Local Food & Author Platform

Yellow pear tomatoes, round red stupice, and oblong Pompeii romas, all from plants I grew with my own hands, thanks to Renee's Garden Seeds.

Yellow pear tomatoes, round red Stupice, and oblong Pompeii romas, all from plants I grew with my own hands, thanks to Renee’s Garden Seeds.

It’s 21 degrees F outside and the mercury is falling fast, stars are pricking the evening sky, and I’m snug on my couch, sipping local whiskey, nibbling bite-sized tomatoes from my summer garden, and thinking about my author platform.

What is “author platform,” and what does it have to do with local food?

Platform is what a writer brings to selling a book in addition to her writing. It’s your expertise in your subject (which mostly applies to non-fiction), your following on social media and your blog; plus your contacts, personality, previously published work, and your message. It is also who you are and how you live.

These days, great writing isn’t enough. Writing is a business, and the truth is, we’re selling a bit of ourselves along with our books.

Hence platform, which is basically the foundation a publisher uses to help sell your books.

Local drinks: Tenderfoot Whiskey, from two blocks away, in a hand-blown glass from Gallery 150, two store-fronts from Woods.

Local drinks: Tenderfoot Whiskey, from two blocks away, in a hand-blown glass from Gallery 150, in the same block.

Okay, but why am I sitting on the couch on Sunday evening sipping local whiskey (thank you PT Woods!), snacking on tomatoes harvested a month ago before a hard frost (I took in 15.35 pounds of tomatoes from three plants), and thinking about author platform?

The whiskey is because it’s a cold night; the tomatoes are because their touch of sweetness reminds me of summer on my deck where they grew. (I rarely drink–with me, a little goes a long way–but I do love to sip a finger of good, neat whiskey now and again to clear my thoughts.)

The platform thinking is because I sent Bless the Birds, my memoir-in-progress, to my agent three weeks ago; she read it promptly and loved it. (“Beautifully written, clear in its direction, very strong in description…. Congratulations, you have written the book this story was meant to be.”)

Bless the Birds, a pile of pages on my desk....

Bless the Birds, a pile of pages on my desk….

She also said that the market for “health memoirs” is soft, not a good thing in the midst of the confusion that is publishing these days.

So I’ve been thinking about platform in the sense of what my message is, with this new memoir as well as my twelve previous books and all of my other writing. I’ve always resisted the idea of distilling my mission into a few words.

(I really hate being pigeon-holed. Put me in a box and I’ll have broken out in no time flat. That could be claustrophobia, which I confess to, or it could be sheer cussed stubbornness, which I have to own as well.)

It occurs to me though that articulating my mission would help, not just in selling this new memoir, in seeing whether the story articulates that mission clearly enough to be so visionary that it breaks out of that “health memoir” box.

The storyline that drives the narrative in Bless the Birds is the two-plus years Richard and I spent figuring out how to live well with his brain cancer. That’s health and memoir.

But is it “just” a health memoir? There’s the question. If I’ve done my job well, it’s more than that. Not that cancer, living mindfully and death aren’t universal themes. But….

Which brings me to back platform and local food.

Dinner was local too: Moroccan meatball soup from Ploughboy Local Market, featuring Colorado-grown ingredients. (And a recipe inspired by my neighbors.)

Dinner tonight: Moroccan meatball soup from Ploughboy Local Market, featuring Colorado-grown ingredients. (And a recipe from my neighbors.)

I eat local food to support my community (dollars spent close to home have a greater “multiplier effect” than dollars that go to some distant corporate headquarters and return diminished by the many hands they’ve passed through). And because local food is more likely to be grown with care for the community of the land as well.

Nurturing my local community—including that of the land that nourishes all of us—is part of living my mission and platform. Which I now see as this:

Reconnecting humans to nature to restore us to our best selves and fullest lives—healthy in body, mind and spirit—and also to nurture this Earth, the home of our hearts.

Now to make sure I’ve articulated that message in the story. That’s the visionary part.

Trickster Grief

Cottonwoods showing autumn's final colors along the Rio Chama.

Cottonwoods showing bronzey-gold fire along the Rio Chama.

On my drive home today after teaching at the Tony Hillerman Writing Conference in Santa Fe, I stopped in the cottonwood bosque (“woods” in Spanish) along the Rio Chama and was surprised by grief. As I stepped out of Red, my ears filled with the “Chur-ee!” calls of red-winged blackbirds, my noise filled with the tannic smell of decaying cottonwood leaves, and my eyes filled with tears.

The sharp pain in my heart and the wrenching sense of loss shouldn’t have hit me unawares. The drive between Santa Fe and Salida on US 285 was one of Richard’s and my favorite “threads,” or shared road-trips. We first took it together in the fall of 1984, thirty years ago, and retraced the route many times over the decades.

Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata or Seriphidium tridentatum, depending on your taxonomy) on the Taos Plateau.

Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata or Seriphidium tridentatum, depending on your taxonomy) on the Taos Plateau.

My memory is layered with snapshots of those trips: The first shocking flush of chartreuse leaves in the cottonwood bosque in spring, when the rivers are running full, their water hissing with red and ochre sediment. The sweetly resinous smell of big sagebrush after a warm summer thundershower.

The sound of a flock of piñon jays whinnying as they forage for nuts from the tree’s cones; the sight of sandhill cranes, wide wings spread and long necks outstretched, flying down the valley in long strings in late fall.

The dazzle of stars in the black night sky one winter night, starlight so bright that the snow along the roadsides glowed even with no moon.

Over the years, we got in the habit of stopping in particular places. The bosque by the bridge where the highway crosses the Rio Chama, the river draining Georgia O’Keeffe’s beloved badland and mesa landscapes, was one of those stops, especially in autumn.

The last cottonwood trees still bright gold along the wash above the Rio Chama

A few bright gold cottonwood trees along the wash above the Rio Chama.

So I should have known I’d miss Richard when I stopped out of my truck. But it’s been almost three years since he died. (Actually, it’s been two years, eleven months and 18 days, not that I’m counting obsessively or anything.)

In that time, I’ve deliberately built a good life for myself, one both radically different (new tiny house/studio complex, new truck, new writing projects) and very much the same (same block, same town, my life and work inspired by the same terraphilia we shared, a mindful love for the earth and its living communities).

I’m happy in this new life. Sometimes so much that I feel guilty about it.

Richard 'n Susan, twenty years ago....

Richard ‘n Susan, twenty years ago….

Richard and I were together—so together that we finished the other’s sentences and held hands wherever we went—for just shy of 29 years, much of our adult lives. Our bond shaped us—for good mostly, but not always, I must admit.

That kind of deep connection does not go away at death. Richard is still part of who I am, and the love we shared profoundly affects my understanding of myself and my approach to life.

I should have known that when I stepped out of Red and heard the blackbird voices over the rush of the river, and smelled the spice of the decaying cottonwood leaves, I would feel Richard and the sharp pain of our parting.

The Richard-sculpted blue granite basin in my bathroom

The Richard-sculpted blue granite basin in my bathroom

I didn’t know, because that acute grief is not something I feel every day. I feel his love; I often smile and think of something we shared. I live with his sculpture around me. I feel the loss, but it’s more like a chronic ache than a piercing shaft to the heart.

Grief is a bit of a trickster, surprising us when we least expect it. Today’s encounter was no doubt triggered by the sensory memories attached to the sound of the blackbirds’ calls, the quality of the light coming through the cottonwood trees, and the spicy resin of the cottonwood leaves.

I don’t flinch from the visits of Trickster Grief. I’d rather be reminded of the love I had, even when it hurts like… heck, than never have known that love at all.

Sierra San Antonio, another memory-place on the drive....

Sierra San Antonio, another memory-place on the drive