Children’s books and hardened criminals… season 1

illustrator

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Tom Becka: Hello and welcome to another episode of TomBecka.com, where everybody has a story to tell. This is a great story.

Bruce Arant is a man that I’ve met, he’s a friend of a friend, and we’ve had some great conversations over the years and I knew he’s a very talented artist, a very talented illustrator, that he’d illustrated numerous children’s books and was finally illustrating his very own children’s book, with “Simpson’s Sheep Won’t Go to Sleep.” I said it right! It’s hard to say. Say it fast five times. “Simpson’s Sheep Won’t Go to Sleep. Simpson’s…”

Anyway, I knew all of that. What I didn’t know is that he’s also taking his talents and going into prisons and teaching art to young men behind bars, and some of them aren’t going to be getting out for a long, long time. It’s a fascinating story about, well, both about illustrating children’s books and also about dealing with some hardcore prisoners. I think he’ll enjoy it here, on TomBecka.com.

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Bruce Arant: I do, primarily, illustrating, primarily in children’s books, but I’ve done other types of illustrations for other types of projects and publications.

Tom: I want to talk about how illustrating children’s books gets you into teaching prisoners and going into state pens and dealing with some hardcore criminals. Before I get into that, I don’t know about the illustrating children’s books. How do you get into doing something like that?

Bruce: I’ve drawn all my life and I’ve just always loved to do that, and had always wanted to do that full time, but didn’t have the guts to actually leave a real job to do that. Then, my real job left me in ’09, due to the economy, and I thought, “Well, if there’s ever a time to take a leap, this would be it. I don’t have to stay doing this forever, if it doesn’t work out. I can just give it a shot.” But, here I am, it’s been almost five years now, going on five years.

Tom: You say you illustrate children’s books, you have illustrated children’s books for other authors…

Bruce: Yes.

Tom: …mostly other authors but now you’ve got your own children’s book out.

Bruce: I do, in October of ’13 here. It’s been, I guess, a couple of months now. They released my first book that I actually wrote as well. Like I said, I’d illustrated a number of different books for other people, but in the process of doing all of that and then working on my own, I ended up writing another book.

My agent thought it was something that might have legs, so she went out and started pitching it around, and we went from there. We got rejected for the first, I don’t know, year or two. Then I put it on the shelf for awhile. Then, I had said, “You know, I think we ought to try this again.” She picked up and went back out and it was sold.

Tom: What was the name of the book?

Bruce: “Simpson’s Sheep Won’t Go to Sleep.”

Tom: “Simpson’s Sheep Won’t Go to Sleep.”

Bruce: It was published by Peter Popper Press, my agent is Marie Glostrow, from MLG and Associates, in Princeton, New Jersey, and she’s the one that actually went out there and shopped it around, so I owe her a lot of thanks for that, but…

Tom: How cool was it the first time you went into a store and you saw your book?

Bruce: It was actually funny, the first time that happened. I walked in just to introduce myself to a store, to just let them know that I’m a local guy and I’ve got a book that’s coming out and had been out, and as I was telling this, I just out of the corner of my eye just saw it. It was sitting there right on the shelf, they already had it. So that was kind of a thrill. Then they thought that was really cool.

Tom: Yeah, you had no idea it was there already?

Bruce: No, I had no idea.

Tom: Nice, and so that’s “Simpson’s Sheep Go to Sleep”?

Bruce: No, “Simpson’s Sheep Won’t Go to Sleep.”

Tom: Won’t go to sleep, won’t go to sleep. Get that. But first of all you said you watch your job all night. What else did you do? What was your day job?

Bruce: My day job, I was the editorial director for a publishing company in Washington, DC, area. I actually lived here technically but worked there. My family didn’t want to move so the company shot me back and forth, and so I lived in Virginia for a couple of weeks, and here for a couple of weeks, did the back-and-forth thing for a number of years.

It was an architectural publishing company where we did home plan books and magazines and all that, represented about a 150 different architects and designers. So interesting work, I’d been in that type of work for quite a few…

Tom: Were you doing any drawing on the side, in other words, were you illustrating any books or doing anything like that, or just doing whatever your own…

Bruce: I was doing a lot of cocktail napkins and coffee cups, things like that, that’s just in meetings, you know, sitting around doodling. I had actually done some freelance work, but I was so busy with that job at that time for those years that I was there.

I didn’t have any time to do the freelance stuff at all. In years prior, I had done some freelance work, but it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of concentration, so I really put it on the shelf, but I never lost that dream.

Tom: When you say you lost your job at [indecipherable 04:50] , you were not like some 20-year-old kid.

Bruce: No, I would have been 52 at the time, and so it’s one of those deals where that had never happened to me and it was like, “Wow, here I am all of a sudden, what am I going to do?”

Your first reflex is to go out and just try to find another corporate position somewhere which is what I was really thinking I would try to do. And then I started thinking about that whole thing about illustrating, and I thought, “If I don’t do it now, when will I ever try it?” That’s why I gave it a shot. [laughs]

Tom: You have taken your art, and you go into the state pen, and you work with prisoners.

Bruce: Actually where I’m at actually is called the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility. It’s actually here in Omaha. It’s part of the Nebraska prison system. It’s a maximum security facility, and it’s for offenders who are between 16 and 21 years old. If you commit a felony, if you commit a murder and you’re 19 or 20 years old, that’s where they would send you prior to going to Tecumseh or to the Penitentiary.

Tom: You’ve got maximum security. These are bad kids.

Bruce: They’re all there for a good reason. That’s one of the most interesting things I think I’ve learned in this whole experience has been that they are all there for a good reason, and I’m not naive about that. They’re serving time as they should, but I’ve seen two things.

I’ve seen that they either have a criminal mindset, or they don’t have a criminal mindset. It’s striking. You can almost tell right away when you’re working with some guys if they have that criminal element about them.

They don’t think like you or I would. They just have a different way of thinking about things and approaching things. There’s guys in there, who I shake my head not literally at them, but I just think, “What are you doing in here”? It might be just some really nice kid. I teach art and also guitar. I do both. I work a lot one-on-one, especially with guitar. I’ll be working one-on-one with them, and it’s really an eye opener.

Again, I’m not naive. I realize they’re there for a good reason, but it’s really something. Some of these guys obviously did something really stupid and really bad that really changed their life or ruined their lives.

Tom: First of all, were you doing this before you lost your job and got into doing art full time?

Bruce: No. I’ve only been doing this at the prison for about two and a half years.

Tom: You’ve been doing this for about two and a half years, doing this. How did you get involved in doing that sort of a thing?

Bruce: The religious slash volunteer coordinator approached me. I know her, and she said, “You know our art teacher left,” or something like that. “We need a new one.” My first reaction was, “Are you kidding”? Although I have to say, I’ve always been curious what the inside of a prison was like, and I never wanted to actually have to go to prison to do that.

Tom: I know. I have taken tours over the inside of prison, and I know I don’t want to go. You say these kids have a criminal mind. It’s a scary place. I have to be honest with you, the idea of me going in there and just sit around with a guitar and say, “OK, here’s how you play Kumbaya.” I’d be afraid that they’d take the guitar strings and strangle me with it.

[laughter]

Tom: Do you have that fear when you go in there?

Bruce: No. I’m always accompanied. I always have a guard with me at all time, and of course, you’re always on camera. The guys who are in either the art class or the music class want to be there. They’re guys who have enough privilege to be there. If they do anything naughty, they don’t get to come. In fact that happens a lot. I’ll have somebody for several weeks in a row and all of a sudden they’re not there.

It’s because they’re on room restriction or in solitary, because they did something. They don’t get cut very much slack. The guys that are there, they’re there because they’ve been behaving well, and they want to be there.

Tom: First of all, when you see these kids, then they come to you. They sign up for it. How does that work?

Bruce: They sign up on a roster, and that roster is screened to make sure that there’s no rival gang members. They don’t want to have any kind of incidences in my classes. I’m thankful they do that.

They keep the class sizes very small. They’re usually no more than eight might be the maximum. It’s usually six would be the cap. I’m usually working with guys, especially in art, I’d be working with guys anywhere from three to six guys. With guitar it’s usually myself and two other guys at a time.

Tom: When you say rival gangs, can you tell? Are some gangs better or nicer than other gangs? Is there a personality trait depending on what gang they’re in?

Bruce: I don’t know enough about it to really answer that, but I do know statistically about 80 percent of the guys that are in there are gang members. It’s a real prevalent thing. You see a lot of indications especially with art work. They’re constantly having to be monitored. They’ll try to draw some type of gang symbols, and the guard’ll say, “No, no, you can’t do that. You got to throw that away.” They try to get away with it.

Tom: You’re not drawing, “OK, give me a pig’s ear and a giraffe’s neck.” You’re not doing that?

Bruce: No.

Tom: What is the reason for all this? What are you doing? What do they hope these prisoners get out of it?

Bruce: This particular facility, because it’s young men, there’s an actual sanctioned high school there with a principal, teachers and everything. They can get their diploma, not a GED but an actual high school diploma. They have the access once a week to get counseling. Because of the fact these guys are younger, the state spends more money at this facility than they would at the other maximum security facilities.

These guys, theoretically, all have time to turn themselves around and make a change. Some of these guys won’t be getting out to experience that type of change, but none the less, they have the opportunity to do some things like learn music and art. That’s all well volunteers, nothing out of the taxpayers’ dollar at all.

Tom: You’re doing this as poster, a good guy.

Bruce: [laughs] Yeah, I guess I’m a good guy, but it’s totally volunteer. People have asked me. They said, “Jeez, are taxpayer dollars going for this? Why are we teaching prisoners artwork”? It’s not that at all. It’s completely volunteer.

Tom: You’ve had people on the outside saying, “teaching prisoners artwork,” and they cop an attitude towards you?

Bruce: I’ve run into that a little bit, but primarily, It’s really surprised me how positive people have been about that. I would say 99 percent of people say, “Wow, that’s really great that you’re doing something positive.” You ask why I’m doing it. The reason, Tom, is I don’t think that I’m going to change anything. I don’t think that by teaching somebody to watercolor, it’s going to necessarily change their life.

I do want to at least bring something positive into a place that is anything but positive. It’s a pretty dark place. I feel if I can do that, what’s a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon, a couple times a month? What is that to me? That’s a small thing to give if I can at least bring something that’s positive into that space.

Tom: Have you found that some of these kids have never been good at anything. They’re not good at reading or math, but they can draw, therefore, they get some self-esteem? They get some self-respect, and like, “Hey, look what I can do”?

Bruce: What is one of the most satisfying things to me, it really makes me smile on the outside and the inside, is when I get a guy that comes in. A lot of times they’ll come sauntering in, “I can’t draw anything. I’m no good at this.” I just throw it right back at them. I go, “Yeah you can. You can do this. I’ll teach you how, and we’ll do it.”

Tom: “By the way, I could change that attitude of yours, because I’m lousy at drawing.” They come in thinking, “I’m not that good.”

[laughter]

Bruce: They can’t do it, and I might be doing a lesson on how to shade. I’ve set up a light. I bring in some things like fake fruit, and we do a still life. That might be one of the lessons. They’ve never done anything like that in their live, ever. As it turns out, they end up with something. You can see it on their face. You can see they’re very proud of what they’ve done.

It may or may not be a great work of art. Some of these guys actually are very talented, and some of them it’s just a matter of accomplishing something that they never thought they could do before. That’s part of the whole point of this whole thing. It provides a positive outlet for some of these guys who’ve never achieved anything positive a lot of times.

It’s a calming effect. It’s relaxing. For the most part, these guys relax. It’s a stress reliever. It’s something that everybody there, that the inmates can enjoy. A lot of times they’ll hang up the art on a bulletin board, on something somewhere so other guys get to see it, or they can put it in their cells. It’s one of these things where, “Hey, look what I did.” Those are the positives.

Tom: Some of these kids are criminal minds and other kids wonder why are they there? Is there a correlation? Are the ones with the criminal minds better artists than the kids “what are you doing here” or vice versa?

Bruce: [laughs] That’d be a really interesting study. I haven’t seen the difference. It’s just like art or music or any of these kinds of things. It comes down to a person’s personal wiring, and you could probably be a mastermind criminal and be either a good or a bad artist. It doesn’t matter or vice versa. You might be a guy who’s just in there for some reason that doesn’t make any sense in the big scope of things and you either have talent or not. It’s an individual thing.

Tom: Have you ever had anybody try to contact you on the outside now that they’ve gotten out and say, “Hey, thanks for the lessons. I want more lessons.”

Bruce: No, we keep my identity fairly close to the chest. They know me as Mr. Bruce. It isn’t a strict confidentially thing, but there’s also rules against getting in contact later. I don’t know what the time frame is, but you have to maintain distance. Nobody’s ever tried to contact me so far.

Tom: I’ve just been out at the mall, and one of them said, “Oh, hey.”

Bruce: Hasn’t happened, hasn’t happened yet.

Tom: What type of stuff do they draw? In my mind, the stereo-typical idea [indecipherable 16:16] prison art. It’s tattoo art. It’s dark. You’ve got different Hispanic gang. That’s more cultural than an African-American or maybe some white guy? A more cultural look to the art. You say a still life, I don’t necessarily think of seeing these prisoners doing a lot of art of bowls of fruit.

Bruce: We don’t always do that, but generally I try to keep it in some standard type of format. Obviously, you can’t let them go down the road of doing gang related symbol art, although it would be very interesting to know sometime. [laughs] I’ll never get the chance to do it I don’t think.

I try to introduce different mediums like pastels, paint, pencil, watercolor paint, all different types of things like that. We’ll do a real variety of things. Coming up for the holidays, we’ll be doing chalk pastels which is what I did that book in. I’ve done that before with them. I’ll give them an example, and I’ll show some type of a cool landscape.

I know that might sound boring, but we’ll do it on black paper. You do it with these different colors on black, so it looks like a night scene. You can make it look dramatic. One of the things I always say though in every class, in my mind at least, “There are really no rules in art.”

If we’re drawing something like this, and you feel like drawing something else, I don’t care. Just as long as you’re creating, and as long as it is something appropriate they don’t get in trouble with. If they feel like they’d rather draw a car. I don’t care, because they’re creating. They’re doing something that’s an outlet, and it’s a creative effort.

Tom: How do you control the guys, when you bring in the nude models for that lesson? [laughs]

Bruce: That’s the tough part.

[laughter]

Tom: Draw nudes, all right.

Bruce: They really go crazy when I take off…no just kidding.

[laughter]

Tom: Have you been able to notice a change in these guys? In others words, again I’m thinking of an old movie, “To Sir With Love,” with Sidney Poitier.” These guys come in all tough, and Sidney Poitier beats them down, though they end of being decent human beings.

In other words, are you just occupying time when they’re there, or do you think you’re actually achieving the goal that you’re trying to achieve, and that is doing some good?

Bruce: That’s a great question I ask myself a lot of times. I think in a lot cases I am just occupying time. I’m giving them something to do, if they want something to do on a Sunday afternoon. I have seen, I would have to say on a very subtle level, where some of these guys who started off being a little bit jaded or a little tough. The more I work with them, I think it’s just because they get to know me, and they know that I’m treating them with respect.

I’m treating them just like I would treat you, to be honest and I really, really mean this, and I’ve felt this from day one. I’m aware of the fact that I’m no better than these guys. If I was raised in some of the environments, where they were raised, and this is not an excuse, but it’s a reason, part of the reason at least why they are in there. If I was raised in some of those situations, I might have ended up doing the same kind of stuff.

I don’t know, technically, spiritually I’m no better than they are. I don’t treat them like I think I’m better than they are, and I think they pick up on that, because I really do feel that way. I’ve gained rapport with a lot of them, and over time I’ve gotten to know them. Guys who maybe were tough guys at first, I can see that they’ve soften a bit when I get with them. They don’t feel threaten, they feel that they’re there to do something creative.

Tom: Do you see yourself in any of these guys? You say you’re no better than them. Do you see characteristics that you say, “Wow, that’s me?”

Bruce: Yeah, I’d have to say, you see just things in their personalities. [laughs] Not the guys with the criminal mind set. I really don’t have the criminal mind set. Some of their actions or attitudes, I can see myself being the same way, especially when I was 20 or 17. I have to remind myself, these guys a lot of them are still kids, even though they’re in a very adult type of situation there, they’re still young kids.

Then again, I’m not excusing anything, but from a maturity level, life experience level, they’ve just not have been around the bend yet.

Tom: Not just what you do, but just from what you see going into this prison situation. What do you see, they went to high school era age kids basically, to see if they have the opportunity to turn their life around. Do they see any reason to turn their life around, or do they think “Look I’m a bad kid, I’m always going to be a bad kid, and going to end up with life behind bars any way?

Bruce: I see both things. I think there are some, in fact, I know some guys. These are the guys that I would say are a mystery to me as to why they’re in there. Those guys I really do think have a chance, and some of them actually won’t be getting out for a long, long time. They may be my age before they get out. Which is a tragic deal, but they still have hope. I think that’s the thing, they’re young enough, they still have a sense of hope.

What really irritates me personally on the inside is when I hear them pick up this attitude that they think it’s cool to be there. They know they’re going on to the next adult prison, and it’s a badge of honor I think with some of them? It’s just stupid.

Tom: Isn’t a badge of honor or is it just a bravado, trying to act up.

Bruce: It’s both and probably if you peeled away everything, it would just be probably trying to be tough. A lot of these guys, their whole family history is this sort of thing. A lot of them have talked about, they have relatives, uncles, siblings or whatever in other institutions.

I think it’s just a part of their world. It’s so foreign to us, but it’s a real world and it’s just where they come from, and again it’s not an excuse for what they’ve done. I can see that if you were steeped in that all of your life, you can see how a guy cold fall into that sort of thing.

Tom: You never thought you’d be doing something like this?

Bruce: Never. I never thought I would, ever.

Tom: They’re all right during [inaudible 23:19] .

Bruce: Right, equally.

Tom: There’s really like a lesson in here too, right? You could have gone and say, “OK. 50 year-old guy, lost my job, not that usually story, right?”

Bruce: Right. [laughs]

Tom: You say, “Well there’s things I wanted to do, but I never had the drugs to do it.” I want to get back to that a little bit now. About the prison talk about that a little bit now. What do you thing triggered you to actually take that step? I know that there are guys in that same situation. Who say, “Well, not a lot of opportunities, I’m 50 years-old, and out of work. I always wanted to be…,” fill in the blank. They just never do it. Why do you think that you did it others don’t.

Bruce: It surprises me as much as anyone that I’ve done this really, but I do remember 25 or 30 years ago, when I was doing some freelance work. I remember very clearly sitting at my drawing board, which I still have in my studio, the same one. Thinking I don’t want to become an old man someday. I don’t want to look back when I’m however old, and say, “I wish I would have tried illustrating, and doing a children’s book.”

That was something that I always wanted to do, but at that time it was how, do you get from point A to Z? How does that happen? I had no idea how it would, and I really didn’t believe that I ever would, but it was a dream. When this happened with the job lost, it really didn’t occur to me for the first couple of weeks. I was so intent on finding something else, but then it did occur to me.

I was thinking if I never try this, if I don’t give it any kind of a shot, I’ll always wonder and, I’ll always still be wanting to know if I could ever do this. You know Tom, for some reason, I can’t explain this. I have never and i was afraid of the thought of having my own business, always afraid of being on my own.

I’ve always been in a corporate positions, always had the whole thing the benefits and all of that. I was always scared to death of the thought going out on my own. Once I decided to do that I’ve never had any fear about it.

I don’t know why? I should be scared to death, but I just never had. It just felt like it was the right thing to do. I just kept following and doing it as smartly as I could, and trying to go about it the best way I thought and I never felt scared.

Tom: I can relate to that. In my 30’s as a hobby I did just switched to other property, basically I did it one time just to say I did it. I got laughs and the manager said, “Hey, you’re pretty good keep coming back”. It started as a hobby. I had a good job and all the benefits and that sort of stuff. I was 30 or 31 I was doing this and, I quit the day job to go on the run to do standup comedy, to make a 100 dollars a week.

Bruce: Oh, wow. [laughs]

Tom: Talking to a bunch of drunks in Alabama or whatever.

Bruce: Yeah [laughs]

Tom: The thing about it is, it was the same attitude you had. I had the attitude of I’d rather be 80 years-old, and talk about my years in show business. Then be 80 years-old and say, “I wish I would have tried.”

Bruce: I know and the thing is I guess, even with the book out now, and working on other projects. I don’t know where it’s all leading. We don’t know where our path is really going. I never expected my path would lead me here, and if for some reason I end up back in the corporate world, “OK, so be it.” I would love to see this actually flourish and be a bigger thing, but at least I know I’ve given it a shot, and that’s a satisfying thing.

Tom: You have to give it a shot like you said, not only have you illustrated other children’s books, but you have your own book out there now, and regardless no matter what, they can’t take that away from you.

Bruce: No, they can’t, they can’t, and it’s been fun. I’ve been doing a lot of book signings, at a lot of book stores, libraries. I’m going to be doing school visits coming up in the next several months. I have a number of schools who want me to come. That to me is something I never thought I’d be doing. This is actually something I’m scheduling now, [laughs] to actually go and do school visits now with kids.

That was the thing that I always looked at children’s book author and illustrators, and thought, “Wow, wouldn’t that be cool to do that.” [laughs] I’m actually scheduling this stuff to do it, that’s going to be another phase of the whole thing. I don’t know you know, I see where it all leads, I can’t complain, I really can’t.

[laughter]

Tom: You’re having fun and doing that, obviously, keeping food on the table and you’re doing all right. [laughs]

Bruce: No, I’m extremely hungry actually.

[laughter]

Tom: You have a roof over your head. A fascinating story and maybe in some ways, a lesser way that can be a lesson for some of those kids in the prison. You look at it in different ways, I’ll get philosophical for a second. We’re all in our own prisons one way or another. It’s hard sometimes, to get outside of that comfort level to go and do, none in your life.

Bruce: Right. I’ve haven’t said to much, but there’s been a little bit said, at the prison about this book and everything. I haven’t talked about it all that much, for different reasons. I one thing I have been able to relate to them, is if there is really something you want to accomplish, you can’t just give up on it, and you have to just keep trying. I’m not trying to be overly philosophical either.

That’s really the truth too, about something like this. A lot of people have asked me how this came about. They said, “Wow, you just never gave up.” I said, “Well, I really didn’t, why give up? If this is something you really want to do, if it’s really an itch that you really have to scratch, then scratch it and just do it.” I guess I’m just that way, where I feel I need to push this as hard as I can, and see where it goes.

Tom: There’s a great old show business adage that says, “You’re going to get your big break, the day after you gave up.” I always remember that, because that’s it. No matter what you are, you can’t give up.

I knew a gentlemen by the name of Buck O’Neil. Buck O’Neil was an Negro League baseball player. He was 94 years-old when I knew him. We were having a conversation one day. I wanted to ask him, “about the difference between pitching when he was playing, and the pitching of today.” I started off the question, I said, “Buck, back in your day…” and he said, “Son, I’m still in my day.”

Bruce: [laughs]

Tom: Now, the dude is 94-years-old, but to have that attitude, I’m still in my day, where other people might look at it and say, “Well, I can’t because of…” Whether it be these kids in the prison or “Well, I can’t because I’m too old to start something new.

Bruce: That’s something, thankfully I guess, that really didn’t cross my mind, maybe ignorance is bliss or whatever you call it, that I couldn’t do this. I’ve been in publishing for 20 years, but not in this exactly same type of thing. Not in illustrating and trying to do the children’s book and all that.

I really didn’t know that I couldn’t do it. I just tried and it happened, and a lot of things have come together, and I’ve had a lot of good things happen that allowed it to happen. My agent was great help in getting me out in front of people. Anymore in the book industry nowadays, you have to have somebody representing you. They don’t even look at you otherwise.

That was a very fortunate thing that I was able to have an agent, but that actually worked out really cool too. About two months before I left that job, before my job left me, she got a hold of me. I used to work with her. She was at the publishing company and left to be a literary agent. She got a hold of me, and she said, “If you ever want to do that full time, I’d love to represent you.”

At the time, I still had the job, but that was one of the first things that crossed my mind when I started really considering this. I thought, “Well, at least I would have somebody who would represent me.” That fell into place right away too. A lot of things came together. It has not been an easy thing by any means. That’s the thing I would tell people, or I do tell people when they ask me about publishing books, or they want to publish a book.

I don’t want to discourage people from it, but I want people to really know that it is a long, slow, pain-staking process. There’s nothing easy about it at all. There’s a lot of waiting and, of course, the rejection everybody hears about.

That’s the real deal. You can’t let that bother you. You’ve just got to keep swinging that bat and hope you’re going to hit one. It just takes a long, long time, and a lot of patience, and a lot of frustration. I’ve had my days when I felt like, “I must be crazy.”

Tom: Why didn’t you give up then?

Bruce: I know that tomorrow I’ll probably feel better about it. [laughs] Seriously, a bad day or even a bad week doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad thing. It doesn’t make the whole situation bad. It means that I’m having a bad day or maybe a bad week.

I believe in what my end goal is and that is to illustrate children’s books, whether they’re my own or somebody else’s, because that’s what I love to do. There is nothing better, Tom, than sitting at my drawing board, slapping on my headphones, turning on music, and just sitting there drawing. That is the best.

Tom: You’re drawing a children’s book. Are you like, “Hit runs on.” Are you rocking out, or are you playing Itsy Bitsy Spider? What kind of music do you listen to…?

[laughter and crosstalk]

Bruce: I listen to everything from Gregorian Chants to the Who, everything. I still listen to CDs. I guess I’m old-school, but all kinds of music. I’ve got a huge variety. It depends on the day, and the mood, and the hour.

Sometimes I’ll be listening to something pretty upbeat, then all of a sudden, I feel like I want something really, really mellow…maybe Classical music. It just depends on the mood that I’m in. I just loose myself in that music, and it’s the greatest experience. It really is.

Tom: Is there going to be a sequel to what was the name of the book?

Bruce: “Simpson’s Sheep Won’t Go To Sleep.”

Tom: Won’t Go To Sleep. Is there going to be a sequel?

Bruce: Yeah, they’ve talked about that. At this point though, I’m waiting to see what the publisher thinks in terms of how this one’s doing. I really don’t know. Around here, locally, it seems like it’s doing very well, but I don’t know how it’s doing nationally or globally. They have a division in Europe as well, so it’s over there also.

I don’t know. I hope it’s doing great, and that they want to go ahead. They talked about it a little bit. I’ve actually started kicking around some other ideas around.

Tom: In the adult book world, well not the adult book world, just the book world in general, the iPad, the Nook, and the Kindle and that sort of a thing…I think with a children’s book at least in my mind, it’s still the big book with the pictures. The mom and dad sit down and read the kid a story before they go to bed, right? Where do you find them? Are you also downloadable?

Bruce: This book isn’t. I’ve done an e-book before for another author. For the most part, we’re at the stage where most of the children’s books are tactile. They’re actually paper books you can pick up, enter in the pages and smell the ink. I hope it stays that way. I think it will, because there’s something very impersonal about sitting with a three-year-old on your lap and scrolling through an iPad.

Something just doesn’t work. Saying that, I realize as the younger generations grow up, they’ll be used to that, and that’s not going to seem foreign to them. That’s going to just seem foreign to me.

Tom: There was a time when the old timer said, “You know there’s something just foreign about a kid with a book when the rock slabs were just fine.”

[laughter]

Tom: “We used to draw on the side of the cliffs. Those were fine. Now the kids want these damn books.”

[laughter]

Bruce: Yeah, new fangled paper. I know. I think that eventually, it probably will shift. I think we’re still going to be having books for a long time. I hope we do anyhow. There’s something great about that. I wrote that book with my kids in mind too. My kids are all grown. My youngest is is 21, and he really gets annoyed when I try to tuck him in at night.

[laughter]

Bruce: No, there’s something that I really miss about having that special time my kids, putting them to bed at night. Without sounding overly noble, that’s one of the things I really want to give in writing this book, in illustrating it, is another bedtime experience that parents and kids can share together, one more memory of a book that they really enjoyed.

I remember all the Doctor Seuss Books. We had a thousand books at my house that we read with my kids. I can think back of reading those books, and I want to be able to give that memory to more families, to future kids and parents with my books. I think that would be something that would make me feel really good just to know that it’s one more experience for them, because that’s a really special time.

[background music]

Tom: Thank you for joining us on another episode of tombecka.com where everyone has a story to tell, an interesting story about how a man loses his job in his 50s and decides to go follow his dreams. At the same time, do some good work and help some guys behind bars. Anyway, everybody’s got a story to tell, and we feature them every Sunday here on tombecka.com.

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