The cat, as depicted in colorful illustrations by Marcia Pyner, is a marbled sepia Snow Bengal, that bears a striking resemblance to one of Allen-Foster's four feline companions. "I learned about the breed in a cat magazine. Shiloh was a gift from my husband, Brent, the first Christmas we were together," she says. "He's always moving, he's very animated, always busy." And what about the mouse? Allen-Foster laughs. "No, not in my house. I'm married to an exterminator. He would be in big trouble!"
The lifetime Hampton resident and member of Liberty Baptist Church has always enjoyed writing, ever since she won a prize in sixth grade.
When she was an assistant director for an assisted living facility, she would read her stories to the residents, and two of her upcoming book releases are stories she wrote 20 years ago. However, she never expected to be an author.
Life changing diagnosisHer life changed in December 2001, when Allen-Foster, now 38, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. "Some days I have trouble getting around. Some days I have trouble thinking," she says, though her polished appearance and bright personality effectively mask her medical problems. She has undergone nine operations since her near-fatal bout with spinal meningitis in 2006, including a full hysterectomy. "Children were the one thing I really wanted in life," she says, momentarily losing her composure. At that critical time she had a dream in which God promised her lots of children if she would write. "God wanted me to focus on my abilities. Faith is about believing not in what you can see, but in what you cannot see," she says. "I believe you can use trials and tribulations to make you what God wants you to be, they can be a blessing."
In the space of 18 months, everything started to fall into place with her books. "There's a real need for Christian stories, a real niche," she says. She noted her work writing Christian stories for children in her Facebook profile, which led to a friend from Bethel High School in Hampton, whom she hadn't seen for 22 years, contacting her. The friend, Heather Roe Thompson, helped her choose a publish-on-demand company, Master Enterprises.
Then simultaneously, through family, Allen-Foster found the illustrator Marcia Pyner in North Carolina. Pyner agreed to do the illustrations for a cut of the books' proceeds instead of requiring upfront payment.
The author and illustrator haven't met yet, but through e-mail and digital photos, they collaborated seamlessly. "She really captures Shiloh's essence. She did it all in color pencil. I wanted a book with rich illustrations, not so modernized. This is back to basics," says Allen-Foster, who grew up reading Little Golden Books and Beatrix Potter. "They're similar in style, very detailed. Marcia has an amazing ability to make things come to life. I can't even draw stick people."
Finding inspirationAllen-Foster describes the whole process as therapeutic. "I hope it has helped others as much as it has helped me," she says. "There's a little bit of me in each book." In her upcoming May release, "Freckle Fairy Fran" about how a child gets freckles, she casts herself as the mother and the featured children include those of her illustrator and publisher, as well as her 7-year-old niece, Alyssa. "She's my inspiration and sounding board. She lets me know if the books are good or not." Again the message is one of tolerance, acceptance and inclusion. It stars with children bullying someone for being "different," having freckles, and ends with all the children wanting freckles.
Allen-Foster includes a little vocabulary expanding exercise in each book, for example introducing readers — the books are geared to 4- to 10-year-olds — to the word "señor" with Miguel the mouse.
The final words of "Shiloh" are "So look into your soul and open your mind, and God will show you just how to be kind." These are followed by the prayer, "Lord I pray to be kind to everyone and shine like a warm ray of sun. With the dawn of each new day, Help my words to be pleasing to you in every way."
Allen-Foster says, "I'm thankful for what I can do. I just want to bring a Christian message to just one child. I'm just trying to be obedient to what I'm called to do."
Want a copy?"Shiloh Kitty Puss and Miguel the Mouse," by Susan Allen-Foster with illustrations by Marcia Pyner, is published by Master Enterprises.
It's available online at http://order.geodirectinc .com/yourdigitalsource, or at Heaven and Earth, 5007 Victory Blvd., Suite 24, Yorktown; 872-9100. It costs $14.95 in hardback and $7.95 in soft cover.