Dreaming Big

Part of my Saturday morning routine is to enjoy a cup or three of tea and read the Globe and Mail. The Saturday Globe has been a part of my morning tradition for nearly twenty years now, but it’s taken on special meaning in the last four. Each Saturday I turn to the shrinking Books section to see if by some accident one of mine has been reviewed.

I approach this prospect in an oblique manner. I sort of shuffle casually through the section, scanning the headlines and wondering if the Globe might come to their senses and reinstate Margaret Cannon’s regular crime writing column, or if someone tripped on the way to the press room and a copy of The Darkening Archipelago fell out onto the editor’s desk.

It’s hard to feel disappointment if you don’t have expectations, or at least if you pretend not to.

This Saturday was no different. No review. No Margaret Cannon. But the words “crime writing” caught my attention on the first page of Globe Books, and I read with interest John Barber’s full page story on Vancouver Island’s Chevy Steven’s and her forthcoming book Still Missing.

Please don’t take this as anything but enthusiastic support for Ms. Stevens, but I kinda’ hate her. Not really. But I am a little vexed. Her first novel will be published shortly by St. Martin’s Press (a BIG New York publisher), and they are starting with a printing of 150,000.

If I was to subtract three of those zero’s I’d be a lot closer to how many copies of The Cardinal Divide (my second book, and first novel) sold….

The Globe piece is a sort of expose on Ms. Steven’s phenomenal rise to stardom in publishing before she has published her first novel. “How does that happen?” asks John Barber, “A million dreamers want to know.”

Make that a million and one.

With my third book, The Darkening Archipelago, being released this month, I’m pretty envious of Ms. Steven’s “major publicity tour” and the dozen overseas book deals she’s secured.

I’ll be self-financing a tour of all the hot markets: Victoria, Calgary, Canmore, Vancouver, and maybe Tofino.

I’m not complaining. I’m inspired.

Chevy Steven’s sold her house so she could stop selling teddy bears and real estate in order to concentrate on writing. That sort of sacrifice is common in the publishing world. When she sent her manuscript to St. Martin’s editor Jennifer Enderlin the publisher said, “In my 20 years in publishing, I have bought only a few debut novels and hardly any debut thrillers….But the minute I read the opening page…I knew I had to be part of this author’s career.”

She has obvious talent. When I went to her BLOG and read back through the trajectory of her writing career, I recognized so much of what she has experienced (OK, so no New York jet setting for me): the anticipation of publication, the charge of seeing the cover of your book for the first time, and the nerves of pre-publication expectation.  I’ll admit that Ms. Steven’s seems to be more concerned about what to wear than I am, but maybe that’s my downfall?

I read the Globe and Mail story three times. I read it again today. Somewhere there must be an answer to that question, how does this happen?

Ms. Steven’s treats book writing with equal parts creative passion and business smarts. That’s got to be part of it. It’s only recently that I’ve taken seriously the realization that in order to sell books in Canada, I have to get up from my computer and go out and sell books.

But there’s an intangible to the early success of Chevy Stevens: dreaming big. In reading back through her BLOG, she has dreamed big from the start and believed in herself, and had others (husband, and her Dog Annie) who have believed in her.

I’m still dreaming big. I think the Darkening Archipelago is a good book that people will enjoy. I just need to get it into their hands.

And I’m already thinking about what comes next: In January I wrote the first draft of The End of the Line, the first Durrant Wallace mystery. I wrote the second draft in February and the third draft was finished last week. Now I’ve handed it over to some sharp-eyed folks for feedback.

What’s next? Well, The Red Rock Canyon Mysteries, started in September while on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon need a publisher. And maybe Among the Wounded, a collection of short literary stories I’ve been penning since that late nineteen nineties.  And of course The Lucky Strike Manifesto, the third Cole Blackwater book is shaping up nicely.

Writers need inspiration. Mine comes from many places: my family, first and foremost, and the extraordinary beauty of the earth and its creatures. But reading about the success of fellow writers like Chevy Steven’s certainly doesn’t hurt. I toast her success and join the legion of those who await her debut novel.  I’ll dream big right along with her.

The Four Reminders

Recently I did some campaign style work for a coalition of environmental organizations. While I’ve served a number of conservation groups since leaving my post at Wildcanada.net in 2005, it’s been more than five years since I was directly involved with a campaign. I’d almost forgotten how stressful it can be, and was surprised at how easy it is to get caught up in the tension that comes with that work.

Over the weekend I re-read one of my favorite books – Comfortable with Uncertainty – by the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.  I was looking for some insight into how I might re-engage in the effort to protect wild landscapes and the creatures that live in them, without spiraling into the sort of dysfunction that drove me from the environmental movement half a decade ago. I flipped to a chapter of the book called “The Four Reminders” and it was exactly what I needed.

Buddhism’s Four Reminders are talisman to help us constantly return to the present moment. It is through this presence that we can surmount the obstacles that we face head on, with compassion and without fear.

The four reminders are:

Our precious human birth; the truth of impermanence; the law of karma and; the futility of samsara.

Our precious human birth: the work we do as activists is hard. We’re often times struggling against seemingly impossible odds, and we’re doing so because something that we love is threatened. This creates terrible pressures and leads to anxiety, stress and fear. But remembering our precious human birth – the simple fact that each of us is alive and here on this marvelous if not troubled planet – allows us to extend ourselves to one another in a way that might overcome our fear. We can open our hearts and act with love, not fear, and in doing so return to the present moment of our work.

The truth of impermanence: This might be our last moment on earth. We’re just passing through and nobody can say for certain what happens next. This can cause a lot of anxiety. That’s OK. But it can also help us return to the present and create a thankfulness for the gift of being able to work together to make the world a better place.

The law of karma: Every action has a reaction. Everything we do, everything we say, creates energy that can help us or hinder us in our efforts to succeed in our efforts. I often times act out of pure habit, and speak from a life of fear based reaction. But I’m learning – very slowly – to interrupt my habitual way of responding to the world, and taking a moment to pause. In that empty space I can sometimes chart a new course, one that emerges not from fear, but from love. I’d like to believe that this moment will yield results for the things I believe are important in the world.

The futility of samsara. According to Pema Chodron, samsara is the act of preferring death over life: “It comes from always trying to create safety zones. We get stuck here because we cling to a funny little identify that gives us some kind of security. Painful though it may be.” I for one have long been attached to the story of myself, and my place in the world. It’s served me from time to time, but I’m pretty sure that if I was to abandon the idea of a fixed identity and instead embraced the uncertainty of every moment, I could be more available to those I seek to serve.

I am going to continue to try and make the world a better place through my service to people, to places, to wild creatures, and to my own wild future. The Four Reminders will make this a little bit easier.