Christine Gowey’s venture into authorhood was born from tragedy but nourished by love.
Gowey, 67, of Sparta, Wis., had never felt the urge to write, busy with her career as a substitute teacher, teaching swimming lessons and raising four children. But in 2010, the unexpected death of her son Jeremiah brought a flurry of words to her mind, begging to be put on paper.
“The stories started popping up in my head and in my heart,” Gowey said, seated at a booth in Ginny’s Cupboard in downtown Sparta, her hand resting on an amethyst quartz cluster. “The words popped up in my head like a movie.”
Jeremiah -- who was 27 when he died while working for the U.S. Border Patrol in Presidio, Texas -- studied geology in college, and it was rocks that inspired Gowey’s first book, “Moranda and the Mountain,” a short story for youth that brings the title character on an animal-filled adventure over an amethyst mountain, with a creative writing workbook included at the end.
Though not drafted in memory of her son, the writing process proved healing for Gowey, who went on to write four more books for kids, addressing grief, safety, health and disability, all approached in an encouraging and age appropriate manner.
“I had to make a choice: Do I dwell in sadness, or do I pick myself up and try to help other people, because that’s what it’s all about?” Gowey said.
Her first book to be published, “Zip and Zap Take a Nap,” which printed in 2014, was a collaboration with her daughter Brandie Gowey, a naturopathic medical doctor and owner of Gowey Research Group in Flagstaff.
Gowey writes her first drafts with pen and paper, often while sitting outside in the woods near her home, before sending them off to Brandie for editing and illustrating, either by Brandie — who has authored several books of her own and publishes through her company, DR. DNA Press — or Flagstaff freelance graphic designer Andi Kleinman. Proceeds from books published by DR. DNA Press go toward research and patient care under Brandie’s organization, DR. DNA, formerly Naturopaths International.
“Zip and Zap Take a Nap” broaches adrenal fatigue in the tale of two bees, helping kids understand how stress and rest affect the body and containing a glossary of medical terms and message from Brandie, or “Dr. B,” explaining some of the science of adrenal glands.
Brandie offered her medical expertise again for “The Adventures of Coco in Dinosaur Valley,” centered on a dog who teaches dinosaurs to swim. Gowey uses her decades of experience as a swim instructor to relay swim safety in a fun way, while Brandie offers sun protection tips in the appendix.
“I think Mom’s books are just magical,” Brandie says of collaborating.
Touching on loss is “Mother Grace,” featuring the same hickory tree under which Gowey frequently writes — she carries a piece of its bark with her — and telling the story a young tree that dies, and Mother Grace’s vow to stay strong for the rest of the forest. It is the book adults most often relate to, leading them to open up about their own lives. Gowey is happy to listen and heal with them.
“I lived the grief, and the words and everything is my life,” Gowey says. “Mother Grace is me.”
Published last October is “Five-Legged Louie,” the tale of a stick insect that loses one of its legs but perseveres, following the doctor’s advice for working through physical obstacles and staying positive.
Louie doesn’t let his disability stop him from joining a band and dancing away. Gowey didn’t have to use her imagination to come up with the theme of the story — she inadvertently broke the leg of a walking stick perched on her mailbox when she lifted the flag. The injured insect survived.
Joanne Hagen, a fifth-grade teacher at Meadowview Intermediate School in Sparta, has used the book in her classroom and appreciates its message of “anything is possible.”
“The theme of the book allows the reader to learn about ways to overcome the challenges in their own life and apply what they learned from Louie’s determination to improve,” Hagen said. “Sharing this book with children, I have seen that they are able to relate to the characters and see the evolution of being a productive community member by not giving up and learning how to deal with the challenges that they face. They were happy when Louie was able to participate in the activity despite the challenge. Children are amazed at the strength and willpower that Louie demonstrates.”
Gowey loves to take her books into classrooms and events for energetic readings mixed with play. She is known to get down on the floor to interact with the kids, and has become a mentor to a fourth-grader, with whom she emails back and forth about writing, advising him not to stress, the words will come.
A second Coco book is in the illustration stage, and Gowey is hard at work scribing another book with a historical twist.
“There’s things cooking in my head all the time,” Gowey says. “I’m going to do this forever as long as I’m able.”
Gowey’s books are available for purchase on Amazon.com.