Sitting at the kitchen table,
I watched the tiny screen as Matt Lauer 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.
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 the 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 could 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
Enter Neighbor Carrying
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 that they begin to
see them everywhere. For this cookie-loving pair, television was the
worst—there were the Nestlé Toll House commercials, Cookie Monster, 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 where I could reach her.
I pulled out a yellow legal pad
and began to write. Surprisingly, the words poured out as 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
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 (<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>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