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Jasper County Tribune

Local author releases third book just in time for Christmas

Shannon Basinger-Kotz and Vinny Kotz enjoy visiting the Colfax Public Library.
Shannon Basinger-Kotz and Vinny Kotz enjoy visiting the Colfax Public Library.

Becoming a published author doesn’t happen upon completing the first draft — or even the second or third drafts — of a piece. For children’s book author and Jasper County native Shannon Basinger-Kotz, finding a publisher involved a multi-step process and a test of faith.

“Every time I was about to give up,” Basinger-Kotz said, “I’d pray about it, and something would happen to keep me going.”

In October, she released her third book illustrated by her son, Vinny Kotz, entitled “Marlene’s Christmas Wish.”

Basigner-Kotz’s wavy Rapunzel-length hair frames a wide-eyed face adorned with chunky jewelry. She still carries a flip phone and doesn’t stream wifi in her home. Instead of sending her son to traditional school, she’s chosen to homeschool him. Her eclectic lifestyle hints at the creative mind behind the quirky exterior. When Basinger-Kotz was growing up, she wrote poetry and songs to entertain herself. Diamond Garden Music outside of Nashville, Tenn., placed one of her songs on a demo album it’s still pitching to artists. When Vinny struggles with migraines, she sits with him and spins tales to distract him from the pain.

Despite her constant interest in storytelling, Basinger-Kotz never considered writing as a career until Vinny, who is now in the fifth grade, was almost six years old. That Christmas season, Basinger-Kotz had a dream about a nutcracker. She fleshed it into a full storyline she told to Vinny, who made drawings based on the plot. The pair put together their first hand-made book they called “The Little Lost Nutcracker.”

“It just popped into my mind to illustrate it,” Vinny said.

The mother-son team shared the result of their collaboration with their friends who read through the leaflets of the hand-written script surrounded by photo-copies of Vinny’s art.

“I sent it off to a publishing company in New York or somewhere,” Basinger-Kotz shook her head. “It hadn’t been edited and was just raw. Of course, no interest.”

As Basinger-Kotz experienced her first rejection from a publishing house, her financé — whom she has since married — was visiting the Goodwill Career Connection Center at Des Moines Area Community College’s Newton location to receive resumé help. He suggested she visit the center to learn how to type and better format her stories. Basinger-Kotz re-submitted her work — this time, neatly typed and smartly laid out — only to receive the same answer.

Frustrated with the replies of publishing companies, Basinger-Kotz tried a different tactic: self-publishing. The career center helped her find Draft 2 Digital, a company specializing in distributing e-publications to online booksellers, and she uploaded her Christmas story. Unfortunately, the market for children’s books about nutcrackers is slim in February, so the book didn’t receive the attention Basinger-Kotz had hoped it would.

The popularity of nutcrackers may wax and wane according to season, but interest in creatures from the Cretaceous period doesn’t. Basinger-Kotz self-published a story she told Vinny about a chocoholic Tyrannosaurus Rex when he refused to eat his fruits and vegetables as a toddler. “What if a T-Rex Likes Chocolate?” didn’t generate any sales, but when she offered the tale as a free download, it started getting hits.

Since she knew people were interested in the book, she wanted to have physical copies to sell at the craft shows she attends to supplement her work’s virtual existence. Another author at local craft shows suggested she try Amazon’s self-publishing platform, Createspace. Even with the help of DMACC’s career center, Basinger-Kotz struggled to learn the software.

“It just seemed like a dead end,” Basinger-Kotz said. “I would go to the career center and just sit in front of the computer and stare at it and tweak around with it.”

During one of her face-offs with the program, a career center advisor showed her a book from a local author published by the Write Place, a publishing and design company based in Pella. The Write Place accepted “The Little Lost Nutcracker,” and after Basinger-Kotz pulled together the funds for publication, she had a printed copy of her work.

Inspiration for her most recent book, “Marlene’s Christmas Wish,” came in a mailing from St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital she received while in the process of finding a publisher for “The Little Lost Nutcracker.” Every month, Basinger-Kotz chooses a charity to which to donate, and for the past several years, she has frequently sent funds to St. Jude’s. A few years ago, she received a calendar filled with images of the institution’s patients in their hospital beds as a thank-you for her contributions.

“It really touched us,” Basinger-Kotz glanced at Vinny, “so we wrote two books about it. One was for toddlers and the other was for older children, which ended up being “Marlene’s Christmas Wish.””

The pair printed 100 copies of the book illustrating the power of prayer and the comfort of faith at a Newton printer and sent them to St. Jude’s along with a donation.

“We just did it because we cared,” Basinger-Kotz said. “We got a letter back saying the kids really enjoyed them.”

Once Basinger-Kotz matched with the Write Place and published “The Little Lost Nutcracker,” she learned about a contest the company holds every two years. Authors submit their work and the company will absorb all publishing costs of the winning piece. Basinger-Kotz submitted “Marlene’s Christmas Wish,” which earned second place and a discounted publishing cost, enabling Basinger-Kotz to move forward with publication.

Since then, Basinger-Kotz and Vinny have traveled to craft shows selling the book, which is also available for purchase on Amazon and the Barnes & Noble website. A dollar of every book sale will benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospitals.

“It’s hard to sell books. We’ve been pretty successful over the last couple of years for doing what we do. Christianity is hard to sell,” said Basinger-Kotz. “I think when people do get a hold of our books though, they’re pretty happy with them. The messages are uplifting and they’re positive. Hopefully, people will want their kids to read them.”

In the next year, Basinger-Kotz and Vinny plan to publish their fourth book about a boy who helps rescue hikers lost in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They also hope to start a monthly newsletter, which will include original comic strips and updates about their publishing journey.

Basinger-Kotz and Vinny will host their next book signing at the Newton Public Library from 6 to 7 p.m. Dec. 11.

Contact Phoebe Marie Brannock at 641-792-3121 ext. 6547 or pmbrannock@newtondailynews.com

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