2015-11-20 / Community

Never too late to take pen in hand

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Robert Marier wrote and performed songs that are part of the downloadable app for the eBook, “Murfy Finds A Home.” (Courtesy photo) Robert Marier wrote and performed songs that are part of the downloadable app for the eBook, “Murfy Finds A Home.” (Courtesy photo) KENNEBUNK — At age 78, a local man has become not only a first time author, but an unplanned pioneer of digital media and an unsuspecting hit on the school speaking circuit.

Robert Marier, a longtime real estate developer in town, has, in his retirement years, indulged a lifelong love of music, even making an album, Melodies from Maine. But when one song on that disc, about an elderly man making friends with a lonely mouse, became a frequent request of his grandchildren and other youngsters, Marier decided it might make the basis of a good children’s book.

To make that leap, Marier connected with illustrator Steve Hrehovcik, 77, also of Kennebunk and the artist behind five previous kids books.


The cover, seen below, to the new eBook, “Murfy Finds A Home,” written by Kennebunk residents Robert Marier, who wrote and performed songs that are part of the downloadable app, and Steve Hrehovcik, left, who illustrated and narrated the book. (Courtesy photo) The cover, seen below, to the new eBook, “Murfy Finds A Home,” written by Kennebunk residents Robert Marier, who wrote and performed songs that are part of the downloadable app, and Steve Hrehovcik, left, who illustrated and narrated the book. (Courtesy photo) “Steve, he hit it right out of the park on the first try,” Marier said. “He really captured the characters exactly as I envisioned then. And so, I was thinking a regular book with hard covers, like anything else you see in the bookstores,” he said.

It was while showing the work-in-progress to a friend that Marier got the advice to pursue digital distribution instead. But Marier went one step further. Instead of simply replicating the book for electronic readers such as Kindle and iPad, Marier created an application. That allowed him to add animation to Hrehovcik drawings, as well as voices, sound effects, narration and even a few songs, including the one that had inspired the tome.

“I built it all myself, even though I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “It was really a hard job. It took four months. And I had to do it twice.”

That’s because Marier had to work with three companies to encode the book, each with different requirements to create the animation effects. The first two went out of business before Marier could finish his work. Finally, an Italian firm proved stable enough to complete the project.

“Then it came to uploading it to the Apple store,” Marier said, with a roll of the eyes as he recollected the effort. “Honesty, I still don’t know how I did it. I did it all myself, and, really, I’m just moderately competent at that kind of thing. I thought I was going to go crazy.”

The result was a 32-page interactive app, Murfy Finds A Home. Hrehovcik ended up narrating the book, while Marier essentially played himself, as “Granpa Bob.” Meanwhile, Marier’s 12-yeaer-old grandson, Max MacCannel of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was drafted to play Murfy.

“In three takes, he nailed it. And he didn’t even know he could sing,” Marier said, with a laugh.

And that might have been the end of it – a fun little e-book shared among friends, family, and a few buyers at the iStore. But then came the revelation.

Marier was contacted by a teacher in Essex, Massachusetts, who had seen the book and asked if he’d make a presentation to her students.

“Well, I certainly, never expected anything like that,” Marier said. “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as book presentations in schools. I was totally unaware of it.”

Since then, Marier and Hrehovcik have made 13 similar presentations. But they don’t just read the book, they explain how it was created, Marier plays his songs and gets the kids to sing along, and Hrehovcik follows up with an art lesson.

“It’s been just a joy,” Hrehovcik said. “The kids have been so incredible. The reaction has been wonderful. It’s been a delight, really a truly, to have been a part of this.”

According to local educators, there’s a reason for Murfy’s popularity, as well as that if his septuagenarian creators.

“A quick note of thanks for the incredibly well done performance you did for us today,” wrote Kevin Crowley, principal of the Mildred L. Day School in Arundel, in an email to Marier.

“I have watched hundreds of student centered performances and the work you and Steve did ranks up with the best of them. You had our 82 kindergarteners and first-graders mesmerized with the story and your songs. The quiz at the end of the book was a very special touch as was the sing-along! The students and staff at the Mildred L. Day School will eagerly await the next Murfy adventure and we look forward to your return.”

The tour has continued since then, with six school stops this past week along.

“This is a very dear, sweet story about friendship and discovery,” Hrehovcik said. “That is something kids really respond to.”

“But it’s almost like musical, where the characters sing the songs,” Marier said. “That is very unique I think, and that’s part of why it’s proven so popular.

“I’m really excited about what it’s become, with the talks we’re giving in schools,” Marier said. “We’re having great fun.”

“It’s gratifying and humbling, too,” Hrehovcik agreed. “When you create something, and someone responds to it in a positive way, it’s a good feeling.

“When you have grandchildren, they’re the joy of your life, and reading to your grandkids is one thing you do as a grandparent,” Hrehovcik said. “Really, this has been a lot like that.”

Marier and Hrehovcik are already collaborating on a second e-book, called Murfy’s River Adventure, due to come out in mid-2016.

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