It took a while for Marcie Colleen to find her true calling. She’s worked as a teacher, a nanny, a theater educator, and even served Ethan Hawke a burger, but none of those jobs worked out. After years of soul-searching, Colleen finally feels she’s doing what she was meant to do: write children’s books. And she couldn’t be happier. “Now that I know what I want to do with my life, I feel like the universe is throwing wonderful things at me,” she says.
Colleen was born outside of Syracuse, New York. As a kid, she always expressed herself creatively, whether it was through making collages, creating fashion magazines, or acting out West Side Story with her best friend, complete with all of the songs and choreography. “I was a right-brain person in a left-brain family,” she says. “If it was artsy-fartsy, I loved it.”
When Colleen was the only one in her circle of friends who didn’t make the high school softball team, she was crushed. “I thought my teenage life was over,” she says. She channeled her disappointment into motivation to audition for the school’s spring musical and got a part. “That was it,” she says. “I was hooked on theater.”
After graduating from Oswego State, Colleen took a job at a high school teaching freshman and sophomore English and Drama. “I wanted to teach something I was excited about, so I came up with the idea of teaching a children’s literature class,” she says. “The sole reason for the class was that I loved picture books. Basically, I wanted to validate why I owned so many kids’ books. That should have been my first clue.”
Teaching was not what Colleen expected. “It was a rough school,” she says. “It was the mid-1990s. I wanted to be Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. I was going to be the cool teacher who totally transformed their lives. I was ready to change the world, one student at a time, but it just didn’t happen. I hated it.”
Colleen found out she wasn’t the only teacher at the school who didn’t like the job. She heard horror stories from many of her fellow teachers, some 20 years older than she, who were miserable, counting down the days until retirement. “I didn’t want that to be me,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine living like that. It’s scary when you realize that what you’ve been planning to do isn’t right for you, but I had to get out of there.”
Colleen left teaching and took a job as the director of education at a children’s theater in Manhattan. She liked the job, but when the economic recession peaked in 2009, she was let go.
Seeking direction, Colleen began paying attention to an inner voice pulling her towards writing. “Throughout my life I’ve had people say to me, ‘You should write a book,’” she says. “Deep down inside, I’ve always felt I was supposed to write a book, too, but I’ve never known what kind. When people would tell me, my response became, ‘Yes! But on what?’”
There’s a scene in the movie Back to the Future when George McFly opens up a box of his newly-published science-fiction novels and hands them out to his family. “That scene gives me goose bumps every time,” Colleen says. “I wanted a box like that. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know what I was going to write about. I knew I wanted to be an author.”
At first, Colleen felt overwhelmed. “I didn’t know one author,” she says. “I wanted to connect with others but didn’t know how to find them. Did they even exist? I posted a Craigslist ad looking for writers, but no one answered.”
One fall day in 2010, the idea for a children’s picture book instantly came to Colleen. “It was like lightning,” she says. “It felt like the world opened up.” Ironically, her husband, Jonathan, works in children’s book publishing. After she wrote her first manuscript, her husband asked if he could show it to an editor. “I was so confident that this was it, my big break,” says Colleen. “I thought, ‘I’ll clear my schedule for Good Morning America. I’ll get a new dress for my appearance on Oprah….”
While Colleen didn’t have that kind of instant success, she did get valuable critiques from some of the top editors in the business and excellent advice. “I was told to meet other authors, read blogs, take classes, and to throw myself into the world of children’s books,” says Colleen. “I did it all.”
Colleen deemed 2013 as the year she would get an agent. That happened in June. She spent the rest of 2013 focusing on writing. It paid off. She sold her first picture book, The Adventure of the Penquinaut to Scholastic in 2014. It’s due out in 2018. Her book, Love, Triangle, is due out in 2017.
Last year, Colleen’s friend, Erin Stein, a publisher with an imprint at Macmillan, approached her about writing some chapter books featuring a bunch of cheerful bears that live in the grumpy woods. Colleen and her agent worked out a deal and the Super Happy Party Bears series was born. It’s an eight-book series with the first two books due out in September. “I’ve never written a chapter book before,” says Colleen. “It’s a scary, amazing, and wonderful experience.”
Colleen makes a special effort to ensure that adults will enjoy the books too. “I try to include those little winks at parents to make them laugh while they’re reading,” she says. For example, Book 4 includes a nod to a classic TV show. “Two of the chipmunks are cops,” she says. “They’re in sunglasses. They’re CHiPs, Chipmunk Hijinks Patrol. And their names are Pouch and Jon. Pouch doesn’t speak, he just stores everything they need in his giant mouth.”
As the release date for her books draws near, Colleen is determined to savor the moment. “I had a great time getting to this point and now another whole chapter of my life is beginning,” she says. “I’ve been telling people for a long time that I’m an author. Now I’ll have published books.” According to Colleen, those days teaching seem like centuries ago. “I’m finally doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” she says. “There’s nothing more satisfying than that.”
For more information about Colleen and her books, visit www.thisismarciecolleen.com.
Article by Melissa Fales, Story Monsters Ink magazine, September 2016
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