Spotlights made my silvery hair glisten, but apparently didn’t reveal the perspiration on my brow when I stood before audiences in Stehekin and on Lopez Island, two remote communities in Washington State. The smiling faces before me calmed my jitters as I introduced my new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, to friends and supporters. The butterflies flitted away as I read and noticed heads nodding; while signing books, I heard stories of similar experiences of seeking clarity about calling.
These past two weeks have been especially joyous for me. After nearly two decades grappling at my writing desk, trying to make sense of my disillusionment with work I’d felt led to, I now have in my hands the story of an intense time of seeking. As I place it in others’ hands, I discover the commonality of this experience, complete with its despair and revelation.
Yet, in the midst of celebration, I’m aware of the difficult times around me—both within my inner circle and around the globe. And once again, Quaker friend Eileen Flanagan recently offered wisdom about how to maintain spiritual footing in the midst of trouble. I commend her blog post, Spirituality for Troubled Times, when any of us feel off-kilter in the swirl of disasters, violence, disease, and threat. Here are seven practices Eileen expands upon in her essay:
Recognize both oneness and difference.
Be faithful to a grounding practice.
Don’t assume that your grounding practice is all you’re called to do.
Don’t go it alone.
Don’t forget about goodness, beauty, and joy.
Sound advice, no matter the times.
To learn more from Eileen’s expertise and roundedness, consider her online course, We Were Made for This Moment. While a new class has already started, she repeats them regularly.
Some years ago, long before my first book, Hands at Work, was published, I hopefully attended a workshop session entitled “The Art of the Author Reading.” There I heard some of the best advice I’ve ever received about how to prepare for and offer a reading. Suggestions such as printing out the passages you want to read so you’re not fumbling through your book to find the right sections. Or having a “plant” to ask the first question, avoiding having you and the audience wait through that awkward silence before someone has the courage to speak.
What I continue to value most, however, was the reminder to think of it not as a reading, but as a performance. That means remembering to make eye contact (memorizing a few lines of your reading will help you be able to look up from your manuscript). Rehearsing. And your “costume” – giving some thought to what you’ll communicate by what you’re wearing.
As I prepare for readings from my new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance (Homebound Publications), I’ve again been searching for the right items for my costume. Once again, I found the perfect garment at the Lopez Farmers Market at the “Naked Clothing” booth. Thanks to a couple from Sedro Woolley, WA who silkscreen beautiful images on T-shirts made of hemp, cotton, and bamboo, I’m set for my upcoming author events.
The design on the shirt I chose is a trillium – so fitting for my first event in Stehekin, WA, home of the annual Trillium Festival. If you’re in the vicinity of this remote area where most of the memoir is set, please join me on Sunday, September 10, 7:30 PM at the Golden West Visitor Center. And let me know what you think of my performance.
*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.
Much has happened since that August residency of the Whidbey MFA program. Now I’m a graduate of the program (here I am in 2014, surrounded by members of my writing group who cheered me on at my graduation). And I’m still lucky to be part of the community of skillful writers and teachers I met at Whidbey, but, sadly, the program has closed.
During the first year after I graduated: I sought an agent (was rejected by some very good ones) as I revised the manuscript some more; I entered contests that would lead to publication (received a lovely rejection from one and was a finalist in another) while revising the manuscript again; and, while tinkering a bit more, I researched small presses that accept un-agented manuscripts.
That’s when I found a perfect fit at Homebound Publications. Two years after that first discovery of a home for my book, I had a contract with Homebound; my manuscript had been revised once again following review by my editor, Leslie M. Browning; we selected a photograph by Nancy Barnhart that Leslie used for the cover; I had dinner with my publisher (our first face-to-face meeting); and my manuscript—now a book—was off to the printer.
Soon (just six years and one month after my MFA classmates critiqued that first chapter), I hope to be surrounded again by my writing group, friends, and family at my book launch on Lopez Island.
On September 16, 2017 there are bound to be more good memories to look back on—with or without Facebook’s help.
Here’s a sentence I never imagined saying: “I’m having dinner with my publisher.” It seemed like a line I’d heard in a movie, but never expected to utter myself. But I did—or more like shouted it from rooftops, wrote it in emails, and posted it on Facebook when my publisher, Leslie Browning, invited me to dinner earlier this month.
An award-winning independent publisher ensuring the mainstream isn’t the only stream.
“It is our intention at Homebound Publications to preserve contemplative storytelling.”
prompted me to click on the link to Homebound’s website and continue reading.
Evidently I wasn’t the only visitor who wondered what the press means by “contemplative literature.”It’s explained in the company’s philosophy:
“In this throwaway-culture where we buy a book in the supermarket, read it over the weekend, and then toss it, we publish books that you will have on your nightstand for a few years and return to again and again—books that nourish your mind and soul.”
I started to feel prickles of excitement.
One of the strongest characteristics of my MFA program at Whidbey Writers Workshop was the emphasis on the profession of writing. Homebound’s view on the business of publishing was right in line with mine:
“So often in this age of commerce, entertainment supersedes growth; books of lesser integrity but higher marketability are chosen over those with much-needed truth but smaller audience. Here at Homebound Publications, we focus on the quality of the truth and insight present within a project before any other considerations.”
Discovering that the press’s books are printed on paper certified by forest sustainability programs, and it donates 1% of its annual net profits to charity, was the chocolate shavings on top of the whipped cream.
Homebound Publications justifiably claims it’s a small press with big ideas. It publishes between fifteen to twenty books each year and has almost seventy-five titles distributed worldwide. Over the years, its authors have received dozens of awards including: Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year, Nautilus Book Awards, Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, and Saltire Literary Awards.
I didn’t lose any time checking out Homebound’s Submission Guidelines and soon sent the information and manuscript requested. That was in May 2015. I learned of the press’s desire to publish my memoir a couple of months later and soon after that, I had my first “meeting” with Leslie by phone. A month later, I signed a contract with the press with a publication date of Sept. 2017. Since then, Leslie and I have communicated regularly via email, a private Facebook page for authors, and Basecamp (an online project management tool). As promised in the contract, she’s consulted with me about important decisions (such as front and back cover design and interior design) and assisted in marketing and promotion.
Before our dinner, I’d gotten to know a good bit about Leslie through our ongoing virtual conversations and by reading her poems and novel. A proud native of New England, Leslie grew up in the small fishing village of Stonington, Connecticut. In her writing, she explores the confluence of the natural landscape and the interior landscape; her longtime study of philosophy, nature, and art is evident in the themes she explores through poetry and fiction.
In 2010, Leslie debuted with a three-title contemplative poetry series: Ruminations at Twilight, Oak Wise, and Barren Plain (here’s a sample of one of her poems, “Where the Story Left Off.”) Her most recent book, The Castoff Children, is a page-turning novel set in the wintry streets of 1850s Boston. A group of orphaned children struggles for survival in this cold world, finding their way together, with friendship, perseverance, and courage.
Leslie’s dedication to authors and readers is also evident in her service on the Board of Directors for both The Arts Café Mystic (a poetic arts venue in Mystic, CT) and Independent Book Publishers Association. And a milestone accomplishment for the press is Leslie’s recent agreement with Midpoint Trade Books to provide national distribution for all Homebound titles (you can see them all, including forthcoming books, in their 2017 catalog).
I won’t deny that I loved being “wined and dined” by my publisher at Imperial Restaurant. But the best part was spending time with someone I now consider a friend.