The next person to press their forehead to my shoulder and weep over the fate of the printed word will be fined (standard practice) and then made to sit in a comfortable chair with a copy of the emerging writers issue of Urbanite. In it, there is a down right inspiring interview with the husband and wife team (writer Matthew Swanson and illustrator Robbi Behr) who run a tiny press called Idiots’ Books. They are purveyors of “odd, commercially non-viable illustrated books” distributed through a subscription service. As long as there are relentlessly innovative storytellers like these two around, words will find their way to the page and the page will find its way to a reader (who will pay for it, I assure you).
Lately, Swanson and Behr have been creating short stories they call One-Page Wonders, which Urbanite describes as “circular confections of words and images whose elements can be cut, folded, and manipulated by enterprising readers.” One of these delightful creations is included in the magazine, and you can watch how it works in the video at the bottom of this post.
Swanson and Behr are also teachers, and Urbanite asked them about the advice they give to aspiring writers:
Urbanite: When you’re teaching student writers, do you give them the brutal truth about their dim prospects for actually making a living with this skill? How do you prepare young people for a career in
Matthew: Our bottom line is to try to teach them to be thinking people. Even though we are helping them with their craft, we care far more about the evolution of thought and the development of concept and the ability to draft an idea and articulate it. That is paramount to us.
Robbi: For the writing to work, it’s not just about spinning an interesting narrative; it’s about getting an idea across in a thoughtful way. In terms of preparing them to be writers, mostly we just tell them it’s work. No matter what you do, if you’re going to be successful at it, you have to work. If you’re not willing to just do the hard work, it’s not going to happen.
Matthew: We also tell them that both of us had to spend a decade mucking through the professional world while developing other skills and creating salaries for ourselves so that we could go off the grid. This myth of just sitting in your apartment and creating art and having it become your career might work for a few really lucky people, but in general making art is kind of a deliberate byproduct of a life plan that includes some other things that you have to do along the way. Hopefully, they are things that you enjoy and have relevance.
Here's the (very charming) video demonstration of a One-Page Wonder:
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Image courtesy of Robbi Behr.