I’m heading to Costa Rica – it’s medicinal – an elixir for a major piece of work. Listen, the last 18 months have been a mix of something like tornado winds and walking on cobblestones in spike heels. All brand new to me, all pregnant and bustling with surprise, all requiring another kind of energy and posture.
For five years prior I was consumed with writing my book. Revisiting all the hilltops, valleys and swamps of my healing journey – writing about all of that wasn’t easy but it was familiar.
Then – it was done and a whole other experience laid waiting. A completely unknown experience – if I could have just written my way thorough it, told the story instead of having to live it, I would have. But that’s not how you get your writing, your story into the hands you want it to land – face up and smiling.
My best recollection is that it was in the fall of 2015 that Patricia, my editor extraordinaire, introduced me to Steve, saying, “This is Donna and you’re going to publish her book.” I kid you not. That’s what she said and that’s what he did – through his independent press – Leveller’s.
Marketing! How I hated that word, Marketing. It has all the ring of capitalism, consumerism, with lots of snake oil salesman ramma zamma. Since it sounded impossible I knew I needed help. So I sat down and talked to a few professionals. One was a whole group of four people who said they’d be my team for a mere $8K. That would be a “no”.
Despairing, I turned to a friend. I always turn to friends when I’m despairing, clueless and in need of a better direction. This time it was Suzanne, who said, when I turned to her, “Let’s ask the E.D. at a local museum - she’s great and may know someone.” And know someone she did.
Right now my inner critic, Pacasandra, is getting terribly impatient with this dragged out over detailed rendition of history, asking, “Who the hell wants to hear/read a detailed account of all the things you’ve been doing for the past 18 months? Get on with it kid, this story is a snore.”
Too bad, this is how I need to trace it.
So the museum E.D. sends me to Clare in San Francisco with a newly formed practice, helping authors market their books. I may have been one of her first clients, which would explain her $2K estimate for a new web site, a book cover, a marketing plan and a couple other things I can’t remember right now. What actually cinched the deal was when, after interviewing me for half an hour, she said, “Donna, you’ve been marketing for decades, only you call it organizing.”
So off we went, bi-coastally attached at the hip, to make it all happen. Meanwhile I pulled together two groups – over a dozen friends with opinions (FWO’s) and a marketing posse. I turned to the FWO’s for things like the 11 book covers Clare got from her designer, Katie, asking them for their favorite. It wasn’t mine; it was my second choice they almost unanimously chose. So, that’s the one I picked – and ultimately grew to love.
And I started meeting with my marketing posse, Will, Suzanne, Joan, Steve, Chug and Erin. A couple of pivotal moments: in the first meeting I explained I wanted the book to go to as many survivors as possible AND to reach activists and potential activists. Their answer stopped me in my tracks. “OK, you can do that but it will take two marketing plans.” I sneered internally and thanked them for their input, growling all the way back to Mt. Holyoke College, to drop off my intern (oh yeah, I forgot, I did a whole request process with Mt. Holyoke to get Erin in the first place). Anywho, talking with Erin in the car it dawned on me that 1) I didn’t want to do two marketing plans and 2) I should focus on all survivors - the activists would probably eventually find me.
Another moment with the marketing posse was when I tentatively brought up the idea of raising money to send free copies to organizations that worked with survivors. Steve and Will bantered back and forth until they came up with the simple but perfect title for the campaign – the Books To Survivors Project (BTS). The BTS fundraising campaign took one hell of a push – including producing a three min. video.
I had no idea what the hell I was doing but Rythea and Tom did. Hundreds of BTS’s were, and are still, getting sent out – the last batch was sent to a District Attorney’s office in Michigan for a group of gymnast survivors from the L. Nasser sex abuse case. (By the way – I still have some copies waiting to be sent out so let me know if you have a place for me to send one.)
In an oversized nutshell: I did 14 readings – in Western Massachusetts, Boston, Washington D.C., Ft Lauderdale, Miami, Long Island, Chicago, Sheboygan (a town in Wisconsin which included reuniting with my first cousin Linda after 26 years!). Readings were done in bookstores (the worst), libraries, and community organizations (the best). My intern, Erin, had the nerve to graduate and move 100 miles away to go to graduate school. Luckily I found a stellar assistant in Cat who’s teaching me all kinds of stuff about social media and beyond. Four writing/mindfulness workshops were given for survivors; a second video promoting the readings and workshops was produced with the ever creative, Sev, in Florida. I gave a performance of my one-woman show to a conference in Albany, N.Y. filled with advocates and survivors. Amy Kerr did my portrait and brought me into her public art and writing project I Am More. An excerpt of my book is being included in the That’s What She Said spring presentation, a program of the University of Colorado Denver's Women and Gender Center.
Joanne, a veteran journalist, pushed me hard to write an article and get it published in a national magazine before the year was out. Never done that either. I worked for six months, on and off, crafting an article about #MeToo being a good start for opening up exposure of childhood sexual abuse. I sent out a 1864 word article to twelve national magazines – getting back mostly crickets and only two written rejections (though nicely put). Then, when I was just about to give up, let go and submit it to a bunch of blogs in the national Sexual Assault community – MS Magazine came through and published it.
In partnership with my buddy Emily, I’ve sent proposals to three conferences happening in 2019 to do workshops/readings with survivors who work in the sexual abuse advocacy field. And I’ve started conversations about filming my book reading with a live audience to promote to local PBS stations – a great opportunity to offer it more and travel less. Lastly I’ve overcome my resistance to technology-centered communications and organized a pilot online writing workshop that will be another way to reach survivors outside of my home area. We had our first session on Jan. 26th and it was a delight.
There’s a bunch more I could list but you get the gist – it’s been one hell of a ride. So I’m taking myself to Costa Rica for three weeks – to a little house on a beach. Week one will include two of my dearest friends, Reena and Judy, peer counselors and overall good time gals. Then my darling daughter, Jen, will arrive. It’s a rare delicious treat to have time alone with the one I lived with as a single mom for years. Then my husband Chug, grandson Cole and Jen’s partner, Sev, will arrive for some island frolicking. The last stretch will be just me, Chug and the beach!
I am bringing four books: The Collected Essays of James Baldwin, the Definitive Edition of The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Upstream by Mary Oliver and Becoming by Michelle Obama. The only “organizing” I will be doing is deciding which book to read and if and when to walk the beach, swim and/or sit and look at the ocean.
Thanks for reading,