Children’s author talks about Claremont roots, tricky emotions
Greg McGoon wants to help kids navigate the complicated world around them, and the even more complicated inner world of their feelings.
He’s not one to lecture or offer heavy-handed advice, though. Instead, the 2004 CHS graduate relies on the power of story to change attitudes and lives.
Mr. McGoon has published three children’s books, each marked by an unusual protagonist. Out of the Box (2014) shares the adventures of a kid whose oversized imagination is ignited by a cardboard box, and who craves a friend to dream along with him.
The story speaks to anyone who’s felt like an outlier, offering hope that—though it may take time—they’ll one day find a kindred spirit. It also encourages kids, growing up in a digital world, to savor the pleasure of using simple objects to get creative.
“For me as a child, a box could be magical. Crumbled paper could become trees, and sheets could flow mightier than any waterfall. Jungles, swamps, rivers and deserts were no more out of reach than your own bedroom,” Mr. McGoon said. “The imagination can translate any idea, no matter how absurd, into a playful, smile-inducing reality.”
Mr. McGoon’s second book, The Royal Heart (2015), is a fairy tale with a transgender twist. Illustrated in a Disney-esque style by Jessa Orr, it follows a prince named Lyric who, though his father assures him he’ll make a great king, feels like an imposter rather than royalty.
As the kingdom gathers for his 16th birthday party, Lyric runs away to the forest where he meets the spirit of his grandmother. She urges him to reveal who he really is and, at the end of the magical encounter, he’s transformed into a lovely young woman.
The king and queen are surprised but welcome Princess Lyra, as she asks to be called, with open arms. The king assures her she’ll always be his child, and that she possesses all the qualities needed to lead the kingdom.
People who are transgender often encounter a less accepting attitude. As many as 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide, most often as teens, according to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Given such telling statistics, The Royal Heart has been hailed as a powerful book by media outlets ranging from the Huffington Post to Seventeen Magazine. The book “goes above and beyond flipping that tired old princess-script in ways that will warm even the coldest and deadest hearts,” according to an MTV.com article.
The Royal Heart has also drawn the attention of parents and therapists working to help trans kids thrive; it’s included as a recommended resource in the book Raising the Transgender Child: A Complete Guide for Parents, Families and Caregivers.
“It definitely spoke to my transgender 7-year-old daughter, but it is a story about accepting yourself, unconditional love and finding your place in society—it speaks to all readers,” one mother shared.
Mr. McGoon emphasizes that while the story features a trans heroine, The Royal Heart is aimed at all children.
“Anyone who is personally struggling to reveal a part of themselves can relate to this story,” he said. “This fantastical moment of transformation aside, letting yourself be free from the burden of denial is powerful for anyone. I want everyone to feel like they can have their own ‘Once upon a time.’”
Mr. McGoon also hopes the book will prepare non-transgender kids for the likely moment when they encounter a peer who struggles with gender identity. “It is never too early to teach children about acceptance,” he said.
He plans to write a series of a Royal Heart books, focused on main characters who are on the LGBTQ spectrum.
Mr. McGoon’s non-traditional spin on a traditional fairytale is what enticed Pelekinesis Press founder Mark Givens to take a chance on publishing The Royal Heart. “It’s about whether you’re happy and satisfied, and the ways the family can support a child. I thought it was really interesting,” Mr. Givens said.
Mr. McGoon’s most colorful effort to date is Traveling the Twisting Troubling Tanglelows Trail (2015), a children’s book that personifies self-defeating thoughts as furry critters that can be tamed, if you know what to look for.
The book, which has also been released through Pelekinesis, has met with approval by parents in the blogging community, as well as by educators and therapists.
“No child should fear self-expression, or live in fear of sharing their thoughts,” Mr. McGoon said. “By acknowledging the Tanglelows inside our minds, we can begin to learn how to address some of our fears, worries and doubts.”
Mr. Givens noted that Mr. McGoon, whose next Tanglelows book is due out next April, is proving to be prolific.
“Turns out he’s got these stories just coming out his ears,” he said. “Greg can knock these things out—his mind goes more than a mile a minute.”
From the stage to the page
While he never doubted he wanted to work in the arts, Mr. McGoon didn’t expect to pursue the literary life.
He grew up in Claremont, attending Foothill Country Day School and Condit and spending hours in the local confectioners shop owned by his mother, The Candy Bar (now Bert & Rocky’s). This unusual background informs another children’s book he is working on, “an autobiographical fantasy in prose and poetry” called A Kid From a Candy Store.
Starting in sixth grade, he participated in the Claremont School of Theater Arts (CSTA) summer program. He then threw himself into the Claremont High School theater program. He took on numerous roles and dabbled in directing as well as scenic painting and design.
Mr. McGoon said CHS Theater Director Krista Elhai “instilled a work ethic that parallels much of what I have experienced in the professional world.”
CHS theater also brought him together with his illustrator, an Upland resident who at the time worked as a technical theater instructor as well as in scenic design. Whether rendering a prince-turned-princess to rival Cinderella or depicting negative emotions in a Seussical style, Mr. McGoon said Ms. Orr is an ideal collaborator. “She’s able to interpret my quick sketches and ideas and turn them into something presentable,” he said.
Though he’s left the theater behind for the moment, Mr. McGoon says his on-stage experiences have been hugely influential.
“Without theater, I doubt I would be writing as much as I do. Theater demands a great deal of perseverance, listening, reading, reflection, empathy, patience and focus. All those skills are essential to my writing as well,” he said. “Theater challenged me to take the time to learn and understand myself and, by doing so, I was better equipped to engage with others and embrace other characters.”
Mr. McGoon attended the University of San Diego, earning a degree in psychology and political science, and eventually settled in Manhattan where he’s worked as a model, actor, art director and concept artist. In 2012, he founded a nonprofit project-based arts organization called Artcentricity Inc.
He’s now spending the majority of his time writing, giving readings and making appearances at schools and other venues.
Mr. McGoon has advice for anyone who, like him, has story ideas that just won’t go away.
“Write them down. Write the story first, without thinking if any one will read it. If you aren’t excited by every word you write down, reflect on that, until you have a piece that you are proud to share,” he said.
His books are available through online retailers like Amazon, AbeBooks and Barnes & Noble. The Royal Heart and the Tanglelows are also available on pelekinesis.com. For more information, visit gregmcgoon.com.