Earlier this year, I put together a short book for my nephew about the idea of wanting to be taller. While the majority of the motivation was to give him a book that he could enjoy, starring himself and his family, I also wanted to continue practicing with the Adobe Suite. Recently I took the art from the book, adjusted some character names, added some movement and some narration and … voila! Here is the resulting animated video for “Leroy the Very Tall Boy”
“For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”
In this hellscape that looks like an outtake from Fury Road, I found pain. I wanted to walk. At mile 24 I started shouting at myself.
Eight goddamn miles left.
Then I picked up my feet. At each mile successive mile mark, I felt defeat in the weight of my legs, in the tiny slings of a thousand steps on sharp rocks in the arches of tender feet, the slog of 20 miles of ever-shifting gravel testing little-used tendons. At each mile mark, I shouted, and I kept going.
Seven goddamn miles left.
Last weekend, I ran my first ultra-marathon, the Valley of Fire 50k, in Nevada. While I believed I had trained better, more consistently, and longer than for previous trail races, the terrain was more difficult than I anticipated. Just two weeks earlier, I paced my friend on his 100-mile race in Northern California. Along with three other 20+ mile runs, I felt good about what I could handle. At five hours and twenty minutes for 31 miles, I explored my limits.
Six goddamn miles left.
Earlier this year, I bowed out of one trail marathon because of under-training. Another, I dropped from the full to the half. I did what I could to keep running, to bend and not break. This year hasn’t been about speed. It’s been about setting regular milestones throughout the year to encourage consistent running. To that end, I raced in January, May, June, August, and November. While traveling for work and fun, I’ve run in Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Nevada, plus some runs in Thailand and Nicaragua. I woke up early on work trips and found riverside routes. I sweated through the summer swamp in D.C. When I run, the rest of me falls into place.
Five goddamn miles left.
The aid stations are unoccupied. There are no runners nearby. There is no accountability. I am alone, but not lonely. Over the summer, I spent whole days alone. Weeks went by with just a few coffees or dinners.
Four goddamn miles left.
Am I improving? This year, the improvement has been miles run and weekly averages. I have not allowed work to take priority. Maybe the improvement is in running smarter. Maybe the improvement is in showing up more often.
Three goddamn miles left.
In three miles, I won’t have to run anymore. Running is physical journaling. I write myself down in the routes and races and miles. That being said, I have written enough for one day.
Two goddamn miles left.
Why are there Confederate flags on dune buggies in Nevada? Is this how Mad Max starts?
One goddamn mile left.
I expected this run to reveal something unknown.
In running culture, there is an allure to runs past 26.2 miles. They are less a physical trial than a mental one. Some say it’s easier to run 100 miles than to significantly decrease your marathon time. I don’t know what was so captivating about this race. Maybe it’s the landscape. Maybe it’s a chance to carve out my own running identity.
As I approached the finish line, I didn’t feel triumph. I didn’t feel joy or delight. I felt done.
The finish line.
One banana and Muscle Milk later, I am grateful to be able to run. I hope that gratitude will expand when I run farther.
One day and a fully sore body later, I understand I am my worst self when I am not running. I hope I can be better when I run farther.
Four days of rest later, I am eager to get out to see how much farther I can go.
Collaborating with illustrator Elizabeth Winter on Monstrous Me has been a dream. She brings to each illustration so much more than an accomplished artistic skillset. She brings her curiosity, her experience as a reader, what she’s loved from other fairy tales and folktales, and injects all of that into each piece.
When I started writing this collection at the beginning of this year, I could not have imagined finding an artist who was so capable of taking those initial ideas and expanding them into such realized, living creations.
One of the biggest joys of launching the campaign for Monstrous Me has been hearing the feedback on all of her illustrations as people see them in one place for the first time. It’s been like letting them in on a secret I’ve known for months. Now imagine a whole book full of this art!
I asked if she would answer a few questions about how she got into illustration and her inspirations, and she graciously agreed. Below is our Q&A, along with some gorgeous non-Monstrous Me art.
Interview with Elizabeth Winter
1. How did you first get into art and illustration?
As most kids growing up, I had knack for drawing and colouring outside of the lines. That accompanied by the fact that my mother is an illustrator and growing up in my family, who are all quite artistically inclined. I was drawn to it naturally.
2. Which artists inspired you early on?
Geez, that’s a tough one. Since I can remember I loved fantasy art as a subject since its so wide and varying and stretches beyond the borders of the imagination. I can say some of my favourites are Frank Frazetta, Larry Elmore, Beatrix Potter, Carlos Huante, Brian Froud, Alan Lee,… but there are just so many who I admire. Every week or so I find new people and their work and they are all so inspiring! All in all, it’s more the techniques they use and the work themselves that I fall in love with.
3. What are the folk tales, fairy tales, or children’s stories you remember most from your childhood?
A lot of stories were heartbreaking tales of heroism that ended somewhat bittersweet rather than happy endings. Many themes are there to teach children lessons of either survival and respect for wild nature combined with empathy and love. I remember one of the stories that stuck out the most was the story of Racheltjie De Beer, who sacrificed herself to save her little brother from the freezing cold. Which is very similar to the real life story of the American, Hazel Miner.
4. What are you reading or watching or listening to now that you love?
Admittedly I have been rereading some children’s novels in the Redwall series, they are very nostalgic.
5. When did you first realize you could make a career out of illustration and art?
Well, when you have a passion for something and you’re really happy doing it, its not always feasible to make a career out of it but slowly it unfolds as you go along. So before you know it, and if you work for it and market yourself that way, you can stand on your own two feet doing what you love.
6. Do you have any tips or advice for anyone looking to make that leap for themselves?
Don’t listen to people telling you to conform to a certain style or fad. Find your own style and practice it. Trends come and go, but focus on your own signature and it’ll shine beyond that. There is nothing wrong with experimenting to find out who you are and what your style is. The great part about experimenting with different mediums and techniques is that you will always learn from it which will help you grow in the right direction. The usual hard work and patience is of course very important.
7. Speaking technically, what’s your setup? Do you work with pens, paints, tablets, Photoshop, Illustrator?
It really depends on what is required of me when it comes to what has been commissioned for. I have a specific space or study where I do all my traditional style work, oils, watercolour, pencil, ink, etc. It has a little library of books for references, a desk with great lighting, and my easel setup. However I really love working in digital, since I can take my work with me wherever I go. All I need is my Wacom tablet and laptop.
Digital does have its own pros and cons versus the traditional methods. Of course there’s nothing stopping you from combining the two!
8. Is there a dream project you’ve always wanted to do?
I’ve always wanted to make character art for games/media. Board games, video games.
It’s been a scrappy, silly, winding journey to this point. I wrote the worst first draft of the very first monster in January, and also met the book’s illustrator, Elizabeth. In February, I suggested to Elizabeth that we consider working together on a longer project, possibly something book-length. In March, I ran off to Thailand to recover from a busy chunk of television producing, and to write. In April, we agreed on a reasonable number of monsters. In May, the first round of editors provided notes on the manuscript’s first draft. In June, we figured out a layout and a timeline. In July, I began sketching out the Kickstarter campaign as the drafts for the art were finished.
Now, halfway through August, the campaign for my first-ever illustrated collection is live.
By September 10th, we’ll know if the Monstrous Me campaign to get a print run of hardbound books was successful. If I should be so lucky, we’ll send the finished book out to the printer by the end of that month, and receive the copies ready to mail out by mid-November.
But enough about the past and the future. The only thing I really have a handle on is the Now, and my Now is about to get really monstrous.
To help show just how monstrous, here are a handful of monsters from the book (they’re not selfies).
Though the campaign will have been live since the night before, the first batch of e-mails and outreach goes out before dawn on the east coast. In order to answer any questions that you scallawags might have, I’m going to make like the Morning Slug and rise early with a full 8-cup Chemex of coffee and take on the questions and concerns as they come.
Before I can fully embrace my sluggish morning, though, I’ll have to do battle with a series of alarms. After spending a week in Mountain Time, I hope this fight isn’t too drawn out. To be safe, I’ll have three backups set, just like the Snoozer Sloth.
Despite a day’s vigilance over the newly launched campaign, my over-scheduling tendencies are in full effect. Some tasks, like taking the car to the mechanic, are meant to keep me from pressing refresh all day long. Others, like my picture book writing class, keep me looking forward and building a momentum that goes beyond a single project.
Through it all, I will feel ever more like the Startvaark, as Monstrous Me is full of starts (a book project!), firsts (Kickstarter!), and launches (a lengthy campaign!). In that way, it’s similar to the projects of past. I’ve never had problems summoning up the energy and ideas to bring comics, animations and temporary companies into existence. Where I struggled was shepherding them to a natural conclusion. Serial projects, like webcomics, puttered out when I couldn’t maintain self-imposed schedules. Companies faltered for a lack of serious partners, or an inability to pick a partner with complementary strengths.
Now, though, I have a manuscript written, the art is being finalized, and the Kickstarter is alive and, well, kicking. We have momentum on our side. Should the campaign raise the necessary $5,000 to get a limited, hardbound print run, Monstrous Me will be published before the year is done.
The hope with this post was to take a moment out from the animating and e-mailing and editing and pitching to take a few breaths. I believe this campaign will be successful, and that a long-held dream of mine to create an illustrated collection of stories will soon be realized.
Still, I’m nervous. As I was writing e-mails to old friends and coworkers and lost collaborators, I felt a twinge of nostalgia. In the past, I was naive and bold, and shared my work (‘work’ being an adult term for silly things like sheep-themed comics and short films about superheroes) often. Since college, I grew reluctant to talk about what I was doing in public settings, or share much of the process beyond a few tweets or pictures. I was happy enough to let those ambitions simmer, and the daily practice of writing and creating slow. I turned down jobs in line with this passion, because, I told myself, if I was really into writing, then I’d be writing more. Whether one should conflate or confuse work with passion is a point for a different post. The nerves, in that case, came down to believing in myself, and whether I could make something of my writing. Despite qualms or quibbles I may have had with past projects or opportunities, I believe in this one.
Though the timetable for the Kickstarter and eventual release for Monstrous Me has shifted back a month so, we are still plugging along at a good pace. Last week I received the majority of the sketches for the monsters, and I was impressed with how they are shaping up.
If you’re interested in these early drafts, I threw together a brief video with a few dozen.
Artist Liz is onto color palettes and we will soon be taking monsters to the final stages. This also means dusting off my InDesign skills from my high school journalism days and diving deep into page layouts and typography.
The timeline at this point has the majority of the art arriving by mid-August. Since I’ll have the text mostly ready – for the book, Kickstarter, and accompanying promotional pieces – it should be a matter of incorporating the art over a few days to finalize the campaign. I’d hope for a Kickstarter launch mid-to-late August, to run for a month, and then another two months or so to get the books ordered and delivered. That means a potential Halloween release, which is very fitting.
In addition to a book trailer and Kickstarter video, I am hoping to create a brief animation for each monster, to be released each day of the Kickstarter. Depending on how much the launch and life of the campaign overlap with my return to full-time work, this idea may be sidelined.
From the last round of edit notes to now, the project is currently sitting at 40 monsters. That means some of the ones in the video above won’t be included in the final book, though a few of those leftovers will still be illustrated and find a home online in the near future.
Today I sent out the 3rd draft to the next batch of editors, including a television writer, former principals, and a librarian. Having addressed the notes on the 2nd draft, and having sat with it for a month, I am feeling more and more confident about it. Each monster that’s made it this far is more than a clever name or a improvised situation; the stories are stronger, and more relatable, and I have the editing process to thank for that (and, you know, the editors).
On top of all this, I went to the Society for Children’s Book Writing and Illustrators conference last week. I have all sorts of feelings, about writing and publishing and self-publishing and process and doubt, but I am choosing not to dwell on that overwhelming mountain of information and instead choosing to tackle each next step with this book. Monstrous Me is actually coming alive, and I am still in disbelief.
So, while I wait for new art, and edit notes, I’ll hammer out Kickstarter verbiage, and play around with InDesign, and maybe even go outside.
After several name changes and seven years, The Cat Lady’s Cat – the other original Fantastic Ballad – is revised, refined, and raring to go!
Originally called Mrs Kowolski’s Cat, then Callie the Calico Cat, the Cat Lady’s Cat is the other original Fantastic Ballad that I worked on with Josh. The story is of Callie, and how she’ll go to any lengths to keep her Cat Lady Dee from finding true love – because if she finds true love, Callie thinks, Callie and the other kittens will get kicked to the curb.
Like the Gingerbread Man’s Last Stand (the first ballad), this story has series of mishaps and a nice twist that, to me at least, have aged nicely. In tandem, these stories laid the foundation for what a Fantastic Ballad could be.
Per usual, Josh did an incredible job capturing a devious and adorable protagonist. In taking these sketches and turning them into sepia-toned illustrations, he captured the essence of an intimate story worth hanging on the wall.
To be honest, he did too good of a job. Whereas with the Gingerbread Man’s Last Stand I was comfortable separating the art from the background and adding little animated movements, it felt sacrilegious to interfere with what he worked to create.
The Ballad, Version 1.0
Our original ballad was in four parts, with five framed pictures per, all hung down a wall with a flowery wallpaper. I enjoy looking back at these pieces now because they show just how much revisions have affected the story. The character’s names were once Eleanor and Rob (a nod to my grandparents), the illustrations more directly reflect the text here, and the meter isn’t great, despite some fun turns of phrase.
Taking this ballad and animating it was a simpler process than the Gingerbread Man’s Last Stand, as I set out to capture the feeling of the original ballad, rather than transform it entirely into a cartoon. I recreated the scrolling look and feel, though I did add cat wallpaper, which, while a little on the nose, was too delightful to pass up.
Additionally, the first cut had the frames going down, one after another… but I realized (with some wifely help) that there aren’t too many homes with the space to display 20 frames vertically. I made the proper adjustments, and the piece is all the better for it.
It’s been edifying to be able to practice with such charming characters (it certainly makes my efforts look more impressive than they actually are) as I get a better handle on the functionalities of the Adobe suite. For better or worse, none of the other original ballads have nearly as much artwork as these two, and later ballad-related collaborations and commissions resulted in four or five pieces of art, which, while they help to capture the tone, are not sufficient for a four-minute video. Going forward, I’ll be writing brand new stories and commissioning illustrations from new artists.
In several ways, this summer has felt like a reboot, both in the “reusing old source material” way and a “getting back to basics” way. As I venture ever further into writing for kids, animation, and storytelling, I love that this project has become my own personal Giving Tree, one that continues to nurture and provide as I grow.
A week ago, I suggested to Eric that we animate one of his daily MONOVLOG monologues. He agreed with enthusiasm, I wrote out a short piece, we settled on a look, and off I went. One week later, here we are: the premiere of Player 2!
Overall, I am pleased with how Player 2 turned out – the chiptune music underneath it is charming and emotional, the pixel artist who transformed Eric into a character did a great job, and the backgrounds give it a nice vibe.
Any faults in the piece are my own; the most glaring is that I did not execute the walk cycles for either character as well as I should have. I’m still learning the ins and outs of Adobe Animate, so I justified not obsessing over the walk cycles by telling myself the other components – the visuals, the story, the backgrounds – would be more impactful to the overall piece. Which is true, given the retro video game theme, but it’s also an excuse. For the next animation, I need to push myself.
For Eric’s MONOVLOG project, collaboration was the key. The idea for this monolog in particular came from a recent visit to a local arcade (why are old video games so fun for a few minutes, and then so disappointing right after? The nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be…), and I set out to see what I could do visually to recreate that feeling.
As an Adobe Creative Cloud user, I get access to 10 Adobe Stock images each month. The other small projects I worked on in June didn’t necessitate much additional art, so with a week left, I still had eight images to burn. I looked for buildings and cities that were illustrated with a flat design motif, and found more than enough to establish a tiny world.
Then it came time to think about the models. I am no artist, so I looked to Fiverr to find someone who might be able to turn Eric into a cartoon of some sort. I stumbled across Ash who makes pixel art, and he put together a front and side view of Eric, as well as Eric’s Player 2, for a great price, plus he included several expressions, and the models broken apart. Without going into the details of animation software, just know it’s much easier to animate the models when they’re broken apart ahead of time.
Finally, the music. I’m very appreciative of Free Music Archives’ Chiptune selection which is a blast to scroll through and sample. For whatever reason, whether nostalgia or something else, I find the chirpy glitchy genre hits me just right, and it fit the video game aesthetic of Player 2 perfectly.
With the characters, backgrounds, and music set, I knew I could create a world that resembled an old arcade game.
Or rather, I knew I could create the world given the art that others had created. Without them, this piece wouldn’t have been possible, but interestingly, only half of ‘them’ know they’re involved in the piece. With that, it’s worthwhile to note the difference between active and passive collaborators.
Eric, Ash and I were all actively collaborating – requesting, editing, revising, giving and taking feedback. From that communication came improvements and enhancements. Still, I view the background illustrators and chiptune musicians as collaborators, too, even if we weren’t in contact, because even though ours was a more passive collaboration, their impact on the final piece is just as substantial.
As I continue to make projects of different sorts, my own abilities and weaknesses come into sharper focus. Some, like animation, are ones I want to improve, as they help guide the project and put the pieces in place. Others, like illustration and music, are fascinating and fun and I’m happy to mess around with, but I’m such a novice that I feel lucky to have access to more accomplished creators. Working with them, both actively and passively, is always the right move.
More and more I realize that collaborators are the compound interest of creativity. Over the length of a project, and the length of one’s career, collaboration and creativity build on top of each other in increasingly impactful ways.
Ideas are cheap, so when we trade and exchange and collaborate and innovate and create together, we’re all the better for it.
After 12 years of revisions, three artist collaborations, lost luggage and murder, the Gingerbread Man’s Last Stand is illustrated, animated, narrated, and done.
For 12 years, I have been working on this story about the Gingerbread Man. For a so-called Last Stand, that’s a pretty long time.
In taking a moment to think about that journey, and after leafing through the e-mails documenting it, I want to share with you the story behind the story of the above animation.
In July of 2005, while working with a cartoonist on a short story I wrote about a rampaging sheep named Clarence, I soft-pitched him an idea I was working on…
I’m in the middle of a, about 20 verse ballad about “The Untimely Fall of the Gingerbread Man”… where revenge is exacted by several other kitchen characters upon him for being too successful.
– 16-year-old Alex
A few days after this e-mail, I let the cartoonist know that the story had “been edited about three times now, and I think it’s almost complete.”
(Attention, future collaborators: ‘almost complete’ is Alexspeak for ‘only 12 years left!’)
Boy, a lot can happen in 12 years. Given the tragedies and traumas that afflicted the production process of The Gingerbread Man’s Last Stand, I began to sympathize with the evil cookies… right when I felt like I’d gotten my way, something would come back and derail the plan.
In August of 2005, it was set to be illustrated by an Irish guy I’d met online. I received an e-mail update that his cousin had been ‘stabbed and killed’ and from that point on, his priorities shifted away from colorful cartoons.
In June of 2007, my friend Rachael embarked on the illustration journey. Over the next nine months, she sketched, and illustrated, and then painted Gingerbread with watercolors. In this precious time before smartphones became ubiquitous, she didn’t take any progress pictures. Then, she was flying back to LA with the paintings in her luggage when… they airlines lost her luggage, and the paintings.
Then, in January of 2009, I met Josh while interning at Nickelodeon. In 2010 we got together, tossed some ideas back and forth on how to collaborate, and The Untimely Fall of the Gingerbread Man was given another life. In September of 2010, we had ourselves an illustrated ballad. But, as was the case so far, things did not go as well as expected.
We kept refining the ballad and futzing with the proper way to show it to the world. At one point, we released a page at a time like a serialized webcomic. Then, I built a website where the ballad ‘hung’ on a fridge, in five parts.
By September of 2011, I had renamed the story The Gingerbread Man’s Last Stand and it was part of a larger series called Fantastic Ballads, which were fantastical rhyming stories that I wrote and Josh illustrated. As an aside, this was an energizing time in my life, as we’d meet regularly to talk about story, create together, give each other feedback, and push each other. I’m not sure I’ve tapped into that same level of creative fulfillment since.
Then came the disagreements: about how much time we should be expected to pour into this, what we wanted to get out of this, and how we should move forward. After two finished ballads, we decided to end the partnership.
Still, I kept writing them. Time past. I would occasionally repurpose the ballads, like I did in the spring of 2014, when I wrote a weekly story and my friends narrated them. Though intended to be a podcast, I stuck it up on SoundCloud. I knew they were more fun to hear read aloud than to just be read online, and felt I was onto something, but the pace of writing those weekly stories while working at a late-night show wore me down.
Around that time, a coworker suggested it’d be easy for him to animate the illustrations, though his offer came as our show got the axe. I never followed up on it.
I kept writing. Occasionally, I’d commission an artist to do a few illustrations per ballad. The four or five pieces of art were not enough to complete the ballad, but they did help to give a sense of the characters and the story (those live at Fantastic Ballads). Now I knew the stories were more fun with art and they were more fun with narration… I just didn’t put the two together.
Maybe I thought it wasn’t possible to do, or that I couldn’t figure it out. Whatever the case may be, I didn’t pursue it.
Until this summer. With the time I have off in between talk show seasons, I decided to learn an animation software, instead of waiting for someone else to offer up their time and skill. Taking Josh’s gorgeous cookie cartoons, I dragged them through Adobe Photoshop, Animate and Premiere, until I had pieced together the animation you see above.
Giving this cookie chase a new lease on life was important to me because of how deeply I care for animation. It’s a medium I’ve always loved, and studied, and enjoyed. Seeing the cookies dance and cavort, as herky-jerky as the finished product may be, is endlessly delightful. While I won’t say all 12 years of waiting to see this story come to fruition have fueled me with that same delight, it must have been necessary. Surely the story has benefitted from the revisions (though I did feel like George Lucas at some point, thinking I should just leave it alone).
So, the Gingerbread Man’s Last Stand is finally done. It’s in the format that best suits it (until I figure out VR!!!). Now, I can move forward. Just like Ginger is left to Rest in Pieces, I can let the Gingerbread story rest. Other stories are coming, along with other illustrations. I’m glad I hung onto this story for so long; I’m also glad to be moving on from it.
For those of you who’ve been watching this since the beginning, I thank you for your patience and support. If this is your first time seeing or hearing about the Gingerbread Man’s Last Stand, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. I owe this story a lot. It’s the story that comes to mind when I think back to identifying as a writer. To know that it had merits and qualities worth salvaging, revising, and embellishing on throughout the years is frankly astonishing.
And to Josh, without whom this would not have been possible, I am endlessly appreciative. You’ve seen me at my worst, and you still delivered the goodies.
While this picture shows me running in the race, I wasn’t a registered runner. Instead, I was running alongside Rebecca, above in pink, as she knocked another marathon off of her ‘7 marathons on 7 continents’ challenge. We’d met the day before in line for Christ the Redeemer (or rather, she allowed us to cut the line and join her), and when she mentioned that she’d be doing a marathon the next day, I offered to tag along.
My own willingness to run surprised me, as just four months before, I had been sitting in a coffee shop in Pasadena, hiding from the rain, and as far removed as I could get from the running of the 2011 Los Angeles Marathon. I had been hurt training for it (though in retrospect, running 40 miles a week while sleeping three hours each weeknight wasn’t really laying the groundwork for success), and still felt hurt that I couldn’t be a part of it – especially because it was raining. Who doesn’t love running in the rain!? I’m sure I even called my family at one point during that angst-ridden winter and declared myself unfit to ever run a marathon, and I would never, ever try again.
Yet, here I was, in Brazil, offering to run a marathon, or at least, part of one. I had kept running after professing my disinterest in marathons. Maybe that consistency emboldened me. Maybe it was the possibility of Adventure. Whatever it was, she took me up on the offer, and we made a plan to meet around Mile 9, and jog together to the finish. That morning, my friend Chris and I positioned ourselves in wait, and waited.
And, 30 minutes or so after we expected her, I ran upstream to find her. I found her around Mile 5, walk-running through a tweaked leg injury. Together, we made it along the rest of the course (including Mile 22, better known at the Copacabana Beach), and found Chris at the end, chasing a beer he’d just had with an ice cream bar. I stepped off the course after a total of about 25 miles, and Chris and I cheered her to the finish line.
Despite the spontaneous joy of the Rio race, I don’t have a great relationship with marathons. My record of completing the ones I sign up for is spotty. I’ve signed up for nine. The next one, this July in Santa Barbara, would be the eighth of those. The ninth is later this summer in Colorado.
I’ve completed three.
The most recent three that I didn’t complete – Catalina, Tamalpa Headlands, and Surfer’s Point – came at the tail end of busy periods in television. I convinced myself while signing up for each one that this race would be different, my schedule more forgiving, or, at the very least, that my scheduling skills were more refined. The results, and the DNSs (Did Not Starts), say otherwise.
Like LeBron’s finals record, my marathon appearance record is about to be 3-5 (as I’ve downgraded my July race to the half-marathon). Laying it out like that makes it harder to identify as a marathoner, while also making it far too easy to embrace being a runner, with the hope that each new race will bring with it a better outcome.
That optimism, the desire to keep going against solid evidence against my ability to train for and race long distances, often clouds my better judgment, as I can’t dispense with the foolhardy idea that I can do everything while sacrificing nothing.
Still, I remain hopeful. I’m scaling back the marathon ambitions for the next few months, allowing my body to heal over more manageable miles, and striving for consistency.
After all, it was that consistency that put me in a position to say yes to an impromptu marathon before. Maybe that’s the evidence worth looking at.
Here is an idea for our rollicking, roiling, politically aggravating times: an incubator designed to develop delightful businesses.
These businesses, products and projects would have in common a positive mission and a plan to become self-sustaining, because while one-off delights are fine and dandy, it’s the sustaining, evolving delights that will make our world a better place to be.
Let’s call it… the Grincubator.
Now, why place such a high premium on delight?
The raison d’être of any product should be delighting the customer. The faster a product achieves this goal, the sooner it embeds itself into a user’s work flow, creates a sticky consumer experience and makes it hard for the customer to walk away.
The moment when a user is delighted for the first time directly maps to when that person could be considered likely to convert into an engaged customer. Engagement is that point when the user has bought into the value proposition of the product and adopts it as a means to solving his or her problems.
Delight causes users to be transformed into a company’s forward-marketing team. Fueled by euphoria, these users talk about the product to friends and family and on social media and their thoughts are circulated across their networks.
Maybe you have the next fidget spinner. Maybe you have the next cheap fare flight finder. Maybe your 3D-printed ceramic coffee mug monthly box delivery service is one promotional video away from a Kickstarter.
To apply for a spot in the Grincubator, we’ll ask for a 2-minute video explaining your delightful idea, its current stage, and what 12 weeks of focused attention could do for developing it.
Over a 12-week part-time program, 12 teams would work to develop their MDP – their Minimum Delightful Product – and present at the end of each month to show their potential, their progress, and finally, their MDP.
Over those three months, each team gets $5,000 and an industry mentor. At the same time that they’re developing their own idea, they’re expected to contribute, critique, and help out with their fellow Grinners. While it’s not enough money to live on, it should be enough to hire freelancers and designers, or front a small digital ad buy.
As a bonus, each team gets weekly access to a rotating group of award-winning creatives from across a wide range of industries. Then, at the end of 12 weeks, we host a live event where our creatives, board members, and investors listen to the pitches for new companies and products.
Some, blown away and smiling at the innovation that’s taken place, will undoubtedly invest. We’ll celebrate their achievement, and await the next crop at the Grincubator to see what they’ve got up their sleeves.
Now, this is whole idea is more than a little far-fetched. For one, where would the funding come from? Either we go the route of investors, and take a tiny portion of each company who enters into the Grincubator, or we find a corporate sponsor, one willing to front $75,000 every three months to be associated with delight, merriment, and creativity. Whether it’s a “presented by” sort of arrangement, or we, like the good content creators we are, endeavor to create a stream of interviews, videos, updates and more about each of our cohorts, to keep the sponsor’s name present, remains to be decided.
And secondly, and perhaps more fundamentally, is a delightful mission enough to sustain regular entries and interest? Are there enough economically viable ideas that could be delight-heavy?
What I do know is that sincerity, effort, and collaboration can take us all much further than we can go on our own, so why not add a sprinkling of delight to the mix? If we have to be the change we want to see in the world, then let’s make a space for more delightful products, projects, and businesses.
“Ideas on Fridays” is a weekly effort to test, flesh out, and/or purge ideas from my brain. If you want to use one of these ideas – or collaborate on one – please get in touch.