Joy in the Midst of Trouble in the Midst of Joy

Autographing books on Lopez Island

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.

Hiking Naked Final CoverThese 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.

Quaker author & activist, Eileen Flanagan

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:

  1. Recognize both oneness and difference.
  2. Cultivate compassion.
  3. Know thyself.
  4. Be faithful to a grounding practice.
  5. Don’t assume that your grounding practice is all you’re called to do.
  6. Don’t go it alone.
  7. 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.

*Afterthought #67 – The Right Costume

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.

H@W Cover LG (2)Before the launch of Hands at Work, I purchased a couple of one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted “collage” blouses. In bounty_coveranticipation of the release of BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, I went to the Lopez Farmers Market and bought a locally-made, linen tunic.

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.


Ste poster

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.


A Creative Nonfiction ABC

Some days, writing is tough, seems beyond my skills, makes me wonder if I’ll ever master the craft of creative nonfiction. As I prepare for the launch of my memoir, “Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance,” I’m much more focused on my calendar, press releases, and book orders than generating new work. I know I’ll return to it, and when I do, I’ll have Karen Zey’s ABCs to guide me. I suggest the same guidance fits for fiction writers, too.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz zeyBy Karen Zey

Avoid adverbs assiduously.

Befriend brevity.

Capture sensory details: creamy, crackling or crisp.

Devise dialogue that sounds like real talk. Drop the tags.

Em dash your way to emphasis—and limit those exclamation points!

Flash your essay. Or pen your theme in long form.

Grasp the grammar rules. Ain’t no problem bending ’em on purpose.

Heed your inner muse, but write beyond the self.

Imagine the reader imagining your experience. Read your work aloud.

Juxtapose tender and tough to add depth.

Keep studying your craft—writing is arduous.

Lay down heartfelt moments with lyricism.

Merge metaphors and memories for prisms of meaning.

Narrate with a compelling arc: sweeping tale or braided strands of thought.

Open with a strong hook that hints of more to come.

Punch up your ending with a powerful thought that lingers.

Question every word choice. Quell your penchant for purple prose.

Revise, obsess; revise, lose sleep; revise…

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What a Difference Six Years Make

Here’s what showed up on my Facebook feed this morning—a memory from 6 years ago today.

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I can’t believe it was that long ago that I was receiving critiques of the first chapter of my memoir, “Hiking Naked” (you can read a version of that draft at

Much has happened since that August residency of the Whidbey MFA program. Now I’m a graduate of the program grad (1)(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.

badge.jpgDuring 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.

indie_voices_indie_minds_sm_1That’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;hn-cover-no-blirb  I had dinner with my publisher (our first face-to-face meeting); and my manuscript—now a book—was off to the printer.

l & i (1)







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.


Release Party poster (1)

On September 16, 2017 there are bound to be more good memories to look back on—with or without Facebook’s help.