As the author of multiple illustrated books, people frequently ask me when I’m going to do another. Others like to offer me their unique ideas and suggestions for new books.
What they don’t know is that my books usually germinate from years of experience. Furthermore, I know the consequences of forcing a book into being.
My first book was based on my experiences with my mom. She fought cancer for 6 years. She knew it was terminal, but she cycled through every treatment possible to extend the length and quality of her life.
During this time, I made my mom humorous cartoons about her experiences. My mom and I had a similar morbid sense of humor, so we liked to laugh at the difficult stuff. I made her books about her hospital stays, about where her uterus ended up (it was removed during her initial debulking surgery for ovarian cancer), her chemotherapy experiences, and more.
When we were presented with the five stages of grief, we laughed that there simply weren’t enough stages - and so I made her a book about all of the stages of grief we were experiencing.
After she died, I decided to make a book about grief. My cartoons were based on my lived experiences and what I witnessed in those around me. Every single family member and friend responded to my mom’s death differently. We all had our own ways of grieving.
As some people tried to impose their way of grieving on me (such as demanding I celebrate my mom’s birthday in a particular way), I wanted more and more space to grieve how I wanted.
This eventually shaped my book, “Grief is a Mess,” where I illustrate how grief is different for everyone and incredibly messy.
I hardly remember making that book. I hardly remember much of anything the 1st year after my mum died. I was in a bit of a blur, and I truly feel that book just came from my soul.
I self-published it in 2015. Almost 7 years ago now. I’ve sold about 20,000 copies. I still sell about 75 copies a month. It baffles me. And delights me.
After publishing “Grief is a Mess,” I eventually set about making another book. I felt I needed to keep making more because that’s what authors do.
I decided to make a book about chemotherapy and what my mom experienced. I also wanted to improve the quality of my illustrations.
I accomplished those tasks, but it was a lot of forced work. It didn’t flow as naturally because it wasn’t based on my experiences. I struggled with the words and narrative arc in the story.
When I published “Making it Through Chemotherapy” in 2017, I was happy it was done, but I didn’t feel proud of the book. I also felt less comfortable marketing the book because I had never been through chemotherapy myself.
The book didn’t (and doesn’t) sell as well as “Grief is a Mess.” I believe that’s because “Grief is a Mess” came directly from my soul and some impetus from the universe. I think everything in that book is so relatable because I captured exactly how I felt.
“Making it Through Chemotherapy” felt forced, and I think it doesn’t resonate with readers as much because of it.
So when people encourage me to make another illustrated book, I now know that it has to come from an inner calling. I have to want to create the book, and it needs to be based on my own experiences.
I’ve found the same for my essays. I need to stick to topics that I’ve lived. There are writers and creators who can dream up worlds and depict incredible fantasies - but I am not that person.
So I will let experience do it’s work, and create another book when I feel the calling. That just doesn’t happen to be now.