Jane Lotter knew she was dying. She watched the timer on her desk as she increased her word count on a 14-inch computer monitor; she’d always been frugal. Her husband of 29 years, Bob Marts, recalls what a vision she was as she edited her manuscript in the closet space next to their bedroom, secondhand chic art and a string of pastel-colored lights on the white walls. Many nights he fell asleep in their bed, just 10 feet away, while her fingers tapped the keyboard. His memory of that lullaby is difficult to revisit.
“It's easy to get emotional when you're just talking about a book,” Bob said. “Because the book is, to us, a part of her life and a part of her death.”
When three years and three rounds of treatment didn’t change the truth about her metastasized uterine cancer, Jane Lotter turned to fiction: the novel she worked on for a decade or so.
“It’s hard to know when she started the book,” he said. “She was always writing.”
Greeting card jingles. A regular column in a local paper. Blurbs for real estate magazines. Articles for community distribution. Whatever it was, Jane found time to write while being a stay-at-home mom to her daughter, Tessa, and son, Riley. At the kitchen table in their home near Seattle she fed stories to her kids. She read the entire Harry Potter series aloud using different accents for each character. “She made certain we could relate to Dickens and Twain and Shakespeare,” Tessa said. “And Ephron and Capra and Hitchcock; all those she considered so singularly excellent at the craft of storytelling.”
Later, when her kids were almost grown and gone, Jane’s cutting wit helped her write updates about her disease to members of her book club.
Shaping her own legacy
“She wanted to keep writing. She wanted to have a late-life career as a novelist,” daughter Tessa said. “That was something that became very important to her. She wanted to publish a book.”
Jane’s comedic novel, “The Bette Davis Club,” is about a tipsy middle-aged leading lady named Margo and her madcap search for a runaway bride and a missing manuscript. It won first place in the mainstream novel category of the 2009 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. But no one would publish it.
“Editors would look at it and say, ‘It's really good. Work on it and send it back,’” Bob said. “And then she ran out of time to do that. So she edited it herself.”
Family, friends and others helped Jane publish her book via Amazon’s self-publishing service, Kindle Direct Publishing, in what Tessa remembers was an all-out effort to achieve her mother’s dying wish. Jane had grown weak and required regular hospital visits to have liters of fluid removed from her abdomen. So, when the first copies of her book appeared, the triumph was a tender mercy.
“It was so many people working together to help her achieve this thing,” Tessa said. “So many people's success. So, it was such this celebration when this box of books arrived.”
Bob picked up the first proof of “The Bette Davis Club” signed, “Dear Bobby M. I wrote a book. I really did. Here’s the PROOF. XOXO Jane Lotter (AKA your wife Jane).” Her self-published book was the height of the author’s success in her lifetime.
“It's easy to get emotional when you're just talking about a book. Because the book is, to us, a part of her life and a part of her death.”
“I think that's when she decided it was okay to leave,” Bob said. “She accomplished her goal.”
On July 18, 2013, with assistance from Washington State’s Death with Dignity Act, Jane died at the age of 60.
“Her last day on Earth, she held a copy of the book she had written, reflecting on what she accomplished,” Tessa Marts said. “She held her book, and she cried. And we all cried with her.”
The life of a book after death
Jane asked her husband to take their kids out for a nice dinner with any money the book might make. But after her self-penned obituary was published in The Seattle Times, the book bought more than a meal.
To Tessa’s astonishment, the obituary “went viral.” Soon, national and international publications wrote about Jane’s life, death, and her clever farewell to the world. Responses from around the globe flooded Tessa Marts’ social media.
“The first time I read the book, I remember just putting the manuscript down for a moment and saying, ‘I have uncovered something wonderful and magical,’” said Danielle Marshall, editorial director of Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. “I was almost too excited to finish it.”
Danielle worked with Bob and Tessa to comb through the pages and carefully edit Jane’s book. “The Bette Davis Club” was re-released two years after Jane’s death and has sold more than 140,000 copies across print, digital, and audio.
“This is an unbridled success story,” Danielle said. “I'd like to say that at Amazon Publishing we're really making writer's dreams come true. And we've had evidence of that many times, but rarely more powerful than this particular project.”
Sales from their mother’s book supported a year of budget travel for Riley and will pay a small portion of Tessa’s tuition at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art; Tessa inherited her mother’s curiosity. She wants to be an actor.
“When the book does earn a little bit of money it just feels like a little nudge from my mom,” Tessa said. “Just sort of saying hello, I did this thing, you know.”
Five years after his wife’s death, positive reviews for “The Bette Davis Club” are reassuring for Bob. He sifts through the contents of the large trunk that belonged to Jane; he hasn’t opened it in years. There are photos and typewritten paragraphs on loose pages, a stack of her newspaper articles, and his wife’s handwritten journals.
“Thank God she wrote so much,” said Bob. “I’m finding new ways to love her.”
About Kindle Direct Publishing: Hundreds of thousands of independent authors have chosen to self-publish their books on Amazon.