Writing my memoir, River House, was a seized opportunity and an accepted challenge. I did it for fun, with no audience, no publisher in mind. I didn’t know much about the publishing process, and wouldn’t have expected that it would include public speaking, which is pretty much the opposite of writing in solitude.
When my book came out, I hit the road, circling the West to speak at 28 independent bookstores in 30 days—from Montana to New Mexico and California to Washington. My boyfriend came along for the ride since he is a professional rodeo cowboy, and it was his off-season. We headed north from our home in central Oregon to Spokane, our first stop. We cranked up the radio and consumed the landscape in an indulgent sort of way.
About an hour out from Auntie’s Bookshop, I started to get nervous. I didn’t know what to say. I suddenly didn’t even know what my book was about. I flicked off the radio and turned to look out the window. Ashanti, my boyfriend, let me be for a while. I shifted in my seat and gave out a great big sigh.
“What is wrong with you?” he said.
I sighed again. “Nothin’.”
“I’m scared to get up and talk in front of people,” I blurted out and turned away.
“What?! I thought that was the whole point of this trip.”
“I know,” I said with a long face and looked toward him.
He laughed at my face and the predicament. “Well, get your nerves off of me. I feel like I’m about to get on a bucking horse right now with all the anxiety you’ve got in this truck.” He laughed again. “A bronc named bookstore.”
And that’s how it went for the entire month on the road. We’d drive all day, anywhere between 4-14 hours, and when we’d be about an hour out, the fun and games were over, the radio got jabbed off, and I’d turn toward the window.
The driving that month was epic, just in miles, but it happened to be the end of November and we hit snow in every state. Running my truck on vegetable oil, with two spare tires in the back, we didn’t take it out of four-wheel-drive for two and a half weeks. We did at least half the driving under 30mph in the dark on both ends of the day. But the West is gorgeous any time of year, and I do love empty white roads.
Despite finding out that the only thing I’m really afraid of is public speaking, I absolutely loved visiting all those bookstores. I often got to meet the owner and the staff, many of whom had read my book, to my surprise. As the trip went on, I figured out what River House is about and what I have to say about it. Since I wrote my story for myself, I can’t say that I wrote toward any clear “point.” But, as I re-read and spoke and answered so many questions, the book had a new clarity.
I have to say that the whole process of taking my story from life to journal, through drafts, and, ultimately, speaking about the finished product, has been a wonderful journey of reflection. At every stage I asked myself and answered difficult questions. I searched and I found . . . myself. Out there on a bronc named bookstore.