A Brother Who Matters

April 22nd, 2012

He’s written more than 90 children’s books, with more than 10 million copies sold.  My brother Pat makes me look like a pisher.  (That just means a nobody, everyone.)

After years of writing values-oriented books for children and winning an enormous following in the process (he sells more books before lunch than I sell in a year), Pat — or P.K., as he signs himself — has written his first book for adults, A Life That Matters.  I’ve read it, and it’s a practical guide to being who you want to be, a small book that packs a huge amount of what P.K.has learned as a writer, illustrator, husband, father, and all-around person.  PK is the pastor of a church in Ashland, Oregon, and the book also deeply reflects his Christian values.  So I thought I’d take advantage of all this to pin him down and ask some questions.

How would you describe the book, and what do you want it to do for people?

This is a book that helps people define and achieve their purpose in life. It is based on 40 years of observing what people don’t do who never realize their dreams. Unlike many motivational and inspirational books, A Life That Matters does not ask the reader to change who they are, only how they act.

How many of the steps grew out of personal experience? Can you pick a step and tell us briefly how its importance came to be brought home to you?

All the Five Steps to Making a Difference grew out of my personal experience. Step Three, Finish What You Start, came to me after years of noting that almost no one does this. Specifically, for years people have asked me, “How do you get a book published?” One day, I started asking these people, “Have you finished a manuscript?” The answer was always, “No.” Always. So I told them, “I’m in the phone book. When you finish your manuscript, give me a call, and I’ll tell you what I know.” But no one ever called. It turns out that this is a remarkably common problem. Twenty years ago, a survey in Forbes Magazine put it this way: most people just give up too soon.

How would you advise people to keep working, rather than leaving things unfinished? I know, keep the butt in the chair, but what else? What do you do when lack of confidence overwhelms you? What do you do when your idea loses its freshness to you?

First, I always advise writers not to wait for inspiration. That great rush of positive energy that gets you frantically whacking away at the keyboard cannot sustain you throughout the book. When those feelings of supreme confidence fade, you still have about 90% of your book to write. Writing is a business, and like any business, you need to report for work whether or not you want to. Second, I advise writers simply to push through the negative emotions, the fear of failure, the loss of interest, the self-loathing…and just finish the manuscript. It’s a very practical matter: If you don’t finish a manuscript, you have nothing to send to a publisher.

Can you identify your audience for A Life That Matters? Who are they, and what are they like?

Interestingly, I have never discussed this book with anyone who didn’t ask me for a copy. This is because there is a universal desire to do something meaningful and lasting with one’s life. Leaving a footprint, leaving a legacy, making a difference…all of us have a need to do these things to some degree. And, it does not need to be something huge. When a reporter asked June Carter Cash what she wanted her legacy to be, she replied, “I’m just trying to matter.” Me too.

You’ve written 90-some children’s books, In what ways is A LIFE THAT MATTERS a continuation of those books, and in what ways does it represent a new direction for you?

A Life That Matters is the summation of my life. Forty years ago, when I first started writing children’s book, I saw a gravel truck lumbering down the street. On the side of this gravel truck was their slogan: Find a Hole and Fill it. I decided in that moment that I would do the same thing with my children’s books. I would commit myself to filling holes in people’s lives, to smoothing out the dents, to repairing the breaks, to mending in the rips. And 90 children’s books later, I have done this. A LIFE THAT MATTERS is essentially the culmination of having set out “to make a difference” and having achieved it.

What was the hardest aspect of writing the book? What was the easiest?

For me, initially I was overwhelmed by the length of the task. I had agreed to write of a book of at least 35,000 words, but when I reached 7500 words, I thought, “I can’t do this! I don’t have that much more to say!” But when I told this to my wife Jeannie, she just waved me off (like she always does) and said, “You’re trying too hard. Just write your book the same way you write your sermons every week.  People love your messages!” So I did. And the easiest part of the book was the next 27,500 words.

What’s next for you?

I have other books in mind, especially for adults, but I find myself right now in a holding pattern, waiting to see where A Life That Matters is going to lead me. Two days ago, I was invited to address a men’s group in Salem, Oregon–and the book has only been out nine days. Ever since I was a child, one of my strongest gifts has been public speaking, and I would enjoy doing that for a season. In the world of children’s books, I have a manuscript in circulation right now, called A Flower Grows, and I am looking to write a book for children about the grieving process, called When You Lose Someone Special. Then, of course, every week, 52 times a year, I need to write a new sermon. To quote Gilda Radner, “It’s always something!”

Spinning off the idea of your book, if you could give people one suggestion for today, what would it be?

Try to do what makes you the happiest. To quote millionaire publisher Malcolm Forbes: “The key to success is to enjoy your work. If you enjoy your work, you are bound to do it well, and the world will reward you. But more importantly, if you enjoy your work, you are already successful.”

It’s funny that you and Mike and I have all managed, through sheer stubbornness, maybe, to put ourselves in a position where we do what we most want to do.  Have you got any idea what there might have been in our upbringing or family life or genetics (or whatever) that could account for that?

I don’t really know, Tim.  When I reflect on it, it seems to me that Dad had a very “free” lifestyle.  We moved around a lot.  He changed jobs as the mood struck him and he never seemed to be “caught up” in any of it.  He had a sense of himself, and of life, that somehow set him apart from the actual work he was he was doing.  Somehow, both our parents communicated to us that we could achieve anything we wanted.  The real question for me is how we all we all ended up in the arts.  You’re a writer, Mike’s an artist, and I’m a writer-artist.  Go figure.

You can buy A Life That Matters on Amazon here and on Barnes & Noble right here.

18 Responses to “A Brother Who Matters”

  1. Usman Says:

    Thank you Pat for the interview, and Tim for surprising me yet again; a brother who writes books. This is unfair.
    That last question was the one I started thinking about at the first line of this para.
    Definitely looks to me as if your parents outlook on life had an impact on all of you.
    Best of luck with the book, P.K.

  2. michael hallinan Says:

    As your biggest fan and evil twin brother I applaud this change of direction. I haven’t read your book yet but it is next on my list. The other 90 books have entertained four generations of Hallinans as well as millions of others people.
    I agree with you completely on the importance of finishing a project. If there is one ingredient that separates success from failure it is the ability to see something through. That and having great parents.
    Looking forward to reading this.

  3. EverettK Says:

    Thanks for the fascinating column, Pat! (And thanks, Tim, for bringing it to us.) It’s great to ‘meet’ “the other” brother (having already ‘met’ Tim and Michael). Loved the “Find a hole and fill it” motto! 🙂 Have to agree with pretty much everything you said.

    But… should I interpret the title, Tim, to imply that Michael is “A Brother Who Doesn’t Matter”?

  4. munyin Says:

    Hey Everett!! They’re twins! They matter exactly the same :->)

  5. Joyce Yarrow Says:

    Hi Pat and Tim,

    I enjoyed this interview so much on so many levels. My older brother Rick has just started writing childrens books at the age of 70! Having both grown up in the SE Bronx together, he and I learned from street fights how necessary it is to “finish what you start.”

    All joking aside, I found Pat’s thoughts on the subject of writing and of life to be extremely worthwhile and deceptively simple. Put into his practice his advice can greatly enrich many lives.

  6. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Such a rich post. It’s nice to meet you, P.K. and I really like to your message. I’ve lived a lot of my life according to “see a need and answer it.” I could do that. I’m not really a writer, but your family is so talented. Probably because of the family that gave you so much love. Your mother must have been a remarkable woman.

  7. Sharai Smith Says:

    I’ve been wondering when P.K. was going to show up here! His childrens books are very popular at our library. You have to be very wise to write successful books for kids so I look forward to “A Life That Matters”.

  8. Kevin Cummings Says:

    That was fun.

  9. Glenn W Says:

    Hello Pat and thanks for allowing your older brother the interview. It’s been a great treat to reconnect with you and your work after so many years. I still remember those days of high school when I would pop over to visit Tim, attempting to roust him out of bed so we could spend the day at the beach; and you and Pat were always around. And as it turns out, all through my kid’s childhoods my wife and I were buying your books not ever putting it all together. So with your newest, I am excited to get a copy. Bravo for you and blessings on ALL the good stuff you are about.


  10. P.K. Hallinan Says:

    Thank you all for your kind comments. I really appreciate the feedback. Tim has been extremely gracious in putting this whole thing together for me. I know how busy he is!

    Brother Mike, I am touched by your words. And you are not my “Evil Twin.” I am pretty sure it’s just the opposite. And just so the whole world knows, I am extremely proud of you, too–not just as an artist, but as a very good husband, father, and human being. I love you.

    Everett, thank you. Yes, the “Find a hole and fill it” concept has been good to me. It has enabled me to write 90 books, all of which I am still proud. Helping others is always the right thing to do.

    Joyce, tell your brother Rick that if I can begin writing books for adults at age 67, then he can certainly begin writing children’s books at age 70. And give him all my best!

    Lil, I appreciate your comments. One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my life is: It’s not what I take in that fills me; it’s what I give out.
    I sense that you have learned this too. Good for you!

    Sharai, thank you. I think you will really enjoy “A Life That Matters.” In many ways, it is the summation of my life’s work of sharing positive values with children and parents.

    Glenn, it is really good to reconnect with you, too. How funny you would have all those books of mine and not put it together. I like that.

  11. Glenn W Says:

    Okay, so I just ordered “A Life That Matters” off Amazon and it’s on its way. The downside of this is that I won’t get a signed copy from you so you’ll have to contact me sometime when you’re in the Seattle area. I’ll buy you a meal at one of my favorite joints, and you can write some splendily lovely things about me so my wife will think there was a time when I was a pretty fine fellow.

    Or, I am planning a solo backpack down the Pacific Crest Trail late this summer and early fall from Canada to the California border. Perhaps somewhere near where you abide, you can meet me on the trail and I’ll have you sign it…and bring me some clean socks and a crispy apple!
    Hope the book is a great success…I just did my part.

  12. EverettK Says:

    I ordered my copy, also, Glenn, and was just notified by Amazon that it’s shipped. Since Pat lives in Ashland, and I’ll be going there in a few weeks to press flesh with Tim (no, Tim, not like that), maybe I’ll get lucky and get Pat to autograph my copy then. I’m not sure my psyche could handle meeting two Hallinans in one day, though, it could be the end of me. We’re just lucky that Michael won’t be there, or a black hole could form and swallow the earth!

  13. Glenn W Says:

    On many occasions I have been in the company of all three Hallinan brothers and trust me, it’s not for the faint-hearted. But, if my memory serves me well, it is the clearest definition of a “hoot”.

  14. P.K. Hallinan Says:

    Glenn, I happen to live on the Pacific Coast Trail (almost), so you have to pass my house just to keep going south. I will meet you on the trail with a ballpoint pen and some clean socks. Just let me know when.

    Everett, I am looking forward to meeting you. Happy to sign your book. Thanks for buying a copy.

  15. DJ Murphy Says:

    Three Hallinans eh! Have enjoyed reading Tim’s tales, especially the Poke Rafferty series and have enjoyed exchanging an email or two over the last few months. PK I’ll be looking for your childrens books. Between my wife and I we have 22 grand kids ranging in age from 21 years to 6 months. Now I am wondering just what it is that Mike is up too. And finally I think that I am older than any one of you and am in the process of self publishing my novel on Amazon. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old your are?

  16. michael hallinan Says:

    Old enough to vote DJ.

  17. PK Hallinan Says:

    Hi DJ. I locked in at 27 years old. If my body wasn’t so tired and clumsy, I would think I was still that age! Thanks for looking for my children’s books. I think that you will enjoy them. And good luck with you novel.

  18. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, everybody — I am so happy you all gave Pat such a warm welcome. I feel blessed to have brothers like him and Mike — even now, as we approach our nineties, we still (as my grandmother used to say) “Don’t look a thing alike.”

    No, Dennis, we’re not really approaching our nineties. Well, I mean, we are, but we’re a good long way off. Emotionally, I’ve remained a solid, resilient twelve years old; imaginatively I’d say I’m about 17, which is when I really began to realize that I preferred books to life; spiritually, I am, of course, ageless; and physically, well, never mind.

    This has been great. Thanks to Pat and to all of you. It’s a privilege to know all of youse,

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