Local author aims to raise spirits, funds for those in need, with children's book

Local author aims to raise spirits, funds for those in need, with children's book

June 13 event will help buy lift van for 8-year-old with SMA

SMITHFIELD - Kevin Mulhern has written for newspapers, magazines and radio programs, and has penned dialog for comedic legends and nationally syndicated television shows.

But his recent success as the author of a children's book happened quite by accident.

"I really wrote it as a love letter to my wife," Mulhern told The Breeze.

The North Smithfield resident is the author of "Cody the Cloud," a colorful children's book with an inspiring message. And every books he sells raises money for others in need, including a current campaign on behalf of Benjamin McDermott, an 8-year-old Warwick boy with spinal muscular atrophy who is in desperate need of a wheelchair van.

At a reading of the book at the KFC/Taco Bell on Putnam Pike in Smithfield Saturday, June 13, Mulhern will team up with managers of the restaurant to help McDermott's family reach their goal of raising $60,000 to buy the van, needed to transport the wheelchair-bound young man.

Published by Mascot Books and illustrated by Dodot Asmoro, "Cody the Cloud" is an inspiring story about overcoming obstacles. "Among the big, white fluffy crowd lived the tiny Cody the Cloud," the book begins, launching into Mulhern's tale of overcoming self-doubt.

It's a serious change of pace for a man who has spent most of his life in comedy, writing sharp, edgy, and even offensive gags for an entirely different audience.

"I had no interest in writing for children," he said.

Mulhern has a long and varied resume that began with work with behaviorally challenged youth at Harmony Hill School in Chepachet. He says the experience taught him about the potentially devastating effects bullying can have on a kid.

Mulhern worked as the editor of a weekly newspaper, and had a stint as a reporter for The Observer, a Smithfield weekly now owned by The Valley Breeze. He has also written as a columnist for numerous magazines.

But his true passion was always comedy writing. Over the years Mulhern says he sent out hundreds of copies of skits, written by him and his brother Brian, hoping for their first big break.

That break came when the sibling team sent their material to comedic actor/writer of "Saturday Night Live" fame Phil Hartman.

"He hired us to write for his variety show," Mulhern said.

While the show never made it to production, Hartman became a friend and mentor to the pair and found them other work, including jobs writing for comedy greats Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller.

"He kicked open a lot of doors for us," Mulhern said.

But in 1998, Hartman died at the hands of his wife in what's been described as a tragic murder/suicide.

"I stopped writing because I was very depressed about it," Mulhern said.

Mulhern's own clouds eventually lifted, and he returned to writing.

Currently, he works for radio station 94 WHJY as the producer of "The Paul and Al Show," as well as on-air talent.

The local celebrity says the idea for "Cody the Cloud" just came to him one day as he was waking up from a nap.

"It was kind of this accidental, quirky thing," Mulhern said. "I just woke up with an idea for a story,"

In the book, protagonist Cody is an unhappy cloud because unlike others in the sky, he cannot create rain. The cloud makes friends with a boy who also feels like he doesn't belong, and together, the two learn they are capable of far more than they thought.

"The theme of the book is about believing in yourself when you face physical and emotional challenges," Mulhern said. "It's about not giving up, helping others in need, and believing in yourself despite whatever obstacles you may face."

"It was kind of inspired by my wife."

Mulhern said wife, Jennifer, provided encouragement when he has faced adversity, and that he wrote the story in part to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary - with no intent to print it. It was Jennifer who pointed out that the story would make a good children's book and Jennifer who told Kevin to send the book out to one more publisher, even after it was rejected by the first 40.

The story was picked up, and since it was published in January, Mulhern has sold hundreds of copies. And with the money he's raised, he has chosen a new charity to support nearly every week. Mulhern has raised more than $1,000 through book sales disbursed between groups including the Special Olympics, Hasbro Children's Hospital, Meeting Street School, Run for Home Base, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Thomas J. Murray Memorial Fund.

"It's doing a little better than I thought it would," he said.

Asked why he chose to donate the proceeds, Mulhern gave a humble shrug and did not seem to have a solid answer. But it's clear the charitable mission is in keeping with the story he has written, and that the latest recipient, McDermott, has inspired the author.

"He's such a positive, charming, funny kid, and his family is amazing," Mulhern said. "They want him to be able to get out more."

Without the lift van, McDermott's parents have to physically lift him up and put him into a vehicle.

"It's not a luxury. It's a safety issue," Mulhern said.

The family has been raising money for a new van for the past year, and so far has around half of the needed $60,000.

On June 13, Mulhern will read the book and 40 percent of funds raised through book sales will go to "B's Ride," a charity set up by Benjamin's parents. The restaurant will also donate 20 percent of their total sales from the day.

"They're really stepping up big and we're really hoping to raise a substantial amount of money," he said of the restaurant. "We want Benjamin to be able to go to Red Sox games this summer."

Copies of the book cost $14.95 plus tax, and for an additional $5, Mulhern will autograph the item.

The event will take place starting at 9 a.m. at the KFC/Taco Bell at 421 Putnam Pike.

The book can also be purchased at the official "Cody the Cloud" website, codythecloud.com, or through Barrington Books, Books on the Square in Providence, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.com.

Mulhern said proceeds from the book will continue to go to the family until the van can be purchased.

To learn more about McDermott, or donate to the family directly, visit http://www.gofundme.com/bwumj4 .

Kevin Mulhern holds a copy of his first children's book, "Cody the Cloud." Money from sales of the book will go toward B's Ride, a fundraiser to purchase a ramp van for Benjamin McDermott, an 8-year-old with spinal muscular atrophy.