Be Who You Might Have Been

December 29, 2023

by Caroline Woodwell, Conservancy volunteer

Featuring “Mary Marianna, Great Owl and the Chess Master”

Written by William Morkill, Illustrated by Susana Ramirez Solis

Published by Brown Books Kids, Dalla/New York

The transformative moments in INLC member Bill Morkill’s first published children’s book are set in the woods. That’s no surprise. Bill and his wife, Barb, live in the woods. Avid hikers, they have been INLC volunteers since the very beginning.

Bill has a published book (Brown Books Kids) for children in grades K-3. Mary Marianna, Great Owl, and the Chess Master asks and answers a simple question that also reflects the spirit of INLC: what can I do? Facing an intractable problem, Mary Marianna turns to the adults in her life.

“It’s just one of those things,” is the answer she gets. She refuses to accept that answer. What she does instead is the story that unfolds in the book.

Bill began writing in earnest eight years ago when he came across a quote by the 19th-century author George Eliot: ‘You’re never too old to be what you might have been.’

The idea resonated. He started writing, joined several writer’s groups, and from there, one story led to another.

Today he has finished or nearly finished 14 children’s books and a couple of middle-grade novels. Story ideas appear haphazardly, he said, from random moments in the course of daily life. At a political fundraiser, for example, he realized that the name of the band, The Night Mare, means a dark horse. A children’s story was born. The seed of Mary Marianna, Great Owl, and the Chess Master was planted during a group exercise in which participants were asked to recall a moment of regret.

Mostly, Bill says, he writes for himself. “To be lost in the creation of a story is to take a vacation from ruminating about our wounded world. A walk in the woods works too. And supporting the work of INLC ensures there will be woods to walk in for generations to come.”