(Photo compliments of Mary’s website HERE.)
I met Mary Coons in my Ft. Wayne writer’s group years ago and instantly became her fan. Each time I attended, Mary would read chapters from The Piglys and The Hundred-Year Mystery and I fell in love with her characters and her drawings. I’m so excited to welcome her here today and share her journey with you.
1. Describe your publishing journey.
My publishing journey? Yikes. It began with a query letter to a major publisher, and an interested response that, yes, they would like to see the manuscript. (I had, at that time, a query letter that far surpassed the manuscript in excellence.) They declined the manuscript, and it then went through five major rewrites before I connected with Archway, who ended up publishing the book. (Archway is from Simon & Schuster, and provides writers with a self- publishing solution that is tailored to meet their individual goals as an author.) In between the query letter and final publishing were MANY “no” responses to the self-same query letter.
My novel’s characters are talking pigs, and the publishing industry went through a five year period where many houses’ instructions to authors stipulated, sternly, that they wanted nothing to do with anthropomorphic animals. It could have been daunting.
2. Why did you choose the publisher you went with?
A certain amount of serendipity went into it. I met someone who had just discovered Archway, and they were very excited. My decision was partly based on Archway’s giving me access to additional ways to publicize the book. I am particularly thankful to their design team, who “got” the feeling I wanted, and were even able to design a suspenseful-looking cover, pasted together from my illustrations.
3. How many years have you been writing and illustrating this Pigly Book that I love?
I started working on this novel in 1995. As I described earlier, my first response to a query letter was positive, and that kept me going through the many rejections. Looking back, I’d say the rejections were entirely correct: The Piglys and the Hundred Year Mystery started life as a bad book.
But, after each round of rejections, I would search out my meanest and most literate friends, and have one of them review the ms. And, they gave me hard advice that I took to heart. The manuscript went through five major rewrites between birth and publication, and three entire sets of illustrations.
One particularly hard pill to swallow was prescribed by a friend who is an art director. Of my highly stylized illustrations, she said, “A publisher will give it to someone else to illustrate.” And I headed back to the drawing board to dig up a style that better fit the book. I’m so glad I did—I love the new pictures I ended up drawing.
3. What is the genre? It’s a mystery, but a whimsical one.
4. Who is your target market – ages of intended audience?
It’s a mystery written for middle readers, 4th through 6th graders, but really, I expect it to be loved by all ages. I read this genre myself, and I’ve had reports already from a mom whose three-year-old goes to bed asking: “More piggies?” A good story transcends age brackets, I think.
(To view the adorable YOU TUBE video of this book click HERE.)
5. What do you know now that you wished you would have known before you started your publishing journey?
That’s a hard question. I wrote this book because I felt I had something to say, not because I was expecting to get published. I expect I could have handled the publishing end of things better if I had had a more business-like approach to it.
6. What is your next project?
A sequel. I know it will involve a secret underground system under the streets of Pigville, and several shocking developments in the lives of our heroes.
7. Do you aspire to do book illustrations for authors?
I love illustrating. Love it. Honestly, my interest in good painting for its own sake is minimal. What I love is art that tells a story, and the challenge of telling the story on the printed page. So, quick answer, Yes!
8. Were you a teacher, Mary? What’s been your profession?
I started out doing the graphics for a small children’s magazine, fresh out of my college career as an English major. I moved out of the office and started doing freelance illustration, and drawing people’s houses, while my two sons were growing up. I taught camps for gifted middle-grade students for Wright State University for ten years, and did presentations for several universities for some of their Masters degree programs.
It’s been a career like dinner in your favorite Mexican restaurant—two enchiladas, a taco, rice and beans make up the meal. For me, it’s been some illustration, some house drawings, some teaching and public speaking, and the occasional logo design and hand-lettered wedding invitation!
9. What advice would you give a writer who might want to take the same path you took?
I don’t know that I have advice, but what I like about what I did was this: I stuck to what I loved about my book. I kept honing it toward the heart of what I felt I had to say to the world, and I think I’ve been true to that. I am not a trendy person—I have scarves I wear that are older than some people reading this blog—and I was not discouraged when the publishers didn’t want anthropomorphic pigs, or what ever else was not stylish that particular year. I hope the result is timeless. A classic.
- 10.What are your writing goals? Do you have so many books you want to publish?
- I have another book ready to send to a publisher. It’s an illustrated parable/story about an orphan and a magical mailman.
My goal? I want to write a classic. I want to write something that rises above our disposable culture, and becomes a book people return to, again and again. I want to be the author of a book that you read to your toddler, then he reads it for himself a few years later, and then takes to college to read for comfort when he should be doing his calculus. And THEN he reads the same battered copy to his kids. I don’t know if The Piglys and the Hundred Year Mystery is on that level, but I hope it is.
I write children’s books. Mostly because, I READ children’s books. I care about them, and am moved by them. I think it is as difficult to write a good children’s book as it is to write a great poem because you do not have the luxury of a single wasted word. Kids are merciless critics, and you lose them the instant you allow yourself to be boring or self-indulgent.
11. Who was the person who influenced you and/or encouraged you as an author/illustrator?
In illustration, E. H. Shepard, who did the original drawings for the Pooh books. He also illustrated The Wind in the Willows, a book that rocked my world when I was in 4th grade. Those masterful black-and-white line drawings are so concise, so witty, and add so much pathos and humor to the text.
And, The Wind in the Willows was a big influence. To this day, my two sons let me read the Dolce Domum chapter of that book to them out loud at Christmas, and, to this day, I cannot read it without crying. I believe a good childrens book is an agent of healing and restoration to a child’s heart, and I believe that because that’s how it worked for me.
To view Mary’s Pigly book and read an excerpt click HERE.
(Photo compliments of Mary Coons’ website. Be sure to check out all her work! It’s amazing.)