Libby Phillips Meggs always wanted to write children's books. For years, the 56-year-old graphic designer filed away possible story ideas, but never wrote any of them until a stray cat provided the motivation she needed.
Last year, Meggs completed her first book, "Go Home! The True Story of James the Cat" ($15.95), a beautifully illustrated and endearing tale of a lonely cat looking for a home. Illinois-based Albert Whitman & Co. published the book this year.
Meggs and her family first saw James, a rare British Smoke shorthair, in 1992, when he showed up on the doorstep of their home in West End Richmond. Because he was wearing a collar, they thought he must belong to a neighbor. They kept encouraging him to "go home." It wasn't until months later that they realized he didn't have a home to go to.
As the title indicates, James' story is true. When he joined the family, Meggs realized that she wanted to tell his story. First, she sat down and wrote the narrative. Then she designed a thumbnail sketch of exactly how the book would look, including what text and pictures would go on each page. Next came the illustrations, which took a good deal longer. The book's 14 drawings took about 200 hours to complete. Meggs would draw each one, then watercolor it, and finally go over it with colored pencil.
"Almost every picture is from a photograph," Meggs says. "To recreate situations, I got James to pose. [He] was an important part of making this book." Sadly, James died while Meggs was still working on the book the vet estimated he had lived to be about 20 years old.
After Meggs completed the drawings, she created a dummy book, which looks similar to the finished product. She found a list of publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts many companies require the author to have an agent to deal with them and began submitting her book.
"I got 20 rejection letters," she recalls. "When I got those, I'd feel bad. Then I'd go to bookstores and see other books and think, 'My book is so much better than that.' I can't tell you how excited I am that I finally got to this."
Meggs' career started in the mid-1960s. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University, she went to work at Martin and Woltz Advertising the predecessor to advertising giant The Martin Agency. There she worked on popular accounts such as the "Virginia is for Lovers" campaign. She also collaborated with her childhood idol, Norman Rockwell, on a campaign for Colonial Williamsburg.
Meggs left the firm in 1971 and began teaching illustration classes at VCU part-time. Four years later, her son Andrew was born, followed a few years later by daughter Elizabeth. "For a while I was Mom," she says. "I just wanted to stay at home with my babies." When her daughter was six, Meggs began free-lancing. One of her assignments was designing a logo for the new Edward T. Rabbit & Co. bookstore.
Now, more than 15 years later, Meggs is returning to Edward T. Rabbit, this time for a book reading of "Go Home!" on April 22. On April 1, Meggs will also give a book reading at the new West End Barnes & Noble store at Libbie Place.
"One of the biggest things a bookstore can do in the community is support local authors," says June Stephenson, community relations manager of Barnes & Noble. "I was blown away by the pictures," she says of "Go Home!" "It's very unique if an author who writes well can also
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