If you have not befriended a tree, go out and find one to sit with.
Old Cedar knows why growing into the wind is certainly no solution. It tried to once, and proof of the attempt lingers in the twisted gray trunk below a shock of green on branches curved by the forceful old north wind.
~from Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems
The last time I visited my favorite tree on Cape Cod was in January, about six weeks before COVID put a temporary stop to travel home.
Old Cedar lives on a quiet stretch of shore between the marsh and the ocean near a tidal creek and not far from a friend’s boathouse. I like to sit at the base of the tree and survey my kingdom.
If you have not befriended a tree, go out and find one to sit with. The world is full of wise old trees.
The green leaves at the top of Old Cedar are gone now, and as the ocean claims it from below, there is not much left, really. It is becoming the skeleton of a tree, the very memory of a tree.
I found two feathers stuck fast into the Old Cedar’s tangled branches the last time I visited, so I suspect I am not the only one. Maybe trees have some memory of their ancient sacred role in pagan belief, and maybe that adds to what they can teach us now.
As the world changes around me, I think about Old Cedar, and how it chose to grow with the wind instead of against it, how its roots have held it tight for so long, and how in the near future it must inevitably be swept out to sea to make room for whatever new thing comes next.
The clan gathers for a summer family reunion. It’s a beautiful beach day, and my grandfather’s second wife is treating us to lunch at the Black Pearl, Newport Rhode Island’s classic seaside dining spot.
The Black Pearl puts poetry in the chowder and fries fish to write home about. But our host is rich as Croesus, and also stingy, so everyone is ordering hot dogs and peanut butter sandwiches.
When asked what I want, I say the bouillabaisse. I am six years old.
Bouillabaisse is associated with the southern French town of Marseille but may have even earlier origins in ancient Greece. The classic fish stew was how fishermen fed themselves by utilizing the shellfish and boney fish they couldn’t sell to restaurants by boiling it in garlic and fennel to make a savory stew at the end of a long day’s fishing.
In time, as Marseille became rich with tourists, the simple fisher-fare made its way to resort tables with the addition of saffron and tomatoes.
On the French Rivera, the seaside town of Frejus launches fireworks every night. Imagine Van Gogh’s sunflower phase, and you’re pretty much in Frejus. The colors, the sea, and the tastes! At the end of another sunny summer day, my husband and I found our way to a tiny restaurant in Frejus under a train track famous for serving only bouillabaisse.
We weren’t sure what we getting into, but the trains turned out to be few and far between, and the bouillabaisse to die for. It was served by an ancient lady in separate courses, first the broth, and then the fish. Redolent with saffron and filled with cockles I had never eaten before, it was food for the gods. The ancient lady serves us until we can eat no more.
It is my 28th birthday.
I learned to make bouillabaisse on Cape Cod in an effort to recreate the one we loved so much in Frejus. It turns out Cape Cod has its own recipe made to suit the local fish. This is one of the few recipes I have the patience to follow, and I do it so I don’t muddle the flavor and waste pounds of seafood and many threads of precious saffron.
I was pretty much able to recreate the French bouillabaisse we ate so many years ago in Frejus with the help of the recipe and the addition of fresh New England fish.
Instead of the strange cockles in the French use, Cape Codders add Littleneck clams. We also add shrimp, but only the carefully deveined tails. We have ample summer tomatoes, and garlic and fennel, and sometimes, when I’m feeling a little wild, I’ve been known to add sweet summer corn to my Bouillabaisse, because why not?
This summer, I have found myself stuck in Amsterdam due to COVID-19. Since it’s my birthday again, and I’m turning 28 again, I spent a recent evening cooking with friends.
Right now things in the Netherlands are pretty normal, so it was no problem to haul out my favorite book of Cape Cod fish recipes and get to work.
I cook Bouillabaisse about once a summer, and it’s a big undertaking fit for a celebration. This time, I was hoping to bring the Cape Cod recipe to the Netherlands, and one step further away from France while maintaining the vital essence of the Bouillabaisse.
The Dutch do not have Littleneck clams.
This makes me sad, but I found tiny Venus clams and hoped for the best.
Shrimp come whole in the Netherlands, and since there is a local tradition of boiling and serving shrimp that way, I just chucked them in the pot, with heads and shells intact.
A firm white fish is essential. Do not add oily fish, it will ruin the dish. I was lucky to find cod on sale.
The heavy ripe field tomatoes you want for the sauce are hard to come by in this land of efficient greenhouses, so I grabbed the only can of tomatoes I saw in the store that day. The plot thickened with the sauce when I realized they were cherry tomatoes.
Have you ever seen a can of cherry tomatoes? I can tell you now they’re actually quite good.
Rouille, the classic red sauce that tops a traditional bouillabaisse, is one of the things that keeps the essence of France alive in the recipe. The other is saffron.
Rouille is basically mayonnaise with red peppers, lots of garlic, and a shot of tabasco. If bouillabaisse leaves you with a fine garlic hangover, it’s because of the rouille.
Use your Cuisinart to make the rouille to ensure you hit peak emulsification.
The rouille works with the croutons you make from french bread slices to make the dish taste very, very French.
The trickiest bit is really the timing. After you’ve made your tomato-based sauce in your biggest pot (I use my biggest, orangest Le Creuset) you add the fish according to cooking times. Beware of overcrowding the pot.
I learned the hard way that Venus clams open almost the minute they hit the heat, unlike littlenecks, which are tough as nails and will put up an impressive resistance to opening. Think about your timing as you add each fish and learn as you go.
It is a fluid place for shifting between realms, where poems can be written, paintings painted, and universes created.
Dropped by a retreating glacier on the Atlantic’s wild edge, Cape Cod has always offered a shifting landscape. As the sea takes a bit here and deposits a chunk there, the landscape is ever changing, yet somehow always the same.
Every winter sand from other places washes into Barnstable Harbor spurring off Barnstable’s annual harbor dredge. Some coastal change is predictable, and some is totally random, like the nor’ easter that broke the bulkhead in Barnstable Harbor, or the time Hurricane Bob left a wrack line of destroyed boats across the south side and littered the streets with scallops for the taking.
Cape Codders might not be completely shocked by the inevitable coastal shift brought on by climate change because it is a part of the natural condition of their shoreline and their marshes. They are used to inhabiting the liminal space between land and sea, and they and their stories are inextricably bound to it.
As I writer, I call in that space to create.
The Great Marsh is a wild space bridging the sea to solid land. It is a sacred space from the point of creation because it is unconcerned with the mundane cares of the solid land behind it.
It is a fluid place for shifting between realms, where poems can be written, paintings painted, and universes created.
It is perhaps why artists traditionally flock to the Cape, that and the light cast by short trees and reflecting seas, which looks a lot like the light you can still see in the fields of Holland to understand what inspired the Great Masters’ work.
Do you judge a book by its cover? Bookstores do, and so do potential buyers. Your book cover is your chance to make a great first impression, and since you only get that chance once, you don’t want to waste it.
Make sure your book cover is eye-catching, unique, and fantastic.
I had the cover for my latest book, Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems, in mind before I had even assembled the collection of poems for the interior. It started with a lucky photograph I had taken of our local sailing fleet on a full moon low tide. I didn’t know at once how that would translate into a cover, but I was sure it would.
If you are not a designer yourself, there are designers out there for hire. If I had tried to make my cover, I’m pretty sure crayons would have been involved, so as a self-publisher/small press, the cover design was the only part of production I hired out.
It was worth it.
I found my cover designer through word of mouth. Networking with other writers, online or in person, is a great way to find resources. There is an entire community out there self-publishing, so you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.
I’m going to make an important disclosure: The designer who made the cover for Moon Tide is Sybil Wilson. She is wonderful to work with and you can contact her over at PopKitty Design if you need a great cover.
The Self-publishing school Self-Publish.com lists the following steps to finding a cover designer:
Research your book’s target audience
Brainstorm cover designs within your genre
Research book cover designer’s styles
Know where to find cover designers
Use a strategy to select the best cover designer in your budget
Begin the selection process
Use a rating process to help you choose the best book cover designer
Hire your book cover designer
If a potential reader can somehow relate to your cover, and it catches their interest, if they find it beautiful, and want to go in there and check it out, you have succeeded, and hopefully, sales will follow.
Book stores are also looking for covers that look professional and entice readers in a display. First impressions count, make yours as beautiful as possible.
‘The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry…’
“The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley…”
That’s some nice Robert Burns to start the day: “The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry…”
And they do, especially for authors launching books in the middle of pandemics.
Before COVID-19, authors introduced new books with in-person readings and signings. Maybe a party. Definitely a celebration, because it’s no small thing to write a book. In the last few months that has changed completely, for both traditionally and self-published authors.
Suddenly we all need to figure out how to launch books without actually leaving the house.
This is even more challenging for the self-published or small press author because most of us do not have an army of publicists and a big publishing house to support our efforts. The regular challenges of promotion are compounded by not being able to engage with your audience in person.
In Amsterdam, as the most beautiful spring weather on record eased the strain of lock down, I spent a lot of time eating stroopwafles. The classic Dutch waffle/syrup cookie sandwich, best cut with strong coffee, stroopwafles are the perfect size to balance on the top of your coffee cup so they get warm and gooey.
I may have looked idle, but I was trying to figure out how to promote a book about Cape Cod to other people who love Cape Cod. As you probably know, Cape Cod is on the northeast coast of the U.S., and that is a long way from Amsterdam.
I had planned a beautiful, garden book launch on Cape Cod with the local historical society, with a reading, flowers, wine, and a book signing. I had plans for another reading down the road in the lovely Swedenborgian church, and I was grateful for the community support the book had inspired.
But all I could think of was Robert Burns. He pegged it. The best-laid plans do go awry, sometimes in ways we never imagined. Many, many writers have been caught short by the quickly changing circumstances brought on by COVID-19. The entire publishing industry has been caught short.
So we need to be agile.
We need to harness the technology that made self-publishing possible in the first place, and we need to move it all online. Even though we miss the experience of direct contact, this is how we can still connect to readers.
In the end, I grabbed my phone and recorded my book launch at my desk. It took a couple of minutes, and it was far easier than I had imagined as I sat there eating stroopwafles.
I posted it online, and people liked it.
It’s doable people, be brave and think outside of the box, and if you’re launching your book in these times, I’d love to hear how you adapted to the situation.
The written word is powerful if people can access it.
When everything stopped suddenly due to COVID-19, and those who could stayed home to flatten the curve, a bunch of couch-bound, new writers in residence began a conversation on social media about the current state and future of publishing. We were wondering how best to get our work in front of actual readers.
Otherwise, why were we writing?
First, a disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert on the publishing industry.
But I am a writer, and I do have work to share because what use is it to anyone stashed on some hard drive far from the light of day?
In the course of this writerly, couch-bound discussion, an agent piped up advising writers to do it yourself, to just go for it, especially if it’s time-sensitive. Because traditional publishing takes years to produce a book, after you’ve already spent years trying to get noticed, and by then, you’ve missed your window of opportunity.
I was happy to go with that.
Think about how the printing press completely revolutionized Europe by putting books into the hands of the people, effectively moving knowledge from the confines of the monasteries and the universities to the commonweal.
Books, which had previously taken years to create from vellum, pen, and ink, making them expensive and rare, suddenly became cheap and affordable with the mass production made possible by the printing press. Next thing you know, vernacular language overtakes Latin, the fledgling middle-class is off and running, the Reformation is underway, the nation-states are rising, and Capitalism, for better or perhaps worse, is becoming a thing.
What would the American Revolution have been without Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, fresh from his printing press?
The written word is powerful and revolutionary if people can access it.
Next, consider the internet, which is the equally revolutionary successor to the printing press, allowing writers to share their work with readers far and wide, maybe without even leaving the couch.
I went back and forth for a long time about the validity of self-publishing and the apparent need for the Official Publisher Stamp of Approval, and I concluded that because the technology to publish has fallen into the hands of writers and they are using it, the stigma of self-publishing has begun to fade. At the same time, traditional publishing simply does not have enough room for all the good writers out there, so self-publishing provides the obvious alternative route.
This article will be duly shared through my blog on my website, i.e., self-published.
You could argue publishing houses are the gatekeepers preventing loads of rubbish books littering up the place but, plenty of rubbish is also selling through traditional publishers right alongside the good stuff.
Self-publishing isn’t much different, some of the books are good, and some of the books are bad.
What is different about self-publishing and the small press is how they level the field, allowing voices that might never have been audible a chance to share their work. And before you get too excited, promotion is harder than writing, but that’s a story for another blog.
Moon Tide is my second book, but it’s my first self-published book. Sea Crow Press evolved because Moon Tide seemed to need a home, and it was just worth creating.
I am following the news from the safety of my couch, and I am watching with the rest of you as the systems we took for granted fail. Self-publishers and small presses have always worked outside of these systems, and joining their ranks is a liberating experience, especially now in the current climate.
If not now, when?
I would not be at all surprised to see a wide selection of exciting and new self-published books coming out of the COVID-19 lock down. Mine will be among them, and so far, creating my own poetry book has been an incredible experience.
I am excited to share this book with you, potential readers, and I am pretty sure this is why most of us are writing.
It starts with the vision of a book and evolves into learning how to create a new business for a new time. Sea Crow press is fledgling but already has several new titles in the pipeline to follow Moon Tide. One is a guided journal for these difficult times, another comes from Nelipot Cottage in the cozy English countryside bringing readers a collection of essays about barefoot horses and holistic riding practices.
To create books, I had to outsource cover art while embracing a steep learning curve that continues to rise, and I had lots of help from other generous writers who have traveled this path before me.
If you are thinking about going for it yourself, check out Vellum software for interior formatting. Make sure your cover art is good because that is your first impression, and you only have one chance to make your first impression. Get up to speed with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), paid on delivery (POD), why you need ISBN numbers and where to get them, and give the process the time it needs.
Read and re-read, and maybe find an editor.
Keep writing people, and be very, very brave.
An independent imprint curating creative non-fiction and poetry.
Sea Crow Press is named for a flock of five talkative crows you can find on the beach anywhere between Scudder Lane and Bone Hill Road in Barnstable Village on Cape Cod.
According to Norse legend, one-eyed Odin sent two crows out into the world so they could return and tell him its stories. If you sit and listen to the sea crows in Barnstable as they fly and roost and chatter, it’s an easy legend to believe.
Sea Crow Press is dedicated to telling stories that matter. Moon Tide, a collection of Cape Cod poems, is its first offering.
If you can’t get to Cape Cod, Moon Tide brings the Cape to you!
Horseshoe crabs, ghosts, tree men, black dogs, and daffodils. These characters come alive in Moon Tide, a collection of poems charting the course of a Cape Cod year.