● By Robert Frey
The Children’s Book Inspired By A Local VictoryBy Hailey Hensgens Fleming
It’s a unique thing to have an entire community come together, regardless of where their address, jobs or loyalties may lie, to unite in support of a single idea. It’s the thing movies like “Remember the Titans” and “Miracle on 34th Street” are made of, and it happened right here, in New Iberia, when the Catholic High Panthers fought their way to a Division 3 Football Championship. The people, schools and businesses of the city came behind their hometown boys in such a way that it inspired New Iberia native Nicole Quinlan to write a children’s book – “Believe.”
As a 1994 graduate of Catholic High and parent of former CHS football players, it was not difficult for Quinlan to experience the pride of the moment as her team made their way to the Dome. However, she notes a turning point in morale when she saw the words “We Believe” flashing on New Iberia Senior High’s street sign. Quinlan was amazed to see local students, and even competitors, uniting in support of a dream. That’s when she knew this had become about something more than just football and that it was a story worth being told.
As a writer and an artist, Quinlan knew the makings of a good story were already there, but wanted to ensure it would be about more than just winning a title. “I have an 8 year old and this event was so huge for him. He walked around the house for weeks singing ‘We Are the Champions,’” she recounts. “I just thought, ‘How can I get the whole message across to him that it wasn’t just that they got lucky and won this game?’ There was hard work that went into it. Obviously, they had great coaching and a team that was willing to work together.” The words, “We Believe,” plastered on nearly every storefront and yard sign in support of the Panthers, provided the inspiration and that greater purpose behind Quinlan’s story. “The word ‘believe’ is an idea that we accept as truth no matter what’s behind it,” she states. “So, we were already claiming it. We were saying, ‘Hey, that’s us.’”
Quinlan set pen to paper on December 15 and within one day had completed the book’s rough draft – a feat any writer knows is not easily accomplished. When asked how it happened she responds, “It just came to me; it was very natural. I don’t know if it was because I already knew the timeline, but it was all just there.” Although only a rough draft, Quinlan found very few revisions to be made. “I had two hiccups. I had two lines that didn’t rhyme out of the whole book and it bothered me,” she confides. “When writing a children’s book, you either rhyme or you don’t rhyme. So, I went back and removed one of them and critiqued another, so now the whole book rhymes.”
Quinlan then contacted Paul Schexnayder, a local artist who at the time was on his way to a book signing for his own children’s book, “In the Time of Joy and Wonder,” which will be the the first of a three book installment with the second set to release this fall. It was a natural fit as Schexnayder himself is a CHS alumna, was classmates with Coach Indest and has two sons who played football for the Panthers this season. He adds, “It was really something I wanted to be a part of and it was definitely a tribute.”
Thanks to a couple snow days, Schexnayder completed the illustrations in record time and did so without direct mention of Catholic High. With the exception of a few quirks specific to Quinlan’s family history, like the Quinlan weight room and her son’s blue cleats, they made an intentional decision to keep the story ambiguous so as not to miss the overall moral. Like abstract art, the book was designed to allow the reader to put his or her unique interpretation on it. “The message that it’s taught was so much more than just the story,” explains Quinlan. “When I wrote it, yes, it was about football. It was about a championship game. It was about Catholic High School. But for me, it was about the idea of believing in something that’s really in your heart, following through and how, when you have the support of those around you, great things can happen.”
Great things did happen in the short two months that followed as Quinlan went on to complete the publishing process, one she’d known little about beforehand. She explains, “After I wrote the story, I had to follow through on the ‘I believe’ aspect of it. So, I would repeat to myself, ‘I believe. I believe I can do this. I believe I can handle it.’ It’s kind of become our motto in our house as well as in our community.”
With the support of her husband and 4 children, Quinlan successfully created her own publishing company, secured her own copyright and an ISBN number. “I self-published, which was a huge learning experience for me. I went through every step to publish a book properly,” Quinlan says. “And, next week I will send two copies to the Library of Congress in Washington DC. That’s exciting for me!” she exclaims with a smile.
Quinlan says the reaction to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, especially within the New Iberia community. With a couple hundred copies already pre-ordered and a recent book signing at Catholic High, her only complaint is that she has little time to sign so many. Although she loves the support, Quinlan is clear her goal was never to create a bestseller, but to inspire, “I really don’t care if I sell 100 books or if I sell 800 books. I know that sounds foolish, but I really didn’t do it for anyone other than myself, my family and any kid that’s supposed to have this book.”
The chapter has not yet closed for Quinlan as she has two more children’s books as well as a profound novel based on a close family member in the works. She has not set release dates for these, but in the meantime, you can show your support by picking up a copy of her inaugural venture “Believe” now available at A & E Gallery and Books Along the Teche in New Iberia.