by BRAD ROLLINS
As far back as she can remember, Hap Mansfield read everything she could get her hands on, even the ingredients on household products.
“I read anything that wasn’t nailed down. I was one of those kids who read the back of the shampoo bottles in the bathroom,” she said.
Not many years later, Mansfield got a job as a copy clerk at the Davenport (Iowa) Times-Democrat where her daily duties included calling the National Weather Service and working up a forecast, an exercise in formula writing that does not usually invite artistry. But even the newsprint confines of the weather report could not contain Mansfield’s compulsive creativity.
“I wrote things like, ‘Gloriously sunny today with a chance of happy dogs and playing children’,” Mansfield, 60, said. “One day the editor of the paper — an old, venerable newspaperman — calls me into his office and I think he’s going to lower the boom. Instead, he told me the weather box was getting fan mail and it had never happened at any newspaper he’d ever heard of. He was delighted.”
Mansfield’s love of the written word — fired by that limitless imagination — carried her through a rollicking 25-year career as a pop culture writer and editor at publications like CAKE magazine in Minneapolis, a legendary champion of the countercultures. She settled in Hays County in 2006, first in Buda and later in San Marcos, where she signed on in 2008 as the scene editor for a scrappy upstart news website called the San Marcos Mercury.
In Hays County, Mansfield happened upon inspiration for what would become her first children’s book, an avant-garde tale of a brother and sister who find adventure and mystery writ large in nature during a summer visit to grandma’s house in fictional Willow Ford.
In her backyard in Buda one night in September 2006, Mansfield “turned on the porch light and this amazingly odd creature was slowly climbing from the roof to a tree branch. We just stared at each other for this magical moment and then I turned off the light so the creature could move on.”
The creature was an opossum and became the title character for “The Dark Possum: A Brotherhood of Bothers or A Botherhood of Brothers?,” self-published in 2012. The book is populated with characters like Mr. Bobble, the eccentric science professor who lives next door, a talking parakeet and an army of Volkswagen-sized beetles who happen to love poetry. In the course of their out-of-doors exploits, the Andersen twins learn to conquer fear, nurture empathy and respect wildlife.
San Marcos’ urban wildlife gave Mansfield plenty of material to work with.
“When I was working on the book, all these creatures would appear at my window or in my yard and they were put into the text,” Mansfield said. “The book is a love letter to nature, in a way, and San Marcos is at the very core of that feeling — the magic of all this secret life around us. No one who lives here for any amount of time goes away without remarkable memories and experiences.”
Now living again in Minnesota, Mansfield has launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish and promote the second “Dark Possum” book, a sequel subtitled “That Thingamajig In The Basement.” With less than five days to go, 14 backers have agreed to contribute $1,805, about 40 percent of the $4,600 goal. As with all crowdsourcing campaigns, Mansfield must collect pledges for all of the money or she collects none of it.
“Marketing a book is hard work. And the first book was just word-of-mouth marketing. I think the message of “The Dark Possum” — to value the conservation of nature and appreciate emotional intelligence — is an important one and I’d like to see the books get a wider distribution,” Mansfield said.
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