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writing the book

The Adventures of Mrs. Almaletta Finks
And Her Brave Little Class
writing the book

We arrived in Lompoc, California a few weeks after my sixth birthday, so I went straight to first grade and into the class of Mrs. Alma Finks, whom I adored. My mother, Leslie Mayer, was a substitute teacher and teacher's aid and as she watched Mrs. Finks interact with her students, a story began to take shape in her head. Two years later, in 1963, "The Adventures of Mrs. Almaletta Finks" was finished and ready to send out.

After a few rejection letters from publishers, the manuscript was put in a drawer and my mother moved on with her busy life: president of the Art Association, vice president of the Community Center, artist, wife, mother, teacher, activist (Save The Whales!).

Fast forward forty four years to 2007. Mom and Dad were living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, near my sister Andrea. Macular Degeneration was taking its toll, and Mom was almost completely blind. Unable to paint or read, she was becoming depressed and frustrated. I wondered what I could do to help lift her spirits.

Then one day I read an article about self-publishing through print-on-demand companies. I immediately thought of Mom's book, and thought this sounded like just the thing. I did some research and thought would be a good company to try. I called my father and, amazingly, he knew where the manuscript was so he sent it to me at our home in Maine and I began typing it into my computer. My husband Dan was three years into his battle with advanced prostate cancer so the book wasn't a priority, and after a few months I realized that typing the entire manuscript would take me years, so I asked my sister Bits (Leslie Ann), who is a legal assistant and super-speedy typist, if she would type it. She agreed, and I sent her the manuscript.

On December 16th of 2007, my beautiful Dan died and both of our families were hit very hard by his passing. Mrs. Finks was put away yet again, until November of 2008 when Bits sent me the newly digitized manuscript. My friend Gail Page is a children's book author and illustrator, and she had created an adorable cover image for the 9" x 11" book, and my sister Andrea contributed the hand-drawn title.

I ordered the book.

first cover

Dan had always loved Christmas, from watching the 1951 film, "Scrooge" with Alistair Sims each Christmas Eve, to decorating the tree and entire house. I wanted to surprise my mother with the book for Christmas, but knew I couldn't face the holiday itself. So my parents agreed: no tree, no presents, no decorations, and I flew to them on the 18th of December. My sister Andrea lives near them and came in to see me that night. We decided to give Mom the book right away, so I could read it to her during my two weeks there.

I handed it to Andrea to give to Mom, who was sitting at the kitchen island counter. She set it down in front of her and said "Merry Christmas, Mom". Mom asked what it was and Andrea said, "It's a book...can you see it?" (I'd made a point of making the background a bright yellow.) Mom felt the smooth cover and turned her head to see it peripherally. "Yes, I see it, what's it called?"

"It's called The Adventures of Mrs. Almaletta Finks, by Leslie Mayer. It's your book."

We all knew she was going to like it, but we were completely taken aback when she burst into tears. My mother is not a crier. In fact, this is only the second time in my life that I can remember seeing her cry. (The first time was the day I took her make-up and applied it to my rubber rain boots with her powder compact pad. I guess she'd had a long day, because she sat down on the tub next to me and cried. I felt so awful, it was burned indelibly into my 4-year-old brain.)

So we were all completely surprised. She said she'd thought the book would just be forgotten forever. She sat there for the rest of the night, feeling the cover while we all talked and laughed and prepared dinner and did dishes, and from time to time she would start crying again, saying it was the best present she'd ever received. On the back was printed: "It took 45 years Mom, but here at last is your masterpiece in print. Andrea created the creative title lettering, Bits spent many hours typing from the original manuscript, and Jean did the technical stuff and asked her friend Gail Page, whose work you admire so, to create the cover art. Merry Christmas, with so much admiration and love, from your girls."

We made time to sit together each day, and I began reading her the story I hadn't heard since it was read by a teacher to my 3rd grade class. Populated by rich characters like Mrs. Finks, who always tells her students to "Think BIG" (which actually was my mother's mantra); poor, fearful Sir Penpaint; the cursed Wooferrang; the lovely Queen of Night; the wicked Black Witch; the evil FEARS, and places like The Land of Lostandfound and the Island of Pretend, it was a fun read. I was impressed, and so was Mom. After we'd finished the book, we agreed that while the plot and characters were good, it needed work. So we sat down again and as I read, I made suggestions about dialogue, continuity, resolving of subplots, rhymes, and secondary character names. It was slow going, since Mom kept falling asleep while I was reading to her (a sure sign of a good bedtime story) but she liked my suggestions and we were both inspired to be creative with it. We got through the first couple of chapters and then it was time for me to return home. Mom asked me to finish the rest of the book.

I called from time to time to read her new passages, and she really liked my changes. She joked that she gave birth to her editor then wrote the book and waited. She insisted that I list myself as co-writer and I'm proud to do so.

2008 was a busy year for me and 2009 was even busier. But over the year I continued to work on the revisions when I could and visit from time to time. I was with them in March when Andrea went in for a check-up. The hospital emergency room called to tell us that only 1/3 of her heart was working and that they wanted to keep her and do more tests. Life was throwing it's own subplots at us.

Mom and I did a little work on the book during this time, but we were mostly focused on Andrea (who had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted, and is doing well.) In the meantime I'd been doing more research on self publishing with Print On Demand (POD) companies and read about CreateSpace, the self-publishing division of I decided we should try them this time.

So there we were in April of 2010, and the edited manuscript was finally finished. Since we agreed that the new version of the book should be 6" x 9", I created a new cover image that I felt would stand out better in the smaller format.

Almaletta Finks front cover
Click book image to view entire cover

During the editing process I removed any detailed descriptions of the children so that kids of every ethnicity could relate to the characters, so I felt the cover should feature not the children but the Wooferrang, who is a big part of the main plot.

Since I started the project in 2007, a stroke had resulted in Mom experiencing increasing dementia and I worried constantly about finishing the book while she still had time to enjoy it. Some days she didn't know where she was or who we were. But everything happens in its own time, and now that we're getting so close to releasing the book, her mind has improved greatly. I think just having something to look forward to - something to be excited about every day, has been good for her.

She said she wakes up some mornings feeling down, until she remembers the book - then she feels excited and happy. She had a dream where she went to the mailbox and held that first royalty check in her hand and knew that the book was a success. Andrea has been helping her to do some physical therapy (Mom's balance is bad because of her eyesight so she tends to sit a lot) and I've encouraged her by telling her that we may have to do some book signings, so she'd better get in shape. She's actually started making notes about ideas for a second book.

I love it that my old chums and classmates will hear the story again, and share it with a new generation, and I'm glad I live in a time when publishing your own book is so easy and affordable. For all of you would-be authors out there, I recommend self-publishing, and I've been very happy with both and, although working with CreateSpace gives you that easy, direct link to getting your book on Amazon.

I'm so happy that I could be instrumental in making this dream come true for my mother, and that my family had the chance to work together on this BIG project.

~ Jean Fogelberg


Dreams never die. They sit quietly and wait for someone to believe in them.