Imagine what you could learn from an author/illustrator with over fifty published books. How about from the Art Director of a successful children’s media company specializing in branding and design? Or the Chair of the Illustration Department at Maine College of Art? A lot, right? And, what if all this expertise was packaged in one warm-hearted and funny guy named Scott Nash, who is mentoring the NESCBWI Squam Retreat this September? Well, guess what. It is! Illustrators, you in particular have a great opportunity here that can be hard to find at other events. Scott’s mentorship at Squam rounds out an already fabulous line-up of professionals at the retreat: Author Lynda Mullaly Hunt, HarperCollins Children’s editor Sarah Dotts Barley, and Greenhouse Literary agent/published author John Cusick at the Rockywold-Deephaven Camps in Holderness, New Hampshire, where our mentor:participant ratio caps out at about 1:7. How often does that happen?
Me: So, you’ve had a multifaceted career thus far, Scott. (Read Candlewick’s bio.) You started in media, focusing on design and branding, and eventually moved into illustrating and writing children’s books. In 2012 Candlewick published The High Flying Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate, a visually exquisite swashbuckler you both wrote and illustrated. Tell us a little about your journey.
Scott: I got into children’s media and writing for children because I have a love for kids’ culture. I started a design firm specializing in kids’ culture called Big Blue Dot in Watertown, MA, which was the delight of my life for ten years. Out of working with companies like Nickelodeon, PBS, Simon & Schuster and Scholastic, I found my voice. With Nickelodeon, we wanted to connect with kids, not talk down to them. This rekindled my love for creating stories for kids that were slightly subversive. I loved RoaId Dahl as a kid, and I realized I loved a slightly irreverent approach to kids’ stuff. I became allergic to the side of kids’ media that one might say is cloying. After running BBD I wanted to go from managing to creating. I sent out a proposal for a book and Candlewick was the one that responded — and I took that as a sign that maybe I could do this.
Me: You make that sound so easy.
Scott: Well, Candlewick didn’t actually publish that book. They said, “Not quite there with this particular book, but we love the way you think, and we love the way you render images and characters. We have a book for you.” And that became Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp, by Carol Diggory Shields (1997). That turned into another book with her called, Martian Rock, then I did a book with Steven Kroll, Oh, Tucker, and then more books, not just from Candlewick but with other publishers, too.
Me: A lot of successes! But, creatively speaking, you think beyond books as well.
Scott: Children’s books have always been a big part of my life. I’ve loved stories, loved books, all different forms of media– storytelling in any form– since I was a kid. I find myself an agnostic in terms of how I like to get my stories. If it’s a movie, I’m happy, if it’s a cartoon, comic book– a good story is a good story, no matter what the form.
Creating a book is very satisfying, but I’m also interested in other forms of media. I continue to search for new narrative forms. I get inspired by new forms of media and think, “How could this be a vehicle for storytelling?”
Me: That kind of talk scares some publishing folks. People fear the end of the book as we know it.
Scott: I don’t presume to say that this time is any more or less terrifying than others in our lives. There was a time when comic books had a rating scale because adults saw them as so subversive they could be damaging to kids; my parents were terrified by my listening to Alice Cooper, who last week was on (NPR’s) Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me! and seems like the most affable and benign man ever, just sweet as can be. But at the time, the fear was very real. My parents were deeply concerned.
So with media, I do try to keep an open mind. I like to engage authors in conversations about this. I ask longtime authors, “How do you know your narrative is best suited to a book?” E-books and gaming consoles have the potential to convey narratives in a nonlinear way.
Me: I’ve noticed a new emphasis on the appearance of books. Your Blue Jay the Pirate is a great example. You would never just want children to read it electronically, you want children to hold it in their hands and have it as a keepsake.
Scott: Ah, the secret is out! This is a strategy with some publishers. I refuse to believe that books will go away. But, publishers and authors have been tasked with something. The challenge for publishers is to create physical books that are beautiful and are crafted in a way that people want to own those books. I don’t think I’m being a Pollyanna here when I say we’re going to see a renaissance in the craftsmanship of bookmaking. Some publishers are very open to conversations where we say, “Let’s make this book a tactile experience.” Others are not. I’m hoping and I believe that the publishers that care about craft are the ones that will thrive in this era of e-publishing.
Me: Amen to that! Tell us why you’re happy to be mentoring Squam.
Scott: I love engaging with people. The idea of the isolated artist is highly overrated. I love having these kinds of conversations about children’s books and the craft of creating them. All throughout my life I’ve mentored either students or my employees in all manner of narrative. I’ve hired more illustrators than I can count. I have the perspective of the Art Director– like asking, how does this work relative to the market?– and I’m also cognizant of the aesthetic issues and the turmoil we run into as illustrators. I have both parts in my pyche, and it’s taught me to be constructively honest. I’m really looking forward to Squam.
So are we. So are we. We can take four more participants. Sign up here.