I got a book contract! And I bet you can, too.
I don’t know if this is actually true because I don’t know anything about you or your book. But it feels true, and it’s the spirit behind this series of articles. Maybe if I share my steps and stories, you will read them and think, “If she can do it, I certainly can!” My first bit of advice: get to know people who have a big, supportive “Yes!” inside. It helps a lot.
My writing began in earnest about twelve years ago due to Linda Solomon Wood, founder and publisher of the Vancouver Observer. “If you know you have to write a book, start now,” she said. “If you don’t, 10 years from now you will wish you had.” She didn’t say this in a grand Goethe “begin it now” manner. It was more like, “Try to get out of the gig, but if you can’t get out of it, get going.” She was so certain. It got me started.
She loved my manuscript from the start. First, she sent it to her agent at one of the largest agencies in Canada. That agent liked it but didn’t accept it. “Environmental titles don’t sell,” she wrote, “even ones by well-known authors.”
This was both frustrating and the exact reason why I had written the book. Like a gazillion other women, I devoured Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. A friend who was recently in Bali told me we are known collectively as “EPLs”. But I adored Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert even more. I found it equally engaging and the information seemed much more useful: climate scientists’ observations of the profound changes to the world’s natural systems. Those changes foretell a very different world unless we take immediate measures to prevent it. I can’t imagine a more crucial message and yet I’m the only “FNC” that I know.
Apparently self-discovery fascinates a lot more readers than does climate change. But why don’t journeys of self-discovery take place in the context of how humans are radically changing the planet? Surely, as we head into an extinction event of geological proportions, our impacts on the Earth reflect what it means to be human. Shouldn’t any search for meaning worthy of its name include awareness that we are destroying the conditions necessary for our current civilization and, perhaps, for the survival of our species? What would happen if all those smart, adventurous EPLs took off the climate blinders and sought personal meaning in tending to the tree of life?
The idea that the entertaining and philosophical adventures I love to read about could take place in the context of climate change inspired me to start the book. First I decided to write about other people, people who find meaning in life by creating the solutions to climate change. Field Notes from a Solution, you might call it.
My writing group, while not EPLs themselves, share the demographic of adventurous, intelligent women who aren’t focused on climate change. They weren’t impressed by my stories of earnest businessmen and brilliant academics.
“Not enough happens,” each one said in turn. “Where’s the narrative tension?”
On the other hand, they loved the story I wrote about a solo backpacking trip I’d taken and the one about my five mile open water swim. That helped me realize that I would have to be personal like Gilbert rather than biographical like Kolbert.
“The story isn’t climate change,” Karen said. “The story is how it shaped you.”