Undoubtedly you’ve heard (or said) the expression, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” While I agree with the saying’s assertion that you can’t know what something or someone is like based only on appearance, as an author, publisher, and bookseller, I believe that the literal interpretation isn’t completely accurate. When it comes to books, the cover can determine whether someone looks right past it or picks it up and thumbs through the pages. And if it’s your book waiting to be snatched up, you want to be sure that the cover calls out to anyone who glances its way.

Robbin Schiff, executive art director at Random House Publishing Group, summed up the book cover’s significance in an interview with Mashable, a global media and entertainment company. “The most intriguing designs don’t give too much away, and you absolutely can judge many things about the book by its cover,” Schiff says.

I came to understand the importance of covers with my first book, Hands at Work. Photographer Summer Moon Scriver and I knew that not only the book’s cover, but the entire layout design, was as important as our words and images in telling the stories of people passionate about working with their hands. When we consulted with Bob Lanphear of Lanphear Design, we knew we’d found the right person when he said, “This book will tell us what it wants to be.”

Other authors had warned me that settling on a cover can be one of the hardest—and most important—tasks in book publishing. There’s added stress to this decision because it’s usually made quite late in the process—after the book has told you “what it wants to be.”

 Mashable presented a vivid perspective on covers in a post in March 2015 entitled, “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover ‘til You See How Long It Takes to Design.” The article includes a video for Hausfrau: A Novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum, in which Random House “offers a rare peek into the book design process.” The clip cycles through a dizzying number of drafts of the hardcover book’s jacket, giving readers an idea of what designers go through to create a cover that does the work it needs to do. A quick online search reveals that the paperback ended up with a different cover.

For Hands at Work, Bob offered numerous design ideas (though nowhere near the number as Random House did for Hausfrau). Since the book depicts a couple dozen different kinds of work, we steered away from using a single image of someone’s hands (even though we had many stunning photographs to choose from). We didn’t want to give the impression that the book was all about baking, or weaving, or automotive repair. Summer and I knew the right one when we saw it, though.

H@W Cover LG (2)

In recent weeks, I’ve again focused on covers for two forthcoming books I’ve been working on. The first, BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, will be released to the public on Friday, October 21. Published by the Lopez Community Land Trust, the 124-page book combines color photographs, profiles, and recipes for twenty-eight Lopez Island farms and farmers to present an intimate, behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to bring food from earth to table on Lopez Island.

BOUNTY Project Director Sue Roundy recognized the same challenge that Summer, Bob, and I faced with Hands at Work of selecting a single image to represent the diversity of farms and farmers portrayed in the book’s pages. With hundreds of photographs to choose from, Sue felt that one of The Sweetbriar Farm by Robert S. Harrison best communicated the book’s themes. Jane Jeszeck designed the layout to create a cover that I think readers will find irresistible.


Though still farther off from publication, the cover for my memoir, Hiking Naked, has been mocked up by my publisher, Homebound Publications. This small press’s founder, Leslie M. Browning, has an artistic eye and usually designs authors’ book covers in addition to all of her other duties as a publisher (and author, with a new novel, The Castoff Children). I’m delighted with the cover Leslie proposed using a photograph by Nancy Barnhart of Stehekin, WA (the book’s setting).


Thanks to the artists I’ve had the privilege to work with, I’m quite content for people to judge my books by their covers.





Now that I’ve let my nursing license expire, and I’m finishing up two major writing projects (BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community and my memoir, Hiking Naked), I’ve been reflecting on what I’m being led to next. I yearn for the kind of certainty I felt forty years ago when I sensed a clear calling (though I didn’t use that term at the time) to enter nursing school. Or the flash of insight I experienced at a writing workshop over fifteen years ago.

In October of 2000, instead of attending the annual fall public health conference as I usually did, I enrolled in a weeklong writing course by Tom Mullen at Pendle Hill Quaker Center. Tom was a former Quaker pastor and former Dean of Earlham School of Religion (ESR). He was the inspiration behind the ESR Ministry of Writing Program, as he himself was a writer who ministered through the written word. That’s what Tom did for me during that workshop and as he critiqued my writing.

During a group discussion about how to fit writing into our lives, I realized that a number of my nursing consultation contracts would be completed by the end of the year. I saw an opening then to try a new schedule. Why not fit consulting work around writing instead of the other way around?   I announced to my fifteen workshop classmates that in January 2001 I would start a new job—writer. Ever since then, I’ve treated writing as my work, or at least part of my work, and have made time for it nearly every weekday.

languageSo far, though, such clarity about future work has been elusive. As so often happens when I acknowledge my seeking and uncertainty, I learned about a book that intrigued me—A Language for the Inward Landscape by Brian Drayton and William P. Taber, Jr. Both authors had studied old Quaker journals in which early Friends described their inward states and their experience of faithful life. They talked of how some of the words and phrases these journalers used were “both puzzling and full of implication” and provided a rich vocabulary to describe those experiences. Taber was especially drawn to the range and complexity of Quaker spirituality conveyed in these writings and called it “a language for the inward landscape.” A couple of years after Taber died, Drayton agreed to delve into Taber’s “the Language” materials and ultimately wrote this book drawing on Taber’s notes and his own study and understanding.

I’m part of the book’s audience of modern seekers who continue to wrestle with putting our spiritual experiences into words, and this book—a combination of history, biography, and dictionary—has broadened my vocabulary to describe my inward journey. Though I don’t feel a clear leading about my next steps, I’ve had some inklings, or wonderings, about what might call to me. A Language for the Inward Landscape offers a term that describes how I feel guided right now:

Nudge – “… though it is mostly synonymous with ‘leading,’ nudge lays emphasis upon the often very small and tentative beginnings of some spiritual development. A nudge is gentle, and often doesn’t convey its ultimate meaning clearly; meaning may unfold as the path unfolds.”

Quaker Charlotte Lyman Fardelmann identified some key signs of authenticity of a nudge:

  • it leads to love and light
  • it comes with clarity, or grows in clarity as it is lived with
  • it resonates with deep desires
  • it leads into service to others
  • it requires rest
  • it leads to more love and joy.

My nudges are definitely small and tentative right now, with the strongest urge being to conserve my energy to complete the projects I’m involved in; there’s still plenty to do to bring my two books into the world. But thanks to A Language for the Inward Landscape, I draw strength and hope from the wisdom of others that my path will unfold.

Journaling as Meditation


Wisps of steam rose from my tea cup as I set it on my desk next to my laptop. Instead of lifting the laptop lid, I reached for a handbound journal, closed my eyes, and slowly took a breath in, then let my breath out. Breath in. Breath out. And again. Breath in. Breath out. I opened to a blank page, numbered it, and wrote the date. For the next ten minutes or so, I wrote in response to the query, “How did you meet Spirit in the past 24 hours?”

When I’m at my best, this is how I center myself before starting my work for the day. I must admit, though, I haven’t been at my best for some months, having convinced myself that I’m too busy, have too many deadlines, can’t afford to “waste” valuable minutes in this practice.

I’ve felt the effects of abandoning the meditative journaling discipline that nourished me for many years. Thanks to the Ben Lomond Quaker Center, which accepted my proposal to lead a workshop about this practice, I’m once again starting most days journaling in a contemplative way.

For most of my adult life, writing has been a vehicle for me to understand what I believe, feel, question, and know. For the past twenty years, I’ve recognized writing as a Spirit-led creative process through which I come to know God and to understand God’s presence in my life.   I’ve also viewed writing as a way to minister to others, an idea that was validated in 2000 when I attended a Pendle Hill Quaker Center workshop, Writing as Ministry, led by Tom Mullen. Since then, writing has become both my work and a spiritual discipline.

I also learned the craft of bookbinding, and I’ve been making hand-bound journals, for myself and for sale, for nearly fifteen years. Through this skill, I’ve come to believe that the journal itself can be an important part of the expression of what it contains.

quaker-journals-157x245Journaling has always been a part of Quaker practice. In 1972, Howard Brinton published Quaker Journals following his study of the 300 journals in his own library; he estimated there were probably about 1000 Quaker journals, including those not in print (I suspect there are thousands more now). Brinton found all the journals had several things in common: simplicity and truth in writing; personal experiences, experiences in early childhood, and dreams were only written about if the writer believed they had religious significance; and humility. He also found they recorded similar stages of development: divine revelations in childhood, then a period of youthful playfulness (usually looked back upon as a waste of time), an experience of a divided self, and finally, following the leadings of the Light.


Mary Morrison, a writer and former Pendle Hill teacher, has this to say about journaling in her pamphlet, Live the Questions: Write into the Answers: “A journal is an instrument of awareness, through which we can watch what we do so we can find out who we are.”

That finding out who I am has led me back to my journal. It’s no surprise that questions about calling have risen again, as I’m completing two major projects. For nearly three years I’ve been focused on BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, a book to be released in mid-October. At the same time (and for nearly two decades), I’ve worked on a memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, that’s in production with Homebound Publications for a September 2017 release. Now, I’m living the question, “What next?”

2016-journaling-as-meditation-flyer-draft-v3-2Maybe it’s not wise to admit my lapse in contemplative journaling as I’m preparing to lead a workshop to support others in this practice. Then again, readying myself to teach when I’ve been humbled by my own struggle likely will make me more sensitive to those who have resisted a journaling practice or have, as I’ve heard from many participants in past workshops, tried and “failed” at filling blank pages. The calm and centeredness I’ve felt as I’ve returned to journaling as meditation only strengthens my appreciation of this valuable tool.


So. Tomorrow, I’ll again set my mug on the desk, plant my feet on the floor, reach for my journal, breathe in and out, in and out, in and out, and pick up my pen.

BOUNTY “Know Your Farmer” Exhibit at Lopez Library

Many thanks to Sue Roundy, the BOUNTY team, and Lopez Island Library for another viewing of some of the images and profiles from the “Know Your Farmer” exhibit.  This reblog from the BOUNTY post should whet your appetite for both the exhibit and the forthcoming book, BOUNTY – Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community. Scheduled for release in October,  the book will include recipes, too, by Lopez Island chef Kim Bast.

Bon appétit!

The BOUNTY “Know Your Farmer” Photo Exhibit is returning to the Lopez Library from July 15 – August 26. View 14 stunning photographs by Steve Horn, Summer Moon Scriver, and Robert S. Harrison with farmer profiles from Iris Graville. The goal of this exhibit is to inspire you to get to know your local farmers and […]

via “Know Your Farmer” Exhibit at Lopez Library! — Bounty