Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Bruce Arant

Posted on: November 10, 2014

BruceArantNear the end of the 2104 Plum Creek Literacy Festival, I met a local author not on the roster who I couldn’t resist sharing with fans of my blog. After getting his degree in marketing at the University of Nebraska, Bruce Arant spent twenty years in the publishing industry working in a variety of editorial roles.

For as long as he can remember, Bruce has loved to draw. On his blog, he even shares about how drawing him helps with him being a better listener. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been good at sitting in a meeting, a church or classroom setting and just listening … unless I’m accompanied by … a pencil or pen and anything upon which I can draw.” Arant is self-taught in a variety of mediums that include pencil, ink, pastels, colored pencil and watercolor. Much of his illustration work is commissioned by authors who self-publish their manuscripts.

Recently, Arant decided to use his creative talent and personal experience as a father of three to create his own picture book. Bruce Arant both wrote and illustrated the whimsical Simpson’s Sheep Won’t Go To Sleep! I’ll review it here tomorrow. Save the date: November 11!

ALLISON: What were bedtimes like for you as a child?

BRUCE: When I was young, probably an early grade schooler, my bedtime was at 8:00 pm. I remember watching the clock, but trying to keep a low profile from my parents, like that would make them forget about it. I absolutely dreaded having to stop playing or watching TV (black and white at that time) to go to bed.

ALLISON: If you could make any wish from childhood come true, what would it be?

Being able to fly. I remember running and jumping on a hill in our backyard, trying to take off. I ended up breaking a toe (the first of three toe-breaking experiences). Airplanes have become a better choice.

ALLISON: What was your favorite part about growing up in the Midwest?

BRUCE: Living next to my grandmother’s farm. My uncle across the road also had cattle, hogs and a cornfield. I took it all for granted at the time, but now I look back on all of that with a sense of privilege. One of my favorite memories is of a farm neighbor who was really an old-timer type of guy. He still used mules to plow his field and I can clearly remember watching him do so. Again, I thought nothing of it at that time, but I was actually witnessing the last vestiges of a bygone era.

ALLISON: When did you first develop an interest in art?

BRUCE: Did you develop it at school? I think my first grade teacher, Mrs. Landman, had a lot of influence on me with regard to art. Art was the first thing we did every day in her class. I remember she was very enthusiastic about my artwork and looking back, I think she helped instill a sense of confidence in me. Creating art can be very intimidating (it still is), and the outcome of one’s creation is greatly affected by one’s level of confidence. (Thank you, Mrs. Landman.) So, as I grew up, I really got hooked on doing art, mostly drawing. Eventually, I wanted to go to art school, but that didn’t work out. Instead, I’m self-taught in a variety of mediums. I’m still learning how to create art and I still get intimidated –both of which are good things.

ALLISON: Your bio says that you were an editor for twenty years. What was the difference for you between being an editor and an author?

BRUCE: There are actually a lot of similarities. In both instances, you are striving to find to find the most clear, concise, engaging way to communicate a thought, whether it’s originating from your own head or from the head of another writer. I’ve always viewed editing in the same way as sculpting a lump of clay. Sometimes the lump is in a really nice form, so it’s just a matter of reshaping and smoothing out bumps here and there to enhance what was already very well done. That makes editing really fun. On the other hand, sometimes the lump is just a lump. That can make editing really not fun. Likewise, as a writer, sometimes you have a concept in your head that is well formed and just needs to be smoothed out–and sometimes it’s just a indistinguishable lump.

ALLISON: Did being an editor helped you establish yourself as an author?

BRUCE: Not really. Becoming established as an author really comes down to having your work accepted by a publisher, and I’m sure my background as an editor had nothing to do with that. At the time I was picked up by Peter Pauper Press, they didn’t know my background. Getting published is a humbling experience, in that, I know so many other authors and illustrators who are more talented that me, and their work is still out there being rejected by publishers. It’s a frustrating business, for sure. So, no, I don’t think being an editor helped me get published, but I do think it was helpful to me on a personal level, in that, I had a pretty good understanding of how the publishing industry works in general.

ALLISON: Why did you decide to feature sheep in your picture book?

BRUCE: For some reason, I was thinking about how we associate sheep with sleep (counting sheep, etc.) and the thought occurred to me, what if a farmer had a flock of sheep who wouldn’t go to sleep? It just all kind of built from there and I anthropomorphized the sheep characters based on my three kids who used to always have excuses why they couldn’t go to sleep at night.

ALLISON: What do your children think of your book?

BRUCE: My kids aren’t “kids” anymore, but they’ve really gotten a kick out of it and always like hearing the latest story from one of my school visits. One of my daughters lives in California and works in a shop where the book is sold. She’s had fun telling customers who are buying the book, that she played a part in inspiring the naughty sheep characters. One of the customers wanted her to autograph a copy.

ALLISON: Share a highlight from visiting schools.

BRUCE: Presenting to grade school kids has been a really great experience. They become so engaged and excited, and their questions and comments are always either really hilarious or really touching. I’ve had a number of kids come up to me afterward and with all seriousness, tell me that someday they want to do what I do. Who knows? Maybe some of them will. My intent is to inspire kids to use their imaginations and creativity. I think there is too little emphasis on that for kids nowadays. Just a couple of weeks ago, I received in the mail, a “book” that a first grader made for me. He drew pictures inspired by the pictures I drew in the presentation and his teacher said he made a point of using a Sharpie, just like I did. With his first-grade style misspelled words and drawings, it was the cutest thing ever and I was really touched by the fact that he was so inspired to create.

ALLISON: What’s next?

BRUCE: I’m currently illustrating a book for another author and that project will probably be finished around the end of the year. After that, I intend to start on another one of my own books. It will likely be another Simpson’s Sheep book, but I’ve also got a couple other ideas that could be a lot of fun.

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