While detangling her granddaughter's hair, the cookbook author began the transformation to writer of fairy tales.
Bobbie Hinman of Bel Air has had seven cookbooks published in the past 23 years. But the former schoolteacher, who is a grandmother of 10, has moved from writing books with titles such as Lean and Luscious and The Meatless Gourmet to one called The Knot Fairy.
After reading the fairy tale at preschools and book signings, Hinman has decided, "This really is much more fun to read than a cookbook. Nobody ever wanted to sit and listen to them."
The story idea came to her as she combed knots from a 7-year-old's tresses.
"She was crying about the knots, and I was joking about a knot fairy," Hinman said. "We wrote a poem together, and then I knew a book was possible."
She found an illustrator and opted to publish it herself.
"I could have looked for a publisher, but I wanted the book now, while my grandchildren are young," she said. "I didn't have time for publishers' rejections."
She had 5,000 copies of the book - which comes with a CD - printed. It's available for $15.95 at Barnes & Noble in Bel Air, where Hinman, in a winged costume, was scheduled yesterday to lead an event on fairy lore.
The book's plot revolves around the adventures of a sprite who carries a lantern and a how-to-tie-knots book. Clad in pajamas and puffy pink slippers, the fairy spends nights tangling locks, shoelaces, even puppy tails and cat whiskers in confounding ways.
She ties little knots, one after another.
Then, flutters away to your sister or brother.
The hardcover book is written in whimsical rhyme and illustrated in pastels by Kristi Bridgeman, a Canadian artist who characterizes the story as "a lighthearted way of looking at the world that we need right now."
Fairies, who came into vogue during the Victorian era, are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, Bridgeman said. Her sepia-toned inks give the drawings an antique aura, she said.
"When the Industrial Age and war in Britain were in the forefront, children, then as now, loved the relief found in fairies and fantasy," she said.
She eschewed authentic Victorian drawing tools, like sharpened crow's feathers and squid ink, in favor of modernized quills and traditional inkwells.
Thousands of miles apart, the writer and artist collaborated by e-mail, Hinman said.
"She could read my mind," she said.
Bridgeman said, "The ideas just bounced back and forth."
Hinman previewed the story during readings to several preschool classes at Bel Air Athletic Club last week. The children were easily drawn into the tale and the author laughed easily at the curious comments and questions.
On every page, Thomas Luke Bednarski, 3, prided himself on finding the fairy. After Hinman played the CD, which features a fairy song, Brooke Blackburn, 2, pleaded for "the music to come back."
Dominic Drinan, 4, said with certainty, "That fairy visits me and my mom and Shawnie, my brother."
When Hinman polled her audience, nearly everyone had found proof of the tooth fairy, and one child suspected the existence of a lunchbox sprite who makes off with snacks.
"Who better to blame things on than the fairies?" Hinman said.
Lindsay Stern, she of the tangled knots and original inspiration, helped edit the book and rewrote the last line, her grandmother said.
"She said mine just didn't make sense, and she was right," Hinman said.
The book went to print with Lindsay's ending:
Just look in the mirror and shout with glee
It looks like the Knot Fairy visited me.
And all four granddaughters join in the chorus on the CD.