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Lynnfield author drawn to the macabre

Lynnfield author/illustrator Carlyn Beccia shows off the headband with eyes on it which she occassionally wears to school visits. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNNFIELD — No one was more surprised than Carlyn Beccia when she become a successful children’s book author.

More than a decade ago, her goal was to trade a corporate 9-5 job in advertising for being a stay-at-home mom who worked from her second floor studio on Pocahontas Way.

On a whim, she submitted three circus poster illustrations to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the Boston-based book publisher in 2006.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” said the 46-year-old Lynnfield native who has a 9-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter.

“But I was surprised when a Houghton Mifflin editor contacted me and said they loved my posters and I should write a story around them.”

But Beccia, pronounced Betcha, told the editor she was not an author. She had hoped the carnival drawings would lead to work as an illustrator.

“I did not see myself as a writer, but I did have an illustration background and I could definitely paint and draw,” she said. “But the editor said the images are so narrative, I should write a book to go with them.”

It was a backdoor way into the profession, she said, but it worked.

“Who put the B in the Ballyhoo?” was published in 2007. The alphabet book for youngsters features the grace of the bareback rider, a daring acrobat, a strange snake lady, and dancing pigs.

It was well received by critics.

Marya Jansen-Gruber, editor of the online Through the Looking Glass Book Review, said the book introduces young readers to an array of fascinating circus personalities, and helps them understand what circus life in the heyday of circuses were like.

“Most of us are fascinated by circuses and the circus life … the animals, shows, and the colorful personalities make the whole circus world seem larger than life,” she wrote. “Carlyn Beccia explores circuses on a number of levels. There is the alphabet side of the story with each page featuring a circus-related word set in a short rhyming poem … As a backdrop for the poems and text sections she created very authentic looking illustrations that resemble vintage circus posters. The ‘posters’ are colorful and include beautiful scripts.”

Beccia was surprised by her instant success, she said, but it was a perfect storm.

“Success happens when luck, perseverance, and talent come together all at once,”she said. “It helps when one or two key people in power who believe in you.”

The book’s popularity led to Beccia quitting her job as an art director at Young & Rubicam, the New York-based advertising, marketing and communications company where she spent 15 years working in their Washington, D.C. office.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst graduate in graphic design has nine titles on Amazon. Her latest, just in time for  Halloween is “Monstrous: The Lore, Gore, and the Science behind Your Favorite Monsters.”

It took five years to complete, because it required tons of research, she said.

The book has received 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon. A review by “Lynda,” who gave it 5 stars, is typical.

“When it comes to creepy nonfiction, no one does it better than Carlyn Beccia. Her books are so full of fascinating facts, that readers of all ages can’t help but be riveted. Throw in some gorgeous artwork and you’ve got books that are really special.  I love her work because kids are drawn to it for a bit of shock value, but her creepy content is so anchored in fact, in science and history that kids end up learning so much, and they don’t even realize it because they are enjoying themselves. It’s genius. This book is no different in this regard. Readers will love it. It delves into so much cool stuff. For lovers of monsters, vampires, and zombies, but will also appeal to old movie buffs, too. A must for your non-fiction section.”

Beccia, who describes herself as an introvert with a dark side, said her book, “I Feel Better With a Frog in My Throat,” has resonated with readers.

She uncovered a bunch of wild remedies that were touted as cures, like drinking a glass full of millipedes or putting mustard on a sick person’s head.  Some of the cures worked, and some of them are not recommended. Millipedes, living or dead, for example, are not meant to be eaten.

“It’s all about the wacky medical cures, such as maggots and leeches,” she said. “It’s an interactive book to get kids to think critically.”

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