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October 14, 2021

The only thing more challenging than using frenetic DIY self-publishing to springboard a career in children's books might be running a commercial salmon fishery on the Alaskan tundra from a cabin with no electricity, no toilet, and four kids. That's why I was so excited to talk to Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson, the illustrator-author-married-with-4-kids duo.

Robbi illustrates, Matthew writes, and together they make picture books for kids and adults.

Robbi and Matthew are a whirlwind of creative action, and their story is just a crazy tale of inventing a creative life that allows them to make the work that's 100% most aligned with who they are and what they value.

They started on this path when Matthew got his "most withering rejection", which slammed the door on how they thought their lives would play out.

They turned even this painful setback into an opportunity, so it's no surprise that their approach to life has opened the door to amazing lucky breaks.

In this interview, we talk about the value of the right kind of day job, how to develop a unique and authentic brand, and why you should definitely NOT try to marry Robbi Behr.

More from the episode...

  • Robbi and Matthew joke about the rejection that inspired their creative partnership: "I applied to six graduate schools and I got seven letter of rejection. The University of Minnesota rejected me twice on consecutive Mondays."
  • The two ways you can respond to life's challenges, according to Matthew: "You can have power of conviction behind a story and try everything you can to make that version of the story come true. Or you can pick a thread and follow the thread and let the thread itself be the driving force and see what story materializes."
  • "We live a perfectly comfortable life while being full-time creatives and I just have this other thing on top of it that pays the bills." — Why Matthew still has a day job, despite their success making books.
  • The chance encounter that led to Robbi and Matthew's first commercially published book and what it takes to make your own luck.
  • How "leaping at the first possibility" led to Robbi and Matthew's biggest mistake, and what they could have done differently.
  • Robbi and Matthew discuss developing their unique brand and why authenticity is so important: "I think if you're very deliberate and purposeful upfront about what you will and will not create and you stick to it, then you're more likely at the end where it starts to become more of a business or a profession or a money-generating mechanism for you and others to still be doing what you love."
  • What are the benefits of commercial publishing, and why are Robbi and Matthew excited about returning to self-publishing one day?
  • Robbi and Matthew consider their creative differences an asset. What makes their partnership productive and how do they resolve conflict?
  • Alaskan salmon fishing: the forty-year tradition begun by Robbi's father that Matthew describes as "indescribably unpleasant and yet it's magical."
  • A question about fate reveals how Robbi and Matthew met.
  • More from our guests:

    Robbi is an illustrator/printmaker/commercial salmon fisherwoman with a BA from Williams College and an MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Matthew is a writer/art director/blues harmonica player who has so far failed in every attempt to be swashbuckling.

    Robbi illustrates. Matthew writes. Together they make picture books for kids and adults. They’re also married. And they do all this with four kids.

    They’ve published books including Everywhere Wonder, The Real McCoys, Babies Ruin Everything, and more than 70+ self-published books before breaking into commercial press!

    Next up for this duo? They're converting a 24 foot school bus into a tiny home that they'll be living in with their four kids (and a puppy!) while they travel for a year and give away 50,000 free books to high-poverty schools! They're currently fundraising for this project, and you can learn more about it here.

    Plus, check out “The Daily Minute” — a series of daily videos exactly a minute long (there’s a timer and everything) that purport to be about their creative process, but often include marital antics, funny things that have happened to them, cameos by their kids, and lots of cheese balls on either Instagram or Facebook.

    Connect with Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson

    instagram @robbi.and.matthew

    twitter @drawingrobbi

    twitter @writingmatthew

    Additional Links

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