The Story of Hi-doh Hi-dee Ha-Ha, Part II

By Tom Calarco

Hi-doh Hi-dee Ha-Ha . . . what? What is that supposed to mean? What kind of title is that for a book? How will anyone remember that? Well, it is after all, a fantasy.

Some days later I visited the library director.  He said that if I could get some reviews of the book, that the library would gladly take the book and circulate it.

I made the rounds to the local publications, dropping off the book. One was operated by a long-time semi-retired arts reviewer, whose reviews I had read for many years in the hometown paper’s arts section. He called me to arrange an interview.  It turned out great.  His publication, a glossy monthly, with limited distribution, featured a picture of me and the book (scroll down the web page to see it).  “A book for the child in the adult,” he called it.

I was off and running and five or six more reviews followed, including a headlined review in the hometown daily’s Sunday arts section.  And one from a daily newspaper in Vermont for whom I had done some music reviews.  One of the staff writers, whom I never met, reviewed it.  His words gave me hope: “Whether you’re a kid or a kid at heart, give this book a try.  It has the personality to which it will attract a wide spectrum of admirers.”

I marched into the library director’s office, triumphantly, or so I thought. As I put the reviews on the director’s desk, who do you think had followed me?  The children’s librarian.  She screamed at me.  I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it doesn’t matter now. The director was speechless as she stormed out.

Finally, the director said he would take the book, two of them, and put them in the local collection, but they would not be circulated.  He refused to go “over the head” of the children’s librarian. And so, to this day, despite having had eight books about the Underground Railroad published, and some of those being circulated at that library, it still refuses to circulate Hi-doh, despite that both the director and children’s librarian have long since retired.

A similar thing happened at the local bookstore, which incidentally was and still is the only bookstore left in my home’s downtown. Little did I realize at the time I dropped off the book, that the owner was the former children’s librarian at the public library and friends with the children’s librarian. When I went to the bookstore, I talked to the woman in charge of the children’s books section. Like the local library, local bookstores like to promote local authors, so I felt confident they would carry it. I left the book there for a few weeks and when I returned, the same thing happened. They would not give a reason why the book was rejected, only that they would not be able to carry it.  I was beyond belief. I had gotten Barnes & Noble and another larger, established bookstore in neighboring Albany to carry it.

Sounds like I’m making this up, doesn’t it? But this was another example of coincidence factoring in my life. And to this day, though that bookstore has sold some of my Underground Railroad books, it refuses to carry the original issue of Hi-doh. I have in fact tried.

Regarding the distributor, New Leaf, they did sell some copies, but certainly less than 50.  What happened to the other 150 or so is still mystery.  About a year or so later, New Leaf told me that somehow they couldn’t find my books. In later years, I found the book being sold online by individual booksellers in foreign countries for outrageous prices – of course, I have never seen a cent of those sales – note that one of these sellers in the link is in Japan.  Yes, truth can be stranger than fiction.

As I was enduring the failure of Hi-doh Hi-dee Ha-Ha, I had become interested in the Underground Railroad. The story of how that happened and led to the publication of what will be my eighth book about the UGRR in October by History Press, is told in my book, The Search for the Underground Railroad in Upstate NY, also published by History Press in 2014.

Probably the most encouraging sign that I received for Hi-doh was during a visit to a fourth-grade class in Albany, at a school which I think has since closed. I had given it to a friend whose son brought it to school and the teacher ended up reading the entire 26-chapter, 190-page book to the class. She read a chapter each day. What a wondrous welcome.  I was taken by surprise. Not only did they seem to know the book inside and out, but they wrote me individual letters about what they enjoyed most and signed a banner of a hot dog that the teacher created – you’ll have to read the book to understand the significance of that.

I never gave up on Hi-doh.  After a couple of years, I submitted it to an established Australian publisher, Allen and Unwin, whose editor wrote me a personal letter saying she enjoyed the book but said that they ordinarily didn’t publish foreign books and were unwilling to take the chance on it.

Fifteen years passed.

I had moved to Florida.  I saw an ad from an ebook publisher. I sent her some chapters and she agreed to publish it.  She obtained a nice review of the book from an author of one of the books that she had published.  But there were no sales.  The main thing that came of it was that when I reviewed the book after so many years, I was surprised by its quality.

When I moved to Ohio four years ago where I currently live, I learned that the original printer of the book, Bookmasters in Ashland (now owned by Baker & Taylor) had expanded and become a distributor.  So, I transported all the books I had left, more than a thousand (Nordel had since turned them over to me) to their warehouse, about 150 miles away.  In addition to monthly storage fees, there were other fees, including payment for their ebook conversion which they did despite that I had sent them a copy of the former ebook publisher’s conversion.

What a mistake.  I had to do all the promotion, and on top of that, I never could coordinate with their sales team. They had the book more than a year and sold a total of six copies, and later I learned that they had the book for several months before they even tried to sell it.  While they did issue some refunds, I lost well over $1,000. Then I had to go to their warehouse, about 150 miles away, to retrieve the books.

Maybe it just wasn’t the right time.  It is said there are times when the stars align and everything happens the way it’s meant to be.  I have tended not to believe in fate, but events in my life seem to indicate otherwise.  In the summer of 2015, I became interested in Bernie Sanders’ campaign for President.  He embodied my core political beliefs, and the more I learned about him, the more enthusiastic I became.  I connected with his supporters on Facebook and began attending campaign meetings with locals and Bernie’s campaign staff.  Before long, I was hosting events.

One thing led to another, and though Bernie had dropped out and endorsed Hillary, a Bernie supporter I had met had rented a flat in Philly during the DNC convention.  Political events and demonstrations had been scheduled throughout the week, including a march in support of Bernie.  In all, five of us shared the flat and became friends.  Coincidentally, about that time, Bruce Moran, the publisher for Total Recall Press, saw the YouTube video that I had prepared as a vehicle for promotion for use by the distributor which they never used and probably never watched.  But it did intrigue Bruce.

The confluence of those events was indeed a fateful one, for two of those Bernie buds who I was with in Philadelphia were to influence my effort to revive Hi-doh. Failure is hard to overcome and continuous failure requires tremendous persistence. Something would not let me quit on this book but I needed a boost of confidence and my Bernie friends, Mary and Lisa, who coincidentally were accomplished artists, gave me it to me.

I had some discussion with Bruce and we both agreed the book needed a new cover. This was to be a new publication and he wanted to put his stamp of it.  He said he could find an illustrator, but if I knew someone he’d be happy to consider their submission. Mary, who quickly read the book, said she wanted to do it. She created a fantastic cover, far beyond my expectations.  Bruce loved it too, and Mary became excited about the publication of the book, having her work on the cover.

Lisa and I had a lot in common.  Coincidentally, we had lived in two places that are settings in the book and shared other passions like the music of Chopin, and an interest in Eastern and New Age ideas.  As time passed, the three of us formed a bond.  Though Lisa was enduring some personal challenges, she found solace in our triangular friendship, and Mary persuaded her to read the original version of the book that I had given them.

It also was during this time that I stumbled upon the idea for the audio book, the real fruition of my revival of Hi-doh.

To listen to some clips from the audio book, go to my website: