November 06th, 2009
or How becoming an author enabled Kay McCracken to throw off her cloak of invisibility and rescue her uncensored self
Writers should be forewarned not to expect their lives will greatly change if they publish a book—but Kay McCracken has proved to be an exception to the rule. No, her self-published account of running a bookstore, purchase A Raven in My Heart: A Memoir, sick wasn’t optioned for a Hollywood movie starring Meryl Streep. She did not get her memoir picked up by the Oprah Book Club.
But she did have a life-altering experience. Thanks to friends and family in Salmon Arm Kay McCracken has felt herself transformed into someone who can boldly speak her own uncensored truths. After a joyous book launch in her hometown, she travelled to the Big Smoke for a very modest reading at Banyen Books where, for one hour, she and her Shuswap Valley friend Deanna Kawatski entertained a respectful gathering of a dozen people in a cramped but comfortable corner of the store.
It was enough.
Reading at Banyen was a full circle moment for me. I’d worked there many years earlier, just before the seismic changes of mid-life began to erode my well-being. At that time I could never have imagined myself as a published author, despite my secret yearnings. I’d find myself in the “Writers” section at Banyen, fondling books by the likes of Natalie Goldberg and Brenda Ueland.
I don’t know what it was exactly that pushed me over the edge but I pulled up stakes and moved to a small town in south central British Columbia known as Salmon Arm to start a bookstore. The time had come to make a change. I felt if I didn’t do it then, I never would.
What happened over the next five-and-a-half years was great material for a book. My bookstore called Reflections was peopled by quirky and wonderful human beings, one ghost, and mysterious happenings—a story that begged to be told. After closing Reflections (the irony was that I never had time to reflect on much while I was managing it), I spent the next ten years reflecting and writing about the experience.
Hundreds of drafts later I finally had a book and a title to hang on it: A Raven in My Heart: A Memoir. The symbol of Raven, the great Trickster, was most appropriate and that becomes even more apparent when you read the book.
All my fears and insecurities flooded back the closer it came to print deadline. This was a very personal story and I was divulging things about Salmon Arm—the presence of active white supremacists for one—that the city fathers (and mothers) were not going to appreciate. Would I be stoned as I walked down the streets?
And what about my family and friends? How would they react to seeing themselves portrayed on the page? Should I have dredged up the family secret? Luckily, I had the support of the Gracesprings Collective authors behind me. Alex Forbes, Caroline Woodward, Deanna Kawatski and I had formed the collective about a year and a half earlier, mainly to take control our work and to work in a spirit of cooperation.
Once I’d set the date for the book launch, I wasn’t about to back out. The SAGA Public Art Gallery was booked, invitations and press releases sent, even as I felt the sickness of self-doubt gnawing at my insides.
About one hundred people showed up. Something happened that night. I think it was the love and support I felt coming from family, friends, and the community because I transcended the nerves that had plagued me my entire life. The Shuswap Association of Writers sponsored my launch, writers donated time and baking, The Dust Puppets played their toe-tapping music, Patrick Allwood wrote and performed a very funny skit with my emcee, Clive Calloway. Everybody was brilliant.
If there was a highlight it was Bonnie Thomas’s talk. I’d given her the manuscript to read. Her mother, Dr. Mary Thomas, a highly respected Secwepemc First Nations elder, was in a couple of scenes in the book. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t offending. She gave such a moving tribute to my book at the book launch that many people were in tears.
My friends Deanna and Alex also did themselves proud, reading from their own books soon to be published by Gracesprings. During the intermission, I signed books and everything felt right. I wasn’t hiding anymore. I’d thrown off the cloak of invisibility and everywhere I went after that people stopped to say how much they loved the book or could they buy a copy from me.
Emails began flooding in. People I didn’t know called me at home. Praise for “Raven” was heady stuff. It was better than any drugs I’d ever tried. I basked in feelings of worthiness because it was apparent that I’d written something that was touching people at a deep level.
The next day Deanna and I visited Alan Twigg. I told him what I had told people at the Banyen event. Publishing this book had changed my life. “The idea that one can be happy is a radical one,” he said. “Maybe you should write about it.”
It has been five months now since I launched Raven and my life has changed. As I go about the business of promoting and distributing my book, I’ve noticed a trait that wasn’t there before. Boldness! Radical boldness! It grows stronger every day. It comes from a willingness to believe in myself, and what I’ve written.
Call me naïve, but I’ll take it—I’ll take all this joy that comes from allowing my uncensored self to have a say. Life dishes up enough heartache, so I’ll grab the joy while I can.
— Kay McCracken
[For more information on Kay McCracken and A Raven in My Heart: A Memoir, visit www.gracespringscollective]
Essay Date: 2009