Story of ‘Fang the Cat’ a Carmel Valley family affair
By Kathy Day
Dave Wolfson reads from his website about his first book as if he’s talking to the children he’s writing for: “Fang is a thoughtful cat. With his friends, Small and Bubbles, he has an adventure with the kind lady’s pottery. Fang knows just what to do when the unexpected happens.”
Even without having first read “Fang the Cat,” one gets caught up in the story by the Carmel Valley resident, but reading it brings the story into full focus.
“I took the ideas from real life,” he said in a recent interview. “I took pottery lessons with my mom, I had a teacher who had a cat named Fang … in real life, Small was another cat and Bubbles was our goldfish.”
The tale aims to “bring out the simple pleasures we get from observing animals,” he said.
A software engineer when he’s not sketching and thinking up new adventures for Fang and his friends, Wolfson works hand-in-hand with his wife Melissa, an electrical engineer by training who served as collaborator and editor and also writes poetry. He also takes hints from their 21-year-old son Mark, a pre-med student who is also a musician and composer.
Fang first took shape in 1997, although thoughts of writing a children’s book entered Wolfson’s mind “a long time ago” when their son was in preschool and he read him so many Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bear books he had some memorized.
It just took a while for him to get the story out of his mind and onto paper. He’s always enjoyed doodling, he said, chuckling as he talked about going through some illustrations he did as a youngster.
With Fang, though, the story came first.
“When Melissa heard the story, she said, ‘Can you draw Fang?’” he said.
One early version showed Fang chasing Small, his tiny sidekick.
“He had his front paws out flat, kind of cartoon-like.”
In another, he said, the cat was stretching.
“I thought it would be funny if he put his leg up on a pot as he stretched, kind of like a person.”
The drawings, he said, “are pretty simple and whimsical.”
Noting that Mark and Melissa both liked the look, he pressed ahead, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the first draft was finished.
“Life has you busy,” he said, but he finally made the time to finish the project. Once he did, he learned that a teacher, Leslie Engel, was using “Fang” in her second-grade classes. Although targeted at kindergarten and first grade students, the book is also being used by at least one fifth grade teacher to help students understand story structure, Wolfson said.
Having visited some classrooms to read “Fang” to students or to talk about the writing process, he said, he came up with the idea of adding a “circle the word” puzzle or crossword in the book. For now, the word search puzzle is online at www.inkypigpress.com, but Wolfson said he is thinking about other learning activities for future projects.
Melissa was a huge help, allowing him to bounce ideas off of her and editing for details, he said.
“We were careful with so many things,” from the grammar and deciding whether to write in first person or third, to whether to capitalize “kind lady” or not and overall consistency.
They were just as cautious in the translation to “El Gato Fang,” he added.
Melissa, who is fluent in Spanish, did the translation since you can’t translate with online programs, Wolfson said.
An online program would have translated the part about disciplining cats to “corporal punishment” so they instead used the word “educando” to show they meant educating cats.
In the sequel, which will bring their guinea pigs – the reason the company is named Inky Pig Press – into play as Melissa takes top billing as the writer. The second story, which Wolfson hopes will be out by mid-year, will include more text as it aims for slightly older readers and will move the action into their garden.
“Fang the Cat” is available in paperback at amazon.com, as a Kindle e-book and at