Dreams Coming True is a new Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT).
First, my favorite stuff: father of three girls and married to my wonderful wife, Anna, for 14 years. After growing up in California and Oregon, I moved to Issaquah, Washington, and founded a film production studio to help great nonprofits tell their stories.
My mission in life is to help people grow to become more of who they want to be. The path for accomplishing this isn’t always offering advice and speaking, though. Many times I’m merely hoping to entertain and perhaps earn the right to offer a bit of advice down the road.
Sometimes I figure out ways to help people and entertain them at the same time. That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about Isfits, my newest project.
When did this creative dream begin?
Most good ideas start as a bad idea. Isfits didn’t exactly start from a bad idea, but it certainly looks different today than it did when I first started working on it. I met an artist in the summer of 2012 who had a knack with creating great monsters. I had the idea of creating a children’s book that featured a cast of monsters, each one illustrating a certain type of bad behavior and the consequences that follow. The idea would be to teach kids what not to do by showing them what happens when you act a certain way.
After trying to work together on the project for a few months, it became clear that this artist and I weren’t going to be able to work together long-term, so I shelved the idea until I met another animator, Benji Todd, about three months later. Benji and I started working together on the concept, but my vision for it had changed. I thought it would be a ton of fun to spoof popular children’s and popular culture characters. I came up with the first set of 26 characters, one for each letter of the alphabet, and each would, like the monsters, illustrate some kind of bad behavior.
Benji and I worked together on the art, sketching the first Cinderella and Xarlie and Kat in the Sack in Starbucks around Seattle. The plan was to launch the characters as an alphabet book, then we could start releasing new books several times a year, one for each character.
We finished Cinderella Goes to the Potty first and started showing it around to get some live public feedback. One night my 13-year-old daughter had a friend spending the night, and they wanted me to tell them a ghost story based on Cinderella Goes to the Potty. So I sat down and typed out a 1000-word story as they were getting the s’mores ready around our patio fireplace.
The story turned out to be pretty fun, so I put it up on my blog and was blown away by the response. I realized that the kind of story I kept imagining for these characters wasn’t for children. It was for teenagers and adults.
Now, Isfits is a series of short stories with these full size, original art pieces. But it started as a monster book for children.
What makes your project stand out from the crowd?
Isfits is a series of postmodern fairytales for adults. It’s so hard to relate to a lot of fiction today. I don’t know about you, but I don’t share a lot in common with Thor or Edward from Twilight. And the world I live in is nothing like what I see in a lot of movies, music, and literature.
We’ve taken a ton of popular characters and put them in a dilapidated world of blissful brokenness that somehow makes us not only feel better about our own lives, but it’s also relatable. We poke fun at the darker sides of life. And maybe we give people permission to poke fun at the dark sides of their own lives.
What are the goals and intentions of this project?
The goals are to entertain. But there are also some other, more enduring benefits too. Based on the original vision, each character addresses some issue or plight of mankind in a lighthearted way. Sometimes it’s just for fun, like in the case of Cinderella Goes to the Potty where we’re offering some relief for parents going through potty training. But others, like Xarlie and the Xanthm Gum Factory, help us think about what we eat without making us feel like we’re getting beat over the head with a bushel of organic kale.
How does your project create community?
One of my favorite aspects of Isfits is the community I hope will grow from it. The public will have the opportunity of supporting characters, arguing for the merits of one cause over another, and helping to guide the production of future stories. The Isfits characters will be vying for support for their causes, and the characters who earn the most will get the chance to platform their cause in the next book, movie, music video, or whatever else we dream up.
We’re planning to leverage Kickstarter for some of our funding which is a great community tool and will help build that sense of connection to the project and to the supporting members.
Many have creative ideas but trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly . . . but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
I used to chase ideas like they were going out of style. I have a framed shadow box on my wall that is completely covered with business cards, all from real businesses I started over the course of a decade. I think that’s OK—as long as you learn to get through it. For me, part of my first decade of adulthood was learning who I was, discovering what I loved and was talented in, and gaining some confidence.
A sense of drive is required, though, to actually get projects done. At a certain point, we creatives have to settle down and finish some things, unless we want to be one of those people. You know the kind I’m talking about, the ones who are always talking and never doing. I wake up every day with a fear I won’t get done all the things I want to do. That’s what keeps me going. If you don’t have that, I honestly don’t know how to install that in someone. Drive has to come from within.
I do believe you can cultivate it inside yourself, but then again, it takes drive to cultivate something inside yourself. You’ve got to start somewhere. Might as well be today. 🙂
Describe the behind-the-scenes effort of your project. Where do the ideas come from? How many are involved in the process? Does each contributor have a specific role?
So far, there is only me and my partner, Benji Todd. We get together every week, sometimes more than once, to brainstorm ideas, scratch drawings on our notepads, and dream. I’m primarily responsible for coming up with most of the ideas, marketing, overseeing visual direction and character design, and writing the stories. Benji has contributed a ton of his own ideas to all of the above elements, but he also is primarily responsible for the finished artwork.
What’s been the hardest part about getting it off the ground?
Time. I think that’s almost always the hardest thing about anything in life. We live in an age where we can do almost anything without a ton of money. It’s free to publish a book on Kindle today. You don’t need a publisher. You don’t need a million-dollar marketing budget. But you do need time to get the dang thing done. It’s even harder when you’ve got a family, clients, friends, family, church, and a thousand other demands. But honestly, I think that struggle makes us better. I know it doesn’t feel like it in the moment, but it has to make us better. A lack of time makes us focus. It makes us become more efficient. Sometimes our best ideas come because we didn’t have a ton of time to goof off. I, personally, am thankful for the struggle.
What have you learned?
Creativity is work. And it’s fun. But it’s also work. You have to put in the time to come up with good things. Every once in a while, inspiration strikes. But you can’t rely on that muse because she’ll let you down 99% of the time. You have to keep at it, keep trying, keep coming up with new ideas, keep dreaming, keep pushing for something better. And then you have to know when to quit trying and to move on. Because we won’t ever be ready if we don’t know when it’s time to say we’re done.
Have there been any unexpected surprises?
Many of the characters are unexpected surprises. I keep sketching and jotting down notes and dreaming and then all of the sudden, it’s like I’ve met someone real. Once that happens, if I changed that character, it would feel like killing someone. They become alive in my mind. It’s like I get to meet someone new, and they’re a ton of fun to hang out with.
What are some ways you promote your project?
It’s all on www.justinblaney.com for now. We’re looking into writing some columns about the stories and releasing them on ebook as a serial. In the fall, we’ll do a Kickstarter to compile all the stories into a beautiful illustrated hardback.
Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you? Shocked by the amount of work marketing takes? Or pleasantly surprised?
Fortunately, my background is in sales and marketing so I feel like I have an advantage there. I feel terrible for other creatives I meet who struggle with the balance between marketing and inventing. I wish they didn’t have to, but today, it’s part of the job. Marketing takes a ton of time. It takes as much time as you have to give it. You have to learn to balance creating new stuff and marketing your old stuff. I think there are examples of lame things that do well because of great marketing, which gives me hope. Even if my stuff sucks, I might be able to do OK with some marketing. 🙂 Kidding aside, it’s important to have the best product you can before you spend a lot of time and money marketing. Your audience will thank you with referrals, which is the best marketing of all.
Any marketing mistakes you would avoid?
I tried to do everything in a silo for so long. That is definitely the hard way to go. Once I started building relationships with other creatives, bloggers, and my audience, I’ve had way more fun and been way more successful.
What social network has worked best for you?
I use Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads quite a bit. They are all so different and you can do well on any of them. I don’t think it really matters what social network you use. Just pick the one you enjoy, and you had better enjoy it because you’re going to be spending a lot of time on it, and go for it. I think choosing 1 to 3 is far better than doing 5 or 6.
What advice would you give someone else who has a creative dream like yours?
Go for it, but don’t pin all your hopes on achieving some idealized version of your dreams.
Don’t listen to the critics, and yet, learn to take constructive criticism.
Stay true to your vision, but be flexible and know when to change.
Work hard, but take time to rest and enjoy life.
Where do you see this project in five years?
On the moon. Oh, you don’t mean geographically? Isfits has a ton of growth opportunities hardwired into it. We’ve designed all the illustrations to be ready to go for creating animated movies and TV shows. We built merchandising into the mainframe. Each of the short stories is ready to be converted into a full-length novel. I can even see Isfits, the ride! Just kidding. Kind of.
Now that we’ve been behind the scenes with Isfits, where can we experience it?
I was hoping you’d ask that. But before I give you that link, below is a page where you can sign up to receive all the Isfits stories the nanosecond they’re published, and it’s completely free. Plus, I’m doing a $250 Amazon giveaway just for signing up. Why would I give away all those stories for free and a $250 gift card? Because I want to sell you cheap crap from my garage on eBay. Kidding. Kind of.
You can unsubscribe anytime. And I won’t give your email to anyone. Not even your mom.
And here’s a direct link to the introduction and first story: Cinderella Goes to the Potty.
Thank you for sharing your dreams and advice with my blog readers! Blessings to you on this venture.
About Justin Blaney
#1 bestselling author, Justin Blaney, was born in Los Angeles and began his writing career in Mrs. King’s English class at the age of 6, but after a tragic accident involving a manual pencil sharpener he suddenly declared that writing was “not his thing.” Instead, he moved one state north to make his fortune in the organic meats industry.
After being named the Sausage Baron of Springfield, Justin grew tired of farming fame and moved yet another state north where he can venture into the meat department at Whole Foods without being pestered for the secret to one of his famous recipes.
Since then, Justin founded several companies, submitted his bid to become a Doctor, began producing films, went parasailing, rode an elevator to the top of the Space Needle and decided to give writing one last shot, the result of which is a #1 bestselling book about a shut-in named Evan Burl who never takes a bath.
Justin lives with his wife and three daughters in Issaquah, a suburb of Bellevue which is a suburb of Seattle. You can find out more about Justin’s exciting adventures by executing a search on the world wide internets or by obtaining a free day pass to his “online web page” at justinblaney.com.
Do you know of someone whose dream has come true? Is it a dream that helps create community? If so, let me know! I might be able to feature their Dream. Please email (firstname.lastname@example.org).