AW, NUTS! by Rob McClurkan - GIVEAWAY!
Y'know how I talk about knowing people who I can just tell it's only a matter of time before they'll be published? Rob McClurkan is one of those. He's an amazing and fun talent, and all around great guy. When I first saw his portfolio at one of our early SCBWI Southern Breeze Illustrators' Days, I couldn't believe he hadn't been scooped up yet. Well, I'm happy to say that has since been remedied by HarperCollins with his debut picture book as author/illustrator - AW, NUTS! I'm thrilled to have Rob on today to talk about it!
Q. Rob - It seems I've been cheering for you for a while. Can you share your path to publication?
A. The journey began when I attended that SCBWI Southern Breeze Illustrators Days. Already a full time illustrator, I was having a difficult time making the leap into children’s books. The one-day conferences helped me understand the business better and the critiques gave me the information I had been missing. You were such a huge help to me during the conference. You took the time to look over my book and gave me some things to work on. I took the feedback home and worked on it every day.
The next year I came back armed with a new portfolio. During the critique, one of the Art Directors from Candlewick said such nice things about my illustrations I knew the hard work had paid off.
In 2013, I attended my first SCBWI Winter conference in New York. At the time, I was more interested in illustrating stories than writing my own. Mark Teague and Moe Williams were two of the speakers that year. They both encouraged artist to write their own stories. Those conferences have a way of just encouraging, equipping, and energizing you. I went home and started writing and scribbling out ideas. Eventually, I had a story that I thought might have some potential.
Q. So, why AW, NUTS! You definitely relay the manic obsessiveness of squirrels. How did this story come to be?
A. My 9th-grade science teacher had some exotic pets - a rattlesnake and two squirrels. At times, he would let them out for a little exercise. The squirrels, not the rattlesnake. The bigger of the two squirrels was harmless and tame, but if you were not familiar with him, you might get a little freaked out when he jumped on you. It was his way of saying hello. The other squirrel was a flying squirrel. I was fascinated by this cute little guy. One day during class my teacher let him out. The tiny squirrel climbed to the top of his head and leaped across the room to a student's desk. Eventually, the squirrel made his way to me. After a few minutes of petting the little guy, he rewarded me by climbing into my jacket pocket where he left me a tiny gift. I can still remember sticking my hand into my pocket that cold winter day realizing what that little booger had done. I thought we were friends.
I was already working on a story idea that had a chase element to it. My wife reminded me of my squirrel experiences and it all came together. I added Squirrel chasing after the most delicious looking acorn ever, and the book practically wrote itself. Originally, AW, NUTS! was mostly a story about colors and that was how we pitched it. After hearing from an editor that passed on the story I started tinkering with the manuscript and dropped the color element to focus on squirrel as a character. That was the magic that was missing. We sent the story to HarperCollins and after a month or two of working with them on the project we had a book deal.
Q. I've always enjoyed your fun, bold style. What is your method?
A. Most of my illustration work is created in Adobe Illustrator. When I started AW, NUTS! I completely abandoned my tried and true illustration process.
I don’t know if that is the wisest thing to do when you get your first book deal, but I wanted to try something new. I had to create a new process of painting using Adobe Photoshop. I had not done any of this before I started the project. The transition was not too difficult. I used a Cintiq so it is a very natural way of working digitally. I do recommend you get the okay from your publisher before you just jump into a new style. Luckily, I had already done some color images in my dummy book with character development, so they were on board with my new process. I am so glad I took the leap. It has been fun to see how my work has changed since completing Aw, Nuts! I still do work in Adobe Illustrator, but I now have two styles to showcase.
Q. I love how the acorn just keeps getting away from squirrel and all the things he tries to catch up with it. But I really want to know, what do the other eyes belong to under the sidewalk?
A. I’m pretty sure it’s a family of moths with very thick glasses.
Q. How does it feel to see your first book in print? (I'm so happy for you!)
A. Thank you. It is very exciting! Once you get a book deal the whole process takes about a year, so it has been a long time coming and kinda hard to believe it’s finally here. The real reward is when you see others enjoying the book. I have already received letters and drawings from students from a school I recently visited. I was not expecting that. It blew me away. For me, that was the real reward.
Q. Are you doing anything special to help promote it?
A. Earlier this week I released my book trailer (below). This was one of those items I was wondering if it would be worth doing. I am so glad I did. The trailer has the same energy as the book and brings Squirrel to life in such a fun way. I also completed a giveaway through teachersnotebook.com, which was great fun. I am planning on doing book signings as well as school visits. If a reader is interested in a school visit, they can email me through my website seerobdraw.com and I will set it up. If distance is an issue, I am open to a classroom Skype session. (Click the image to go see the trailer on Youtube.)
Q. Anything else in the pipeline for you? (I hope so!)
A. I have several manuscripts I am waiting to hear back on that are with publishers now. I am so excited about these new stories, I hope I have the opportunity to share them.
Q. Wishing you much continued success, Rob!
A. Thanks Elizabeth for the opportunity. It’s been fun.
HarperCollins is generously offering to send a free copy of AW, NUTS! to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US/Canada to win. Enter below.