From Lemons to Lemonade

In what is truly a record-breaking time in the book world, in six months CJ and George Connolly of Noank not only created a children's book publishing company-Crosswinds Press-the first title, "Wil, Fitz and a Flea Named T," written by CJ and illustrated by Lisa Adams, debuted in October, the next two books in the series, "Boomerang" and "Bad Enchilada" are slated for publication by early March, and three more, already written and illustrated, are due out in the spring.

Why the urgency to get all these books in print so quickly? These are, by the way, beautifully printed hardcovers, with lots of attention paid to important details, and no shortcuts.

One word: scleroderma. A terminal autoimmune disease that CJ has been diagnosed with that she says instantly put her life into perspective.

"I decided I had to leave something behind for my six grandchildren," she says. "I wanted to share all the stories and lessons I'd learned from my relatives, friends-and life-and I knew I'd have to do so in print and as soon as possible."

The rhyming books are aimed at the underserved 3- to 8 year-old children's market and each book teaches a special lesson in a way that is gentle and humorous-never as a moralizing lecture. For example, in "Wil, Fitz and a Flea Named T," Wil, who is based on one of the Connolly's grandchildren, discovers that achieving anything of value requires effort-"it is never, ever free." This lesson is taught to Wil by a wise old flea named "T" that CJ envisioned as a modern-day Jiminy Cricket.

In light of her illness, instead of giving in to understandable self-pity, CJ is one of those remarkable people who make lemonade out of lemons, which just happens to be the lesson in her fourth book, "The Lemonade Stand."

And so the Connollys decided to establish their own boutique publishing company using a "virtual" structure-a partnership of small companies-contracting with Trish LaPointe Design of Mystic and The Racine Company of Brooklyn (CT), which prints and binds the books.

"We didn't even send the [first manuscript] off to a major publisher," CJ says. "You don't make money going with a mainstream publisher-and they also take the life out of your story and you lose control of the book. [For example] you can't choose your own illustrator."

But CJ's business acumen-she's an expert in cost management and control systems and a professor of accounting at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London-combined with her writing background-she's published nine trade books and more than 60 articles in her field-she wasn't fazed by the idea of this bold new venture.

George, an electrical engineer, who, until 1996 worked at the New London Laboratory of the Naval Underwater Warfare Center developing submarine sonar systems, is involved in management and administration aspects of the company.

"I keep things going on a day to day basis," he says.

One of George's jobs was to find an illustrator for the books, which turned out to be one of the couple's biggest challenges.

"I kept running into dead ends," he says. "They were either busy, retired, or didn't respond to our inquiries."

The Connollys finally came into contact with Lisa Adams-via their Labradoodle. While boarding him at Creature Comfort Animal Inn in North Stonington, they saw a postcard with a portrait of a dog on it by Adams, who is the author-illustrator of the recently published "The Twelve Days of Christmas in New York City" (Sterling Press) and the creator of the babyGap Teddy bear-the store's mascot since 1992.

Adams's artwork immediately clicked with the Connollys.

"I think Lisa's art makes the books," CJ says. "She seems to have really caught the feeling of what the stories are about. Her artwork is whimsical, the colors are vibrant-she's one of the most talented people I've ever met."

Adams says that she's never known such a "can-do" couple as the Connollys.

"They brought together the most compatible team…and have allowed me total freedom to create as I want; not like the usual committee I'm used to," she says, "[which has] inspired me to get it right and have fun, and the results have been my best work. Moreover, I think the best thing of all is that there are great messages in CJ's writing for kids-life lessons, yet all done in an engaging way."

The Connollys plan to publish 10 books in the "Wil" series, and CJ is already started on a new series specifically geared for girls. So far, "Wil, Fitz and a Flea Named T" is selling well and has been placed on several lists of recommended books distributed to parents and medical providers by The Reach Out and Read National Center in Boston.

But, perhaps most important, "Our grandchildren love the book," CJ says, "and people are always telling us how much their children enjoy it."

For current information on Crosswinds Press books and publication dates and signings, visit www.crosswindspress.com. "Wil, Fitz and a Flea Named T" ($16.95) is available for purchase on the Web site, at Bank Square Books in Mystic, Borders in the Waterford Commons, The Other Tiger in Westerly, and on Amazon.com.

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