Though Eagle vs Bear is a tale story of triumph over tyranny and heartfelt redemption, the five-chapter kids’ book and accompanying five-song album is really rooted in the relationship between singer/songwriter/author Emile Millar and collaborating musician Daniel “Dancing Eagle” Siegel, a neighbor from Millar’s Austin days.
“His nickname is Eagle, and I’m a husky, furry critter, so I got the Bear moniker,” explains Millar, who grew up on Hollister Ranch and then lived the professional musician life in Austin and Los Angeles before moving back to Santa Barbara six years ago. “We are nemeses. He’s my really good friend that I hate losing to. We have always been very competitive and kindred spirits.”
Almost seven years ago, they went into the studio to record some songs to kick off this project, the first one being an anthem about rising up. “When I wrote that first song, the whole story just came to my head,” recalled Millar. “The lyrics and the vibe and the energy of the songs dictated the storyline.”
And that, as he described, is: “The Bear and Eagle live in a magical-forest-kingdom universe where the eagles are the imperialists while the bears are the passive creatures that have to pick their berries, fish their salmon, and build their vast nests.” There’s tragedy and struggle and, ultimately, good guys winning, of course.
Millar didn’t know what form the project would take, thinking it might be a graphic novel. The road to a children’s book echoed changes he experienced in his music career. After relative success with five albums with the bands Lapdancers, Post Fontaine, and then as a solo artist, Millar found steady work for many years licensing songs and composing music for television.
“Publishing, composing, and licensing allowed me to be an artist and producer and musician, which is not easy,” he said. When that income dwindled, he went into teaching music and was most often at Vieja Valley Elementary before a COVID-caused layoff. (He also helps his wife, Crista Fooks, run Scarlett Begonia restaurant.)
Though aimed at elementary-aged kids and featuring lively illustrations by St. Louis–based artist Blayne Fox, the book is a hefty read, with plenty of words across its 120 pages. The downloadable songs amplify the message of each chapter, encouraging even reluctant readers to persevere. “They’re motivated to finish the chapter to get to the song part,” said Millar, who’s proud to be putting this book in schools and libraries across Santa Barbara County. There’s also curriculum in the works, such as quizzes to gauge reading comprehension, and interest from streaming networks to turn the story into a show, since most of the required parts — story, imagery, music — are already done.
Much of the project’s progress came with the involvement of Terri Wright, a designer who’s had a hand in many quality publications, including Chuck Graham’s Carrizo Plain. “If it wasn’t for Terri,” said Miller, “this wouldn’t have happened.” She also helped the book win Independent Book Publishers Association awards for “best first book” and “interior design.”
Millar is already plotting sequels and an adventure about the family cat, Two Socks, that he’s working on with his stepdaughter. “It’s been really fun to bring creativity into our family, and to show my step-kids that you can create something,” he said. “It’s the creators who will be remembered. That’s something I try to share with my students.”
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