“Sitting at the kitchen table, I watched the tiny screen as Matt Laurer reported that a silver SUV containing Martha Stewart had slipped past photographers and into the Alderson Federal Prison Camp, where she would begin serving a five-month sentence.
Since my idea of a gourmet lunch is a grilled cheese with the crust cut off and my idea of decorating is putting twinkle lights in an artificial banana tree, the news that America’s lifestyle diva was entering federal prison, although interesting, seemed certain to have no impact on my life. How wrong I was.
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About a year earlier, after 25 years in the Las Vegas entertainment industry, I had begun to write stories for my niece, stories that she seemed to enjoy very much. One story became two and two became ten and before I knew it, I had a co-writer, Dondino Melchiorre, and an illustrator, Juan Varela, and a small publishing company, Story Store Collection Publishing.
Juan doesn’t exactly speak the king’s English, but his Spanish is superb (unfortunately, my high school Spanish had disappeared into a black hole along with pi and the date of Magna Carta), and we often found ourselves dancing a tango of jumbled languages and cultures.
From that often frustrating beginning came the idea that would transform our books from just another collection for children—we’d make them bilingual. Story Store Collection Publishing could not only give young readers a head start in acquiring reading skills; we would contribute to their acquisition of a second language as well.
During our first year, we experienced all the pain, joy, and frustration that every self-publishing entrepreneur goes through. Dondino and I wrote; Juan illustrated; and we made calls and wrote to printers, marketing “experts,” toy manufacturers, investors, family, and friends. But if there is one thing I learned from the experience, it’s that the manner in which events unfold can be mostly a matter of serendipity.
My next-door neighbor Jim Sinclair, a Des Moines lawyer, had shown up at my door one evening with a story about cookies that his eight-year-old son, Nick, had written for class. Would you and Dondino like to hear it? he asked. We’d love to!
At first we listened out of neighborliness, but soon we were listening out of sheer pleasure. “The Cookie Story” told about a little boy and his dog, Lola, who adore cookies so much they begin to see them everywhere. For this cookie-loving pair, television was worst—there were the Nestlé Toll House commercials, Cookie Monster, and even “the queen” of cookie making, Martha Stewart.
Until then, we had published only our own work. The idea of publishing Nick’s seemed ludicrous, but the more times I read his story, the more convinced I became that it deserved a wider audience than his teacher, his father, and the next-door neighbors. It should be published, and we were just the publisher for it.
Three months later I sat at my desk looking at the first prototype of the lavishly illustrated, now bilingual book entitled ‘The Cookie Story‘ by Nicholas Alexander Sinclair, with a little help from his friends. Our wonderful book seemed to provide an angle—eight-year-old author with cookie lust—that would attract attention. But whose? Two words seemed to jump into my head: Martha Stewart. And I knew just where I could reach her.
I pulled out a yellow legal pad and began to write. Surprisingly, the words poured out as a I told Martha about Nick and his story and about what he thought of her incarceration, what he thought about her life, and how she was still the Queen of Cookies.
Later that day, I dropped a copy of ‘The Cookie Story’ in the mail, along with my letter, and by evening I had all but forgotten about it. Martha Stewart probably got a thousand letters a day, more than she could read in a lifetime, and in truth, I couldn’t believe I had even written to her. What had I been thinking?
Almost two weeks after that, in a state of shock, I read Martha Stewart’s heartfelt response. She and her “prison colleagues” loved Nick’s book, she said, and as soon as she returned to television, she wanted to have Nick bring his book and appear on her show. Although I was thrilled, I also knew that her room in a federal prison and our appearance on the show were probably light-years apart. Still, there was reason to hope.
I soon learned that Martha Stewart is a woman of her word. Shortly after her release and return home, I received a phone call from her personal assistant, who passed me on to one of the producers of “Martha.”
And as they say, the rest is history. On November 3, 2005, Nick, his father, his stepmom, Dondino, and I flew to New York to watch Nick make his debut on national television. What an incredible interview! Everyone at Martha’s show loved him. With sales up and Nick planning his second book (“The Flying Cookie”), our company’s future is beginning to look brighter.
We at Story Store Collection Publishing live by words written by Mahatma Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Donna Gummelt, writer at Story Store Collection Publishing, worked on this article with Randy H. Wall, the company’s English editor and an assistant professor of English at South Plains College in Lubbock, TX. For more information, visit http://www.StoryStoreCollectionPublishing.com.