When Blair residents Tim Welch and Katie Simpson started working on their children's book more than a year ago, they initially planned to self-publish.
Then, Welch posted about the book called “Unexpected Friends,” which has an anti-bullying message, on social media.
Actress Eileen Dietz, known for her role as the demon who possessed Reagan in “The Exorcist” and Welch's friend for many years, told him to wait. She had a publisher he should talk to.
“He's not going to talk to us,” Welch told her. “We're not Hollywood.”
But after a phone call from Dietz, the publisher from AM Ink Publishing in Massachusetts contacted Welch and Simpson. He wanted to see their book.
“We had the first initial draft, we sent it into him and he came back and said he loved the artwork and the story line,” Welch said.
But he had notes. If they listened to him and made the necessary changes, then they could talk about publishing.
“I was expecting he was going to completely tear the book apart because it's a bigger publisher, but he wanted just one thing,” Welch said. “He just wanted to see the story revolve more around the bully.”
It took four months for Welch to rework the story and Simpson to illustrate it. They submitted the second draft, and within three days, they had a contract.
“We were both in tears,” Welch said.
The book is expected to be released in 20 different countries this fall in October or November. It will also be released as an audiobook and in e-form. Three months after its release, the book will be submitted to the Library of Congress, Welch said.
“That's just another mind blower for us because we were just thinking we were going to self-publish and see how far we could go,” he said.
The book, which is aimed at children in kindergarten through fifth grade to help give them a better understanding the impact bullying can have on other kids, is personal for both Welch and Simpson. Both were bullied as children.
As a teenager, Welch was in a train accident, which cost him his left arm and left leg.
“This story was such an impact on me. It's more about kids who have a physical disability, but I was bullied with my own disability,” Simpson said. “I'm dyslexic. I wanted to do children's books, but I could never write it. I could always illustrate. I can always tell my story through the pictures and he had the story.”
The story, Welch said, is based on his own situation.
“There was a group of kids that, in particular, who were very harsh toward me,” he said.
Years later, as an adult, one of those who had bullied Welch approached him. His life had taken a turn for the worse.
“I am so sorry,” he told Welch. “I realize now what I've done to you.”
Welch and the man became friends before he died.
“It was one of those things that went full circle,” Welch said.