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Published on December 18, 2013

'Silly Nomads' is success story for UHS co-authors

UHS News Release

Release: Immediately

Contact: Jon Tooley, 607.762.2425 or jon_tooley@uhs.org

As a young boy growing up in Jamaica, Marcus Mohalland had lots of dreams. One of his most fervent - to move to America with his family - was realized when he was just 15.  Another, to become an author, became a reality this year.

Early in 2013 Marcus, unit assistant, ED, UHS Wilson, and colleague Jan Lewis Zelesnikar, RN, BSN, health information nurse specialist, Stay Healthy, co-authored and published their first children’s book, "Silly Nomads From Palmerston Close."

"Silly Nomads" is the story of two young brothers living in Jamaica who have fertile imaginations and a healthy dose of mischievousness.  In the story, planned as the first in a series, 10-year-old Suhcrom and 8-year-old Naddih decide to become nomads after seeing a documentary on television. What ensues is a funny tale geared toward children but a delight for readers of any age.

The authors met in 2005 when they served together on the Tobacco Free Broome Coalition. Jan already worked for UHS at the time, while Marcus was a youth empowerment coordinator for the Broome County Youth Bureau. The two became friends.

“One of the first things Marcus told me was that he wanted to write a book,” Jan recalls.

“I think I was 15 years old when I decided I wanted to write a children’s book about my experiences growing up in Jamaica,” Marcus adds, “I wanted to tell my story.”

A few people were interested in collaborating with Marcus in the past, but he never felt those pairings were right until he began working with Jan. “She is more detail-oriented than I am,” he says.

“The technical part of writing is one of my strengths,” Jan admits. “I like to write, and I’m very detailed, sometimes annoyingly so,” she laughs. 

“When I’m telling her a story she asks me questions like what did I feel, what did I smell, what was I wearing, what did I see,” Marcus notes. “Once she asked me what the dirt in Jamaica feels like!”

“I fold those details into the story,” says Jan.

“And it really adds to it,” Marcus comments.  “Our differences help our collaboration.”

“It is a really good balance because we each have different strengths that play on each other,” Jan adds.

“One of the most pleasurable parts of the writing process is reading the book out loud,” notes Marcus. “There’s so much humor in the stories - we just crack up.”

It took Marcus and Jan about two months to write the first draft of what would become "Silly Nomads From Palmerston Close." Once finished, however, they decided to add two more volumes of stories, which took five more months.

“We just wrote and wrote and wrote, whenever we could,” notes Jan. “It was crazy.”

Next, they shared their manuscript with a few close friends and advisors, who provided valuable feedback. They also asked several children to test-read the book and complete a questionnaire. This provided them with good input, some of which they incorporated into their final manuscript.

Originally, Marcus and Jan intended to take the traditional route of finding a literary agent and having their book published by an established publishing house. When that didn’t work out for several reasons, the authors decided to start their own company and self-publish. Thus, Mohalland Lewis LLC was formed in March 2013 and "Silly Nomads," the company’s first book, was released in September.

“I was a little scared at first and wondered if we had the time to start a company and publish our own book,” says Jan, “but it turned out to be a fun and very satisfying experience to do this ourselves.”

Since then, the response has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Marcus reports. Reader reviews posted on Amazon.com, one of the outlets at which "Silly Nomads" is available, have been encouraging.  They have even had several book-signings:  one in Vestal, one in Amityville, Long Island, N.Y., one at the RiverRead bookstore in downtown Binghamton and another at the Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, Pa., just in time for Christmas.

At the Bethlehem signing, they were joined by their illustrator, Kate Santee.

"Silly Nomads From Palmerston Close" is available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon.com. Paperback copies are also available locally in the gift shops at UHS Wilson, UHS Binghamton General, Lourdes Hospital and RiverRead Books.

BROTHERS HAVE MORE ADVENTURES ON THE WAY

Co-authors Marcus Mohalland and Jan Lewis Zelesnikar are releasing more "Silly Nomads" volumes.  Volume 2, "Silly Nomads Go Ninja Crazy," is planned for release in early 2014, and Volume 3, "Silly Nomads Make Great Superheroes," is expected to be published in the spring. 

Additional volumes are in the planning stages.

“We have a notebook full of ideas,” Jan declares. “Marcus has great stories!”

And that’s not all.

The authors have “big dreams,” says Marcus, and hope one day to offer interactive journals, board games, picture books, audio books, hats and T-shirts. A comic, cartoon or movie isn’t out of the question, either. They also expect to develop other books or series based on different characters and themes. “The sky is the limit!” Marcus says.

For now, though, the owners of Mohalland Lewis LLC want to focus on ways to contribute to the community. “Even though we are a small company, we want our focus and philosophy to be one of giving back,” says Jan.

“My dad instilled in us that education is important, so with Mohalland Lewis we want to help underprivileged kids so they can go to college or buy books for college,” Marcus explains. “Giving back in that way is really important to us.”

CHARACTERS HAIL FROM PLACE MARCUS KNOWS WELL

Marcus Mohalland and Jan Lewis Zelesnikar didn’t have to look far for ideas when writing "Silly Nomads From Palmerston Close"; Marcus simply searched his own childhood memories.

He grew up in Palmerston Close, a small neighborhood in the town of Portsmouth on the island of Jamaica.  He says he is grateful for growing up there. “It was a fun place,” he says, “a safe haven in which to have adventures.”

“My childhood was the best,” he adds. “I wasn’t rich.  My family was very, very poor, but I was rich in the sense that I had my extended family.”

Marcus lived with his brother, sister and father, just as his character, Suhcrom, does. In fact, the names of his main characters are taken from the real names of his family members.

In 1990, 15-year-old Marcus and his family moved to the United States to be reunited with his mother. She had come to America years before to work until the rest of the family could follow.

“There were opportunities in the United States to have a better life,” Marcus says. “We wanted a piece of the American dream.”

That dream brought the family to the Bronx, which Marcus says “was a bit of a culture shock.”

He admits that Palmerston Close was friendlier and they felt more connected in the smaller community. He was also surprised by what he describes as the “disrespect” many American teens show toward their elders. That kind of attitude isn't acceptable in Jamaica.

“You have to be polite and you have to treat people with respect,” he explains. “You can’t just go off and do anything you like, because that reflects badly on your family. When you’re out, you always keep that in mind,” he adds.

College drew Marcus to the Southern Tier. He attended Binghamton University, earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature and rhetoric in 1998 and a master’s in social science in 2003. With good friends and an area he loves, Marcus chose to remain in Binghamton following graduation.

In 2010, he joined UHS. He enjoys helping people and one day hopes to play a significant role in the medical field. Since he’s already achieved two of his biggest dreams—coming to America and authoring a book—the odds are good that he'll eventually realize that dream as well.

“I’m kind of a dreamer,” he says, “but once I put my mind to something I’m going to do it. I like to reach for the stars. I’m not afraid.”

UHS is a locally owned, not-for-profit, 916-bed hospital and healthcare system serving Greater Binghamton and surrounding counties. Founded in 1981, UHS provides a full range of medical, surgical, rehabilitative and long-term care services from more than 60 locations around New York’s Southern Tier.

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