Colorful woolgathering in the prickly cold

Introducing Spokes and Petals’ first guest blogger, Erin Therrien! It’s a snowy morning and it’s warm inside, so pour a fresh cup of tea, pull up a chair, and enjoy.

Hello readers of Jenny’s blog! Please forgive my tardiness in posting this Q & A about my current and upcoming book. Between renovations on our 120 year-old house and over-booking myself with other projects, time to sit and write about myself has been scarce. I have finally carved out some time today, as it is -17 F, and I am hunkering down for a cozy day of reading, writing, and snuggling with my dear pup, Fido. I am honored to be a guest blogger, so a million times thank you Jenny!

What is the working title of your book?
I’ve already self-published a very small book on natural dyes, focusing on the Upper Midwest, but am in the process of expanding it into a more in-depth book on the subject. My working title is Wild Dyes: Expanded. It is unimaginative, but everything needs a name. I hope to find a more arresting title as I get further along.

Where did the idea come from?
I was asked to teach a small workshop on natural dyeing and wanted the students to have a take-away with recipes, notes, images, etc. Once I began the layout, I realized that for all of the work I was putting in I could just publish it as a small paperback through Blurb. Time was what kept me from going full-on with the first iteration; I had to leave out a lot of information and imagery.

What genre does your book fall under?
My first book is 100% DIY instructional.  The current project will be 70% instructional/guidebook and 30% nature writing.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m not so sure it would work so well as a movie. Perhaps Martha Stewart could do an episode.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
An Upper Midwest guide to natural dyeing, covering the plants that grow through the cracks in the sidewalk to those found in the Northwoods of Minnesota.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I am hoping that one year will be sufficient to get all of my ideas assembled.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr: hers is a more project-based book, but I can see she has a love for experimentation, layout and texture, as do I. Also, Eco Colour by India Flint: such an in-depth guide to dye plants, processes, and colo(u)r.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
While starting to use natural and plant dyes in my work, I had a hard time finding information specific to my region.  As any gardener out there knows, many of the fun and showy plants are reserved for those who reside above zone 5. The same goes for North American dye plants. Through more research and experimentation, I found that nearly every plant will yield a dye, however faint. I slowly built my own palette of natural color from foraged plant material, spices, and food waste bound for the compost (and even the compost itself).

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
After obsessively seeking out new dye plants and correctly identifying those that I hunted, I began looking at all plant life around me differently– especially in my urban Milwaukee neighborhood. The scrubby plants in vacant lots and along highway embankments began to attract my attention as I went about my day. I started taking note of when the goldenrod started to bloom, the staghorn sumac showed its first fiery leaves, and the curly dock dried up and turned that wonderful maroon-brown that transfers itself almost identically onto silk. Toward the end of summer, I feel like I am on a constant treasure hunt. I hope that my book will give readers this same feeling.

When and how will it be published?
I plan on self-publishing my book through Blurb once again. Being a visual artist, I like having that hands-on control over the layout and imagery.

Thanks again, Jenny, for inviting me to share your splendid online space! And thank you, readers, for doing what you do best.

Color-full ball jars!

Sun-dyeing in the summertime…for the really hot days. Credit: Erin Therrien

Some bits and pieces about my book-in-progress

Cows and elm

I have a confession to make: I’m writing a book.

I have been reluctant to write about it here, due to equal parts shyness and a desire to commit myself to blogging rather than advertising. However, my friend Lisa Taylor, a poet and the mother of naturalist Kira Taylor, asked if I would participate in a Q & A for authors who have either just published a book or on the cusp of doing so. I don’t want to disappoint an old friend, and I would like to start sharing this project with those outside of my family and Facebook feed. So, here we go! Lisa, by the way, also wrote of her up-and-coming collection of poetry, Necessary Silence, as well as a novel that’s in the works. You can read her words here.

* * *

What is the working title of your book?
My current working title is “Streets of Wilderness: A Song of the Urban Wild in Twelve Parts.” A bit redundant; I’m working on it.

Where did the idea come from?
Before I started living in Boston full-time I spent a growing season in rural Maine. It was difficult to make the transition from a wooded homestead to a residential neighborhood wrought with houses, asphalt, and the incessant ebb and flow of traffic. I quickly began to feel suffocated, but found hope in the plants and animals that I saw thriving in the city, domesticated and wild alike. I began writing little things about them in this blog, mentioned to a friend that it would be interesting to turn my observations into a book, and things bloomed from there.

What genre does your book fall under?
Nature writing.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
In my dream world Jacob Feiring directs the documentary and David Attenborough narrates it. I suppose that there would also be random glamor shots of, say, Scarlet Johansson walking seductively down a street while a raccoon scurries behind her, going after a bit of pizza crust.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A poetic exploration of a year in the urban wild.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About twelve months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
In writing of various wild species, landscapes, and situations one month at a time, I have adopted the format used by Aldo Leopold in his Sand County Almanac. My book is also akin to Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for its examinations of place, natural phenomenon, and the blissful, life-quenched realities of day-to-day life. (That’s what I’d like to think, anyway!)

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Though I’ve spent significant time in rural areas, the majority of my life has been spent in the post-industrial landscapes of Milwaukee and the brick and glass neighborhoods of Boston. After years of uneasy ennui in these cities, I finally had the realization that, in order to thrive, I had to seek out the organic among the man-made, the places in the cracks where cells were photosynthesizing, dividing, and driving new life. I found, by mindfully observing these pieces of urban life, from trees breaking concrete to coyotes moving silently through cemeteries, I became more resilient, more fascinated, more able to accept what the city brings. This book is both an ode of thanks to the tenacious things that have helped me to survive, and is also a way to keep me awake and alive with curiosity.

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
People are drawn to the untamed, and because the majority of us live in cities, it is becoming increasingly common that we only experience the undomesticated through an urban lens. Humans are naturally intrigued by our surroundings and anxious to understand them. However, it can be challenging to see what is around us, either because we don’t know where to look or because what we seek is so ubiquitous that it slips by. Hopefully those interested in finding and appreciating the nature around them will enjoy this book.

When and how will it be published?

My book will be published as an e-book by an imprint of Village Earth Press, and should be out sometime this year. I will post updates as I complete it and continue to traverse the mysterious landscapes of the publishing world!

Please come again next Tuesday as Erin Therrien will be a guest blogger here, doing her own Q&A on the recently published Wild Dyes: Natural Dyeing in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest. She writes of many dye plants that just so happen to be found in lots of North American cities.

dandelions

The drawings in this post and at the site’s header are the work of Laura Grover, a prolific artist currently based just north of Portland, Maine. These illustrations are all works that Laura has done for my book. Laura is also currently working on a graphic novel about the history of her family.

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