After several months of unexpected roadblocks and delays, I’m very pleased to announce that my children’s book, Maya Picks a Puppy, is now available! It tells the story of a girl (named Maya, wouldn’t you know?) choosing her first puppy from the local animal shelter, only to find herself torn between the multitude of squirming, whirling pups around her, and a sweet older dog named Adie.
The book was illustrated by Thomas Block, a familiar name to we Maine folk both in and out of the literary scene. Tom was my art teacher in junior high and high school, and we reconnected in the past few years through the summer Books in Boothbay festival at the Boothbay Railway Village. I’ve had this story tucked in my back pocket for a few years now, never really sure what to do with it, but finally got up the nerve to talk to Tom about it last summer. It’s surprising to me now just how much courage it took to ask if he would be interested in illustrating the story.
His answer was immediate, and unequivocal: “I’d love to! We’ll work out the details later – just let me look at some things, and we’ll figure out when to get started.”
It took a few months longer than I’d expected to get those details sorted, thanks to a few delays on my part. Tom was unfazed. “We’ll get started when you’re ready,” was always his reply when I sent an apology for not having things together yet.
Finally, in January of this year, we started work. I was amazed at how quickly the illustrations began flooding my inbox once I finally gave him the go-ahead. When his first etchings arrived, I was beside myself. I’ve wanted to write a children’s book since I was…well, since I was a child. To finally see things moving in that direction was beyond exciting for me.
All told, it took Tom less than a month to illustrate the entire book – including eighteen full-page illustrations and the cover – with the intention for us to publish in the spring, once I’d gotten the formatting completed and the first print run done.
In March, I got an email from Tom saying that they had found a mass in his lung. A bronchoscopy was scheduled, and he would let me know how things proceeded from there. We corresponded a few more times over the course of the next few months, as Tom went through treatment. I wish that I could say that I saw him, that we visited or went over proofs for the story, or I simply popped in to wish him well. This is one of those cases when the story-book version would be so much better. The truth is, we emailed a few times, I sent my best wishes, and I got sucked into my own little world – something that’s too easy to do when we take for granted that there will be always be a tomorrow for apologies, for catching up, for that quick face-to-face visit that seems such a struggle in our world of virtual contact.
On June 24, I learned that Tom had passed away unexpectedly, leaving a legion of shocked friends, former students, artists, musicians… It seemed everyone knew Tom Block. Everyone loved him. He was that kind of man – a generous, positive spirit with a ready smile and a quick wit.
Today, the first box of Maya Picks a Puppy arrived on my doorstep. I sat down in the sunshine with a cup of tea and looked through, page by page. I love the way Tom captured Adie and the other puppies; the thought he put into every brush stroke, every vignette, his careful consideration of who this character Maya was, and how best to capture her. Mostly, though, I love the fact that we were able to make this single project happen before it was too late. While I regret so deeply the fact that I didn’t make more of an effort to connect in his final months, I am grateful for the time that we did have, and for the story I can now hold in my hand.
Rest in peace, Mr. Block. You truly were one of a kind.
Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. To learn more, visit http://www.jenblood.com.