Monday, January 26, 2015

The very strange journey of two books

Exactly ten years ago I started nuclear-bomb strength chemo for a rare combination of two non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, one of which was fast-growing and aggressive. The chemo turned my life inside-out and upside-down, but one good thing that came from it was the genesis of a middle-grade fantasy. I had already been pondering how to write a novelization of the story behind Mozart's "Magic Flute" opera, but during the worst days of chemo when all I could do was lie on the sofa in a nauseated fog, a little bird kept singing to me. When I finally identified him as a Carolina wren, then all thoughts of Mozart went out of my head, and this wren became a different character named Songcatcher.

I wrote a novel about a fourteen-year-old flute player with lymphoma who is taken to the fantasy land of Finian Jahndra by Songcatcher because he believes she can save their magical world from dying of a "canker" which is similar to what the girl has just faced. Finian Jahndra is populated with sentient birds of many species as well as a small number of trusted humans who are allowed to live there.

Because I was recovering from the effects of chemo (physical, mental, and emotional) I just printed out copies to give as gifts, not really expecting to try to publish the story. But when all the feedback was favorable (including encouragement by THE Jane Yolen at a weekend writer's retreat), I sent out queries and received polite rejections. A few years later, quite by accident, I stumbled upon a new publisher called Cool Well Press whose stated mission was to provide quality fantasy for teens. I loved the quality of their website and published books and sent a query. They accepted LEANDRA'S ENCHANTED FLUTE and published it as an ebook in January 2012.
Then my wonderful editor, Christine Nodes, wondered if there wasn't another story about Leandra and Songcatcher and Finian Jahndra so Cool Well Press could publish a double paperback with both stories. I brainstormed and came up with an unexpected but very fun-to-write storyline. Christine liked it and CWP accepted it, but shortly after I signed the contract, things started feeling "weird." Christine sort of "disappeared" and things on the website started changing. The book did come out in February 2013, but one month later, Cool Well Press was no longer in business.

Since two other devastating events happened in March 2013, I was not in a position to learn the new skill of self-publishing. It took another year before I re-published the two books on Amazon (digital only). A dear friend offered to make covers for them using a photograph I'd taken of a fourteen-year-old girl holding my flute, and later a cover designer "tweaked" it to make it better "pop" on the screen, also coming up with a totally different idea for the sequel to make it stand out, too.

I know these books will never make any money, and I'm okay with that now. After all, I've already had my 15 minutes of fame. There are millions of books being published, and a huge percentage of them are not quality books, either in terms of editing or subject matter, so little books like mine will get lost in the vast ocean. I'm keeping these in print for the sake of the dear ones to whom I've dedicated the stories--fellow cancer survivors who wanted to live, and whom I would send to Finian Jahndra if I could.

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