Six years ago Alysson Foti Bourque was putting her kids to bed, reading them a story they’d heard before. They’d been through all of their books more than once by this bedtime, and they were clambering for something new.
Rather than making a plan to go shopping, Bourque told them she would write them a story instead. They cheered, which unlocked something inside her.
“They believed in me, and that was the aha moment that got me to believe in myself,” she said. “I was always imagining stories but I never had time to write them down when I was practicing law.”
A Lafayette native and Ovey Comeaux High School grad, Bourque earned her bachelor’s in elementary education from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, taught for a year in St. Louis. Martinville and went to law school at Southern University Law Center. She practiced law for about seven years as an assistant attorney general.
When her children were about 6 and 4, she decided to take a year off to stay home with them. It was only temporary, she thought. One year would turn into six and a new career path, starting with that night she decided to write down her story.
“I went downstairs, got out a loose-leaf piece of paper and wrote down Alycat and the Thursday Dessert Day,” she said.
Becoming a published author
She researched ways to publish a book and queried over 200 agencies and publishers. She received 88 rejections, and most went unanswered.
Seven months after she wrote Alycat, when she was thinking about returning to practicing 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’s now on book no. 5.
The fifth book in the Alycat series – Alycat and the Cattywampus Wednesday – launched Monday, and she’ll be celebrating locally with a book signing event Saturday at The Little Gym of Lafayette.
Meet local authors:New children’s book from Acadiana natives encourages kids to ‘rise and shine’
From 3-6 pm, visitors can enjoy face painting, gym play, photo-ops 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 proceeds from each sale of the new book will be donated to Wild Cat Foundation.
“It’s important to be able to provide a community awareness of literacy and get kids involved in books,” Bourque said. “Books are such great resources that help them solve problems.”
She loves seeing little readers hug Alycat the mascot, tell her their ideas for future books and give her pictures they’ve drawn of her character.
And it’s important to have a party that allows the community and vendors to be involved – they’ve supported me from the beginning. “
For each launch party she makes an effort to work with new small businesses, people trying to get the word out, just like she once was.
She’s also been to hundreds of schools across Louisiana and beyond, reading and interacting with kids about Alycat.
“I miss parts of practicing law, but to be able to interact with kids about literacy, to see the joy and the laughter, you can not help but be happy,” she said.
Being an author amid a pandemic
Now her own children are 13 and 11 and very proud of the Alycat series. They’ve been following her story closely from the very beginning, so the character feels like a sibling to them, she said. Plus, they like getting to meet other authors now that their mom is an author herself.
Bourque, 42, launched her fourth book in the series in March 2020 as COVID-19 seemingly shut down the world. It was discouraging to cancel in-person events tied to the release, but she adapted by having weekly live read-alouds online.
Family reading:‘Making parents our partners’: Louisiana schools aim to engage families, improve literacy
Then she started a podcast with business partner and fellow author Lori Orlinsky. On “Ask an Author,” they interviewed authors, interviews that teachers could incorporate into their virtual classrooms.
The podcast led the pair to start a public relations firm, Foreword Publicity, to represent other writers. They’ve helped more than 250 authors launch books, Bourque said.
“We adore books,” Bourque said. “Without the pandemic that business never would have been 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 when things were just wacky, backwards, cattywampus,” she said.
That’s what happens to Alycat. Her Wednesday starts with dinner (seafood gumbo) for breakfast. Words are spelled backwards. Things are just not right.
But Alycat goes through the day minute by minute, step by step, Bourque said. She relies on her friends and family and finds a way to have a positive attitude in the midst of the chaos.
“The moral of the story is that when we have something that is out of 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 features five titles, has won over 17 awards, and has been featured in the Official Grammy’s Swag Bag, Oscar’s Gift Bag, and the Duchess of York’s YouTube channels, Little Red News and Storytime with Fergie and Friends, according to Bourque’s website .