Welcome back readers! We return with a creator spotlight, this time one for independent writers looking to get published for the first time. I interviewed Lucas Kok, artist and Seattlite, who recently finished his first children's book, Taima the Seahawk. For writers who don't have an agent or an established network in the literature scene, getting your work out there isn't a simple task. Lucas is taking the indie path of self-funding his book through GoFundMe while working with a boutique publisher. Read on to find out what the journey has been like!
A summary of Taima the Seahawk:
We follow Taima's journey from its very beginning: his hatching at sea in a thunderstorm. He is scooped up and fed fish by the kind folk of Seattle. To pay back the people of his beautiful adopted city, he takes on the role of its watchful protector, swooping down from his nest atop the Needle to help the citizens and creatures in need below. When he discovers that there is a football team in town--fresh off a crushing loss in their first Super Bowl--which call themselves Seahawks as well, he knows that it must be he who teaches them what it means to be a Seahawk. He trains them to fly higher, see sharper, and fight stronger. He unites them and incites them and leads them into every game, including the Super Bowl, where they show the world the power and determination of a Seahawk.
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Lucas P. Kok and I live in Seattle, a city of which I am a huge fan, particularly when it comes to its sports franchises. I am a painter, illustrator and, apparently, a writer.
What inspired you to make a children's book?
I tacked on an English minor to my art degree from Whitworth University, hoping that a refined sense of storytelling would help me as an illustrator of graphic novels, which I had been sure for all my nerdy life was what field I needed to get myself into. But then I started my job as a pre-school and kindergarten art teacher, and quickly realized how perfect a fit children's literature is for me. I started reading picture books to my kids every day and got lost every time in the storytelling. I would see their little faces enraptured by the plot and the pictures and I found that I had the ability and the desire to create my own stories that they would love the same way.
I came to this conclusion without a specific story in mind. With each story I read to my students, I would consider whether I could write one like it: "Should I write about pirates?" "Could I make an EVEN BETTER dinosaur story than this?" "Girls like princesses, right? There's a solid market there." But no. I found for a story to unfold naturally, it has to be my own and something I am wholly passionate about (although I reaaaally like dinosaurs). Since I was as young as my students are, I have been a hopelessly devoted Seattle sports fan. Griffey and The Glove adorned my walls for all the years of my growing up in the Seattle area, and I consider Super Bowl XLVIII to be the happiest day of my life (though I explained to my wife immediately on declaring such that she is the best thing to happen to me). I know that there are countless people in the area who feel the same way about the Hawks and their incredible Super Bowl season. And I knew that I could tell the story of that year with a unique passion and artistry. I chose Taima, the live hawk that leads the team's charge into every home game, as the vessel of the story because he is an awe-inspiring presence at CenturyLink Field and I have always adored animals, as well as the choice of a Seahawk, so fierce and far-seeing, for Seattle's mascot.
How did you go about finding a vehicle for publishing your book?
I sent the story to a few well-established local publishers, assuming they shared my Seahawks fandom and hoping it would be too close to their hearts to pass on. But alas, they passed. I had no idea how to strike a deal with a publisher as a first-time author and was feeling rather directionless after months of rejections. Then I saw one of my students reading a book he had brought to school called "Let's Go, Seahawks!" It heavily featured Blitz, the costumed Seahawk mascot and was published by a company called Mascot Books. I looked them up and saw they had dozens of stories about team mascots from all sorts of leagues, both professional and collegiate. They had a tab on their website for any ol' citizen to submit their story idea. So I sent them the whole manuscript, all 3,000 words of it. They got back to me right away and said they were excited about the idea wanted to work with me. They have made the big task of getting published for the first time manageable and comprehensible and they are quite a perfect fit for this project; they are called "Mascot Books," for goodness' sake!
I have to fund the publication process myself, which will be quite the task, but that leaves the creative control, copyrights to my story and almost all of its profits in my hands, which is very exciting. I feel great about finding the capital through GoFundMe, which I chose because of its straightforward layout and its track record of heavy traffic and success. Friends and family and people I've never even met are sharing word of this book and contributing to it financially. It has all been very moving and motivating.
What's it like putting out an unofficial creation based on a licensed property?
In the early stages of this book's creation, I only ever pictured it as something endorsed and licensed by the Seahawks. I wanted their name and logo plastered on it and I wanted it sold in their team stores and I wanted them to tell me I did a good job. I wanted to be in business with my favorite team and have their support in marketing and promotion. I will admit that I felt that if I had the Seahawks organization working on this with me, then I would be part of said organization and a member of the Seahawks family. Maybe I'll meet all the players, I thought. Maybe all the Northwest will fall in love with this story and I'll raise the 12 flag at the home opener. Who knows, maybe I'll get a Super Bowl ring for the next one they win! A man can dream.
Mascot reached out to the Seahawks on my behalf, but we did not hear a response and my publisher and I concluded that doing an unlicensed biography of Taima is our best route. Contrary to my presuppositions, I am still granted a whole lot of freedom in using the logo and name of the Seahawks. So don't worry, 12s; the Hawks will be depicted in all their college navy and action green glory. The copyrights to my story will remain mine, so the organization could always swoop in and try to get in on the action. We shall see. Regardless, the book will be everything a Hawks fan could want in a picture book.
Do you have any advice to give other indie creators looking to self-publish?
Everything about this process--the tone of the story, the aesthetic, the words and references to Seahawks happenings and history--came naturally and without much searching, as I have dedicated so much of my time and brain space to the Seattle Seahawks. My love for the Hawks can be heard in every rhyme and seen in every drawing. My fellow creatives hardly need to be reminded to follow their heart, but I feel a need to say it. I want to look at and read art that discusses things close to the artist's heart, whatever the media or message. If you love dinosaurs or princesses or pirates or sloths or whatever, let that be what you make your children's book or sculpture or short film about. I'd rather watch a short film about sloths by someone who reaaaally loves sloths than experience something by anyone simply trying to find a niche they can capitalize on. Make something you love and the rest--the right publisher, for example--will find their way to you.
Lastly, but most importantly, if your pet could talk, what would they say?
My cat, Maggie May, is actually the world's most perfect and adorable kitty, so whatever she might say would be more profoundly sweet than my brain can even fabricate. If people were as good at being people as my daughter is at being a kitty, then this world would be a much lovelier place.
Lucas is still funding Taima the Seahawk on GoFundMe- so go help him reach his goal!
Follow Lucas Kok online:
The Creator Spotlight segment is not just about our journey to collect pictures of everyone's pets- we want to celebrate artists of all kinds who are making it on their own! Nominate an indie creator for a Creator Spotlight either in the comments, or by notifying us through the Contact page.