Robert Feol had always dreamed of being a writer. His first attempt at a novel though, turned out to be a disaster.
Feol, a Memphis real estate investment advisor who lives in Olive Branch, was a freshman at Syracuse University back in the 1990s studying classic guitar, music education, and child psychology, when he had a dream one night in his dorm room about an 11 year-old boy who stows away on a steamship to Africa to escape his abusive step-father. He witnesses the poaching of a female elephant who had recently given birth and helps the baby elephant escape from the poachers. The two form a close bond and set off on many adventures across Africa.
That was the idea for his first novel, which he called “A Cry for Elephants.” He wrote the first 150 pages of the novel and sent it to somebody to read, but was crushed when they told him that he was the worst writer ever, and that he needed to stick to his plan to become a teacher instead because he would never make it as a writer.
“I threw the manuscript in the trash,” Feol said. “I thought I would never be a writer.”
For the next three decades, he gave up on ever becoming a writer. Feol taught music in Memphis for a few years, but was swimming in student debt and eventually grew tired of being broke all the time. Realizing that he needed to do something different with his life if he was ever going to become financially sound, Feol decided to change careers and try his hand at real estate.
He quit his teaching job, started buying and selling property, and eventually formed his own company called Discount Property Warehouse. Over the next seven years, Feol came up with a system to help homebuyers and property investors pay off their homes in five to seven years using aggressive amortizations to retire the debt quicker.
That system formed the basis of his first book called “The Short Term Retirement Program,” which went on to become an Amazon international best-seller. Feel said he wrote that book for people who were looking to become financially secure through investing in real estate.
“I realized that people are financing $40,000 car notes every day and they are paying them off in 60 month terms,” Feol said. “But you don’t get paid if you buy a car. If you buy an income producing property, it pays for itself. So I started to build spread sheets and play around with the algorithms in my own portfolio. The program became so successful that I encapsulated it into my first book.”
Feel said he enjoyed the writing process and learned a lot about the publishing world, but really wanted to follow his dream and write a fantasy story about mice that he had been developing. With “The Short Term Retirement Program” finished an released, Feol sat down at Thanksgiving two years ago and wrote the first chapter of “A Journey to Mouseling Hollow.”
Feel said the idea for the book started out as stories that he told his children at bedtime, but soon morphed into an epic fantasy fiction trilogy akin to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
“Mousing Hollow had existed in my head for a long time,” Feol said. “I had talked about these stories with my daughter who was three years old at the time. Every day we would talk about their adventures. I named one of the characters, Princess Kerigan, after her. She would ask me, ‘what is Princess Kerigan doing today daddy?’ So we would talk about mice and humans interacting and make up stories.”
“A Journey to Mousing Hollow, Book 1: The Fabled Two” was released by Best Seller Publishing in February on Amazon and within a week became an international bestseller.
Feol created an entire world called The Far Collective. Book 1 is set in the Western Lands of the Mouseling World. The book tells the story of two heroic mouselings, Robert Teague and “The Professor,” who are forced to come out of hiding to once again defend the Kingdom of Feldenspar and their world against the evil forces of the Rat King, who seeks to enslave all free creatures.
But like his first foray into fiction, things didn’t start off too well for the mouselings.
“I read my wife the first pages and after the first two or three pages, she wasn’t even paying attention,” Feol said. “It was rambling and bad. She just wasn’t in to it.”
Feol went back to the drawing board and actually sketched out maps of Mouseling Hollow and The Far Collective, fleshing out the story and giving each character a back story along the way. Soon, he had enough for an entire trilogy of stories and completed a first draft.
Feol sent it to his editor who he had worked with on “The Short-Term Retirement System.” He was disappointed when she told him that it wasn’t quite ready. But rather than give up, she suggested that he hire a developmental editor and directed him to the Editorial Freelance Association.
“She said I love what you have so far, but it isn’t quite ready,” Feol said. “I was sad because I thought it was done. I didn’t know what a developmental editor was. I was like, what’s that? She told me they are used in fiction and help enrich the story line.”
Feol posted his job on their website advertising that he was writing a mouse fiction story. He was hoping that he would get a few offers. Feol checked his email the very next day and was astounded by the response.
“I got no less than 200 emails from editors wanting to work on the project,” Feol said.
One of the emails was from Alex Finn, whose book “Beastly” was a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” and was turned in to a movie in 2011. Feol said while Finn was very professional, she wanted him to change the main characters to females.
Feol narrowed it down to three editors and ultimately chose Dr. Matthew Ross, who loved Feol’s passion and was swept up by his enthusiasm for the project.
“Within the first minute of my first conversation with Robert, it was already clear to me that for Robert Feol, the Far Collective wasn’t just a unique location for a story, but a living, breathing vibrant world that he was eager to bring to life,” Ross wrote in the introduction. “Robert’s passion for this story and its characters instantly drew me to the project, and I believe that passion can be felt on every page.”
Feol said the two worked well together. He was the architect, while Ross was supervisor of construction who molded Mouseling Hollow into the best book that it could be.
“Matt would send me a hugely detailed email with feedback, but none of it negative,” Feol said. “I’ve had other editors be very negative, whereas Matt was like ‘I love this. I love this.’ And then he would recommend changes. But he did it in a way where I didn’t feel like I failed, even with his suggested plot redesigns. That encouragement kept me going.”
But when he went to shop the book to publishers, Feol said he encountered a great deal of skepticism. While several publishers thought it was a charming book, they all had the same reservations. Adults, he was told, would not want to read a story about mice. And children won’t want to read a story whose characters were all middle aged.
A few offered to buy the book on the condition that he make changes, but Feol stuck to his guns and decided instead to self publish it.
“We actually had an offer to buy Mousing Hollow, but turned it down,” Feol said. “The reason is, I wanted to keep control. If you sell it to one of the big publishing houses, they have control.”
Feol said he knew he had a good story of high adventure that was epic in scope that would appeal to readers of all ages. It has brave characters, deadly villains, action and adventure, while touting the values of courage, friendship, loyalty, and team work.
Ross describes “A Journey to Mouseling Hollow” as essentially a classic David vs. Goliath tale about underdogs banding together against incredible odds to fight for what they know is right, and how anyone - young or old, large or small - can have the heart of a beating hero inside of them, even the tiniest mouse.
“It has a universal, family appeal,” Feol said. “It is well written. It has fantastic descriptions of food. It has twisty, funny tales of the unexpected. And characters you will care about.”
And as the parent of three young children, “A Journey to Mouseling Hollow” is also G rated so that the whole family can enjoy it.
“I came up with a term ‘Family Fireside Reading,’” Feol said. “There is a big attempt to introduce inappropriate topics like sex and violence into family shows and kids books. I am of the belief that we need more G Rated material. There is nothing offensive in here. There is no bad language. No sex. And that’s the way Mousing Hollow is going to stay.”
Feol said readers shouldn’t let the fact that mice are the main characters scare them off from purchasing the book. Mice have been used in Disney moves a lot. And other popular works like “Charlotte’s Web” and “Animal Farm,” all feature animals as man characters. Another popular adventure story, “Watershed Down” by English author Richard Adams, is about rabbits and became a huge book, Feol said.
Feel said the thing that makes mice so fascinating is that you can reduce the human world to mouse size, and have the characters do all things humans do, only in a more imaginative and creative way. In Mousing Hollow, mouselings ride squirrels, ravens, and falcons, live in well furnished logs, and cook magnificent meals.
“When you take everything that we do in the modern world and reduce it down to mouse size scale, everything become more interesting,” Feol said. “Mice can hid behind cups. They can ride on squirrels and falcons. They can do all the things humans do, but in a mouse size body. It’s a tremendous amount of fun.”
Feol said he was inspired by the works of Tolkien, CS Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Homer’s poems the “Illiad” and “Odyssey,” and Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy,” all of which he read in school.
But he was also part of the generation that played arcade games like “Gauntlet” and PC games like “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Pool of Radiance,” and “The Witcher.” He was also a fan of the card game “Magic: The Gathering.”
“So I was well versed in fantasy as well as being well read,” Feol said.
Feol said it was a lot of fun to create the world of The Far Collective, and that he could easily see it being turned in to a card or role playing game or even being picked up by Hollywood.
“My real wish is that Jon Favreau the movie director picks this up, or James Cameron of “Avatar,” Feol said. “I also think it would be perfect for animation.”
He is currently working on the second of what will be three books in the Mousing Hollow series, but has also just completed a series of novellas called “The Mousing Hollow Chronicles,” a series of adventures featuring characters spun off from the novels. The newest one, “The Casebook of Sir Pendleton Stormsnout, Book 1: The Gypsy’s Gleaming Eye,” features one of the main characters from the Mousing Hollow series.
“When you start to develop this world, you realize there are all different kinds stories that you can tell,” Feol said. “I think we have a fantastic, well developed world that has the foundation for many adventures to come. And as long as we continue to aspire and grow and improve, I think every story will be more exciting.”
“A Journey to Mousing Hollow” is available on Kindle for $9.99 and Audible for an additional charge, and in paperback for $24.95.