why i wrote and self-published my book

Cover art by my incredible sister, Katie Richert Daniel.

So, the book is out. Dirty Water Coffee and Other Myths, now available for your enjoyment. I can finally take a deep breath, go on vacation, and prepare myself to work on my next project. But first, I want to talk a little bit about why I wrote the book and what it’s like to have finally done it.

I wrote this book over 4 years ago, and finally gathered up enough gumption to publish it. Self-publish it, that is. I did not send it around to agents, write a book proposal, filter it through editors, gain the approval of publishers, and so forth. I just published it myself because it’s mine, I did the work, and I want it to be out in the world. That’s my right as a writer.

I had a lot of reservations about self-publishing as opposed to “real” publishing, but in the end, I decided I don’t even want the approval of the people who think I need their approval. So there.

The book is a spiritual memoir told through creative essays. It’s about growing up female in America and figuring out what you really believe about the  world as opposed to all the stories, religions, beliefs and biases that you’re given as a child. It’s about exploring all the options and deciding who you want to be. It’s about those moments when you come face-to-face with your former self and love her for the first time. My hope is that the book is warm, loving, enlightening, and a little bit funny. Or a lot funny if you like stories of first kisses and worst kisses, bad teenaged decision making, and some of the more awkward aspects of neo-paganism. I have often had people laugh out loud at things I wrote, which I didn’t realize were funny at all till I said them out loud and found myself snorting uncontrollably. In fact, I’m thinking of a particular essay that I like a lot, so maybe I’ll record a reading of it for you. Keep an eye out for that in the near future.

Let me tell you about the process of releasing this book.

After working on it for so long, I would read some sections and think, “Oh fuck this self-absorbed narrator. I sound so childish. So arrogant. So … much like a version of myself that I really really don’t want to be.”

But I felt a need to publish it anyway because I think this story matters — the part where a woman grows up and goes through some shit and develops into her own human being and stuff. The universal part.

It matters because that story isn’t being told well enough, often enough, or loudly enough. Because most literary classics are about that very process from a male perspective, and what I wanted was to write a feminist book of spiritual maturation. And I think that’s what I did. So, from that perspective, I’m proud of the book.

I have definitely changed as a writer and as a person since writing this book. The essays are not perfect, the titles could have a little more spark to them, the narrator (who is a distilled version of myself) is not always likable. But that’s humanity for ya. I have been afraid of being labeled as anything that might seem too self-absorbed … too navel-gazing-ish. And I think that’s not really a legitimate label. Actually I think that’s some misogynistic bullshit that I internalized somewhere along the line. And if I’ve internalized it, then other women and men probably have, too, which is another reason I needed to write this book and give it to the world.

The thing is, I believe deep down that women’s stories are really important, and not just because we’re women but because we’re human, too, and if you are human and you love humanity, then all human stories must have some value. And I love this book because it’s mine. Writing it has been an adventure, a challenge, and an intense learning process, and I’m ready to see where it leads next.

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what he calls love

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About 2/3 through reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Memories of my Melancholy Whores, I was compelled to write about it.

It’s simply written. The sentences are short and clear. The language is vivid, warm and breathing. The old man character is despicable but also oddly loveable. He’s despicable because he’s the product of another time and place. Because he’s stupid. Because he’s never been in love and at the age of 90 fancies himself in love with a 14-year-old child. He cannot bear to see her awake because though he says he loves her, he still thinks of her as a doll. And though he hasn’t had sex with her, he sees her as an object and a symbol — of his aging and the complex beauty and tragedy in the world. He sits and stares at her, embraces her in her sleep, and reads her great works of literature. But he doesn’t want her to open her eyes and ruin the illusion he has created — not an illusion of her, for he knows about her life, her illiteracy, her day job at the shirt factory, but an illusion of himself as gentle professor, loving benefactor, grandfatherly adorer when in reality, he is a very old man who is rather sad and alone, who has paid up front for her virginity and believes this gives him some right to her soul.

Then I took a break from writing and finished reading the book.

In the end, he runs into a “former love for hire” who convinces him to go back to the girl he obviously loves (he has left her due to his own jealous rage), and this occurs to me:

Does it matter if what he calls love is not what I call love? Do I have to get political with what he’s allowed to feel? He doesn’t hurt her. He admires her. He gives everything for her and wants nothing more than to be near her and provide for her — and even though he has nothing left to give, he finds a way to make that happen. Sometimes love is simply not wanting another to suffer. That plus longing to be near her is romance. Anyway, he meets that definition even if he is unable to see her fully yet, even if he doesn’t know her voice or her opinions on anything but the radio station she sets. We don’t have to be enlightened to be in love.

When we are really lucky, love enlightens us.

There’s no telling how we get into these incredible traps, but when we love, we can let go of confused jealous rages and even humble ourselves enough to let them pass. When we feel compassion for this poor creature lying in bed beside us, it may be the first stirring of Namaste.

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memories like dreams

Good morning from New York City!

I  made this little video last night as a way of announcing that I will soon be releasing my essay collection into the world.

I spent a long time pondering what to do with this one, and after much deliberation, settled on self-publishing.I thought really hard about traditional publishing and talked to a lot of people about it. There is the whole idea that traditional publishing gives your book more currency. Being accepted by an agent, an editor, and a publisher is a significant stamp of approval. But I decided I don’t want their approval. I did this work. It’s mine. And now I’m sending it out into the world to have a life of its own.

If I went the traditional publishing route, my life would continue to revolve around getting this thing out the door for the next year at least. But I don’t want to do that. I want to move on to the next thing.

So, in the next month, keep an eye out, and I’ll keep you posted on the progress. Wish me luck!

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Hardcore Zen and the Nature of Domination

So I’ve been reading Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate by Brad Warner, who also writes the blog Hardcore Zen. I just came across this passage that I wanted to share with you.

One of the basic human desires is the desire to be dominated. Dictatorships and cults arise from the desire of certain communities to be dominated by some powerful figure. Our primate relatives often live in small packs dominated by one unquestioned leader. Maybe this is how we’re programmed to respond. In any case, a dictator doesn’t come into power by his personal force alone. He comes into power when people want to be led, when people want to transfer responsibility onto some supposedly greater person.

Warner is writing about the problem of spiritual leaders and teachers abusing their positions of power, but the parallel he draws with political dictators is particularly interesting to me right now.

How do you think we got to the state we’re in these days? I think there’s been an awful lot of us rolling over and letting The Man make decisions for us because, frankly, being engaged in the world at this time is mentally and emotionally exhausting.

I’m not going to say that we need to fight every fight — one thing I learned the hard way with my Not an Activist experiment is that I just can’t be super-aware all the time and make all the right decisions and save the world.

But it’s an important reminder: This is how it happens.

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Congratulations to Tom French and Zoo Story

Thomas French, who is a super nice guy, a fantastic writer, and a mentor at Goucher College where I got my MFA degree, now has a book on the New York Times bestseller list. The book is Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives, and yesterday, he went on “The Colbert Report” to talk about it.

Watch the interview here.

It was really awesome to see him on the show, and I thought he did a great job. Lots of guests seem to have trouble keeping up with Colbert, but Tom just rolled with it and looked like he had a good time. It’s always good to see writers like him succeed, for so many reasons. Of course, he’s a good writer and he’s very smart, but he also cares immensely about everything he writes, and he shares that passion and intelligence with his students.

This summer, I had the opportunity to study with Tom at the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival in Chautauqua, NY, and I truly enjoyed it.

So, congratulations, Tom. May many more great things come your way!

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