My first publishing success was a children’s book, two books— Me Molly Midnight; the Artist’s Cat and Runaway Molly Midnight; the Artist’s Cat—illustrated with artwork by Herman Maril.
Home for a visit after college, I was ecstatic to be surrounded by my father’s paintings, after living in an environment with mostly bare walls. My mother Esta Maril, a psychiatric social worker, had just written a book about a little boy who only ate peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day and she was going to show it to a publisher, Barbara Holdridge at Stemmer House. An aspiring writer myself, we talked about the elements present in a children’s book over dinner.
That night, unable to sleep, I went downstairs and started writing a story told from the perspective of our black cat Molly, who had once belonged to me but had switched allegiance to my father.
I thought I was writing it for children, but I was really writing it to answer all the questions people would ask me as an artist’s daughter, questions like:
How long does it take your father to complete a painting?
Where does he work?
What kind of materials does he use?
Where does he get his ideas?
Does he ever put you in a painting?
Are you also an artist?
Then I had another idea. I could illustrate the story with actual paintings my father had done with Molly the black cat in them as well as photographs from our house, settings that had inspired my father’s artwork. My mother liked my manuscript so much, she took it with her to her appointment with Barbara Holdridge. Her book was never published, mine was. However, Barbara did not like the idea of mixing photographs with original artwork and she nixed my illustration concept. She also did not like the idea of the story being told in first person by the cat and asked me to change it to third person.
I did what she requested. Then she changed her idea again about point of view after she fell in love with the painting she chose for the cover, “Suzanne and Cat” and became entranced with the idea of alliteration, Me, Molly Midnight. So, one afternoon while sitting in her parlor on a lumpy couch revising my manuscript, desperately hungry for something to eat and too shy to ask her for permission to take a break, I changed it back to first person. I was young and eager. After it was published I visited many schools, gave readings and encouraged elementary age school children to create books of their own.
As one of the many programs associated with Herman Maril: The Strong Forms of Our Experience on exhibit through October 29that the Cahoon Museum of American Art, September 15th at 1:00 p.m., I’ll be in Cotuit, Massachusetts on Cape Cod doing a reading and leading a workshop for children on making a book for about your pet. https://cahoonmuseum.org/programs/
I’d still like to do a children’s book with a mixture of photographs and paintings. My pet of choice these days is a dog, Chloe the labradoodle, a dog my father never met. She’s quite striking, tall in stature and white when she’s clean.
In answer to that last question, fans of my father’s work often ask me, Are you an artist like your Dad?Tthe word artist is not limited to visual art. Following in my father’s footsteps, I am an artist, I create with words.