A few years ago Dallas Clayton wrote “An Awesome Book” to teach his son the importance of dreams and dreaming big! After several publishers passed on the book, he published it himself and put it online for free. The Internet went crazy, orders came pouring in, and Dallas set out on an epic book tour. He travelled all over the world, donating copies for every copy that was sold. You may have seen the Google commercial about him! (See here.)
He wanted to change kids’ lives and ended up completely changing his own. The book became so popular Harper Collins asked to re-release it. His second book “An Awesome Book of Thanks” was the first kid’s picture book to be published by Amazon. He wrote a third book “An Awesome Book of Love”, and has just released his fourth, a collection of poetry called “Make Magic! Do Good!”.
Dallas’ energy is infectious, and his emails always get me pumped. It’s downright impossible not to be excited if you talk to him on the phone. Hopefully some of that comes through in this little interview with the man I consider to be this generation’s Shel Silverstein.
Read the full interview below!!!
An Interview with Dallas Clayton
Jeff Hamada: It’s getting cold here in Vancouver, I’m listening to Matthew Dear and doing a little drawing. Can you describe where you are!
Dallas Clayton: I’m in Los Angeles California, where it is generally sunny and beautiful. We’ve had a bit of rain the past few days, which is often a nice curve ball. Keeps everyone guessing, and makes you truly appreciate the magic of jumping in puddles or listening to rain on the roof.
JH: When I come to LA, where will we go eat! What are your favourite spots?
DC: A few years ago a friend and I set out a rule to try and eat at a different restaurant whenever possible instead of falling into the same ruts over and over again. That said I do have a lot of places that get tripled up on because they are close, or relatively addicting. Moving from east to west I’d say Elf is great in Echo Park, and Forage in Silverlake, I like Hatfield and Mozza. Son of Gun has some pretty amazing dishes, Gjelina in Venice is always rad too. Then again, I could also eat a burrito most days and be totally stoked.
JH: I eat a homemade burrito almost every day for lunch (my breakfast). What was your favourite book growing up?
DC: I’ve always been a big fan of Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl. Those two had some very wonderful and quite profound things to say, and as I’ve gotten older and made my way professionally into the kids world I’ve found out all kinds of interesting bits about them as writers, pieces to the puzzle that have made me appreciate their careers much more. Yesterday I was in the studio and a friend of mine played me a 7 minute track that Shel Silverstein wrote in the early 70s about two people who have a world championship weed smoking contest and at the end one of the contestants ends up grinding the other up, rolling him into a joint and smoking him. This from a kids book author! It was amazingly weird!
JH: Haha! I think I’m interested in the realm of things that are kid-friendly versus just for kids. Not that a weed smoking contest is kid-friendly but I when I watch kids shows now it’s a total drag to see the content that is made specifically for them. I would love to make a new Sesame Street type show that was as interesting for adults as it is for kids. I don’t know if you listen to Radiolab, but it would be more Radiolab than Yo Gabba Gabba.
DC: Yes, I’m definitely a huge fan of Radiolab and a huge fan of documentary style programming in general. I think in many ways I’m a bigger fan of art that documents and informs rather than art that strictly entertains. I’ve actually been in a lot of film and TV meetings over the past year because of my book work and on multiple occasions I’ve used Radiolab and This American Life as reference points for ideas that could be integrated into the children’s world.
JH: Is there anything on TV worth watching? Do you even watch TV? Sometimes (most of the time) I wonder why I even have cable.
DC: I haven’t had a TV for quite a while. Maybe almost ten years? Wow, that sounds crazy because I used to watch sooo much TV. Especially when I was a kid. Hours and hours of it. These days the only time I really watch anything is when I’m drawing. If I have to draw a book out over the course of a few months I like to find things that are on netflix that I can watch entire seasons of and just let them play in the background. That way I can pay half attention to them and still get the idea of what’s going on in the story. Honestly I don’t have anything against TV, I think it’s probably better now than it’s ever been, but I’m just not the right audience for it. I like to be creative more than I like being a consumer. I like to participate rather than being a spectator.
I think that’s a huge part of life – consuming as much as you can when you are younger, information, ideas, stories, facts, lessons, skills, and then eventually getting to a place in your life where the consumption of those things has allowed you to participate in the conversation, to give back, to make a contribution and hopefully to move things forward.
JH: I read that the idea for your first book “An Awesome Book” came from the crazy dreams your son was having. What was the last crazy dream you had?
DC: Such a tough question, because they tend to really vanish by the end of the day. I really love dreams where I’m totally convinced that they’ve happened and maybe even wake up a little bummed that they didn’t. I like the idea that my brain has its own agenda that I can’t even begin to fathom, like it decides one night to convince me that I’m a ski instructor and have figured out an invention that allows my ski’s to let me fly off mountains and rocket up into the air. What a fun narrative. So many possibilities. Thanks brain!
JH: I would like to live in that dream! What’s the last good book you read, kid’s book or otherwise?
DC: I’m not sure if writing kids/poetry/short form for the past few years has depleted my ability to take in long form fictional content but often times I find myself thinking “why did this story take 500 pages to tell?” I’ve always been a big fan of classics, Steinbeck being at the top of my list but these days I never seem to have the time to just sit for hours reading, so usually I just toss a few books in my car and read them slowly over months when I’m out to lunch.
“Everything Ravaged Everything Burned” by Wells Tower was a nice collection of short stories that in many ways read like a documentary which is maybe why I liked it.
JH: I am the exact same way! I like short stories the most, and I’ve also been going back and reading many of the books I was forced to read in school and realizing how much I like them. Usually more than “adult” books, and not just because of the length. I’m coming to the realization that younger people are harder to please. I really love “The Pigman” by Paul Zindel.
DC: I think younger people aren’t so much harder to please but I think they are definitely fans of entertainment in its purest form. As we get older our concepts of what is entertaining to us grows and evolves and is often influenced by our surroundings and our relationship to advertising but kids seem to approach art very intuitively, they have relationships with shapes and colors and images and sounds that appeal to them and they just move on from there. It can be pretty amazing to watch first hand.
JH: Can you talk a little bit about the thought process of writing for kids? Do you feel like you are regressing in some way, in relation to your writing that’s more geared to older people? Or is it still a progression for you?
DC: I could talk for days about this subject. I think making things for kids is really just about making things for everyone, as one day all the kids that read my books will eventually stop being kids and become fully functioning adults. The way I see it, my work at this point is very much an investment and is pushing me in ways I’d never expected.
With the types of books I’m writing the challenge really is how to say as much as possible with as little as possible, the same challenge you find in poetry or music or even advertising. I’m fortunate in that the newer generations of kids coming up are really growing into a world where shorter form content is becoming a consistently accepted medium. For a long time that wasn’t the case which is why for so many people making a feature film, or a completed album, or a sum total work is the end all be all goal. Because that’s what they grew up on and that was the gold standard.
DC: For me, it’s never been about books or movies or paintings or photos it’s been about ideas – having ideas and sharing ideas. If there is a way to do that in 3 words as opposed to 300 words or 3,000 words I’m all for it. More time to be spent exploring the world and sharing ideas. More time to learn to surf and eat fruit from the trees.
So when I think about making art, I’m really thinking about sharing ideas in a way that is fun for me, in a way that is immediate, and in a way that I think can reach the most people in the most powerful way. For now it’s kids books, a year from now maybe it’s movies, a year after that maybe it’s skywriting. It’s all ‘combinative’. It all leads to the same place.
DC: I am in a truly unique position because the body of work I’ve built is strong and there are not only a vast number of mechanisms for sharing ideas but we are fast approaching a world where one is no longer more valuable than the other. In ten years saying “I love you” via book, or movie or 30 second internet video, or billboard, or cell phone app might all have the exact same worth and the exact same return. Especially to my sons generation who didn’t grow up with only one gold standard.
That to me is truly exciting and that to me is how I like to look at progression. Have an idea that you think is important, and then choose an audience and and application for that idea. That’s how I push myself, rather than working in reverse like “you should write a book for X demographic. Thus when the audience changes, or the application becomes obsolete and is replaced with a brand new medium you could have never even conceptualized, you’re still left with a good idea at the core, and that will always stand the test of time.
JH: This is all great stuff. I thought maybe we could end this with either a satisfying moment or an epiphany (big or small) from your time touring around the continent, sharing your Awesome book with kids.
DC: When I first started touring it was really just for fun. A nice way to go out and travel with my friends and give back to all the fans who had supported me. Now, the more I do it the more cities I visit and kids I read to the more I realize how crucial the act of touring is.
Hitting the road is important. I mean really important, like an element in life we should all give more credit to. Vacationing is all well and good, but moving from place to place with a greater purpose and being able to stop in a city you’ve never been and stay there and talk to the people and learn about what makes them different than the people who live ten miles North or ten miles South – there is tremendous value to this. I don’t think this experience should be limited, as it most often is, to touring bands in their early 20s. Whatever you make, whatever you do, no matter your age or class you should try to find a way to add a touring element to it, at least once.
The further we fold ourselves into a digital culture and the further we get away from each other the more important I think this is. Get out there, not just to see the world but to see the people, try to discover a common ground. Be inspired by how amazing total strangers can be if you just allow them the opportunity. I know I have been.
JH: Thanks for taking the time to do this!
DC: Dude, so stoked! Thank you!
Dallas has kindly hooked me up with a copy of “Make Magic, Do Good” to give away to one of you! If you wanna snag it, leave an encouraging comment for Dallas in the comments below!
I’ll pick a winner during the first week of January. Have a fantastic Christmas everyone!
CONGRATS Ashley Light – you’ve won the book! Check your email!