Author and independent publisher Steve Tiller claims it all started with his daughter's messy hair. When someone commented that his daughter's uncombed locks looked like they had been attacked by "the tangle fairies," Tiller's first book, Tangle Fairies (Michael's Mind, $13.95, 28 pages, ISBN 0970459718) was born. "An image popped into my head of what a tangle fairy might look like, and it just stuck," says the author. Tiller, who daylights as a real estate developer in Atlanta, hadn't written anything in years when he sat down to compose Tangle Fairies. "I used to write when I was a child and throughout high school and college, but then I went into business and put the writing behind me," says Tiller. When the inspiration for Tangle Fairies took root, Tiller realized he had many other tales to share as well. While Tiller was looking for a publisher for Tangle Fairies, he continued to write more stories. And within a short time, Henry Hump ÔBorn to Fly' , Connected at the Heart ($14.95, 36 pages, ISBN 0970459726) and Rainbow's Landing ($15.95, 36 pages, ISBN 0970459750) were all ready to be published. The publishing process, however, wasn't quite as easy as the writing had been. Being new to the industry, Tiller thought his best bet would be to attend a book expo and find out what his options were. One publisher he talked to told him that presses may look at upwards of 6,000 books and produce only 10. Those odds didn't sound very good to Tiller, so he decided he might as well do it himself. "By the time I figured out that the book business didn't really work that way, I had already become a publisher by default," says Tiller. Three years and 16 books later, the gamble seems to have paid off for him. His company, Michael's Mind, a partnership between Tiller and artist Robert Cremeans, has flourished, and Tangle Fairies was a recent BookSense pick.

While his stories are intended for young readers, Tiller has found that parents and older readers take an interest in them as well. The illustrations, created by Cremeans, also tend to keep parents interested. With intricately detailed, incredibly colorful drawings, readers can find something new in the artwork every time they look at the pages.

Although his new and successful publishing business is exciting, it's not what thrills Tiller the most. "I love giving back to kids," says Tiller. The father of three has found that he is happiest when he is sharing inspirational stories and his belief in something larger than himself. "I think it's important for children to understand that they can affect change around them and create joy in their everyday lives," he says. And his books get that point across in fun, creative ways.

Each of Tiller's books highlights a unique, often spiritual message, and follows characters inspired by Tiller's friends and family. For instance, Henry Hump ÔBorn to Fly' centers on a caterpillar, Henry, who is about to change into a butterfly. "I wanted to focus on how we can adapt to change in a positive way, instead of being fearful about it," says Tiller. Boat &and Wind affirms the idea that we have the ability to communicate with the world around us in more profound ways than we tend to imagine. The soon-to-be published Peach Tree explores the connection between time and patience. And Rainbow's Landing serves as a reminder that we can all make our dreams come true, regardless of how impossible they may seem. And what about Tiller's personal dreams? "I'm living my dream," he says. "It's not often that you are put in exactly the right place for you as a human being." But Tiller has been, and he has been enjoying every minute of it. Among his list of things to do: Translate his current books into Spanish, share more stories with his fans, and, if the tangle fairies will let him, comb his daughter's hair. Heidi Henneman writes from San Francisco.

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