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Pearls Upon Pages: An Interview with Eileen “Ike” West, author of Whistler of Petty Crimes

West 1

Just for fun, let me share TWO introductions of who I am. One is a polished, professionally-written rendition. The other, I wrote myself. It’s a rather slapped together, homemade job, which oddly made it into the back pages of my book, Whistler of Petty Crimes. (That’s very trusting.) At any rate, if you don’t know much, and want to know more, please read on. If you are one of the few people in the world who DO know me, go ahead and read these intros anyway. Then you are welcome to report all inaccuracies to oops! (not really).

Good luck distinguishing the “pro” description from my own. (It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. I promise.)

Author Introduction #1

Eileen “Ike” West is an accomplished writer and educator with an M.A. in Communications from Michigan and a B.A. in Speech and Psychology from Minnesota. Ike’s writing career started when her first opinion page was published at age twelve. She continued writing throughout her life, with magazine and journal articles and two novels appearing across North America and Europe. Her writing is often inspired by special causes like holistic health, women’s justice, and other issues related to equality. When she’s not writing, Ike reads, lectures, and enjoys the out-of-doors and time spent with her family. 

In her stunning collection of poetry, Whistler of Petty Crimes, West skillfully balances profound reflections on serious topics with a gentle infusion of hope, comfort, and joy. Her unwavering commitment to personal liberty and desire for freedom shine through as prominent themes that leave a lasting impression on readers. Through her lyrical self-exploration, West’s poetry elevates consciousness and expands perspectives. Ike hopes her writing exposes a truth, voice, and imagination that help readers feel seen and understood.

(Whew! Okay, that’s one down. But hold onto your thinkin’ caps, another description follows.)

Author Introduction #2

An advocate for environmentally-safe prose of all shapes and sizes, Eileen “Ike” West, M.A., is an international teacher and free-range writer featured in Susan Smit’s Wise Women (NL 2003) and Susan Taylor’s Radiance (US 1998). Across decades, West’s essays liberally sprinkle magazines and other publications in the US, UK, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Greece, and the Netherlands. A list of articles is available at West’s first poetry collection, Whistler of Petty Crimes, and earlier novels, Away from Hannah’s Castle (US/NL 2006) and Another Giant World (UK 2018), are available through Amazon. Currently she keeps busy harvesting more oh-so-poetic stories and cobbling together her next volume, mostly about midlife misdemeanors.

For now, West’s favorite petty crime: whistling out of tune.

Dear reader, let me add one more favorite petty crime—selfishly hoping you’ll check out my debut poetry collection, Whistler of Petty Crimes. Did I say it’s on sale now? Well, it is! At Amazon—universe-wide—dot com, dot uk, dot ger, dot R2D2, and let’s not forget, dot C3PO. 

You can buy Whistler of Petty Crimes here.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

Years ago, I learned from my web designer son an important marketing strategy regarding book titles and product names. It’s this: make certain the first word of any title/name begins with the letter ‘A’. This puts the titled book/named item on the first page of any alphabetized list compiled by commercial outlets and/or public service organizations, like bookstores, libraries, and catalogs of every ilk. Not always, but often enough it’s considered a long-term truism by top-notch PR agents, like my son. (Yes, dear reader, you did hear more than a hint of motherly pride here. Pardon me.)

Thus, my first two books (novels, both) hold that important edge: Away from Hannah’s Castle, and Another Giant World. The WORKING title for my debut poetry collection also met this advertising standard. I borrowed the working title, Akin to Anemic Cows, from one of the poems in the collection. Unfortunately, that name did not survive the first phone call with Atmosphere Press’ Acquisitions Director, Kyle McCord, for a very immediate-term reason.

This newly-released poetry book needs reviews, and Kyle states that some reviewers only read the one poem that carries the same title as the book. (Dang! Those sly dogs.) Sadly, the poem Akin to Anemic Cows is a cute little story about how I got my nickname “Ike” but lacks guts, glory, sparkle, and pizzazz. Kyle assures me the manuscript includes many other book title possibilities. (Thanks, Kyle. Please know you escaped the temper tantrum I imagined throwing right then—on behalf of sickly cows cowering in barns around the world.)

During that call, Kyle further explained the Atmosphere Press publishing process, including the assignment of an editor who’d have great ideas about potential titles that might serve reviewer needs.

Enter stage left: Trista Edwards, Editor Extraordinaire. (Thank you, Cammie, chief-in-charge of everything authorly, for sleuthing out such a great fit between Trista and me if, indeed, sleuthing is what it took.)

On the day of our first meeting, I’m nervous, and break out with a bad case of the dreads. But in the hands of gentle Trista, I was put right at ease. Straight out of the phone call gate, she emphatically stated: “After reading your manuscript, I felt so joyful.”

Wow! What a great compliment. (Actually, her first comment sticks with me, and I stay alert to the remarks I’ve gained since, hoping they measure up to Trista’s enthusiastic response.) In that same phone chat, we immediately agreed (without shouts or scuffles) on the most powerful, grab-the-heart poem of the collection. Giggling (yes, editors can cut up a bit), we proceeded to share our delight with, and mutual admiration of, that one specific poem.

However, I must burst our giddy bubble, and point out that particular poem’s title, The Summer in Between, would not, could not, work for the name of the book because every romance novel about falling in love between one life stage and another commonly occurs during the summer season and would’ve been used many times already. Instantly, Trista looked online for that poem’s given title. “Whoa!” She immediately sniffed out proof in the googly pudding.

So now we need a new title for the book AND for what Trista calls its strong masthead poem. I love it! Just like that, we’ve gone from barnyard cows at center stage to a vessel with a ship’s mast in the middle. She flips our mental dials, and the dialing will continue rolling forward to yet another image once we reach a new name. Lots of creative fun to be had, working with Trista!

Of course, I am required to make a list here. (Read on to learn about lists popping up here, there, and everywhere in the realm of book-to-market. The demand for lists seems to proliferate as the publishing train cars clang together and choo-choo on along. You see now, cherished reader, Trista does ships, I do trains. So, there you go! We find common ground in the shared arena of public transportation.)

Now back to this list request from Trista. For it, I needed to yank out ten or so image-packed phrases, two or three words long, from the oh-so-bluster-resistant masthead poem. Once gleaned, I turned the list over to Trista, in hopes our jaw-dropping new title would shine out from the bunch.

This is the point where the poetry boat—or train—seems to set sail—or leave the station—and run smack dab into a fog bank. I turned in my list, Trista got gears going under the hull—or the butt end of the caboose—and presto magic! She returned to me with a new title, Whistler of Petty Crimes.

(What?! Where’d that come from?! Not from my list.)

(Sorry, son, master of advertising. W is as far away from A as all other alphabet letters, except for those laggers X, Y, and Z. Too distant, I know, honey. So, let me buy you lunch to make up for this Whistler title tragedy.)

Dear Trista, I do believe your editor extraordinaire superpowers include the sort of x-ray vision that leads you to read between list lines in order to chart a straight, smooth path for the manuscript under your consideration. Such an astonishing gift of sight you’ve honed while sitting on your editorial throne. (Thanks for sharing it with me.)

To this day, Super Trista claims the Whistler of Petty Crimes title IS somehow, somewhere, encrypted throughout the phrases on my list. In the end, there’s no answer to the question about the speed at which the title shows up. We don’t know. Or at least we can’t agree on the origins. It’s ships vs. trains, depending on who you ask. No matter. After all, who can’t fathom—or chug up alongside—a titular mystery. (To that, I say “Choo-choooo.”)

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I loved my book cover at first sight. Wow! The colors! A full rainbow of them. And how about that lovely little lady who’s taking a “flying leap” over what seems to be a stairway of rolling hills, each mound a hue of its own? Take a closer look. There’s more going on here. The ridge across the top of every bump reveals a clearcut silhouette. The lowest shows a girl child. Moving upward, the next summit outlines the face of a young woman. A step up the ascending hills, and it becomes clear we are watching one female mature as she moves along. The third knoll shows the face of a mother. And look, at the highest row of hills, mid-cover, right under the title, Whistler of Petty Crimes, there’s the profile of an elder.

Above it all, suspended in mid-air, is that tiny jumping figure we can assume is the author (and at some point, once absorbed into the stories inside the cover, the reader too becomes that gal). Together, author and reader dip down onto those hillocks and experience a sampling of events from within the four life stages. I imagine the hills ring out in poetic whistling as emotions are cleared from the minds of the women-in-profile. And as we progress, I’m betting that tiny dancer bounces lighter on her dainty feet. Fantastic!

(Thank you, Beste Miray, for the charming cover art. You nail it—or chisel it in the rocky ledges of Whistler’s cover.)

Okay. That’s that. Now, here’s the REAL cover story. It’s more the cover’s backstory. (And by that I don’t mean the story ON the back cover. Or the story OF the back cover. Oh, never mind.) Let me set the scene. Picture this: it’s late. Midnight-ish. Tired does not touch the weariness that blankets my dark home office at this point. But there’s no leaving. Not yet. Haven’t checked emails in forever, and sadly, guilt trumps tiredness. Plop down at the computer and crank up the email list, see it’s as long as Santa’s at holiday time. Scroll through, eyeballing the page for what’s important.

Oh! Here’s one. It’s from Ronaldo Alves, Art Director at Atmosphere Press. Been expecting this email, in a backburner-esque bin of my mind. With a deep sigh, eyes half-closed in slumber, I tease myself into alertness so I can see what’s on the screen. Lordy! It’s a batch of questions. A page of them, and he says the answers I’m about to give are aimed at making the book cover design unique, distinct, or at least far from generic.

(Here I think: Okay, okay. Just leave it. Tomorrow’s another day. And lots of other peppy-talk expressions to break me free of the quasi-resolve I discover, just because Ronaldo sent me an email. His name is exotic. That’s one thing. Then there’s the other thing: he’s emailing from Brazil. How many emails do people in the USA get from an enchanting South American country?)

So, I quasi-rally for the chance to rub brain cells with his. (Lots of quasi- going on here to indicate how difficult it is to get properly excited and think straight at the same time. Way outside midnight by now, and this mental debate takes me a long, long time—like it’s happening in slow motion. And underwater. A body of thick, dirty water that covers deep layers of quicksand. All this inside my sleepy head.)

Right or wrong, I read Ronaldo’s query list from head to toe. I must be dreaming. This can’t be real. Can it? I read it again. Again and again. Far into the wee hours. Then again, many times over the next day. Let me tell you. It’s been decades since I’ve had a blast answering a survey. First, I’m to find ten favorite book covers. Not books. Covers. Huh?

Dear Ronaldo, Exactly right this month, I’m in the process of moving from one US state to another. My library of books—along with their covers—are deep in the coffers of storage in a building far, far away from the middle of the night.

(Let’s pause here, precious reader, while I go look up book covers online. Beg your pardon, while I search.)

Unbelievable. There are book cover AWARDS in the Americas, Europe, and around the globe. Who knew. (I mean outside Ronaldo’s art department.) No problem finding favorites. Problem: whittling them down to a mere ten. Especially in my sleep-deprived state. But mission not impossible. Check it off.

Next on Ronaldo’s list (or somewhere down the page, honestly, I have no chronological memory of the night’s escapade): Pick out ten nouns from anywhere, on any page, paragraph, sentence in Whistler. Huh? (Pause. Read that bit again.) Still… Huh?

(Let’s pretend it’s not in the middle of the night, and this crusade is possible too. Will do, Ronaldo. And, excuse me once more, most-patient reader.)

(Oops.) In my close-to-comatose state I compile the list. Unfortunately, in the light of dawn, it’s apparent there’s not one noun among the ten words I send on to Ronaldo. Nope. The entire list is composed of adjectives that might describe nouns, but not the critters themselves. Time to reconnoiter. Fix the dang list. Wrestle actual nouns off Whistler’s pages.

(Trust me. This could take a lot longer. Might I suggest, gentle reader, you whistle a petty crime or two. Never mind if you go off-key. Remember, where we’re sharing this page, it’s waaaay late at night. Nobody’s listening.)

(Well, I’m back.) Suddenly, in every nook and cranny of Whistler, I found nouns galore and could compile an actual row of them worthy of Ronaldo’s consideration. And in case the cover’s backstory loses something in the telling, I’ll stop here. I think by now, the general idea is plain. Suffice it to say that I feel very blessed by my participation in the cover art process. No chance that I wouldn’t love the cover. It was in the cards from the get-go, when my creative juices were stoked ablaze by that crazy questionnaire.

(So, that’s the REAL cover story. And I’m stickin’ to it. I swear it’s what happened. I kid you not.)

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I started so young. While my grade school friends played schoolteacher and/or hospital nurse, I imagined myself writer and editor. My fantasy job involved dissecting letters to the editor out of American Girl Magazine, and re-writing the boring bits. My PRETEND years of education and experience led me to believe I could best any official editor’s work.

I re-wrote whole pages that in my estimation begged for glorious doses of sharp humor, and often, a slap or two of satirical edging. I must admit that at the time, I was flagrantly under the influence of Dr. Seuss, Mother Goose, Little Lulu comics, and Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (the latter due to my older brother being in total control of selecting us kids’ home library offerings).

Thankfully, whatever I wrote never saw the light of day. But two great things came out of that period. I received my first lock-and-key diary as a holiday gift, which set off a lifelong appetite for journaling; and I got my first paying gig at twelve when entering a writing contest for adults (what do I, a mere youngin’, know about fine print). Like a slew of other entrants far older and wiser, I was to write a commercial for a company that hoped to market a new-fangled invention: frozen fish sticks. (Hard to fathom kids existed lifetimes without such delicacies on the Friday school lunch plate. And like that, in just two jerks of a fishing line, these sticks become an overnight sensation. But I digress.) 

Like many inexperienced anglers, I looked to write my story from the perspective of a small fish and her aquatic family. First, I scribbled dialogue that could be straight out of Leave it to Beaver and the Cleaver family living room. Too dull. So, then I modeled these fish after my family members and other bottom-feeders I’d studied over the long ten years of my life, marrying human quirks and foibles to the fish in question.

Better. Still not a winner. Finally, I garnished every bite of fishly interaction with fun, in a way no grown up could/would. Now I was truly getting somewhere. Mostly to the submittal deadline, so ready or not, off it went.

Weeks and months passed, and I forgot about those fish. But low and behold, I won the writing contest. I pocketed a check for $50, and my story was shortened to a snippet featured on local radio-television for six months or so. Suddenly, forsaking nurse- and teacher-play payed off in spades. My dream fires stoked, I saw the light, fishy though it was. Flying under the radar, with no child labor laws to hold me back, I sprouted REAL writer wings.

Fast forward. It’s sixty years later and I’m old enough to warn my kids and grandkids that once I slide off to the other side of the veil between earth and the rest of heaven, they’d be wise to cast away all my possessions, old and used up as they are, and fight over one thing only: my collection of journals—shelf after shelf of them. It is the kitty at the center of the game board I leave behind. I assure the family that one day, generations from now, any pearls showered across those pages will be worth weighty gold. Or just a few bit-coins, depending on the economy at the time. I remind the youngsters that life (and afterlife too, I suppose) always involves a gamble.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

For decades, I’ve taught part-time. Always classes in adult education. Mostly about flipping the switch of consciousness from constant rationality to the mystic mind, until the creative imaginative becomes the predominant force in everyday living. It’s a great way to avoid getting socked into short-term plans, simply because we can’t see beyond the cloudy unknown blocking the long-range view. In my experience, the remedy to any dilemma we face in the distant future arrives out of a mystical mindset, not through logical analytics. Not anymore.

A post-Covid phenomenon that seems to linger is that our events-horizons have shortened. That’s just a fancy way of saying most of us are not planning far in advance, at least not in the way we might have done five or ten years ago. It’s like there’s a dense fog between us and what we intend to do long-term.

When we attempt to plan, despite the murky uncertainty between now and a faraway then, worry and anxiety often result. So, while we are all in mist-/myst-ical territory, we’re not comfortable there. If only we knew, the clouding of our tomorrows renders everyone in our culture a potential mystic. Yet nobody tells us to explore this aspect of post-Covid living. Through my teaching, I encourage people to undertake the search.

This idea seems new to moderners. But it’s ancient, practiced as divine art generations ago, especially in times of transition and great uncertainty. In my classes, participants consider the gentle mind, landing on a runway of new precepts. A shift is made in which the value of sensitivities and emotions outweighs the rational processing of external stimuli, whether real-world or virtual.

Using introspective, inner-directed awareness, we find guidance along the way, despite the fog of confusing externals banked between present and future. And surprise! In mystical territory, long-range plans do come to fruition—no matter how far-reaching they might seem at the time they’re made.

Why, then, don’t people more thoroughly survey delicate, internal observations? Many find the process of changing a mind—mental processes steeped in cultural normalcy—to be time-consuming and effort-intense. The hardest part is letting go of our outward focus, and instead, spending time and energy foraging around in what most would consider private daydreams.

Believe it or not, in my classes, I share techniques to purposefully stick our heads in the fog, sniff out what at first seem unproductive pathways, dead ends, and doubt-filled mind spaces. With practice, however, every one of these can serve up seeds of insight that sprout and blossom while floating us down the road towards a “later on” faraway. It’s this awareness I love teaching. Mystical and mysterious, but unrivaled in appeal when proving to be an avenue, not just to cope with today, but eagerly embrace a remote tomorrow. 

(I’m willing to bet the apple in my lunch pail the above is something most writers know from the inside out.)

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

WARNING: I start out this ditty with a way, way back story. Bear with me, enduring reader. I do eventually get to the point. If your good-natured humor has been exhausted by now, just skip the intervening paragraphs and jump ahead to the last few sentences. Yeah, that’s where the most rewarding and meaningful shows itself.

(Here’s an aside about my problems with wordiness. When my son was a rascally boy—this was seldom the case; he was mostly angelic—and needed parental intervention, he’d ask me to please, please, punish him. This, he could endure. But he could take no more of my rambling on and on about the lessons the problem of the moment afforded us. Forgive me, all of you, including my son. I DO ramble. And it’s now past time for me to get out of the way of the way, way back story.)

Back in 1949, my birth was rocky. For me, life began with a weak pulse. Premature a full month, I spent weeks fighting my way past the incubator cage and into the world. Every year, I celebrated the anniversary of my birth in big ways. Balloons, flowers, and cakes with candles.

I kept in mind not the year JUST passed, but remembered my start in that hospital box, my body cold and quarantined. How, at three pounds with no fat on me, I struggled through what should’ve been the ninth month of gestation in a warm womb. Instead, I was a specimen under glass, in the care of nurses and doctors, strangers all.

In the late 1940’s, incubators were new and experimental. Too much oxygen given through the pipes, causing blindness in some, left me with a brown “scar” on an otherwise blue iris. A reminder of where my life’s journey begins.

So, on birthdays, I celebrate not the milestones along the way, but the initial oomph my soul needed to push such a small, sickly body into health. It’s nothing short of miraculous—and worth honoring year after year. Not long ago, I had two surgeries on my birthday. Both operations were on my left side, the upper leg and wrist, repairing damage done in procedures a year or so earlier, after I’d been hit as a pedestrian by a texting truck driver. (Not fun.) (Not the hit.) (Not the thirteen surgeries.) (Not the years of recovery—let’s count them: 1…2…+…) (Most of all, not the texting driver.)

I could have picked another day for these last surgeries, but after much consideration, I made the choice to go ahead. People who celebrate milestones would not want hours of major surgery on a birthday. Yet I did it without hesitation.

But, this year, when 2023’s big day comes along, I settle on making a much gentler dream come true. I softly launch my latest book, my prized collection of poems, entitled Whistler of Petty Crimes. (FYI, the collection includes poems about my birth and childhood years, so long ago. Far out! That’s 60s’ talk, meaning “sick” or whatever kids say these days.) Happy birth, little book. I wish you a healthy start—and long life.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

NOTE: The following six song titles make for an easily-banked-together quasi-Haiku. Please, lyrical reader, merely look down the list of titles, and you’ll see it is so. (Ah, poetry. It shows up everywhere.) You’re welcome to ignore the second column with the artists’ names. Just start on the left-hand side of the page, and make a beeline straight down, don’t pass GO or collect $200. It’s not Monopoly. You are encouraged to pause between the groups of three titles, for total semblant-Haiku immersion, but that’s entirely up to you. (Authorland is a freewill zone.)

NOTE #2: Today’s inflation rate accounts for the Top 10 + 2 tune increase. We see only half of the twelve here, because in the case of an inexperienced haiku-writing author, such as myself, two sorta-kinda haiku are better than four. In other words, we get half the number of tunes, not the full dozen, due to the deflated value of this author’s refrains. If that makes any sense. If not, please email: (Just joshin’.)

(Ta-da! Here we go! If you know the tune, please feel free to whistle along.)

Miniature Disasters – KT Tunstall

I Am a Rock – Simon & Garfunkel

Carry On – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Just Like a Woman – Bob Dylan

Ashes on Your Eyes – Deb Talan

Let It Be – The Beatles

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I must say, what I write is a potpourri of published stuff—articles, essays, novels (for young and old), cartoons, and now poetry. Just hand me a scrap of paper and I take it as an invite to scribble out words and/or pictures, locking in wild ideas and/or sensations. And in my mind, the wilder the better.

(Long pause here while brain gears whirr round and round through memory-crammed grey matter. What bubbles to the surface of soupy mix inside my skull has to do with the reasons I write.)

While I know my life is ordinary in many ways, it is quite unique in others. After graduate school, as a young adult, I moved to a “closed” Dakota reservation (closed means non-tribal members have to be invited onto the reservation for a specific purpose, or they are not welcome to stay). My reason for being there is a job. I work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Crow Creek Agency in order to help the tribe implement the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1972.

To be exact, my function is to ensure a smooth transition back into the tribe for native children who’d been stolen from their families by mission school officials, social workers, and off-reservation police (a practice that’d taken place over decades). Few non-tribally affiliated people are involved, and good fortune places me in that number.

(Here, another bunch of rambunctious whirring goes forth as rust flies off decaying memories. In my advanced years, it’s not a pretty venture.)

(Okay. It’s quiet. We’ve landed somewhere else in Memory country.) Here, I’m thirty-something and heading for Austin, Texas, where I become an activist-initiator in alternative movements that include non-western healthcare; wholistic wellbeing and earth-based/eco-feminism. From the start, those of us involved chase our own offbeat passions while heading “onward through the fog.” Out of that fog rises, among other greats, the very first Whole Foods store. And for decades, “Keep Austin Weird” serves as our creed.

Finally, while Austin remains my headquarters, I lecture and travel Europe for twenty years, three to six months at a time. There, I play a significant role in the alternative movements sweeping through one country after another. Through my work, people gain perspectives far distant from those touted by a society steeped in (and defensive of) patriarchy.

(And yet again, that blasted brain whirring. Trust me. Lots of unruly word-slinging happens behind the page you’re looking at.)

(Here we go.) So, the reason I write is this: To make my unique experiences real and accessible to others, as much as that is possible, through written and oral stories—and through works of visual art.

(Life can get very, VERY busy. But, in case you’re wondering, yes, I do sleep. You know, like whenever I’m starved of South American email delights.)

By now, you’re probably wondering, first, will this woman ever get to the point, which is: for whom exactly does she write? Well, here it is (drum roll, please): I want to reach people who self-identify as lifelong learners. The perfect reader, in my eyes, remains ever open to new ideas, likes to explore the world of mind, nature, and humanity, and doesn’t fear rubbing up against the grain of cultural normalcy. Simply put, they are grounded in a reality I can honor and respect.

(Okay! As they say in Texas: “Got’er done!”)

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

This past summer in Taos, New Mexico, I’m six weeks nestled inside adobe walls. The walls of the home are thick red mud, caked by man and baked by sun. The garden and patio also wear a tall, plush robe of the same red clay. Here, I spend most days writing. With earthen barriers all around, I literally stay shut away from the world, working undisturbed.

Listen, please, esteemed reader, as I back up a bit. (Whoa! Did you hear the brakes squeal? No problem. It’s an ABQ airport rental car. Repairs cost me nada, rendering all squeals “music to my ears.”)

Before arriving in Taos, I have a general idea of what I want to write, having toted with me a bushel of notes I’d accumulated over the years. Once onsite, I put off placing pen to paper, because I discovered the home’s small library holds a fascinating book.

(Curious?) The non-fiction volume, Gringo Lessons: Twenty Years of Terror in Taos, was written by a local man, Bill Whaley. The book spells out his role in the 1960s and 70s’ shaping of Taos into a national and international mecca for artists and the arts. The movement he orchestrates sees an extensive draw of book and magazine illustrators from the East Coast, musicians and filmmakers from Los Angeles, and sculptures and painters from every place on the map. (Another very, VERY busy dude. I have to wonder, are all creative types zealots???)

(Note to self: explore that later + return to Gringo Lessons.) Whaley, a creative visionary, simply sees the possibilities and pursues his passion in remote, end-of-the-road Taos. Afterward, he chronicles in the book I hold the arts movement’s creation, its explosive pinnacle and decades of slow decline, until settling into the Taos known today—galleries galore with artists under every clay roof in town. Inspiring for artists of every stripe, including writers. (In my case, I find this as true as the ever-blowing winds that batter the desert saguaro’s prickly, upraised arms.)

(Brakes off. Pedal to the metal. Let’s move along.) I read Gringo Lessons from cover to cover. Whaley’s historical account fascinates me. Like cultural shifts everywhere, the origins can always be traced back to a spirited few with impressions of a future built on prayers given and licks received. Dreamers willing to sacrifice their all.

One such person (Whaley) wrote the book I pore over, and he forces me to see my own journey in a fresh light. (Another drum roll, please.) In the 1980-2020 era, I also play a part in a new movement, first in Austin, Texas, and then across many European countries. Now ensconced in adobe, I see clear parallels between Whaley’s book and the one I’ve come here to write.

(Okay. Intermission while we move over the drum and bring in the full band. I swear, this group rocks. And now we can too.)

In my glee of discovery, I sing and dance, as if to shake the massive adobe walls around me. This man (Whaley) wrote an account of his bringing people to Taos to drink from the area’s artistic arroyos. At a later time, I am a ground floor member of a different crusade. I too can write my story like he did. Not focusing on my small personal life, but rather, on the larger picture of what unfolded around me.

Reading Whaley, I first get an inkling, and eventually a full-blown outline of how to write about the middle years of my life. It won’t be like Whistler of Petty Crimes, as I’d expected earlier. I won’t simply disclose benchmarks in my own life’s journey. Those stories can take a back seat. Instead, the spotlight must shine on the wholistic alternative movements that become my passion and the evolutionary front I serve.

In the summer weeks I spend in New Mexico, I finish a first draft of the book I set out to write. Like the original draft of Whistler, written while exiled in Greece during Covid, this one too seems to write itself. Quickly the words fly onto the pages. Such gifts, both books and the places they were born. Magical Greece. And equally glorious Taos. For what I receive, I leave my deepest gratitude.

(Oh yeah. And thank you, too, Bill Whaley. Love your tales about artsy Taos.)

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

Whistler of Petty Crimes is my third published book, and each manuscript ends up handled by three distinct publishing companies, and a grand variety of pros. In my experience, every publishing outlet proves unique in the ways they ask authors to wrestle with the enigma of publication. In my case, I find all three service providers take me up and down, round and round, through voracious learning curves. (Lucky me. I want to learn—what with valuing lifelong study and all.)

When making the decision to sign a contract with Atmosphere Press, I reminded myself trekking through any uncharted forest in Authorland demands experienced guidance. It’s essential for a lone, somewhat inexperienced writer, like me. And I absolutely know the professionals involved would exact a commitment of money, and most of all, valuable time and energy. (For me, this proves true on any trail I chose to take while crossing Authorland.)

I maintain the conviction that first and foremost, the publishing of my books is meant to be a learning experience. As such, I find it helpful to remember the time, money, and energy spent is comparable to the expenditure of these same personal resources, should I have elected to attend graduate school and used that route to develop authorly muscles. (Been there, done that. Not going back.)

One BIG difference, of course, is that with Atmosphere Press I get a book out in the world. The same might not be true if I’d gained counsel through whichever chosen institution of higher education. There, the brass ring is always going to be an advanced degree. (And the book? Apt to end up a manana-thing.)

In sum, dear reader (who wears the writer hat too), go after learning the most you can from those you select to lead you through the furthest reaches, the tallest peaks of Authorship Mountain.   Go at that learning with gusto.

(As the publishing wizards in Authorland like to punch home: REMEMBER THAT.)

Forget about what you don’t learn. Focus on the gems and jewels you get from every adviser you are involved with at Atmosphere Press and elsewhere. These gifts can be sequestered away as long-lasting riches, turning out to be the treasury on which you base not only the current book, but also those you’ve yet to pen. (Yay, YOU!)

(Lastly, along with me, please shout out the motto on the banner atop Authorship Mountain: WILL DO!)

You can buy Whistler of Petty Crimes here.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

atmosphere press

Atmosphere Press is a selective hybrid publisher founded in 2015 on the principles of Honesty, Transparency, Professionalism, Kindness, and Making Your Book Awesome. Our books have won dozens of awards and sold tens of thousands of copies. If you’re interested in learning more, or seeking publication for your own work, please explore the links below.