Mark and Peggy Sandmann

MarkSandmann_face
Teddy and Oso go to the Mountains
Teddy and Oso Christmas Stories

Peggy is a grandmother of 9 who enjoys reading to her grandchildren. She wrote Teddy and Oso Decorate the Christmas Tree as a gift to the family.  She choose Teddy and Oso as subjects for the book because they have joined her and Mark on travels to all over the U.S. and other countries. Peggy has an Associate’s Degree from Anoka Ramsey Community College.  She enjoys making music as a flute player and a hand bell player. 

Mark has been married to Peggy for 40 years and they have collaborated on numerous skits and stories over that time.  Recently these efforts have turned to the writing of the Teddy and Oso Adventures.  Mark has a B.S. in Computer Science and has worked as a Software Engineer for all his married life.  Along with dancing, painting and writing he likes to spend what spare time he has in the forest.  It is these forest experiences that are manifested in many of the adventures for the two bears.

1. Tell us about the featured book. What is it about, and why did you choose to write this story?

The Teddy and Oso Adventures series of books feature two teddy bears adopted from two very different backgrounds. Teddy is a native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Oso comes from Seville, Spain. They now live with Mark and Peggy in Minnesota. While both are quite young bears they are studious, adventurous, and very imaginative.

The Christmas Stories book is for younger children who like to have stories read to them. It has an illustration accompanying a short amount of text on every page. The book contains two stories. In Teddy and Oso Decorate the Christmas Tree the bears team up to cut down, bring home, set up and decorate the family Christmas tree. In this story the bears are home alone and while not all goes smoothly it all turns out well in the end and the tree is decorated as one would expect from two little teddy bears.

In Teddy and Oso’s favorite things to do Over Christmas Vacation; the two bears describe the things that they like to do during their break from school. Each page has an illustration of the activity they enjoy along with each of the bears detailing why they enjoy doing them. In the end the bears conclude that the best thing to do is spend time with family.

Teddy and Oso Go to the Mountains follows the family through the Dakotas and into the mountains of Montana and Wyoming. The very real activities they do and places they go along the way provide a setting for fun, adventure, and often a chance to get dirty. Some of the adventures are slightly enhanced from what you or I would do but then we are not teddy bears. Each Chapter in the mountain book has a main illustration showing a scene from the chapter and a colored pencil illustration by Teddy or Oso from their viewpoint. During the trip the family experiences national parks, forests, wilderness, and monuments. At the end of the book there is an appendix that talks about the real places that Teddy and Oso visited along with a few others that deserve mentioning. We added this section in hopes that someday the readers will get off the freeway and have their own family adventures.

2. Tell us a little about your writing process. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Our daughter told us about her small children decorating an outdoor pine tree. You can imagine what the results were. From that simple beginning Peggy replaced the children with the two teddy bears and then considered all that they needed to do to install and decorate a Christmas tree in the family home. The story went way beyond the simple task of putting up some decorations with a near disaster and an excursion into the attic. Some parts of the story were added just because they were cute. The tree at the end was decorated much like our grandchildren’s tree. This was the first of the Teddy and Oso Christmas stories, Teddy and Oso Decorate the Christmas Tree. After the story was written (it took one day), Peggy handed it to Mark and said, "Now do some illustrations." This took much longer. Now, an illustration takes on average 5 hours to draw, ink, fix, and paint. Back then, it took much longer because the character images needed to be developed first. 

The second of the Christmas stories was written because we needed to fill in 12 pages to meet the minimum size to publish. So we imagined what would be Teddy and Oso’s Favorite Things to do Over Christmas Vacation. We chose things that we did with our children, and now our grandchildren, as a family. We have had several years to do the research for these activities. We have had many adventures as a family, past and present. This story required us to further develop the Teddy and Oso characters so that we knew what they would say and not just what a couple of older folks would say. 

For Teddy and Oso Go to the Mountains, locations were a blend of many family trips out west. The locations are all pretty well known to us and they follow a logical order. Each chapter was developed from one major location. We each took a set of chapters and worked on them individually and then read, discussed and edited each other’s work. In the end, every chapter was a blend of both of our imaginations.

With the locations already established, we had to develop the individual adventures. Some of these came pretty easy and we knew it was good when we giggled just thinking them up. Some ideas required input from others. The Mount Rushmore story came from our daughter when we were blocked for weeks. In all, this book took about 3 months to write and remarkably only about a week to illustrate (late nights and nothing else on weekends).

Our as yet unpublished short stories all are based on places we are familiar with. Sometimes the story starts as a setting and the story flows out from it. Other times it is a punch line that comes first and the story forms around it. To write these you need to think like a 3 year old teddy bear.

3. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Rewording the stories is a continuous process. Not only does it have to be spelled right and in the correct syntax, but it has to make sense to the young reader. Often editing sessions involve deleting redundant text; other times adding more for a correct context. The corrections for these books happened right up to submission time and still we look back and think of how we could have done better.

As stated earlier, the illustrations are the most time consuming and stressful. Unlike the text which can be set aside and reviewed later; the illustrations need to be done at the end of the process and need to be correct the first time. Not that they always are. I have one inked and painted illustration in my folder that makes Oso look like a monkey (big ears). It needed to be redrawn. One illustration of Teddy and Oso eating beans using chips as a spoon was all finished before we discovered the setting was from the wrong chapter. That part of the story was short so we moved it into the chapter that matched the artwork.

4. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

We learned a lot about formatting while making the Christmas Stories. We used Publisher for fitting the text and the illustrations onto the correct part of each page. However while it was the correct tool for that book we realized it wouldn’t work for the Mountain book and just went with Word. Writing college papers could be considered our first books. In them we learned how a continual process of using each other for proof reading, correcting, proof reading, etc… made for “A” material. We carried that through to the process of writing these books.

5. Are there any writers or authors who have influenced your writing? If not, who are some of your favorite writers?

One of Peggy’s favorite writers is Charles Schulz. He inspires all of us to think big. Even if you are an awkward kid and get a ugly tree, it will be beautiful with a little love and a lot of pretty decorations.

Mark enjoys C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia where children can have an adventure without it being overly scary. However our books leave out the talking animals because no one can take a talking bear seriously.

Bill Watterson is another fine example of an author who brings a child’s imagination to life. However, Teddy and Oso are far better behaved than Calvin. Hobbs may be a better comparison to our bears. He is wise and always thinks things through before Calvin has him flying into another ravine.

6. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

We have a collection of short stories in the works but need to write some more stories before we have a reasonably sized book. In time, a comic book may be published. We have lots of stories but not so much time for all the drawing. The real Teddy and Oso sit on our bed when we are home and follow us on trips all over the country. Some times when we are lucky enough to travel abroad they come along as well. Teddy is embarrassed when everyone can see his fluff when he go through the X-ray machine. We would like to have a book about them in Costa Rica but first we think we need to do some more on site research.

7. What does literary success look like to you?

Teddy and Oso sit on their beds and talk about all of the things that they are going to buy with money they get for the book sales.

We just would like to see that people are enjoying reading the books and are inspired to have their own adventures with their families.

8. What inspired you to start writing?

Peggy was trying to figure out a good Christmas present for our grandkids. Her favorite thing to do with them is to read to them. Why not write a book so that they can read it when they get old enough to read it themselves.

Mark was inspired by the imaginary adventures Peggy would come up with for Teddy and Oso and thought they would make good written stories. Those stories turned into the Mountain book

9. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?

Peggy enjoys playing music on the piano, flute, and hand bells.

Mark tries to get as much time in the forest as possible. When a forest is not available any natural environment will do. Mark also enjoys painting (not house painting).

As a couple they enjoy attending concerts and dancing. Primarily they do swing and ballroom dance styles but on occasion Peggy agrees to a polka, hoping her toes survive Mark’s bad lead and having to count for him.

10. Do you have a website or social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) where readers can learn more about your work?

Teddy and Oso have their very own Facebook page. Not surprisingly it is called Teddy and Oso. It is a work in progress with artwork and comic strips that are added as they are created.