Candace Echols is a Memphis mother of five. Well, six if you count Rookie, her mini Bernedoodle. Rookie came along unexpectedly and not only became part of the family, he even inspired Candace, who holds a degree in journalism, to write her first children’s book, Josephine and the Quarantine.
We talked to Candace about her new release, her family of seven (eight if you count Rookie), and how in the world she found time to write a book while quarantining with five children under the age of 12. Meet our newest FACE of Memphis!
First of all, we have to know, how has is been quarantining with five children?
The beginning was great. We all went on walks, and we made mailboxes out of shoeboxes, and we’d leave each other mail at the family post office. That died by spring.
Then you added your dog Rookie to the mix?
We had a dog for 14 years. The dog died in the spring, and honestly, I was enjoying the freedom a little bit.
One day I was out for a walk, and this dog inside a house looked out the window at me. It was the cutest dog I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been a dog person. I don’t even notice dogs, but I knocked on the door. Nobody answered. I went back the next day and asked them what kind of dog it was. It was a mini Bernedoodle. I came home and told my husband. He was like, ‘what?’ It just felt right. The kids need something to take care of. There is life that a dog brings to the picture that might engage everyone the way other things don’t.
Another big part was that I felt like it would draw my kids off the screens. I am pretty engaged in the battle against the screens taking over our lives. It’s a lost cause, but I felt like a dog might be the thing and give them something to take care of.
How did the book come about?
I had been 100 percent a stay-at-home mom since having my kids, but knowing at some point I wanted to do something more. Just over a year ago, I was reading an article on the Gospel Coalition website. I clicked on the author’s bio; lo and behold, she teaches writing classes. Her name is Ann Swindell. I contacted her and realized she has a mastermind class where she takes on about 10 women nationwide each year and she mentors them. We were doing the Zoom thing before COVID even happened. It’s a dynamic group of women from all stages of life and all backgrounds, and we would submit work to her and read and edit each other’s work. It was a phenomenal experience.
So you got your writing skills sharpened, what happened next?
My husband is really good at recognizing I am game-on 24 hours a day with these kids, especially during quarantine. He suggested I go to our family’s house in Oxford, MS. So I took his advice and went by myself for one night. It was therapy for me. On the drive there, I listened to whatever I wanted, had thoughts with no interruptions, ate Thai food, listened to some podcasts, journaled and slept hard.
The next morning, I went to the little coffee shop there. I sat down and realized this dog thing (getting Rookie) was such an unexpected gift. A friend had mentioned to me this pandemic puppy phenomenon where so many people are getting dogs. I started thinking — What is it in the heart of a person in a time like this that craves companionship in an animal? I have plenty of companionship in my life. I was pondering it and realized it was God’s idea to make puppies.
The playfulness, the cuddles. Those were all God’s good idea. We see this part of his personality in dogs. Everybody is looking for something in these dogs, and what they are really looking for is comfort from God. We’re getting it through these dogs!
I sat down on a bench in the square in Oxford and wrote the whole thing in like three hours. Then I said to myself, ‘I think I could make this a children’s book.’
How did you go from what you wrote that day to having the published book in your hands?
I decided to self-publish because regular book publishing traditionally takes 12 to 18 months. I didn’t want the time period on the topic of quarantining to expire. So I worked with WestBow Press, which is the self-publishing arm of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.
We worked from August to October producing the book. It was challenging, but the beauty of it was I got to be every person in the process — the writer, editor, production, everything.
How did you find your illustrator?
Right after I had written the story, I took Rookie for a vet appointment and saw this gorgeous painting on the wall. I asked who painted it and was told it was Dare Harcourt. I got in touch with her and asked if she would be my illustrator. We met one night and went through the whole book. It was her idea for the first half to be black and white until God’s love enters the picture and everything turns to color. You can feel through her artwork the heaviness of this quarantine. It’s been so great as a writer to have an artist turn my words into art.
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How has the response to the book been so far?
We started a pre-sale two weeks before the book came in. We got it the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and my daughter and I delivered it to 15 bookstores in Memphis. We delivered it to some homes. We made 60 stops that day. In the first 10 days, we sold more than 600 copies of the book. At this point, it’s in the hands of some influencers. They all have a copy. I’d love to get it to some bigger stores in Nashville or Birmingham as well.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I’m going to stick to a practical piece of advice I got from my good friend Betsy Cashman. She said to me, “Maybe you need to sit down and do a brain dump and write down literally everything that comes to your mind. Get it all out on paper.” That’s what I did on that Friday night before I wrote the book on Saturday morning. You can’t think clearly when there is so much on your brain. That — right now in life — opens up space to process things in a way I want to be able to. Even in my parenting, I can engage with my kids in a way I couldn’t otherwise. I am able to do everything better once I get it all out. So, take a minute to get it all out. To me, that’s been a survival piece of advice during this year.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
My leg warmers straight out of the ’80s, road trips, and the movie Little Women.
Thank you, Candace! Josephine and the Quarantine can be purchased at many local retailers or online — find a list of stores or make your purchase directly at candaceechols.com.