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Children's book sparks creation of Ames publisher

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Iowa State University professor and senior editor of Flyway Deb Marquart shows the newly published book at her office in the university's Ross Hall on Nov 1 in Ames.

AMES (AP) — A national literary journal published by Iowa State’s English Department has spun-off a book publisher, Flyway Books, which is celebrating its first imprint — a children’s book titled “A Moo Cow Came Traveling.”

“Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment” has been publishing poems, stories and essays from writers around the world for more than 20 years. “A Moo Cow Came Traveling” represents the publisher’s first book.

It was a “story that just sang” to senior editor Debra Marquart and her team of graduate student editors.

The whimsical story came from Irish writer Mark Mulholland. Marquart told the Ames Tribune that she and her team loved it but didn’t think it was quite right for their online journal.

The story tells the tale of Elnorvow, a Moo Cow traveling through space on a flying bicycle. One day, he arrives in an Irish village to have tea with the proprietor at Meegan’s Pub, where he delights the local school children and discusses philosophy with the school’s principal.

“We started immediately talking about how it would really lend itself to illustration,” Marquart said.

Marquart has known Ames-area illustrator Dorothia Rohner for many years and suggested Flyway editors look at her work.

“The editors got really excited when we looked at her website,” Marquart said. “So this little adventure began.”

The team planned to publish a standalone book about the story. Then came the COVID-19 lockdowns.

It was during that lockdown that things grew beyond the idea for a standalone book.

“One thing kind of led to another,” Marquart said. “Publishing a book requires a certain number of steps — you have to get an ISBN number, for example.”

Marquart herself has published seven books. Poet laureate for the state of Iowa and distinguished professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, she’s certainly no stranger to publishing. But she’d never ordered an ISBN number before. The International Standard Book Number is a unique number assigned to a commercial book.

“I’ve never gone through the process of publishing someone else’s book,” she said. “I contacted the ISBN vendor and ended up buying a package of 10.”

As a result, “Moo Cow” is the first book of at least 10 the team plans to publish, and Marquart expects they’ll release about one new book every year.

“This was a project that sang to us,” she said. “It’s incredibly labor- and time-intensive — and it’s incredibly expensive.”

A donation from Roger S. Hanson made the project possible, Marquart said.

As the team worked through the pandemic, the author was locked down in southern France. New York-based book designer Christine Kettner, the illustrator and the editors were isolated at their locations, too, so much of the collaboration took place over Zoom.

“It was kind of a whimsical adventure for all involved,” Marquart said. “Unwittingly, it became our pandemic preoccupation — we go back to ‘Moo Cow’ and work on bits and pieces of it.”

Marquart and her team will be looking for more stories that sing to them, although they’re not accepting submissions at this time.

“Moo Cow” can be purchased online from the Flyway website, FlywayJournal.org/books.

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