It may have meant taking out a second mortgage on his house, but George Clark got his book published.
Clark, of Marion and a 1967 SIUC alumnus, is self-published and is now self-distributing his children’s book, “My Dog Butch.” He’s now doing a string of book signings in the area and will be at the Bookworm bookstore in Carbondale Saturday.
The road to getting his book out there and into the hands of children has been a risky and expensive one, he said.
Clark founded his own company, 4 Kids Publishing, instead of trying to go through a traditional publishing house or an expensive vanity press, he said.
So far, he’s sold about 200 copies of the 2,099 that were delivered to him at the beginning of the year. Clark said he spent two hours carrying them from the driveway and into his house.
Now he sells the book online and at appearances at libraries, bookstores and wineries, he said.
“Well, you’ve got to go out and sell yourself,” he said. “They don’t call you.”
Clark said the book, which tells the story of a dog’s relationship with a family and his eventual death, was inspired by his experiences as a teacher in Florida.
He said while working as a counselor, he met a girl who emotionlessly told him her dad was in heaven. He said he eventually found out that she thought he was in Heaven, Fla.
The experience inspired him to tell a story that would teach children how to deal with death, Clark said, and also instill character values, which he saw a lack of in most children’s books.
He said he spent about four years working on the book while in Florida, and after he moved back to the area he started working with illustrator Christa Barnell, who used to live in Carbondale.
Barnell said it was the first children’s book she’d done, and it presented some new challenges for her.
She said she was a little slow in completing the illustrations, but Clark was supportive, and he was persistent through the whole process of putting the book together.
“He’s gone through so many roadblocks, one of which was me,” she said.
Clark said he also hired a designer in New York to lay out the book and a printing company.
He said he had no aspirations of being a writer when he was going to college for business and then counseling at SIUC.
However, when he was working in accountability for the Illinois State Board of Education in the late ‘90s, he researched and wrote a book that summarized various ideas for school improvement, he said. The book garnered considerable attention, and he soon found himself invited to a conference in Chicago, complete with a private-floor suite and personal waiter at the Sheraton.
“I thought, this is the life. This is what I want to be. I want to be a writer some day,” he said.
It would be a while before that actually happened, and he said it’s admittedly not as glamorous as his previous brush with a literary career.
He said he now drives his heavily-used pickup truck from town to town, donating his books to local libraries and making appearances to sell and sign them.
Saturday, he set up at Rustle Hill Winery, where he was offering the book in addition to prints of some of Barnell’s art.
“I now realize this is where I’m going to end up: at a winery south of Carbondale,” he said.
John Sanders, of Marion, went to Rustle Hill Winery on Saturday and said he planned to purchase a copy of the book. He said he’s known Clark for some time and was impressed by the book.
“We just thought the artwork is fantastic, and the storyline is fantastic,” he said.
Clark said state Sen. Gary Forby made an unexpected appearance at Rustle Hill and bought a box of 30 books, which he said he’ll distribute to schools in his district.
Clark said his ultimate goal is to get the book into every school in Illinois, though he’s still considering how best to approach it.
While he has another story in the works, this time about the prejudice experienced by a Boston terrier at puppy school, Clark said he’s going to pay off the mortgage before he moves forward with making another book.
“In my case, I could end up losing a lot of money over this venture,” he said.
However, it’s his concern for children and the future of society that keeps him going, he said.
“If it’s available for children to teach them how to be a better person and help them through a time of tragedy, then it’s worth it,” he said.