Q&A with Signe Pike

I have never been a faery kind of gal and I wouldn’t have picked up this book if it weren’t for the “blurb” from Rita Gelman, author of one of my favorite books, Tales of a Female Nomad. Thank goodness – or thank the faeries! – that I did! Faery Tale is a magical romp that will make you look at the world, both that which we can see and that which we can’t always prove, with brand new eyes. I can’t wait for my daughter Maggie to read this beautiful travelogue one day….

Searching for faeries isn’t your run-of-the-mill adventure – how did you get started on this whimsical journey?

I was working full-time in New York City as a book editor when my father passed away; at the same time, there was a woman [Raven Keyes] living in my building who was a very spiritual lady. She loved coming to my apartment because she said it was filled with faeries. At first I thought she was one basket short of a picnic. Then I started thinking that isn’t it so amazing that there’s this woman in her mid 50s who still believes that faeries exist, while the rest of us have relegated the belief to the nursery.

At the time, I was an editor and started looking around to find a writer who may be interested in writing a memoir to prove the existence of faeries from a skeptical perspective. Then one of the literary agents I was talking to said she thought I should write the book.

One of the things I write about in Faery Tale is my father, who was a brilliant storyteller and also a professor at Cornell University. He used to teach creative writing but he himself could never write. It killed him that he could never produce, that it was never good enough to show to anyone. He’d always tried to encourage my writing. Like my dad, I thought I could be a supporter of other people who were writers, but it wasn’t something I was capable of doing. Until he passed away… and then I had all these emotions bubbling up about life, death and the sense of enchantment that we lose by grief and devastation and disaster. I wanted to reclaim the childlike possibility and magic and wonder. That’s ultimately what sent me out into the field looking for faeries.

While you’re searching for faeries, it also seems to be a symbolic quest for meaning in your life. How did the whole experience of researching the book and experiencing a search for faeries change you?

Because I was living so much in my head and such a skeptical and logical thinker, when my father passed away I didn’t have much to cling to in terms of my belief of life after death. When I left on my journey, researching faeries was an entry way to give the world beyond an opportunity. If I could find evidence of something as preposterous as faeries, then there was the possibility of everything else. As I was walking the hills and swimming in the Irish Sea and sitting in these ancient ruins, I was also searching to come to terms with the sudden and unexplained death of my father. I was looking for closure. Like so many of us, I was on this journey, seeking as a broken person to heal and become whole. I hoped that I could discover something of meaning. What I really didn’t know was that it was absolutely going to change my life utterly and completely.

I went from working 12- to 15-hour days in a cubicle in Manhattan to being able to sit at my desk in Charleston, South Carolina and apply a nice mud mask while I work on my next writing assignment.

I found closure, but healing is something that is a lifelong effort. Losing the important people to us, our parents, always makes you feel like you’re half an orphan. You still miss that person every day. In having encounters that I couldn’t necessarily explain and going through all the events I went through in Faery Tale, it did give me the seeds of trust that I needed to think that maybe there is something else out there. Maybe [my dad’s] not gone forever; he’s just in a different place.

One of the memoir’s themes is your hope that we treat the planet and all living beings with more respect. Can searching for faeries help us be more attuned to the natural world?

Yes. Absolutely. The ancients believed that the earth was imbued with a sense of enchantment – that it wasn’t just a tick tock of the sun that caused our seasons to change, but that there was a deeper magic to our existence. And that’s what a search for faeries is all about – looking at the world around us on a daily basis. No matter where we live, we are here now and we have a responsibility to take care of this creation every day. A lot of us get lost in our 9-5 and get disillusioned by the perceived darknesses around the world. One of the messages of the book is that we have got to start focusing on treating the planet well. When we compost, turn off the lights, start recycling, stop using so much water… when we start treating each other kindly, it makes a huge difference, and there’s a ripple effect. A lot of people get caught up in the idea that I’m some zany woman looking for faeries… How droll! Searching for faeries in the English countryside! But really, I want to inspire women to wake up to magic in their daily lives and stay connected to how we can live better on this planet. I’m trying to get people to open up to the fact that just because you believe in the rediscovery of enchantment, just because you want to chase a childhood belief, you’re not doing something foolish.

Do you have any other faery journalism trips planned?

Raven and I are hosting a retreat to Glastonbury, England in June. There are still some openings but we want it to be an intimate retreat. The process of deciding to do it was a personal one for us because of everything we experienced. We have special friendships with all of the people that the women will be meeting. We’re opening a very intimate world to them so wanted to keep it small.

There’s such a community springing up around the book… which is really lovely!

Read more in Women’s Adventure Magazine.


Q&A with Tracy Ross

Tracy Ross’ memoir, The Source of All Things, has already received rave reviews in Elle and O Magazine, and Tracy was recently featured in People Magazine (March 28th issue.) Everyone I share the book with is blown away by its raw honesty and exquisite writing… and falls in love with Tracy’s contagious energy. It has everything a memoir should: honest storytelling, compelling writing, guts and personality.

Here’s a recent Q&A I did with the author, as it appeared in Women’s Adventure Magazine:

Your connection with what you were feeling at different points of your childhood is so authentic – you’re so tuned into that. How were you able to capture that? What kind of research was required?

I looked at myself as a character instead of as “me.” I tried to keep some distance and just wrote the story.

I read an interview with Wells Tower [author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned], where he talks about auto hypnosis. When he writes, he goes into this auto hypnotic state. I would find myself being able to do that. If I would slow everything down enough in my brain, wipe out all of the clutter and all of the voices that said ‘you won’t be able to do this,’ then I could really begin to hear. I could call up and go up to those moments if I listened really closely… I knew how I felt and I knew how I reacted. It took a lot of listening really closely to hear it and feel it.

I also have journals, a ton of letters that people have saved, letters that I sent my parents when I was in Oregon. Throughout the book, I picked scenes that I felt really strongly about. Those are the things in our life that stand out: the moments that create the connect-the-dots of the important arc of our life… the moments that stand out emotionally.

I talked to a lot of people, did a lot of reporting, asked my dad and mom a billion questions to have them reconstruct what happened. I went back to my parent’s house and Twin Falls, tried to get court documents. It was really emotional and crazy. A lot of this story is me thinking “did this really happen?” That’s one of the problems that abuse victims suffer from – you spend so much time building these safety barriers around your brain and your own memory. You say “I don’t want that to influence me,” “I don’t want to remember that”… it’s the whole process of blocking it out.

What was the most challenging part of writing the memoir?

The writing. Believing that I’m not some hack and could actually tackle this from a nuts and bolts writing perspective. Also, throughout the whole process, having to pull the curtain back more and more and more. I had become very comfortable with saying “I was abused 12 times” and thinking ‘well, that’s not so bad, it wasn’t rape, so it’s OK, others had it worse.’ But I still felt so shitty.

Also, going back and asking my dad these questions was hard… he couldn’t answer a lot of them, like “What did you do when you would come into my room?” Nobody wants to know that. Even though I didn’t want to know it, I realized it was causing upheaval for my kids. I was all over the place last year and my kids had just entered the age of awareness that something’s wrong with mom, she’s not happy. And I couldn’t tell them why. That was hard. Finally, I could acknowledge and accept the fact that I had been so screwed over.

Read more about what Tracy says she hopes her readers get out of the story and how the outdoors helped her heal.

I also highly recommend her recent article in Outside, a story titled “You Don’t Bring Me Clif Bars Anymore” about the “relationship challenge” she and her husband endured.

Spring Book Reviews

My latest batch of book reviews – in the Spring issue of Women’s Adventure Magazineincludes two of my all-time favorite memoirs: The Source of All Things and Faery Tale. I was also lucky enough to meet both authors in person when we hosted book signings with these amazing women at The Next Page bookstore in Frisco, Colo. Definitely check these out!

The Source of All Things: A Memoir By Tracy Ross

She was a toddler who lost her father, then an eight-year-old sexually abused by her stepfather, then a teenager pulled between a family’s love and their corrosive secret. Even as a precocious little girl growing up in Twin Falls, Idaho, author Tracy Ross had guts. She still does, and the former staff editor at Skiing and Backpacker magazines proves it in a chronicle of her own hardcore life lessons delivered with a combination of biting honesty and understated drama.

Ross’ love of the outdoors serves as the narrative’s backbone: The wilderness exposed her as a child, helped her escape as a troubled teen, and now it frees her from the past. From Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, to Alaska’s Denali National Park, to Colorado’s high country-where today she’s settled with her own family-the rugged backdrops of Ross’ life have helped to ground her, while her time spent backpacking, hiking glaciers, and skiing untracked wilderness is what makes her tick.

The Source of All Things rivals Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle in portraying a dysfunctional family with compassion and wit. Ross’ writing is sensitive and sharp, full of raw emotion and painstakingly researched detail. She will win over readers with her story of survival, keen observations of the people and places surrounding her, and an ability to recognize and capture her conflicting emotions. “The desert killed people who didn’t know how to find shade or water,” she writes, describing her work for a youth program in Utah’s Escalante Desert, before hitting hard with a painful gem of truth: “But it didn’t hate them or prey upon them, the way dads sometimes preyed on their daughters.”

Like Into Thin Air, the first-person account of the 1996 tragedy on Mount Everest that helped cement Jon Krakauer’s writing career, Ross’ reflective first book will likely set her on the path toward becoming the new voice of adventure journalism. She delivers a memoir that’s both a vulnerable portrait of a childhood ripped apart and a liberating adventure story that you won’t want to put down. Long after closing the book, you’ll ponder her pain, her courage, and her strength. (Free Press, $26.00)

What’s it like to bare your soul in a tell-all memoir? Read our Q & A with Tracy Ross and find out.

Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World By Signe Pike

You don’t have to believe in faeries to be drawn into the spell of Signe Pike’s frolicking memoir of finding enchantment. Her adventures across England, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and Scotland offer a perfect antidote to what Pike calls “emotional deforestation”-the loss of magic and innocence-that, along with the death of her father, inspired her trip. She drops by-the-book research in favor of “faery journalism” and allows herself to find enchanted people and places, which she approaches with equal parts skepticism and childlike wonder. She relays her travel tales (navigating roundabouts and finding ancient faery bridges) with warmth, curiosity, and a sense of humor while also sharing her emotional journey as she copes with her father’s death. This book is a whimsical travel companion in itself, but Pike’s wit, wisdom, and wide-eyed view of the world will help you to develop your own sense of traveler’s whimsy. (Perigee Trade, $24)