The Origin of Return to Robinson Island: My Story
As I was growing up, my favorite movie was Swiss Family Robinson. I watched the beloved 1967 Disney movie of Swiss Family Robinson repeatedly. It was later in life that I read the book, The Adventures of Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. .
In 2003, I pulled out my Disney version (on VHS). I had a movie night with my two sons, who were then three and five years old. We popped popcorn and cuddled together as we watched the movie. Both boys were glued to the screen. When the movie ended, I put my boys to bed, tucked the covers around them, told them I loved them and said good night.
After retiring for the evening and in a deep sleep, I suddenly woke at one o'clock in the morning. In my mind’s eye, a sequel and continuation of the Swiss Family Robinson story was revealed to me. The idea was clear. I had often wondered what happened to the Robinson family after being shipwrecked on the island. Now the answers began to flood my mind. I couldn't sleep, so I got out of bed, sat on the sofa, and began to type. I stayed up the rest of the night writing the first outline of the book. I typed as fast as I could, not wanting to forget any of the details. By six o’clock the next morning, I had typed several pages of bullet points and descriptions. Return to Robinson Island was born.
Over the next month or two, I continued to work on the story. Eventually, I completed a 122-page screenplay. Crafting the story as a screenplay proved to be easier than writing the idea in a novel form. After I finished the screenplay, I copyrighted the screenplay and shelved it.
In 2003, I was in the beginning stages of building my consulting business. Getting the business off the ground was difficult and took more time than I had anticipated. Without a financially-sound strategy to convert the screenplay into a profitable enterprise, my back was against the wall. I couldn’t move forward with Return to Robinson Island. It was during that dark time that I decided to write my first book, If You Think You Can!, a personal development book about having a successful mindset and high achievement. I had dreamed of writing that book for years. When it was released in 2005, If You Think You Can! instantly became a national best-seller. I would later write If You Think You Can! for Teens and The Secret of the Slight Edge.
Over the next decade (2003–2013), I tinkered with Return to Robinson Island when time allowed. At one point, I hired a ghostwriter to adapt the screenplay into a novel. After a few months, I realized that no one could complete this project for me. I needed to write it on my own.
It was my goal, and the advice of the attorney's to base my story on the original books, pre-1923. I purchased several antique and original copies of early editions and translations of Johann David Wyss’s The Adventures of Swiss Family Robinson.
My goal was to was to stay true to the early Swiss Family Robinson editions and not Disney’s version. I hired a rights and permissions company in New York City. They verified and confirmed that the original Swiss Family Robinson concept and story was officially in the public domain. I then received additional counsel from my legal team regarding how to best proceed.
The years went by. Then, in May 2013, I felt a burning desire to finish the book. Between my speaking engagements, business responsibilities, and family priorities, I filled my time with writing wherever and whenever possible. There is something sweet–and almost celestial–about burning the midnight oil while writing in the quiet space of my bungalow. Most writers and actors will understand what I mean when I say I had become personally acquainted with each of the characters. I could hear their voices and envision their mannerisms clearly and distinctly. Although for me, writing is often a difficult and slow task, I have found that persevering through pain brings about deep joy and satisfaction. (A teaching principle for a later time.)
I took the original screenplay I had written ten years earlier and began transforming it into a novel that was true to the original Swiss Family Robinson story written in the early 1800’s.
During 2013-2014, my original book idea for Return to Robinson Island had transformed from a side project into an important priority. As I continued to write, the ideas flowed. The manuscript eventually grew to forty chapters containing 83,000 words. Truth be told, I’ve never read a fictional book in my life, and I was taking on a classic at that! Pretty audacious. Return to Robinson required much research. I sought to learn about the authentic behaviors, rules, expectations, and environment of the early nineteenth century. Thus, my historical journey began. To help with this, I engaged several readers and editors who provided awesome feedback.
For example, I had written the character of Elizabeth as having long, wavy brown hair. My team of readers quickly reminded me that, back then, a woman didn't routinely let down her hair – at least, a woman who was considered sophisticated. Also, I often depicted Ernest Robinson and Elizabeth Cole as riding in carriages and heading off on adventures alone. I learned that such behavior was not appropriate for a sophisticated man or woman during the early 1800’s. I owe special thanks to Krisette S. for her help on this aspect of the book. Her knowledge and understanding of that time period was tremendous.
I also hired editors to review the manuscript, chapter by chapter, and clean it up grammatically. Frankly, they ripped each page apart and made it better. Here is a picture of a few original pages.
An author never creates a good book on his own. I am thankful for my entire writing team. Each reviewer and editor provided invaluable contributions to the project while keeping my vision intact.
I am also deeply indebted to Jenny P., who I was connected with through a friend. During our initial call, she asked, "TJ, can you handle honest feedback?" I had to smile. When I wrote my first book ten years earlier, Jack Canfield, the author of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, advised me, "TJ, when you're done with the book, ask forty people to read it and don't take their criticism personally." I told Jenny, "I can handle it." The work began. Jenny took sincere and competent ownership of the project.
She not only methodically poured through each chapter while tweaking, pushing, and prodding. She was also kind enough to re-read the entire manuscript a second time to ensure flow and consistency.