About this time last year I was working with illustrator, Krickett King, on illustrations for my book, The Gift. I had no idea what a journey that process would be or how publishing that book would change my life.
I remember the first illustration Krickett sent to me. It was of Pip holding Buck’s nose in her hand. It was so beautiful and tender, yet simple. It made my heart soar! It was just as I had pictured it in my mind. Krickett and I had not talked about the pictures, I might want for the book. I wanted her to read the manuscript, and decide, as the illustrator, what she felt should be illustrated. One by one the illustrations came in. Each one unique. Each one beautifully and simply done. Each one exactly what I would have asked for if I had asked for anything. I could not believe that two people could see the story in the same way without speaking about it. The illustrations beautifully brought to life the story of Pip and Buck becoming friends. The book was exactly as I had envisioned it.
Some reviewers have felt that the illustrations should have been in color and not in black and white, especially since it is a children’s book. I surely can understand that point of view. But it is not a picture book. It is a simple, straightforward story, that in my mind needed simple, beautiful, tender illustrations. Even though I feel that way, I sometimes doubt myself.
Recently, a ten-year-old girl asked me to sign her book. My friends have asked me to sign their copies, and I have done so with a huge grin on my face. But when I signed the book for this girl, I felt a huge responsibility. I wanted to say the right thing. I wanted to convey to her how important she was, how important it was to me that she read, and liked my book. I know she must have wondered why it took me so long to just “sign” her book. For me it wasn’t just signing, it was sending a message of gratefulness.
While I signed her book, I took the opportunity to talk to her about her thoughts regarding the book, since the book was written for children her age. I asked her, “Was there anything missing? Anything you wished had been in the book that was not there?” “Was there anything in the book that you wished wasn’t there? I asked her about the pictures. “Did you like them? Did you wish they had been in color?” She thought for a moment, then said she liked the story just the way it was. There was nothing she wanted that was not there, and nothing that she wished was taken out. She said she was glad the pictures were in black and white. “I can’t explain it,” she said, as she flipped through the book. “I just like them,” she said as she grinned at me. I understand that. I just like them too. They touch my heart in a way I cannot describe.
At first when people told me that they had read my book, I held my breath worried that the next sentence would be that they did not like it. Rejection is just part of writing I told myself. I was not prepared for the reactions people shared with me about the book. In the beginning when they told me how it touched them or how much they liked it, I was completely caught off guard. Now, I am just flooded with gratefulness.
The Gift is my first published book, and it is also a fulfillment of a promise I made to my papa a long time ago. I was in my early twenties and I was unsure of what I was going do with my life. My papa was dying. He asked me to keep writing, and to write books to help children. I remember promising him I would, but thinking I would never be able to keep that promise.
Thankfully, I was wrong because keeping my word is important to me. In my work as a therapist I found that it helped children cope with difficult things when I told them short, one to two minute, stories. Over time that evolved into writing therapeutic stories to help children heal after experiencing horrific, traumatic events. Some of my colleagues asked to borrow the stories to use with their clients. From those stories a series of picture books called the Healing Series was born. These books were written as tools for therapists to help children cope with traumatic events, such as filicide, since there are no other books on the topics in print. I wanted children to know that they were not alone, that other children have had this experience, and that healing was possible. The Healing Series books were the first books I tried to get published. I received rejection letter after rejection letter. I was told they were “well written” but not worth publishing due to their specialized use and potentially limited audience. It has been a heart wrenching experience. It was during this time of rejection that I began writing The Gift.
A friend of mine kept asking me to write a book about a kid and a horse. I kept telling her I couldn’t do it. I didn’t write those types of books. I told myself I am not a writer. I am a therapist! My friend persisted. One day I sat down to write the story my friend had been bugging me about, but no words came to me. See I told myself I’m not a writer! Not long after this experience, a line woke me up in the middle of the night. I wrote the line down and the next morning the story poured from me. Pip’s voice was just as clear as the other characters’ voices I had heard before.
As it turns out, The Gift is fun fiction and a therapeutic story. Although, I did not initially intend for this book to be used in a therapeutic context, it can be a very useful therapeutic tool. It can be used to explore relationships, and discuss what it takes to make, and be a friend. It can be used to help foster parents understand the grief that their foster children feel, and the importance of family to them. It can be used to teach children about cognitive distortions, and unhelpful thinking patterns; and how those negative thoughts can impact the way they see themselves, the world, and their lives. Recently, Tim and Bettina Jobe, the developers of Natural Lifemanship, wrote, “This book artfully shows the Natural Lifemanship relationship principles in a way that resonates with children and adults!” I burst into tears when I read that. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think that this little book would be more than just a fun story. I guess in the end my brain did what it knows how to do. It wrote a story that helps children, and in the process I discovered that I am a writer.
Currently, I am working on four new stories. Two more books about Pip and Buck, a picture book about a boy overcome with grief, and a middle grade novel about a mother with schizophrenia.