An Excerpt from the new book - Fatou and the Kora, illustrated by Rolando Diaz

So up until now all of my books have been illustrated by Phil Howell. We've got this great creative partnership that's very clear and fluid and easy, even though I've never seen or met the man. Never even talked to him on the phone. All of our communication is over email. We have plans for that to change this summer as I'd love to go to the UK to meet him and his love/business partner.

Anyway, Phil's style is one that I'm such a fan of but I wanted something a little different for the story I just wrote and recorded an audiobook for, Fatou and the Kora. It's a story of a young Senegalese girl who has a strong connection with the spirit world around her and has a particular attraction to the kora instrument. This story woke me up at 1-something in the morning last month, begging to be written. By daylight it was pretty much done and I was, and remain, fond of it.

Cue Rolando Diaz, a Dallas-based Cuban artist who will be on his way to Rome, where I live, to not only illustrate my new book but to also paint a portrait of my lovely late sister as well tomorrow. I believe his artistic style and personal sensitivity make him the perfect person to create the visuals to marry the text I've written.

How this all came to be is a really fascinating story for another day, but the highlights are that I met Ro in a coffee shop in Dallas in mid-April. The same day, based on instinct and connection alone, he offered to illustrate a book of mine. Shortly after he expressed interest in painting my sister, and last month over breakfast when I suggested he come to Rome to do both, he immediately pulled out his calendar and we got to planning.

These are the moments I love most in life...when you realize that everything truly can change in just one instant--one encounter.

Looking forward to sharing this new story with you guys.

In the meantime, I invite you to get acquainted, if your'e not already, with Rolando Diaz's art:

Dallas, mid-April with Ro and a piece he painted that evening

just about to get started

Ro oftentimes plays to live music--
makes for a really cool ambience

finished piece

some art in his studio

And check out an excerpt from my new baby: Fatou and the Kora. It'll be out sometime this summer...

In the West African city of Dakar, not so long ago. In a land once composed of kingdoms and empires that is now known as Senegal, there lived a young girl by the name of Fatou. It is a name given to many Senegalese girls who are born in that land.

Like many children around her age, Fatou was fascinated by the world around her. She seemed to float instantly and seamlessly between the two planes she inhabited and understood: human and spirit. For Fatou, there was little or no difference between the two.

She spent a good portion of her days giving her mama, Miriam, a hand with her to-do list around the house: sweeping dust and any possible misfortune out the door, or chopping the herbs and spices so that her mama’s famous Yassa dishes came out just right.  It was in these routine roles that Fatou first learned the importance of paying attention, a skill that never escaped her. She listened with intensity when her mother shared her secrets.

“The way to make good food, Fatou my love, is the same way to have a good idea. The more you let it marinate, the better it becomes.”

In that way, Fatou developed a love and skill for being still and observing.

She’d quiet her mind, perched in the kitchen window, intensely following the sagas of the birds and insects. What interesting lives they led. What stories they too had to tell...

Looking forward to sharing more of the story with you all soon.

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