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Local artist publishes first book

"When She Turned 40-ish" Submitted Photo1 / 3
Detroit Lakes mixed media artist and marketing consultant Carmen McCullough has published her first book, "When She Turned 40-ish," which is now available at Precision Printing in Detroit Lakes as well as online at Submitted Photo2 / 3
The book contains an A to Z listing, from Annette to Zelda, of what different women did to observe their milestone birthdays. Each story is also paired with a photo illustration of one of McCullough's own collage creations. Each collage featured paper doll-style clothing created with fabric from Chrysalis by Moda. Submitted Photo3 / 3

Though Carmen McCullough has wanted to write a book for as long as she can remember, when it came down to actually putting together some ideas for one, the Detroit Lakes artist and marketing consultant found herself at a bit of a loss.

"I love books, and always thought I should write one, yet never found a topic I wanted to write about," she said.

"Last year, I promised myself I would either publish a book or take it off my bucket list."

Mission accomplished.

"When She Turned 40-ish" was released in September through the independent publishing platform CreateSpace, and is now available online, via, or locally at Precision Printing.

"I couldn't expect a traditional publisher to support my quirky humor, so as a mixed media artist with over 20 years of marketing experience, I finally decided I was ready to navigate the somewhat confusing world of self-publishing," McCullough said.

To create her debut book, McCullough turned to her first love, art, and also found inspiration from the stories of some of her friends who were turning 40.

"When She Turned 40-ish" is an alphabetical narrative of 26 women's stories as they approached their milestone birthday. The book starts with A (Annette) and ends with Z (Zelda).

Each story is matched with a photo of a different piece of collage art created by McCullough herself. Each illustration features a paper doll-style dress as its centerpiece.

"I was playing with fabric in my studio one day and decided to make paper doll outfits," she said. "These outfits were a big part of my inspiration for the book."

The fabric she used was Chrysalis from Moda, and McCullough received approval from Moda before using the illustrations in the book.

She glued the fabric pieces onto synthetic paper for support, then embellished the paper doll outfits with buttons and ribbons.

The background images for each page were created using paint, glue and pattern tissue.

Though all of the stories in the book were inspired by people she knew, only two of them are actually attributed to real people, McCullough said.

"The rest of them are made up," she added, noting that part of the fun of reading it is guessing which ones are the real people (a clue to at least one of them is provided in the preface of the book).

Meant to be an easy-read, the book includes statements such as "Annette wrote her memoirs on the back of a paper bag," and "Ramona tossed her 'to do' list in the garbage and never looked back."

The reason why most of the names were changed, McCullough said, was because she didn't want to embarrass anyone.

So far, the response has been quite positive -- in fact, many of her friends asked whether she planned to write a "50-ish" sequel.

The answer to that is "yes."

"I decided to make it so people could buy a letter, and I would make a dress and a page just for them," she said.

"I've already sold three of them, so it's definitely a go."

McCullough hopes to have the book ready for publication by September.

"It'll be fun," she said.

Anyone who would like to buy a letter/page in the book may do so online via the website,

Though art has become an increasingly large part of her life since she first started creating collages in 2005, McCullough's background is actually in marketing.

A native of Perham, she received her degree in marketing and communications from Minnesota State University Moorhead before taking her first job with an advertising agency in Brainerd (Russell & Herder).

In 1993, she accepted an opportunity to work in the marketing department at SJ Electro (now SJE Rhombus) in Detroit Lakes, and has been a resident of the community ever since.

McCullough spent six years at SJ Electro, then took a position with ACS (now known as Arvig Inc.) in Detroit Lakes, where she would spend the next 13 years.

A little over a year ago, she decided to become an independent marketing consultant, and currently has her office in The Hive, a collection of creative consultants located on the M State campus in Detroit Lakes.

She and her husband Kevin make their home in Detroit Lakes with their two teenage sons, Austin and Ethan.

"They're my biggest fans," McCullough said of her family's response to her literary ambitions.

"Or at least, they're supportive," she added a little wryly.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454