by Wayne Truax
A mouse, a man, and an old car…what could possibly happen? The following article is how I turned my encounter with a curious little mouse into a fun children’s story, and some of the challenges I faced trying to finish the book.
About 3 years ago I was working on my MGB’s engine and I felt as though I was being watched. I looked up and spotted a little mouse standing on the opposite fender watching me. I yelled and waived my arms, pretty much the same way it shows in the book. At first and he ran away, but the little mouse kept coming back. We crossed paths several more times that year and I would see him watching me work both inside and outside the car. The mouse never built a nest or did any damage to the car, and I began thinking about a story. The story would be about a mouse that wants to help but is chased away; he does not give up and develops a relationship with the man.
Over the next few years I kept thinking of the story and I finally decided to write it down in January 2020 during a 45-minute train ride to work. I had the ideas for the drawings in my head for quite awhile, and the words just flowed as I had imagined the story. When I returned home that evening, I sent a copy of the story to my friend Andrew H. Black, a talented graphic designer, who had written, illustrated and published several books himself. I asked if we could make a book out of the story and he said, “Sure!” So we started putting together details for the drawings and Andy began sketching ideas.
Unfortunately, shortly after we started work on the book COVID began to impact the US and I had to stop due to my job in emergency management. For several months I did not have the time, energy, or creativity to work on the book and believed it would not get published until 2021.
But in June work stabilized and I had time to start focusing on the book again. It became an outlet that allowed me to think about something other than work. Having time to focus allowed the creative thought processes to take off again and Andy and I were on a roll. Andy recommended I shorten the story and limit the number of technical drawings. I wanted more technical drawings, but Andy knew I was going overboard and firmly asked, “Is this a children’s book or technical manual?” I answered “Both!” We compromised.
We spent July through November proofing drawings and rewriting story lines to match the illustrations. I asked people I trusted to provide honest feedback when reviewing the drawings and reading the story. My wife Nancy and friend Lee were invaluable reviewers and editors, but in the end they both made it clear that it was “my story and everything was a suggestion.” I proofed the book over 100 times during the process to reduce the text and get everything right. I learned very quickly when editing if you are not in the right frame of mind it just creates more work.
In a stroke of luck during the final weeks of editing I discovered what a great feature the “Read Aloud” capability in Adobe Acrobat is. I began listening to the story to make the final changes. There are number of voices to select from, and I chose “Mia,” a women’s voice with an English accent that became my favorite proofreader. I would close my eyes and listen. If Mia stumbled or a word sounded off, I would tweak the sentence, and have Mia read it again until I was happy with it. No more convincing myself it sounded correct when it really didn’t.
The day the book was submitted for print I was up at 4:30 in the morning and Mia read the book to me at least 20 more times. I made 10 minor tweaks before declaring it finished, sending the final edits to Andy, and finally uploading it to the publisher later that day.
My hope is that this book will make young and old alike smile when reading the story and looking at the detailed illustrations. With luck, little ones will become more curious about our cars, memories will be stirred up, and we will share some MGB stories or old pictures with the next generations of owners.