Winning the IPPY, 15 Years Later

Originally published on

Editor’s Note: Among the many great stories that came about during this year’s IPPY Awards contest, one of the best was when we were compiling the Health/Medicine/Nutrition category results and noticed on the back cover of the gold medalist, "Small Press Book Award Winner." I soon realized the book, Looking Up: Seven Steps for a Healthy & Youthful Midlife and Beyond, was written and published by Cynthia Olsen, who won the Health category gold medal in our very first contest in 1997 (back then, both the magazine and awards went by Small Press until we changed to Independent Publisher in 1998.)

We asked Cynthia to look back 15 years to when Essiac: A Native Herbal Cancer Remedy won the IPPY, and to tell us how her life, and the world in general, have changed.

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My Background
During the mid–1980’s, my business partner and I had an essential oil import business. We were the North American representative for Thursday Plantation Australian tea tree oil products. Over the next few years, we established 30 health distributors in the USA and Canada. We had ten broker companies representing the line into health food stores. I was approached by Christopher Dean, the head of Thursday Plantation in New South Wales, Australia to consider writing a book on tea tree oil. At that time, tea tree was in its infancy stage, but Christopher provided massive amounts of research material to me. I had no experience in writing a book -- all of my days were spent marketing, writing magazine articles, and setting up advertising for Thursday Plantation. I had no time left at the end of my day to even consider writing a book.

I finally surrendered and made the commitment to write in my office, which was a small separate studio on the property, and hired a local college student to transcribe my writing into her computer.  It took a year to complete the 50 page book, and to have it edited and designed.  I had 300 copies printed up by a local Santa Barbara company. I made a call to one of our health accounts and asked the buyer if he would like to see a copy of my book. To my amazement, he ordered 500 books, so I ordered more books from the printer.

To my knowledge, this was the first tea tree book published in North America. Our business was on a private piece of property owned by a television director whose father was a journalist and author of several books. A famous movie was made from his book, A Man Called Horse.  In the midst of my project, I told our landlord that I was writing a book in the little studio behind the house. I was astonished when he shared that his father only wrote in that same studio. His father had died two years before we moved to that property. I look upon that time in my life as divine intervention and guidance toward my new path.

When our business arrangement ended with Thursday Plantation, I decided to take the plunge and write a second edition of the Guide, expanding it to 110 pages. That was when Kali Press was born. Subsequently, I wrote more health related books, published for a handful of authors and worked steadily for the next 13 years.

Book Conception
The thought of writing a more comprehensive and personal book on aging had been in the back of my mind for several years. My sister had died of bladder and brain cancer, my parents had passed away when I was 25, and there were other family chronic illnesses that I witnessed while growing up. I developed a passion for healthy living beginning in my twenties, and the drive for researching and living a healthy life continue to this day. I had transported myself to the beautiful Big Island of Hawaii in hopes I would be more inspired to begin this daunting project.  I had several personal stories, which were important for me to include. After three years, I received guidance from a skilled New York editor, and with her advice and outline, I spent the next two years revising the entire manuscript. During that period I suffered a bad fall onto a cement floor, resulting in a compound fracture of my wrist and two broken bones on my right arm. I was in physical therapy for a year and learned how to become ambidextrous. 

I’ve been blessed with vibrant health throughout my life, and looked at this injury as a test of faith and to practice what I have preached. Finally, I had Looking Up: Seven Steps for a Healthy & Youthful Midlife and Beyond looked over by three editors. The design and layout was created by my friend Paul Bond, a gifted artist, who had designed some of my previous books including Essiac: A Native Herbal Cancer Remedy which received the gold medal in 1997. Now, fifteen years later, I have been honored again. I feel very blessed.

My hopes for the health of the human race
I witnessed many members of my family living with chronic illnesses and some of them dying at early ages. I recall watching my mother in constant pain from her rheumatoid arthritis and remember thinking there has to be a better way for her to live other than the gold and steroid shots. During the 1950’s, the health movement was in its infancy, so my mom didn’t have many treatment options to choose from. Today, the natural health movement is growing internationally, with holistic specialists in the fields of acupuncture, Chinese medicine, herbalism, massage therapy, naturopathy -- the list goes on. There are many holistic options people can take to improve their health: nutrition, exercise, mind control, honoring their physical body and envisioning a healthier life. In my book Looking Up: Seven Steps for a Healthy & Youthful Midlife and Beyond I have included sections that cover longevity in other lands and healthcare around the world. The words of my Italian grandmother still ring in my head. “When you have your health, you have everything!”

This book project took several years and several revisions. Throughout that time, I researched topics on health research and the trends around the world. The entire world’s population is being greatly affected by changes in our environment and lifestyles. Therefore, I felt it vital to include statistics on health from around the world.  Also, many people have chronic illnesses, obesity and other health challenges, especially as they age, so a section of the book addresses various retirement decisions people are making. The world economy and retirement ages have changed dramatically, and many people of retirement age have decided not to stop working. I talk about quality of living and how people need to make sound economic choices without depleting their savings, investments and earnings. So many people have lost their jobs and suffer through today’s difficult economic times.

I also decided to lead each section with a personal story from my life, and then go into more details on health and research for the reader. While creating this book, I wanted to keep the spirit of sharing, compassion and a higher purpose alive behind my words.

Perhaps one of the most positive factors in health and wellness are the studies done on diseases and prevention. Our life span is greater and people are able to access help through holistic medicine and leading edge technology; stem cell research, Alzheimer and Parkinson medical advances, stress management, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and nutritional advice. There are more organic farms and farmers markets where one can buy locally. There are books, DVDs, talk shows, and seminars we can attend without leaving our homes. The choices are endless. There is more universal awareness and exposure to how one can make better choices for a healthier lifestyle inside and out. In my new book, I discuss various parts of the world and how people are achieving healthier and longer lives.

The Hopi Native Americans had a prediction that the world would be interconnected through a massive web circling the globe. And now we have the Internet to tap into to ask questions, research and discover what is available.

In 1997, I received the call from my office staff that Essiac: A Native Herbal Cancer Remedy was awarded the gold medal from the Small Press Book Awards. Before I wrote the book, I had gifted a woman a place to stay in my home. She had breast cancer and would brew the essiac herbs. I asked Jeni what she was doing and she shared her story along with volumes of essiac information. She was diagnosed with cancer and had decided to use herbal medicines including the essiac.  She was doing well at the time. I contacted a Canadian woman who had written a book on essiac to see if Kali Press could publish it in the States. She declined my offer. It was then I decided to take on the book project.

A second edition was published in 1998, which included contributions by a Canadian doctor and an herbalist from Arizona. The first edition was dedicated to Jeni as well as the second edition after she had passed away. The book continues to sell hundreds of copies a year.

My latest project was planned as a more personal story. It became a lengthy, labor of love. When I made the decision to enter my book in the IPPY awards, I had no idea it was the same company who awarded me in 1997. Fifteen years later, there I was in New York, my three daughters in attendance, receiving recognition for my work. Although years have passed, writing and publishing continues to be a wondrous and fulfilling purpose in my life.


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