I'm in the process of negotiating a contract for the memoir I've been working on for, oh, two decades or so. When I started writing it, I had no idea what I was doing, no idea of what memoir was, and no real understanding of how to tell the story - hence the very long gestation. I describe this as "a book of my heart," and it's true. It's taught me who I am in many ways, what I care about, what motivates me, and why I live the way I do. It's a story about love and life: how I nearly lost both, and how my relationship to nature, the living world that nurtures us, gradually brought me back. Back to life and love, and most importantly, back to myself - to believing in and loving who I am, just as I am.
There was a time when I was sure this was a "big" book, a book that would bring me a contract with a big publisher and get me the kind of exposure all of us dream about. I thought it was my chance, my corner, my way to finally get my due. And I couldn't figure out why I struggled with the story. It sounded too heroic, or too stilted, or too forced. It just didn't sing.
A few years ago, on my way to a residency at the Mesa Refuge in California - two heavenly weeks of time to write uninterrupted, I read a slim book called Faith, by Buddhist author Sharon Salzberg. And I had one of those "Duh!" moments. I realized that I had been going about the story all wrong: I couldn't write it with the idea that it would bring me recognition or mention in the New York Times Book Review or big advances or being published by the right publisher because that's not what I believe in. That's not why I write. I write because I love the world, because I want to spread my own ocean of light over the ocean of darkness, because I hope to touch people's hearts. I write because I believe, as author and psychologist Mary Pipher said in The Shelter of Each Other, "Good stories have the power to save us."
I write because I want to tell the kind of story that can save me, you, all of us, and this singular living Earth, the only planet we have ever known.
So when I finished the memoir - when it finally sang, beginning to end - I didn't sent it to the hot-shot agent who read an earlier draft and loved it, the guy who doesn't take a project unless he can earn money from it, or to the pair of agents who love great stories and who loved my proposal, or to the editors at big houses who had said good things about earlier versions of it. I sent it to the editor-in-chief of University of Texas Press because she loves my work, she's market-savvy, and she publishes beautiful, thoughtful books. She has time to talk to me and she believes in what I have to say. She cares about the work as well as the bottom line. So I picked love over prestige and money.
That's not to say I don't intend to sell as many copies as I can when it comes out next year - I want those books to fly off the shelves! But if I don't live what I write about, the story won't work or touch its audience. I have to be the person I say I am, all the way though the process. This is truly a project of my heart, so I'm leading with my heart as I send it out into the world. I can hardly wait!