When my daughter was two, I cherished our routines. Any trivial thing I could turn into a routine I did. Not because parents know the importance of structure for healthy child development, but because it was the only constant I had amongst the mayhem of my crazy schedule. I was working full time and going to grad school at night to pursue a career change. As much as I already felt like a one woman juggling act, I couldn't avoid the fact that I would soon be adding the title "single mom" to my routine and setting some of those flying pins on fire. It's not what I signed up for, but when circumstances are beyond your control, sometimes the only choice is acceptance.
Inspired by a school assignment, I wrote my daughter a story. A short, sweet, rhyming bedtime tale about dreams and adventure. It was our evening closure. Although she would have never remembered, or held me to it, I promised I would make that story into a book. It would be an act of love meant just for her. Working as an advertising art director for a major firm was a 24/7 job. On the train to and from work, I eagerly wrote query letters to publishers. I was 100 percent confident in the marketability of my work, after all, that was my business; selling with an emotional hook to a target audience. I planned every detail; the hardcover bedtime book with the adorable star character, the series extensions, every time he falls asleep he has a new adventure. There was the character pillow doll, wall covering, bedding and of course the night light. What publisher wouldn't jump over the licensing opportunities I embedded into to this project? I was also getting my degree in education, and knew the importance of rhyming verse, text to picture connection and bedtime routines for early learners. It was a win-win.
Then came the first rejection letter... along with my reality check. At that time, the trend in children's book publishing was celebrity authors. Alan Alda, Madonna, Jamie Lee Curtis, "A" list names were also writing children's books. Why look at an unknown when celebrities came with built in PR machines and air time? Rejections flooded in without my story ever getting looked at by a decision maker. I'm not a quitter, but I also wasn't going to bang my head against a closed door and put my daughter's needs on the back burner. I have always subscribed to the "kids come first" philosophy of parenting, so I shelved the project.
This past spring, while cleaning out my desk, the single page manuscript surfaced and a friend of mine read it. He had no children of his own, and yet was taken with the charming story, "You have to do something with this!" He exclaimed. I reread the story and smiled, I still loved it, and remembered how much I wanted my daughter to have that book. "Will you illustrate it?" I begged. He is a very talented architect with a great whimsical style of his own. It would be perfect. As an art director, I always had the big ideas, and found the best people to execute them; so hiring the perfect illustrator was always something I imagined doing with my lucky publisher. I am an artist, I paint, I write, I create things across all media, but never considered myself an illustrator. I call my personal painting style "emotionalism" not the stuff for children's books.
My friend refused, he said no to my begging. "You're an artist and art teacher, how can you have a children's book you don't illustrate yourself?" he questioned. "Because I'd rather chew crushed glass," I replied. "It's not what I do!" I immediately began to relive the disappointment of the rejection letters, and felt as if my dream was being crushed allover again. I stewed for a while, long enough for the fighter in me to come out. I'll just do it all, I thought to myself. With the advancements in print-on-demand (POD) technology, I could self publish, if I could get the illustrations done. During summer break from my teaching job I worked around the clock. I used a small set of watercolor paints a student gave me as an end of the year gift. I was inspired never having used this kind of paint before, I thought; why not add another first to my project?
Silly me, and I thought the illustrations were going to be the hard part! Next came the self-navigation though multiple computer programs I had absolutely no experience in. I had to get the book into the proper POD format. My 10-year-old computer took five minutes to open an email. That wasn't going to cut it, so I gave into my son's pleadings and bought a Mac. I had that learning curve too... to call me computer challenged would be kind, and in extreme fits of technical frustration, I came close multiple times, to chucking everything into the pool. WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF? became the mantra for my self-inflicted pain.
As I sit here and type this, I have a hard cover proof of The Sleepy Star on my desk. The dedication page reads: "To Quinn whose shinning light is a constant source of love and inspiration" No matter what happens from here, I can close this chapter. The book launched in time for her 22nd birthday. My little girl will be graduating her Master's program at UConn this spring, ready to start living dreams of her own. Twenty years later, I can only hope her mom's "can do" attitude serves as an inspiration to her, and her book will be a constant reminder of how much she is loved.
Visit Thesleepystar.com for more information.