Building on a classic: Local author writes a sequel to ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ | Kitsap Weekly

Author TJ Hoisington has brought the original “Swiss Family Robinson” adventure story, written by Johann Davis Wyss, back to life with a new book that picks up where Wyss’ tale left off.


PORT ORCHARD —  Author TJ Hoisington has brought the original “Swiss Family Robinson” adventure story, written by Johann Davis Wyss, back to life with a new book that picks up where Wyss’ tale left off.

The classic, written in 1812, follows the adventures of a family shipwrecked on an island in the East Indies. The Robinson family’s tale of survival, adaptation and resilience has inspired a number of movie adaptations over the years, including Disney’s popular 1960 motion-picture version, one most familiar to television-age parents and their DVD-loving children.But surprisingly, a book sequel that picks up the story where Wyss left off has never been written.

Until now.

Hoisington took up the challenge and, after more than a decade of fits and starts, his ambitious book was released Oct. 13.

Hoisington, however, is better known as a prominent motivational speaker and author. His book, “If You Think You Can!,” and a number of follow-up self-help book titles have become national New York Times best sellers for the former Tony Robbins protegé. While his specialty as an author is self-help non-fiction, he’s journeyed out of his comfort zone to pen a sequel to a fictionalliterary classic.The inspiration for “Return to Robinson Island” came, not surprisingly, from the Disney film starring John Mills and James MacArthur.

“I remember watching it probably 20 times as a kid growing up,” Hoisington said while seated in his elegant, bookshelf-lined office outside his Port Orchard home.Then one night in the early 2000s, Hoisington found his inspiration while sharing a movie night at home with his two boys.

“I put in the Disney movie and they loved it,” he said. “After we put them to bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the story.”

After unsuccessfully trying to fall asleep, he bolted out of bed and headed to his laptop. Typing non-stop until 6 a.m., Hoisington had a 50-page first-draft outline of what eventually would become his sequel.

“I often wondered what had happened to the Robinson family after being shipwrecked on that remote island,” he said. “That early morning, the answers began to flood my mind. The images were so vivid and real to me.”

Hoisington worked on the story over the next few months. On occasion, he’d guilelessly call movie producers and studios in Los Angeles to gauge their interest.

“I’d hear the same thing each time: ‘We don’t take unsolicited scripts. Get an agent first.’ ”Undaunted, he turned the outline into a 122-page screenplay which, he said in retrospect, proved to be much easier to craft than writing the novel.

After copywriting the manuscript, he shelved it when business matters took over his life.

“This process took place during a difficult time for me,” he said. “We were living in my parents’ basement apartment (in Port Orchard) and I was trying to get my motivational speaking business off the ground” after he left the Tony Robbins organization, where he was a trainer.

This self-described “rah-rah kind of guy” took on another writing project that changed his life. Tapping on his laptop in the back seat of a car for eight hours a day — he said the apartment was too small and he needed a place to concentrate — Hoisington wrote the self-published book “If You Think You Can!” With no advertising or marketing to promote it, the book nevertheless took off. Some 100,000 copies were sold, a rarity in the book business and almost unheard of for a self-published book.

After that book became a hit, his motivational-speaking business took off. He was busy, on the road and tending to his booming enterprise, which left almost no time for his screenplay.

In free moments, he’d tinker with the idea of turning the screenplay into a book. But, as he freely admitted, writing a book is a challenge. The reluctant author hired a ghostwriter and gave him general ideas about the story and its characters.

But he wasn’t satisfied with what he read. “A couple of thousand dollars later, I said, ‘Thank you, but no thank you.’ And I decided to take on the project myself.”

It was important to him to stay true to the Wyss original, not the Disney film version. “There are some important differences between the two stories.” And Disney, he added with a smile, is famous for its rigid policy in protecting its copywritten work.

“I hired a rights certification company to certify the Wyss story was a public domain document,” he said.

During that period, Hoisington purchased a number of original “Swiss Family Robinson” public-domain books dating back to 1818. One of those books was published in 1831, an eighth-edition book printed in London.

Sitting in his office in May 2013, he began the writing process. “For me, writing is really hard. I’m not a prolific writer and certainly couldn’t write a book once a month like some authors do. I’m not that way.”

Hoisington said he gave drafts of his incomplete work to “30 or 40 trusted allies, friends, readers and even some reviewers” to get their feedback.

The provided comments were critical in shaping an accurate background for the book, he said. “I wanted softness and soul and believability in the story. As it turned out, many of the readers who were women really helped me with that.”

Some of the draft reviewers helped the author achieve a degree of historical accuracy: “I had written the character of Elizabeth Cole as having long, wavy brown hair. My team of readers quickly reminded me that back in the early 1800s, a woman didn’t routinely let down her hair if she was considered sophisticated.”

He also had depicted characters Ernest Robinson and Elizabeth 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 that era, he said.

One of Hoisington’s goals in writing the book was to provide wholesome reading material for children and young adults. “I wanted to write something my boys would read. And that really was the intent of the original author, Johan David Wyss.”

Hoisington, who is married and has four children, will be at Barnes & Noble in the Kitsap Mall for a book signing at 1 p.m. Oct. 17.

Meet author TJ Hoisington at Barnes & Noble in Kitsap Mall at 1 p.m. Oct. 17. Photo: Bob Smith / Port Orchard Independent