You wouldn’t think that writing something new would be very “new” to me. After all, I’ve been writing professionally since I was about twenty. First as a newspaper reporter for both of Milwaukee’s daily newspapers back in the day when Milwaukee had two daily newspapers; then as a freelance magazine writer while I raised four kids and put “soccer mom” at the head of my “to do” list; and then as a blogger and author.
Each of those things was very different from the other—newspaper writing was, by nature, rather terse and “no nonsense” and incredibly deadline-driven. Magazine writing about public broadcasting was more challenging because I had to outgrow the constraints of the “inverted pyramid” style and fourth-grade reading level, and rise to the challenge (and fun!) of being more creative in how I structured a piece, more opinionated, more extravagant in my use of language.
And when I first started blogging a few years after I became a lawyer, oh, all bets were off as I wrote purely from the depths of my heart and imagination, and cared not a whit about whether an editor liked my sentence structure or my choice of subject. I wrote about love, and chocolate, and squirrels, and death, and motherhood, and gardening, and gratitude, and my growing appreciation for power tools.
But one thing bound all of those different bylines together, and that is that I was writing for grownups. I never, ever, ever thought about writing for kids.
Well “never say never” is a phrase that’s been around for a while, and so I should have known better. And eventually three things happened, two of which I never saw coming: 1. My younger son and his wife brought home a tiny rescue kitten they named Finnigan one Christmas and the little cutie got to stay with me for several weeks…and then again after he grew up, for several months; 2. My younger daughter developed a passion for contemporary circus aerial work; and 3. I acquired a new and delightful title in life—Grandma!
And so the idea for my new book “Finnigan the Circus Cat” was born, and despite the massive interruptions of having my empty nest on the market for a year and then moving after 32 years in the same location, I finally finished writing the book a few months ago.
Of course, things never go as planned, and if we think they will, we are truly kidding ourselves! My “plan” had been to hand the manuscript off cheerfully to an agent or publisher, and let them do the heavy lifting of finding me an illustrator and putting the book in print. Well, I am nothing if not incredibly impatient, and I’m also not getting any younger. So when that magical combination didn’t happen in short order, I took the bit in my teeth and decided to publish the book myself. Surely, I thought, it couldn’t be all that hard to find someone to do the sketches that would lead off every chapter!
Once again, good intentions mixed it up with other daily demands. I really wanted to have the finished book in hand to talk about and sell at Chicago’s Printers Row Lit Fest, where I go every year to have the most fun you can have as an author without being arrested. But I had run out of time to find an illustrator. As I vented my frustration over lunch one day, a good friend of mine—who has been there egging me on in every creative thing I’ve done for the past seven years!—urged me to just plunge right in and do the drawings myself.
“Mary, I’m, sure you can do it!” she said. “Pfffffttttt…” I replied sourly and took another bite of my salad.
It took me about 24 hours to come around to her way of thinking…and then my first step was to stop at the library and take out nearly a dozen “learn to draw” books for children. Yes, I had sketched a lot when I was a kid (mostly horses), but it had been decades since I had picked up a pencil and tried to draw a picture that wasn’t just a doodle.
To say that this task was harder than I had imagined would be the understatement of the year! Thank God for good rubber erasers. I sketched at home for hours, sitting on the sofa surrounded by “baby pictures” of Finnigan and books describing how to draw cats.
I sketched on my lunch hour, sitting beside the lake.
And as time was running out, I even sketched while at a conference listening to lectures about drug treatment courts and “lethality assessments” and the latest legal developments about the Fourth Amendment.
And so I finally got the job done, albeit just under the wire. And while I was at it, I even created a Kindle e-book edition. Personally, I think kids should mostly be reading books that require them to turn actual pages. But if Charlotte’s Web and Bunnicula can have e-book editions, who am I to argue?
I should have my Finnigan books in hand shortly before I leave for my “Printers Row” day in Chicago, and I expect to have a heck of a lot of fun with them! And best of all, even though I originally set out to write just one book about Finnigan, I’ve already got ideas percolating for the next two. Of course, just a week ago I was swearing that I would never take on the challenge of drawing the pictures for the next books.
But there’s just something about that phrase “never say never…” that makes me think I shouldn’t bet on it!