PLEASANTON -- In the mind and books of Pleasanton author Jennifer Fosberry, a purple-haired girl becomes a celebrated astronaut, a world famous writer or a pivotal civil rights leader.
On Monday, "Isabella: Star of the Story," will be released. It is the third in a series of best-selling children's picture books about a girl with an amazing imagination and boundless potential, but Fosberry refuses to be defined.
"My writing habits are changing," she said, in a recent interview. "I've joined a critique group. I'm starting to write 2,000-word chapter books, medium-grade readers. They're too long to keep in my head."
But the picture books that have sold more than 100,000 copies since the 2008 launch of "My Name is Not Isabella," were born in her mind's eye and written in longhand on 29-cents-a-pad notebooks.
"The picture books began with list-making, then building a structure. It's not 'I write every day from nine to noon.' It's not the flouncy, stare-at-the-page-until-my-head-bleeds. It's story creation around a person."
The person, although fictionally named "Isabella," springs from Fosberry's childhood roots. Growing up in rural, upstate New York, her father was the area pharmacist, and her mother helped start the library. It was a close-knit community: when she once made the choice to walk home instead of ride the school bus, four people noticed and stopped at her father's store to tell him where she was.
Fosberry recalled a childhood reading experience: memorizing the words to "Whose Mouse Are You?"
"I wanted to read it to my kindergarten class," she explained. "And I remember lots of flashlights at night, reading well past bedtime. We thought we were getting away with something, but my parents bought those flashlights for us ... ."
Like the central character in her books, Fosberry once imagined she was someone other than herself: Wonder Woman.
"It speaks more to a feminist than an imaginative theme," Fosberry suggested. "That was the only female hero from my time. She was in bangles and a bathing suit, but she was empowered."
Asked to name her literary heroes today, she frowned deeply, then admitted guiltily, "I'm a generous reader. I like everything. My husband built me full-surround bookcases. I could list people who are fantastic, but the list would be so long."
Learning is pursued vociferously in the Fosberry-Alfonso household. After working for years as a project manager in Silicon Valley, Fosberry started her own publishing line, Monkey Barrel Press.
"I was going to take other stories and build. I wrote a slow-growth business and marketing plan. I printed 3,000 of my first book and hand-sold them until Barnes and Nobles picked them up through their small press."
Then she and her family moved to Costa Rica for two years.
"We just wanted a change. We had three small kids, I hardly saw my husband. We wanted a break, but we couldn't do that in the United States. We looked for a warm, stable country," she said.
They might have stayed -- their kids were enrolled in affordable, private schools and her family-centric values were appeased. But economic hardship brought increasing crime, and the family returned to California.
In 2013, with Jabberwocky, an imprint of Naperville, Illinois-based Sourcebooks Inc, publishing her "Isabella" books, Fosberry said there are four or five more in the pipeline. A boy's version, with "Alexander" imagining himself as a Native American leader, baseball star and cinematic dance celebrity, is also available.
"I'd like to see Isabella and Alexander together," Fosberry said. "People don't seem to think it's important to tell boys they can be anything in the world, but I do."
She also believes anyone can write.
"Of course, not everybody can be Charles Dickens," she said. "I think kids have a spark, then get led away from it. Others, people who don't come to it naturally, should still be exposed to it. Even if you aren't going to be the best writer, it may be cathartic. Writing is an important skill, from writing a condolence letter to schoolwork."
Fosberry hopes to spread her powerful, self-esteem-infused messages to middle school kids, whose lives she says are "hard" and who can't be approached with "didactic communication."
"I'm not sure if I can write the young adult genre: everyone is superemotionally charged, and people die," she admitted. "They don't have the comforting characters, and it's too close to real life."
Then, with Isabella energy, Fosberry said stories are simple manipulation of patterns and formulas. If she can find the overlying logic, enter the form, and find her flow, why, she can write anything she can imagine.