A friend of mine, Marcy Blesy, is having great success with the book she has just had published, and I would like to introduce her to you. Here she is to answer some questions. I’m sure many of you will want to order her book. It’s beautiful, it fills a need, and it has been a work of her heart.
Marcy, I was so pleased to be in the audience recently when you launched Am I Like My Daddy? Will you tell my readers of Brainstorms just how you came up with the idea for this book?
MB: My dad died when I was 13 and my mom when I was 24. I always knew that grief would be a part of my writing. Many of the books in this genre deal with the immediate loss of a loved one, while this book focuses on time, years later, when a child is reprocessing her grief and asking more questions. The pictures in her mind are incomplete, and she seeks new answers about what her dad was really like and if she is anything like him.
What is the genre of your book?
MB: My picture book is in the children’s grief genre.
Who are your publisher and your illustrator, and how did you come to work with each of them?
MB: My publisher is Bronze Man Books, a university publisher at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. I am a graduate of Millikin, but that is no guarantee of publication. I submitted various versions of this manuscript several times before they decided they were interested in publishing Am I Like My Daddy? In the meantime, I actually submitted versions of this story to 99 publishers and agents before my 100th submission, which was the only “yes” I needed. I believe that the book landed at the best possible publisher at the best possible time. They have taken very good care of my story. They chose the illustrator, Amy Kuhl Cox, a resident of South Carolina. Bronze Man Books had seen samples of her work in a children’s book submission of her own that she had given them. They asked her to submit samples of illustrations based upon my story. It was a wonderful match. Amy is incredibly talented, and she expanded the vision for this book through the pictures to include the close relationship between Grace (my seven year-old character) and her mom. Her stained glass-looking designs are very visually appealing.
I am drawn not only to the story, but to the beautiful illustrations. Could you describe your illustrator’s process and how she came to use the colors she did?
MB: Amy had been commissioned to create a banner for Grace Episcopal Church in Anderson, South Carolina based upon the four gospels of the Bible. She used a computer program (far beyond my scope of comprehension!!) to extract the color from the photos of the stained glass windows to infuse into my illustrations. That is why, for example, Grace has different shades and textures of brown in her hair rather than just a straight even brown color. I love the pictures!
How did you name Grace, your main character?
MB: Well, there are several reasons. For one, I just love the name. Two, the song Amazing Grace has a special meaning to my family. It is played at family funerals. At my wedding, the song was played while the grandparents were seated. Third, the meaning of grace in Christianity is the unfailing love of God toward man.
How has Am I Like My Daddy? filled a need in your life?
MB: I am a volunteer grief facilitator at Lory’s Place, a grief education and support center in St. Joseph, Michigan. It wasn’t until I went through training a few years ago that I finally felt as if I was in a roomful of people who got it - people who understood what it was like to have lost a parent as a child. Now, 27 years later, I feel that I can give back to others. My life has come full circle. The book is one of hope, and Grace feels comforted at the end of the book. She knows it is okay not to remember everything. And when she forgets, she learns how to get the answers she needs.
Could you talk a little about your writing process and about the number of times you rewrote your book before its acceptance for publication?
MB: Oh, I’ve lost count. The story was originally written all in rhyming verse. I had editors telling me the idea was good but it needed to be a story, not a poem. I wrote it in first person, third person, all in journal form, etc. before it landed in its present form. I probably wrote again and again for four years with this manuscript. Bronze Man Books helped to tighten it up even more.
I know you work in an elementary school library and you volunteer at Lory’s Place, a grief support center. What has been the reaction of the students and children you work with in both these places?
MB: The kids at school have been very supportive. Since it takes a long time for a picture book to be published, I was able to share early illustrations, layouts, etc. with the kids, and educate them about how a book is put together. They even had a book signing for me at school. At that event we raised over $300 for Lory’s Place with the sale of copies of Am I Like My Daddy?
How is Am I Like My Daddy? different from other books one might find about a (young) child losing a parent?
MB: It deals with the loss of loved ones years after the loss. In this book, Grace’s dad dies when she is five. She is seven in the story, and realizes she has new questions for the people who knew her dad. Also, Grace learns that not everyone can or will answer her questions. This is a tough, but factual reality of grief. It is personal for everyone.
What were some challenges you overcame during the writing of your book?
MB: I was tenacious in not giving up. I got enough positive comments that I knew I had something unique. Even though I have a drawer full of rejection letters (that I keep to this day), it is very hard to give up on a dream.
What has been the best thing for you in the writing of Am I Like My Daddy?
MB: Personally, I feel great having my first book published. I feel that I have some validation for all of the years I’ve worked trying to achieve this dream. Holding the book for the first time was amazing! Also, I am thrilled that Am I Like My Daddy? is my first book because its message is so important and special to me. I am getting comments from readers and reviewers that are unbelievable to me. Everyone has a grief story. Knowing that this book can touch people and cause them to relate to Grace in a positive, hopeful way that encourages communication to continue long after a parent has died is very, very special.
How long did it take from when you originated the idea for the book to its actual publication?
MB: It was about four years, as I can best recollect.
What advice would you give a beginning writer?
MB: Oh, gosh, I still feel that I am a beginner! Don’t give up on your dream. You have to believe in you, but constructive comments (once the sting goes away) are meant to push you to make the manuscript even better. Experience with what others think, and decide what works best for you. Read a lot. You will be surprised how it impacts your own style of writing.
Where is your book available and how much is it?
MB: The book is available on Amazon, at the publisher’s website, http://www.bronzemanbooks.com, through store orders at Barnes and Noble, and locally at Parable Christian Bookstore in St. Joseph, Michigan.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
MB: My next book will be released this spring. Confessions of a Corn Kid is a middle-grade novel about a small-town girl with big-city dreams. It will be an e-book only, sold on Amazon. It’s the next chapter in my adventures into this new-found (and loved) career. Thanks for the great questions and for giving me a chance to tell my story.
You’re welcome. This conversation has been interesting, hearing from the author about bringing a book from concept through its entire process to final publication. Congratulations on your achievement.