I woke up this morning to an unexpected, once-in-a-blue-moon, crazy Halloween treat.
My new book Without a Paddle is a #1 New Release in Poetry on Amazon and approaching the top hundred in American poetry books. Now those who know Amazon and their book ratings, something like this doesn't mean I'm quitting my day job and buying a yacht. What it does mean, at least in my eyes, is something so much more special. To even be near the top of any list before a book's release date says that I am one lucky dude. I am so fortunate to have the support and love of so many people who would buy a book that is yet to be reviewed or read by the public. To say I'm humbled doesn't quite capture how I feel. (I'd say I'm without words, but clearly --- I'm attempting to express that I don't even know how to say thank you--but here goes nothing!)
As many of you know, I have occasionally written poems and shared them publicly, either on-line or when I've given readings. A few have been featured on public radio. A couple published in journals. I'd only ever submitted a manuscript of poems for publication once, and after that rejection, which I fully anticipated, I decided I should probably focus on fiction and non-fiction.
Then this spring a strange thing happened. Sequoia Schmidt, a writer and owner of a publishing company contacted me via email. When you're a writer and that happens, your spider-sense kicks in and you instantly think: this is a scam or a trick. This message appeared a bit different. The woman writing me referenced her mother working in Bethel, and said her mom read my work, and that lead her to my writing, and would I be open for a conversation? She didn't know this, but she had me at Bethel.
About two minutes into our conversation, I felt like I was talking with an old friend and the common connections we had were magical. I was months away from the paper back edition of Warrior's Creed coming out, the memoir of Roger Sparks, one of Alaska's legendary pararescumen, and it turns out Sequoia's father Marty Schmidt had also been one of the greats to serve as an Alaskan Pararescueman and a well-known and wildly loved mountaineer. Sadly, Sequoia lost her father and brother in a tragic avalanche on K2. She wrote Journey of Heart about the loss and the story of traveling to K2 to try to find their bodies.
By the end of the conversation, I'd agreed to put together a new manuscript of my poems for her to consider for publication and we'd see where that took us.
I'd say the rest is history, but there is more to the story.
Sequoia checked out my sister Beth's artwork and asked about using one of her pieces for the cover art. For me this news was as exciting as getting my poems published. I've wanted to share a book with my sister for years, and now it was actually happening. (I don't know how many children's books I've had her do the art for and then never managed to get them published! Sorry, Beth!)
Later, when I told my good friend, photographer and journalist, Joe Yelverton, about my new publisher he revealed to me that Marty had been his climbing partner. Joe tackled his first successful 5.11 pitch climb with Marty. This news made my connection with Sequoia and the path forward for this collection, that much more magical. Alaska is such a ginormously small place.
If you know me, then you know how I value friendship, family, stories, and connections. While this year has been one of significant challenges and loss, concerns for my wife in her battle against Hodgkin's lymphoma, concerns for our state and country, and the world, amidst this pandemic and growing political unrest, this year has also been one of treats that have come in so many forms. The outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and strangers. The packages that have arrived with no indication who sent them. The food left on our doorstep. The unexpected texts or calls to see how we're doing. I've never felt so much love and support.
So yes, having Without a Paddle a #1 new release is quite a treat, but honestly, the real treat is having people like you in my life. Quyana. Thank you.