Tuesday. June 1st falls on a Tuesday this year. But what, exactly, is so special about 6/1/21? Well, dear reader, provided all goes as planned, that is the day that our picture book, Mr. Quigley’s Keys, will be launching. Coincidentally, it’s also my sixtieth birthday; what an incredible gift the providential timing of our book’s born-on date will be. And while it’s only about six weeks away, it feels like it has been a long time coming, so while we wait, here’s its beautiful backstory.
It was nearly a decade ago when my friend, Jennifer Quigley, got to meet my father and subsequently told me the story about hers. Our dads had so many similarities: Both had enlisted in the military as young men, both were handymen, both were great men of character who regarded their handshake as their bond. Two of the differences were that her dad was deaf and that he had passed away suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 52. Then she shared the part that really stuck with me, the part where he was the maintenance man for the same school district where she got her first teaching job and the part about how she and her students would get SO excited when they’d hear his keys coming down the hallway toward their classroom, keys that he couldn’t even hear because of a war injury from his time in the Navy. I distinctly remember telling her that that would make a fascinating picture book and that I could hear the title in my head: Mr. Quigley’s Keys. I encouraged her to write it, but she quickly declined with, “I’m not a writer, but I know someone who is.” Full stop.
Wait, was she really giving me permission to write her daddy’s story? If only I were a fiction writer. And that’s where that stayed, with just an occasional, distant jingle of those keys off and on over the years, until October 2019, when a young Art teacher from Bales Intermediate, the school from which I had retired the previous year, reached out to me and asked if I might want to connect over a cup of coffee. She said she’d heard good things about me and was wondering if I could help her find a way to combine her love of art with her love of people. It wasn’t until the morning after that meeting, during which I’d agreed to be her mentor, that I realized the illustrator for my picture book had just found me. The moment that landed on my heart, I called and left her a voice text; when she got back to me, I’d learn that it was, indeed, on her bucket list to illustrate a picture book. Now all I’d need to do is write it.
That, and find a publisher.
Because the pandemic pause that Spring put many of my mentoring and speaking engagements on hold, I had a lot of time to write and sharpen the story; by the summer of 2020, I’d met with Audrye several times via FaceTime to discuss the vision for the book so that she could start the illustrations which would bring my words to life. I reached out to EduMatch Publishing with a proposal in June and, within the month, I heard back that they loved the story and would like to offer us a contract. Since I’d heard that most publishers prefer to use their own professional illustrators, I let Sarah know up front that I had an illustrator in mind and kindly asked if they’d consider us as a package deal. Thankfully she agreed, and, in a serendipitous twist, we signed our contracts on the 35th-year anniversary of the passing of Jennifer’s dad, Don Pittman, the hero handyman who inspired our story.
More in a future post about the process from that joyous moment until our book’s release; until then, here’s a peek at a page from the back of our book.