Brian Wray has been writing professionally since 2003, when he was awarded the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Since then, he has written for Walt Disney Studios and has earned a variety of television producing and writing credits. Inspired by his work at Disney and the bottomless imagination of his daughters, Brian focuses on storytelling for children, including a heartwarming story about an adorable little stuffed bunny with a very relatable problem.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. I moved away in in 1990, but still go back as often as I can to see family, and enjoy my favorite local food spots.
Did you read a lot as a child?
I was read to a lot when I was younger, and that definitely encouraged me to read as I got older. It also inspired me to tell stories at an early age.
What were some of your favorite authors and books?
I was a big Shel Silverstein fan. There was a copy of The Giving Tree in my 3rd grade classroom, and I was totally intrigued. I also loved Maurice Sendak’s books, and Judy Blume’s as I got older. I thoroughly wore out my copy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I definitely wanted to be a storyteller, but I wasn’t always sure what kind. I started writing little stories in elementary school, then making short films as a young teenager. My first professional writing experience was writing screenplays. The goal was always telling stories.
Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
Oh, my. Let’s see… I worked in a movie theater while I was in high school. Did some telemarketing work, too. My apologies if I called you during dinner. I was the person who made donuts at a donut shop, which was a constant temptation for someone who enjoys donuts as much as I do. I’ve done everything from working as a short order cook while I was in college to working on film sets, once I graduated. There’s been a lot of variety.
How did you get started writing?
The real start was in the fourth grade. My teacher took notice of a story that I wrote for an assignment, and didn’t just praise the work (which would have been fantastic enough), she took the time to encourage me to do more. Not only did she speak to me about my stories one-on-one, but praised the work in front of the entire class, citing things that stood out to her. That might not sound like such a big deal, but for a young boy who may have been feeling just a bit self-conscious, it meant the world. I’ve never forgotten what an impact that had on me, and it makes me so happy to know that there are teachers like that in the world.
Why do you write books?
For multiple reasons. I can’t seem to stop, for one. There is something very fulfilling about having an idea fall into your head, sometimes from nowhere, then taking the time to develop it, and craft it on paper. I really do enjoy the process. The greater joy then comes when you’re sharing that story with a child and you can see that they’re engaged in what’s happening.
What do you like best about writing?
I like the connections that form when you write. I had the opportunity to write a screenplay for Disney early in my career. It was the first time since writing stories as a child, that I was writing stories intended for children. And I loved it. It reminded me of a story’s possibility to inspire wonder, to transport, and also to discover in it a little bit of ourselves. Those are some of the most wonderful moments of childhood; imagination, exploration, and discovery. When I write, I get to connect back to those moments. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?!
What do you find the most challenging about writing?
The biggest challenge for me when I write is not overthinking it; to just relax and let my natural voice come through. I have to remind myself that I can always go back and tune up what’s there.
What do you think makes a good story?
That’s a tough question. Different stories speak to people for different reasons. I know that when I was a child, I was most drawn to stories that seemed to be working on two levels; the story that was happening on the surface, but also had a sense that there was a deeper meaning to what was going on. I might not have always known what that deeper meaning was, but it intrigued me, and made me want to find out. So, for me, a good story is a catalyst for a larger thought or discussion, that allows a child’s imagination to wander a bit.
Where do you get your inspiration?
There is constant inspiration from my family, friends, and now children I meet from readings. I have two amazing, creative, vibrant daughters who provide a steady stream of fun and ideas. I’m very fortunate.
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is called Unraveling Rose. Rose is a stuffed bunny who loves having fun with the little boy she lives with, until she discovers a loose thread dangling from her arm, and it’s all she can think about. In the end, she learns that things don’t always have to be perfect. I hoped that the story would have a broad appeal, but could also be used by parents to talk to children about obsessive thoughts, which is an issue that impacts an estimated 3 percent of children in the United States alone. Unraveling Rose allows children having those feelings to know they’re not alone.
What’s next for you?
My illustrator, Shiloh Penfield, and I are very excited about our next book! It’s scheduled for a 2019 release, and focuses on how to cope with feelings in a healthy way, and what can happen when you try to stuff them down. It’s a story that we hope many children will be able to identify with, and maybe parents, too.
Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
On top of the effort needed to a write a story, having a book published requires a lot of support, and much faith. I’ve had the good luck to be surrounded by both. I am very grateful to work with an amazing artist like Shiloh Penfield. I am also fortunate to work with a publisher (Schiffer Publishing/Pixel Mouse House) that believes in the work, and does a great job getting it out into the world. Books don’t just provide education, but transportation, and opportunity for reflection. I am so happy to be a small part of that.
Unraveling Rose is available at Amazon.com.