A lot of people say monsters are scary/But that’s because they haven’t met Terry/Terry is my not-so-scary imaginary friend.
Think of writers who have toiled in the salt mines of Dullsville to pay for their art: Charles Bukowski slaved in the post office. Octavia Butler labored as a potato chip inspector. Now, add Lucas Ness to that blue-collar pantheon of writers.
By day, he works as an apprentice pipefitter at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. By night and any other free time, Ness writes rhyming children’s stories worthy of Dr. Seuss. Despite 50-hour workweeks (he commutes via the Annapolis ferry), and husband and family responsibilities, the writer has managed to juggle his art amidst the five-ring circus of everyday existence, debuting his rhyming children’s manuscript, complete with illustrations and an “everyman” message.
Fitting pipe is hardly a writer’s muse. Yet, “Terry, The Not So Scary Imaginary Friend” has now joined the literary canon of young children’s literature. While still a story in search of a publisher, it is a realized manuscript that bears witness to Ness’s dream to become a full-time children’s writer and illustrator.
“I really don’t want to be here for the rest of life,” Ness, 32, said. Using his real name, Zakary Schumacher has worked at the shipyard for more than four years. Since this is a column about an author, it’s appropriate to use his pen name for attribution. He created it by combing two characters from a Super Smash Bros. video game.
“The hardest thing has been finding the time. It’s a big time-suck.
“I want to give kids quality pictures with quality writing,” Ness said. “And I want it to be fun for both the parent and the kid because it needs to be an enjoyable interaction.”
Born in Tacoma, Ness was raised in Port Orchard with generations of family anchored in the community.
“My grandpa was an old logger, my great-grandpa worked in the shipyards as a firefighter, so there’s a lot of roots here,” Ness said.
He married his wife, Caroline, 31, earlier this year. They have a family of three children: Cadence, 10; Lilian, 6; and Zellos, 3. Ness’s art has inspired his children to write and draw as well.
“It’s really good,” Cadence said, “very rhyming. The story sounds really good.”
“Terry” is a story aimed at 3- to 7-year-old children. Ness wrote the book earlier this year, aided by illustrator Steven Millage. The story’s premise is about an unnamed girl and her imaginary monster friend who is never completely seen but whose benevolent tentacles help the girl throughout her day.
The book also showcases the author’s talent, hard work and dedication. Initially, Ness had been working on “Cadence and the Cranky Pants,” a story for his daughter, when the idea for “Terry” popped into his mind. He dove into it and finished the manuscript in two weeks.
This is a remarkable feat, given the challenges of time, work — and that Ness never studied any “how-to-write” children’s book manuals.
“It’s just a nice wholesome story. It’s meant to be lighthearted and whole concept is, ‘Why be afraid of what you don’t understand?”’ Ness said.
Emmon Rogers, the Port Orchard Library’s youth services librarian, said that children’s literature is fundamental to lifelong reading, learning and language comprehension skills. For young children, good stories and illustrations bridge the gap between being read to and learning how to read.
“They’re fantastic. They’re works of arts in themselves,” Rogers said of great children’s books.
“The best thing about children’s books is it brings parents and caregivers and children together. They’re sharing time together,” she said. Rogers explained that the library stresses how adults and children should spend at least 20 minutes per day reading together for one-on-one bonding.
Likewise, Rogers stressed how rhyme coupled with good visuals and fine text, reinforces and enriches a child’s reading experience through sounds, cadences and memorization.
“Homer’s Odyssey” was passed down orally before being written down,” she said.
Ness also stressed how rhyming books have a “certain ebb and flow” that makes them fun and easier to read. However, the librarian has found some publishers are not interested in looking at rhyming children’s manuscripts. She also worries about artistic freedom and quality control with publishers over illustrations and editorial content. The alternative of self-publishing, however, is expensive.
Like so many artists, Ness faces the monolithic uncertainty and potential disillusionment that comes with trying to get a manuscript published. One sometimes wonders if it’s harder to toil in the salt mines of Dullsville than to navigate the gales and undertows of the publishing world.
Still, Ness believes his book will be published soon with — to paraphrase the Beatles — a little help from his imaginary friends.