Quiet Saturday Afternoon

July 15, 2006

The first quiet Saturday afternoon in ages, I look back on the past six weeks at the publishing and musical activities that have consumed my time. It feels like a forest fire has swept over the landscape of my life. It’s nice to know that back home, I can still crawl back into bed on a sunny summer day at noon to read and doze, and once again recall some of the book publishing and musical activities of the past month and a half.

Early in June, I explored the marine aspect of my “niche” market for The Fisherman’s Quilt, and presented my book at the Armchair Sailor’s booth at the west coast version of “TrawlerFest” a 4-venue tradeshow-seminar sponsored by PassageMaker magazine and West Marine stores. Steve Mostad, owner of Armchair Sailor nautical bookstore in Seattle’s West Lake Union neighborhood, and his dad welcomed me to their booth. Steve and his wife bought Armchair Sailor about two years ago, and business is doing well, with charts, maps, decor and tableware supplementing their voluminous stock of nautical books. Steve explained that he has a second business, recycling electronics such as computers and monitors, printers, stereos and TV’s, and described the crisis of waste disposal the computer culture has created.

While at TrawlerFest I met and envied many couples who have chucked it all for a trawler and the sea-going life. I also met up with author Clyde Ford, who was selling his Charlie Noble Mysteries, set in my home San Juan Islands, and the Shango mysteries set in New York City. Clyde is also a psychotherapist and a sailor who lives aboard his 30-foot boat. He must be a Gemini too.

While in Poulsbo, I also made my third author appearance at Liberty Bay Books, owned by Suzanne Droppert. Liberty Bay has recently launched a bookstore website  www.libertybaybooks.com and email newsletter.

The next weekend I gave my presentation about the 2006 Publishing University and Book Expo America – part of my commitment upon receiving the Book Publishers NW affiliate scholarship to Pub U. This lecture, given at Scott’s Bookstore in Mt. Vernon, was based on 10 pages of notes – and there was more to say! I dared ask Peter Kahle, co-author with Melanie Workhoven, of Naked at the Podium: The Writer’s Guide to Successful Readings (www.writersatthepodium.com), how my presentation went over, and his one criticism was that I didn’t stop to take a breath! I was pleased to see many members from two writers’ groups in Burlington, Washington show up, as well as nine or ten members from the Seattle area. I’ve been writing about Pub U and BEA here,  but still have more to say, so if interested, check back to the site.

Two days later and my husband and I were off for a week-long cruise to Southeast Alaska aboard the Norwegian Cruise Ship “Sun” where I was a guest lecturer on “Writing.” When I was arranging the details for this presentation, I was told the 4-lecture series was to be on “Handwriting” and I thought back to my very first “real” job, addressing the Christmas cards for a state senator at his downtown Seattle office. But no, this was to be a series of lectures on “Writing” and I presented four talks on Reading, Writing, Editing, and Publishing. The sessions were well-attended, and in between, I signed books at Parnassus Books in Ketchikan, Maggie Freitag’s warm, maze-like and quintessentially Alaskan bookstore on Creek Street in Ketchikan, and at Rainy Day Books in Juneau. Rainy Day’s owners, Toni and Don Birdseye, bought the store after seeing it advertised in the New York Times. After retiring from government jobs in Texas, they were ready for the Alaskan adventure, so they flew north for a look, bought the store, and haven’t looked back for a moment.

In between lectures, reading, eating, and napping on the ship, I walked the 6th-deck promenade and enjoyed the never-ending daylight of mid-June in Alaska. Traveling by sea emphasizes the great distances of this big world which we forget as we jet across the skies. I loved the miles of endless ocean, and I’d stop each time I reached the stern to sing some of the songs from the repertoire the Orcas A Capella singers will be performing later this month in Prague and in the Europa Cantat in Mainz, Germany.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten away from home, car, day job, telephone, and the other “conveniences” of modern life, and whether it’s aboard a ship, or camping, or just pretending you’re not home, I can’t praise highly enough the value of “getting away from it all” (well, most of it) to balance life. My time away reminded me to appreciate that time, health, and mental well-being are the best foundations for the good life.

I also enjoyed some wonderful reading:

I Married the Klondike by Laura Berton: the story of a 29-year old kindergarten teacher who traveled to Dawson City in the Canadian Yukon in 1907 and made her home there for the next 30 years. This book is a wonderful romance-adventure of a woman and a town called “Paris of the North, “where everyone’s life was heroic and dramatic. In the foreward to the book by the author’s son, we learn that Laura Berton worked on a romance novel for years and didn’t consider her own life exceptional or worth writing about until she was nearly 70.  I Married the Klondike is full of vivid description, straight-talking and love for the nature and landscape of the Klondike. It also describes the gold-mining, gambling mentality that another get-rich strike is just about to come; a mentality that universally leads to an impoverished end.

Jubilee by Margaret Walker describes the life of a Mulatto American woman, born into slavery and working in the “Big House” during and after the Civil War while struggling to build and protect her own home and family. It tells of a bittersweet love story, of a returning husband who came back too late; and describes a second love story of honorable people determined to achieve their simple dreams. It also relates the accepted culture of slavery, both from the slave and the slave-holders’ points of view. I marvel at how people could treat other humans as their possessions, their “chattel,” yet it has only been 143 years since African-Americans were free in our own country.

Two Old Women: a simple and timeless tale of the value of our elders, and their responsibility to “die trying,” to never give up even though times get hard and it’s easier to complain. The author, Velma Wallis, is a native Alaskan. The eldest of 13 children whose father died when she was 13, Velma left school to work his traplines and help provide for her family. Two Old Women was first published by Epicenter Press in 1991, and later bought by Harper Collins. It is an Alaskan, and human, classic.

The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith, tells of four novelists of wildly varying integrity who approach an established publishing company of dubious morals in their attempts to publish their work. It was fun to try to predict how their desires and conflicts would be resolved. The Bestseller was an informative, comprehensive, and juicy look at the bizarre, personal and complex world of publishing. (It makes me sad to know that Olivia Goldsmith died in her early 50’s from complications of cosmetic surgery).

I’ve also browsed through So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance by Mexican philosopher Gabriel Zaid, translated by Natasha Wimmer.  This book was given to every attendee of Publishing University, courtesy of Paul Dry Press. In it, Zaid reassures readers, writers and publishers, that although more books are published now than ever, reading is still a popular pleasure that makes writing and publishing plausible, if not super-lucrative, endeavors.

After our cruise, I met with neighboring Islanders at the Lopez Island Book Club. You can read about this group who read and critiqued The Fisherman’s Quilt at the BookClub page at FishermansQuilt.com. I was invited to join this group through Oscar Lund, who operates Robert Hale Company, the nautical book distributor, out of Bellevue, Washington. As a publisher, I’m very lucky to have both Robert Hale Company and Partners/West within a reasonable driving distance. It helps keep the connection personal, which I’ve found is always a good thing.

The last Friday in June, I took the ferry to San Juan Island where I read and signed copies of The Fisherman’s Quilt at Boardwalk Bookstore in Friday Harbor. Boardwalk is run by Bettye and Ray Hendrickson, and recently moved from a quaint but crowded upstairs location to a street-level storefront close to the ferry landing and Friday Harbor’s main street. Bettye had rounded up a nice crowd that had many questions about the story and the process of writing The Fisherman’s Quilt. It was wonderful to talk to them all. Boardwalk Bookstore has one of the most comprehensive “Local Authors” displays of all the bookstores I’ve been to recently, and Bettye tells me that she tracks down self-published or out-of-print authors to obtain their books. Afterwards Bettye and Ray and I had dinner together, and I learned that Bettye, originally from Atlanta, had married Ray and moved with her daughter to San Juan Island after several years in Los Angeles. Ray “commutes” to Steilacoom, southwest of Tacoma, flying his own plane during the week.

Last weekend, I traveled to Yakima in central Washington state for their Folklife Festival and a booksigning at Inklings Bookshop. Susan Richmond of Inklings was so enthusiastic after reading The Fisherman’s Quilt that she wrote a Book Sense recommendation and invited me over to sign at her store. We picked a date coinciding with the Folklife Festival. It was a beautiful, summer weekend, and I drove along the scenic Canyon Road from Ellensburg to Yakima, watching rafters bob along the Yakima River. Inklings Bookshop, on the second floor of a converted fruit warehouse, is a great space with high ceilings, quilt hangings, a coffee-beverage bar, and lots of interesting books and sidelines. I asked what a recent best-seller had been at the store and Susan mentioned “A Million Little Pieces.”

The Folklife Festival in Franklin Park was dispersed throughout the park, with different music stages and vendor booths, so visitors could find a place in the shade. I love the “carny” feel of these events, the camaraderie of the booth vendors, and the summer peace of community, sunshine, cooling evenings, and music.

In the midst of all this book activity, I have been rehearsing with the 25 other members of the Orcas A Capella singers for our performances in Prague and Mainz later this month in the Europa Cantat, an international choral festival. This organization was founded after World War II by a French and a German choral director, who felt that sharing our love of music and singing would form bonds that would make war unthinkable. Every three years, choral groups from around the world come together to perform their music, and to attend workshops with other international singers to learn compositions together which are then performed on the last days of the festival. There is no competition or awards, just singing and celebrating our common bonds.

When I attended Europa Cantat in Barcelona Spain in 2003, I learned music from Montserrat Abbey, the mountain monastery above Barcelona. I learned that during the Napoleonic Wars, French soldiers had climbed the cliffs to Montserrat, now reached by mountain tram, to destroy their library. How amazing that a library could be so threatening and representative of national power!

This year at Europa Cantat, I’ll be learning Shostakovich’s Russian folksongs, and the beautiful Argentine cowboy Mass, Missa Criolla.  It has a lovely, yearning tenor solo that will give everyone shivers of delicious appreciation.

So to tally up: in the last 6 weeks, I’ve attended 2 festivals and a bookclub, given 5 speeches, signed at 6 bookstores and read 4 books. I’ve also communicated with many other publishers and authors, bookstore owners and publicists. I’ve rehearsed for and performed in 2 concerts. And I’ve struggled mightily with my local ISP and telephone company to straighten out my DSL connection, which apparently was putting way too many demands on our old, weak, mixed-up telephone lines.

It’s been one of the busiest periods of my publishing life. This is the kind of activity publishers engage in, and I love it; meeting people, talking about books and writing and life. Last year I heard Duse McLean of Book Publishers NW say in reference to her book Urban Walks, “It’s not just a book, it’s a life.” While that is true, I recently sat myself down and said, “It’s not a life, it’s just a book,” and that is also true. Now as I go off to sing and travel, I feel so lucky to be able to pursue my vision of what makes a good and full life. And I’ll rest on the Sabbath.

Have a wonderful summer and I’ll be in touch again by Labor Day!