In this exclusive interview, author and publisher Joslin Fitzgerald tells us more about her background, her beginnings as a writer, the bumps in the road and her exciting future plans.
Who is Mary Joslin, also known as an author by the name of Joslin Fitzgerald, and how and why did she start writing?
Mary Joslin is a normal lady, who has lived an exciting, yet extreme and, at times, abnormal life! Saying that, let me tell you a bit more. At a very young age – I was only 23 – after giving birth to my first son I was abruptly transplanted from my safe life in the United States. My husband needed to find a well-paying job that would support our family, but being both so young we also wanted fun and adventure and be able to travel the world like movie stars. So, we moved overseas with our two-month-old son, landing in Saudi Arabia, in a city near the Persian Gulf. This was a very difficult and scary life-changing decision for me: I was a terrified first-time mother with a tiny baby, who did not know what she was doing. I had no idea how to raise a child on my own, hence my family would have come in handy, but my husband said that he was moving with or without me, putting me in between a rock and a hard place. Yes, I needed help, but at the same time I didn’t want to raise my son without his father, so I chose what was best at the moment and went to Saudi Arabia, deciding I was going to figure it out by myself.
I was completely horrified and overwhelmed by the condition of abandonment I was welcomed by. Other than my father, nobody in my family had ever been on an airplane. It is hard to explain it to today’s people, and harder still for them to understand, but keep in mind in the early 70’s nobody ever flew anywhere unless you were employed overseas. Or you were a music or a film idol. Or you were rich. Having the amazing and rare opportunity to be an international traveller, even though I was either rich or famous, somehow helped me easing into my decision to move. I didn’t even know where Saudi Arabia was located on the map, let alone what to expect from it! And when my husband made big promises of expensive trips, diamonds, even gold, and one-of-a-kind magical adventure, I was game. But it was a poor decision, that not only changed everything but also ruined my marriage. It was only after we landed that I found out he had been lying to me about everything, including where we would be living. We were supposed to be stationed in the American camp, but when we arrived, there was no in-camp houses available and we lived in this building that could have hosted up to 50 people, but only saw us. Not only there were no Americans around us, but there also were no people at all, except for this guard at the door, armed with a machine gun, that was supposed to be there to keep me safe, but that only made me feel threatened and vulnerable.
We lived in a 600 square foot apartment (55 square metres), with no electricity except for the one produced by a small generator, that was hardly enough to run a barely functioning A/C unit, no operating toilet (I had to bury our poo, pee and vomit outside in the sand) a bed, a crib, a sofa, a chair, and three coffins… Yes, I said coffins. On our arrival the company my husband worked for measured, prepared, and gave us our wooden coffins, just in case things would go south. Since I didn’t have a table, I used the two smaller ones to serve food on, and the big one as my son’s playpen. I cooked on a makeshift gas stove and oven, while my son played with rats that he called cats. I poured poison on my hands to make sure the food we ate was safe, and the bugs on it were dead. I literally watched the Clorox eat my skin that peeled off my bones as I bled.
The only car we had access to was the one my husband used to go to work. Once the driver picked him up and drove away to his office inside the American camp with proper working A/C units, I was stuck there. Not that it made any difference, since women weren’t allowed to drive anyway, or even take the bus to go to town. Women were not allowed to do anything that was not approved by their law, be them local or foreigner: I, too, had to wear a black abaya and niqab every day… but thankfully not at night. Just like any woman there, I had to walk everywhere I went, but with no sidewalks available, I had to push the stroller through the sand, which was not easy. I ended up carrying the baby in one arm and the stroller in the other. I shopped at souks, where I bought things I did not know what they were, and bought them from a very short, agitated men who did not like emancipated, free-willed, un-accompanied [by a man member of the family] women, all this while speaking a strange language who I could not understand. It’s funny how this was supposed to be a one-week arrangement, but it turned into two years of my life.
Eventually, things got better. After such a long time, I was ready to pack my stuff and go back to the States, when we finally got some good news: we were moving into the American camp. It was only slightly better, since the only communication I was allowed with my family were sporadic letters that were all blacked out, since news and information were censored. But, on the other hand, during those 7 years we travelled around the world three times and visited 35 countries. You need to know that in Saudi Arabia there is this rule for which, if you stay for longer than 11 months in a year, you will be considered a resident. We were kind of forced to take vacations, but I am not complaining about it: we went back and forth to the States so I would not go insane, and it was also a necessity. Inside the camp we had American groceries and everything food related but we didn’t have any kind of department store meaning everything we purchased had to be purchased on our trips back home. We would literally buy a year’s worth of clothes and toys for the kids, and I bought Christmas presents in July, and 4 to 5 sizes of the same clothes because all of those things went in boat shipments took up to months to be received.
To entertain myself I even started buying gold. Yes, gold. It was cheaper than wine! With alcohol forbidden in the country, any bootleg spirit was very expensive, if you could put your hands on it at all. It was a way for me to survive and keep my fears and my disintegrating marriage at bay, and it was a way for my husband to pay me off and keep me there. Slowly but surely, my husband changed from Dr Jeckyll to Mr Hide in front of my eyes. He still loved me, but he would not touch me, he became more and more unhappy with who he was, hiding secrets from me: some had to do with drugs, other with lies. I was living alone, away from my family, with a man who was more like my angry brother than my comforting lover. I am not proud of it, but I have been contemplating the idea of suicide a few times.
At the same time, though, I was also having fun, somehow, and I accumulated enough one-of-a-kind amazing stories to write 15 novels of my Circle’s Legacy series. Years later I felt the urge and the need to document all my incredible overseas experiences in a fictional yet nonfictional way, including the sufferance of going through a difficult and abusive marriage, that after 15 years of struggles, ended badly in a devastating lawsuit, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and divorce. Unable to keep my secrets hidden anymore, I started writing. And ten years later, after I had written one million words (it was verified on my computer’s word count) and all those sentences turned into 15 novels, I went looking for a publisher.
On our first phone interview, you told me about being a published author with a good-sized company that, at a certain point, pulled out your books, and the ones of many other authors, from distribution, with no warning or explanation. What went through your mind? And in that moment how did this make you feel as an author and as a person?
During my writing career, which has spanned for over 25 years, I worked with two major publishing houses, but, for different reasons, both publishers ran into legal difficulties. After closing their doors without warning, taking 350,000 novels out of distribution and affecting over 2,000 authors, my writing stopped, and I was left completely devastated. Let me clarify one thing for people who are not in the publishing industry: if a publisher goes out of business, that publishing house will immediately and automatically take all books that they have under contract out of distribution, meaning your books will no longer be selling anywhere and you will not be able to sell them yourself. Plus, you will not be given your books’ files back. It’s like you never wrote them in the first place because it’s like your books no longer exist. Unless you want to start over with a new publisher, or try to self-publish with new illustrations, a new cover and new layout, your book is as good as dead. The last big publisher was also sued for stealing royalties from its authors. They took three of my novels, and seven of my children’s books out with them. It was a catastrophe. I felt like I would ever be able to start over again. However, that was not the case the first time: just one week after the first publisher went out of business, I was immediately picked up by another big publishing house, which bought the rights for my books, but five years later, the second publisher went out of business. The last book in the series ends with the death of a character’s marriage, leaving her devastated. With the publisher closing down I felt like the character died twice. It was heart-breaking, even more because I had no way to stop it or reverse it. And that’s when I decided I could never trust publishers again. That gave me liberation and led to me starting my own publishing company.
You decided to take things into your hands, using your skills and your experience. What is the ethos of this?
I wanted to make sure that my books were never taken out of distribution again. I joined forces with my production team, which was the same team I had been working with a week before the company closed. Clearly, they all have been fired without any warning, meaning we all were out of business, too in shocked to process what happened, and in need to find a new way to start over again soon. We came together to pick up the pieces: since we already knew each other, and I trusted them – they had already worked on seven of my books – within a matter of weeks we were back on track.
At this point I needed a publisher, but, given my experiences, I wasn’t trusting any of them. Starting my own publishing company was a challenging but at the same time easy decision to make. It was far more complex to make the company work and be my own publisher. But I was surrounded by an extremely talented group of artists, illustrators, book cover designers, layout specialist supervisors, and my dear project manager, who were not only my crew, but also people I still consider my family, and together we created the Circles Legacy Publishing LTD, which is still in business 10 years later. The beginning was rough, as it is in any new business, but I managed to give birth to 18 of my own books.
We offer the same services the same as traditional publishing, but what we do differently is that we don’t put authors under contract. And we will not take royalties from them. I will not set up accounts for them and I will not have any access to their bank account or to their financial information. I will invoice them for my services and work, half of the cost up front and the other half when the book is finished. But at that finished point, instead of controlling their book, they will have the final product, the full control of it and they will pay me for my services just once. I will also instruct the authors on how to get the book into distribution with Ingram Sparks, but they will be the one doing the job, and any revenue they make from any sale will go directly to them. Plus, they will have to get their own copyright certification with the Library of Congress.
How are you different from other publishers?
Until now, I haven’t been a traditional publisher for anybody other than myself. I have recently published what could possibly be my last children’s book (but we’ll see!), and because of this I started to help other emerging authors. I have decided to offer my publishing services, my expertise, and my team to provide high quality book covers, design work, and layouts, while I give guidance. I have decided to be a different kind of publisher, I don’t want to be in the position of taking their books out of distribution and, in this way, take their characters away from them. I want to help authors to put their books out of their computers and in the open for everyone to see and read. I will make sure that the books are ready to be printed in high resolution format, I will show the authors how to publish their own books, and how to put them into distribution themselves, while owning all the rights to every part of the book. They will be taking control of their own work and their future because I will hand over their print ready files. Basically, the authors will be their own publisher.
Let’s talk about your books, why children’s books rather than, for example, young adult or romance? Where do you take inspiration from? Do you have children yourself or are you in close contact with children (for example nieces and nephews)?
I didn’t start writing children’s books. I began writing novels. Now I have 15 novels under copyright and ready to go, including the three novels that are still stranded, and out of distribution because of the publishing company closing down. With them, those three novels were never released, but I am happy to announce that they will be back out for distribution by next year.
After I finished writing over 1 million words, that turned into my 15 novels, I looked around and decided that I did not want to stop writing. Wanting to do something different, I started writing children’s books. It was an easy transition for me because I have always loved teaching children! I have two children of my own, 2 stepchildren, 2 grandchildren, and as my kids were growing up, to help financially I opened a day care and preschool in my house. And I have always worked with children through churches and in Mothers’ Day out programs [they are programs that offer parents some ‘me-time’ to take care of personal business while offering the children the opportunity to learn and socialise with peers]. I’ve always been around children quite a lot. Writing children’s books just seemed to be the normal progression for me. I combined life lessons from my childhood, as well as valuable insights from my children’s escapades, magic and child innocence, trying to make the world a better place one child and one adult at a time. Five of these children’s books have been turned into Animated Merry Movies by a Motion Picture Company, and they are getting a lot of interest and attention from Hollywood producers.
Tell us more about them: how did you go from the books to the animation, how much control do you have over the process, what stage of production are you at, who are you working with, the release date?
Well, that’s a great merry question! The Merry Movies are 30-minute films that have been made by a Professional Motion Picture company from 5 of my bestselling children’s books. The Merry Movies are not videos or cartoons, but 30 minute long, high definition, high quality films with sounds, music, 3D element and pictures of the whole book, narrated by a retired professional actress, making this fairy tale magical world come alive right in front of your eyes.
They will solely be available through my Author company and at my joslinfun.com website. The Merry Movies are for every child! Recently, through my Patreon host site they are also available world-wide. You now can stream thyem on all your devices, including your TV.
How did the Merry Movies get started?
Well, that’s another good question that stems from my books being into a wide distribution. My books caught the attention of a motion picture company, and 2 years ago they approached me with the idea to turn some of them into animated movies. The company told me that they mostly produced audiobooks, but because of the original storylines, the bright signature colours, and all the sweet things inside (literally: the books are full of candies, ice creams, doughnuts…) they wanted to turn 5 of them into movies. I have been closely collaborating with them during the whole process.
Sadly, though, there will not be any more Merry Movies, because, due to unforeseen circumstances, the company is no longer in business. So, I am not expecting to put out anymore Merry Movies. But, again, who knows!
You mentioned that you are mentoring two college seniors in an internship, and that you are all starting a new kind of marketing and advertising company. Can you please tell us more about that?
Every creator, every author, every artist knows it’s hard to market anything if you don’t have ‘the big money’ behind you. And since it seems like every social media site has shut down our advertising attempts unless they are getting a cut from it, I started to think out of the box: how I could tell other authors about my publishing company while getting out the information on the publishing services I am offering? And I asked myself: how can authors and creators help each other succeed and market their products, all the while offering peers feedback? That’s how I had the idea for my new company. Thanks to my experience, both as a writer and as publisher, I asked and obtained to be tutoring at three Universities internship programs. At the moment I am helping two college seniors as we start the Arising Writers Company: while helping to start this business, both students are learning about promotion, marketing, advertising, communication, and business. This is a self-marketing company which aims to create a free platform where other authors, musicians, singers, bands, and songwriters can showcase their work in their own way and in their own words. In our dedicated and safe space, the Arising Writers Blog, the writers can tell us in their own words about their books, and the songwriters can tell us about their own songs. On top of that, they can sell on our site if they want. We decided to turn the comments off to avoid sterile criticisms and unjustified attacks: we are here to help writers thrive, not stop doing what they are already doing with a lot of effort and sacrifices. It is our hope, as we support them in our community, that they will support us and tell their friends and family about others’ book too.