There’s been a lot of buzz over the past several weeks about Acree Macam, author of the new children’s book, The King of the Birds, so we sat down with her last week to get to know a little bit about her professional and creative journey.
Originally from North Carolina, Acree (pronounced AY-kree) first came to Atlanta as a college student at Emory University where she studied creative writing. After graduating, she returned to North Carolina and worked as a secretary while applying to MFA programs, which seemed to be the only career path her professors had encouraged her towards. However, Acree says that things started to veer off course that year after her father passed away. Her job was not stimulating and she lost her drive and passion for applying to MFA programs, but she also began writing for a new city blog in Raleigh. It was the faster pace and creativity in that volunteer position that revived her passion for writing and led her to start reconsidering her career path. Acree says that she remembers one day after church where she went off alone and began journaling about her career path and choices. Through this time in prayer and seeking guidance on what to do next, God seemed to be calling her back to Atlanta, so she she followed. This is when Acree first began coming to City Church. Having been a part of RUF in college and being familiar with her home church’s city-centered mission, City Church felt like the perfect fit and left her feeling no need to continue searching for a church. “During communion, Scott said my name and I thought, ‘I’ve been here for 20 minutes and they already know me.’”
Being young and inexperienced in the field of writing, Acree didn’t feel confident enough to pursue a strictly creative writing job. After three unemployed months back in Atlanta, she finally landed a position as an SEO writer. Although this wasn't the type of work she was seeking, it eventually led to an internship with a prestigious advertising firm and thus began her exposure to the world of copywriting for advertising and marketing. We probed a bit on why she felt so at home writing for the advertising industry.
“I like collaborating with visual people, the team atmosphere. I liked having a problem to solve and a challenge. I’ve never felt as a writer that I have something inside me that needs to be expressed. People describe that and I think ‘Am I just a phony writer?’ I need a lot of feedback and I like bouncing ideas off people. I haven’t been able to lock myself in a room and write something that is amazing that the world needs to hear. Advertising is fast paced, constant feedback. It is an exciting atmosphere for a writer.”
As we heard of the various stepping stones along her career path, it was interesting to see how each of her jobs helped her understand what she enjoyed doing more and more, eventually leading to a place where her skills and passions could overlap. Although Acree enjoyed copywriting, after a few years working for various ad agencies, she realized that the identity-driven work atmosphere wasn't a good fit with her lifestyle and developing career goals. At the time, she had just gotten engaged to her now husband of two and a half years, Eric, and was able to explore the possibility of freelance work. Things seemed to fall into place and she was able to quit her job. Through the next several years she built a successful freelance career that allowed her the space to enjoy being newlywed. Although planning to remain a freelancer, she recently received an offer from a small boutique messaging firm that was too good to pass up. She now works full-time for them, specializing in helping their clients explain their position in the marketplace. Specifically, she helps them use wording that will make them stand out and to creatively and effectively communicate a complex product.
Acree never considered writing children’s books until she began working as a copywriter. “Picture book writing is similar to copywriting in that you use simple language, leaving space for the images to tell a part of the story. In some ways, City Kids is a part of this story. Getting to know the kids there made me realize that what they think is funny is weird. I was amused by their personalities and gained an appreciation for them being a fun audience.”
Acree met the book's illustrator, Natalie Nelson Donovan, through City Church. When she first quit her job to start full-time freelancing, Natalie had just left the Portfolio Center, so they often met to talk about work, life, and potential projects- all the while calling themselves the “Quitters Club.” Out of this friendship came several collaborations that were displayed at the old City Church gallery or on blog posts. Eventually developing out of those collaborations was The King of the Birds. Natalie first had the idea for the plot and illustrations, but asked Acree to take over writing the actual manuscript, although Acree remembers it differently, insisting that she pushed herself into the project. Either way, she dedicated herself to the project and began studing children’s books to get an idea of what they were trying to accomplish. It was a long process for the two of them, and as they prepared to present the book to publishers, they knew it was possible that only one of them would be selected to continue on the project, as it is more common for author and illustrator to be matched through the publisher. However, after reaching out to two publishers, Groundwood Books picked up the project, keeping both of them on it.
The book itself is based on real events of the life of Georgia writer, Flannery O’Connor, as a young girl with a particular interest in birds. It is a fun story that appeals to children and adults alike. We inquired as to how O'Conners spiritually played a role in the story and Acree reflected, “Flannery was a believer and we were drawn to that. We didn’t write this book to be an evangelical tool, but if we are being true to Flannery there is a spiritual element there and in writing the author’s note we thought it would be dishonest not to talk about her spirituality.”
Acree overflowed with gratitude as she told us of the love and support her and Natalie have received from the City Church community. The book was released in late September and they have been able to travel to several cities for events and signings. Lucky for us, there is still time to join in the celebration near Atlanta! They will be signing and reading their book, followed by a craft time for children at Serenbe on December 3rd at 10am.
The King of the Birds can be found on Amazon and locally at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur.
City Folk is a monthly series featuring the people of City Church Eastside and what they are up to! Story and photos by Catherine Godek.
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