By Dave Carnie
I’ve visited my old friend Scott Bourne in Paris a few times, but the last trip was especially memorable because he invited Tania and I over for dinner with his wife and family. At the time, they occupied a charming apartment on the fourth floor of a building with views overlooking the bustling Place de la République. After watching the sun set over Paris we sat down to a simple but elegant dinner of roast chicken, salad, red wine, cheese—prepared perfectly, absolutely delicious, and is one of the most quintessential French experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve tried to replicate it a few times, but it’s missing a key ingredient: Paris.
After dinner, we retired to the living room to talk, drink more wine, flip through books, peruse catalogs that Scott had done male modelling for (I distinctly remember an image in which he’s posing with a snowboard), and, best of all, watch his kids run around the apartment batshit crazy, swinging from the ceiling. They were literally swinging from the ceiling. Because there was a swing installed in the middle of the living room ceiling. Scott even got on it. I was offered a spin myself, but I declined noting that I was easily the largest mammal in the room and I couldn’t bear the thought of destroying their indoor playground—not to mention the embarrassment. But the point is: a swing in the living room!
So it’s no wonder that this environment was the inspiration for Scott’s latest project: a children’s book titled, An Act Of Imagination, illustrated by Todd Bratrud. I recently chatted with Scott about it over the phone and via email.
So how did this come about? As I understand, you didn’t intend to write a children’s book.
Honestly, I had wanted to write one for years, but it just never came together in the right way. It’s delicate stuff. You know as well as anyone that the children’s world is a protected world and filled with police of all shapes, colors, and sizes. My very first attempt had a line in it like, “bees fornicating with flowers!” And because my writing has always tended to take on an erotic tone I had to abandon the story all together. This thing basically happened because of all the silly things I say daily to my wife and kids. My wife once told me that she wished she could draw because she would love to illustrate all the silly things I come up with. So, at some point I began writing down the silly rhymes I would say to the kids to get them to do something and—boom!—poems began to appear. And who do you think actually has the talent my wife spoke about but Mr. Todd Bratrud. The rest is history.
Once you realized you were going to write a children’s book, how long did it take?
Because I am obsessive compulsive I put dates on everything I write down. With that said, everything in this book was penned between October 19thth to December 17thth 2018. Again, just silly stuff I was putting on paper and stacking up on my desk. My children are used to the process and at one point I recall my son came in and looked at the stack and said, “Poppa, I think you wrote another book!” That’s actually when I realized I had written a book.
Scott, with infant son (in jacket), at a café in Paris. (Photo: Benjamin Deberdt)
I have to admit that I don’t know much about poetry. I don’t write it, I don’t read it very often, so it’s difficult for me to really assess quality in poetry. So I’m curious how you approached it. Was there a meter chosen? To me it sort of feels like there’s poetry here and there throughout, but the text also has a very fluid and freestyle quality to it, which sort of echoes the messaging throughout—fuck the rules, do what you want, be free, and have fun.
You are absolutely correct and that is for sure the message: just create. We are in this total down slump of humanity where everyone is sharing and following but very, very few are creating or leading and I see that as a huge problem. So, I simply wanted to have no rules, just write out silly fun things that could also have meaning and message, but didn’t have to have meter. I filled the book with tons of fun clues to guide kids to things that inspired me and to hopefully encourage parents to engage more closely with their children, to read to them, and to possibly turn them on to some of the things that I am leaving clues about.
Yeah, the message is very Scott Bourne-ish: get away from your screens for a minute and live life. Very pro-Luddite messaging. Which, obviously, I agree with, but, to play devil’s advocate, how far do you take that? Do you think taking screens away from kids might put them at a disadvantage among their peers or hinder their chances of success in the digital workplace that they’ll soon inhabit?
Certainly this is a hot topic in parenting these days and as a parent I have been targeted as a Luddite, behind-the-times dad. I have even been told that I am handicapping my children by not giving them access to such things. It’s just that as parents we are supposed to be giving them the tools they need to navigate the world we have created, and that world has become viciously Orwellian. In a sense I am trying to expose the elephant in the room, to make certain things approachable that, as a parent, I feel have been conveniently swept under the rug. I am fundamentally against building a community where children are dependent on tiny gadgets to navigate it, especially when I came from one that encouraged self-reliance, independence, thinking for one’s self, and making judgements free from the crowd. As a parent I have certainly been made to think about how my actions will affect my children. At the same time there is an entire generation out there that has failed to capture their parent’s attention. I cannot even begin to imagine the repercussions of such a thing—parents that choose gadgets over their babies—you are your child’s very first interaction with self-importance. When you choose the company of a gadget over them, you are sending them out into the world with a feeling of unimportance. You are laying a weak foundation that makes it impossible for self-worth to grow on. Now tell me who is handicapping their children?
Tell me about collaborating with Bratrud? Did he just illustrate the text, or did any of his illustrations inspire the text?
All the text was written out and accompanied by basic art direction—elements that I felt the illustration would need to make the writing shine—but after that it’s all Todd. He put his own twists in there and added his Todd touch to things and, as always, these illustrations turned out way cooler than I had ever imagined. That’s what’s special about working with Todd. He is an incredibly creative individual and his imagination is very vivid. I love the idea that I get to back him into a corner and watch as he draws his way out.
“Fun drawing I did to kinda show Todd what I was up to—I know I suck, but I dabble.” —Scott Hobbs Bourne
What do you think Todd will say about working with you? Because I have this theory that people who use three names are difficult to work with. It’s proven true over and over again—it’s very likely that if you meet someone who introduces themself as, say, “David Christian Stevenson,” they’re going to be a little prick. So do you, Scott Hobbs Bourne, think you are difficult to work with?
Very interesting idea. Maybe ask Todd if I am hard to work with? It’s also the age of internet: when you putt “Hobbs” in my name you find me, not the overweight “Scott Bourne” who also writes books, shoots photos with a digital camera, and praises the new Apple phone—not me!
So I did in fact reach out to Todd. I explained my three-name theory to him and asked, “Do you think that Scott Hobbs Bourne is difficult to work with?”
Todd Bratrud: The short answer is, yes. That said, Scott and I have been doing these art collaborations, on some level, non-stop, since the late '90s. I'm a seasoned vet of working with Scott as his ideas develop, which, at times, is a development that's inspired by the process itself. So each project really takes on a life of its own. If you are new to Scott’s process you might see him as “hard to work with,” but at this point I understand Scott has a clear vision of what he wants and he needs to work through some things to get it to a place where he is satisfied. I understand that, and I enjoy the process, and, in turn, am pretty proud of the finished project.
Ha! Look at the Luddite using digital marketing strategies! Anyway, so once you started putting this together how did you get it printed, how did you produce the book? I assume Paperweight Publishing is you and was born out of this project?
You have pretty much hit the nail on the head. The premise behind An Act of Imagination is very simple: no one was creating the kind of content we wanted for our kids, so my wife and I decided to do it ourselves. We wanted to create a book with substance to help our kids not only develop, but laugh. We hope we have done that. I also knew that finding a publishing deal for a book that’s not publishable in the digital realm would be virtually impossible. So, instead of wasting time looking, we created Paperweight. I feel certain that the shift away from screens, and children before them, is imminent. With that said, I would like to think that we are not just ahead of the curve, but leading it.
Is it all authored by you, or did your kids contribute to some of the ideas and characters?
This is all me, but without them none of this would have been possible for me to see. That is the secret in parenting and something that I very often have tried to pass on to other parents. It’s hard, very hard, but if you wait, and watch, and don’t feel as if they are stealing your time or wasting it, you will get sucked into the magic. The door swings open again and you are submerged in a world that you thought was forever lost. And when they get you in there, the last thing you want to do is go back to your old life. So even if the writing is mine, the spells, the magic, the musing… is all them.
There’s a lot of snot. What’s up with all the snot, Scott?
Again, they bring you into that silly realm where a fart becomes a spell.
Forgive me for saying so, but a lot of it reminded me of collage. I love the combinations of disparate things like clowns and vampires. Did you feel like you were collaging?
That particular poem [“Count Clown” p. 67] is one of my favorites. And, I do not want to speak about it too much, but I wanted to approach what it’s like to love your father, but not want to be like him. I also wanted to resolve this problem in the poem. It’s certainly a mash up of many things. How the son sees his father, blood thirsty, working late hours, possibly never home. But also, how the father might be prone to see his son’s dreams as clownish and embarrassing. It certainly has its roots in my life and my desire to run away and join the circus: California/skateboarding. So you see many of the poems are for the parents as well—a sort of walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes kind of learning.
I enjoy all the literary references in there: I think I saw Poe, Wilde, Bukowski, Thoreau, etc. I assume it’s mostly for the adult’s enjoyment, but are kids picking up on those references?
The idea is that maybe a parent can or will choose to show them the references, but even if they do not years down the line as they discover them on their own they will have some sort of reference. Certainly, I don’t think a dad should read this book to his kids then drop Bukowski on them, but, as we both know, it’s nice to pick up references as we go through life that we did not get the first time around. There’s lots of stuff in there, not just literature.
It’s a really fun book. Do you think you’ll do another?
At the moment I have written two more of these books and fully intend to see them produced, both of which follow-up this first book of seriously silly poetry. The problem is money. Between production, and shipping, and doing virtually everything ourselves, it’s hard. With that said, anyone who would like to help us continue to produce more quality projects like this one, you can show your support here.
I know it’s been selling well, but what have readers been saying to you about it?
Honestly, I have never in my life had more rewarding responses. Some of the letters by post have been fantastically heart breaking. Poems from eight-years-olds are about the freest, funniest, most rewarding things I have even received. So, we are very pleased. I am thinking of attempting to write a little book around these letters. So, keep them coming, kids.
You mentioned when we were talking that your book is in more skate shops than bookstores, is that true?
Well, if you think about it, a large number of bookstores have been put out of business because of Amazon and the internet. Towns have actually closed up their libraries. When we were kids there were very few skate shops around and often we would drive an hour to get to one. It was a big event in my youth and I certainly remember it. With that said, there are now skate shops in nearly every town in America. So, by sending books to skate shops we might even be sending them to towns that no longer have libraries or bookshops. That is a pretty scary idea. I should also say that the support that these shops have given us is phenomenal. If you’re a skate shop or a bookstore, or a library for that matter, and want the book, please contact us. We are happy to donate books to libraries