SPENCER — When a Spencer Middle School teacher wrote a
humorous book about his early life as a fat kid in honor of his late father,
there was only one person who could illustrate it, his friend, the school’s
Bart Harper, who has been teaching fifth grade for 10 years, recently published “Adventures of a Fat Kid,” which he dedicated to his father Danny, who passed away last year from a stroke.
‘‘I didn’t deal with it well,’’ he said of his father’s death. ‘‘I was lost without my best friend. The only thing I had to turn to were my memories of the past and those wonderful days when my father was still alive. One night I was sitting by myself thinking about my dad and things just started popping in my head.
‘‘I needed to laugh, so I got my laptop and started typing a story about one of our family vacations. Those trips were always funny and often a nightmare. I completed the story and posted it on MySpace as a blog. People loved it, so I wrote another.’’
It turned into a weekly blog named “Adventures of a Fat Kid,” since Harper himself was overweight growing up. Each short story was written from a 5th grade point of view and was about some of the ludicrous things people accomplish as a kid, he said.
‘‘Many of my friends loved the blogs so much that they urged me to publish it,’’ Harper said. ‘‘So after I had written enough stories, I decided to try to publish it. The rest is history. “Adventures of a Fat Kid” became a book in February.’’
The book is an exaggerated account of his own family and growing up in the small town of Reedy, W.Va., in the early 1980s.
‘‘It is a series of short stories about being a kid and the silly things that we do in our youth,’’ Harper said. ‘‘The stories all include my mother Jeanie, father Danny, sister Shelly, and of course, my infamous grandmother Icie.
‘‘Most of the stories are universal in theme because these are experiences that everyone goes through at some point in their life.’’
Different stories deal with the fat kid being in a tragic golf cart accident that put an end to his football career, his becoming a Christmas thief, getting into his grandfather’s wine and more misadventures.
‘‘The book is based on my true stories,’’ Harper said. ‘‘Every short story is true with some exaggerations of course. About 90 percent of the stories include my father.
‘‘The book was a tribute to him and was written because of him. My dad was great, and he was the funniest guy ever. The book was written that with openness and honesty and I think that is what attracts people to it.’’
When it came time to complete the book, Harper needed an illustrator. He tried himself, but it was hard to fabricate a fat kid out of a stick drawing.
Mike Randolph, a janitor at the school for 16 years, had been coming into Harper’s classroom for awhile and drawing pictures on the chalk board.
‘‘Most of the time, they were of me or of the students,’’ Harper said. ‘‘It was pretty funny stuff.
‘‘It finally hit me, I would ask Mike to be my illustrator. I sent home the stories with him, and he came up with a picture for each of my stories. Mike and I have been friends for a while now and we are golf buddies. It was nice working with a friend on the project, and the pictures that he came up with were perfect representations of my younger, fatter days.’’
Randolph said he has been drawing for as long as he can remember.
‘‘In the first grade, an older student impressed me with his talent,’’ he said. ‘‘I wanted be like him.’’
This was his first attempt at illustrating, but he did do a cover for a book of poems once.
Randolph got a rough draft of the book as well as Harper’s ideas and started coming up with pictures.
‘‘I put my odd sense of humor to work on it,’’ he said. ‘‘I changed some of them to fit my style and it worked well. We think alike. Bart is easy to work with and we have had a ton of fun doing it.
‘‘We both can let go and remember how it was to be 10-years-old.’’
Soon Randolph was coming to school everyday with pictures for the book.
‘‘He would offer samples for me to pick from, and all the pictures were hilarious,’’ Harper said.
One of his favorite pictures Randolph did was of his Grandmother Icie driving him around on an old golf cart they had.
‘‘My Grandmother was driving it one day as we came down the hill from burning our trash and the engine stalled,’’ Harper said. ‘‘Icie panicked and it started to coast. I jumped on the back of the golf cart trying to reach her to steer it to safety, but it was too late. Icie put her hands straight up in the air and let out a ‘God help me!’
‘‘The golf cart sped into the hillside flipping the vehicle and shattering my tailbone. It ended my football career and I had to sit on a pink inflatable doughnut for six weeks. His picture of the incident captured the insanity of it all.’’
Harper said he wanted to keep the artwork basic and he wanted the pictures to represent the essence of each story.
‘‘Mike is capable of doing the fancy stuff, but I told him that I wanted to keep it simple,’’ Harper said. ‘‘He did just want I wanted, and I think the pictures add greatly to the imagery as you read each short story.
‘‘When Mike had finished the last drawing, we celebrated with a school milk and two paper cups. It is always nice to work with a friend. We both have a similar outlook on life which always helps to create a successful collaboration.’’
Randolph hopes people will get a good laugh from his drawings.
‘‘I do cartoons, so I look for the the lighter side of life and try to make people smile,’’ he said.
Once finished, Harper’s fellow teachers Ann Carper and Esther Morrison edited the book. He sent the abstract to about 25 agents trying to get representation. He was rejected several times and knew that if agents could not read the actual book, then they were not going to sign him.
‘‘They want experienced authors and typical writing,’’ he said. ‘‘It is literally impossible for a new author to get an agent and I am not a patient person.
‘‘I decided that if I had a book to actually send to people/agents that I would have a better chance of getting it noticed. I looked for a self-publishing company and finally found Wasteland Publishing. This publisher helped me to complete the book the way I wanted it, and they did a great job.’’
The book is available through Harper’s Web site “fatkidadventures.googlepages” as well as big name bookstores like Amazon and Barnes and Noble and about 100 other online bookstores in the United States and Europe. It is also available locally at the Serenity Cup Restaurant, Backstage Video, Spencer Pet Shop, M&M Coins, Joellen’s Country Connection and Common Cents Consignment.
Harper said the book sold more than 300 copies in its first month. It is gaining popularity all over the state. He is talking to a publisher in West Virginia who specializes in West Virginian authors and books as well as looking for an agent.
Harper is working on a sequel called “Adventures of a Fat Kid, The Teen Years” which Randolph will be illustrating. He also finished another book called “The Gentleman in Room 205,” a science-fiction thriller about the relationship between a father and son after the father has a stroke, goes to a nursing home and then something magical happens to the residents there. The book, which was based on Harper’s experiences with his father, will be out this summer.
For Harper, the original ‘‘Adventures of a Fat Kid” touches on the belief that laughter can help people face the troubles in their lives.
‘‘I wrote the book at the lowest point in my life and in a way it saved me,’’ he said. ‘‘Some of the stories are so ridiculous that you just can’t help but laugh. My main aspiration for the book is to provide a bit of laughter to those who are hurting. Sometimes laughter is the only good thing we have left and I really believe it can save lives. It is a cool thought that because of my father, this book was written and will help others to smile for generations to come. In a way, he will live on through me and this book.’’
Bart Harper was born in
Mike Randolph was born in Jackson County, West Virginia in 1953. He moved to Roane County in 1964 where he attended Walton High School. He married his wife Alberta, in 1971 and raised two sons Randy and Chris. Mike has no formal art training but has always loved to draw. His talents stem from years of comic book and card collecting. He is a die-hard Yankees fan and loves to compete in local bowling leagues. He has worked as a custodian in Roane County Schools for 16 years. He is currently teaching an art class at Spencer Middle School where his artistic knowledge can be appreciated and passed on to the next generation of illustrators.