The whole time I was writing a book


HouseI’m writing a book. There, I said it. And I can pinpoint the moment when I realized I have been writing this book for four years, ever since we were driving out of Idaho and into Oregon and somehow ended up on a road that was snaking towards the Columbia River  on top of the clouds.

It looked like a scene out of Highway to Heaven.

I’ve been thinking about the same things I always seem to think about — place, character, the love affair between the two — and have been wondering if there wasn’t something lurking inside me, something ready to be born, something that has been waiting a long time to come out. The realization came to me after a lot of immersing myself in a ton of books about writing nonfiction books.

I highly recommend books about books, by the way. It’s gloriously meta. Book-on-book action.

So I’ve been spending the last few weeks reading a lot about writing. It never gets old. I can read the same old advice told differently and laid out in different typeset, but  it never fails to fire me up. I can’t stop revisiting the stories about story.

And wouldn’t you know it —  I was floored when I discovered something new while clicking through — yes, Kindle version — a book by Marion Roach Smith called The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life.  The author mentioned something I had not heard of before as a way to inspire yourself when you’re writing a book.

Well, I’m not writing a book, I said to myself, but I’d like to. Let’s try it out.

The advice said: Make a book cover for yourself and put it on the wall as inspiration.

Now, to my mind, all you really need for a book cover whose sole purpose is to inspire is an image, a title, a subtitle and your sweet little byline. So I took one of my favorite images from an amazing Salem artist, Alexandra Opie, who is doing a project where she layers tin-type photographic portraits over images of modern-day people.

They are stunning. And they reminded me of what it felt like to move to Oregon — to believe you are somehow stepping into the narrative of the West, even if the only thing pioneer-y about you is all the things you left behind.

So I made a crude cover with one of Alexandra’s portraits and I thought about one of my favorite lessons from the feature writing course that I teach — sum up your story in just two words. It wasn’t too difficult.

Pioneer — You leave, you forge something new, sometimes you do it alone. You go West. You go to Oregon.

Perfume — You breathe, you connect, you suck the world in with your wild, insatiable heart.

Pioneer Perfume. It might smell like the sweat of canning all of the tomatoes from your garden. It might smell like a young woman who is a migratory songbird learning how to nest. It might smell like the terroir of a well-aged pinot that has absorbed all of the elements the earth offered up to it. It might smell funny, like a new mom wondering what in the world her new friends in Oregon mean by “family cloth.”

Whatever it is, it smells like a book.

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