Stephenie Meyer, J.S. Lewis and More Young Adult Authors Fight Cancer With Project Book Babe

From superstar writer Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight phenomenon, to a virtual list of who's who of Young Adult authors including J.S. Lewis, P.J. Haarasma, Chris Gall, Shannon Hale, Dean Lorey, Brandon Mull, James A. Owen, Janette Rallison, and Laini Taylor -- all donated their time and prized possessions on Saturday afternoon at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe to help raise money for an extraordinary book seller's fight against breast cancer.

The event, called Project Book Babe, paid tribute to Faith Hochhalter who helped launched numerous authors' careers, including that of Twilight creator Stephenie Meyer.

Tickets to the Project Book Babe event cost as much as $300 and guaranteed the ticketholder a signed copy of a book by Meyer, time to hob-nob with authors, and a chance to get additional books signed after the main event. Tickets sold out within minutes of their release.

The main event of the evening featured the auctioning of Meyer's unpublished epilogue Forever Dawn for $5,100 to Kate McCoy-Cummings. Carol Robilota and Donna Perinich, a principal and teacher from Temecula, California, who decided to drive to Arizona on a whim, both won an auctioned lunch with Meyer for $6,500. The most sought-after prize, the blood-red dress that Meyer wore to the New Moon prom event went for $5,500 to Alison Genet of Gilbert, who says she plans to wear the dress to a Twilight convention in August.

In addition to the Project Book Babe event, many authors contributed to the cause by donating books. One signed copy of Brisingr by Christopher Paolini sold for $300.

J.S. Lewis, co-author of the Grey Griffin series, said his and co-author Derek Benz careers wouldn't have been the same if not for Hochhalter, who read the first book in the series in 2006 and began aggressively marketing the book to kids, teachers, and parents.

"It's her passion and love for what she does. She's a fan first, and I don't say that in a bad way." Lewis said when asked what makes Hochhalter an extraordinary bookseller. "It's like this feeling when I get to meet Stephenie [Meyer]. It's this feeling that every morning is Christmas morning and when she gets to unwrap a new book, she gets so excited about it. She has a childlike enthusiasm that is so catching."

Hochhalter said she was also fortunate to be in the midst of a boom of talented Young Adult authors, including Stephenie Meyer, who Hochhalter first discovered by reading an advance copy of Twilight and began marketing it while working as a bookseller at Changing Hands Bookstore. This was before the first edition of Twilight ever hit the shelves.

"When I first got the ARC [Advance Reading Copy] of Twilight," Hochhalter said. "It was the first time since buying at Changing Hands that I read an ARC that I knew was going to be a huge hit."

Hochhalter said the day after reading Twilight, she went to work and immediately contacted the publishing company to order more advance copies of the book. She then began passing the book around to other staff members and was also able to place Meyer on panel to discuss Young Adult fiction at Changing Hands.

"The first time that I met her, I have never been more nervous to meet an author in my whole life," Hochhalter said. "I was all shaking and nervous, and I had butter flies in my stomach. I loved the book so much, and I was so excited about selling this book."

Hochhalter also filled customers' bags with fliers and told everyone she could about the Twilight book release. When the book finally came out in October 2005, Hochhalter said 75 to 80 people showed up to Meyer's singing, which was an above-average turnout for a first-time writer.

Over the next year, Meyer's popularity had grown, and so to had Hochhalter and Meyer friendship as Meyer would often stop by Changing Hands to sign books and meet Hochhalter for lunch.

The success of Meyer's book would help win over other local authors to Hochhalter, such as local authors J.S. Lewis and Derek Benz, James A. Owen, author of the Chronicles of Imaginarium, and Janette Rallison, author of Playing the Field.

Soon, authors from out of state heard from or heard about the charismatic Hochhalter. Her exact knowledge of each authors book and passion for Young Adult books made her popular and easy to befriend by authors touring through the state. Owen wrote: "She was an advocate, a fan, a passionate promoter, and the only person I knew who would show up at a bookstore, after closing, in her pajamas, because I was on my way home from L.A. and had a mockup of a Pirate book to show her."

However, Hochhalter wasn't one to rush to others with her problems. Non-author friend Daamon DeCock said Hochhalter had waited to tell her friends that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. When she finally did, Hochhalter enlisted her other friends to help spread the word.

"She had me call some of the authors and when we were talking with them we came up with an idea to do an online auction," DeCock said. "Then John Lewis said he, let's do an event. I started emailing everyone they knew to get donations and then things started rolling in very very fast."

Lewis, who's grandmother and grandfather both died of cancer, said Hochhalter's fight with cancer had become a personal call to arms for him.

"My best friend in my life was my Grandma. I called her Nana, and she died on Sept. 1, 1999, at 9:10 p.m. And I know that because I was there, and I will always remember it because she died of cancer," Lewis said."My grandfather passed away of cancer, and I have a pre-cancerous condition right now and I'm hoping it won't turn into cancer," he said.

"It was difficult to tell some of the authors because you're never sure of what anyone's reaction is going to be. I mean, it was hard to tell my non-author friends too, which is why I chickened out and let other people do it for me," Hochhalter said while laughing.

Hochhalter was late in discovering she had cancer. While working two jobs and being a single female, finding affordable insurance proved to be difficult. Though she had discovered a lump in her breast, Hochhalter waited to get diagnosed for fear that it would be impossible to get health insurance if she indeed have cancer.

"I walked around for months and months and months because I didn't know what to do because I had this lump, and I didn't have insurance and didn't know what I was going to do," she said. "I think it's unacceptable that women or anyone can't get health insurance in this country."

It wasn't until she gave up searching for traditional insurance that she discovered a state funded program called the Well Woman Health Check Program. Through the program, Hochhalter was able to be diagnosed properly and enter into a insurance program that would help pay for most but not all of her cancer treatment.

Hochhalter said the entire experience has opened her eyes her inner strength and the love from her friends.

"It turns out that I'm stronger than I thought I was," she said.

As for the Project Book Babe, Lewis says he and the other authors have plans to continue the project and the fight against cancer in the future.

"Cancer is such a painful, slow, torturous death that I don't want anyone to go through that if they don't have to. So I will do anything I can to help battle the ridiculously disgusting disease," Lewis said.

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PJ Standlee