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Life proves adventurous for Canadian writer

| Sunday, June 22, 2003

Who needs the kind of adventure seen on shows like "Survivor" and "American Idol"?

For Sheryl Nantus life has been interesting enough falling in love over the Internet, battling cervical cancer and moving her life from fast-paced Toronto to rural West Brownsville.

"Adventures are everywhere -- not necessarily as you see them on TV with reality shows with massively spiked walls coming toward you," Nantus said.

This idea of finding adventure in the everyday occurrences led Nantus to her first attempt at writing fiction. Nantus penned "The Dragon Who Was Bored" and published the children's story earlier this year.

"I wanted to make it light and not scary and sort of show that life can be an adventure that doesn't necessarily have to be an Indiana Jones-type of swinging across pits filled with alligators and crossing quicksands," she said. "Sometimes adventures can be just around the corner and they aren't exactly what you think they're going to be -- just making a new friend, going to a new place. It doesn't have to be life and death to be an adventure."

A fantasy book aimed at ages 7 and up, "The Dragon Who Was Bored" tells the story of Redvest, an unusually small dragon who finds it hard to fit in. He seeks the wisdom of the Old Dragon who sends him to sit under a tree by a river and wait.

"The book is just nice, light, feel-good fluff. You walk away with a good feeling inside. It's nothing deep," said Nantus, 39, who enjoys dragons and role playing.

Originally from Montreal, Nantus, whose maiden name is Martin, moved to Toronto around age 10. Because school libraries never satisfied her, Nantus spent many hours at libraries throughout the city of Toronto.

"My mother used to drop me off at the library and leave me there Saturdays for like eight hours," said Nantus, who loves the feel of a book in her hand.

Nantus learned to write at Sheridan College in Oakville where she earned a media arts degree. After graduation, Nantus took a job at Penguin Books Canada. She started out packing books in the warehouse and then was promoted to editorial secretary.

Working at Penguin Books Canada gave Nantus an inside view of the publishing world. "I wasn't impressed, which was kind of a downer for me coming right out of college," she said.

"The big publishing houses aren't really looking for new talent as much as I think they should, but then it's economic. They want to go where they're guaranteed the sales -- like Hillary Clinton," she said, laughing. "Three years now (living in the United States) and I'm still trying to figure out (U.S.) politics."

When Penguin Books Canada left Toronto, Nantus sought other opportunities and eventually she began working as a security guard, protecting the U.S. Consulate in Toronto as well as several hospitals.

Nantus discovered an outlet for her creative writing through the Internet on a friend's second-hand computer. A fan of the "X-Files," Nantus found an audience eager for fiction based on the television series.

"There was a whole world where you can post what they call fan fiction," said Nantus, explaining she extrapolated off the episodes with the characters, wrote new stories and posted them on a Web site.

A piece of fan mail from Martin Nantus led to her Internet romance. "I got a nice (letter) from a nice man in Coal Center, Pennsylvania, and he said, 'Oh, I loved your story.'"

The two met face to face later that year in Toronto and decided to continue the relationship. "We decided after dating a bit to get engaged and then to get married."

In 1999, the couple got the paper work started and a week before she got her visa in the midst of all the travel arrangements, Nantus was told she had cervical cancer. It came as a shock because she felt fine and had only been to the doctor for a routine examination.

"It was the mildest form of cancer there is. I didn't even know I had it," said Nantus, who had two operations to rid her body of the cancer.

In the spring of 2000 Nantus moved her life to West Brownsville. Nantus, who will eventually hold dual citizenship in both countries, said she was sad to leave Canada, but it was a forgone conclusion that the couple would reside in the United States because her husband makes a living as an engineer.

She goes back to Canada once a year, lives with "outrageous long-distance bills," keeps in touch with friends online and makes sure her tea bags originate in Canada. "The Tetley Tea you have down here is not the same as the Tetley Tea in Canada, so I smuggle tea down here."

Calling herself a "domestic goddess," Nantus keeps company with her two cats as she works from home on her laptop computer. In 2000, she obtained a contract with Mason Crest Publishing to produce a nonfiction book called "The Pacific South States of Mexico." It's aimed at young readers and primarily sold to school and reference libraries.

As that book was being printed, Nantus began working on her children's book. "Fiction -- you want to sort of throw your hat into the ring and see how it's accepted or not, whereas with nonfiction you're just basically compiling facts into a digestible form. I mean there's still skill involved, but fiction's a bit more personal and creative."

Her book was accepted by Publish America, which prints the book on demand. "Most of my orders are going out online because I've got the Web page set up for it."

While most copies are printed on demand a few are for sale at Bill and Walt's Hobby Shop in Greensburg. Manager Jeff Kuchma said Nantus is a regular customer at the store and she gave him a copy to put on display at the store with the Web site address so customers could order it.

Kuchma said he had a number of people wanting to buy his only copy, so he asked Nantus to bring in more copies to sell on the spot.

"I thought the story was kind of endearing," said Kuchma, who had the book in the store for a while before he had the chance to read it. "I was surprised by it. I thought it was neat."

Copies are also available at local libraries because Nantus has made an effort to donate copies to support literacy.

When not promoting the book, Nantus is busy working on a new one -- this time a mystery novel aimed at adults.

"We'll see how that goes," said Nantus, who has about 20 pages completed so far.

She hopes to have the new book finished in the fall. She writes most days in the afternoon and evening. "I've always been a night owl. I used to always work night shifts in security."

Her best critic is her husband. "Since the beginning, and it goes back to that original fan letter, he said you are so good at this you should make a living at this.

"He's an honest critic, too. If he thinks this is bad, he'll say this is not your best," said Nantus.

In the opening pages of "The Dragon Who Was Bored," Nantus dedicates the book to her husband "who never let me give up on myself."

Nantus said her spouse was there for her through every rejection letter. "He'd say, 'It's OK. You can find somebody else. It'll happen. Don't worry.' And that sort of encouragement you can't buy."

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