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Two Las Vegas hospitality pros change careers to write children's books

The Bird and the Whale by Emily Couture and The Adventures of Big Head Bob by David Bradley.
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The Bird and the Whale by Emily Couture and The Adventures of Big Head Bob by David Bradley.

State government estimates that 26 percent of all employees in Las Vegas work in leisure and hospitality. But many of those jobs are stressful, unpredictable, and vulnerable to a bad economy. So some look to get out. Real estate has been an escape for many. Others move to other cities.

And some do something completely different — like writing children's books.

Emily Couture had worked in VIP services for years at places like the Bellagio and the original Hard Rock Hotel. When the latter began its transition to Virgin Hotels — followed by the Covid-19 shutdown — she took that time to reflect on what she wanted to do. And with an idea for a children's book simmering back from a whale-watching trip a year earlier, she decided to launch into something completely new.

The result: The Bird and the Whale, a story about how two very different animals, who live in very different ways, find a bond despite — and eventually because of — their differences. It reflected Couture's desire to write the kind of book she wanted her young family to read.

"It's not a political book," she says, "but I want to have my kids have open minds and be accepting and have new experiences and to not be afraid of things that might be out of their little worlds."

After working with an editor friend and an illustrator to get the book completed, Couture then had to decide how it would get into the hands of children and their parents. "Is it self-publishing? Do you try and get a book deal? You know, there's so many avenues that you could take," she says. "I went the self-publishing route because I wanted to maintain ownership and control over my [intellectual property]. I wanted to be able to make all my own choices: how I sold it, what the price was. I wanted to have free rein; I didn't have to check with anybody if I wanted to donate a bunch [of copies] to an elementary school."

Couture's journey is not too different from that of David Bradley, who spent years also assisting VIPs, first for Wynn Nightlife and later for MGM Resorts. The pandemic shutdown also forced him to reconsider his professional goals. But unlike Couture, his muse had been with him most of his life: Big Head Bob, a character he had been drawing since his youth.

Despite being neither an author nor a professional artist, Bradley found a way to connect Bob with how he learned to cope in challenging situations and turned that into a tale for children. "When I was a kid, I had to miss gym class to go into special tutoring for my English comprehension," he says. "And I would cry to my mom at home; I'd say, 'I wish I could just be a normal boy.' ... [Bob] wants to be normal, but his head is getting in the way. [But] then he uses mindfulness meditation, which is what I had done to balance having 4,000 people in a day club or nightclub [with my other duties]. I think what Big Head Bob represents is our differences — physical and mental — and how do we identify it? And how do we communicate about it and transform it into something positive?"

Three books — and countless in-person and Zoom readings — later, Big Head Bob has given Bradley a new career, one that, thanks to connections he made at Wynn and MGM, he's able to expand the possibilities of sharing that message of taking a beat, reassessing one's circumstances, and ultimately overcoming challenges.

"It became a full-time job when I got about 150 emails from teachers across Canada to come into their school virtually," says Bradley. "And then [for] the second wave, I got about 400, [from both] the U.S. and Canada. ... I'm very excited for where it's gone because it's headed to television. And there's music on Spotify for Big Head Bob. There's just so much."

Guests: Emily Couture, author, The Bird and the Whale; David Bradley, author, Big Head Bob series

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.