The World of Carol Haile

A few weeks ago Carol Haile and I did lunch at Austin’s in Shillington. I took the opportunity to talk to her about her calligraphy, children’s books, and the upcoming month-long Berks Literary Festival known as Reading Reads. We had a great time and I learned a bit about a corner of the publishing industry I am unfamiliar with. Carol is an energetic and articulate writer. Her work is a joy to behold. I’m glad to have met her and even more glad to be doing a reading with her on October 21 at the Speckled Hen in Reading. Take a look at our conversation below and stop by on the 21st to listen to Carol’s animated presentation.

Sue Lange: Tell me how your calligraphy led to your getting published.
Carol Haile: Freiman Stoltzfus saw my my calligraphy, loved it, and started carrying it in ‘Illustrations’, his art gallery in Intercourse, PA. Interestingly, Freiman had been born into an old-order Amish family, and while very young his parents recognized his talent and encouraged its development. Freiman’s father Gideon, a high-ranking Bishop in the church, decided the family should leave the Order specifically to give Freiman and his five siblings the ability to pursue professions of a non-agrarian nature. The family paid a high price for this decision, and Freiman claims the two years of shunning (the family’s punishment for leaving the church) were the most painful years of his life.

Freiman had illustrated ‘A is for Amish’ and, when I met him, he was completing work on ‘A Dreamer’s Heart’. I purchased and treasure several original watercolors from ‘A Dreamer’s Heart’ and have purchased many of his other works. One such piece was a commission he did for us called “An Amish Woman on her Wedding Morning.” We proudly presented it to our son and daughter-in-law on their wedding day.

Freiman and I started creating special collaborations for his gallery’s annual Christmas show. I would ink music or scripture, then Freiman would ornament my work with scenes of Amish life. One piece was particularly well-received, our collaboration of ‘The Three Wise Men’ which featured three large watercolors: one of an older Amish man, the second of a middle-aged Amish man, the third of a young Amish man. Each man was carrying a typical Amish Christmas gift: a quilt, a Bible box, an orange. I inked “…for we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Freiman and I watched people respond in awe to this collaboration, and we decided on the spot to do the entire Christmas story as a 60-page book of art. We would stop, for the moment, doing individual framed pieces. It proved to be a refreshing change for us both.

Our respective responsibilities were quickly determined. I would do the calligraphy and illumination just as the old monks and scribes did scripture in the 15th Century. All the words would be taken from the King James version of the Bible — the original, recognizable poetry of the first Christmas. We’d set the story in the Amish Community of which Freiman was so familiar.

I had no idea “The Christmas Story” would be immediately successful. Its debut propelled me into a world of dizzying, well-attended book signings. Published in August 2001, we had been in negotiations with Borders in New York City to schedule a major metropolitan signing. Everything was in place, and we were awaiting a confirmed date for our event. Freiman and I secretly laughed to think perhaps Borders would send a limo down from Manhattan to pick us up.

Borders, however, was in the World Trade Center, and there I was, waiting for the phone call to settle the date for the signing…..on September 11. I called Freeman that fateful afternoon and asked, “Are you aware of what happened today in New York City?” Because of his Amish upbringing, he had no television or radio, but he did have a phone. He answered, “No, what’s the matter?” I said, “Freiman, I don’t think we’ll be having a book signing any time soon in New York City.”

In spite of this unfortunate beginning, “The Christmas Story” sells extremely well even without the national exposure Borders promised. We printed 7,000 first edition copies, and we’re now down to a few hundred. We’ll reprint soon.

S.L.: Tell me about your second book.
C.H.: Anne Beiler, founder of Aunt Anne’s Pretzels, noticed Freiman’s sensitive artwork. Her offices are in Gap (Lancaster Co.) and she, having been born Amish as well, always wanted to do a book of her life growing up in Lancaster County. Freiman immediately signed a lucrative contract with her, and, at the same time, he had an opportunity to go to Venice for a year. He assured me, “Carol, when I come back, we will do another book together.”

I wanted to seize the momentum, however, and that meant doing another book very soon. So I took it upon myself to write one. I started working with an editor, my cousin Sam Keiser, a recently retired Kutztown University English professor. Before Freiman left for Venice, I asked him if he would be able illustrate my book “A Dream Vacation” (a whimsical story about the pandas traveling on Noah’s Ark) from Venice. Sam told me the story was ready to be illustrated, and I was anxious to get it to press. Freiman replied honestly, “I don’t like to do animals.” Whimsy was never Freiman’s strong suit, and I knew instinctively that he wasn’t cut out to be the illustrator for my story. I needed to find another illustrator.

Robert Miller was a watercolor artist I admired and was, like myself, a vendor at the Kutztown Folk Festival. I had accumulated a rather large collection of his amazing Noah’s Ark artwork. When I was writing my story, I would sometimes study Bob’s artwork and feed off its energy. I asked Bob to read “A Dream Vacation,” and he immediately told me that since he was looking for a challenge, he’d illustrate the story, which he did — brilliantly.

S.L.: Talk about “The Princess Tree” a bit.
C.H.: “The Princess Tree” is my third book, but the first I illustrated myself. I’d always done quite a bit of artwork in conjunction with my calligraphy and illumination, but I never thought of myself as an artist. Never. Also, “Princess” was my story written specifically for my grand daughter, Colleen. If she had never met me, this was all I wanted her to know about me. It’s about the values I hold most dear.

S.L.: When you started this book, did you want to start with a lesson or did you just have a story in your head?
C.H.: I had a story in my head. My Irish husband and I had gone to Ireland on vacation. We saw a ‘fairy mound’ outside Dublin which was very peculiar I thought — the rocks, the moss, the strange way the trees were growing. I’ve always been curious about the mythology of Ireland, and I thought: why do the elves and fairies do this and do that…? So I constructed a story that answered all my questions. The story evolved.

At the same time I was writing the story, my cousin Ken was ill and in the Reading Hospital for several months. I visited him almost daily, and as I watched the nurses tend him, I could see my fairy mound (the little animal hospital in the middle of the forest) morph into a similar Holy Place where angels (nurses) tend their ailing patients with great love and joy. My story took on even greater significance to me and, I felt, this story Must be told.

However, my first illustrator dropped out of the project because his wife became ill, and I was heartbroken. He wasn’t really into my story, didn’t see it as I did, but I wasn’t too concerned because he was a good artist. I was naïve.

I asked another gentleman to illustrate “Princess Tree.” He was thrilled and worked very hard to please me, but his elves and fairies looked like the winged models shown on the pages of a Victoria’s Secret catalog. I lost weeks of sleep and finally said ‘No, Stop this project!’ If my name is going to be on 5,000 of anything, it has to be the very best it can be.

The elves and fairies in my story are innocent, childlike, and simple. They gather up baby birds that have fallen from their nests and sleep in flower cups. Nothing more. Since I understood my story better than anyone I decided to TRY to do the illustrations myself. What was the worst that could happen? If I couldn’t do the artwork, I’d have to find an illustrator…..which was exactly where I was at the moment anyway.

I approached the illustrations as I approach my calligraphy. I would paint lots of interesting borders, and study/absorb the incredible work of William Morris, a Victorian artisan/calligrapher whose work I admire very much. As both author AND illustrator, I quickly discovered I could put many things in my children’s book that makes it totally MY book. ‘Fitzpatrick’ is an old family name (hence Mayor Fitzpatrick). My granddaughter’s name is, of course, Colleen. My daughter-in-law’s name is Marjorie. My son’s name, David, isn’t Celtic-sounding enough, so I told Dave his name in the book is ‘Connor’. David didn’t mind, and Marjorie liked the change just fine.

Freddie & Flossie Flamingo (characters in my latest book “Elephant Overboard!) are the nicknames of my editor and his wife, Sam & Ann Keiser. Flamingoes are everywhere decorating their house, and it’s quite a fun thing to have characters named after people you know. I’ve used several editors in my life, and Sam’s the best. The greatest gift he gives me is when he scratches “Show me, don’t tell me!” in the margins of my manuscripts. He encourages my best writing to emerge forcefully.

I am also quite fortunate to be able to use Tony Corcetto, the retired owner of Tony Corcetto, Inc. (an advertising agency) as my art editor. I have no formal art training, so I appreciate his review of my artwork very much. What finally proved to me I could indeed handle the artwork for “The Princess Tree,” however, was a very private moment during the painting of one small illustration where Colleen is standing alone on a bridge. The enormity of her recent visit with the fairies in the Fairy Mound is weighing heavily on her heart.

I had worried about this particular image for weeks before attempting it. And as I painted Colleen on that bridge, I suddenly saw that less was more. After painting for only a few moments, I backed off, put my brush down, and walked away. The watercolor was quickly done, and after only a few brief brush strokes I said Enough. Enough. Don’t do more. I mean, as an artist, when are you done? But I knew that to paint more (more background, darker water…) would ruin the mood I had successfully established. In that moment, I realized, yes, Carol, I think you know how to pull it off.

S.L.: Let’s talk about Reading Reads. You’re on the committee for The Greater Reading Literary Festival. What do you get out of working for a volunteer organization that has a very small budget?
C.H.: An author asked me how to go about selling his book. I told him, “I’m going to be a vendor at the Centre Avenue Arts and Antiques show next week. It’s in a beautiful park and I’ll sell my calligraphy and my books. My art editor, Tony, who sits at the table next to me, will bring his photography. Maybe there’s space for you to have a table. Call Mike Lauter and, if there’s room, he’ll set you up and you can sell your books.” I like giving out information like that. Most authors think there are only two places you can sell books, at Borders or Barnes & Noble. Not true.

At one of the Reading Reads meetings, a new gal, Jennifer, represented Berks Bards. She wanted to do something special for the Literary Festival with poetry for children, another event for the middle aged, and something unique for seniors. She was planning to call the Berks County Office of the Aged, but, from my own experience, I knew she’d get nowhere with that. So I said, “No, call the Highlands.” As soon as I got home, I contacted Shirley Kolodziej (the activities director at the Highlands, a lovely retirement community), and gave Shirley the heads-up that an energetic gal, Jennifer, would be contacting her. At the next meeting Jennifer said, “Oh Carol, thank you so much for the information about The Highlands. We’ve already set up an interesting poetry event for seniors, and Shirley is wonderful to work with!”

S.L.: So what you’re getting out of all of this is the chance to connect people.
C.H.: Oh yes! I’m sharing my knowledge, my contacts, and helping people organize fun events for the Literary Festival.

S.L.: What about publishing. How’s the money in publishing?
C.H.: I publish my own books simply because Freiman and I shared the printing expenses for “The Christmas Story” and then Bob Miller and I shared expenses for “A Dream Vacation.” We each have our own markets and do our own shows, so our books were simply larger printing projects.

When it came time to print “The Princess Tree,” I didn’t have a partner so I underwrote the whole thing myself. Same for my fourth book, “Elephant Overboard!” I frankly wouldn’t know how to go about approaching a publisher at this point, and I doubt I would want to share my profits now that I’m used to handling all of it myself. Firenze Press is the name of my publishing company. Some people get confused by this information and assume I have a printing press in my basement!

Do you know Chet Williamson, author of the “Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas”? He and I did a book signing together, and he was outselling me three books to one. But he was complaining. He had sold his rights to a publisher and told me, “I’m lucky if I get forty cents for each book I sell today. I signed a standard publishing contract, and my publisher schedules my book signings. I’ll be in violation of my contract if I don’t show up. I haven’t had a weekend off all year.”

That day, I went home with a nice profit, but he was lucky to have cleared gas money. When kids ask me if there’s any money in writing, I tell them, “Yes, I do very well. But I am the publisher of my books and have assumed all the risk of printing and marketing. Mr. Williamson has sold his rights to a publisher. Although he has written a best seller and has sold 60,000 copies, he earns forty cents per book. You do the math. Could you support a family on that?”

S.L.: What about events. What will you be participating in during Reading Reads?
C.H.: I have been invited to read my stories during the Humane Society’s Furry Friday evening on Oct. 10. On Oct. 18, I will participate in the Author Extravaganza at Borders. Oct. 21, The Speckled Hen! And on Oct. 25, I will be one of the storytellers (plus do some artwork for the children) at the Book Warehouse (VF Complex).

S.L.: How can authors get involved in Reading Reads?
C.H.: I encourage authors to be aggressive about scheduling book signings and other events, workshops, etc. (be creative!) during the month of October in Berks County. Let me know the who, what, when, where and I’ll submit the information for inclusion in our calendar of events. Check out the website for info on what the festival is about.

S.L.: What all have you been doing with Pennwriters?
C.H.: Pennwriters is an amazing organization. As soon as I joined, I was immediately contacted by energetic people offering me opportunities to connect with other writers as well as new opportunities to sell my books… was at the Saucon Valley Farmer’s Market which is where I met you, Sue!

S.L.: Yeah, that was fun. Anything else you want to add about your writing or your writerly experiences?
C.H.: My goodness, No! I’m exhausted! lol

S.L.: Carol, thanks for having lunch with me and sharing some valuable insights on publishing, marketing, and following your own inner voice when writing. Let’s do it again some time!

Carol’s Bibliography:
The Christmas Story, ISBN 0-9711236-0-8, $27.95
A Dream Vacation, ISBN 0-9724699-0-7, $19.95
The Princess Vacation, ISBN 0-9711236-1-6, $19.95
Elephant Overboard, ISBN 978-0-9711236-3-2, $19.95

All books available and


4 responses to “The World of Carol Haile

  1. I very much appreciated learning about Carol’s calligraphy and her collaborations with other Pennsylvania artists. As someone who is of PA German descent, I also enjoyed reading about Freiman Stoltzfus and Chet Williamson. Thanks for sharing!

  2. You’re very welcome, Melanie. If you’re in the area on Oct. 21, stop by the Speckled Hen between 6 and 8pm and hear Carol read. Be sure to introduce yourself too. Speckled Hen is at 30 South 4th Street in Reading.

  3. Carol, I enjoyed learning more about you as well as my friend Freiman. I’ve only known him for the last two yrs and the shunning wasn’t something that we had discussed. Thank you for recognizing his genius.

    As for your calligraphy, it is awe inspiring. To be honest, I hadn’t paid much attention to the name of the person who did the calligraphy in THE CHRISTMAS STORY; however, its beauty did catch my eye. I am so disappointed I didn’t know you were in the area when the book reading took place. I would have enjoyed meeting you.

    Perhaps, I’ll meet you in Gallery 2 on First Friday in Lancaster if you happen to come to see Freiman’s latest works, he has sculptures in this show.


  4. Thanks you for sharing Carol – it’s always helpful to hear more about experiences with the publishing process. You offer some great advice and encouragement.



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