Walking into the intimate setting of Not Just Coffee’s (NJC) Dilworth location, you’ll find a whole host of friendly staff making perfect drinks, remembering your name, your order, and often some odd fact you wish they’d forget. Amongst this crowd is Corrie Liotta, with her unmissable red hair often held back by a beanie, her smile and personality greeting you at the door.
Liotta, among many at NJC and every other coffee shop and bar you frequent, is talented far beyond her majestic swan latte art. She’s talented beyond her ability to remember people. Corrie Liotta is a long-time illustrator, artist and painter and, now, the proud new author of a children’s book, The Appropriate Pirate.
What started as a shorter version for her 2012 Senior Thesis at Winthrop University has, 7 years later, morphed into one of the best damn children’s books I’ve ever read. Her self-published book was funded through Kickstarter in just nine days … 21 days prior to its slated end date, which saw her project 111% funded.
While Liotta was an illustrator, she hadn’t exactly set out to write a children’s book. This, like so many good things in life, came about Bob Ross style as a “happy little accident.”
Inspired by Shel Silverstein … and a typo.
Back in the AOL Instant Messenger days, Liotta was chatting with her friend and, in an era pre-autocorrect, typed the word “appropriate” as “approPIRATE” which, of course, made her laugh and think “OMG what if I wrote about an Appropriate Pirate?” and voila! Her grand idea was born.
Liotta’s writing was inspired by Shel Silverstein — his way of taking these profoundly adult topics and magically crafting them into simple, easy-to-digest concepts for children written in such a way as to move adults as well.
Her art was inspired by books she liked as a child- bright, deep, robust colors moving along with the storyline. She remembers a book called “That’s Good, That’s Bad” about a little boy in a jungle who, every day, would tell his lion friend what happened to which he would reply either “That’s good” or “That’s bad” which helped guide Liotta to her back-and-forth dialogue style work.
The irony of Liotta is that now despite working at a coffee shop she has been off coffee for a few months, opting for matcha and other teas. Throughout her process with this book (and now, she sees, dating back to a midnight Star Wars showing in 7th grade before which she had a giant cup ‘a joe), she was experiencing extreme anxiety which was exacerbated by her caffeine intake.
“If I don’t do something, I’m never going to do anything.”
“Oh, I was anxious from the get-go,” Liotta said. It was 2016 and Corrie was having the all-too-familiar what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life dilemma.
“I thought, ‘If I don’t do something, I’m never going to do anything,’” she says.
Ominous, yes, but this somewhat anxiety-fueled view of her life allowed her to put into motion her project. “This was a last ditch effort for making my degree worthwhile,” Liotta added.
The whole process was riddled with anxiety. From the decision to step away from her publisher, to figuring out her funding, to finding time to finish her partial project, Liotta found anxiety always making its way into her world. It took her almost the entire process—2016 until May 2019 when the Kickstarter campaign was fulfilled—for the anxiety to dissipate, at least somewhat.
Once the funding was granted, she found a printer. “They asked how many pages I had and I figured they meant pieces of paper. It’s a 48-page book, so that meant 24 pieces of paper,” Corrie said. She waited a few days and the company called her with a quote, but one based on her 24-piece-of-paper declaration.
“I had a literal panic attack,” she recalls. “I just knew that this would be so far out of my budget—twice the pages clearly meant twice the price. I broke down, knowing I’d have to go back to everyone and tell them I just couldn’t do it.”
Making a List for Success
Before going to her backers, Liotta reached out to her therapist, as she had during much of this process. She told her what was happening and then decided to wait.
“I sat down a wrote a list. It was kind of tongue-in-cheek,” Liotta said. And this list was this:
1 – Change your job.
2- Achieve your dreams.
3 – Realize all of it costs money you don’t have.
4 – Cry.
5 – Finish your fucking children’s book because once you do, the rest will fall into place.
6 – Believe #5 is true.
Once she heard back from the printer, it was a mere $100 over the original quote, a price well within her budget. And, this led to a whole new perspective.
Making Anxiety Walk the Plank
“Everything that has given me anxiety didn’t need to make me anxious at all,” Liotta said. Funding issues? Kickstarter exceeded goal. New page count quote? Minimal difference. Not doing anything with a degree? Finally finished that long-overdue project.
While Liotta has taken various steps to curb anxiety—therapy, cutting caffeine, allowing the painting of her book illustrations to be therapeutic—she has allowed this to be a learning experience. Liotta has produced what she needed and what we need as readers, parents, teachers, humans: an incredibly kind children’s book. A book that touts community over isolation after mistakes, one that illustrates the need for love and acceptance over punishment, one that shows us that no one has it figured out and that’s ok. Her book shows that love produces change and that if you reach out to people, they’ll often reach back out to you.
And what she’s learned through it all is she can make shifts herself, that instead of thinking the worst—that she’ll never make anything of her degree, that she’ll never have the funding she needs—she’s instead changed her line of thinking. Now, instead of wondering what mess-up is around the corner she’s dead-set on her new mantra: Here’s how things could go wrong, but here is how they won’t.
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