Molly and the Cat Who Stole Her Tongue: An Interview with Lucy Bell and Linda Martin
Recently, US Represented caught up with Colorado Springs author Lucy Bell and illustrator Linda Martin to discuss their collaboration on a newly published children’s book. Molly and the Cat Who Stole Her Tongue is a ten-chapter, 10,000-word adventure story for six to ten-year-olds (though any age would find it enjoyable). It has 22 illustrations that bring the characters to life.
The main character, eight-year-old Molly, can communicate with animals, but she hasn’t spoken since her parents were killed in an accident, forcing her to live with bossy Aunt Wilma. Her classmates bully her, chanting, “Cat’s got your tongue!” Molly recruits Tony, a wise black Lab, and Rusty, a rambunctious Cocker Spaniel, to help her track down the tongue-stealing cat. She gets her tongue back in a surprising way and just in time to save her town from catastrophe.
The theme of the story is finding courage within. Many children face situations—bullying, unkind words, or some instability in their lives, which can cause them to doubt themselves. Molly and the Cat Who Stole Her Tongue empowers children to believe in their gifts as they make their journey through life. There will be a launch and book signing from 1:00-3:30 on October 29 at Hooked on Books, 12 East Bijou, Colorado Springs.
The following conversation with Lucy and Linda offers an interesting look at the creative process that led to the book’s publication.
USR: When did this collaborative project begin, and what inspired it?
LB: It began in 2015. My work in doing classes and talks on local black history connected me with Juanita Martin, granddaughter of the Stroud family, who came to Colorado Springs in 1911. Juanita introduced me to her daughter, Linda, children’s author and professional illustrator.
LM: Lucy had seen some of my drawings on my website, and that someone told her I’d illustrated children’s books in the past. Once I read the manuscript and Lucy began describing the characters and the setting, I knew I wanted to illustrate her book.
USR: How has Colorado Springs influenced your artistic vision, especially in regard to Molly and the Cat Who Stole Her Tongue?
LB: I’ll pass on this one since Molly goes back to my North Dakota days.
LM: The beauty of Colorado Springs inspires me in everything I do. When I draw, paint, write my own books, I often stop to look at the mountains. It’s as if looking at all of that beauty makes me want to create something beautiful of my own. With Molly and the Cat Who Stole Her Tongue, I drew on my own experiences growing up in Colorado Springs, remembering a simpler time.
USR: Why did you choose to create a children’s story as opposed to, say, something in one of the adult genres? Is this a story for adults, too?
LB: This story is for all ages because the theme is believing in yourself. Set in 1950, with authentic illustrations of that time period, it provides a springboard for intergenerational conversation encouraging grandparents to tell their grandchildren about what times were like when they grew up.
This story didn’t originate as a children’s story, but came from an adult writing workshop at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, which addressed the theme of finding and following an authentic life.
LM: I think Molly and the Cat Who Stole Her Tongue reaches across all age groups. To me, it’s the story of someone suffering from a traumatic event who then seeks to find the answer to her problem and ends up not only helping herself, but others in the end.
USR: Did your preferred mediums blend well as the story took shape?
LB: Linda read the book carefully before beginning her work. She works in all mediums but deliberately chose pencil for this book because she thought it best conveyed the shades of feeling and meaning in the story. She’s a master of light. She lets the reader see moonlight coming through gauze curtains and also surrounds characters with light at crucial times in the story.
LM: Lucy’s story and my pencil drawing were a perfect synthesis. I purposely used a soft, rustic quality to complement the real, human (and non-human) emotions expressed in the book.
USR: How didactic is Molly and the Cat Who Stole Her Tongue?
LB: The story is based on the universal human pattern of the Hero’s Journey. It does not teach. It only reveals what we already know deep within.
LM: The strength of Molly and the Cat Who Stole Her Tongue is that it is not didactic. You have the central character who has a problem that needs to be solved. But the story never tells the reader in what way the problem should be solved. There’s no right or wrong way. I think this makes it easier for a child to root for Molly – there’s no adult voice telling her what to do. She becomes the heroine of her own story.
USR: Text alone can deliver one message. Drawings alone tell a different story. What can be said about blending the two to create yet a third way of seeing, thinking, and knowing?
LB: Yes, good question. This is where our collaboration was unique and we were able to blend our strengths to create that third way. Let me explain: Big publishing companies have illustrators on their staff or on call. When a children’s writer isn’t an illustrator herself and submits text only, the editors assign an illustrator to the text. Rarely do the two meet in person. I have talked to children’s writers who were deeply disappointed at the pictorial depiction of their story, the illustrators having completely missed the point.
There are 22 illustrations in the Molly book, 1-3 per chapter. Linda and I did one chapter a month, meeting and discussing in person and then following up with e-mail how we envisioned the illustrations. Linda was adamant about producing as closely as possible the image that was in my mind when I wrote the words. At times, I sent her photographs from my childhood since most of the characters are autobiographical. Other times I would search images on the computer to find just the right detail that would fit my imagined thought.
She’s a stickler for exacting detail. One illustration has a sundress hanging in a closet with an open door. It’s a significant picture because the sundress is a metaphor for the change in Aunt’s feeling toward Molly. Aunt has been mean and insulting to this child she didn’t want living with her, but over the course of the story, Aunt is having a change of heart and buys Molly the first new dress she’s ever owned. A simple picture but holding a lot of meaning, and no detail was too small for Linda to consider. We discussed from which direction the door would open, if the door would have a design on it—deciding no, nothing to distract from the dress. And again, Linda used her magic with light to make this drawing powerful.
LM: You have to have the right combination of story and art to effectively create an illustrated children’s book. In our case, Lucy’s story was so richly described that it begged for drawings. The drawings needed to be simple but accurate. We met nearly every Sunday at a local restaurant. Lucy would begin to describe the chapter we were working on and I would start sketching. I’d ask, “Is this what you see?” Lucy would say yes or no. Slowly, a sketch would develop – a drawing we both created – her with words, and I with my hands.
USR: How are your adventures in marketing going? Any interesting strategies or learning experiences along the way so far?
LB: Marketing is not my strong suit. I’m so thankful for my publisher, Jessica Lamirand, who’s a true professional at handling business details. I’m learning a lot from Jessica.
Also, I appreciate Jim and Mary Ciletti, who are making it a mission to support local writers in their two Hooked on Books locations in Colorado Springs. I didn’t even request them to do a book launch for me. Jim offered it to me.
LM: I’ve begun advertising the book on my Facebook page, as well as my website. I also plan to advertise on Twitter and Pinterest. And word-of-mouth is always good.
USR: Any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
LM: Molly and The Cat Who Stole Her Tongue was a delightful book to illustrate. I learned about barns decorated with carnival posters, how a wringer washer operated, what was sold in a filling station in 1950. It was a wonderful time-travel adventure for me.
Publication Date: October 11, 2016.
Launch and Book Signing: 1:00-3:30, October 29, 2016, at Hooked on Books, 12 East Bijou, Colorado Springs
Purchasing information: Available online at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.
Book copies available at Hooked on Books, Colorado Springs, two locations: 12 East Bijou and 3918 Maizeland Road.
AMBIENT LIGHT PUBLISHERS
Paperback, 71 pages. List price: $7.99
Lucy Bell is a retired teacher and writing consultant. Her thirty-five year teaching career included creating FIRSTWRITE, a program that helped hundreds of teachers teach first graders creative writing, even before they could spell. She is currently a featured contributor for the online magazine US Represented and the literary journal Almagre Review. Molly and the Cat who Stole Her Tongue is her first children’s novel.
For over 30 years, pencil artist Linda Martin has delighted in capturing the beauty of people, pets, plants, places, and everything in between. She got her start in the world of art by producing clip art, spot drawings, and logos, and then she slowly branched out into book illustration, portraiture and fine art. She is a Colorado Springs native, and many of her ideas for art projects come from looking out her window and seeing the gorgeous Rocky Mountains in the distance. (She has a perfect view of Pikes Peak!)