Marty’s photo of the day #3653: For the 4th of July, I thought I’d share an excerpt from my latest book, Hits, Heathens, and Hippos: Stories from an Agent, Activist, and Adventurer. In this excerpt, I talk about creating and publishing my first book, Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents. And yes, it involves the man in the photo with me—Senator George McGovern:
Fortunately, I had a Plan B. I had owned two talent agencies and still owned a telephone company. Why not own a publishing company too? I formed Encante Press, LLC (named after the mythical city of gold under the Amazon River, where the shape-shifting pink dolphins live) and got to work on a national distribution deal. Soon I had three deals. The primary one was with Midpoint Trade out of New York City, for distribution to bookstores. The secondary ones were with Quality Books and Unique Books, for distribution to libraries. While those were among the most important steps on my new journey, I still had lots to do.
For the cover, I wanted an eye-catching photo and came up with the idea of having a tailless whip-scorpion (a fierce-looking but mostly harmless arachnid) climbing up my face. To get that photo, Deb and I traveled back to the Amazon Rainforest, and this time Laurel Pfund, whom we met on our Antarctica trip, joined us. With Deb as my photographer, I got the photo I desired, and then the three of us hiked, kayaked, and looked for critters for the remainder of our visit.
Next on my list was to send my manuscript out to celebrities for back cover blurbs. For those I hit gold. Here they are:
“An exciting and adventurous read. Cool Creatures, Hot Planet by Marty Essen is a roller coaster ride through the natural world that will both entertain and enlighten readers.”—Jeff Corwin, The Jeff Corwin Experience
“This is a wonderful book—a labor of love—that describes in soul-stirring language what it is like to live with the people, the animals, the birds, the snakes, the insects, the jungles, the treacherous rivers, the gorgeous scenery of seven continents. It is the best travel and exploratory work I have yet encountered. Marty Essen and his wife, Deb, are two highly intelligent, imaginative, and brave people.”—Senator George McGovern, 1972 Democratic nominee for president
If you are unfamiliar with The Jeff Corwin Experience, it was a show on the Animal Planet Channel, similar to Steve Irwin’s The Crocodile Hunter. In fact, I liked Jeff’s show better than Steve’s show, because of his sense of humor and gentler interactions with animals.
The blurb from Jeff was easy to get. I simply worked through his agent to send him the manuscript and had my blurb in less than a month.
Acquiring the blurb from Senator McGovern is a more amusing story. His daughter, Ann, lives in the Bitterroot Valley town of Stevensville, and the senator and his wife had a summer home there too. I called Ann to get her father’s phone number. Then I stared at my phone for several minutes, working up the nerve to call the senator.
I took a deep breath, cleared my throat, and dialed the number.
“Hell . . . oo,” he answered groggily.
Shit, I woke him up!
“My name is Marty Essen. I live in Victor and am the former chair of the Ravalli County Democratic Central Committee. I’m calling you this morning because I have written a book about my wife’s and my travels to all seven continents, the people we met in other countries, and their reactions to the Iraq War. It’s a very liberal book, and I would be honored if you would write a blurb for the back cover.”
He hesitated before saying, “You can send it over, but don’t get your hopes up. I’m really busy right now. If I get to it at all, it’s going to be several weeks.”
He gave me his address, and I hung up feeling that I had somehow blown the phone call. I asked myself, “Should I even bother mailing the manuscript?”
I tossed the package into the mail, expecting nothing to come of it.
Two weeks later, I received McGovern’s beautiful blurb, along with a note asking, “Would you and Deb like to get together for dinner?”
Later that week, the three of us met at a Victor restaurant and had a delightful meal. We talked for nearly two hours, interrupted occasionally by admirers wanting to greet the man who in 1972 finished second in the race to become the world’s most powerful human. All the while, the conversation between us flowed so naturally that it felt like we had been friends for many years.
As I drove Deb back home, she looked over to me and said, “I think we solved all of the world’s problems tonight!”
Now that I had my blurbs—and a surprising new friend—next on my list was finding a talented person to design the book’s cover and interior. I chose Michele DeFilippo of 1106 Design in Arizona for that. I also had to find a book printer, capable of high-quality color photo reproductions. I chose Friesens Corporation out of Canada for that. Other tasks, a bit further down the road, would include shipping boxes of books to my distributors and promoting my book launch.
The entire process was an incredible learning experience.
Months later, I enjoyed the satisfying feeling of holding my first book, knowing how many thousands of hours I put into it and how close it had come to killing me. But as George McGovern wrote in his blurb, it was “a labor of love.”
Some authors have big prerelease parties to celebrate a new book. I had a party of three. Senator McGovern came over to our house for dinner, and Deb cooked her special glazed salmon recipe. During our time together, we solved more of the world’s problems, watched a little baseball, and exchanged signed copies of our books.
After I handed McGovern Cool Creatures, Hot Planet, he handed me “The Essential America: Our Founders and the Liberal Tradition and The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in our Time. The latter book he signed as follows:
“For Deb and Marty with admiration of their friend, George McGovern, June 13, 2006”
And that wasn’t all. Knowing that Deb was running for the Montana State Senate that year, McGovern reached into his wallet, pulled out a crisp one hundred dollar bill, and handed it to her as he said, “I wish you all the luck in the world with your campaign. I hope this helps.”
George McGovern died on October 21, 2012, at the age of 90. During one of our conversations in 2006, I commented about how impressively he was holding back the years. He responded by saying, “As a congressman, senator, and ambassador, I’ve always had the best health care in the world. I should be in good shape. I just wish every American could have what I’ve had. And there’s no valid reason they shouldn’t.”
Imagine how different the world would be today if McGovern, not Richard Nixon, had won the 1972 presidential election.