Six years ago, Alysson Foti Bourque put her children to bed and read them a story they had heard before. They had been through all their books more than once by this bedtime, and they were crawling for something new.
Instead of making a plan to shop, Bourque told them she would write a story for them instead. They cheered, which unlocked something in her.
“They believed in me and that was the aha moment that made me believe in myself,” she said. “I’ve always imagined stories, but I never had time to write them down when I was practicing law.”
Bourque, who is a native of Lafayette and a graduate of Ovey Comeaux High School. She practiced law for about seven years as an assistant state’s attorney.
When her children were around 6 and 4, she decided to take a year off to stay at their home. It was only temporary, she thought. A year would turn into six and a new career path, starting with the night she decided to write her story down.
“I went downstairs, took out a loose piece of paper and wrote down Alycat and Thursday dessert day,” she said.
To be published author
She researched ways to publish a book and asked over 200 agencies and publishers. She received 88 rejections and most went unanswered.
Seven months after she wrote Alycat, when she was considering returning to practice law, she got a yes from a publisher.
In the years since, Bourque was picked up by Pelican Publishing, a Louisiana-based imprint of the national Arcadia Publishing, and she is now on book # 5.
The fifth book in the Alycat series – Alycat and the Cattywampus Wednesday – was launched on Monday, and she is celebrating it locally with a book signing event on Saturday at The Little Gym of Lafayette.
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From kl. 15-18, visitors can enjoy face painting, play in the gym, photo shoots with Bon Temps Photo Booth and Alycat the Mascot, Jolie Cakes Bakery treats, adoptable cats with application, balloonist Rick Hessler and Raising Cane’s. A portion of the profits from each sale of the new book will be donated to the Wild Cat Foundation.
“It’s important to be able to provide a societal awareness of reading skills and get children involved in books,” Bourque said. “Books are such great resources that help them solve problems.”
She loves watching little readers hug the mascot Alycat, telling her their ideas for future books and giving her pictures they have drawn of her character.
And it’s important to have a party that allows the community and the suppliers to get involved – they have supported me from the beginning. “
For every launch party, she makes an effort to work with new small businesses, people who are trying to get the word out, just like she once was.
She has also been to hundreds of schools across Louisiana and beyond, reading and interacting with children about Alycat.
“I miss parts of practicing law, but being able to interact with children about reading skills, seeing the joy and the laughter, one can not help but be happy,” she said.
To be a writer in the midst of a pandemic
Now her own children are 13 and 11 and very proud of the Alycat series. They have been following her story closely from the beginning so the character feels like a sibling to them, she said. In addition, they like to meet other writers now that their mother herself is a writer.
Bourque, 42, launched his fourth book in the series in March 2020, when COVID-19 apparently shut the world down. It was discouraging to cancel personal events associated with the release, but she adapted with weekly live readings online.
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She then started a podcast with business partner and fellow author Lori Orlinsky. On “Ask a Writer,” they interviewed writers, interviews that teachers could incorporate into their virtual classrooms.
The podcast prompted the couple to start a PR company, Foreword Publicity, to represent other writers. They have helped more than 250 authors launch books, Bourque said.
“We love books,” Bourque said. “Without the pandemic, that business would never have started.”
The pandemic also served as inspiration for this fifth book, Alycat and the Cattywampus Wednesday.
Bourque wanted to find a way to write about what she and everyone around her was experiencing to help her and others process it, especially children.
“I wanted to write about the world we were in, about a time in life where things were just crazy, backwards, cattywampus,” she said.
That’s what’s happening to Alycat. Her Wednesday starts with dinner (seafood gumbo) for breakfast. Words are spelled backwards. Things just are not right.
But Alycat goes through the day minute by minute, step by step, Bourque said. She is dependent on her friends and family and finds a way to have a positive attitude in the middle of the chaos.
“The moral of the story is that when we have something that is beyond our control, we can go to what is constant, our friends and family, and see that attitude really makes a difference,” she said.
The Alycat series has five titles, has won over 17 awards and has starred in the official Grammy’s Swag Bag, Oscar’s Gift Bag and Duchess of York YouTube channels, Little Red News and Storytime with Fergie and Friends, according to Bourque’s website.
Contact children’s reporter Leigh Guidry at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.