Catholic writer Tim Drake’s debut children’s book, The Attic Saint (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2019) — illustrated by Catholic Digest’s Theodore Schluenderfritz — is about a little boy named Leo who moves into an old home and discovers a treasure in his dusty attic. Both children and adults will be delighted with this book because Drake and Schluenderfritz have created a mood with a sense of mystery.
Catholic Digest talked to Drake about the evolution of The Attic Saint, the difficulty in getting a children’s book published, what it was like to work with an illustrator and friend on a book, and more.
Q: How many years did you sit with the idea of the book?
A: I wrote the story 15 years ago. I’m not an artist, so I just illustrated it with little stick figures, and I still have that version. When I first wrote it, I read the story to my son Elias, who at that time would have probably been about 4 or 5 years old. I remember at the end of reading it, he said, “It’s a good story, Dad. When is it going to be a real book?”
Q: Why did it take so long to get published?
A: To be a writer is to be patient. After I met Theodore Schluenderfritz, my illustrator, things started to come together slowly. We both attended St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in St. Cloud, Minnesota. At the time, our children were very young. I met Ted in the back of the church. We were each holding a child that we’d carried out either to change a diaper or because they were noisy.
Q: Even after Schluenderfritz agreed to illustrate The Attic Saint, you’d both had to wait a long while for the book to be picked up by a publisher. Did you receive many rejection letters?
A: Ted created three initial illustrations for the book, and we shopped it around to different Catholic publishers. The response we received was no, no, and no. After five or six rejections, you just get used to rejection, and then you figure, “Oh well, I guess I’m not supposed to be doing this or working on this at the time.” I put it in a folder, and there it sits with all my other stories that I’ve written.
Q: How did Emmaus Road Publishing end up being your publisher?
A: Ted had done other illustration work for Emmaus, and he encouraged me to send my book to them. It turned out that they were interested in publishing it. The process of going back and forth editorially and Ted doing the illustrations for The Attic Saint began, and this took about three or four years.
Q: You collaborated with Schluenderfritz on the book. Was it more comfortable process because he’s a longtime friend?
A: There’s an intimacy in this project because we’ve worked on it together for so long. We would volley ideas back and forth. I’d suggest an idea to Ted about the way something might look, and he’d recommend things to me story-wise.
It was a very collaborative process and a very enjoyable one. There wasn’t any aspect of it where either of us felt like the other was trying to take over.
Q: Before writing The Attic Saint, most of your work has been journalistic. What inspired you to write a children’s book?
A: Even from a young age, my desire has always been to write stories for children. About five years ago, I went on a retreat that focused on job transition. During that retreat, I clearly heard something along these lines: “The stories that you’ve been given were not given to you to die with you.”
This revelation was quite startling and a pivotal moment for me because I realized that I need to get busy and make sure that my stories at least get out of my head and down on paper.
Q: As a writer, do you ever get held back by fear?
A: Yes, especially after the rejection of this story. It’s like, “Oh, OK maybe this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing.” Then for a long time, I didn’t pick them up or work on them. I thought, “Well, why spend the time on something that might never see the light of day?”
Q: What was it like to see your book come alive with illustrations?
A: It was delightful! Ted captured what was in my imagination so well.
Q: Which illustration is your favorite?
A: I’ve always loved the illustration of Leo in the library with the stained glass and dove moving across the floor because it reminds me of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in St. Cloud. In the church, there’s a stained-glass window that projects a dove onto the wall behind the altar. If you’re there long enough, you will see the dove move across the wall. That’s what inspired that illustration in the book.
Q: What do you hope that children and their parents take away from the book?
A: As a kid, I loved it when my mom read to me, and I loved where the books transported me. It was that love that I was trying to pour into this story. I hope that children who hear it will be caught up in this adventure of Leo as he goes into the attic, but there’s a deeper meaning in the story for parents. There’s this whole other level to the story in some of the images and the symbolism portrayed.
I hope more than anything that both adults and children would come away from the story thinking about their own relationship with a saint. I hope they’re inspired to make room in their home or own heart for a particular saint who could help them in their journey with Christ toward heaven.