Meet Lakeland’s Author “Power Couple”
By Christy Swift
Photography Courtesy of the Koehlers and Jaunyce Priester
The Artist in the Coffee Shop
If you hit up Mitchell’s Coffee House on North Kentucky Avenue in Lakeland, you can get a tasty cup of coffee… and you can get it for cheap if you keep a cup on the wall.
That’s how author, artist, entrepreneur, and Sebring native Fred Koehler used to get cheap coffee when he was a college student at Florida Southern 15 years ago. He’d run up a “bar tab” with owner Mitch Harvey in exchange for illustrating the posters in their windows, then sit down to a nice breakfast and a coffee while he people-watched and got inspiration for his writing and art.
Eight years later, Koehler is a staple of the Cen- tral Florida children’s author community, and he still loves to draw and write amidst hustle, bustle, and the rich scent of roasted coffee beans. In fact, the idea for his first picture book, “How to Cheer Up Dad,” was conceived at Mitchell’s. It’s a story about a charming- ly oblivious little elephant trying to help his dad feel better after a bad day. Koehler still remembers the day he sketched the illustration that would eventually turn into a starred review picture book:
“I remember I had my young son, who was two at the time, at the coffee shop with me. I was sketching in my sketchbook, and I wanted to be that cool, artsy dad who had his kid with him, and he was literally having none of it. He was dumping out the salt and pepper shakers and drinking the hot sauce. I remember being frustrated, pacing up and down, and when I got home, I saw I’d done this sketch of two elephants trunk to trunk, staring each other down.” That sketch became the cover of the book.
Fast forward eight years, and Fred now is author/illustrator of three books and illustrator of numerous others, including “One Day, the End,” a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner (basically the Emmys of children’s books). He volunteers with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI), helping other artists turn their doodles into children’s books. And he developed and runs a program for authors trying to break into traditional publishing called Ready Chapter 1.
But life, just like a good story, is better with a romantic subplot, and Fred’s started seven years ago when he decided he wanted to write a novel.