Author Micah Kolding shares his story which led to his first published children’s book.
It starts with my community theater work. My voice qualifies as “true bass”, which is rare enough to be in high demand among local musical productions. I therefore find something of a niche as “the guy with the deep voice”.
Something I realized over the course of my theater experience is that the kids tend to find it fascinating that I’m part of the cast by choice. There are occasions when I’m the only straight guy who isn’t one of their dads, and they gravitate to me to talk about things they probably don’t feel like they can talk about with the rest of the cast. They ask if I like geckos, they want to discuss Star Wars, they need to recount how they got in trouble at school… a lot of topics that are, on some level, too “boyish” for much of the musical theater environment. And it’s very often the girls who most need to talk about this.
I’ll always remember one girl in particular; a true tomboy, she once showed up before a show in a pink dress and revealed that she was only wearing it because she lost a bet. When much of the cast reassured her of how pretty she looked, she shouted, “I’m going to sit with Micah, because he won’t judge me!” She did, and I told her she looked like “a pink nightmare”. She said “Thank you!”, and we fist-bumped.
My takeaway from this experience is just how little people understand tomboys. More girls than we realize are not buying into the culture of constant sensitivity and validation; they want to be challenged, they want to compete, and they want to be “one of the guys” without having adults ask if they’re pre-op. You look at how tomboys are depicted in most stories, you see hostile weirdos who are content to be the one sporty friend in a cast of near-identical bratz-dolls, and I wanted to write something that rang truer.
The plot of “The Fellas, the Mermaid, and Me!” came to me while I was serving as Lurch in the Addams Family musical. It’s a story about a mermaid named Kris who hangs out with five human friends, all of which are boys. I remember realizing how perfect it was to depict a composite of every tomboy I knew as a gritty, gap-toothed mermaid; people expect mermaids to be quintessentially girly, but they’re ultimately an apex-predator sea creature, making them necessarily a sporty, adventurous, competitive friend.
Indeed, when I first sent out the story to beta-readers, I got a few comments opining that Kris shouldn’t be the only girl in the group. It was enough that I actually ran the idea past my wife; “Should I change one of the boys to be a girl?” Speaking from quite a bit of experience herself, her reaction was an insistent “NO! She’s a TOMBOY! She doesn’t hang out with GIRLS!” So “The Fellas, the Mermaid, and Me!” went to self-publication as-is.