Many of us dream of writing a book and getting it published, but Ashland resident Kim Zwemer-Margulis worked six and a half years to make her own dream come true.
Two weeks after Kim, her husband and new baby moved to the Applegate in 2002, the Squire Peak Fire erupted, forcing them to evacuate for three days. The fire was stopped 200 feet away from their land, but as Kim took hikes through the burned-over area afterward, she started wondering about the effect of the fire on the local wildlife. Eventually, the wondering led to the creation of "Shadowchaser of the Siskiyous," the story of a fawn, his mother and brother.
"I wrote a really long story at first," Kim says, "but I re-edited it several times. Then I took a permaculture class and got the idea to have a book that included a lot of nature facts, and I revised it again into a children's book."
By that time Kim was working as a counselor for children and families at the Oregon Child Study and Treatment Center in Medford, as well as doing private counseling with children. She realized the book could be used as a tool to help children integrate their own experience with wildfire and the fear of wildfire.
"Through my counseling, I've learned that children need to talk about traumatic experiences, but it is easier for them to do it through a third-party experience," Kim says. Seeing how Shadowchaser and his family deal with wildfire makes it easier for children to confront their fears.
"There was a twofold purpose to the book," Kim says, "teaching about nature and the unique Siskiyous, and teaching about wildfire."
As the book progressed, Kim realized she needed an illustrator. She went online searching for illustrators, talking to several around the country. Then a friend recommended Elizabeth Zwick, who lives in the Little Applegate. Once she saw Zwick's first watercolor of a sleeping fawn, Kim knew she had found her artist. Zwick went on to paint 34 watercolors for the book.
One unique thing about the book is that rather than presenting a generic forest, the land seen is recognizably our local forest, with the local trees, plants, birds and wildflowers.
Kim found selling the book was daunting. Many people were encouraging, but no publisher offered to buy it. But she didn't give up. Kim's cousin, a graphic artist, loved the book and put her in touch with Kathryn Otoshi, co-president of the Bay Area Independent Publisher's Guild.
"This book had so much of its own momentum," Kim says. "Things just happened when they needed to happen, even though it took six and a half years. There was a lot of luck involved."
With Otoshi's help, Kim soon learned about publishing, picking up skills like typesetting and how to use publishing software, how to register her book with the Library of Congress, and how to find and work with a printer. If no one else would publish it, she realized she could do it herself.
The book was delivered from the printer in November, and then Kim had to take it around herself to book stores. Her big break came when Barnes & Noble bought it. But many other local stores also are stocking it, and Kim has been giving talks and book signings throughout Southern Oregon and Northern California.
"I wouldn't say I knew it would really become a book," Kim says. "But I wouldn't say I had doubts, either. It just seemed to keep rolling along. Obviously I'm excited. It's almost like giving birth, only it took longer to incubate."