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Laurel children's author scares up spooky reading with 'Mother Ghost' rhymes

When Rachel Kolar was in grammar school, she would turn her spelling sentences into stories. An avid reader of science fiction, fantasy and horror novels, she has wanted to write her own books since she was 8 years old.

In July, at the age of 35, Kolar’s dream finally came true.

Her first book, “Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters,” features 13 spin-off rhymes of classic Mother Goose, a name associated with children’s rhymes, with some supernatural elements thrown in for good measure.

Some of the spin-offs include, Zombie Miss Muffett [Little Miss Muffett], Wee Willie Werewolf [Wee Willie Winkie], and Mary, Mary, Tall and Scary [Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary]. For example,

In Kolar’s world,Zombie Miss Muffett isn’t afraid of the spider, like in the classic rhyme:

“Zombie Miss Muffett sat on a tuffett,

Eating her worms and dirt,

When along came a spider, who sat down beside her---

And so she ate him for dessert.”

“I like spooky stuff; it’s one of my favorite things to write about,” Kolar said. “I remember in fourth grade, I was trying to write a book about ghost stories.”

In the Kolar household, Halloween is almost bigger than Christmas, with more spooky decorations than holly jolly ones. A Laurel resident for the past decade, Kolar and her husband, Tom Kolar, 36, have three children, Billy, 8, Liza, 5, and Paul, who was born on Aug. 30.

When Billy was a toddler, he could not get enough of Mother Goose nursery rhymes, Kolar said, and would even read them on his own.

“I thought it would be fun to take some of those rhymes and make my own,” Kolar said.

After two years, Kolar had crafted 13 nursery rhymes, “a spooky number” based off the original Mother Goose rhymes.

“I had trouble coming up with rhymes that were close enough to the original, but far enough away from them so it was different,” Kolar said.Sarah Rockett, Kolar’s editor, loved the nostalgic Mother Goose feel of the book and said it created a good hook. Rockett also shares Kolar’s love of Halloween.

“I love Halloween personally and all things spooky,” said Rockett, an editor with Sleeping Bear Press, a children’s book publisher in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Kolar’s rhymes didn’t need much work, Rockett said, as the poems were “creepy without being overly scary.” The pair went back and forth a few times in the editing process, mostly focusing on word choice and making sure a particular word wasn’t being overused.

The company officially acquired the children’s book in early 2017. It took nearly 18 months from the production stages of the manuscript to finalizing illustrations.

Roland Garrigue was the illustrator chosen to bring Kolar’s words to life.

“I was blown away … he [Garrigue] does spooky, but not scary, stuff. It’s very whimsical,” Kolar said. “The illustrations were more than I could [have] ever imagined.”

When a literary work comes to the publishing company’s attention, editors check the book market, Rockett said, to see if there are any other similar ideas being proposed or knockoffs.

“Having Mother Goose with a Halloween twist will stand out,” Rockett said. “I think it’s [the book] going to be really unique in the market. It will be a year-round pick for kids who like ghosts and ghouls and stuff.”

Victoria Selvaggio, Kolar’s literay agent, said the two clicked immediately when they first talked.

“You could sense her passion and excitement coming through the phone call,” said Selvaggio who works at at Storm Literary Agency, Minn.

Writers have to know the basics of telling a story, Selvaggui sad, including the elements of plot. It is also crucial for authors to have a strong voice throughout the story, too.

“Voice is very important because voice is the writer’s style and the voices of their characters,” Selvaggio said. “There are so many books, it’s difficult to get published now-a-days, so really standing out and being unique [is important].”

Kolar’s book is just that, Selvaggion said. It’s “very unique and it’s quirky and cute.”

Laurel community members can check out Kolar’s book at the Laurel Branch Library. The library system ordered 17 copies, according to Kolar.

“They are so supportive of local authors. It’s great,” she said.

To be considered, local authors send in a copy of the finished work with a cover letter to the library system, according to Robin Jacobsen, director of community engagement.

“We are very careful [with the selections],” Jacobsen said. “But we do add local works.”

The works need to meet the library’s selection criteria and standards as outlined in the Selection Policy for Library Materials. Some works are selected to meet educational and informational needs, whereas others are evaluated by “their artists merit or chosen to satisfy customer demand,” according to the selection policy.

Other criteria used includes, the work’s relevance to community needs, comprehensiveness, currency, authority and depth of treatment of subject and relation to existing material in the collection, according to the selection policy.

“It’s a real gift,” Jacobsen said. “It’s really an exciting time. Authors are publishing materials they have been working on for years.”

While “Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for LIttle Monsters,” is her first book, Kolar has had short stories published, including “Westfields,” a story about a mall run by vampires. The story was and inspired by the old Laurel Mall.

“By the time we moved here, almost every store was closed,” Kolar said of the mall. “It was a little creepy to walk past all those deserted storefronts. I started imagining that the owners were vampires who used the mall to lure in prey but had to keep shutting down every store that sold silver and every restaurant that served garlic.”

In 2010, “Westfields” the short story appeared in the Tales of Talisman magazine, a science fiction and fantasy magaznine.

Kolar and Selvaggio are now working on other projects and submitting works to various publishers, Selvaggio said.

Kolar is currently writing two Young Adult novels, with supernatural elements, of course. One is about a high school football teamonly with werewolves. The other tackles childhood bullying through Celtic Fairy Tales.

A big challenge for Kolar is making writing a priority.

“It’s the paradox that a lot of writers have,” she said. “We love writing and it is work. As much as we love it, ... we find excuses to do other things.”

Even so, Kolar loves being able to get stuff down on a page to sharewith the world.

“I am a writer, this is my job.”

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