Teacher Finds writing natural fit

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

GLAD TO MEET YOU — Steve Mercer built his first book, “Florence the Fir Tree,” around a meeting between his grand- mother, Florence Knight (whose likeness was included in the above illustration) and his niece, Lauryn, who never met her.

NAPLES — Steve Mercer never intended to write a Christmas story in the middle of a hot summer.

Florence the Fir Tree seemed to take control over the Lake Region Middle School health teacher.

“This was the first book that I had ever written. I had never had the thought to write a book, but it was truly something that took control over me,” Mercer said. “I know that the old saying in the book-writing field is to, ‘Write what you know,’ but the books that I have recently written are from the saying, ‘Write what you feel.’”

Florence was written a little at a time during the summer of 2006. It was intended to be a gift to Steve’s family, but over time, the book took on a life of its own and now is going to be shared with many others.

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About the Author

Name: Steven A. Mercer

Town: Naples. “I have lived in this area for most of my life,” Steve said.

Schools: 1978 graduate of Lake Region High School, and a 1986 graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington with a bachelor’s degree in Health Education.

Work: Health teacher at Lake Region Middle School for the past 25 years.

Passions: family, cycling and hunting. “I also enjoy a good campfire with friends and family telling the special stories of their lives,” Steve said.

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PUBLISHED — Steve Mercer, a teacher at Lake Region Middle School, has published two children’s books. (Rivet Photo)

“It truly is surreal to suddenly have two children’s books published in the same year,” said Steve, who is also the author of I Think Through My Thoughts, the story of dealing with the death of the family dog.

With both books available locally and online, The News recently caught up with the busy school teacher and now published author, and asked for his thoughts on the two children’s books and what is ahead:

Book Description 1, I Think Through My Thoughts. This book is from the perspective of a young child, who has recently lost a beloved pet dog. It was inspired by the recent passing of Steve’s beautiful little beagle, that was part of the family for more than 13 years.

“Upon her passing I found myself deeply affected as we began to adjust to life without her. The many routines that come with our pets such as feeding, letting them in and out, walking in the woods or simply playtime become glaringly obvious when they suddenly stop,” Steve said. “As our family worked through our loss, I found myself asking the question, ‘If a grown man can be affected so profoundly and have so many questions about the spirituality of the animals that we invite into our families then what thoughts must our young children be having as they wonder where their friend has gone?’ The instinct of the teacher in me took over and I grabbed a piece of paper.”

Rhymes flowed from Steve’s heart and in a short time the story was complete.

“I have been told by many who have read this book that it is appealing and healing for both young and old,” he said. “I believe that this story will help anyone who has experienced this loss to be able to have a smile on their face and a positive feeling in their heart as they answer the question, ‘Where do our pets go when the leave us behind?’”

Illustrations were created by a Publish America staff illustrator, who gave Steve the opportunity to share the story with the world.

“I requested that the drawings be done as if a young child had created them and that is exactly what they gave me,” Steve said.

This was Steve’s first book to be released, but it was the second book that he had written. Steve submitted this book for publication as he awaited the illustration of Florence the Fir Tree (and the angels of the forest).

Book Description 2, Florence the Fir Tree (and the angels of the forest). This book is a story of family, love, heredity, the true meaning of Christmas and the magical happenings in the dark Maine forest. It was inspired by the life of Steve’s grandmother (Florence Knight), who was truly an exceptional woman, wife, mother and grandmother.

“It is also inspired by the birth of my niece, Lauryn, who I hope will be motivated by this story to live a positive life filled with love and caring for others around her,” Steve said. “While this story comes from my ancestry, I hope that it will connect any reader to the roots of their family tree.”

The magical story line takes the reader on a journey that connects a young girl to her ancestry as she receives a gift that happens once every 100 years. It is a story of the angels, who live amongst us, but are often unrecognized as we live our busy lives.

Is it possible that a Christmas Tree could come to life on Christmas Eve? Is it possible for us to truly connect to the loved ones in our lives even if we never had the opportunity to meet them in our lifetime? This story will answer these questions and more as the reader is reminded of the true meaning of the Christmas season.

This book was also published and illustrated by Publish America. In fact, the Christmas tree’s “face” is a likeness of Steve’s grandmother.

“I requested that the illustrations have a feeling of warmth and tradition. I believe that they have honored this request,” Steve said. “To me, the most important picture is when Florence the Fir Tree comes to life and shares her gift. I like to think that the essence of all grandparents can be seen and felt in that moment. The illustrator captured that for me.”

Q. Why did you choose to write children’s books?

SM. This genre seems to be a natural fit for me. Having a special connection with kids has been part of my life as I have had the honor of teaching them at the middle school level for the past 25 years. My son, Nolan, and my wife, Heidi, have also helped me to keep the little child alive inside as we enjoy many childhood traditions around the holidays.

Q. Challenges you faced?

SM. I did not find great difficulty in the actual writing of the stories. To me, it felt like the stories were already written and just came pouring out. One point of challenge for me was in the editing phase. I can now tell my students about how I had to pay $200 for a letter “R.” On the back cover of I Think Through My Thoughts in the first sentence of the synopsis is the word “Furry.” Somehow it made it to the printing stage spelled as “Fury.” The meaning of the two words could not be more different and I panicked! The publisher reminded me that I had final say in the print version edit and charged me a penalty for the oversight.

Q. What do you like most about each book?

SM. I like to think that each book is quite unique. I have had several people thank me for providing a book that will help their family heal from the loss of their pet. They have looked around for just such a book and have not found many choices. One friend even told me that they have turned the book into a keepsake album as they have chosen to write in special memories on the pages that inspire them.

Both books have a spiritual message that each reader can personalize as they remember their connection to any person or animal for which they have deep feelings. I am also proud of the positive messages that each story holds.

Q. Did you make any real changes before putting your final stamp on each book?

SM. In regards to any changes along the way in the process of publishing, one thought stands out for me. The original title for the book I Think Through My Thoughts was Where Do They Go? Just before printing, the publisher contacted me with the message that they already had a book in print with that title and asked if I would consider changing my title. In hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise. I believe the current title fits the book and conveys much more feeling. 

There were no changes to Florence the Fir Tree, as it is exactly as I hoped it would be and more.

Q. What did you learn from the first book that helped with the writing of the second book?

SM. That it is important to acknowledge the creativity inside. Let your passions in life run away with you once in awhile. Having the first book accepted by a publisher gave me confidence to try again. While neither book is a great literary classic, I learned that others like to hear what I have to say. I hope that this continues as others share these stories.

Q. How did you fit writing of books into your busy schedule as a teacher?

SM. While I was writing these books, I found the process to be very enjoyable so I made them the priority as they came into my heart and mind. While Florence took approximately two months to complete, I Think Through My Thoughts was completed as published in about two hours.

Q. What do I see on the horizon in regards to writing?

SM. I have been “thinking through my thoughts” and a couple of ideas keep coming to mind. I will soon be adapting the story of Florence the Fir Tree to a script form. I don’t know if others will agree, but I feel that it would make for a sweet, one-act, holiday stage play for local community theaters.

I also have an idea for a story about a boy, who has a unique way of overcoming the obstacles in his life. It is kind of like Charlie Brown meets Little Johnny Everything. 

Q. How have the books been received so far?

SM. I have not done much publicity at this point so any feedback has been from close friends, family and co-workers. The comments have been positive on both books. I recently found out that each book has been picked up by Barnes and Noble, as well as Amazon.com. If anyone decides to purchase the books and would consider writing a review on either website it would be greatly appreciated. I have also had the opportunity to share these stories with some of my students, as well as a local Girl Scout Troop. They have also given me positive feedback. 

Q. How did you go about having the books published and where can people purchase them?

SM. Once I decided to “put it out there,” I researched on the Web and in the State of Maine. I specifically looked for a feel of a publisher being friendly to a first-timer like me. I sent a sample of Florence to Publish America and they asked to see more. After sharing more, they asked for the entire story and a few days later they gave me the call. The second was accepted more quickly as we had some history at that time.

The books can be purchased at barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com and Bridgton Books is currently stocking a couple of copies of each book and are more than willing to order the books for anyone interested.

Florence the Fir Tree is hardcover only and I Think Through My Thoughts is available in either softcover or hardcover.

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