When Captain Courage burst through the door of Mrs. Berrycastle’s third-grade class in “Captain Courage and the Fear-Squishing Shoes,” he was on a mission. So too is south Charlotte author Stacey Marshall.
Marshall, of Ballantyne, created Captain Courage when she taught public speaking and character lessons about confidence and courage to elementary school children. In fact, she was Captain Courage, dressing up as the character to get her point across to young classes and keep them engaged.
Today, the captain is played by Mr. Magico, who is principal of the fictional Blythe Elementary School – the setting of Marshall’s first book. In “The Fear-Squishing Shoes,” Magico is tasked with helping new girl Katie feel comfortable around her new classmates.
“The Katie character represents every child who has ever felt nervous or scared about something, which is, most likely, every child,” Marshall explained. “The ‘take away’ lesson is that anyone can speak with confidence and feel self-assured in any situation, with some simple strategies I’ve developed to use when necessary.”
But, as her daughter also is named Katie, Marshall didn’t want her son, Jack, to feel left out.
“I asked my illustrator, Michelle Morse, to also include a class pet named Jack in each scene – hidden in every illustration. Finding Jack (the turtle) in the illustrations adds another element of fun to the book for readers, and appeases my son, as well.”
That, of course, led to some sibling rivalry.
“They had heard many versions of the story for years,” Marshall said. “So, when I finally got the package from the publisher with the actual book, they were incredibly excited to see ‘Mom’s story’ with illustrations. After reading the book and scrutinizing the illustrations, my son joked with my sixth-grade daughter, saying ‘Katie, you’re wearing a tutu in the book!’ and my daughter responded by saying, ‘Well, Jack, you’re a turtle in the book and wearing a shell!’”
Getting “Mom’s story” into print was “a longer and more arduous process than I anticipated,” Marshall said. She stuck with it thanks in part to some advice she got from a pretty good children’s writer.
“I started corresponding with Dr. Seuss when I was very young and continued being pen pals with him throughout college until he passed away,” Marshall said. In one letter, Dr. Seuss – and the Cat in the Hat – wrote, “If I were given the opportunity to spend an evening with one person who is not a cat, I most certainly would choose Stacey Marshall!” adding, “Dear Stacey, my cat has very good taste!”
Perhaps one day Marshall will have her own anthology full of children’s tales, much like her beloved inspiration. Due to the popularity of her first work, two more books are on the way staring Marshall’s alter ego.
“Michelle (the illustrator) and I were and still are in constant communication,” Marshall said of creating her main character. “We’re always bouncing ideas off one another. I remember when she asked me how old I wanted Captain Courage to be and, in general, how I envisioned him to look, I told her I pictured him as Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones!”
Though Indiana Jones tended to shy away from the flowing cape and bedazzled spectacles employed by the Captain, the resemblance is striking. The two also have that whole hero act down pat, though Captain Courage’s next mission is still under wraps.
Marshall wouldn’t reveal all her secrets, but she does have a bit of advice for those looking to write their own masterpiece.
“Whenever aspiring authors ask me what it takes to get a book published, I always think of one word: perseverance,” Marshall said. “I did not get a contract from my first submission. In fact, I received many rejections initially. But I simply reminded myself that JK Rowling got numerous rejection letters before publishing her first Harry Potter book, and I read that John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times! I figured the only way to get acceptance was to keep submitting it.
“When I finally did receive a publishing contract, it took two more years until my book was finally released by my publisher. And much to my surprise and delight, it ended up on Amazon’s Bestseller List and on Amazon’s Hot New Release List!”
So, for those hesitating to take a leap into their dreams, think of what Captain Courage would say: Put on your special fear-squishing shoes, and after that, you “can do whatever you want to do with complete confidence.”
Marshall will do a book reading and sign copies of her novel on Saturday, Dec. 1, at 3 p.m. at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.