Times of Change, Times to Breathe

I've been interested in yoga for a long time. I've had opportunities over the years to join a class here and there and each time I do, I've gotten something wonderful out of the experience and I've promised myself to do more yoga. And then I break that promise to myself. . .until the next opportunity arises to join a class, get something wonderful out of the experience, and promise myself to do more yoga. How often do we make a promise to ourselves. . .and then break that promise? A promise to take better care is not the same thing as taking better care—of oneself, of a loved one, of one's creativity, of one's art, of one's soul, of anything. The only way to take better care is to take better care, and to do so requires some, if not a lot of, change.

Earlier this spring, after a long hiatus (aka procrastination), I got myself back into the gym, and to assist myself in changing my routine from no exercise to a routine of exercise, I work with a trainer (someone to whom I feel accountable and someone with infinite patience!). Every week, Jay encourages me to push myself a little deeper, a little farther, a little longer--and I have to admit, I seem to be getting stronger, I'm more confident, and I'm becoming more disciplined.

Change of any kind is profound. It can be great. It can be gratifying. And it can be hard. Really hard. The change from apathy to exercise--the change from promising myself to take better care to actually taking better care--has been profound both physically and mentally. It's been great. It's been gratifying. And it's been hard. Really hard. 

So, I'm going to the gym. And then a few weeks ago something unexpected happened. I woke up very early my first morning in Taos, New Mexico, where I was attending a creative retreat, took a walk in my gym clothes (the hotel had no fitness facility), and found myself in front of a yoga studio. The flyer said a class, suitable for beginners, would be starting in ten minutes, drop-ins welcome.

Open the door? Or keep walking? Open the door? Or get breakfast? Open the door? Or read the manuscript I had in my bag?  Open the door? Or. . .?

I opened the door.
During the class, held in a beautiful space that felt at once new and safe, I stretched, twisted, and balanced. I didn't go very deep, very high, or very low, but I did what I could do. There were things I could do well (realizing that being back to the gym was helping me enormously), and there were things I couldn't do at all (realizing that I am just not as in shape and flexible as I used to be). Then, as the instructor guided us from a stretch that was already making my muscles tremble into a new stretch that promised to do something even more dynamic (aka OMG!) to my muscles, she said,

"Keep breathing as you change your position. The one time most of us stop breathing is during change. And it's at times of change when we need to breathe most of all. Change can be hard. Change can be uncomfortable. But instead of quitting, keep breathing and see if your breathing can actually help you find comfort in the change."

Her words coursed through me. In the moments it took for me to slowly change positions, I was brought back to the March day five years ago I launched drydenbks; to the winter morning ten years ago I first got on downhill skis; to the May day six years ago I got laid off; to the late afternoon eleven years ago I held my dying father's hand; to the unseasonably warm February morning seventeen years ago my mother died; to the day in the wintery woods thirty years ago I first knew I was in love; to the August afternoon thirty-nine years ago I got my first period; to the October morning forty-three years ago I took the public bus to school all by myself. Times of exhilarating and excruciating change. Times of hold-my-breath change because breathing felt terrifying. Times of change I knew would change everything forever. Times of change I knew would change me forever.

In those moments in yoga class, those memories of times of change flooding back at once, I exhaled, then breathed deeply and purposefully through the discomfort of the dynamic (aka OMG!) stretch, confident I would be okay in that stretch (trembling muscles and all). As okay as I was during all those times of change in my life that I hadn't thought about in years. As okay as I was that freezing evening four months ago when I signed up to train with Jay. As okay as I was on the day a few weeks ago when I opened the door to the yoga studio. As okay as I will be through whatever times of change are coming—and they will come. I'll be okay as long as I keep taking better care and remember I have what I need to transform the uncomfortable into the comfortable by breathing through the change.

(c) drydenbks LLC, 2015


The Entrepreneurial Spirit: An "Accidental Entrepreneur" - Sarah Towle's Path from Creative Writer to Agile Publisher


I've been delighted to be consulting for the past few years with Sarah Towle, a woman who's been transforming herself from a hardworking author to an even harder working author and publisher striving to, as Sarah says, “combine the traditional power of storytelling with the magic of the touchscreen to create portals to the past.” A few weeks ago, at a splendid event hosted by KidLit TV in New York City, Sarah officially launched her company, Time Traveler Tours & Tales, which is a digital-first multiformat publishing company with the goal of turning kids on to history by turning history on. I’m delighted to have Sarah with us on “our stories, ourselves” to talk about what led her to start her own company and to share some advice and lessons she’s learning along the way. Welcome, Sarah!


[edd] How did you come to start Time Traveler Tours &Tales? What problem do you see Time Traveler Tours &Tales positioned to solve?

[st] I didn’t set out to forge this path. Far from it. I was content in my career as a language and literacy educator. In my last role, I helped to run a citywide initiative in New York City to train whole school populations—from admin to teachers to students to janitorial staff—in how to negotiate conflict creatively. We taught the concepts through children’s literature, then developed skills through dramatic role-play. It was a fabulous job. I was changing lives. And I loved it.

Then, in 2004, my husband’s job took us to France. Two years sounded like the perfect amount of time for a mid-career sabbatical. I would learn French, be a full-time mom, and discover everything I possibly could about the history and culture of Paris. I would return to my career smart and refreshed. But two years turned into five, and the French authorities refused to let me teach. Then the global economic crisis wiped out my job back home. So at what should have been the pinnacle of my professional life, I was forced to start over.

At that point, my daughter was a tween and I came face to face with a huge issue in education: At the secondary level, school cultures worldwide make a dramatic shift. Kids are suddenly swamped by the tyranny of testing and rigor. Instead of getting out and about to explore the world around them, they are constrained by textbooks, timetables, and walls. Even in Paris, where history whispers from every cobblestone, field trips to local museums, monuments, and other historic sites are few and far between.

Paris at the outbreak of French Revolution
Ironically, as I was growing more enamored of my adopted home and more appreciative of how its history affects and influences its culture today, my daughter and her friends were turning off to history. I resolved to use my skills as an educator to write a fun interactive book of the history of Paris for them that would include a story and great characters layered among the historical details. Folks are now calling this concept “Place-Based Education”—learning through the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular location. But when I tested a chapter of my book on a group of forty-eight 14-year-olds, they insisted it would make a better app than book.

the app
As a teacher, I had cut my teeth on CD-Roms and other web-based learning tools. I was already thinking digitally, but didn’t know it. Many editors had at that point lauded my concept and the execution of my manuscript and vision, but they didn’t know where it fit on a bookstore shelf. What’s more, in the economic climate of 2009-10, publishers were unwilling to take a risk on something so new and different, particularly historical fiction/creative nonfiction.

So I ran with the kids’ advice. I created a company, Time Traveler Tours, set up an embarrassingly ugly website, and in July 2011, I launched our proof-of-concept StoryAppTour, Beware Madame la Guillotine: A RevolutionaryTour of Paris. (link here)

the book
The app was a critical success, but its use was limited to people with an iPhone in Paris. So when Apple introduced iBooksAuthor in 2012, I republished the story as an interactive book for iPad 
(link here) for the school and library markets. Then, recognizing that there are still many learning environments that can’t afford new technologies, I released a print version (link here) of my revolutionary tale in 2014. A curriculum guide soon followed. With all of these various formats of the story now in circulation, I created a second imprint, Time Traveler Tales, and the Time Traveler Tours & Tales “title suite” was born. 

What an amazing creative evolution you and your work are going through! So, what inspired you to make the (huge!) leap from self-produced author to independent publisher?

Honestly, this has all been a sort of happy accident brought on by loss and change, the need to adapt and the willingness to listen to the muse. That’s why I call myself an “accidental entrepreneur.”

While Beware Madame La Guillotine continues to be a critical success, it’s not been a commercial one. However, the interactive story-history-tour concept seemed to be touching hearts and minds, a “hiding in plain sight” kind of idea. I realized I needed to gain some business acumen before deciding which way to move forward, if at all. I sought advice wherever I could find it, and fell into a start-up meet-up community at the suggestion of Dominique Raccah, Publisher of Sourcebooks. Thus began my education into the world of agile publishing.

In 2013, I attended a “Startup Weekend” in Paris—it was basically speed dating for visionaries and geeks. In fifty-four hours, the motley crew I was able to assemble there produced an app based on my concepts for Beware Madame La Guillotine and we went on to achieve a stunning 2nd place victory. With that came a touch of free mentoring and a bit of seed capital and the confidence that my idea could be scaled into a business with multiple revenue streams.

I loved the idea of expanding this platform to showcase stories and content by authors other than myself. And in April, 2014, while we were both teaching at Julie Hedlund’s Writers Renaissance Retreat in Florence, bestselling author Mary Hoffman pitched me an idea for an interactive tour to the world of Michelangelo through a story from the point of view of the model who stood for the artist’s famous statue of David.
Sarah's Kickstarter Campaign home page
Mary Hoffman, David, Sarah 
with original map of Florence by Roxie Munro
That's when it all clicked: I now had a world- renowned author interested in working with me as well as a bit of money and a few trusted consultants and advisers to guide the process. It was time to create a real team to help make it all a reality. I’m lucky enough to have found a terrific team of people to help me brainstorm every bit of this new company (from the creative aspects to the marketing and business aspects and everything in between) and together we decided to use Kickstarter to raise funds for—and spread the word about—our launch title by Mary Hoffman which is called In the Footsteps of Giants. (link here

[Note from edd: Sarah has written a series of informative and honest "case study" posts that chronicle her team's decision to use Kickstarter, what's required of a good Kickstarter campaign, and what the entire Kickstarter process for this project has been like from beginning to end. For more information, see her blog here.]

Congratulations on your successful Kickstarter Campaign! I think your mission to bring history to life for contemporary audiences is so exciting and I'm honored to have contributed a backer reward for authors! You sure are wearing a lot of hats. How do you manage a life/work balance?

Oh boy! Balance has been elusive since the Kickstarter campaign began on May 19. But I know I will find it again when the campaign concludes on June 26. Prior to the kick-off, I found balance thanks to the routines imposed on me by my four-legged companion, Gryffindog. He forces me out of my chair at regular intervals. I also endeavor to practice yoga every morning as I listen to the news, and I sing with a local choir every Monday evening.

Because I live five hours ahead of the business day in New York, I can give myself over to pure creative writing time each morning while my colleagues are sleeping. I return to “business” and social media and the buzz of life after my first long walk with Gryffin. This means I put in very long hours, starting my day in London GMT and ending in EST. But it’s the only way I manage to get everything done.

I’m also very fortunate to have a husband who loves to shop and cook. He keeps me fed. We recently emptied the nest—our daughter, Lily, is now at university—and simultaneously relocated to London. I now have few friends and no children at home. So it’s a good time to be working twelve- to fifteen-hour days  six or seven days a week, which is par for the course for any one starting up a business.

What are three lessons and/or surprises you've experienced as an accidental entrepreneur? What does anyone thinking about becoming their own boss and business owner need to know?

* Very few companies are making it by just producing apps. That’s why I wish to re-purpose the creative assets of our future StoryAppTours to produce story content across multiple formats. I also believe we should make our stories accessible where our young audiences want them most. And not everyone has a smartphone or tablet.

* Making one app that contains a single story is not a commercially viable business model. For this reason, our goal now is to build a single app framework that can contain a multitude of stories. With that framework we can produce TTT&T-branded apps as well as white-label apps for any future company clients, museums, or other cultural institutions, which will provide us with multiple revenue streams.

* In the digital age, collaboration is key. Sharing ideas and tips, even code, makes great business sense.

This is such great advice. Three warnings you might give others seeking to start their own businesses?

* Be ready to work hard. And then work harder. And then work even harder again.

* Don’t expect your nearest and dearest to understand or even be supportive. And don’t fault them for it. You’ll find your support in unexpected places and it will come to you via mysterious ways.

* Be prepared for everything to take longer than you think it will and for your path forward to be fraught with some frustration and some rejection. But stay the course and remain focused on your dream. If it’s a good one, it will eventually take flight.

These are terrifically honest and helpful answers. I love the entrepreneurial community--people like you, who are paving new paths, are always willing to help others along with advice, guidance, and more. So, did you always consider yourself an "authorpreneur"?

When I was strictly authoring, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. But then I realized that all of us trying to live by our craft must act as our own little businesses. In contrast to, say, Michelangelo’s day, there are few patrons like the de’ Medicis today who support artists. All creative people are therefore entrepreneurs. And it’s in working together and supporting each other that we make magic happen.

Here's to making magic happen!  UPDATE:  Sarah's Kickstarter campaign was fully funded before the end of the campaign. Congratulations, Sarah!



   Lunacy: Mid 16th Cent. Originally referring to intermittent insanity believed to be caused by 
changes of the moon. From lunatic + -acy
  Lunatic: Middle English; from Old French lunatique; from Latin luna (moon)

Confession: The other night a writer friend and I mistook the rising moon for the setting sun.

"How," you might ask, "is such a thing possible?" We were driving in a caravan with several other people on darkened roads en route to see the star-filled sky. We arrived at the appointed spot and jumped out of the car, eager to watch the remains of the huge yellowy-orange sun set in the vast purple-black sky starting to fill with constellations. We watched, enraptured, and then my friend and I looked at one another and said, "Wait. Did you see that? Is the sun higher in the sky now? Wasn't it lower a second ago? What's going on?"

No one else seemed to be alarmed by the apparently rising sun at 9:30 at night. We kept watching. We heard someone say "moon." And then we knew. We were watching the rising of the full moon! An enormous yellowy-orange full moon. And we started to laugh. Laughter that doubled us over. Laughter that infected several of the people around us who didn't know what was so funny, but who were happy to laugh along with us. Laughter that made our stomachs hurt. Laughter that didn't stop. The laughter of lunacy.

Earlier that morning this same writer friend and I had been in a situation where someone reminded us to expect emotions to run high and to expect the unexpected because of the full moon. (It fact it seems this particular full moon was such it generated this article: http://www.feelguide.com/2015/06/02/this-week-full-sagittarius-moon-in-mercury-retrograde-is-wreaking-havoc-on-nearly-everyone/) And earlier that evening this same friend and I had been at dinner with a writer talking about the wonderful subtleties and lessons of the movie "Moonstruck". We should have known. 

"Those people who recognize that the imagination is realitys master 
we call sages, and those who act upon it we call artists or lunatics."  - Tom Robbins
In the spirit of imagination being reality's master, we've decided not only did the full moon indeed cause our momentary disorientation, but we've also decided it makes perfect artistic sense for creative people like us to turn the rising moon into the setting sun. Why not? More people should try it. And if a flexing of the imagination is accompanied by the uncontrollable laughter of lunacy, even better. Better for our stories and better for ourselves.

I wonder what my imagination will generate during the next full moon. 

And what will your imagination create? 

Join me in the lunacy!

(c) drydenbks LLC 2015