Michele Bledsoe “Lupus in Fabula” acrylic on canvas 14″ x 11″
THE JOURNEY TO “THE SECRET KINGDOM“
We’d talked before of creating a children’s book together. Michele decided it was time to work towards this goal. Michele had a story idea, but since she did not think of herself as an author, we would collaborate on the writing. Michele would create all the paintings for the story; aware of her methods and pace in regards to the number of paintings she wanted to illustrate the book, we estimated it would take about two years to complete.
This seemed like a good solution. Although we have no kids of our own, we both loved children’s books; in fact, it was the beautifully illustrated books of our youth that inspired us both to become artists. We reasoned a book could reach a larger audience than an original artwork could, and the cost would be more reasonable. Michele could keep her paintings and still share her art. Best of all, we hoped that some of the kids who saw the book would also be inspired to become artists.
Despite the extended timeline associated with the project, it felt good to have a specific goal, and a new direction to explore. We knew nothing about publishing , so we assumed a big part of the time would be spent researching that industry.
The day after we decided to pursue this course, Michele was sitting in her art studio, painting and talking on the phone to her sister Patricia in New Jersey. Patricia is a blogger who reviews many books, including children’s literature. Michele was hoping to get some insights from her on how the market works. Michele shared the idea for the children’s book and anticipated completion date, and asked Patricia for her thoughts.
Patricia basically told Michele she was being stupid.
Patricia did not mean this in a derogatory way. Instead, this was just her strong reaction to the fact we were overlooking something so obvious. “You are already surrounded by the pages of a children’s book,” she informed Michele.
Michele turned her head and looked around the room, surveying the walls of our studio, which are lined practically floor to ceiling with dozens of her paintings. “I don’t have a story for these,” Michele said.
“It doesn’t need to be a story. Just write some poetry,” Patricia replied.
The Secret Kingdom was born right then and there. Michele was so excited by the new insights, after she got off the phone she wrote three wonderful poems before she remembered she wasn’t an author.
During her talk with Patricia, Michele came to realizations about the steps forward needed. She recognized until we had a complete book ready, any research about publishing would be a distraction. Before we did anything else, we needed to write the book. I was still recruited as co-author, but now I would be creating poems inspired by Michele’s art, instead of creating a narrative for her pictures to illustrate. In The Secret Kingdom, the art came first.
To go along with momentum this new idea inspired, Michele set a very ambitious new deadline: we would write the content for the book in one month. Every day we each selected a painting of Michele’s which might be incorporated into the book and wrote a poem about it. In the end we would have plenty to chose from, and only pick the best ones.
Each painting poem took on its own character: some were guided by the imagery of the piece, others just by the mood the art suggested. Michele’s signature surreal and dreamy style set a perfect tone for a most unusual bedtime book, which we imagined both children and adults could linger over and enjoy.
I needed some initial guidance. I take part in spoken word events and poetry readings, so I was used to writing for an esoteric literary audience. My first efforts were long, complicated poems full of obscure references. But once Michele managed to convey to me the nature of what she wanted her book to be, I was able to get into the spirit of it. I came to understand it as a matter of rhythm mostly, and the power of the brief but evocative phrase. It was an enjoyable challenge, the effort to be direct, thoughtful and beautiful all at once.
In the meantime Michele continued to produce amazing poems of her own, experiencing a surge in her hitherto unknown talent for writing. She often had complete poems suddenly occur to her, fully formed and without any need for editing. She even had to get up in the middle of the night to capture ideas that came to her. The Muse doesn’t keep predictable hours.
With practically daily production from both of us, within the month we had plenty of accomplished poems to accompany Michele’s intense paintings. It was a wonderful project to go through as a couple, as we remained delighted and surprised by each other’s efforts throughout the process.
We were ready for the next step.