Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Matt Novak - the Disney animator who became a children's book author

Back in 1989 I spent a summer working at the newly built Disney MGM studios theme park in Orlando, Florida, which among other rides featured a tour of the "Magic of Disney Animation". The ride was real, in as much as the studio being toured actually made real films, such as Tummy Trouble, RollerCoaster Rabbit, and later Mulan. We called it the "goldfish bowl", since the visitors would watch us through the glass partition as we worked.

One of the very talented artists I met there was Matt Novak, who worked on many films including "Rescuers Down Under" and "Beauty and the Beast". Since leaving The Mouse he has built a successful career writing and illustrating children's books, winning awards and publishing dozens of titles. FLIP asked him a few questions about what it takes to make it in the competitive world of publishing.

FLIP: You worked at Disney in Florida for many years - then left to be an illustrator. What made you want to change tack?

Matt: Actually, I had a few children's books published before I started working for Disney. The time at Disney was great. Especially great was the opportunity to meet a LOT of funny and talented people such as you.  Unfortunately, I became way too busy on both fronts all at the same time. Too much book work (If there is such a thing as "Too much") and too many long weeks and hours at the Studio. I had to make a really tough decision in 1992. I've written and illustrated about 20 books since then and feel it was the right decision.

FLIP: What is your favourite book and why? 

Matt: It is hard to pick one of my books as a "Favorite". They're all kind of special to me in different ways. 

FLIP: How easy/difficult was it to get published for the first time?

Matt: It was remarkably easy for me. I don't like to tell this story around other writers because they mostly have stories that involve multiple rejections over the course of many years. I wrote my first book in college and sent it to one publisher who agreed to publish it. It was titled "Rolling" It got a favorable mention in the New York Times Book Review and quickly went out of print for lack of sales. I've subsequently had books with lots of rejections and earned my battle scars.

FLIP: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to get their work published?

Matt: One piece of advice: The New York Times Book Review doesn't necessarily translate into book sales. Another piece of advice. Just stick with it! There are a lot of people who have a book idea and give up after showing it to one or two editors. The people who succeed are those who develop thick skins.

FLIP: What can we look forward to next?

Matt: My next book "Little Robot" will appear in Fall of 2013. I'm also currently working on many new book ideas. Some are fleshed out and being shopped around by my agent. Others are in sketch form and others are germinating.

Finally, here's a picture of Matt from my personal archives, taken in 1989, at Disney MGM Studios. Back in the good ol' days.
Nice shirt!
Finally, purely for purposes of full disclosure and journalistic integrity, and not at all to embarrass Matt, here is a photo of him (and me) singing Karaoke at some long forgotten bar in Kissimmee. But I will spare both of our blushes by not revealing what we were singing - it's far too embarrassing.


 (Editor's note: You can buy Matt's books here at www.amazon.com. You can also read our interviews with other animation authors such as Tanya Fenton, author of 3 Silly Chickens, Vladimir Todorov, author of a new eBook, Stephan Franck, author of the graphic novel Silver, Sydney Padua, author of Lovelace and Babbage, and Tom Sito, author of the History of Computer Animation).

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