And truth is after 12 years as beat newspaper reporter, three years as a congressional press secretary, and working in my own publishing business another seven years, it made sense that writing a book would be easy. It’s just a long story, after all. Fifty thousand words or so instead of a few hundred.
That is SO not true.
Completing Pilgrim Strong during the last 18 months has been just as much a test of endurance and humility as walking 500 miles across the Way of St. James itself, the background experience on which the memoir is penned. Some moments were amazing. Other times, walking away altogether came to mind.
There are many books available about the Camino de Santiago experience. In some regards we’re not plowing new ground here and it’s everyone’s right to publish a book. But I wanted to write a good book, different from most others, and one that would occasionally make the reader think about his or her own life and their place in the world. Maybe we’ll achieve that. We’ll know soon enough.
A few updates on where everything stands. Every writer makes a decision early on to publish in a traditional sense (with an agent and a publishing company or some combination thereof), or to self publish. I explored both options in depth. Ultimately, I decided to self publish Pilgrim Strong because I knew marketing the book and managing the publishing process would be enjoyable. Plus, it would all be a great learning experience. Plus, I’m impatient.
- About the publishing process: That means realizing the goal of book in hand, and more importantly book for sale in late October, requires managing deadlines among four people – me, an editor, cover designer, and interior layout designer. If you start at the end and work backwards, get an understanding of what everyone needs and how much time, build in several weeks for frustrating screw ups, you can actually pull it off. We are knee-deep in deadlines for everyone now, and all parties are actively working.
- That includes me and it might surprise you to know at this point the copy is not 100 percent complete. The “takeaway” for the reader suggested in the final chapter and epilogue is important and I wanted to take an extra long time thinking it through. It’s in my head, and in rough notes on paper soon complete. There are several “takeaway” themes in the end including: understanding our need to join something bigger than ourselves, drilling down to our core and having peace when we find it, understanding the nature of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the joy and adventure we find when we take the initiative to go looking for our great identity. I told you this isn’t the typical camino book.
- In the midst of production, the marketing campaign is under way. Truth is, the marketing began a long time ago, even before I made the first step on pilgrimage. It just worked out that way. People who know me know how much I love marketing, and truth is my greatest fear is the marketing strategies will surpass the actual book quality. It’s a fear that nags me every day.
- It’s been a privilege to work with, and receive support from respected professionals in the publishing industry, and in the “pilgrim community.” Pilgrim Strong has testimonial endorsements from Patrick Gray and Justin
Skeesuck, authors of the just-released I’ll Push You; Andrew Suzuki, documentary producer of Beyond the Way and Don’t Stop Walking; Paul Stutzman, author of Hiking Through; Kurt Koontz, author of A Million Steps; and David and Anna Dintaman Landis, co-authors of A Village to Village Guide to Hiking the Camino de Santiago.
- It was a great thrill that my friend Annie O’Neil agreed to write the foreword. Annie is an author and documentary film maker. She directed and produced Phil’s Camino and co-produced Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. Her book is Everyday Camino with Annie.
- Beth Jusino, pilgrim friend, writer, editor, and publishing professional has provided invaluable advice along the way, and without her willingness to act as a sounding board it wouldn’t have been pretty. Among other works, Beth is the author of The Author’s Guide to Marketing. She is currently publishing her own camino memoir. Beth’s giftedness promises it will be one of the very best in its genre.
- Promotional trailers are currently in production. The first is scheduled for release on July 4. These are actually fun to imagine and create with the help of my friend Raney Rogers.
- The cover is scheduled for completion next week. Still thinking about the best way to execute the big reveal, (understanding this is a bigger deal to me than anyone else, ha).
That’s a general recap of where things stand at the moment and with some luck Pilgrim Strong will be available on pre-sale in late October and for direct purchase the week of Thanksgiving.
As mentioned above, the awareness campaign begins now. There are lots of ways you can become a part of the group that helps spread the word from now until November. Drop me a line if you’re interested!
Buen camino for now.
“Travel does not exist without home. If we never return to the place we started, we would just be wandering, lost. Home is a reflecting surface, a place to measure our growth and enrich us after being infused with the outside world.” ~ Josh Gates
Few experiences will bring a person to a full knowledge of their senses as traveling alone. Maneuvering a far-away land will heighten your awareness at every level. It’s the thing I’ve learned over time that brings me most alive. It’s not so much the getting away from things as it is the freshness of new, uncharted experience. Traveling alone builds confidence, character, and offers a perspective on the world that is achieved no other way. Comfort zone boundaries are demolished and necessarily overcome when you have no idea what to do next, and no other choice than to figure it out. But there is nothing that stirs the blood as standing at the helm of your destiny.
Solo travel can also have a life-changing effect on how a person thinks about home.
After a walking a million and a half steps across Spain it was comforting and exhilarating thinking about the familiarity of home, but I was petrified of the conversations surely ahead in future social situations.
Somewhere over the ten-hour North Atlantic flight home it occurred to me. People are inevitably going to ask you to talk about this. And most of them are going to say, ‘Well, how was it, and what was it like?’ As surely as the sun rises, people would ask that question just as if it had been a long weekend vacation on the beach. I feared my any given trigger reaction to the empty questions.
All of a sudden there was a keen awareness of an inadequate fragility that goes with returning home after a hallowed and humbling experience that has changed you in ways too early to understand. Never speaking of it again would have been perfectly fine. That’s how it felt at the time, anyway.
Wheels down in Memphis concluded a remarkable seven-week odyssey. As the reverse engines roared I exhaled deeply blowing out what seemed every emotion God ever made.
Stepping out from the aisle seat on Row 10, I reached to the overhead bin and strapped on my backpack a final time. A text from Dana brought a wide smile. I’m here! The Delta captain stood at the cockpit’s entrance as passengers deplaned. I thanked him and shook his hand for the safe trip home.
The C concourse for arriving flights at Memphis International Airport is simple and uncomplicated with the feel of a regional terminal. From the furthest arrival gate it’s no more than a five-minute walk past security to the point where friends and family await weary travelers. At the last left turn there’s a final thoroughfare short enough you can see past the TSA checkpoint and make out faces in the eager crowd. Home always happens when I see my wife’s face there.
Just before the turn my hands went automatically to their familiar spot on the backpack straps and a sequence of images from the last seven weeks raced vividly through my mind. It was incredible what had happened really, and the fragility came full-bore.
Fifty yards down the concourse she was smiling the purest most familiar smile I know. It easily came to mind what a blessing she’d been and how much I loved every single thing about her. Reaching around her neck I began crying unexpectedly and couldn’t let go. It was so hard, I remember choking out and holding her tight. It was just so far, and so hard but I didn’t quit. The embrace must have lasted a minute as travelers walked politely around us. Home can be anywhere for me as long as Dana’s there.
At home, a long hot steamy shower with fresh smelling soap and a soft towel was a momentary rejuvenation from three consecutive days of non-stop travel, but short-lived from a desire for sleep in my own bed. For the next twelve hours things went black.
We avoided people for days and Dana kept me well insulated from the outside world, aware of my desire to stay clear of people and conversation. Eventually visitors came. “We want to hear all about it,” they said. The predictable sweeping nature of the question made me ill.
“You’ll have to ask some more specific questions,” Dana jumped in. “I don’t think he really knows how to answer the big open-ended questions yet.” She saved me.
The truth is that most people ask these questions only for the sake of polite social chit chat. It’s required decorum, and the only thing we know. They really don’t care, and it’s not really their fault because they could never understand. Some have labeled it the Seinfeld Effect. You’re telling a story answering someone’s question about one of the most unique experiences of a lifetime, and in five minutes, they’re staring off into space, completely uninterested, wondering which Seinfeld rerun will air next. This happened countless times and it’s one of several reasons the story of pilgrimage is so personal and private.
In some ways I was completely prepared for what came next. In others, I’m still figuring it out today.
Strength is so misunderstood. At times it seems the most elusive of our heart’s desires. But because there’s no other choice, we must go looking.
The search for strength is a daily ordeal unconfined by time, place, or cause, but at some point today, you’ll search your reserves for strength. It’s our ongoing, solo quest, the loneliest walk we’ll ever take. No one will find your strength for you.
The good news is every time the sun rises in the east a second chance gets born. Failure is more than just an option in the process of growing strong, it’s a necessary part of the equation. As the darkness gives way to the light, so graciously renewed is our second chance at finding strength. It happened today, will again tomorrow, and the next. Embrace the failure. It means you tried.
The pursuit for strength has many trails, and yet they all lead to the same place. If only we understood that better. No matter how we get there, our strength is founded in the things we most fundamentally believe, and moreover, the things in which we place our greatest faith.
Everyone has faith. Want to find your strength? The crusade begins in searching two answers in a simple question. Where is my faith, and why? The where is easy. The why so complex that many fumble and stumble for the words articulating an answer. As we avoid the hard work of asking ourselves the difficult questions, we may spend a lifetime never knowing the “why,” and that’s a real shame. We owe this knowledge to ourselves.
Maybe knowing the answer for sure is too much a commitment. Maybe there’s too much dogma involved in finding a fixed, finite reasoning. Some people are comfortable not knowing. If only we realized that faith isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Faith will never be void of all doubt, but rather a never-ending adventure and a desire for knowledge based on an inkling of some belief. I reached a personal breaking point that so penetrated my soul, the desire to chase the why surpassed everything.
I ached for the knowledge of the why.
Absent the knowledge of the why, our strength is built on a house of cards and teeters mercifully unsure through life’s blowing winds. All we can really do is hope everything holds together and wonder if we’ll be strong enough to make it through the next ordeal. But the next chance to find our strength is coming soon, this much we know. The next valley is just beyond the present plateau.
Knowing the why is the most important part of our strength. It’s out there, and our destiny is finding it.
But we must stand at the mirror and ask some tough questions.
And then, we must go looking.
My guidebook was, and is, like an old friend.
Every morning’s typical breakfast routine, planning the day ahead and thinking just a bit about tomorrow.
Dear David & Anna,
Everyone approaches things differently, I suppose. Some people try planning every detail as much as possible. Others go at it knowing almost nothing. Getting ready to solo walk 40 days across a country, I wanted a balance somewhere between the two. Your guidebook was the perfect planner.
It may be true that anticipation of an experience like pilgrimage is one of the very best parts. As part of my anticipation, I searched all the popular guidebooks and chose yours as my companion before, and during, the walk. It seemed it had everything a person could need.
Adventurers and authors, David and Anna Dintaman Landis
Reading through the sections in the weeks before departure, your descriptive narratives, elevation charts, beautiful photos, and historical sidebars only increased my excitement. If the trip…
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Another story about friendship and hospitality on Camino. So many stories.
It was a lovely Saturday for walking. The poplar trees stood reaching for the azure sky, golden and majestic, full of glory, leaves rustling gently in an easy western breeze. The late November weather was cool, but not cold, much as it would’ve been back home, and walking into Nájera my mind transported momentarily 4,000 miles west.
My imagination could practically smell the barbecue grills firing up for Saturday afternoon tailgates and SEC football games. It would be a good day to stop short, I reckoned, and enjoy a Saturday afternoon relaxing in your sweet Spanish town.
As I walked hesitantly inside Puerta de Nájera just a few minutes after noon, the furnishings practically said “welcome home.” You carried a mop and bucket working feverishly just behind the stairs and I noticed one young German pilgrim nursing his heavily bandaged wounds on a couch in a quaint sitting area…
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Not all my blog posts at Note a Day are appropriate for the Pilgrim Strong blog. This one includes a message that’s such a part of me, I felt it was okay today.
Dear Coach Roberts,
Before writing you this morning I spent time reflecting on your years as head coach here at Arkansas State. I was on academic staff much of your tenure and recall it as a new, refreshing, even glorious eight years. Something definitely felt different with you in charge. Something surely changed.
Then a little quick research into your win-loss record at A-State honestly shocked me. I forgot, by the numbers, you never had a winning season. There was a conference championship, a remarkable program “turnaround,” in fact, attendance numbers grew, you were a conference coach of the year, and we won at home much more than we lost, but we never had an outright winning season. That can’t be right, but the record speaks for itself. Or does it?
What I recall more about your ASU coaching career than wins and losses is the dynamic you brought to…
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