By Sarah Raymond
While children’s books are often innocent fun, the stories behind the books often hold a surprising amount of depth. Rick Vella, a native of Tullahoma, recently published his first book after emerging from one of the darkest times of his life, and he is excited to finally share his words with the world.
Vella was raised in New York and lived in the second-poorest county in the state. From the time he was a child, he had a love for the written word. He would write stories constantly but never did anything with them. Around the age of 20, he discovered his other passion: music. He picked up the mandolin first, but he also plays the bass, banjo, guitar, and ukulele. He was heavily influenced by gospel and bluegrass music, and he stated that when he first became invested in music, he would wake early in the morning solely so that he could record a bluegrass radio show on his cassette tapes.
His dedication to music eventually allowed him to travel around the country, and he moved to Tennessee in 2005 because it was a good central location that would allow him to easily access more performance venues. He has recorded 17 albums to date, and he even performed at the first Lynchburg Music Fest after meeting Johnny Hill at a songwriters’ night held by the Lynchburg Winery. He naturally applied his love of writing to crafting songs, but his love of writing stories never died, and he found the motivation to pour more of his time into stories when he hit rock bottom.
In 2019, Vella became jaundiced and spent a significant amount of time in the hospital receiving treatment. He was eventually diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, which is a liver disease that prevents bile from flowing properly through the body. He stated that, although the doctors fought to help him, their efforts did not provide a remedy for his declining health. As he got closer to his breaking point, he decided to try a remedy of his own. He changed his diet, primarily by eating large quantities of beans, and these changes allowed him to take control of his health once more. While he is thankful for the happy resolve to that portion of his life, the waiting was a significant milestone for him because that time caused him to pursue writing more. He worked on children’s stories while he went back and forth to the hospital, and now, the rest of the world is getting to see the fruit of that labor.
When Vella began to take his writing more seriously, he dedicated his time to talking to people in the publishing world so that he could learn what steps he would need to take to get his work published. He was told multiple times that he should try self-publishing, so he eventually took that advice. He wanted his work to look professional, so he released his recent publication through Amazon and asked his friend Sara Andrews to do the illustrations. Vella noted that he has a close friend with sons named Samuel and Eli, and he named the characters in his first book after these boys. He loves the honesty of children and how they are not afraid to speak their minds, so he enjoys creating works that will appeal to them.
The author hopes that, as others learn his story, he can be an inspiration to those who are hurting and weary. His triumph was made possible through one of his greatest struggles, and while his disease caused him a great deal of pain, he may not have ever taken his writing seriously enough to publish it if he had not had that experience. The next story he hopes to release was also written during this time and is about a little boy who meets a mystical creature at Rutledge Falls.
Vella works as a handyman and performs music at his church when he is not busy writing. For those who also love to write and are considering taking the next step, he encourages them to give it their all, to be creative, and to be open to receiving criticism. If someone is going to spend countless hours doing a project, the end product should be one that allows the creator to be proud of the work.
Vella went to the Moore County Public Library on July 8 to read his book The Silly Situation That Made Samuel Smile, and the kids loved getting to learn about sloths and doing sloth-related activities. The kids began the morning by watching an informational video about sloths, and they learned that the three-toed sloth is the slowest mammal in the world. Librarian Cheryl Easn also read them a book about sloths before Vella read his story. Andrews used watercolors for the book’s designs, so she created watercolor worksheets that allowed the kids to try their hand at art as well. They finished the event by doing a sloth scavenger hunt that required them to find sloths that had been hung around the library. The Silly Situation That Made Samuel Smile is available at the library to check out and can also be found on Amazon.