We had the good fortune of connecting with Conor Dubin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Conor, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
When assessing risk, it is always important to examine how you personally define risk. Not all risks are created equal. There are some risks you can’t afford NOT to take, so the risk inherent there is not going for it. For me, trying to change the relationship narrative with a children’s book series was a huge risk, but I felt like it was one I couldn’t afford not to take. At a time when the medical community has diagnosed an epidemic of loneliness in our culture, with diseases of despair associated with addiction at an all time high, and divorce rates skyrocketing, I felt like there was something wrong with how we are explaining relationships and partnership to our children (and adults frankly) if we are at all, and something needed to be done. When I first brought my series to the publishing houses, they said it was too long, it shouldn’t rhyme and that there were too many books about pirates (there are no pirates in my book series FYI). I had grown up reading Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein and I feel like the playful rhyme scheme and longer format of the classic authors not only aided in my retention of the story, but also helped to increase my attention span. (Attention spans have dropped from over 2 minutes to around 8 seconds in the lat 30 years). I feel like the publishing industry is shying away from longer picture books and churning out shorter, disjointed snarky content. I would say the risk I took was to stick to my gut and insist that my books rhyme and told a more complex story, counter to the way the industry was moving. Also, by moving away from the traditional Princess narrative where the girl is an orphan and everyone is out to get her, I was taking a risk. I wanted my hero to be surrounded by family and to have a passion in life that would inform her decision about who would get to be a part of her experience. I think under the right lens, any risk can look like an opportunity. When I heard from those publishing houses that they were staying away from longer rhyming books, I thought “Perfect, I’ll have no competition then!!”
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Like any great journey, some moments have been beautiful and rewarding and revealed to me the capacity of creativity. Other moments have been challenging and full of self-doubt and discovery. Ultimately my guiding premise has always been to really tackle the important topics we are not teaching children. For example, the princess narrative we read to children now seems to indicate that a person must wait for the right partner to “show up” in order to feel complete and worthy. That scenario has never felt right to me. The greatest struggles and ultimately the most rewarding moments for me have been when I have had to challenge myself to put on paper the purest form of my message within the literary structure of the fable. But when I am able to stay true to the message and have a breakthrough, it always feels cathartic. Kate’s Grandfather advises Kate in the first book that “finding joy in your life is your own work to do, a first mate’s first job is to share that with you and when the seas are too rough, most important of all, to stand by your side so that you don’t fall.” I have read these words to thousands of children all over the country and when I get to those important moments where I am trying to change the narrative and I see their faces light up, I know every struggle was worth it. I think what sets my series apart from other children’s books is that it tackles important and difficult topics, topics that I think are necessary to teach but hard to understand. “Journey Through Jellyfish Island”, the second book in the series, discusses the concepts of fear and feeling trapped. I think there is a lot of that feeling present in the world right now and children’s books offer a vehicle for parents to not only teach their children but also absorb a lesson that maybe they have been needing to learn as well. Kate and Nate learn on that island that the best way to deal with fear is to set a clear intention and make a choice to follow that path. The book also explores the possibility that there may be outside forces that come into play when we set clear intentions. Finally, I want to note that many parents I speak with dream that their children will grow up to be successful while the definition of “success” changes with each new generation. By far the largest impact on any person’s success, health and well being in life has always been determined by their relationships, friendships and partnerships. Relationship education is one of the most important keys to a happy and healthy life.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
LA is unique in that there is so much nature in this giant city. I love hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains at night with my dog. So I would definitely introduce my guest to some of the natural “night life” up there, especially when the Great Horned Owls are nesting in January and February. You can easily see and hear 4 or 5 of them hooting throughout the canyon. Hiking at night is a whole different experience and I don’t know too many other cities that have so much wilderness and wild life. If you are up there under a full moon, it’s even better. Live jazz on Fridays during the summer at the LACMA or a movie at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery are also unique Los Angeles experiences that would be on my list. And of course, a drive to the beach for a surf and some fish tacos.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Definitely Brandon Olterman and Natalia Becerra. Brandon is the artist who illustrated “Kate’s First Mate” and Natalia illustrated “Journey Through Jellyfish Island” and “Princess Arainee and The Search for Pet Hamy”. I could never have done this without their incredible talent. I remember writing and hitting a block but because I was under a time crunch, they would be working on illustrations as I was working through blocks and I remember thinking “I’ll figure out where I am trying to go once I see what they have drawn”. Their work actually inspired the series as we were working on it together. I began to look at the creative process entirely differently. Sometimes, when the inspiration for what you’re creating hits a road block, you can derive your inspiration from what you are creating.
Facebook: Kate’s First Mate
Youtube: Kate’s First Mate
Paul Jacob Bashour, Brandon Olterman, Natalia Becerra