MOUNT VERNON — It’s a dream 30 years in the making, but local children’s book author and illustrator Gail Funsten said it’s been worth the wait.
“I’m glad that I waited. I’m glad that I didn’t just settle, just to get it done,” she said. “It took me longer than I was hoping but I’m glad that I did because I’m pleased with the finished work.”
Funsten’s debut book, “The Grandest Night Show,” tells the story of a young girl living in an Appalachian valley. The girl loves sitting outside, listening to the nighttime sounds of the hollow, but longs to see a sunset from the top of the mountain. The book is largely inspired by Funsten’s childhood growing up along Kentucky’s Blackberry Creek.
One of her most cherished memories is seeing her very first sunset when she was 10 years old. Like her character, Funsten had never seen a sunset because the mountains always blocked the view of the horizon. Funsten caught a glimpse of her first sunset from a car window while traveling up the mountain with her aunt and uncle.
“I was awed by it,” she recalled. “In Mount Vernon, you can see such beautiful sunsets and I don’t take sunsets for granted. … Seeing a sunset’s an event for me.”
At 20 years old, Funsten left Appalachia and moved to Ohio to become a teacher. She worked at East Knox Elementary School for 24 years, spending the last 15 years as a second grade teacher.
“Seeing them start to realize that they can write stories, put their thoughts on paper, that was really neat because they would come up with so many creative ideas,” she recalled.
Her students’ passion for stories fed her own. Funsten wrote the original manuscript for “The Grandest Night Show” nearly 30 years ago, in part to help her cope with the longing for home.
“I’ve always loved to write about the mountains,” she said “Writing for me was like therapy. If I was missing home, I would write.”
At first, she wrote stories simply because she enjoyed it, but seeing children’s author Cynthia Rylant speak at a conference inspired her to pursue a writing career. Funsten submitted pitches for “The Grandest Night Show” to at least 10 publishers in 1992. One publisher expressed interest in her work, but said that the book was too similar to another it had agreed to publish.
Nevertheless, Funsten held on to her work and her dream. She wrote more stories and briefly looked into self-publishing, but eventually decided to start her own company instead. Jewel Bug Publishing released “The Grandest Night Show” in February 2019.
Taking the indie author path gave Funsten complete editorial control over her book — but it also meant she had little help throughout the publishing process. She had to secure her own copyright and ISBN number. She also filled out the paperwork to have her book listed with the Library of Congress.
“People that get self-published go through a company that does all the legwork. I did everything myself, including the artwork,” she said. “I’m a do-it-yourself kind of person. The last three years have been quite a learning process for me.”
Funsten has long enjoyed painting, but opted to create her illustrations using a computer drawing tablet and Adobe Photoshop — a program she only started using five years ago.
“I minored in art in college, but I didn’t have the confidence to do the illustrations myself, until I started working with Digital art,” she said. “Digital art is so forgiving. If you make a mistake, you can just erase it and start it again.”
It’s taken two years to get her book edited, illustrated, printed and published, but Funsten has no intention of slowing down. Her second book, “Miserable Mildred” is set to publish this spring.
“The Grandest Night Show” is available on Amazon.com, but hardback copies will be available in local brick-and-mortar book stores soon. Funsten hopes the book will prompt parents and grandparents to reminisce and share stories of their childhood with their children and grandchildren. She also hopes it will instill in children a similar sense of amazement for the beauty of nature.
“It’s about a family that takes the time to really enjoy nature and enjoy being together,” said Funsten. “A lot of kids don’t get outside to enjoy the things that are free in life, that are precious. And I think one of the things that’s really precious is adults and kids spending time together.”
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