Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Vlog Post with Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson

Photo Content from Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr


Combining Robbi’s illustrations and Matthew’s words, we run two small presses— Idiots’Books (illustrated picture books for adults) and Bobbledy Books, (a picture book and music club for kids). Together, we have published more than 60 volumes, including titles with MacmillanChronicle Books and LB Kids. We speak, teach, and run workshops on collaboration and creative entrepreneurship (with appearances at TEDx, Mom 2.0,Alt Summit, and ICON7). And we blog about our ongoing adventures in creative mishap.

ROBBI BEHR is an illustrator/print maker/commercial salmon fisherwoman who earned a BA from Williams College and an MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design. When she is not drawing stuff or eating ice cream or watching sappy late-90s chick movies, she is, in all likelihood, fast asleep.

MATTHEW SWANSON is a writer/art director/blues harmonica player who has so far failed in every attempt to be swashbuckling. He managed to secure a BA from Williams but was summarily rejected from every MFA program to which he applied—thus emboldening Robbi to remind him almost daily that he is a master of nothing.

Age Range: 8 - 12 years
Grade Level: 3 - 7
Series: The Real McCoys (Book 1)
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Imprint (November 7, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250098521
ISBN-13: 978-1250098528


"Readers will breeze through this ingenious combination of text and art, eager for Moxie and Milton’s next case." —School Library Journal, starred review

"Swanson’s witty text is enhanced exponentially by Behr’s bold, original artwork to create a uniquely told whodunit with wide appeal ... An exceptional book." —Booklist, starred review

"An exceptional middle-grade read packed with giggles for young sleuths who love to explore a little off the beaten path." —Kirkus Reviews

"This clever, funny, delightful book is just what this crazy world needs. The surprising and inventive interaction between text and illustration shows that two brains are, indeed, better than one--especially when they belong to Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr." —Andrea Beaty, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Ada Twist Scientist


Matthew: Hello. I am Matthew Swanson. I wrote The Real McCoys.

Robbi: I am Robbi Behr. I did the illustrations.

Matthew: In full disclosure, we are married and have four kids.

Robbi: TMI! Why do they need to know that?

Matthew: It will give them context for the many jokes you will surely make at my expense.

Robbi: Hm. That’s a pretty good point, actually.

Matthew: Back to this post: We are here to tell these people ten facts about our book.

Robbi: To be clear, we have been ASKED to tell them ten facts. If it had been left it to us, we probably would have stopped at 3 or 5 or 7. But before we get to the facts, we should probably give you the basic background info about the book. The “elevator speech,” if you will.

Matthew: I can do that. I am the words guy, after all. The Real McCoys is a densely illustrated middle grade book about an exuberant fourth grade detective named Moxie McCoy and her cautious little brother Milton. The two are utter opposites who must join forces to catch the crook and save the day when the school’s beloved mascot is stolen.

Robbi: Well done. See, if you leave the elevator speeches to me, we would get stuck in the elevator for an hour, and everyone would get angry and dehydrated. Good work, Matthew.

Matthew: Onward to the TEN FACTS!

Robbi: That is so many. We’d better get started.


Matthew: The book’s protagonist, Moxie McCoy, is named after Moxie, one of the first mass-produced soft drinks in the US.

Robbi: It’s horrible.

Matthew: I think you mean delicious.

Robbi: No no. I’m pretty sure I meant horrible.

Matthew: It originated in 1876 as a patent medicine called “Moxie Nerve Food.”

Robbi: Anything called “Nerve Food” cannot be delicious.

Matthew: Moxie succeeded in spite of its interesting and delicious flavor because of a really great ad campaign.

Robbi: Which features a confident and dapper man with perfect hair.

Matthew: The campaign was so effective that eventually the name Moxie eventually became its own word that means “courage, daring, or spirit.”

Robbi: In our book, Moxie’s mom gives Moxie’s dad a sip of Moxie the drink as a test on their first date.

Matthew: Basically, Moxie’s mom knows that if he liked it, he would like her, because she (Moxie’s mom) was, like the drink, “a perfect blend of bitter and sweet.”

Robbi: Spoiler alert—against all odds, Moxie’s dad it. Thank goodness, because otherwise this book would have been over before it even started.


Robbi: This is true. There are about 1,000 illustrations in this book. If I had done them by hand, I’d still be working on chapter three. Instead, I use a tablet so I can draw directly into Photoshop, which makes things go much faster.

Matthew: But even though all the art is digitally rendered, every page contains elements that started as actual paintings.

Robbi: This is also true. I used scanned watercolor textures for all the solid shapes and fills, so it has a nice organic feel to it.

Matthew: Kind of like the produce aisle at Whole Foods.


Matthew: When I first sat down to write this book, it was narrated by an all-knowing, wise, and snappy adult who was telling the story of a fourth grade boy and his precocious little sister. But I didn’t get very far into the process before I realized that Daniel Handler had already done this—and way better than I would ever be able to—and that I’d have more luck coming up with my own approach. And so I shifted the voice so that the boy himself was the narrator, and something interesting started to emerge. I put together a few chapters and sent them to our agent.

Robbi: She told us that she loved the voice and the story but suggested that it might work better if the narrator were a girl and the precocious little sibling was a boy.

Matthew: I don’t know why, but that subtle shift made all the difference. I went home from that meeting and everything felt just right.

Robbi: I know exactly why. Deep down inside, Matthew is a ten-year old girl.

Matthew: I cannot deny it.


Matthew: As soon as my narrator stopped being a he, she had SO MUCH to say. I kept waking up at 3:00am with her voice shouting in my head. She was shouting so loud, there was no way I could sleep, so I began staggering over to my desk at 3:00am each morning and writing it down. The conscious part of my brain was not yet awake at that hour, so I had the strange sensation of not really writing this book, but instead being the person who transcribed as well as he could while my narrator shouted.

Robbi: For those of you who (like me) are always annoyed when authors say that their characters “just spoke to them” as if they were real people and not just figments of their imaginations, I will vouch for the fact that Matthew would frequently jump up in the middle of the night and go start writing because he was “hearing another part of the story.” While I don’t generally support crazy, nocturnal, “listen-to-the-voices-in-your-head” behavior, it turns out it was a pretty effective way to write a book, so who am I to argue?


Matthew: Yes. In the first draft of this book, the narrator was named Maggie and her little brother was Herman. At the time, it seemed impossible that their names would ever be anything else. I also didn’t know what the character looked like because Robbi hadn’t done any sketches yet. In my head, the original Maggie didn’t look anything like the Moxie you created.

Robbi: Interesting. She always looked in my head like she looks on the page, whether she was named Maggie or Moxie. But I DO think that when we renamed her Moxie, she became a little bit more wild-eyed and goofy. Some of Moxie’s gestures (like fake-clawing at her cheeks in frustration while her eyes bug out) are definitely ones that came along with the sassy name.


Matthew: It’s true. It wasn’t the plan. Our daughter was only in first grade three years ago when my narrator started shouting at me in the night. But coincidence has it that our daughter is also a fourth grader.

Robbi: People are always asking if Moxie was modeled after Alden.

Matthew: But the answer is a hard no. If anyone, Moxie is me. Impetuous, headstrong, not terribly interested in details, and earnest as they come.

Robbi: Like I said, deep down, Matthew is a ten-year old girl.

Matthew: Right below the surface, actually.


Robbi: Is that really true?

Matthew: It’s true. I counted.

Robbi: I’m actually kind of disappointed. I’ve been telling people we’ve made 70 books together.

Matthew: You have been lying.

Robbi: Not lying. Just bad at math!

Matthew: I’m not sure if basic counting qualifies as math, but okay.

Robbi: You’ve got me there. THE POINT IS: Matthew and I made our first illustrated book together back in 2003 when I was putting together an illustration portfolio for my grad school application. I needed something to draw, so I illustrated Matthew’s strange little stories.

Matthew: Almost by accident, a book happened. It was the most fun we’d ever had.

Robbi: So, fast forward a few years. We started a small press called Idiots’Books (www.idiotsbooks.com) that publishes what we like to call “odd, commercially nonviable picture books for adults.”

Matthew: They were all satire or social commentary. Over the course of a decade, we published 45 books in that series and twenty more through our second small press, Bobbledy Books (www.bobbledybooks.com), which puts out picture books and music for kids.

Robbi: Along the way, we met Erin Stein, an editor at Macmillan, who liked our stuff and asked if we might want to try making some books with her.

Matthew: So we did a couple of picture books, Babies Ruin Everything and Everywhere, Wonder and now are extremely excited to get the chance to make The Real McCoys.

Robbi: Matthew’s not kidding. He cried like a baby on the morning the book came out.

Matthew: A really happy baby.


Robbi: Sigh. This is true. As jam-packed with illustrations as this book is, I wanted there to be EVEN MORE.

Matthew: We did a few sample illustrated layouts for the pitch to our editor. When we projected how many pages it would take to do the entire book in that style, it was going to be a 450-page book.

Robbi: I was very excited to make a delicious fat book with SO MANY ILLUSTRATIONS and SO MANY PAGES. It was going to be EPIC.

Matthew: But when we told our editor about the 450 pages, she laughed. And then when she realized weren’t kidding, she said no way.

Robbi: She said that a book that long would literally be too heavy for kids to pick up. In response, I wrote to her, “TELL THOSE PANTYWAISTS TO BUCK UP! NO ONE EVER GOT AHEAD IN THIS WORLD WITHOUT HAVING TO PICK UP A HEAVY BOOK!” Turns out, that was not a winning argument. I was disappointed, but I get it.

Matthew: I think the finished book is satisfyingly thick but not unwieldy.

Robbi: It is. But a girl can still dream.

Matthew: What else?


Robbi: This is actually true. Which is to say, we are commercial salmon fishermen. Not that we wrote and illustrated the book and then handed it off to a bunch of salmon fishermen to print and bind.

Matthew: Robbi’s family runs a commercial salmon fishing operation on the Alaskan tundra. She’s been going up there every summer since she was 18 months old. Be warned—one of the requirements for marrying Robbi is that once a year you strap on a pair of rubber waders and pull fish out of the ocean.

Robbi: Strangely enough, so far Matthew is the only person who has been interested in attempting to complete the requirements. So, if there are any other takers out there, please feel free to sign up. To be fair, Matthew is actually a decent fisherman, so your competition is, well, I won’t say “fierce” – but maybe slightly tougher than he might seem at first glance.

Matthew: In full disclosure, when the children came along, I was promoted from fisherman to tundra nanny. Someone has to watch the kids and make the meals and do the dishes and chase away the grizzly bears.

Robbi: Yes. Matthew is quite good at these things. In fact, “tundra nanny” is going to be added to the list of requirements for marrying Robbi, so please make note of that as well, future husbands.

Matthew: But back to the actual factoid: Robbi and I and all of our children fish commercially for salmon every summer in the cold waters of Bristol Bay.

Robbi: Wild Pacific sockeye. The best salmon in the world. High in omega-oils. Super healthy. Don’t fall for that fake farmed stuff that is full of steroids and hormones and antibiotics (I am obligated to say this as a card-carrying Bristol Bay Fisherman).

Matthew: Is your advertisement over?

Robbi: For now. Almost. If you’re interested, here is a blog post in which we detail the process of building a new 18x40-foot cabin in 16 days this past summer (http://robbiandmatthew.com/little-house-on-the-tundra/).

Matthew: NOW is it over?

Robbi: I suppose. Let’s move on.


Robbi: To a certain extent, it depends on your definition of excitement, but there are many features.

Matthew: Kids can check out Moxie’s glossary, full of definitions of words from book 1—and they can also send us words for Moxie to define and add to the dictionary.

Robbi: They can read a companion novel about Moxie’s idol, the world famous detective Annabelle Adams.

Matthew: Librarians and teachers can download a study guide.

Robbi: Parents can buy signed copies of our books. Schools can arrange for us to visit.

Matthew: The address is www.realmccoysbook.com.

Robbi: Nice subtle plug there.

Matthew: I feel like your plug for wild sockeye salmon and a new husband were much less subtle.

Robbi: I don’t know. If I come out of this with a new husband and a bunch of people buying wild salmon, I feel like I might not need to illustrate your books anymore.

Matthew: You know you love illustrating our books.

Robbi: Alright, fine. I totally do. Thanks for keeping it real.

Matthew: Was that a Real McCoys reference?

Robbi: It absolutely wasn’t.

Matthew: That’s ten things. I think we’re done.

Robbi: That was exhausting. I think I will take a nap. Or else I will stay up all night working on the illustrations for book 2. Yes. I think I’ll do that instead.

Matthew: And I will feed our far too many children.

To learn more about Robbi and Matthew, check out their site (www.robbiandmatthew.com) or follow the Robbi and Matthew page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/robbiandmatthew/)

Her name’s Moxie. Moxie McCoy.

Bold, opinionated, and haplessly self-confident, the world’s greatest fourth-grade detective faces her biggest challenge! When someone kidnaps beloved school mascot Eddie the Owl, Moxie is on the case—but she’s forced to fly solo now that her best friend (and crime-solving partner) has moved away.

Moxie must interview her classmates—both as potential new best friends and as possible suspects. She finds clues and points fingers but can’t save the owl on her own. Enter Moxie’s little brother, Milton. Quiet, cautious, and boring as a butter knife, he’s a good listener.

Can the Real McCoys form an unlikely alliance and solve the crime of the century?

Bursting with interactive illustrations on every page, Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr’s The Real McCoys delivers clever storytelling, laugh-out-loud humor, and heartwarming insight. This is the first book in a series.

You can purchase The Real McCoys at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ROBBI BEHR AND MATTHEW SWANSON for making this giveaway possible.
20 Winners will receive a Copy of THE REAL MCCOYS by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr.

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November 15th Wednesday CBY Book Club EXCERPT
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November 17th Friday The Avid Reader GUEST POST
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1 comment:

  1. My happiest memory was when my family took a vacation across country in our old Ford truck. It had one of those topper campers that fit on the bed of the truck. It was so much fun.