2015 Summer Road Trip–Back on the Road

The writer/publisher at work.

Resuming our trip, our first stop has been Washington, DC. All our trips become organized around Suzanne’s annual Flute Convention, which is in, yep, DC this year. Our car is filled with our camping gear and sits in an underground garage near DuPont Circle. The National Flute Convention has begun. We’ll be listening to lots of flute music and then head to West Virginia to camp along the Mountain Music Trail for a couple of weeks.

Every morning now in DC, I take a walk uphill to the National Cathedral. Discovering the wooded pathways on the grounds has been helpful because the purpose of these walks is twofold: One, to care for my back which needs daily exercise as pain relief; and two,to find a place to pray. No matter where I travel, I’m carrying my physical/spiritual worlds with me.

As we packed our bags into the car in Queens, I turned to Suzanne to tell her how anxious I was to leave home. She understood completely. The uncertainty about my mother, how much longer she has to live and how uncertainty can disrupt the need to follow the real rules of travel.

Those rules, because they are key to a successful trip, keep me focused and thus far able to enjoy a trip that could become undermined by sadness and anxiety. on the simplest level, travel for long periods of time demands paying attention to each single detail and then making room for the unexpected.

Suzanne gets annoyed with me as I nag her to put everything back where it was, to close lids and covers tightly, etc. If we don’t put things back in the car in the same place every time, we could lose a vital piece of equipment that we rely on for these camping trips. Having assigned places for everything means we don’t lose things, and we live in synch with the things we carry with us as if our lives depended on it–and they do.

That is what travel is about: Taking ourselves with us; taking care of everything we bring with us; allowing all uncertainty to come along for the ride; and to have fun (more fun than anyone can imagine).

This attention to detail changes us. Ironically, being extremely aware of each thing as it passes through our sensory system allows all those new sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feels to alter what we know and as we synthesize these sensations, we build new aspects of ourselves.

Travel changes us. Leaving home with an anxious heart is acknowledging that so much changes, not just for me but for lots of people connected through me to my mother lying in hospice in a state far away and not on our itinerary.

While we are traveling, we still need to keep funding our projects. Please make a donation here (and thanks): http://www.gofundme.com/yw769w

Writing Habits–Research

Scags at 30 will be out 1/2016.

I obviously like to tell stories. It would be pretty sad if I didn’t like to tell stories being that I am a novelist. I also like to listen to people tell the stories about their own lives.

When I realized I needed to talk to a nun about her life in order to flesh in my character, Margaret, in my new novel, Scags at 30, I asked friends for recommendations. I wanted to fill in what I could about a real nun’s life rather than try and make it up from the books, movies and essays I had read.

As a writer, I knew what I needed to do was listen to a nun talk about her life. It would be comparable to preparing for a role. There were missing pieces to the character, Margaret, that I needed to understand. I figured even nuns like to talk about themselves. So, I found a way to meet with Sr. Marion Defeis and it led to some incredible insights about Margaret as well as to meeting a truly remarkable person.

I had two opportunities to observe Sr. Marion. The first was at a panel discussion on solitary confinement at The Oratory of Saint Boniface in Brooklyn. She led an evening’s discussion that featured three other women involved in the ongoing work to end solitary confinement in New York State. Watching her was my job that night; yet my attention was often diverted by the emotional talks each of these other women gave.

I approached Sr. Marion at the end of the evening to make an appointment to talk to her privately. I thus got on the subway to meet Sr. Marion where she lived– at Providence House in Coney Island. The subway ride from Queens to Coney Island is one of the longest in the system. It was long enough for me to use to prepare for my talk with Sr. Marion. Fortunately, I found in me what I needed to be able to listen closely to Sr. Marion in order to find out who Margaret is.

Sr. Marion and I sat on the porch of Providence House for over an hour. It was an overcast and chilly day but it was comfortably quiet. This is what I heard as we talked that afternoon. She began by telling me of her life before Rikers. Her sentences were short, crisp but as she approached her tenure as a chaplain at Rikers, they filled out, grew long and more involved and required me to ask more questions because there was so much more  of that life for me to understand.

Before Sr. Marion could work at Rikers, nuns were more confined to one profession–teaching. When she was able to work at Rikers, she worked part-time. She therefore had time to do other work related to her chaplaincy, like going to Albany to lobby the legislature to end the punitive Rockefeller Drug Laws and to meet with the Archbishop of New York to get his support. She gleefully told me he wrote a very good op-ed in support of it too. She also went into great detail about the work she did with the Queens DA’s office to help drug mules get better treatment in the courts and so forth.

As she spoke, I  realized I had never expected to hear a nun speak about “drug mules.”  At first, I wanted to laugh but then came a different response.

Margaret became a real person to me. By listening to Sr. Marion, Margaret grew out of an idea and into actuality. I could now have conversations with Margaret I knew her so well.

I wasn’t fully aware of that in the moment but I was so thrilled to have found Margaret that I asked Sr. Marion what I could do to repay her for her time. From that question, another part of this adventure with Sr. Marion began. Stay tuned for that report next.

(More to come on Sr. Marion in my next blog. In the meantime, please help Sullivan St Press pay its bills by donating here: GoFundMe.com/yw769w)

Writing Habits

Scags at 30 will be out 1/2016.

Working on Scags at 30 has been an exciting albeit troubling experience. Too many interruptions of the deepest kind–too many deaths and too many illnesses have caused me to constantly lose focus. That shattering of my concentration is something other writers have discussed with me as well.

What to do?

I am not the sort of person who can just dive into work no matter where I am. I have to make the space my own in some way–putting my books on the table; pacing the space and exercising in it; sitting for long periods of time staring into space. Something is needed to help me get to work that resembles the things I do at home.

While writing in a laundry room in the Cooperstown KOA recently, I remembered one of the habits I had while working on Scags at 7. I used to write copiously in the margins. What I wrote became like a personal diary of my thoughts as they helped or hindered my work.

That practice became such a useful tool that when I started teaching writing, because it doesn’t matter what genre you write, I encouraged my students to use that practice as well. Soon, I discovered that John Steinbeck had also used a journal to help him write East of Eden. On the recto page he wrote his draft and on the verso page he wrote to his editor every morning before he started writing the draft. It is fascinating reading for any writer. (Here’s a good review of it http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-of-a-lifetime-journal-of-a-novel-by-john-steinbeck-1819459.html)

Many writers do this without knowing they do it. At one time, Yahoo had a very good journal keeping tool that allowed me to write to myself every day so that I could get the wheels moving. I gave myself 15 minutes and then I had to turn to the novel (Scags at 18) and move it along.

The earlier technique of mine was to write in the margins themselves. This was when my own writing was clearer and I could read what I had written, even the tiny notes about what it was at that moment that was keeping me from saying what I knew or thought I knew needed to be said.

Writing early drafts is the hardest work as all writers know. Revising is a joy and I always look forward to that work. But the really difficult choices are made early on and with great fear and caution because the choices we make are the ones that will determine whether we are risking enough and saying it well enough to help a reader understand what is at stake in the story they are reading.

(We are now home due to my wife being sick and my mother in hospice. This raises another level of fear when it comes to writing Scags at 30 but I am doing it and with some pleasure. If you can help us to cover some of the costs of what Sullivan Street Press is doing, please use this website to donate whatever you can. Thanks in advance.) http://www.gofundme.com/yw769w

Fresh from The Farm–2015 Summer Road Trip

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It took us almost a full day to set up our campsite at a KOA near Cooperstown, NY, the first stop on our road trip. Six nights of sleeping in our new tent at a campsite set in the midst of vast farmland has meant relaxing into a more quiet environment except for the cows and birds and the coyotes howling and screaming at night. Tranquility is not an overrated state of being.

A lot like heaven, I can say. This kind of quiet is essential for any type of creative work, whether like me you are writing a novel, or you just need to re-calibrate how you live your life. Resetting time’s hold can be an awakening to the greater necessities of one’s soul.

I don’t think everyone must sleep in a tent and walk blocks each day to go to the bathroom, but there is something altered in the day’s rhythm when most of “where” I am has no equivalence to the “normal” life I lead in my urban spaces. We arrive, unpack and set up our tent and gazebo, organize our food, cook our meals surrounded by trees, wildlife (and some not so wild as in the cows grazing around here), a plethora of bugs and all manner of wild flowers. We live within what weather and our energy allows for. So windy nights are fine but not great for putting up our tent, which can become a large kite. Cool is fine to sleep in, but not too cool for those long walks to the bathroom late at night.

At first, my body resists and resents this arduous life. While I’m singing here the praises of an outdoor life, it will be weeks into this trip until my whole being can sing in unison about the benefits of living outdoors. When I uproot myself from the ordinary, from an office space, a routine, friends, adjustments need to be made and over a 2-month period, those adjustments and the work are ongoing as we move from place to place.

The physical and mental aspects of our nomadic life are thrilling. Yet, or more precisely, more consequentially, the creative adjustments are even more thrilling and challenging. Writing Scags at 30 while on the road is a first-time experience for me and this has become the most difficult adjustment for me. Please stay tuned for the things I learn to do and not to do while writing at picnic tables in campsites and while sitting in the car. Being several places at once, real and imaginary, is quite a trip, pun intended.

We’re running a donation page for Sullivan St. Press, please give here: www.gofundme.com/yw769w

We’re Leaving in the Morning, Join Us

The writer/publisher at work.

Getting on the road, is for us, one of the best reasons to be alive. It connects us to the world, to new people, we see things we won’t see or experience sitting at home and just imagining it. We must be there, right there, wherever “there” is.

What makes getting on the road for us two old ladies one of the most thrilling parts of our lives is that it grounds us, it gives us a place inside ourselves that is almost immutable. The spiritual and emotional healing that occurs when we sleep on the ground, wake up to see the sunrise over a forest or a lake, when we fall almost on our asses looking at the stars at night, each one of those traditional and expected elements of camping are true and truer because they ring that way for everyone who loves to spend time outdoors.

Our car is almost packed. For the first time, we are ready to go before we need to pull out of the driveway. This forward momentum is about being in tune with a need. We discovered it almost from the start of our love affair with camping. My wife and I were in an awful part of the country where lots of road work was making the air sooty and the noise of it was disturbing. We weren’t in some beautiful spot but in some out of the way town in Indiana. We were driving out west for the first time with all our camping gear.

The day was hot, lit by that white light of Midwestern summer sun blasting around us as loudly as the noise of the construction. It is a wonder we felt as we did. Yet, we both looked at each other and realized we were nomads. Constitutionally, we were meant to travel and to be places like that, along with all the beautiful places too. We are meant to be on the road, to be not some beat poets looking for our manhood, but as women who need to be in touch with the entire, or as much of the entire world, as our car can take us to.

Our trips have taken us to so many places. We have made 9500 mile round trips to the west. We have circled the southern United States. We have visited the homes of many American writers, Welty, Faulkner, O’Connor, Sandburg, Wolfe, Cather. Visiting their homes gives us a deeper connection to their work. We enter into places needing to hear what each one has to say. That is one of the keys as to why our trips are so successful. We can never hear enough of the stories that strangers tell us. At night, while we watch the fire or lie in our sleeping bags, we recount these stories to each other. They are the treasures we bring back to share with others.

Join us on this trip by following us here: www.facebook.com/sullivanstpress

If you can help us support the press as well, that would be most appreciated: gofund.me/yw7169w

Why We Need Your Help

The writer/publisher at work.

Today we are getting ready to leave town. I know that doesn’t sound like a good reason for us to need your help. So, let’s get the mundane out of the way first and then get to the real reasons you’ll want to help us.

We travel, in part, to see what is going on in the world of books, what libraries are like, what the bookstores carry, where they are, where they have disappeared. While we are on the road, we also talk to everyone we meet about books (and enlist them in the Scags at 7 Video Project–more about that in a later post). The fixed expenses for this company include web fees, cell phones, marketing costs, supplies, books and so forth. That’s where we can lag behind. (Go to this link for samples of all our books and links to your favorite bookstores: http://sullivanstpress.com)

Now the exciting part–we are small, we are slow but we are daring. We have so many stories to tell that if we are invited to a party, we threaten to take over the entire conversation with all we have learned about books, the history of publishing in this country, how our libraries developed and grew, where the money came from, why there are agents, where they came from, what it means to be a bestselling author now, what it meant 50 years ago, what it will take to get the big corporate publishers to be more transparent and how we can help both other writers and readers gain the knowledge they need to understand this wonderful world of books.

Our mission statement from the first day we became a publisher was:

“Sullivan Street Press is in business to change the publishing paradigm”

Yes, we are, and you too can be a significant part of this paradigm shift.

I hope what we begin to share with you on this blog won’t be surprising but will be horrifying. That you, like us, will want to get involved in making the necessary changes to a part of the democratic process (that is what publishing is all about–keeping citizens informed of what the world is all about). We can’t let it slip away. Don’t let it slip away.

Stay with me on this blog as we explore more and more of what is happening in the publishing world and how it will affect all authors and all readers. That is really the point. What the big publishers decide to do will affect what you read and where you will find the books and how much you pay for them. Their decisions too will determine who gets to be published and what kinds of stories can be told. We cover this beat in ways no other publisher dares to, so stay tuned for lots of these stories.

Your donations will also help us to get this information out to more readers who also need to know what is being slowly taken away from us–a free press.

Here’s the link to our campaign: GoFundMe.com/yw769w

(Just as you might share the links to our books with friends, please also share our call for help; it is most sincerely appreciated.)