Olive's Self Publishing Journey
by David Evans, for Olive Evans
Thrift Store Bears book cover
Olive Evans is no longer with us to tell her beautiful self publishing story. This piece was written by her husband, David.
When Olive Evans walked into the consulting room at the local hospital and saw three doctors and two nurses waiting for her, she knew that the news was not going to be good. What she was told initially caused her some panic: she had two types of cancer in both breasts, and in order to extend her life she would have to undergo extensive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Olive was always stoic and a quiet, determined fighter who saw light in the worse possible situations. Thinking about the upcoming years, she realized that it could be, in her words, "a real downer." So, what could she do to keep her mind active and give her a goal and make the best of the situation?
During her life Olive had a very eclectic career. She was a primary school and special education teacher, an actress, the personal assistant to a president of a University, director of a children's theater at a City's Parks and Recreation department, a published writer and lastly a professional children's storyteller.
As a storyteller, Olive had scenery sets made that were easy to carry in her little station wagon, and using her old sewing machine she made literally hundreds of fantasy costumes that children could slip over their clothes. Then she outlined many stories that could be adapted to an occasion such as "Earth Day," a birthday, seasonal topics, etc.
Olive's great love was working with young children, and she said there was nothing more important than early childhood education and stimulating in children a love of learning and sense of self worth. Olive called herself the "Fairy Godmother" and went all over Los Angeles to hundreds of events.
Wherever she went, she visited local thrift stores, looking for a forlorn teddy bear "with character," to take home with her. When bear was brought home, she would give it a thorough clean and put it in the sun porch with companion bears.
So, Olive decided to write about the 42 teddy bears that she had collected over the years, to a write poem about each one. They were, after all, survivors, and she intended to survive and be productive herself.
While undergoing the various treatments, Olive would sit in a rocking chair in her bedroom, prop up a teddy bear, study its features very carefully, then write a poem. The poems were always positive, focusing on overcoming problems or dealing with self esteem issues the bears might have.
There is a local Wellness Community Center near where she lived that gives support to seriously ill people and their families. Olive joined and went weekly to her support group meetings, where she met so many wonderful and brave people.
When she had finished a poem (after many rewrites), she would take the bear and her poem to the group, who loved the pieces and always asked for more.
Then the group, and people who worked at the center, insisted that she get the poems published.
In a short space of time things began to fall into place. A friend, Pat Woolley, who is a very talented and professionally trained artist, loves teddy bears, and upon reading the poems insisted that she do an illustration for each poem. Jim Furmston, a friend and well known musician/composer, insisted that Olive come to his studio and record the poems.
On listening to them, Jim decided to write music and produce a CD to accompany the book. The best twenty-seven poems were selected to be published.
It seemed a miracle but there was more to come. David, Olive's husband, was trained as a lithographic printer when he was young soldier in the British army. On leaving the army he had gone on to college and became an engineer, though he has retained a great interest in printing.
With Photoshop computer software, David was able to set out and produce a very good prototype book, using an inexpensive scanner and color printer.
However, from previous experience, Olive knew how long and difficult it was to get anything published taking the traditional rout, so she, Pat and Jim and David decided to form a partnership and self-publish "The Thrift Store Bears."
Books on self-publishing were read in detail. The group obtained printing quotes in the USA and found it would cost tens of thousands of dollars. That's when another miracle happened: Pat's son, Paul, had spent his entire working career as a business manager in the far east and he was able to find a very excellent printer at a much lower cost than had been quoted in the USA.
When we received the 2000 books ordered we were delighted with the quality . The CD's were made in Los Angeles, and after putting them into the books we were ready to market. The difficulty and problems of marketing "self published books" is a whole story in itself and too long to go into here.
Olive had a boost when she was awarded "The BMW (Car Company) Local Hero award" for her courage and the support she gave to people going through cancer treatments. As a result of the award, Olive, Pat, Jim and the book were given lots of coverage in the local press, which helped sales.
After the original publication of "The Thrift Store Bears," Olive continued treatments and surgery as she and the doctors fought to keep the cancer in check. During this time she wrote a parent/teacher activity book to go with "The Thrift Store Bears," which is produced in the USA in limited quantities on an "as needed" basis. Her big effort was to write a sequel - "Adventures with The Thrift Store Bears."
Again, Pat did beautiful illustrations, and Jim and Olive produced a lovely CD to go with the book and. In mid-2007, 2000 copies were printed, along with a new run of "The Thrift Store Bears."
At the beginning of 2007 Olive's health began declining, and in November 2007 she died. But she got to see her two newest twin girl granddaughters, who were born at the end of September 2007.
The cards and letters and large number of people at her memorial service were testimony to the positive impact she had on both adult and children's lives. There is no doubt that the writing and the excitement of self publishing her books had extended her life...and legacy.
In an article she was struggling to write at the end of her life, she wrote, "I consider this time to have been one of the most productive, creative and joyful times of my life. The books have brought so much happiness, so many new friends and have made me realize that having cancer was part of the journey I had to take. I also realize that I have a spiritual strength I never knew I had, and the love and support of friends as well as strangers, who continue to encourage me and bring laughter to my life."