I am so delighted to host Ana Maria Spagna today. Among the many other hats she wears, Ana Maria is Assistant Director of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA program; the only MFA program sponsored by a writing community rather than a university. Though she has tackled many serious topics in the past, her newest book allows her warm and genuine sense of humor to shine through.
This quirky little book began, appropriately enough, with a conversation.
I was at a writers gathering, talking with an editor friend, thinking up lists of music groups we like, ranking them. It was late at night, and we were walking in the woods, and stars shone over the tops of trees. Pretty soon we started making lists of books we loved, then movies. A few weeks later she wrote me a note that said, “You seem to enjoy making lists.”
She explained that the magazine, Orion, was starting a new column made entirely of lists: fun lists, unexpected lists. (For one examples, see “20 Things the Dog Ate”) She asked me to pitch a couple of ideas for short articles. I did, and the one she liked best was called “10 Skills to Hone for the Post-Oil World.”
I should back up here to tell you that I live in a very small mountain town where self sufficiency abounds. My neighbors build boats and weld machinery. They tend gardens, knit socks, and play the violin. So coming up with a list of hands-on skills wasn’t too difficult. The ones I chose ranged from navigating by the stars (in homage to that first conversation in the starry woods) to sleeping (seriously, it saves energy and makes you healthier!)
That, I thought, was the end of that. Until …
After the article appeared, a publisher wrote to ask if I could come up with 100 skills for a book. I wasn’t sure if I could, but I knew how to start: by talking to my friends! I asked in person, via email, and on Facebook: What skills would you add? In no time, I had way more than 100.
Thus began 100 Skills You’ll Need for the End of the World (As We Know It)
From there it was all about learning. I visited friends at their spinning wheels and their bee boxes. I asked: Does it work like this? Or like this? (The answer usually, was: Not exactly.) The conversations went on for months. Even after I wrote the text.
As a writer for so-called adults, I’d never worked with an illustrator. I worried that he wouldn’t get the mix of whimsy and practicality. But as soon as I saw the first sketches, I not only breathed a sigh of relief, I also gasped and scratched my head and laughed aloud.
If one of the messages of this little book is—you can’t do it alone—the process of creating it illustrated that fact.
And you know what’s most fun? The conversations have only just begun. As the book hits bed stands and kitchen tables everywhere, I expect the debate to grow lively again—Why this skill and not that one? Which is exactly what the book is all about.
Ana Maria Spagna lives and writes in Stehekin, Washington, a remote community in the North Cascades accessible only by trail, boat, or float plane, where the 90 people in town have about 97 of the 100 skills covered. Her own favorite skill is either laughing or sleeping. For more on her life and her other books visit www.anamariaspagna.com
Excerpted from 100 Skills You’ll Need for the End of the World (As We Know It) by Ana Maria Spagna. Illustrations by Brian Cronin. Used with permission of Storey Publishing