I’m pleased to announce our book, The Ghost of Cleopatra, has been published. It’s like having a baby after being in labor for 27 years. I can’t wait to show off the kid.
I wouldn’t have even found the story, if the Review hadn’t assigned me to cover it back in 1992. Since that time, I’ve wanted the world to know about Edmonia Lewis and her statue. I would never have co-written a book, though, if Gail Tanzer hadn’t walked into my kitchen.
She was accompanied by Jean M. Pierre, who became a valuable team member. J.P. researched 19th-century forms of transportation and mapped out the travels of Edmonia, born in New York of Haitian descent. A native of Haiti, JP also gave us vital information about Haitian history, culture and customs.
Gail had already published biographies of prominent sculptors, so she knew how to write in book-length form. I had never written anything longer than a two-page article. Gail kept us on a tight writing schedule — a new chapter every two weeks. It took us nine months to complete the first draft, so it was a full-term manuscript.
Like most newborns, it had some excess fat, in our case about 100 pages. Nevertheless, it was accepted by the first publisher we approached. We worked with the publisher for a year and revised it six times. We also supplied the images and had it formatted into book form. All the publisher had to do was push “Print,” but they went out of business a month before the release date.
I consulted with a best-selling author, and he suggested we find an agent. For a year, I sent out queries to publishers and agents. One agent asked to read the manuscript. She said the writing was “wonderful,” but she couldn’t buy the statue narrative. I didn’t understand her objection. We live in an era in which books about vampires and wizards become bestsellers and movies about comic-book superheroes become blockbusters. Anyway, after all the rejections, I stopped sending queries.
I asked an author friend of mine, Matt Drew, for suggestions. It turned out Matt had the same painful experience. His book, Shadows of Chicago, was scheduled to come out. Then his publisher, too, suddenly went belly up. He suggested I try Bella Media Management. For a modest fee, they had published his book on several online platforms and in paperback.
I worked with Carol Waltz, who provided the same service for us. So now the book can be found at Amazon and other websites. Paperbacks are on the way. We’re launching the book-signing tour this summer at Centuries & Sleuths.
Many Forest Park businesses have supported the book. Shanahan’s, Francesca Fiore, Duckfat, Scratch and Big Boss all hosted live reads. Forest Park Middle School also hosted a presentation. When I read from the manuscript, the students kept screaming for more. I thought they were trying to put off science class but one of the teachers said they were genuinely interested.
That was good news, because even though it’s intended to be read by all ages, we want the book to appeal to teens and young adults. One of our test readers, Maura Flanagan, was in this age group and gave us valuable feedback.
Finally, staff at the Review have been a huge help. Former sales rep Joe Chomiczewski arranged the live reads and videotaped each one. He posted a You Tube video of the read at Shanahan’s. Editorial designer Jacquinete Baldwin, designed our stunning cover. Publisher Dan Haley gave me permission for this shameless plug.
I will do everything in my power to publicize the book. A story that celebrates the achievements of women, immigrants and minorities couldn’t be timelier.
John Rice writes a column for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review. He grew up in Oak Park.