BRATTLEBORO >> Fourteen years ago, Brattleboro author and illustrator John Steven Gurney first shared a 32-page concept for a children's book to his writer's group. Fourteen years ago he expanded this concept to a 48-age reader and submitted it to a publishing company. Fourteen years ago, he got his first rejection for what would become "Fuzzy Baseball."
Not one to quit, Gurney made some changes to his reader after a handful of rejections. He turned his early chapter book into a graphic novel and started his research. He submitted to agents and editors who focused on graphic novels.
The rejections kept coming.
"I felt like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football. Like every time they go, this is it, this is the perfect spot! Then, you know ..." Gurney chuckles as he makes falling motions with his arms.
Growing up in Bucks County, Penn., Gurney always knew he wanted to be an illustrator. Becoming an author came as a product of that dream. "It is kind of like Woody Allen says, 'I want to write the movies I want to see.' So, I want to write the stories I want to illustrate."
After a few more rejections (these a bit more encouraging), he decided to expand his 48 page graphic novel to 56 pages. Hoping that this new, longer book would be better received he submitted again.
During this time Gurney had other projects he was working on. In 2002 he had a children's book, Dinosaur Train, published. That process had gone smoothly and he was picked up rather quickly. He had assumed that "Fuzzy Baseball" would follow a similar course. When it didn't, he decided to shelve it for a while.
Not one to give up, Gurney decided to revisit his graphic novel. "As an illustrator, your ultimate goal is to create your own content," he explains. So, he kept pushing for this book.
His 56-page graphic novel was reworked and condensed into a 32 page picture book he titled "Full Count." It was also rejected.
Meanwhile, Gurney was traveling to schools, giving presentations about his works as an illustrator and author. He would be in libraries and notice the growing graphic novel section. He felt like his book would fit. "It seemed like a matter of time before I got it in front of the right person," he said, not deterred by the growing pile of rejection letters.
Going back to the graphic novel format, Gurney was on the verge of publishing "Fuzzy Baseball" himself. He knew kids would love it. He spent many years reading baseball picture books to his own children. He knew that, while they were entertaining, they lacked the details his included. They didn't have real rules or strategies that young ball players could relate to.
The main character of "Fuzzy Baseball" is a young female possum who is the Fernwood Valley Fuzzies baseball team's super fan. They aren't doing so well so she decides to train and join the team, bringing them to victory. It is a funny tale of perennial losers and perpetually optimistic fans and never giving up hope despite the long odds that Gurney hoped would appeal to children of all ages but especially third graders.
Gurney and his perpetual optimism and fortitude for his book submitted one more time. This time to a small publishing company that specialized in graphic novels, Papercutz. Almost immediately they responded with an enthusiastic yes.
After nearly 20 rejection letters, "Fuzzy Baseball" had finally hit a home run.
"Fuzzy Baseball" had a publish date set for May 3, 2016. Now through May 31, Gurney's art from the graphic novel can be seen on display outside the Children's Library at Brooks Memorial Library, on the third floor.
At 6 p.m. on June 17, 2016 Gurney will be doing a book signing at Everyone's Books in Brattleboro.
Michelle Stephens is a regular contributor to the Reformer, including her twice-a-month column, Juicebox Confession.