One Betsy Bird + One Dan Santat = The Great Santa Stakeout Cover Reveal/Greatest Interview of All Time*
Lemme tell you a story. Ten years ago I had the chance to interview this illustrator by the name of Dan Santat. And Dan, being a novel fellow, suggested that we do a video interview just to shake things up a bit. So on my Flip camera (remember . . . this was ten years ago) I recorded my side and then he recorded his. The two sides were edited together. Easy peasy right? Only, I didn’t count on the fact that Dan would pour more work into that little video interview than most people pour into their marriages. That was the first time I came face-to-face with Dan’s incredible creativity and work ethic. You can actually still see the video here, if you’re curious (and for a special treat, check out who wrote the only comment 8 years ago). I’ll just say that there are puppets, lightsabers, and clones.
Fast forward ten years and Dan has just won the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the Picture Book category. The award has gone to Drawn Together, his book with Minh Lê. Congrats to both of them!
As no doubt you know, Dan is a highly prolific fellow. So much so that, I am pleased to announce, he has a picture book coming out in the Fall of 2019 with another blogger/author.
That’s right, folks. On September 3rd get ready for The Great Santa Stakeout by Betsy Bird, illustrated by Dan Santat. Look! There’s even an official plot description and everything!
“Freddy Melcher is Santa’s #1 Fan. He has Santa posters, Santa action figures, and even Santa underwear. But there is one prize Freddy desperately wants: A photograph taken with Santa, fresh out of the chimney.
Oh, is it risky! It’s awfully hard to sneak anything by someone who can see you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake. That’s why Freddy has been extra good this year . . . at hiding his plans.
Will Freddy get away with his delightfully devious scheme to outwit Santa Claus himself and capture the ultimate selfie?”
How best to celebrate this momentous occasion? Well, to my mind it’s been ten years since our last interview. Wanna see us do it again? Only this time, mutually? Dan and I are both a decade older so no videos this time. Let’s just have a nice calm interview with nice calm images and a nice calm cover reveal, okay?
THE OFFICIAL GREAT SANTA STAKEOUT MUTUAL INTERVIEW!
No book exists in a vacuum. In this story a kid named Freddy goes to extreme lengths to see Santa and, like Bigfoot, get a picture of him. When you guys were kids, did you ever try to do that?
BETSY: Not Santa, exactly. I dunno, I don’t think I was ever up that level. The prospect of hiding and trying to spot a full grown man coming down my family’s chimney wasn’t appealing to me. So I started slow and low. There were MANY nights where I tried, instead, to see the Easter Bunny. The bunny was much more my speed. I mean, first off, it can’t fly so all I had to monitor was the front lawn. Second, if I saw it, it wouldn’t be scary. Bunnies are pretty chill, and I was the quintessential scaredy kid. And third, it made a lot more sense than trying to see the Tooth Fairy. I’d caught my mom doing the old switcheroo on my tooth years ago, so clearly THAT wasn’t real. But bunnies that leave you candy for no perceivable reason? Oh yeah. That made sense.
DAN: I have a similar story of skepticism at a young age. My parents came from Thailand and so they knew nothing of the Western cultured fables. When I turned five I went to kindergarten and when December came around I was suddenly learning about all things Christmas. I had no idea what the holiday was and every kid in my class was wondering if I was stupid. The idea of a large old man in red coming down my chimney to give me presents sounded odd but I thought if all the other kids knew something was going on then I didn’t want to miss out on the free toys. I tell my parents all about Santa, they entertain me by getting the tree, and lights, and all the stockings and stuff and then Christmas morning comes and I got two presents. One is from my parents. The other is from Santa in my mom’s handwriting. I thought nothing of it. Maybe the similarities in their handwriting was a coincidence? The following week I show up and Jacob Boyd, the worst kid in school who stole other kids’ bikes and stole food out of their lunch boxes, got all sorts of cool stuff. I didn’t know a single kid who had the Death Star and he got one along with a whole mountain of other stuff!
That was the moment I realized there was no Santa.
I was a good mama’s boy kid growing up and that jerk got the whole world shoved under his tree.
Are there any Easter Eggs (no pun intended) in the book?
BETSY: Just one. Freddy’s name. In my picture books I sometimes hide the names of famous figures in the history of children’s literature. For example, in Giant Dance Party I allude to Moore, Carroll, and Anne. That’s a backwards shout out to the great Anne Carroll Moore. In this book the hero’s name is Freddy Melcher. And, naturally, Frederic G. Melcher helped establish both the Newbery and the Caldecott. But you knew that already, right? Librarian nerd references for the win!!!
DAN: For me it was primarily in the scene where you see Freddy’s room filled with collectibles. I used to go to local comic conventions in Los Angeles when I was a kid and you would find all sorts of collectible items for every type of cartoon or TV show imaginable. That scene in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” when he discovers that Steve Carrell’s character has an action figure of the Six Million Dollar Man’s boss really spoke to me as to how absurd things could get at one of these events AND I WANTED IT ALL.
In the scene you’ll see a manga Santa action figure, as well as a regular Santa action figure with over 64 points of articulation (which was apparently a big deal to some of these collectors) The Santa Movie poster is actually a subtle homage to the poster for the movie, “Army of Darkness”, which one of my art teachers from art school had actually painted back in the day
How did the book change from the initial drafts?
BETSY: Originally Freddy was this hi-tech kid, linked in to fellow Santa enthusiasts around the globe. We had this whole Santa spy sections where the big man was dodging around lasers and throwing smoke bombs. It was a bit convoluted and the text was, quite frankly, really snarky. It’s not like every Christmas book has to be filled with heart and soul, but come on, man! It’s a freakin’ Christmas book. Tis the season, amiright?
DAN: I actually liked the first draft a lot. It had an Ocean’s Eleven sort of feel to it which I really liked. There was a section where he set up laser beam detectors in the house and Santa, I guess, manages to flip his way through it? Am I remembering that correctly?
BETSY: There were totally laser beams.
Did you do anything weird when making this book?
BETSY: I dunno. I think our editor Kait Feldmann went above and beyond the call of duty, though. If you look at the author/illustrator photo on the back flap you’ll see Dan and I sporting what may be two contenders for top honors in the World’s Ugliest Christmas Sweater contest. Mine is black. Black. Who the heck makes a black Christmas sweater? Dan may have it worse, though. His is for a woman. Kait not only found these but she bought them and sent them to us. She also sent us these little deranged felt Santa ornaments. They are delightful. Like something Tim Burton would make if he ever quit the whole moviemaking thing and really got into felting.
DAN: It was hilarious because when I got the package it came in this huge box and I wondered what it was because it was so heavy. I opened it and it was the worst/best thing ever. I put it on and it immediately felt sort of odd. It was cinching around my back and it was trying to give me this hourglass shape (which you can kind of see in our author photo) I reached over in my shoulders and felt something weird sticking to the tops of them and I thought, “Are these shoulder pads? Yup. THIS IS A WOMAN’S SWEATER.” It also felt like it was about 20 pounds of yarn, but I don’t care if mine was made for a woman. It fits and I feel amazing in it.
The Winning Author Photo!
Betsy, what’s it like working with Dan?
BETSY: Uh, do the words “dream come true” sound trite? Because they’re bloody accurate. Look, I’ve been a Dan fan from way way back. You know how people claim to have been into a band before it hit it big? That’s me and Dan. I never thought I’d actually get him to work on one of my books, though. That’s like shooting for the moon. And here’s the kicker: If you write a funny book with Dan, he adds his own gags. I laughed out loud at the blueprints that end the book. I should have just skipped out on the text entirely and just allowed Dan to fill this book with increasingly elaborate Santa traps.
DAN: I’ve had issues with Dan. For those who have been paying attention on my social media, I actually made a clone of myself to help with all the things I do in life from parenting, to housework, and making books. He eats all my food, and is very messy. Over the years I created two more and they just get dumber. DAN #2 found a shrink/growth ray that I made when I wanted to study things in scale for, Rodzilla, and it became total anarchy. Now it feels like I’m just raising three extra kids. This isn’t to say that clones aren’t helpful in some aspects. Dan #3 served on jury duty for me while I was meeting a deadline for another project. Dan #4 actually likes to watch Real Housewives of Atlanta when my wife wants to spend “quality time” with her. To this day I question if the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, but the one thing for certain is that I don’t exactly like hanging out with myself and I certainly see my own flaws.
Did you do any specific research for the book?
BETSY: Um . . . I think I may have watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so as to perfect the fake sleeping body technique. That counts, right?
DAN: I went to our local shopping mall last December to try to catch a mall Santa. I needed to fully understand Freddy’s obsession. I didn’t really think things through. I went in disguised as a small child and was going to simply “invite him on a ride in my Prius” but the Santa quickly caught on when I sat on his lap and he immediately realized that this small bald headed child weighted 178 lbs. Needless to say, I failed. The point wasn’t to actually catch Santa, but experience the feeling of trying to catch Santa.
I am no longer allowed to be within 150 feet of any Santa.
Dan, with a last name like Santat, surely you’ve a relationship to Santa that is unique. Care to share?
DAN: People know me as a children’s book author and illustrator. I’m also known as a workaholic and I usually will use my spare time to work on other things non book related. I don’t think committing ONE NIGHT to deliver toys to all the children of the world isn’t asking for much from a person. I’m not saying I’m Santa, but I’m also not saying that I’m not Santa.
And now, ladies and germs, the cover itself:
Big time thanks to Dan Santat for, quite frankly, being Dan Santat.
*Hyperbole is your friend. Love your friends.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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