Brett Winn of The Refinery Wrote a Children's Book That Came to Him in a Dream

The making of Schnozmallow

Ever dream of writing a children's book? Brett Winn, partner and creative director of AV at The Refinery, literally had that dream. And he decided to follow it. 

He is now a children's book author. His recently published book, Schnozmallow, tells the tale of a loveable half-marshmallow, half-nose who is trying to figure out where he belongs in the world.

Brett chatted with Muse about the creative process of writing a children's book, his creative collaboration with illustrator Barbara Carlton, and what his career in creative advertising taught him about storytelling.

Muse: Was writing children's books something you always wanted to do?

Brett Winn: It was something in the back of my mind for a while, but it wasn't something I was actively pursuing. Having two kids and reading books to them every night ... I think I've always been one of those people, when I read something and it's great, I want to do it. And if I read something and it's terrible, then I really want to do it because I feel l can probably do better. I just had no idea what to write about.

What inspired the idea for Schnozmallow?

Believe it or not, Schnozmallow came to me in a dream. I woke up in the middle of the night, and I had this character's name. I didn't know what he would look like. But his name was Schnozmallow, and he was a marshmallow with a giant nose. That's really all I had. I don't know why I thought of it. 

It sat for a while, and one of the weekends the kids were at karate, and I was just brainstorming and thinking. "Well, if he's part nose and part marshmallow, then he probably doesn't fit in with the other marshmallows, and he probably doesn't fit in with the other noses." That was kind of the spark.

I started writing. I wrote in prose, the same way I was used to hearing it when I read stories to my kids. 

Once you had the story, how did you go about finding Barbara Carlton, the illustrator?

It was dumb luck. I wrote the story. I read it to a few people. They liked it, but it's just kind of that. It was a year later. I was interviewing someone here at The Refinery to do some print work for us. She also showed me some illustrations she'd done because she's an artist. I was like, "Wow. Your illustrations are amazing. Have you ever thought about doing a book?" Not necessarily even connecting the two, until she said, "Oh my god. My dream is to illustrate a kids' book." I sent her the book. She read it, read it to her kids, and came back and told me she absolutely wanted to do it. It took us from September to January to get it illustrated. 

I think seeing it come to life was like giving birth in a way, not quite as magical as kids but still magical in its own way.

How did your career in creative advertising help when it came to writing a book?

We were revising, even the prose, up until the very end. That's one of the things we do in creative advertising. It's about the initial creative spark, and then it's about the revision process. That's how we really hone it, and make it the best it can be, and make sure it's striking the right chord. Editorial, editorial, editorial, revision, revision, revision. Never giving up and never giving in. 

The career in advertising helped craft the story beyond why I'd originally written it. I took a step back and thought, "The story deals with acceptance and anti-bullying and also taps into some of the LGBTQ community." So, as I started to recognize those things, we kept evolving the story. If I could put the book in a marketplace that I knew was hungry for material like this, that would certainly help the cause after the book was written. 

What similarities did you see in the creative process between marketing and writing a children's book? 

When we write copy for trailers, TV spots or online, you have to be simple and succinct. Get your message across quickly and easily. I found that in children's books, you have to do exactly the same thing. Your audience is younger. You have to stay away from words they may not understand. You have to write in a way that rolls off the tongue as you speak out loud, as most parents read to their kids aloud. 

It's always about honing your craft and honing the words or honing the images and honing everything to really work together to a point where you feel one of two things: Either you feel it can't get any better, or you give up because the true artist is never done. It's time's up or pencils down.

What message do you hope kids and parents take away from this story?

At the core, it's just this idea of be you, whoever that is. Regardless of stereotypes or crowds or fitting in or not fitting in, have the strength and the courage to just be you. Everyone is unique, and everyone's great, and everyone has an amazing story to tell. I hope people can look past everyone's differences and accept people for who they are.

Do you see the adventure of Schnozmallow continuing in the future?

I do. I actually wrote a second book. I'm still editing. Barbara is about to start illustrating. The sequel is about a character we're calling Dr. Darbar, a chocolate bar. Ultimately, she will become Schnozmallow's love interest. But she has her own story of wanting to be a doctor in a man's world. She forces her way in and proves to everyone that she's got what it takes. So, they'll be a pretty powerful pair. 

Then, if there's a third book, we were talking about the graham-parents. As in graham crackers, but we'll see.

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Ashley Falls
Ashley Falls is director of Clio Entertainment.