About 14 years ago, I heard a quiet voice with Southern tones answer the phone. It was Faye Gibbons from Alabama which was so very far away from Utah. I’m not sure what ties us to other people but I felt an instant connection with Faye. Maybe it was the spirit of her story that I had been illustrating, a picture book of family and music and overcoming insecurities. I had six spreads done from “Emma Jo’s Song”. It was right before Christmas and I received a certified letter that said the small publisher was canceling the book. The publisher gave me Faye’s phone number and told me to call and tell Faye.
At that time in publishing, the writer and the illustrator never talked to each other, one of those unspoken rules. Here I was talking to an author. I told Faye the publisher had cancelled the book and she was shocked. She was working with this publisher as a favor. Faye said for me to send her pictures of the art spreads and she would send it to her agent and see if the agent could find a home for the book.
“Emma Jo’s Song” found a home at Boyds Mills Press. The book was followed by “Full Steam Ahead” and “The Day the Picture Man Came”. I stayed in contact with Faye through emails and Christmas cards. I received a photo of her and her husband and their dog sitting on a wood-worn porch. I pinned it up on the wall of my studio under a picture of my husband and an illustration by Michael Hague. The picture on my wall became surrounded by photos from Africa and handprints of grandkids.
Yesterday there was a knock on my door. I ran down to answer it. The Gibbons’ were standing on our porch. I gave Faye and her husband a big hug. Though we had never met, they felt like old dear friends. They had made the long journey from Alabama to Utah. We chatted over Chicken Pot Pie and French Bread, corn on the cob and garden tomatoes. They entertained my family with tales of times past in the Georgia mountains. Faye gave me a hand crocheted scarf. When I illustrated “Full Steam Ahead”, Faye had sent me a photo of some of her relatives if I wanted to use it in the book. It worked in perfectly. Yesterday I gave her that illustration from the book.
I went to a get-together of Utah Authors and Illustrators Saturday and listened to Shannon Hale say that one of the great gifts of writing and illustrating is the relationships we form with other people. As I watched Faye and her husband drive off down the road, I agreed with Shannon. Here was someone who lives on the other side of the country, and a picture book story and illustrations brought us together.