When Rebekah Manley M.F.A. ’11 set out to create not only her first book but one designed to defy the standards of a whole genre, her chosen muse was none other than one of Hollins’ best-known graduates and one of America’s most distinguished children’s writers.
“I like to think I channeled the spunky spirit of Margaret Wise Brown (a member of Hollins’ class of 1932 and the author of Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, and other timeless children’s classics) as I broke through the expectations of what a picture book ‘should be’ and wrote the one I wanted to read,” the Austin, Texas-based author explains. “One for adults that might break the mold a bit.”
The result is Alexandra and the Awful, Awkward, No Fun, Truly Bad Dates: A Picture Book Parody for Adults, published this fall by Ulysses Press. This hilarious take on dating horror stories, in which the title character embarks on 30 bad dates in 30 days, is also at its core a heartwarming tale.
“Ultimately, it’s a story about friendship and empowerment,” says Manley, who runs the Texas Center for the Book and works to encourage literacy, reading, and library use in the Lone Star State.
Alexandra’s story blends fiction with Manley’s own real-life misadventures. “Honestly, there were some dates I’ve experienced that seemed too ‘unbelievable’ for the book,” she explains. During one of Alexandra’s disastrous dinner dates, “Her date insisted she get prime rib – and that women should just accept the wage gap. ‘Your brains are just different,’ he mansplained. Alex grabbed her steak to go and let him enjoy the financial success of buying her meal.”
Manley praises Catalina Oliveira, the book’s illustrator, for “bringing this book to life with warmth. I’m grateful she was onboard to add a special character I created, Lottie the French bulldog. Lottie has her own unique role, even though she is never mentioned in the text.”
Authors and illustrators typically don’t communicate directly while a picture book is in progress, so Manley and Oliveira’s editor served as the go-between. “It’s always important to give the illustrator space to create and I didn’t want anything I said to stifle her creativity. We were, however, on a tight deadline and my editor wanted me to give a lot more feedback and direction that might normally occur in creating picture books for children.” As a bonus for readers, Manley reveals there are a number of “Easter eggs,” or almost hidden illustrations, placed throughout Alexandra and the Awful, Awkward, No Fun, Truly Bad Dates: A Picture Book Parody for Adults. “It might take a few reads for people to discover them – they mostly center around friendships in the book.”
Manley also cites her time at Hollins, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in children’s literature “and believed I would become an author. My professors were so knowledgeable and supportive. Hollins gave me that immersive creative experience I needed to dream, hone my craft, and get a solid portfolio of work together. The ‘magic’ felt almost palpable, and I’ll always be grateful for the green and gold foundation.”
Alexandra and the Awful, Awkward, No Fun, Truly Bad Dates: A Picture Book Parody for Adults has earned rave reviews.
“In this funny, clever, rueful, and ultimately uplifting picture book parody, debut author Rebekah Manley taps into universal anxieties about loneliness and singledom while addressing the special agony of dating apps for today’s single woman,” says Amy Gentry, bestselling author of Good as Gone and Last Woman Standing, while Bethany Hegedus, author of Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou, notes, “What we all need right now is a connection and a good laugh. With humor and heart, Rebekah Manley’s Alexandra and the Awful, Awkward, No Fun, Truly Bad Dates: A Picture Book Parody for Adults has both.”
Manley believes her book can be enjoyed and appreciated as a shared experience. “I hope people will buy and read this with their single friends and family members and be reminded: yes, the dating struggle is real, but there is a whole lot of humor and goodness along the way.
“I also think this is a book our Hollins sisters will enjoy – those central themes of friendship and empowerment are two pieces that rang loud and clear from my education there.”
She adds, laughing, “And maybe people will read this and get some info on what NOT to do on a date!”