This week for So Close, I chatted with John O’Marra whose current project Chocolate Chips & Rocket Ships is running on Kickstarter. His project captures almost a year of self-authored poems along with the art from nearly 60 different artists and puts it in all in a bound paper book. What I find fascinating is that not only is John putting together a book, he’s also releasing a poem a day for the next 100 days along with its accompanied art.
I wanted to find out more about his project, and more about John’s story.
Kicktraq: Tell me a little about your project. What made you decide to write and produce this book?
It’s funny, this whole project really came out of nowhere. My son Bonham loves books, and I love to read him all my old favorites – Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein. Around Halloween last year, I decided to write a poem for him. It was terrible! I realized after the fact I was just ripping off the book Chicka-Boom-Boom. But then I wrote another one, definitely based on life with both a newborn and a 2 1/2 year old. Here it is:
I love Mommy’s boobies,
But she says they’re not for me.
They’re only for the baby,
Not for dudes who are nearly three.
While helping Mom in the garden,
I had an epiphany -
I stole one of Mom’s nursing bras,
And planted a boobie tree.
Bonham and my wife Ashley loved it, so did other folks I shared it with. So I wrote another. And another. It really snowballed, and for three or four months I got into a groove where I was writing poems one after another. I shared them with a lot of folks, and most people seemed to really like them.
Bonham, who was almost three when I wrote most of these, was a huge inspiration. Many of the poems came directly from things he said. “I’m the boy who lives in a costume box.” That’s a poem. “The mystery of the missing mystery!” That’s a poem. “Pick me up daddy, so I can get it all by myself!” That’s a poem.
So after a couple months, this ragtag collection of poems about pirates, dinosaurs, diggers and dragons began to feel like a book. I ended up with about 150 poems, and narrowed it down to the best 99 1/2. Yes, I couldn’t quite hit that even 100. More on that later.
So I submitted to agents and publishers, and actually got a lot of very similar response. “I love it, very funny, very clever, but we don’t publish kid’s poetry. Send us something else.” So at that point, I decided to do it on my own.
Since the poems were so diverse, I thought it would be fun to have each poem illustrated by a different artist. I also thought if I was able to get artists onboard, it would be fun to release one new poem and picture online each day. I really hoped folks would look forward to a great picture and poem every day, the way I always used to enjoy a new Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes every day.
I realized the only way to do this all on my own, was through Kickstarter. So that’s where we are today. Day 18 as I write this, and we have gained a lot of enthusiastic fans who really do seem to love a new poem every day.
Kicktraq: This seems like a love of the work. How did you get almost 60 amazing artists interested in participating?
When I reached out to the artists, I didn’t know what to expect. I emailed lots of artists from all kinds of fields, from kid’s books, to comic book artists, to Rock poster artists. I shared with them my poems, and my plans to release them online a day at a time. All I could promise was $100 each, and an equal share with all 100 artists in 50% of any profits. But you can of course never count on profits with a self-published book, so basically I was asking some of the greatest illustrators in the world to help a first time author self-publish a poetry collection, for well under their normal fee! I would not have been shocked to get turned down by everyone.
But when I reached out, immediately I heard back from lots of artists who really loved the sound of the project, and wanted to jump onboard. Some real heroes of mine were among the first to commit. David Wenzel, who illustrated an amazing graphic novelization of The Hobbit. Shawn McManus, who worked on some legendary comics like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Shawn actually had his piece back to me two days after I contacted him out of the blue! That really helped me establish credibility, and attract more artists to the project too.
It’s been amazing the level of art I have gotten. Each and every piece has been fantastic. It’s clear all the artists onboard really are giving their all. It’s incredible fun getting new pieces in my inbox, and seeing the latest fantastic piece for this collection.
Kicktraq: There’s lots of beautiful art and a wealth of information, but not a lot about you on your project page. So what about you? What’s your story?
I’m 42, and by far the most important thing in my life is my family. I have an amazing wife, Ashley, who is my best friend, makes me laugh more than anyone ever, and impresses me every day. She is a wonderful mother, and woman of many many talents. She’s an incredible cook, horse rider, bass player, naturalist, and much more. Like her siblings and father, she is an incredible mimic and voice over star too. She does some really great narration in our project video.
My son Bonham Rocket just turned 3 1/2, and he is a joy to be around. He’s sweet, funny, adventerous, and a self-described daredevil. He shines in our intro video too, especially his narration of my poem about how to grow a boobie tree! Bonham loves knights, castles, pirates, and dinosaurs, and always wants to read. He also loves archery, and bmx bikes. He wants to start racing as soon as he can!
The last member of our family is our adorable baby, Redding Isis. She is a little spitfire, and always wants to be in the mix with her big brother. Bonham is an incredible big brother by the way, he is very patient with her, and wakes up every morning and gives her hugs and kisses first thing.
So that’s my family, and I’m as proud as proud can be.
In terms of me, I’ve always been a big lover of pop culture. Music, movies, books, art, I can’t get enough. I’ve had all kinds of interesting jobs over the years, from producing large scale music and camping festivals, to writing for Grolier’s online encyclopedia, to my latest job, selling toys for a leading toy, game and puzzle company.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and even went to the University of Southern Calfornia school of Filmic Writing for a few years, but until now had never created anything I really felt was worthy to share with the world. This project is different. Not only do I feel it’s fun, positive, timely and inspiring, but it also really sums up my family, and what we are all about. I really hope I can help it reach a bigger audience.
I do have many more stories in me, and if Chocolate Chips & Rocket Ships can find an audience, I hope it allows me to release more books too. I have several fun picture books completed, and am working on a longer chapter book too. I have a longer poem not in Chocolate Chips & Rocket Ships I would love to see turned into a Pixar short film too. A longshot, but that would be a dream come true.
Kicktraq: My son thought the “Pugnacious Crustacean” was hilarious with all the tattoos. Do you give any creative direction to the artists for your poems?
Here’s how it works with the artists. I’ve given every artist the complete collection of poems, and let them choose which they like the best. Usually they show me a sketch of their idea, then I approve and they create the final. Sometimes artists have given me a few ideas and let me choose. Ole Tillmann, who illustrated “The Pugnacious Crustacean”, actually did give me several ideas, including a human sized lobster stampeding down the street. I liked the idea of a tattooed lobster best, and he really executed that to perfection.
When the artists have given me their sketches for approval, in 9 cases out of 10 I have said that’s great, can’t wait to see the final. For a couple, I had a thought or two, but in all cases just minor things I hoped to have added, or needed clarified.
So really, it’s pretty much 99% coming from the artists, with only minimal input from me here and there.
Kicktraq: I see you have little ones yourself. What’s your favorite story to share with them?
In terms of reading to them, my favorites would be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and The Giant Peach, all the Shel Silverstein books, all of Dr. Seuss, especially Fox in Socks. My son’s favorites would be the Little Critter books, and anything about knights or dinosaurs.
Kicktraq: I find it amazing that you’re going to be giving pages away free online one page at a time for the next 100 days, but what about a physical book is important to you? What about your project in a physical book is special?
Nothing beats a real honest to goodness physical book! Especially when it’s a book with amazing illustrations, looking at this art on a computer or kindle is definitely not the same. My dream with this project has always been to print a big, thick beautiful book that you could look through over and over again.
Kicktraq: A little harder question: Your website suggests you will be producing the book by this fall, and Kickstarter is essentially your pre-order system. What would you tell that potential backer who would just as rather wait until you produce the book this fall, or is happy enjoying the daily posts on your website? Why should they participate?
The truth is that if I don’t get funded, I don’t know if I can stay on pace to release all 100 poems one day at a time as planned. If you enjoy the poems, if you enjoy the art, please help me see this project all the way through to the finish line, which is a fantastic hardcover book you can read to your kids and enjoy for years to come.
I’m a firm believer if you share things online for free, you gain fans and supporters, who will eventually help fund projects that do cost something. So far, it’s been harder spreading the word then I thought it would. Folks visiting my site tend to become backers, but I’m not getting enough visitors to the site. I’ve had a hard time getting blogs and entertainment sites to write about the project too. So with about 12 days left, I hope word starts to spread wider soon, so I can get funded, and devote myself to producing the best possible book I can!
Kicktraq: In your wildest dreams, if you were to over-fund, what would you be able to do with that extra revenue?
If we were to catch fire, and exceed our goal, it would be amazing! We would be able to animate more of the poems, which would be really fun. I could pay the artists a little more than just the $100 they are getting now, and boy, they sure do deserve more than that. And for the book itself, I could make it even better than planned. But we’re a long way from exceeding our goal, I would be happy to just sneak in a few dollars over the goal at this point!
Kicktraq: I see you’ve helped fund a few projects yourself. What’s your favorite project, and what motivates you to help others fund their dreams?
There are so many projects I love, I wish I could fund them all! Helping a creator realize a project that wouldn’t happen through traditional means is a great feeling.
My favorite project I’ve supported is The Graphic Textbook. It’s a book designed for classroom use that teaches lessons through art and text together, comic book style. It’s high time comic storytelling got more credit, and was recognized as a great way to teach or tell a tale. So putting so much creative talent together for a truly educational and inspiring project is a very cool thing to support!
Kicktraq: Thank you so much John for taking the time to speak with me. Is there anything else you’d like to say to folks?
I have two things to share. First, I invite all your readers to check out a sneak peek at the first 22 poems as pdf file, perfect for reading on a computer or e-reader. You can check that out here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/97083601/Chocolate-Chips-Rocket-Ships-Sneak-Preview
Second, if you like what you see there, please consider becoming a backer of this project! Just $25 and you will receive the 220+ page, 8 1/2 x 11 hardcover book this fall. If your budget is tight, anything helps. This is a unique project that could only happen through Kickstarter.
It’s really a dream project for me, and a chance to come out with a really special book. I think this book will open more doors for me too, and enable me to release more fun books down the line. But I can’t do it without help. Hopefully some of the folks reading this check out my project, like it, become a backer, and help make this book a reality!
Thanks for this opportunity to spread the word, I really appreciate it!
And as promised, here’s the reason I have 99 1/2 and not 100. As a reward for reading this far, here’s the last poem in the collection:
I tried to write one hundred poems,
But after ninety-nine,
Something something laugh?
Something something something writer’s block,
Guess I’ll have to settle for ninety-nine and a half.
As of this writing, Chocolate Chips & Rocket Ships has 137 backers and is only at $7,801 of their $40,000 goal (27% funded). They have about 9 days to go and could use a lot of help.
The minimum reward to obtain a physical item is only $25, but you can give as little as $1 for a daily email that includes the poem and art, or up to $10 for a complete PDF of the finished product for you eBook folks.
As always, I’d never recommend anything I wouldn’t be willing to back myself.