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)

Best of 2010 – Books, & So Much More…

What a year! I went from being pregnant to being a mom. We moved from a 350 sq ft studio (that ladder to the bed was getting rough at 8 months pregnant!) to a 3 bedroom townhome.  Instead of our annual river trip, we enjoyed an extended east coast family trip: Our “raft” was my father in law’s Honda Fit. Instead of a tent, we set up the pack ‘n play at every new house. Our cooler was full of breast milk bottles rather than Tecate, limes and Tequila.

Oh yeah, and I got a Kindle for Christmas (let’s just let that confession slide… more on that in a future post.)

As I recently wrote in an article for Women’s Adventure Magazine, so much has changed since our daughter Maggie arrived and there’s just no way to mirror my former life… nor is that even a priority. It’s not about not being able to. I simply don’t want to. There are other things I’d rather do, most of which involve my daughter.

Reading – both alone and with Maggie – has remained one of my must-haves. While I’m usually a total book snob, I had to forego a good deal of more serious picks in favor of light chick lit and easy reading this year. For example: I tried Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, but at 7 months pregnant, those horrendous labor scenes didn’t sit well. Once Maggie was born, my reading (surprisingly!) didn’t ebb as much as I expected, but my newfound “mommy brain” couldn’t quite handle the intense, thought provoking nonfiction or biting, dark fiction that I’m typically drawn to. Now don’t get me wrong; this reading year certainly wasn’t a bust! In compiling my Top 10 list, though, I just noticed a bit of a bias towards lighter fare.

And of course, in honor of Miss Maggie, I thought it was also appropriate to include a Top 10 Board Book list. (While I had a say in the board book voting, these were vetted by my blossoming seven-month old reader. No, she’s not reading yet, but she is turning the pages!)

**2010 TOP 10**

For those new to my annual list, note that these are not necessarily new books that were released in 2010; they’re just books that I read this year. So, in no particular order…

Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann) –The story takes place in New York City, 1974, opening with a man walking on a wire between the World Trade Center Towers. Hands down one of the best works of fiction I’ve read in years: the characters are rich, bold and gritty; the writing is impressive (yet never got in the way of the storytelling flow), and McCann offers brilliant commentary on our post-9/11 world without writing directly about it. This would make for a great book club selection.

Room (Emma Donoghue) – I first discovered this on the RJ Julia Top 10 list and polished it off in just a couple of days. As a new mom, I didn’t think I’d want to read about a woman who was kidnapped and trapped in a room with her son. But once I started, I couldn’t put it down – it was one of those books I wanted to get up and read when I woke up in the middle of the night. What makes this such a stand-out novel is the narrator: you’re bound to fall in love with five-year-old Jack’s voice, approach to life and perspective of the world.

Half Broke Horses (Jeannette Walls) – After The Glass Castle, I’ll read anything from Jeannette Walls. This “true-life novel” is based on the hardscrabble life of Jeannette’s grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, who’s tough as nails. (This is a quickie read.)

One Day (David Nicholls) – I love British writers… what a fresh perspective from the same ole! This novel follows Emma and Dexter on a single day – July 30th – over the course of two decades. Each chapter leaves you wanting more… but you’re left hanging… until the next year’s chapter comes along and you get a sense of what’s filled the time between. Friendship, family, passion, pain, love… it’s all the usual suspects for a drama, just rejiggered with a fresh unique backdrop.  (I just read that this is already being made into a film… if it were 10 years ago, they could’ve just cut and pasted the cast of Bridget Jones.)

A Widow for One Year (John Irving) – I tired of John Irving for awhile, but this novel won me over again. I love his multi-generational stories, his writing, his hubris-filled characters. In this case, the autobiographical references make it that much more appealing.

American Wife (Curtis Sittenfeld) – I fell in love with Curtis Sittenfeld after reading Prep, but wasn’t interested in American Wife since it was loosely based on Laura Bush. I did finally pick it up and the likeness isn’t lost (especially towards the end.) However, the character development, storytelling and sharp writing make it absolutely worth reading. I cannot wait for her next book…

Three Day Road (Joseph Boyden) – when I was up in Whistler for the 2010 Paralympics, I found a gem of an indie bookstore called Armchair Books. When I asked the owner for his recommendations of books by Canadian authors, he immediately pointed me to this novel of WWI. I wasn’t in the mood to read about trench warfare (can one ever be in the mood to read about war??), but I’m so glad I followed his lead – this is a good pick for both men and women.


The Source of All Things (Tracy Ross) – I just reviewed this for the Spring 2011 issue of Women’s Adventure Magazine – it’s one of the best memoirs I’ve read in a long time. Keep an eye out for this one (available until March 2011.) I’ll also be doing a Q&A with Tracy for the WAM site and am working on setting up a book signing with Tracy at The Next Page, so stay tuned!

Tara, Maggie & Signe

Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World (Signe Pike) – I stumbled on this book by accident, but I was meant to read it. It’s as simple as that. The author, Signe Pike, leaves her Manhattan career as a book editor to journey to England, Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man in search of faeries. (OK, stay with me here…!) But this gorgeous memoir-slash-travelogue isn’t just about searching for fearies; it’s about the childlike wonder of things we may not be able to see or prove… about connecting with the earth, people, places… about believing something bigger than ourselves. You don’t have to believe in faeries to appreciate this book; all you need is an open mind. Signe has such a fresh voice, her writing is exquisite and witty, and she doesn’t take herself too seriously. What more can you ask for? Best of all, in the perfect serendipitous kismet that the story is built on, Signe happened to be in Summit County, Colo. this month on a ski vacation. Our last-minute book signing brought in nearly 40 people and we were enamored with Signe’s charm, warmth and energy!

Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball (Bill Madden) – for baseball fans only. A great insider look into the bigger than life personality that was Steinbrenner, including of course the whole Billy Martin fiasco (I guess that should be fiascos, plural), the business of baseball, and what made George tick. Disclaimer: I am a Yankees fan. And yes, this is my first public admission of such a fact since I may be the only Red-Sox-fan-turned-Yankees-fan out there. Go ahead and stick that right up there with my passive Kindle confession ( :

Born to Run (Christopher McDougall) – I walked by this book so many times in different bookstores, thinking it was only for intense runners, ultramarathoners and the like. I was absolutely wrong and so glad I finally picked it up. Diane (who used to own Hamlet’s Bookshoppe in Breckenridge, Colo.) summed it up best, writing “it is about so many things… running, leadership, guts, passion, business, elite athletes, fascinating characters…” If you’ve ever run – and I’m talking about ever, even if the last time was playing tag when you were six – this is worth checking out.

2010 Board Books Top 10

Since Maggie loves to eat everything, our motto is “First we read the book, then we eat the book.” You should see all the chewed up corners of the covers! For those of you with kiddos – or anyone looking for a good baby gift – hope this list offers some good suggestions.

Jamberry (Bruce Degen) – we were turned on to this fun rhyming book from cousin Noah. This was the first book Maggie started to actually pay attention to. She loves the page where the bear and the boy go over the waterfall with their berries… wheeeeeee!

Haiku Baby (Betsy Snyder) – beautiful book all around: the words, the pictures, the kanji on each page, the sentiment. What a fun way to introduce haiku and poetry. (But what’s a hippo doing on top of a mountain??)

The Going to Bed Book (Sandra Boynton)– I may be one of the few moms who’s not a fan of Sandra Boynton. Hey! Wake Up! tells the rabbit he’s too small for basketball and the elephant he’s “too big to use the swings… you should go do big guy things.” Really, how can you already limit and discourage kids, let alone infants? However, I do like The Going to Bed Book – as does Maggie. This is the first book we read when we’re getting ready for bed and as soon as we start, she settles into nighty-night time.

Bear Snores On (Karma Wilson) – a favorite for after naptime. Great sounds throughout, including plenty of snores, a burp, a sigh and a sneeze. Also appropriate since when Maggie was first born, I’d wake up in the middle of the night not to her cries… but to Joe’s snoring! (One of those things that’s funny only in hindsight…)

Big Red Barn (Margaret Wise Brown) – I had never read this until a friend gave it to us as a gift. We used to read this every morning when we came downstairs. We’ve since learned that daddy does much better animal sounds. Speaking of which…

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Bill Martin, Eric Carle) – a classic of course that has caught Maggie’s attention since our east coast trip. Most fun to enjoy together with daddy – I read the book and he jazzes it up with animal sounds. I’m even impressed with his teacher (think Charlie Brown, wah wah wah wah) and children voices!

I’ll See You in the Morning (Mike Jolley) – my all-time favorite bedtime book, which I’ve bought for almost every friend who’s had a baby. This is part of our bedtime ritual, and far better than Goodnight Moon. This is a real gem that still hasn’t reached the popularity it deserves.

Can You See a Little Bear? (James Mayhew, Jackie Morris) – love the international flair of this one. Gorgeous illustrations that  I probably appreciate more than Maggie at this point.

Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb (Al Perkins) – Best rhyming and repetitive rhythm book I know. Plus, we love all the drumming in it!

Little Green (Keith Baker) – what’s not to love about a hummingbird zipping and dipping and curly-cueing around your yard? And Maggie especially likes this one because there is so much turquoise in the pictures (she gravitates towards toys and books that are bright blue – I know, who knew that kiddos this little had color preferences?!!)

There’s nothing quite like a baby to keep you smiling and keep you on your toes! Maggie’s taught me so much already, but most of all, to keep things in perspective. And with that sentiment…

…as we head into 2011, here’s wishing everyone lots of quality reading time, many adventures and happy, healthy days ahead!

Women’s Adventure Magazine – Media Room

I had the opportunity to review three fantastic reads for the summer issue of Women’s Adventure Magazine:

  • Female Nomad & Friends: Tales of Breaking Free & Breaking Bread around the World, by Rita Golden Gelman
  • Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving and Not Lose Your Family, Job or Sanity, by Dimitry McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea

Check out the link here.

I’m just starting to explore which books I want to review for the Winter issue, so if you come across any new releases that you think would be a good fit, leave a suggestion here.

Searching for Stability in Alaska

My latest review for Women’s Adventure Magazine – Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska, by Miranda Weiss.

After college, Miranda Weiss leaves the East Coast, following her boyfriend – and his dream – to Homer, Alaska. What seems like a typical girl-meets-world memoir quickly veers away from cliché. For Weiss, Alaska is a welcome change in scenery, one in which she can study her environment as a naturalist, be a part of the land, and as in any adventure, learn both independence and interdependence.

Reminiscent of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska reveals Weiss as an expert at nature writing and self-reflection, as she observes the outside world, while assessing her own place in it. Read more.

Book Whisperer

I’m getting a kick out of a friend’s new nickname for me: the Book Whisperer. Not only do I love reading, but maybe even moreso, I love matching people with their perfect book. Since I haven’t been working at the bookshop lately, I’m getting my fix as a personal shopper for books.

Cesar Milan and his clan, from the NYT

Cesar Milan & his clan (credit: NYT)

Last Tuesday morning, when I sat down to check email, one really caught my attention. The subject line was “Help!” It was  my friend Julie asking if it was OK to borrow the next in the Twilight series or if that was too decadent. I had told her it was addictive, and while somewhat trashy, impossible to put down. (Confession: I read them all back to back this winter, unable to read anything else in my pile until I devoured those!) So of course I supported her habit and dropped off the final three in the series.

Whether I’m a book whisperer, or as Julie now likes to call me, a dealer providing the emergency stash (“if yo’ure not home, I’ll leave them on your back steps in a plastic bag…” ), my goal remains the same: finding readers their perfect book.


Anyone need recommendations?

Drop me a comment with some of your favorites, and I’ll recommend others to add to your list!

At the risk of sounding like a J.Crew or Pottery Barn catalogue, here are a few recent lists…

The Mona

  • The Spirit Catches You & You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman
  • Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem
  • Little Bee, Chris Cleave
  • Story of a Marriage, Andrew Sean Greer
  • Into the Beautiful North, Luis Urrea

The Julie

  • Loving Frank, Nancy Horan
  • Maynard & Jennica, Rudolph Delson
  • Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer

The Richard*

  • The River of Doubt, Candace Millard
  • Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
  • Manhunt, James Swanson
  • Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson

*Some excellent reads that he’s recommended for me: Personal History, Katharine Graham; The Housekeeper & The Professor, Yoko Ogawa