Once-thwarted author goes iBook route

Chip Fesko keeps a folder of his past correspondence, a nearly inch-thick stack of the words that cause less-resilient authors to pack it in:

"We have now had a chance to consider your material, and we regret to say that it is not right for us."

"After a great deal of discussion, we came to the unhappy conclusion that we are not ready to expand our market..."

"Thank you for your recent query. ... Unfortunately, it does not suit our editorial needs at the moment."

That binder, quite a bit thicker than Fesko's actual manuscript, contains some rejection letters so old they were written on manual typewriters.

While he scored pieces in magazines throughout the decades, his goal of an entire book remained elusive. But last year, the Newport Beach resident's luck changed.

To put it in appropriate terms: Officials at Apple iBooks had a chance to consider Fesko's material, and it turned out to be right for them.

After a great deal of discussion, the author enlisted a professional voice-over reader to narrate his online book, "Fireflies & Honey Bees: Children's Poems for You and Me." And this Saturday, Fesko will present his work at the Newport Beach Central Library.

"It's been a labor of love," Fesko said Monday in an upstairs room at the library, surrounded by original watercolors and printed copies of "Fireflies," which is now available on the Apple iBooks site. "It's one of those books that I had on the shelf, you know, and you bring it out every once in a while and say, 'Hey, let's try to get this published again.'"

Fesko may not have gotten his book published in the traditional sense; the iBook program, launched in 2010, allows authors to upload their own work, although Apple screens submissions for inaccuracies or illegal content.

Still, when library officials heard about the publication of "Fireflies," they were happy to feature the author — who had his work exhibited at Newport Beach City Hall in 2009 — as part of the countywide Imagination Celebration.

At 11 a.m. Saturday in the library's Friends Room, Fesko will introduce his book and discuss his writing and painting process — he does his own artwork — while actress Eila Ulyett, who advertises her business as "the perfect place for your female British voice-over needs," will recite the poems.

Fesko, who loved A.A. Milne's "Winnie-the-Pooh" poems as a child, went online to find a British woman to perform the work for his iBook. He came upon Ulyett, a fellow Newport Beach resident, and her prim delivery turned out to be just what he needed.

The 15 poems in "Fireflies" have the lean, proper cadence of Milne — and also Robert Louis Stevenson and even Emily Dickinson, both of whom Fesko counts as childhood influences. For Ulyett, the familiar style made voice-over recording easy.

"There was a lilt to it," she said. "I don't know what it is — what the technical term is — but the flow of the poems was very easy to my ear. I didn't have any difficulty reading his book at all. As soon as he sent me the poems, it was just like a natural flow."

"Fireflies," which combines Fesko's poems with his own illustrations, covers common themes in children's poetry: animals (scary and otherwise), the wonders of nature, the absurdities of getting through a busy day and more. One piece, "A Hundred Humming Honey Bees," begins:

A hundred humming honey bees

In an apple blossom tree

They were too busy humming

To even notice me

A great dance they were performing

All in perfect time

You could almost call it poetry

For they sounded like a rhyme

While Fesko said "Fireflies" has sold less than 100 copies to date, it got an impressive plug recently: Scholastic magazine included it on a list of recommended titles for National Poetry Month.

The book is dedicated to Fesko's son, who is 16 now and appears more than a decade younger in a photograph inside. The author, though, didn't write the poems specifically for his child — or any child, for that matter. A nature lover, Fesko jotted down many of the pieces after excursions into the wild and only later recognized their innocent quality.

"I didn't concentrate and say, 'Hey, I want to write this for kids,'" he said. "I wrote the poetry, and then I said, 'This is something a kid could really relate to.'"

If You Go

What: Poet Chip Fesko and actress Eila Ulyett present "Fireflies & Honey Bees: Children's Poems for You and Me"

Where: Newport Beach Central Library, Friends Room, 1000 Avocado Ave.

When: 11 a.m. to noon Saturday

Cost: Free

Information: (949) 717-3870 or http://www.newportbeachlibrary.org

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