I am proud to say I come from creative genes. My paternal grandmother was an artist, and my grandfather was a musician. They bred three sons (one an architect) who all have/had amazing creative problem solving skills. My maternal grandmother was a baker, sewer, knitter, crocheter-extraordinare; and my grandfather loved writing about family history (he journaled every day). They bred two daughters and a son, all of whom are creative in their own right. My aunt and I share a love for children’s books. When her children were young (and long before stores sold plush toy characters as book companions), she began making them stuffed animal versions of their favorite story-book characters. Then she made them for her nieces (me!) and nephews. Then she designed a few of her own. She started her own business, selling her toys at craft fairs, a few stores, and to a fabric designer. As her biggest fan, we have a huge collection of Carolyn Cook Toys. I love them all, but there is one that I think is particularly unique. I told her I thought he needed his own story.
So I remember this in the moments between barely-queasy-but-not-quite-able-to-get-off-the-couch-for-fear-of-falling-over and almost-normal-appearing-enough-so-the-kids-think-it’s-fine-to-jump-all-over-you, and I grab a pen and paper and start to write. I let the mouse in long enough to nibble some crumbs and then whisked him away again. But I didn’t bolt the door shut. I filed the story away and, somewhere along the line, began to keep a notebook. The visits from Mouse were brief and secretive. It was a hobby; a far-fetched dream. I had no real talent, and I could never compare to “professional” writers. But because I couldn’t seem to stop the ideas from popping into my head, I felt better when I wrote them down.
Well, this job turned into another and another, and before I knew it I had a small side business going. I even branched out and designed my own items, mostly using left-over trims and pieces of fabric from bigger projects. I learned how much to charge for my time and designs, where to get sewing supplies wholesale, how to create a website and Facebook page for my business, the ins and outs of record keeping and tax paying, and places to sell my wares beyond word-of-mouth. This was by no means a full-time job (I already had one of those taking care of five children), but it was a creative outlet that earned a little money on the side. Of course this was also another reason to muffle the mouse . . . .
Over the years, I’ve made several friends at my local gym. One of these friends was Nancy. Through weekly small talk before or after class, we grew to know each other a little. I can’t remember how it came up in conversation, but one day she mentioned that she was a children’s book writer and, after some time away, was getting back into it. For the first time out loud (to anyone other than immediate family), I told her I was too. I had found a writing buddy. She encouraged me to join SCBWI. I finally did. I attended my first local conference with her. She recommended I read Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul. I read it cover to cover. I shared a manuscript draft with her and she gave me an honest, insightful critique. I revised it. I made that mouse wait a long time, but now I was ready to let him in for regular visits, and no longer in secret.
I would like to tell you that, on one of his visits, Mouse brought a friend with him who loved my work and wanted to represent me. And that some of those stories I dreamed up became published books. But I can’t. Not yet. As I said, it took a long time just to let Mouse in, but I believe the timing wasn’t right then. And when Mouse’s agent or publisher friend comes for tea (or, hopefully, something in the form of chocolate), the timing will be right, and I will be ready. And I will have new visitors to tell you about in a Part 3. Stay tuned . . . .
Heather is a busy wife and mom of five rambunctious children and one lovable pup They all provide lots of distractions, but oodles of inspiration. Sometimes the pictures and ideas in her head turn into her own children's stories, but she always makes time to read other people's books. Sometimes she reviews them here.