Road Trip XI, Days 17-21: We Interrupt This Travel Blog…

…for a special promo for a special person, and a special book. My friend and writing buddy Iris Graville is about to launch her book of essays, Writer in a Life Vest, and when you’re done reading this, I think you’ll want to order a copy or two.

Coming soon to a (hopefully independent) bookstore near you, IF YOU ORDER IT!

Just in case you’re wondering, “But Gretchen, aren’t you still on the road? Has nothing happened during the past week?” the answer is, Yes, and No. We’re happily ensconced at Tierreich Farm (“Kingdom of the Animals”), a.k.a. the home of my Amazing Parents.

And Stevie, World’s Cutest Donkey

We’ve seen a ton of ACC basketball, eaten a ton of Mama Dip’s fried chicken and Allen & Son BBQ, walked and ridden our bikes through what’s left of the country woods of my youth (this place sure has grown in 30 years), and caught up with many of our Far & Dear.

We suspect the new owners of tweaking the recipe–easy on the vinegar, guys!

But since that’s always been the purpose of these road trips, I don’t feel the need to re-describe the above. Check out any of my old blog posts from the second week of March and you’ll find it there.

Instead, let me introduce you to Iris. As her Author Page on Homebound Publications puts it,

Iris Graville has lived in Washington State for four decades, after childhood and early adulthood in Chicago and small towns in Southern Illinois and Indiana. A long-time Quaker, an environmental and anti-racism activist, and a retired nurse, Iris believes everyone has a story to tell. She’s the author of two collections of profiles—Hands at Work and BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community. Her memoir, Hiking Naked, was a 2019 recipient of a Nautilus Award. 

…but as I put it, Iris is also a remarkable example of a writer at her most humble, hard-working, and creative. To start with, she created the post of “Writer in Residence” for the Washington State Ferries–just came up with the idea, got in touch with the Ferry Powers That Be, and made it happen! Then she rode the ferry at least once a week for the year, writing–you can read about that fascinating “job” here while you wait to read about it in her book.

And humble? As a member of her writing critique group, I was privileged not only to read many of this book’s essays in their early form, but also to listen to Iris grappling with the challenge of learning as much about the Salish Sea and its inhabitants as she possibly could, in order to interact with the experts she was meeting and interviewing…in order to tell the story of the Salish Sea’s glories and vulnerabilities without setting herself up as an “expert” herself. She was a public health nurse, for goodness’ sake–but thanks to all her work, Iris can now write like Rachel Carson! (Fun fact: Ms. Carson actually makes an imaginative appearance in one of Iris’s essays.)

So that was also the “hard-working” part. But back to “creative” for a moment: in case you’re turned off by the word “essay” (apologies on the part of English teachers everywhere for possibly ruining that word for everyone), Iris’s pieces are all over the place! This book “contains multitudes,” as Whitman said: narratives, interviews, poetry, letters, even a playful messing-around with keyboard symbols (one of my faves). It features whales (and whale poop!), gorgeous marine descriptions, vessels, statistics, and challenging questions. Its pieces are dire, funny, heart-wrenching, hopeful, and above all, inspiring.

When you read Writer in a Life Vest, you will want to do more to protect whatever fragile environment you feel connected to. And who knows? You may feel inspired to invent your own Writer-in-Residence program at a place of your choosing–Farmers’ Market? Train Station? Dunkin’ Donuts? (j/k–that might kill you)

Hey Iris–you go, girl!

The book will be launched on March 24 at 5:30 pm, and will feature Iris in conversation with Lorna Reese, Lopez writer and founder of SHARK REEF Literary Magazine. They’ll discuss Writer in a Life Vest and Iris’s desire for the essays to promote resilience, inspiration, and hope. Register here to join the program in-person at the Lopez Library. There is a limit of 20 seats. Register here for online the program.

So, my friends…order two copies, one for yourself and one for a whale-loving friend. Then take a moment to marvel at the hard work behind such writing. Then maybe go do some yourself! (Or just get outside for a good, long, grateful walk.)

Watching Your Writing Role Model Strip Bare: Iris Graville Publishes Hiking Naked

If you’ve published your words in any form, you know the feeling when someone looks you in the eye and tells you they read what you published. It’s not like singing at a concert or displaying visual art. These are YOUR WORDS, your literal, expressed thoughts, straight from your brain into someone else’s. Who is about to tell you what they think.

Now imagine those words you’ve published are your MEMOIR. And imagine the people who are looking you in the eye are your neighbors, folks you bump into at the market, at the post office. 

My friend Iris’s new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, could not be better titled. As Iris tells it in her latest blog post, “Baring My Soul”:

I reel a bit each time someone says something like, “I’m reading your book, and it really speaks to me.” Or, “I was right there with you.” And, “My back hurt just reading about your work in the bakery!” What stuns me is the realization that, as I go about my life each day, some number of people are reading about it. There’s an intimacy in that knowing that I hadn’t anticipated. I’m discovering that the metaphor of “hiking naked” extends to how I feel about others now reading my words.

(Courtesy Homebound Publications)

My own forthcoming book, Altitude, Book Three of the Flying Burgowski series, could not be more different from Iris’s. My book’s a novel. It’s Young Adult (although I’m finding that Older Adults seem to like it just fine). It’s fantasy–not vampires nor zombies nor dystopian archer-warriors, certainly, but hey! my heroine can fly. So, yes. Fantasy enough.

The only thing my book has in common with Iris’s is that she helped “midwife” mine, via critique, while I did the same with hers (both of us with a LOT of help, and in her case, Masters-in-Fine-Arts-level help).

Well, maybe two more commonalities: they’re both set in the northwest, and they’re both about strong females.But that’s it.

So how can Iris be my writing role model? Because she is, to borrow her metaphor, hiking ahead of me on that rocky path called publication. She started years ago, creating her own press to co-publish Hands At Work: Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work With Their Hands, with photographer Summer Moon Scriver.

Then last year she published Bounty: Lopez Island Farmers, Food and Community–which is just what it sounds like, only more mouth-watering.

But all the while, Iris was working on that memoir. Crafting and drafting, re-crafting, re-drafting; pitching, pitching, pitching; writing and submitting short pieces to increase her visibility; keeping her chin up through inevitable rejections…until one day…

You go, girl.

I am still bummed to have missed Iris’s launch party because of some silly plane tickets to Ireland. But now that I’ve heard about it, I’m totally planning to follow in her footsteps at my own launch party in November.

(Not sure who took this photo…but Iris will tell me.)

Iris introduced by her own writing mentor, Ana Maria Spagna? How ’bout Gretchen Wing, introduced by Iris Graville? 

I better ask her, huh?