By: Kimberly Eldredge
I had a scary conversation with my mom yesterday. Mom has been an elementary school teacher for 33-years. She’s in her mid-sixties and approaching retirement. That’s seems pretty reasonable and normal, right?
Mom is looking forward to retiring but one of the real reasons why she’s retiring is because she’s sick and tired of people coming up and asking her, “Rosie, when are you going to retire?”
She’s too polite and too much the consummate professional to just snap back, “It’s really none of your business!” But she shared with me that she is sick to death of people assuming she should retire or that she even wants to.
The conversation naturally flowed from retirement to what is she going to do when she no longer is teaching a room full of 4th graders? What’s her plan?
Now, here’s the REALLY scary part:
Somewhere along the line, Mom realized she’s lost her passion. She is an amazing teacher and was passionate about it for a long, long time. And after 33 years, its okay if old interests wane and new ones develop.
Except they didn’t. Mom didn’t take any time away from being a teacher and wife and mother to continue to pursue her passions, to nurture what she loves to do outside of the classroom and home.
Let’s look at me for a moment. When I was a sophomore in High School I learned I could get a degree in Creative Writing. Holy crow! I could make a living from telling stories; something I’d wanted to do since I was six.
Excited, I told everybody and their brother that I was going to go to the University of Arizona and major in Creative Writing.
And guess what everybody and their brother asked me?
“What’s your backup plan?”
Now here’s where the similarities between my mother and I really diverge: I had no problem snapping at anybody who questioned my decision, “Backup plan? Backup plan! I don’t need a backup plan? I’m going to be an author.”
And in December of 2002, I did just that: I graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in Creative Writing.
I also graduated with shattered dreams I think a lot of college graduates experience. I had my shiny degree in hand, excellent training in writing, and hard-won knowledge of how to dissect literary texts. But I hadn’t the slightest clue as how to go beyond the writing and get into the PUBLISHING.
I spent a lot of time and money trying to figure out traditional publishing. Let me be candid: It sucks. Plain and simple, I think I’ve got a better chance of getting hit by lightning than landing a book contract. Especially since I don’t write novels.
Unwilling to abandon the dream, I just altered it a bit. Became a blogger. And finally, FINALLY, learned about self-publishing eBooks. Whew! What a game changer to see my name in print on a major retailer’s website. And to actually make money from writing!
(I may have danced a bit when the first money came in. And I may have shook my fist and yelled “Told you so!” at everybody who was so concerned about my backup plan.)
Even with that success under my belt, there were still stories in the drawer. The ones I knew were good and funny and I loved but somehow, I wasn’t willing to take a chance on. It’s one thing to have success publishing how-to books, or books of campfire stories, but for those projects that are held close to the heart, filled with passion… I was still hesitant.
There was a story in my portfolio that just refused to lie there quietly.
Back in 2007, I got a wild hair and decided to take an Italian class at my local community college. I’m already fluent in Spanish as well as my native English and thought, what the heck! I’ll learn Italian too.
The class was a lot of fun. There was a great mix of for-enrichment students and 18 year old college kids. All was fun and games until one day, our professor, Mario, announced that he’d be missing a class. We could either make it up or do a writing project.
It could be about ANYTHING. It had to be two pages, written in your best Italian. (Which, at the time, consisted of very limited vocabulary and verbs in the present tense only.)
From that writing assignment was born: Pastarelli
What better use of beginning language than to write a children’s story, geared toward beginning readers. With my background in Spanish, the grammar wasn’t scary and I knew my way around a dictionary and a 501 Italian Verb book like riding the Madrid Metro. For the oral presentation, I sat on the desk with a HUGE picture book I’d illustrated myself and “published” by turning brown paper grocery sacks inside out.
It was a hoot! A great story. Everybody was laughing. The pictures were engaging. I took home an A+
And then he sat. Poor, poor Pastarelli. He had his ten minutes of glory in a college Italian class and then sat in his picture book in my closet. I’d always told myself that I’d brush him off someday and get him published.
But if I thought getting a children’s book (or any book) published was a headache, imagine the daunting task of convincing an editor to take on a children’s story in Italian. That wasn’t a bi-lingual story.
So Pastarelli sat some more.
Then, I realized what a hypocrite I was being. Come on, Kim! If you’ll independently self-publish all your other stories and your cookbooks and your how-tos, why, WHY would you sell out and try “traditional” for Pastarelli?!
Is the story cute? Yes.
Do I have all the tools to draw and scan in the illustrations? Yes.
Can I find somebody to help me edit the Italian?
Thank you Facebook for introducing me to Simona Wright, a friend’s grandma who’s a native Italian speaker AND an Italian professor.
So what was I waiting for?
It was tax season. I work in my family’s tax practice 60+ hours a week. And I discovered that I really enjoyed kicking back each evening with my oil pastels and my chamomile tea to draw Pastarelli. It took all tax season, working on it just an hour an evening, three nights a week. Pastarelli has over 20 all original illustrations plus a few that were “composites” that I drew the pieces and then layered it together in Photoshop.
I also translated Pastarelli from the original Italian and into English and Spanish. I figured, why not?
Then, in early May, I fulfilled a life-long publishing dream: I had published Pastarelli.
So, what does this have to do with Mom?
Because at the end of the conversation, as the cell phone was beeping its low battery song, I reminded her about Pastarelli. I explained that even though I’ve sold exactly two copies (one to my aunt and one to myself) that the fulfilling of that dream was worth every hour spent.
And I asked her, “Wouldn’t it be terrible if I had died and you had discovered Pastarelli in a drawer?”
She answered, “Yep, I would have just thrown it away.”
I answered, “It could have been worse that that, Mom. You could have looked at the story and realized that I had died still singing the shoulda-coulda-woulda song. That I was still waiting for somebody to discover this neat little story instead of going out and making it happen myself.”
And she was silent on the line for a moment. Then she said, “Yes, that would have been worse. I guess I need to figure out what I don’t want you to find in the “drawer” after I die.”
Pastarelli was a dream of mine. I’m in love with the story; I’m in love with Pastarelli; I’m in love with doing an Amazon search for Kimberly Eldredge and seeing the book’s cover appear. Book sales are always wonderful, and I sell a lot of my other titles, but Pastarelli holds a special place in my heart.
It’s a place where I refused to let a dream die on the vine. It’s a place where I not only ignored my critics, but I found a way to thumb my nose at them. But most of all, it’s a place where I’m proud. I didn’t let a dream die, I sought it out and made it a reality.
Because at the end of the day, it’s not about the book sales. It’s about being able to face the dawn knowing that if I were to die today, no one would go through my desk drawer and find a dream named Pastarelli gathering dust.