Ten years ago if you were to say that sometime in the future I would be putting my belongings in storage, leaving everything behind to travel Europe with no return date or home to come back to, that my husband Mike would write a book about it, and I would be illustrating it, I'd think you were in the sun too long. For one: I didn't think I'd have the guts to travel that way, and two: Mike had no desire to ever write a book, and three: though I did dream of illustrating a book one day, I never dreamed that I would be illustrating HIS book.
Well, all of it came true, a few years ago. We had moved away from the frigid winters of Pennsylvania to sunny Florida, eager to enjoy a warmer climate. We loved Florida and all it had to offer, but life threw a lot of not-so-nice surprises at us. It seemed like it was just one trial after another and it took a huge toll on us and our health. We wondered, how much more can we bear? Well, after a horrible summer we got the news: we had to move out of our rental because our landlord was putting our house up for sale.
The news shocked us, but Mike realized it was an opportunity to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams: see Paris, do a trans-atlantic cruise and backpack Europe. We had to move anyway, why not put it all in storage and just go? So we did. We realized life is short, and we were eager for a big change. So we put everything in storage, and took a cruise from Tampa to Europe, stopping in Key West, Florida; Portugal (Funchal, Madeira); and Spain (Malaga, Cartagena, and Barcelona). We then flew from Barcelona to the south of France in the French Riviera. After a quick couple days in Antibes it was on to Nice with day trips to St. Paul de Vence and Eze. Then it was a week in Arles, Provence with a day trip to Avignon. From Provence it was on to Paris for a month with day visits to Giverny and Versailles. It was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime adventure. It was not always fancy wines and cheese (just grocery store stuff), but we had so many memorable moments. We met many wonderful people, and a couple not-so-wonderful people, dodged pickpockets, climbed mountains, descended into the Paris Metro, endured nasty weather and illness, and witnessed the flood of the century.
During the trip Mike kept a journal to help remember everything we did and to catalog the thousands of photos I was taking. He enjoyed writing it and emailing it back to family and friends. By the time we got home he had quite a substantial story. He decided to put it into a book, so he spent the next four months working on it full time, at least five to six hours a day. I would stay up very late each night proofreading it, suggesting some edits, which he would look over the next morning. It was like shift work. We had a couple people be beta readers for us, giving us feedback, also an editor. Our car insurance representative couldn't put the book down, and this was during the busy Christmas season. Everyone said the same thing: it made them laugh, and they felt like they were right there on the journey with us. We titled the book, "Vagabonds in France", by Michael A. Barry (Mike's pen name).
I worked illustrating the book, designing the cover, and doing layout of the paperback and Kindle. It was a great experience. I learned all the layout requirements, which were quite tedious at times but doable. The paperback and Kindle layout rules were totally different, so I had to make two different documents. We decided on 75 of my photos to illustrate the book. We decided to place the photos at the end of each chapter, so readers wouldn't be interrupted while reading, and have time to use their imagination as they read before seeing the photos. Also having the photos at the end of the chapter was easier to do in the layouts.
For the book cover we wanted to use a photo that showed a winding road, to give a sense of our personal journey. We wanted it to give the feeling of Europe, and I wanted enough open space at the top and bottom to add the title and author name. I narrowed down the images that would fit the layout options, and then Mike chose the final image. It was perfect, our favorite street in Montmartre, Paris: Rue de l'Abreuvoir, a curvy cobblestone street near Place Dalida with quaint old world buildings and a view of Mike's favorite place in all of Paris: Sacre Couer. Then Mike had a great idea, to sneak both of us into the cover walking down the street. So I found a photo he took of me near the Arc de Triomphe and a photo of him walking at the Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter of Paris, and I photoshopped them into the book cover. It really improved the cover's message and composition. When I added the title and author name to the cover, Mike asked if I could curve the word "Vagabonds". After removing a few poles from the road to make room for the author name at the bottom, we were done. We are very happy with how the cover turned out!
On the back cover Mike chose an image of one of his favorite memories: walking along the Seine River in Paris with Notre Dame in the distance. We walked along the Seine so many times from our apartment in the Latin Quarter, going to Notre Dame and the Louvre, seeing all the fancy bridges.
It was a great experience working on the book together. We're very happy with how it turned out, and are pleased with how well the book is doing. It was an unexpected result from an unexpected adventure.
To see the book on Amazon and read a preview you can click on the web link below.