I first met Bob Eckstein through Fictionaut and it was curiosity at first sight, quickly making him my wedding planner for my virtual Facebook wedding. But he’s today’s subject for Fictionaut Five because he is the world’s only snowman expert, author of the popular book, The History of the Snowman and a cartoonist for The New Yorker. He not only appears on Facebook and Twitter (snowmanexpert) but is (or was) a regular in places like Reader’s Digest, Details, Time, Sports Illustrated, GQ, The Spectator, Barron’s, Spy, National Lampoon, Harvard Business Review, Village Voice, The New York Times and many others. He is also a renowned illustrator, interior designer and the only person I know with an iPhone app named after him.
Q (Meg Pokrass): The late great actress Ruth Gordon said, “Never give up. And never, under any circumstances, face the facts. She was speaking of the life a creative person. Do you agree?
Ruth Gordon said that? Wow. I do agree. Writing a novel is not a good business model and requires a reckless leap of faith. If it wasn’t for my wife, my book would have never gotten finished. After 6 years of research I started to doubt I had it in me as I began to feel the gravity of writing the first book about the history of one of man’s oldest art forms. I really psyched myself out and only until I stopped facing the facts-that so much was riding on this (accounting for 7 years of work) did I get it done. Being creative truly does require to take on child-like attributes including discarding life’s real demands.
Just thought of something. That could also apply to someone not facing the facts that they suck. How else do you explain how so many crappy books got finished?
What is new in your world? A turbulent world for writers and cartoonists, I might add!
I’ve become a New Yorker cartoonist which has been an all consuming thing. I would have finished my next book by now if I wasn’t working what seems like around the clock trying to get in that publication.
How did this (incredible!) New Yorker cartoonist status come about?
Here is how I ended up a New Yorker cartoonist, something that had previously seemed impossible. Bear with me here, this was a round-about journey!
I finished my book The History of the Snowman, and after seven years, I decided it would be cool to include an intermission in the middle of my book!
I think my editors thought I was nuts and tried talking me out of it. In the end I convinced them to let me have my intermission-a collection of the world’s funniest snowman cartoons.
But it was to me to pay for the rights of the artwork (as well as the photography and quotes peppered throughout the non-fiction book). I had spent about $3,000 at the Cartoonbank for the use of a dozen New Yorker cartoons.
One of the cartoonists, a hero of mine and one of the greatest living cartoonists, Sam Gross invited me to their famous Tuesday lunch of my birthday. There I meet many fabulous New Yorker contributors and I had a great time. Afterwards I asked how I could get in on that action and it was explained to me how to submit work. I was a never really a cartoonist before that-I’d do cartoons for Spy and National Lampoon and stuff but I was mostly writing jokes-
Anyhoo, I went in the next week with ten sketches and miracles of miracles I get in. Someone said getting in on first try is unheard of. But then it was over a full year before I got in again. I was about to quit.
Wow. And in the meantime, what about your persona as “Snowman Expert”?
On the side I did a book tour and did a lot of talks as a snowman expert. My agent and publisher demonstrated how important it was to understand it’s not enough to be just a writer if I was going to sell books but become an expert and a speaker. That scared me, as I have stage fright. I did two open mics to get over it and then started doing book events. My first was at the Barnes & Noble Lincoln Center in NYC and over a couple of hundred showed up. Had no idea it would be all downhill from there including a book signing in a blizzard up North where not one single person showed up. But now – I really know the business inside and out.
This year I did over 60 TV and radio interviews, doing the Good Morning America thing, People magazine, etc. The reason I feel like a know it all is because a close friend of mine writes on the subject and a couple of my neighbors are executives at a couple of big houses (although somehow they are not buyers of my books or anything).
How have sales been? It’s a rough time, we all know that.
For the past two years I’ve been trying to turn the book into a TV movie. It’s been a rocky start. Initially a fan of the book, Monty Python’s Michael Palin was who I wanted to star in the movie. But we lost funding-the investors simply went bankrupt at the stock crash.
When we started over I rewrote the script to produce a slight different show, actually a more expensive, elaborate movie. We have some name actors and NPR’s Mo Rocca would star it in if we do manage to pull this off. Filming is supposed to start in Europe in January.
How has this frenetic pace effected your writing life?
Well, of course there’s not enough hours in the day but we try to keep moving forward. I’m watching less TV and try to eliminate distractions. Right now I’m writing a diary in the form of a graphic novel. Set in 1850 it’s based on the real circumstances of the Queen of England offering a fortune to find the missing John Franklin who was lost in the North Pole searching for the Northwest Passage. Sailors were ill-prepared for the journey because many actually believed mild climates awaited them up North. The book is filled with a lot tragedy, death and stuff. It’s a comedy.
To get in the mood, I gutted out my attic and redid the space as a captain’s quarters on an old ship. It now really feels like your inside a ship. My computer and printer and stuff was all refitted into old crates. The door to the office has a porthole. MacLife recently featured the room. I hope the book lives up to the buzz the office is getting.
Well, of course there’s not enough hours in the day but we try to keep moving forward. I’m watching less TV and try to eliminate distractions. Right now I’m writing a diary…”