Today’s guest is Sal Barbera, author of the children’s book, Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow. Sal is the author and illustrator of “A Sweetles Dream”® book series. As the Creative Director for Hartman-Barbera llc, a family media & entertainment company, he is also an animator, sculptor, painter and all around fun guy. Sal lives the phrase: “A day without laughter is a wasted day”. To that end, he uses his writing, illustrating and animation skills to create endearing characters and comedic stories.
Sal's sense of humor and empathy for his characters explore personal and social situations in ways that makes it enjoyable for both adults and children to experience together. Born in New York City, Sal moved to North Bergen, NJ where he grew up on a steep hillside neighborhood with his four older sisters. He currently lives in sunny Arizona with his wife and artistic partner, Sheri, who he defines as his inspiration. On any given day Sal might be painting, sculpting, drawing, animating, writing or enjoying one of his favorite pastimes: cooking, television, movies and golf.
Thank you for this interview, Sal. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
My wife and I are outdoor people and some of the sports we like to do are walk, hike, bike and swim. We chose to live in sunny Arizona for all of those reasons. Right around the corner from our home in Scottsdale is a sports park. It's our go to place to see dogs, dog walkers, runners, joggers, electric plane flyers, kids playing soccer, the list goes on and on. It's a terrific place to get story and character ideas and exercise at the same time. I've been drawing and making up stories ever since I was a kid. When we adopted our dog, Max, in 1996, I created cartoons about him that make people chuckle. I never thought of myself as a writer until I wrote my first story about Max. Although he passed away in 2011, he lives on in my work as the spunky little dog character Sweetles™ (one of the numerous names we called Max).
Can you tell us briefly what your book is about?
Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow tells the story of a cow that arrives at a new farm hoping to find friendship. But she's different from the other cows (she's spotless), so they don't want anything to do with her. She must find a way to overcome their "Spot Discrimination." The story is about how she accomplishes this in her clever, diplomatic and funny way.
It’s the first book in the series: A Sweetles Dream®. The premise is: “Have you ever wondered what your pet dreams about?”
My dreaming pet is a gregarious little dog named Sweetles™. He figures out how to solve tricky situations in his dreams. In the story of Mary Elizabeth, he dreams of a cow that figures out a way to be accepted by getting her point across that prejudice and discrimination are wrong. It's not how you look outside but who you are inside that matters.
For an idea of what the cows look like, check out the book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72fOn1tEbDM
Why did you choose your particular genre?
Well, it chose me really. I set out to write a story to make my mother-in-law laugh. My drawings and charters are fun and silly and a little wacky, so it turned out that kids really liked it too. Becoming a children's book was a natural evolution.
What was your greatest challenge writing this book?
My greatest challenge was getting the story finished while it was all in my head. I was so excited when I figured out the beginning, middle and end of the story that I was writing as fast and furiously as I could to get it all down before I forgot anything. I like to write the first draft of a story with a pencil. And the pencil point kept breaking. The faster I wrote, the more it broke. But I finally got it all written and drawn out the way I envisioned it.
Are you published by a traditional house, small press or are you self-published?
I am published through our small publishing company: Sweetles Press. http://www.sweetles.com/about-sweetles-press/
Our focus at SWEETLES PRESS is to provide readers with books that have memorable characters with original voices that provoke thoughtful discussion. To that end we publish compelling, funny, engaging, irresistibly readable stories. Our character based stories entertain and inform with a focus on personal strength/morals/values to illustrate positive social skills and good behaviors.
From picture books to comic books to an upcoming suite of baby books, Sweetles Press is publishing the next generation of children’s classics.
Founded in 2011 with a goal to provide fun, educational books for children and parents, Sweetles Press is becoming the choice of discerning parents and happy kids worldwide.
That’s why, we love what we do.
Was it the right choice for you?
Absolutely. For my first book, I had complete control over content and editing. It was encouraging. With a traditional publisher they might not have let me use my own drawings. They may have asked me to change my wording. And they might have insisted that I reduce the many exclamation marks that I like to include!!! (That seems to be an outcome of using social media.)
How are you promoting your book thus far?
Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow is being sold on the Sweetles.com website and Amazon. I'm also speaking, demonstrating, and exhibiting at book fairs, libraries and schools. My wife uses twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for book promotion. During the months of November and December, if you purchase Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow from the Sweetles website it is only $12.00 (List price: $17.99). When you buy this book, 50% of net proceeds go to Phoenix Children’s Hospital Child Life Program. Visit http://www.sweetles.com/product/books/mary-elizabeth-the-spotless-cow-book/ for more information.
How is that going for you?
So far it's been exciting and educational. I've learned a lot about my readers from the book festival and readings. It's a real thrill to watch kids read my book and then ask their parents to buy it.
The book sales are not where I'd like them to be at all. We're raising funds for Phoenix Children's Hospital with book sales for their Child Life Program. It helps kids with life threatening illness cope with everyday life. Our goal is to raise $10,000 for the Children's Hospital. We need a lot more sales to reach that goal.
Can you tell us one thing you have done that actually resulted in one or more sales?
I was a speaker and guest illustrator at the The Orange County Children's Book Festival this past September. I also had an author's table where we had books for sale plus we gave away temporary tattoos and book marks.
We sold books at this festival.
Do you have another job besides writing?
Yes, I'm the co-founder and creative director of Hartman-Barbera LLC. It is a family oriented Media & Entertainment company. Our goal is to create innovative, engaging and educational content the whole family can enjoy through books, film, animation and branded merchandise based on our original character Sweetles™ and his fairy tale friends.
What’s next for you?
More children's books plus comic books and a web series. The next book in the 'A Sweetles Dream'® series is Ernie the Dysfunctional Frog. It's a fun, goofy and wondrous tale about acceptance, love and true friendship. And frogs. There's a comic book about Sweetles™ in the works along with his fairy tale friends. Besides children's books, we're producing a web series for kids called: Sweetles TV. Think Sesame Street meets Monty Python and you’ll have an idea of what’s coming.
Thank you for this interview, Sal. Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?
You can find me on the web at: