Like many in 2020 and its months of uncertainty, author and naturalist Cathy Sakas squatted and perfected his creative work.
Insulation inspired a new book, and when she emerged from the shutdown and intermittent closings and reopenings, she was not alone. His friends, a cohort of longtime writers, had done the same, each completing the year with new work they wanted published.
But landing a book deal in the conventional mainstream fashion is a time-consuming endeavor that’s anything but easy, riddled with non-responses, punctuated with rejections. And working with on-demand printers and independent presses can be equally daunting, because more often than not, writers end up footing the bill for confusing fees and costs.
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And so, Sakas along with his brother, writer and retired business lawyer, Jeff Sakas, and local writers Ben Goggins, Mallory Pearce and William Strong forged a collective to launch Maudlin Pond Press in April 2021. It is Tybee Island’s premier independent book publisher for local, regional and aspiring writers.
“Necessity is always the mother of invention,” Sakas intoned. “Each of us searched for publishing opportunities and found nothing really fair to the authors. Many small presses require the writer to pay at least $5,000 before publication, which really wasn’t feasible for any of us.
Maudlin Pond Press kicked into high gear like this: After business and marketing plans were in place, the editorial team sat down with Jeff Sakas to settle legal paperwork, such as registering with the Corporate Secretary. State of Georgia and obtaining an official business license through the City of Tybee Island. .
They brought in Lauren Jackson Clackum to handle the web design and layout of the manuscript. The team then partnered with printer-on-demand Ingram Spark, through which they have global distribution with Amazon and other online book retailers.
Local authors put the passion of the coast into their writing
The first book they undertook was a revival of an out-of-print field guide, “The Netherlands“, written and illustrated by veteran author, Mallory Pearcewith a preface by the famous Georgian naturalist writer, Janisse Ray. The book and its lush drawings of coastal plants and animals are currently experiencing a resurgence with new online sales and local representation at Tybee gift shops.
Pearce, who moved to Tybee Island with his family as a teenager in the late 1940s, is considered a creative catalyst for the press. He and his present-day artistic and intellectual friends spent time together sharing ideas beside Maudlin Pond at his Tybee home.
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“When my family moved here from upstate New York, I was captivated by the swamp and the wildlife,” Pearce recalls. “I would go out and take in the beauty all around us. I want to instill a love of nature and try to preserve it as much as possible, and I hope my writing will inspire people to love and protect this fragile land that is home to so many different ecosystems.
Pearce and his family have a long history of community involvement on the island. His mother, Sally Pearce, was a beloved artist and conservationist; his father was a chemist and director of the CDC when located on the island of Oatland.
Pearce has so far published two books with Maudlin Pond. A third, his autobiography, is due out later this year.
Local columnist and essayist, Ben Goggins, is also part of the Maudlin Pond Foundation. Goggins and Cathy Sakas were biology students together. After college, Sakas became a professional naturalist, leading canoe trips through the Okefenokee Swamp; Goggins spent time as a marine biologist, collecting and caring for specimens in public aquaria at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.
Several years ago, Sakas first approached Goggins to edit stories for his book, “Swamp Goddess, a collection of adventures around boating in the Okefenokee. It was only natural that he should be part of a collective press mainly focused on nature and observational writing.
“It just seems like we’re finally getting together and doing this thing,” Goggins laughed. “Our goal is to be a talent incubator synonymous with quality books and writers. We want to encourage new writers in particular to make Maudlin Pond a household name for developing strong relationships with authors and treating them well throughout the publishing process.
Earlier this year, Goggins published a book of essays and photographs, “Another day in paradise, living on Tybee time.” It’s a collection of highlights from his Savannah Morning News column, “Looking for Pearls,” in which he reveals some of the special moments and hidden gems of life on the island down the road.
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Late last year, the collective hired its first new writer, Gigi Mischele Miller, who is working on a children’s book about the North Atlantic right whale. Miller, who lives in St. Augustine, Florida, grew up watching these whales roll along their beaches in November during migration.
Today, on the brink of extinction, fewer than 320 North Atlantic right whales remain. Miller knew she wanted to write about this species for her first book and help pass on her story to the next generation.
“Cheryl Munday, Right Whale Festival Manager in St. Augustine suggested Maudlin Pond because they print children’s books, and having Cathy be a whale ambassador, that was the perfect connection. When I told her spoke, I immediately knew she was the perfect editor for my book. Maudlin Pond is small and able to give individual attention. They really care about me, and I feel respected, not like a dollar sign.
“Riley the Right Whale and Her Friend Kyle” is a brightly illustrated book about a mother whale who gets tangled in a fishing line and sends her young calf, Riley, to seek help. The book explores ethical ways to help whales in hopes of bringing the North Atlantic right whale back from the brink of extinction. It comes out in October just before the Right Whale Festival in St. Augustine.
Cathy Sakas’ most recent publication with Maudlin Pond is also a children’s book. “The Adventures of Leslie Binnacle the Barnaclepresents the maritime adventures of a barnacle who hitches a boat in Savannah and sails to San Francisco. The story teaches about marine ecology and, through its characters, explores empathy and cooperation.
Sakas sees these early efforts as fundamental to launching local talent into larger markets. “We want to see this thrive as a local Tybee press that can propel new local or regional authors into new opportunities,” Sakas emphasized.
“And really, I’d like to encourage anyone who has a book in them, to let it out and let it be with us, a friendly local publisher, swamp roots with a global heart.”