The long distance run. My first self-published illustrated book for children:
I am so pleased to finally have in print this beautiful illustrated book: "Hanish - The Story of the Harp" Some things take a long time to come to fruition. This book started a long time ago. As a storyteller I have been sharing this story with children and adults, in schools, concert halls, churches and homes. Developing an illustrated book version is a dream come true. Today I sit and reflect. I normally have little patience for writing; but today I write, grateful for this long process and the web of relationships in the evolution of this creation. It's pretty amazing.
The initial idea for this story took place around twenty years ago. I inherited from a colleague and dear friend Sunita Staneslow a booth to sell harp CDs at the International Bazaar in the State Fair of Minnesota. This was a great place to sell harp CDs. One year I worked with Renato Lombardi, a guitar player, together we formed the group "Nube" and had recorded several albums. Renato is also a visual artist and insisted in creating an enticing booth. So we got plywood boards and covered them with an attractive cloth and posted drawings of different harps from around the world. If I am not mistaken these drawings came from an article written by Robbie Robinson founder of Robison Strings, in which he mentioned that the harp probably originated in hunting societies. That's how I got the idea for this story.
A few years later I was hired by an Arts organization called Compas to do some workshops in a Kindergarten class at the Horace Mann Elementary School in St Paul. I remember trying to come up with ideas for this class. That's when the story came to life. In the basement of an old Minneapolis house I had an art workshop. I did cut out drawings of the characters in the story. I had learned to tell stories using these cut out characters as a Sunday school teacher at the Disciples of Christ church when I was 17 years old in Asuncion, Paraguay. I had gain lots of practice drawing quickly thanks to my years teaching Spanish at City of Lakes Waldorf School in Minneapolis, an institution that had influenced my spiritual awareness and understanding. Stories, their content influence how we view life and ourselves. I was very pleased to have a story that was about the harp that conveyed the sensitivity and mission of a harp player.
I did a little research about the origin of the first known string instruments, which introduced me to the Sumerians. As I looked for ancient names I came across the name "Hanish" I loved the sound of the name. In Hindu it means Lord Shiva -Ambition. In islamic cultures it means "messenger of the weather, or also known as messenger of God.
The years went by and so did technology even faster, from video to dvd to the online streaming. One night I watched a documentary about manifesting reality, positive thinking, visualizing your future called "The Secret". A few days later I was again in the basement making drawings of the story with caran d'ache neocolor crayons. I wanted to manifest this story as an illustrated book. I printed my first draft of the text and cut and pasted it next to the drawings. This was the first version of the book. One night at the dinner table, I showed it to my father, John Carter, who was visiting from Paraguay. He is a man who nurtured his children with many bedtime stories. As a missionary in Paraguay he created phenomenal puppet shows, many stories that became a part of me forever. He gave me his thumbs up, as he recalled the story I loved so much as a little boy, "Goodnight Moon" and the beautiful sounds of the words.
During those years I was working for Perpich Center for the Arts in a program offering workshops and mentoring to school teachers to help enhance arts-based teaching and learning in the classroom. The coordinator for this program was Virginia McFerran, a former English teacher at Armstrong High School in Plymouth and artistic director of "Teatro Latino" a Latino theatre company in the Twin Cities. I sent her a copy of my story. Virginia had always been very sweet and supportive of my work as an artist. I needed feedback and encouragement. She responded very positively. Despite my intent and desires, manifesting the book seemed to vanish as more immediate jobs took preference.
A few years later my daughter Maliya who was taking a writing class at the University of Minnesota tapped into the story. All of a sudden the story came back to life, the factual narrative was embellished with more poetical and musical tone. Her writing style and insights were very refreshing. The story was then called "Hunting for a Melody". We were both very convinced in making this book happen. Maliya spent hours creating some very unique colorful drawings to illustrate the story. Despite all these efforts, for one reason or another the project remained on hold.
Between 2008 and 2014 I was a teaching artist in a storytelling/theatre program called Neighborhood Bridges from the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis. The program was created by a renown folk tale scholar Jack Zipes, directed by Maria Asp with Kiyoko Motoyama Sims and Tessa Bridal in collaboration with a team of great teaching artists. Every week sitting in a circle I told a story to a group of children, we talked, acted, played games, created our own stories. One year I worked in collaboration with classroom teacher, Lourdes Flores-Hanson in Adams Language Immersion School in St Paul. The day I had to tell the greek myth of Orpheus I brought my harp and played while I told the story. This was the first time I combined harping and storytelling at the same time. It's not easy to talk and play the harp at the same time. The many hours playing at the State Fair and many other gigs had paid off, for they allowed my hands to move without much thinking.
There is something quite magical when you accompany a story with live music. Many years before I had been playing background improvisational music for plays and storytelling in the Waldorf School where my three children attended. There was much appreciation for this skill. I especially recall the evening Tim Frantzich, Waldorf teacher of my daughter also a musician invited me to his brother's home to accompany a very well respected Waldorf mentor from Holland, Leo Klein as he told stories. Like a gathering around the bonfire, the music of the harp brought warmth and light to the scene. Eventually I realized I no longer needed visuals to tell the story of Hanish and capture the children's attention. I began telling the story of Hanish with my own harp playing, I had incorporated Maliya's ideas and new ones started emerging, as the improvisational nature of storytelling invites creativity.
My divorce in 2014 left me searching for new grounds to establish a home. I returned to the land of my childhood, Paraguay. Among the ten boxes of things I shipped were the drawings for the book. It was one of the projects in my list of things to do in life. After a few months in Paraguay I moved to Uruguay, the land of my mother to take care of the house of my grandparents, a family property that was now a bed and breakfast. It was like starting life all over again in this gorgeous countryside setting with my new life partner, currently my wife Maria Elvira, a former classmate from Junior High in Asuncion. One night, we were listening to the wind blowing the huge eucalyptus trees planted by Swiss grandparents some eighty years ago. The lights went off and it started to rain. I told the story of Hanish to Maria Elvira as we cuddled into bed. The story moved her, there were tears in her eyes, "you have to make the book" she said. To believe it's possible, to be loved and love, ignites the fire. A few days later we used the frame of an old photograph to put one of Maliya's drawings of Hanish playing under the moon, adding color, a little new life, to the walls of the old house as well as reminding us that the illustrated book was still present.
During those years, many things occupied our time as we took care of this old house and a bed and breakfast business. In 2016 I was invited to perform and teach workshops in Seattle. Thanks to a harp student, Susan Chacko, Judy Friesem a harp therapist, kindly organized several engagements for me in Bainbridge Island. I did several school presentations where I told the story of Hanish. Months later I received a phone video of a brief section of the storytelling with harp playing. I submitted this video to Midori and Friends, an arts organization in Manhattan when I returned to live in the United States, a suggestion from Kathy D'Angelo, the organizer of the biggest folk harp gathering in the US. Midori and Friends started booking me to perform for hundreds of young children in New York, primarily Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st grade. I started feeling like "Mr Rogers" and was encouraged to continue with the idea of the book by the response of the children. "Can you tell that story again!" "That was the best story I've heard" Their voices, smiles, undivided attention, the wonder, the calmness, the love they naturally expressed was energizing.
During our summer travels across the United States I often shared the story with adults and the response was equally encouraging. Maria Elvira and I spent many hours in the car talking. Somewhere crossing the dessert we saw some falling stars, Maria Elvira said "it's time to make the book" The decision was made. There was a determination, it was no longer a desire. There was an urgency.
I wanted a profesional artist to illustrate the book. Maliya suggested I contact my cousin Arlette, a visual artist living in France. Coincidently she was considering illustrating stories for children. She accepted the challenge and started sending me samples of drawings. I was thrilled! Her style flowed nicely with the story. Finally after all these years the book was becoming a reality. I added some additional moments I had developed as a storyteller that I noticed resonated with children. I sent the text to Jeannine Ouellette, a Minnesota based editor, who had been the Waldorf teacher of my son Jovan. Every year I faithfully volunteered to help with the class plays. She generously sent back her wonderful feedback. As the drawings were being developed, Maliya in the middle a brief Circus experience found time to work on polishing the writing. She simplified the text, to the bare essentials, allowing the visuals an important space and voice in the book.
In March 2019 while playing for a retreat of a spiritual community called The Hearts Center in Mexico, I met Fernando from Chile who works for a well known design company in Santiago. I often shared with people my story book project. He offered to work on the layout of the book. The months went by and finally in October Fernando sent his first drafts with many different visual possibilities. This was very helpful. I knew what I liked and didn't like regarding the book layout design. I had read hundreds of books from the public library to my children at bedtime. There was a certain look that implied quality that I wanted. Grateful for his contribution, I then decided I needed to find a designer who specialized in books, who had done children's books and could also guide me through this process. I found the perfect person, Linda Parke a Canadian book designer. She took on the project. In one conversation she seem to easily grasp my ideas. Her designs were beautiful. The book was coming together. I requested other drawings from Arlette . Everything took time and lots of patience. I received samples of the book layout while I was on tour in Florida in December. My host, Jane Hawley, an educator specialized in reading took a look. Her fresh eyes could see things I was not noticing. She helped make some needed corrections. After many reviews, emails, phone calls with the designer and the printer I finally got a sample copy of the book. I was very pleased, but a few details needed to be changed before the final print. When is this going to be over? Patience....patience...The corona virus came into the picture...lots of uncertainty....all my jobs cancelled...no income....What do I do? I decided to live without fear. I inherited from my mother a "get it done" attitude, so after the final corrections, I pressed the button: approved.
Finally we are done for now! Yes it's been a long run, many years in the making, many people to thank for helping me in this process. We close a door and another door opens. Now the next stage begins: selling the book!