Before the holidays get underway and another wave of illness drowns our household in the next germy childhood disease not covered by modern vaccines, I wanted to get a little writing in about our most recent endeavor.
As you may have noticed from our menu and comments in other recent posts, we recently started up a publishing company to achieve a life goal. Because… why not? People self-publish all the time now — might as well join in the fun. People put out book after book and with eBooks in the mix, there are a lot of options. No need to wait on some big, expensive publisher since we’re not in it for money, fame, or even a career change.
We’re starting it more the way someone decides they’ve always loved beer and want to start home-brewing or have always admired ceramics and decide to take up pottery. You get into it, there’s an investment, and so much to learn, but you know if you never took the time to just give it a go, you would regret it. I never want to be that person at the end of my life who says “You know, I always wanted to publish a book, but I just never did.”
And when I started thinking about when we began actively working towards this two years ago, I couldn’t help but go back further and further, starting with:
Family precedents. An interest in publishing began before I was born. Both my parents like reading and writing and there are many storytellers on both sides of my family. Many have had interests in genealogy, publishing, history, teaching, and journalism. People are rarely the first in their families to do anything; the foundation for our lives is often shaped generations before us.
“Harriet the Spy.” After seeing this movie, I collected stacks of steno notebooks and started writing down things about the neighbors and descriptions of the other kids at school. It’s possible I completely missed the message of that movie because all I got was: watch people closely enough and you can learn interesting things about them. You can see how I ended up being a counselor.
Chapter One: The Field. The first story I remember intentionally writing — with chapters! — was about a blue butterfly who could communicate with its human captors, who happened to be two second-grade girls exactly like me and my best friend. #WriteWhatYouKnow
Third grade creative writing assignments. We wrote and illustrated a “book” in this class. I wrote about a vacation that went awry the previous summer. Then, we did an assignment where we were given a strange abstract image to color (I thought it looked like an alien jungle) and had to write a story about the picture. My mind was blown — and suddenly I wanted to create new worlds and other languages.
The Blizzard. In the fifth grade, I asked my parents for a kids’ electric typewriter for Christmas. Yes, you read that correctly. Not a computer — an electric typewriter. That I saw in a catalog. I know, I know, I just blew up the Millenial stereotype (#SorryNotSorry). My parents, however, must have realized that I was falling behind with the times because they bought a Windows 98 home computer for the family.
The first story I typed up and printed off on that computer was titled The Blizzard (a disappointingly straightforward title). The wintry tale followed five children’s treacherous journey home from school during a blizzard. There is a semi-dramatic school bus scene (obviously). After printing off the story and three-hole-punching it into a pocket folder, I printed off a “cover” with the title, my name (or, it’s possible I used my childhood pseudonym Emilie Eben), and a giant snowflake clipart. Talk about some serious graphic design.
First rejection and the one-third published poem. In fourth or fifth grade, we submitted poems to a contest, and I received my first rejection letter, which I felt was a very important moment in my writing life. You have to get a lot of rejection to be a writer; I thought of it as a rite of passage. But one of my poems did get accepted! If I recall, it had something to do with an eagle and freedom (which sounds grossly patriotic for my style). What I really remember was that it was a three-stanza poem, but they only published the last stanza. I remember being horrified because I was not consulted!
My sixth grade SMaC Books project. From then on, I was always wanting to make books. I wanted to write books with friends. We wrote plays to perform. We wrote a series about twin sisters who solved mysteries (Mary-Kate and Ashley much?) In the sixth grade, our class had a group project in which we had to create a business. Guess what my group did? We created “SMaC Books,” and I wrote and “published” my stories using my Windows 98 computer — and the other group members took care of marketing and distribution. “SMaC” was a combination of our last names, and oddly enough, MARCKS has a similar origin….
7th grade Language Arts. This class had all my favorite things — journaling, expressive interpretations of what we were reading (who remembers performing in my Salem witch trials skit?), and creative writing. However, I learned that I was not great with deadlines. I started writing a story about a space shuttle that was headed out of the galaxy to populate a new world…but the semester ended and, unfortunately for the future of humanity, I had to wrap up my story with a fatal crash-landing on Pluto. Bummer. Sometimes I go back and read my old kid stories and just laugh my head off; they are too hilarious.
Finding out I hated journalism. By high school, I had decided that journalism was “how to get a job” writing. As it turned out, I hated journalistic writing. I couldn’t write anything without turning it into a human interest story. I could follow the grammatical rules of journalism, but not the hurried-deadline-driven-no-room-for-emotion-rules. Halfway through the semester, I felt lost.
Luckily, we attended a conference where I joined my peers in entering some contests. I got second place in copyediting. Turns out, I did have a place in journalism — editing — and that’s what I did for the rest of the semester. The teacher sat me in a desk next to his, students brought us their stories, and we edited.
Meeting my match. Kretch spent most of his childhood reading and collecting, like, a hundred books (which we have now moved and reshelved half a dozen times…). It was one of the things I noticed about him when we were still in school — he was always reading during class. Always. Kretch loves big ideas, talking about them, and reading, reading, and more reading. I love writing, listening to people tell stories, and telling stories. Needless to say, we barely give each other enough room to have the floor, but when we actually work together, it’s a blast.
Editing and blogging for the campus newspaper. I made my best attempt to avoid journalism in college…except I had friends on newspaper. So…I ended up on newspaper — editing, of course. I hated it, and I kind of liked that I hated it. I had a whole cranky I-don’t-like-this-leave-me-alone persona going, which was fun to try on. What I actually did enjoy was travel blogging for my newspaper credit the semester I studied abroad.
So. Many. Post-Its. Before smartphones, I had a very scattered system of tiny papers, which I wrote on everywhere and it all somehow made sense to me. (It still does). However, taking random writing notes in my phone has proved wildly more effective. But I still have the remnants of tiny notes scrapped at the bottom of every purse, pouch, tote, backpack, pocket, decorative bowl, passenger seat, drawer, and even many a pillow case I’ve come in contact with. Yes, those inspired musings are all still there, except now they’re covered in breastmilk.
17 journals…and counting. In grade school, I started keeping a journal — or “notebook” (I rarely called them diaries because I thought that was too girlie) — when we moved. Looking back, I think writing was therapeutic for me at the time — and it continued to be therapeutic for me.
In middle school, I realized there were things from early grade school I couldn’t remember and it scared me. I developed a fear of forgetting about my own life (and I would learn later that memories are often highly inaccurate), so my record-keeping became more intense through high school. On one hand, it was a bit much as any of my high school friends could probably tell you (yes, I still have all my planners), but on the other hand, I developed a skill for observation and tracking conversations (another writer-counselor overlap) that has served me well.
The Earth Day Purification Sweat Lodge experience. I left this amazing experience thinking, “All right, now I’m ready to give birth — to babies and books!” And that’s what I did. Nothing like sending an intention out into the universe through ritual and community.
Giving birth. There’s a quote (probably many quotes — and I can’t seem to find the exact one I’m thinking of) about how closely giving birth overlaps with death. That was true for me, but it’s also true for women whose deliveries aren’t so complicated. In creating life, we create death — whether the two are separated by a short thread or by a long, running tapestry. I always thought giving birth and having children would make me want to write less, but it hasn’t. I thought it would reveal who I really was — and it did. But, it turns out, I already knew.
In a million moments throughout my life, I have dreamed of publishing, and in giving birth (and briefly holding death’s hand) scale finally tipped to stop putting it off. Because, well, this is who I am for better or worse, and if having a child doesn’t change that, then it’s time to listen. If I can put my child out into the world, I can put my writing out there, too; for me, these two things have always been spiritually linked.
So here’s to being me, alive and the same as ever.