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Kevin Shortsleeve couldn't avoid the sight of his new book, 13 Monsters Who Should be Avoided, as he walked through Harvard Square recently. The volume of poems, his fifth published work for children, is featured in the Harvard Book Store's Halloween display.
"I was stunned and surprised. I had no idea," said Mr. Shortsleeve, 32, a senior office assistant in Development Research and Systems, part of Resource Development. "It's very prominent," he added in a wondering tone.
It's no wonder, though, that 13 Monsters crowns the store display. The title, in spooky gothic letters, floats above a luminous, gargoyle-topped coffin. A top-hatted professorial type seems to totter out of the greenish light towards passersby. Inside, each of the 13 monsters is portrayed in a poem by Mr. Shortsleeve and with airbrushy weirdness by illustrator Michael Austin.
Mr. Shortsleeve, who grew up in Newton, the youngest of eight children, names Dr. Seuss and Edward Gorey as early influences, and his monsters all honor these childhood heroes in the way they view -- and disrupt -- daily life.
Ever wonder where those matching new socks went? The Sock Bats took 'em. Found your cat in the birdcage? The Rare Re-Arranger did it. Maple syrup gummed up your toaster? Mess Monsters ride again. Lose your car in a mega-lot? The Snurps ate it, thus:
They hide outside theme parks and shopping-mall lots
And swat helpless cars into nice chewy dots.
They gobble them up, then spit out the tires,
And pick at their teeth with transmission wires.
Mr. Shortsleeve began the project with 50 different monsters; he reduced the horde to 17 by getting family, friends and co-workers to vote for their favorites. His editors at Peachtree Publishers in Atlanta selected the final 13 with a view to the Halloween market.
"One monster I was sad to see go was made up of different animal parts -- eyes of a gorilla, legs of a stork -- but the voting was very helpful," he said.
Mr. Shortsleeve, who is now working on an early-reader counting book as well as a novel, credits the people in his family and at MIT for his success. His wife, Elka Iwanowoski, who also works at MIT, illustrated his first three books (The Story of Cape Cod, ABC Coloring Book and The Story of Martha's Vineyard). His brother Brian, publisher of Cape Cod Life magazine, published them.
Another brother, Joe Shortsleeve, the 5pm and 11pm anchor for WBZ-TV in Boston, "has supported every one of my crazy creative projects," Kevin said.
13 Monsters, the first of Mr. Shortsleeve's books to be published by a mass market press, has already received positive notice in print and on line. It held a prominent position on the front page of the Cambridge Tab ("Cambridge by the Book," September 15) and was featured in an October 2 story on CNN-in, CNN's on-line news site (archived at http://cnn.com/books/news/9810/02/childrens/index.html.
At MIT, "I attribute everything to my boss, Shelley Brown, a great person to work for -- really supportive," Mr. Shortsleeve said. Thanks to a job-sharing arrangement with Craig Webb, a fellow administrative assistant, he's able to work at MIT three days a week and on his own writing for two.
Mr. Shortsleeve began writing as a high school student. "My mom and I moved to Barnstable after my dad died. Since I was the youngest, I was the last one in the house. It was a shock -- it was so quiet. I started to write," he recalled.
Like many authors, Mr. Shortsleeve's journey to professional writing was somewhat roundabout. He went to Emerson College where he studied film-making, and then to Switzerland, where he picked grapes and worked on a documentary film, and he later owned and ran a window-washing business -- all grist for the mysterious mill that produced those 50 monsters, he admits.
But for now, the Snurps and the Snits await their second -- live -- Halloween appearance in Harvard Square. Mr. Shortsleeve will read from 13 Monsters Who Should Be Avoided at the Harvard Coop on Saturday, Oct. 31 at 1pm and on WERS (88.9 FM) at 5pm the same day.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 21, 1998.