Tiffany and Matthew Stewart are a married author team looking to ingrain core values in today’s younger generation through a new first book, “Oakley’s Quest for Gold.” Their goal is to create engaging children’s stories that center around meaningful life lessons. Tiffany Stewart is a marketing executive for client solutions at an international market research firm and the company’s “kid’s research” champion, as well as a member of the Advertising Research Foundation’s Youth Council. She is also a photography enthusiast and member of the West Oakland Camera Club where she received top honors for the 2010 Image of the Year. Likewise in 2010, she founded “The Click,” a local photo walk group for amateur photographers. Matthew Stewart has been an educator for over a decade. He has worked as a middle school instructor, lead teacher, and district science and social studies curriculum coordinator, and is currently an assistant principal in a Blue Ribbon Public School Academy in Detroit. Tiffany and Matthew Stewart live in Milford with their rescue dog, Maize.
Tell us why you took up the task to write a book for children driving home the message of the “Golden Rule.”
TS: It was really something my husband and I had talked about doing for awhile and finally decided to pull the trigger. We really just wanted to create a story of the Golden Rule in kid’s language. So rather than having a lecture about a lesson, have it be a fun story they can take away the meaning in their own way.
Could you expound on what the “Golden Rule” is for all our readers?
TS: It’s about treating others in the same way that you want them to treat you, so we find a kid-friendly way of saying that — again, trying to treat others in the manner you want to be treated to make the world a better place.
Is there something that sparked your decision to write on this particular topic?
TS: This is one really close to our hearts. Matthew’s grandfather had really instilled the message in him and we both really have grown up with it. It’s something that we wanted to write the story about and it all fell into place. It just kind of presented itself easily.
Tell us a little bit about Oakley and the book — i.e., how was the concept conceived?
TS: Actually, Oakley is an oak leaf. The idea is that he can blow around having these different adventures. He’s actually a leaf found in our backyard and named after a street we first lived on when we were married, Oakley.
He’s looking to find ways to raise money for his local park. He knows that he’s heard of the idea of going out west to find gold. He goes out west and meets a friend named Rocky and they go all through the west to find gold. They think they find it; they don’t. Then they’re faced with a dilemma. They find a backpack with some gold in it, but then see a crying girl that it belongs to. So they’re faced with a situation of, “What do I do? I came here for gold. Do I take it, or give the gold back to the girl?” So they think they come back empty-handed, but in the end they find they really did learn the lesson of the Golden Rule and found gold of their own.
Do you plan on writing more books or a series of Oakley’s Adventures?
TS: Yes, we would really like to. We’re doing our best to find time, but we have lots of lessons taught to us during our childhood that we’d like Oakley to be the spokesperson for and really plant those moral seeds at a young age.
What other messages would you like to convey?
TS: Anything from just the idea of imagination and getting kids outside and playing and thinking, to being friendly with the environment. That’s the big thing of the future, as well, and focusing on that.
Has the book been well-received thus far?
TS: It has. We had really targeted it to 4- to 8-year-olds. We’ve had some schools picking it up to use in their classrooms because on our website we have different activities as well, so it’s beyond the pages of the book itself. We’ve had young kids send pictures in. We had one 2-year-old that obviously isn’t picking up the message, but is already forming a relationship with Oakley. It’s been really exciting so far.
How did you go about getting it published?
TS: What we had done, we had worked with a company called CreateSpace. We did all of the writing and illustrations ourselves and worked with them — a few editors to make sure everything was grammatically correct and then worked with them on the publishing. It went very smooth and hopefully the second time will be a much easier process.
What did you find the most onerous in publishing a first book?
TS: I think the difficult part was that it was uncharted territory for both of us, so we were really trying to learn as we went. The biggest issue I had, since I use photo-based illustrations, they use a different print gambit than what we typically see in a print so there was a little a bit of challenge there to make sure the book maintained the vivid colors in the printing process just as it was intended. That was one of our biggest issues along the way.
Which of you wrote the verbiage and who illustrated it?
TS: Both Matthew and I sat down and kind of mapped out the story and story-boarded what we wanted each page to look like and the idea on each page, but when it came down to it, he took the first shot at first draft of the words and I did the photography and more of an illustrated design effect on the pages. We would kind of meet more along the way. We’d say, “Well this is a little bit more of what I was thinking as far as the visual.” I would say, “Well how about wording the Golden Rule for the kids in this manner?” So it really was a “together process” along the way. But I was kind of the first shot at illustration, and he was first at author. Then we kind of swapped back and forth.
How do you feel your work backgrounds contributed to the final product?
TS: I think very much so. Matthew is in education so obviously around kids of all ages each day and understands them and how they work and what may appeal. I’m in marketing, and do a lot of work with kids as well. That’s helpful in trying to again understand what really excites them and making sure that this a very different generation than what we grew up in so trying to make the Golden Rule something that would appeal to today’s youth, both of our backgrounds were very helpful to that.
Was it difficult to collaborate as a husband-and-wife team?
TS: Yes, we definitely had our challenges along the way, but it was a lot of fun. As a hobby I do photography and Matthew does triathalons so our hobbies are very separate. We thought, “What is something we could do together?” So that’s another motivator behind the book. We didn’t always agree on everything and definitely have different working styles, but in the end it all worked out and was a lot of fun after all.
How time-consuming was the task given that you both have demanding careers?
TS: The project was about 14 months start to finish, so really just trying to — evening, weekend time — we did our best to squeeze it in. Vacation time quickly became about the book, as well. Then in a little while, we learned from other writers that it’s sometimes nice to set it down and walk away from it for a little bit just to come back with fresh eyes. So we got down time in there, as well. It was a little over a year and the first time through the process so a lot of learning along the way that we hope the next adventure will be quite a bit shorter than that.