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?

Spotlight on Seniors, a.k.a., EVERYONE Has a Story

I have a small dilemma. I’m charged with writing our local paper’s monthly column, “Spotlight on Seniors,” and it’s time to find a new victim interviewee.

Here’s the problem: the name. Some of our community’s most interesting over-65 year-olds don’t relish being labeled “Senior.”

Maybe that attitude explains their lives. In the past two years since I’ve taken on this gig (unpaid, unfortunately, but I decided that the workout of regularly muscling entire lives into 800 words was payment enough) I have interviewed 19 men and women. 17 of them, when asked, protested, “Oh, but I’m really not that interesting,” or words to that effect. But all 19 turned out to be equally, if differently, fascinating.

Some stories are dramatic: the woman who decided to ditch her family and climb a Himalayan peak when she turned 50. The man whose equations helped the Apollo 13 astronauts make their way safely back to Earth. The woman who sailed around the world with her husband and wrote a book about it.

Some are poignant: the man whose wife died in her sleep, next to him. The woman who brings our local EMTs cookies twice a month ever since they helped her dying husband, two years ago. The man whose wife left him with two young kids, who told me, simply, “The church helped me.”

But all the stories provide me, and thus my readers, a glimpse of a life never seen. For some, that glimpse entails real information never before shared publicly, like the man who related how he deserted his first wife and baby, 56 years ago. For others, it provides a softer side to someone the community has pigeonholed as gruff and grumpy, like my interviewee who explained, in heart-rending monosyllables, why he chooses to care for his wife with dementia. Such glimpses both assume and strengthen a trust in me, and in fellow community members, that I find completely humbling. My writing gig has turned out to be a real honor.

(orig. image courtesy Sam Pryor, Pinterest)

(orig. image courtesy Sam Pryor, Pinterest)


These folks aren’t just “Seniors,” any more than I am just “middle-aged.” (For the record: I’ve tried to come up with a less “baggagey” way to describe someone who’s at least halfway through her life…no luck. Let me know if you have a better term!) They are People With Stories.

Too bad the column isn’t called People With Stories. Unless…can anyone think of a snappy, alliterative way to say that? Have you had a similar experience talking to someone you thought at first might be mundane? Please share!