A runaway princess, a spurned but valuable suitor, a giant, magical cat, trees that ignite, an epic battle, and prehistoric insects erupting from the earth to devour everything in sight unless the secrets of an amulet can be unlocked — Candlewax, the debut young adult novel by Sandy Hook author C. Bailey Sims, has it all. But this mythical tale set in a medieval time is not the typical “dashing prince rescues the damsel in distress and saves the world” sort of story.
Rather it is the flip side — a prince relying on the strength of a princess. Candlewax is the story of a young woman shouldering her responsibilities to others, and putting her own fears and doubts aside in order to do so. The heroine, Princess Catherine of Crystallia in Lackanay, is just 16 years old when she runs from a prearranged marriage, and coincidentally discovers that she is heir to a legacy that can prevent the destruction of her homeland and those lands around her, including the country of Candlewax, her suitor’s kingdom.
In pursuing her freedom, circumstances throw Catherine and Prince Cyril of Candlewax together (compatibly) with the horse-sized Spelopokos, the last of the mystical fairrier cats in Lackanay.
“I think women should be strong and men should be tender, and both can exhibit those tendencies successfully. Catherine believes in herself. I think it’s important for women to believe in themselves, but not go so far that they can’t work with others,” said Ms Sims.
She was purposeful in developing Catherine as a character able to get beyond her own needs, and in developing the romance between Catherine and Cyril.
“Attraction should be more than superficial, it should be about quality and character. Cyril and Catherine are able to work in tandem for the same goal, counting on each other,” Ms Sims said, a healthier romance than those featured in many young adult novels.
But can Spelopokos, Catherine, and Cyril find more fairrier cats and convince them to return to Lackanay in time to stop the army of trodliks advancing across the kingdoms, all the while battling an ancient enemy, Kallik, who lusts after the power of the fairrier cat fur and a desire to conquer all? Who can be trusted and who cannot? What is the secret of the Ancient Onyx? These questions set the scene for fast moving adventures that impact the cast of characters created by Ms Sims, be they human or animal.
Published by Terabyte Press of Sandy Hook, a start up press in which Ms Sims has an interest, Candlewax will be released to the public as of April 3.
“It’s very exciting,” said Ms Sims. “I love the idea that it’s going to be out there for anyone to read, even while I have that kind of nervous feeling that ‘This is it!’ Writing a book is one of those things that you could never finish, just keep writing and never publish,” she said.
Candlewax began as stories told to her two boys when they were young.
“My husband worked long hours in advertising, and while the boys and I were waiting I told them stories, by candlelight, around the dinner table. They became the Candlewax stories. They were completely silly and mostly not at all a part of this book, though,” said Ms Sims.
By the time her boys were older, she had written a book for younger audiences with animals as characters. Her sons begged her to write a book with people, having outgrown the cute animal stage.
“So I decided to write Candlewax, about 2002,” she said.
The assistant editor of Antiques & Arts Weekly, the sister publication of The Newtown Bee, Ms Sims wrote Candlewax “in snippets of exhausted time after work, early in the morning, and on weekends.”
The long hours have begun to pay off. In 2007, the Candlewax manuscript won Connecticut’s Tassy Walden New Voices in Children’s Literature Award, Young Adult Category, sponsored by Shoreline Arts Alliance.
Creating a plausible fantasy world was not so difficult for Ms Sims. The characters of Candlewax inhabit a world that draws on Ms Sims’s own life experiences and her knowledge of natural history, biology, and the environment.
“There are things in our unconscious that can be conceived of in our world,” she said. “Candlewax is a familiar medieval framework mixed with things that are unique. When I start typing, the story just comes out. It is incredibly real when I’m writing,” she said.
One element of the story that did survive the early dinner table tales is the Candlewax trees, with burning branch tips that can reignite.
“It’s not so far out,” noted Ms Sims. “There is actually a Chinese tallow tree with sap that can be burned as fuel.”
The fairrier cats figure large in the story.
“Fairrier is just one of those words that popped into my head,” admitted the author, although the cats are another example of her ability to craftily meld reality with fantasy. “I’ve always been enamored of the big cats, and ligers, which are real. They’re a cross between tigers and lions. And we know prehistorically, cats were huge,” she pointed out.
Trodliks is another word drawn from the clever mind of the author, to describe the squirming mass of shrimp-like creatures that emerge from the ground to wreak havoc. “It sounded prehistoric to me, and the trodliks are kind of like that,” she said.
Although the storytelling flowed easily from her imagination to the keyboard, Ms Sims said that she placed great importance on making sure that the important events of the story were revealed over an adequate amount of time, in order that fast-reading young readers did not overlook them.
“As an author,” she said, “I put the story first.”
She also devoted a great deal of time researching details of the book to ensure that it was believable.
“I had to research about long bows, archery, daggers, and all kinds of things in order to gain enough knowledge to give readers a sense of grounding. I think I’ve achieved a very real world,” she said.
The (Early) Reviews Are In
Avid readers have been able to read the pre-release version of Candlewax for several weeks. Terabyte Press posted the book on netgalley.com, where bookstore owners, librarians, media, and reviewers can download the book and post reviews.
“With the Internet and social media, word of mouth travels very quickly. Early readers who blog and like the book can be very helpful,” said Ms Sims. As of March 20, Candlewax was listed as 51 out of 370 children’s books titles most requested on netgalley, and 64 out of 1,020 literature and fiction titles.
Soon after it was posted, she started seeing reviews posted to Goodreads.com, a worldwide site for readers and book recommendations.
“Reviewers have been everyone from teens to seniors. Goodreads.com is very important for discoverability,” said Ms Sims said, who has been extremely pleased with the majority of the reviews. A less than rave review from one reader was hard to take, she admitted, but she still appreciated the input.
“One complaint that I have heard about my writing is that it is too simple. But I believe that once you get out of your own way, you can get on with the story,” a skill, she said, that she has picked up in her work at Antiques & The Arts.
“Presale electronic chatter is giving the book a good buzz,” she said, “and I’m very grateful for those who have picked up the book and read it.” Through goodreads.com, Ms Sims put up one copy of her book as a giveaway. “Over 1,100 people entered for it,” she said.
With the strong response on netgalley and goodreads, Terabyte Press decided to make the online review process more official with a 30-day “blog tour,” through Hollowtours.com, that ends April 10.
“A blog tour opens the book up to any review that will come up,” explained Ms Sims, “good or bad, and organizes a set schedule of bloggers. Things take off if it’s out there.”
Terabyte Press provided as much support as might be found with a traditional press, said Ms Sims, one of the many reasons she chose to use the new press and not self-publish. That included two editors who read through the manuscript and made suggestions, and a professional support staff for cover art and the ability to produce a sharp, finished result. She is also connected now with a subsidiary rights agent, Rebecca Mancini of RightMix.
“Rebecca is overseas right now, trying to sell the foreign rights to Candlewax,” Ms Sims said. Subsidiary rights allow Ms Mancini to help publish anything besides North American rights, overseas or worldwide electronically.
It all adds up to a pre-publication boost that Ms Sims hopes will have readers flocking to her world of fantasy, romance, and thrills when Candlewax is released next week.
“Writing Candlewax has been fun, and it’s been a journey. I have high respect for so many authors.
“J.K. Rowling set the bar for young adult writers, by showing how much fun reading can be. Every time I pick up a good book, I’m impressed with how much work went into it. Publishing, I know, is more of a marathon than a sprint,” said Ms Sims.
Even if Candlewax turns into a runaway bestseller, though, Ms Sims is already one step ahead. A sequel, as well as a prequel, to Candlewax is already in the works.
“But the stories,” she said, “will dictate when they are ready to be published.”
Candlewax will be available beginning April 3 online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google, as an Apple iBook, and as a trade paperback available for any bookstore to order and stock. The paperback will sell for $10.99, and a hardcover version may become available later this year. To find out more about Candlewax and Candlewax author C. Bailey Sims, visit www.CBaileySims.com or become a Facebook fan of CBaileySims.