Mama Harris' Story Road Trip Discussion Leads to Book
BY FAYE M. DASEN
Local resident Richard Mandell is well-known in this area as a golf course architect and the author of "Pinehurst - Home of American Golf (The Evolution of a Legend)."
Mandell goes to a different genre for his second book - a children's book titled "Mama Harris' Fried Pie Army." He will sign copies of his book at The Country Bookshop, in Southern Pines, from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22.
Mandell credits his son Thomas, 8, a student at Southern Pines Elementary School, with the idea.
"We were on the way back from visiting my wife, Mary's, family in Atlanta, when Thomas simply said we should write a story about Mama Harris, who is Mary's 94-year-old grandmother," says Mandell. "After a few moments of contemplation, I just started to recite the beginnings of a children's story based on Mama Harris and her penchant for making fried pies. Thomas sprinkled details throughout the book, including naming Mama Harris' town of Josh, Ga., after his brother, Joshua, who is 4 years old. The real name of the town is Jake, Ga."
Mandell began sketching out book ideas in May and finished the basic story within a few weeks.
"I then spent the next few months just refining it," he says. "It's amazing how many times you can edit 1,300 words."
The story starts as the townspeople of Josh, Ga., are preparing for the Brementon Day Parade. They all hope the governor of Georgia will stop by but have no idea how to make that happen. Oblivious to parade preparations, Mama Harris is busy frying pies. On the other side of town, a bank robbery erupts. A stray squirrel, a souped-up Mustang convertible, and an army of fried pies converge at once to send the town into a tailspin.
One of the characters is the book that Mandell is particularly fond of is Sue, who although in the book is Mama Harris' friend, is based on her oldest daughter.
"I am most proud of getting her dialogue down, knowing her so well," Mandell says. "She will love her own characterization. Frankly, she is a true character in real life."
Every children's book needs an illustrator, and Mandell found one in Laurel Holden, a 2007 Pinecrest High School graduate who is currently enrolled at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt.
"A friend of mine, Charles Bennett, of Talk Radio 990-WEEB, knew of Laurel's talents because his wife works with Laurel's mother," says Mandell. "So Thomas and I met with Laurel, and she showed us some of her work, which we simply looked at and thought, 'It works for us,' not knowing how good her illustrations really were. After looking at so many children's books in the development of this project, her work was just like the rest of the work we saw. We just didn't realize at the time what that meant. The fact was that we were subconsciously comparing her work to legendary children's book illustrations like those from Curious George, Thomas The Train, etc. I shared the story with her as well as a few pictures of Mama Harris, and she nailed the essence of Mama Harris right out of the gate. Of course, her illustrations make the book."
Holden, who has occasionally done illustrations for The Pilot, came on board in late July and finished her work in early September.
"That's is pretty remarkable, considering she went back to school in mid-August," says Mandell. "We then laid out the book in preparation for printing Oct. 15. The books arrived the Friday before Thanksgiving."
Since Mandell is also the book's publisher, he is also responsible for promoting it.
"Because of my day job being busy, I haven't really been able to put my publisher's hat on," he says. "I actually pushed the official publication date ahead to February to give myself more time for distribution."
Nonetheless, he says that this book was a lot easier to publish than the 384-page "Pinehurst - Home of American Golf."
"I also had less research," he says. "I've been living that research for 17 years."
Mandell has kept his work on the book a secret from most of Mary's family.
"Only Mary's mother and siblings know about the book," he says. "Mama Harris has no idea, nor does the rest of Mary's family. They all live in Atlanta and West Georgia, where the story takes place. Each year we have a big family gathering, and we plan to wrap up books for the family and give it to them right then and there. We have no idea how Mama Harris will react, although we are confident she will be pleased. She will probably just laugh and say, 'How could someone draw up such an ugly character?' She always complains about breaking cameras! It will be exciting to see their reaction to our interpretation of certain characters in the book, as well as local places where they live and work each day."
The book is now available for $15.95 at The Country Bookshop, or can be ordered at www.MamaHarrisFriedPies.net.
Published by JHM Children's Books (an imprint of T. Eliot Press).
For information about the book signing, call (910) 692-3211.
Contact Faye Dasen at (910) 693-2475 or by email at email@example.com.
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