, I started to look forward to the weekly hospital visits, as I knew it would be followed by a trip to the toy store. This experience led to me founding Childhood Cancer Society, and later inspired much of Adventure Ted. If you can look forward to any part of going to the hospital, it is going to improve your experience there. This is something I sought to replicate for many other children who were less fortunate than I was.
Question: Did you test Adventure Ted: Night At The Enchanted Theme Park by having kids read it?
Tommy Head: Absolutely! I’ve tested the book on children and adults of all ages. I’ve read the book at Rotary Clubs, Rotaract clubs, to children I know, as well as pediatric patients that we’ve worked with. At the Launch Party on November 10th I read the to a room with over 100 people, children & adults. The feedback that I received shows me that the many aspects to this story did in fact provide value for people of all ages. At the heart of it, Adventure Ted: Night At The Enchanted Theme Park is an adventure tale made up of exciting/intriguing illustrations with a wholesome heartwarming story weaved into it. This will be the trend of all the books in the series. The adventure will initially intrigue, excite, and ultimately leave the reader feeling fulfilled and inspired.
Question: Did you ever have any dirty doubts about this project becoming a reality? If so, how did you dispel them from your mind?
Tommy Head: I wrote the broad strokes of the book in a single sitting one winter night when I came home from visiting my dad in the hospital. After his transplant, he had a rocky recovery that required periodic hospitalization. For a time, it felt like this was going to be his and our new reality. It’s tough to see your parents struggle with health, especially before their time. I remember, it was a dark and rainy night, just like in the book. I put the words into a word document in a single evening of absolute focus and inspiration. When I finished, I couldn’t even look at it, I just went right to sleep. I put the project away for about 4 months.
Fast forward to my dad’s birthday in April. He was doing much better! The next morning, I pulled up the story I had written and it clicked all at once in a single eureka moment. I saw all that possibilities that Adventure Ted could become and decided to begin the long road it would take to bring to market. From that moment forward, I never once had any doubts. The push to move forward with this project was almost like gravity, it was something I knew I had to do. In fact, I had been blessed with some very strange and unlikely moments of encouragement.
In February 2019 my non-profit Childhood Cancer Society received a received a wish grant request for a 9 year old little girl with a very bleak prognosis of neuroblastoma to go to Disney. At the time she had just started a very aggressive radiation therapy, but would hopefully be in a place that she might be able to enjoy a Disney vacation in March. I called all the hotels in the area, scoured google for opportunities to make it as special of a vacation as I possibly could. I felt that this little girl (and her family) deserved the vacation of a lifetime and I was going to move Heaven & Earth to make it so.
In my pursuit, I came across a representative of the most amazing place on Earth, Give Kids The World, Disney’s charitable arm. This woman’s name was Jean and she runs the Compassion Program at GKTW, she is in charge of the department that makes ticket arrangements for kids with life threatening illnesses at the theme parks in Florida. I had explained to her who I was and what I was trying to accomplish for this little girl. She referred me to GKTW and they fast tracked us into their wish granting program, and became one of their newest Wish Granting Partners. This allows us to send our families on the most VIP Disney/Universal theme park vacation experience in the world at an affordable rate, a lifetime dream of mine fulfilled in one phone call. It was the happiest coincidence of my life. I mean, what are the chances of producing a children’s book about a sick boy who goes on and adventure in an enchanted theme park with a superhero teddy bear in the same year you’re your charity becomes an official wish granting partner of Disney?
After partnering with GKTW in February, one of my board members, Ajoe Abraham had a fundraiser at Georgetown MBA selling Adventure Ted hats and Teddy bears to fund this little girl’s trip to Disney. She had the time of her life; all words fall short of explaining this experience.
Our Adventure Ted Launch Party this past November 10th donated its profits to the purpose of funding more of Childhood Cancer Society’s wish grants to Give Kids The World for the most VIP Disney/Universal Theme Park Vacation there is. As a result, we are sending 5 families down this December 16th for the holidays and many more in 2020 (and beyond). It is a very exciting time for us and the families we support!
Tommy Head: This debate was one that I wrestled with for many months. Originally, I wanted to do the traditional publishing route. Afterall, they have the distribution, printing, and much of the PR department covered. I was surprised to find out that for a first book the compensation was minimal and that you could lose control and even the rights to your book. Also, many publishers would want to use their own illustrator and I already had Joel Cockrell (and he’s great). Additionally, I was informed that my book may not come out for 3 years and that this timeline would not be up to me. I felt that this was way too long for the world to wait for Adventure Ted. Then I arrived at the self-publishing option, which promised me a 2-4 month release, which sounded like a good solution at first. However, upon further inspection of the players in this space, I couldn’t find the level of quality for the book that I wanted. Some could achieve the dimensions I wanted, but not the quality of paper. Others couldn’t do the dimensions, but had the quality of paper. There was no place that could do exactly what I needed. Also, there seemed to be a lot of unhappy online reviews of the companies in this space. A wrong decision could have wasted time and money, it was a lot of stress. I wrestled with these two choices for months while simultaneously working with my illustrator on developing the book (as to avoid idle time).
As the book continued to develop during my search, Joel would send me illustrations that were amazing. Our back and forth with the illustrations and revisions was probably my favorite part of the process. A creative aspect that I had unknowingly been starved for. We would discuss the scenes very thoroughly, and he weaved my dream to perfection. As the book was nearing completion, I realized the quality was too good to leave the publishing to chance. I eventually decided that I needed to create the book myself from scratch. My team and I searched tirelessly for a printing company that could create what I needed and came up with a few options that could do the job, then it all became about time and price. Over a year of working on this and I finally found a good option that is the company we moved forward with today. They were able to satisfy me on quality and have been improving on price based on my quantity commitment. It was important for me to print the book in the Tri-State, because I felt I could control the quality and meet face to face with the people who would be working on my project. I think ultimately, even though the prices are more compelling overseas, when you are working on an illustrated book it helps to be able to quickly see how it looks on paper (which can be much different than how it looks on your computer).
I didn’t think of it like this in the moment, but what I had done is created my own publishing company and truly “self-published” my own book through Adventure Ted LLC. We were able to write, illustrate, edit, finalize, and launch the book all in the USA in about 16 months.
Tommy Head: It’s funny because, I don’t really think of myself as an author. It is taking some getting used to hearing people refer to me as one. Rather, I see myself as someone who has been blessed to find a burning passion that I know without question is worth pursuing with all that I have. I’d say, to anyone find your passion. If that’s writing, then write something you genuinely love, it will ultimately show through. Then work like hell to make it happen. You will fail from time to time, but the important thing is to fall forward. Try to laugh at the inevitable mistakes you will make and learn from them. Realize that there are many ways to accomplish your goal and what works for some may not work for others. Don’t resent that, embrace it. We live in a time of such interconnectedness, that people will find there are many paths to the goal. At the root of it all, if you have the passion for what you’re doing, the path will reveal itself and people will support it. Be patient and focused. Most importantly never lose hope and see the adventure in all that you do.