So, I’m writing a book. For over a year I have been shopping a proposal to publishers. I knew that I could self publish at any point, but I have wanted to collaborate with a publisher for many reasons, not the least of which is to tap in to a professional editor’s expertise in helping to make the book something that will best serve my audience and that will have a viable distribution channel. One publisher told me that the proposed book was too broad for their niche. Another publisher told me it was too niche for their broad audience. Fortunately, like Goldilocks, I found a match that was just right in Down East Books, headquartered in Rockport, Maine (yes, I know the image says Camden, but trust me on this), which is an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield in Maryland.
This book is both in itself, and is about, the realization of dreams. I learned to read when I was three. My mother always said I was two but I’m adding a year to that to make up for a possible exaggeration on her part. I mean, maybe? But no matter. I started writing stories at about age five, drawing pictures to go with them. I remember one in particular was titled, “The Foggy Frog.” I collected frogs, the toy and figurine type, although I played with real live toads on the regular outdoors on the edge of the southern NJ Pine Barrens where I grew up. I remember the pictures I drew. I could recreate them even today. By the time I was twelve I knew I wanted to publish books of my own. I was twelve over forty years ago. In the intervening four decades I had stopped listening to the inner me who wanted to write, make art, play music, and have a creative career. People who meet me today think I’ve been working in the creative economy my entire life, but it’s only been since 2014 that I’ve worked in fiber art full time. By the time my new book is published it will be 2020. I will turn fifty-five years old in 2020. I want you to hear something loudly and clearly in this: it is never too late to realize a dream.
The working title of this book is, Seasons at the Parris House: Heritage Skills for a Contemporary Life. I have no idea at this moment whether or not that will be the title on the front of my book when it is released in 2020 but it captures the essence of what it is about. Let me take an excerpt from my proposal to explain the vantage point from which I approach this project:
“When I was thirty five, eighteen years ago, my husband and I moved ourselves and our four then-little sons from the urban/suburban Princeton, NJ area, a region in which we had spent our entire lives, to rural Western Maine. We went from a 1950s mid century modern cape on a suburban lot to a two hundred year old Federal home and barn in a National Historic District. Our new neighbor across the street had a cow in the backyard, much to our young sons’ amusement. I was a stay at home mother with a degree in Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Delaware. I had, prior to becoming an at-home mom, worked in market research and in procurement and project management for a large defense contracting company on busy Route 1 in NJ. I didn’t garden, I didn’t hook rugs, I didn’t keep chickens or bees, I had no idea how to can food. Upon arriving to the Parris House, I noticed that our apple trees looked like they needed some attention, but I had no idea what to do. Sometimes I baked. But it seemed as though almost everyone around me in my new home was proficient in at least one heritage skill, whether they were my age or old timers, and I thought, “That’s amazing. I need to learn these things too.” That was the beginning of my journey of bringing heritage skills into my own life, without a big farm, without a lot of formal training, but rather learning them the way the people around me had learned them: the passing on of knowledge, often inter-generationally, from one human being to another.”
That was my situation upon the realization of one of my most fervent dreams to that point, which had been to move to rural Maine and raise my sons here. What I know now is that the desire to work with my hands, create something out of nothing, grow and preserve food, keep animals and insects, and “practice heritage skills,” was not unique to me. In the nearly two decades I have lived here in Maine and collected a new skill set, the yearning for these skills among the general population has only increased, including among people living in urban areas and people with little to no land at all to work with. I tell people all the time that none of this is rocket science, but they often seem skeptical. They seem to believe that heritage skills are complicated, mysterious, or beyond their reach. They are not, and this book is for anyone who wants to make a start toward learning them.
I have always enjoyed the juxtaposition in my own life of living in a two hundred year old home in a National Historic District while always embracing the newest technology I could afford. At the Parris House we have smart phones, smart lights, and smart thermostats. This laptop I’m writing on right now, not to mention the fact that I use it to run a business that’s about 90% online, is a technological godsend. We also have centuries old windows with wavy glass and completely pesticide free growing practices. I dye wool in pots on top of a vintage gas range…and then sell that wool to anyone literally in the world who wants it via the internet. You don’t have to live like Laura Ingalls on the prairie to embrace heritage skills, and you don’t have to completely forsake the solid methods of our ancestors to live a contemporary life. Mix it up. Make some dreams come true with it all.
The book will take you through the four seasons at the Parris House. It will take a look at the historical contexts of the place, people who went before us, and lifestyle behind what we do here today. Each season will have fiber art projects, recipes, growing tips, fun things for you to try yourself. You do not need a farm. You do not even need a lawn for some of these projects. They will require no super specialized equipment, impossible to source ingredients, or secret codes to unlock. They will be simple, but not insult your intelligence. Each featured project or recipe will result in something valuable, beautiful, and/or delicious but without unnecessary complication. Many will be starting points or stepping stones to get you on your way to a deeper study of whatever it is you find you are most interested in.
It will have beautiful pictures, because I’m a visual person and I’m going to be taking lots of beautiful pictures for this project.
It will be a working book. While I hope to make it visually inviting, it is not meant to sit on the coffee table or the shelf. It is meant to be out and open on your kitchen counter or table, in your craft area, or even outside with you, as a reference and companion for the projects it contains. Get it dirty, dog ear the pages, use the hell out of it.
For me personally, this book will be a grateful acknowledgment of Maine, of Paris Hill, and of the Parris House. Without this setting, I would be a different person living a very different life. That aspect will be strongest to me alone, though, because this book is really written for and focused on you in your place and in your life, be it urban or rural, east coast or west or somewhere in between, in North America or well beyond.
By the time this book is published, we will be gearing up here to offer seasonal quarterly retreats at the Parris House which will provide hands on experiences in fiber art and heritage skills, which will provide more learning opportunities for those who want to expand their making and doing.
Sound interesting? I was brand-new-author-thrilled when I saw that Rowman & Littlefield had already put up a pre-order page for the book. You can click on that HERE. Please remember that publication is not scheduled until 2020. In the meantime, I’m working hard!
If you would like to keep up to date on everything that’s planned for the next chapter (pun intended), a sign up box for our newsletter is at the bottom of every page of the website. You will never be spammed. In fact, the newsletter needs to publish a bit more often (as time allows…or doesn’t…).
For a glimpse of the Parris House homestead, enjoy the pics in the slideshow below.
That’s the big news from here. Thank you for reading. – Beth