Kay McCracken has lived on a commune in the Kootenays and has been in love more times than she cares to remember. In 1993, she moved to Salmon Arm from Vancouver and decided to open a bookstore called Reflections. She quickly vowed to write a book about her experiences as a bookseller. Eventually her memoir A Raven in My Heart: Reflections of a Bookseller (Gracesprings Collective) was launched in Salmon Arm at the SAGA Public Art Gallery on June 13, 2009.
Appearing with McCracken at the launch were two other members of Gracesprings Collective: Alex Forbes, poet, author, creative writing/literature professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops (Rumours of Bees and The Bill Miner Road Show) and Deanna Kawatski, author of Wilderness Mother, Clara and Me, and Burning Man, Slaying Dragon.
Live music was provided by the Dust Puppets, a four piece acoustic band who play folk, blues, gospel & country music. The band included Garth Baumann on mandolin & vocals, David King on vocals & guitar, Elda Firth on the stand up wash tub bass (the "gut bucket") and vocals, and Ken Firth on harmonica, vocals, and guitar, whistles and percussion. They are from the Sunnybrae/Tappen area of the Shuswap.
ABOUT THE BOOK
McCracken wouldn’t consider living anywhere else now but when she left Vancouver in 1993 to open a bookstore named “Reflections” in the interior of British Columbia—a town with the distinctive name of Salmon Arm—what followed gave her cause for concern.
As Kay approached middle age, everything felt wrong: the chafe of her skin, her marriage, her job, everything. She was no longer young and irresponsible and not yet a wise woman. Caught in mid-transformation, an unfamiliar and uncomfortable place to be, McCracken’s confusion and restlessness drove her to make a bold change.
Determined to create a meaningful life for herself, she set out on a journey, travelling to an enchanting, and possibly enchanted, part of British Columbia known as the Shuswap, a place she knew next to nothing about. It’s there she encountered the spirit of Trickster. In mythology he’s the figure who embodies paradox and change. He also represents the state of “becoming” and with that energy dogging her, she careened from one adventure, one mystery, to the next.
FROM THE FOREWORD
Memory can also be a trickster as most of us know but when I consider that I am my father’s daughter, my imagination also played into the telling of this tale. My father was a storyteller; the glint in his blue eyes told you that; it may even have been his spirit that called me to the Shuswap. In honouring Dad’s memory, I was compelled to tell the whole story—the good, bad, and the ugly. I didn’t do this to shame our family name but to tell the story of his redemption, which ultimately is a story we can all live by.
Alex Forbes calls A Raven in My Heart superbly written and said, “I congratulate you on powerful writing. Few writers are courageous enough as you have been, to confront the sadness of losses, and talk about their responses truthfully.”
Caroline Woodward writes:
“Opening an independent bookstore is a dream for many who want to contribute to a literate, creative and open-minded community. A Raven in My Heart is about the life and death of such a dream, a story of personal courage and hard-earned life experience. The bookstore founder and author discovers her idyllic B.C. town has a sinister white supremacist element and that their fundamentalist handmaidens actually pray out on the sidewalk after-hours for her store to close. White crosses were painted on her store windows while inside the building lurked a well-documented ghost. A less determined and spiritually-inclined soul than Kay McCracken would have packed up in year one. But this book is also about how many others in the vibrant cultural community welcomed the store and its owner’s abiding efforts to support local artists and writers. It’s also a frankly revealing portrait of an adventurous woman in mid-life who made some wonderfully inspired life decisions, and some painful choices as well, in a life undermined by a sad childhood secret but strengthened by her own spiritual quest. ”
Caroline Woodward is a former bookseller, owner of Motherlode Bookstore, New Denver, British Columbia.
Deanna Kawatski writes:
When Kay McCracken decided to fulfill a dream by opening a bookstore in Salmon Arm, B.C. little did she know what calamities awaited her. But rather than being defeated by what seemed to be a trickster energy that wreaked havoc with her life, the hardship compelled her to delve deeply into the world of symbolism and mythology. Here she found some astonishing answers. Told through a series of evocative scenes, A Raven in My Heart will mesmerize its readers and linger with them long after they've read the last page.
A Raven in My Heart is published by Gracesprings Collective. www.gracespringscollective.ca
How becoming an author enabled Kay McCracken to throw off her cloak of invisibility and rescue her uncensored self
Writers should be forewarned not to expect their lives will greatly change if they publish a book—but Kay McCracken has proved to be an exception to the rule. No, her self-published account of running a bookstore, A Raven in My Heart: A Memoir, wasn’t optioned for a Hollywood movie starring Meryl Streep. She did not get her memoir picked up by the Oprah Book Club.
But she did have a life-altering experience. Thanks to friends and family in Salmon Arm Kay McCracken has felt herself transformed into someone who can boldly speak her own uncensored truths. After a joyous book launch in her hometown, she travelled to the Big Smoke for a very modest reading at Banyen Books where, for one hour, she and her Shuswap Valley friend Deanna Kawatski entertained a respectful gathering of a dozen people in a cramped but comfortable corner of the store.
It was enough.
Reading at Banyen was a full circle moment for me. I’d worked there many years earlier, just before the seismic changes of mid-life began to erode my well-being. At that time I could never have imagined myself as a published author, despite my secret yearnings. I’d find myself in the “Writers” section at Banyen, fondling books by the likes of Natalie Goldberg and Brenda Ueland.
I don’t know what it was exactly that pushed me over the edge but I pulled up stakes and moved to a small town in south central British Columbia known as Salmon Arm to start a bookstore. The time had come to make a change. I felt if I didn’t do it then, I never would.
What happened over the next five-and-a-half years was great material for a book. My bookstore called Reflections was peopled by quirky and wonderful human beings, one ghost, and mysterious happenings—a story that begged to be told. After closing Reflections (the irony was that I never had time to reflect on much while I was managing it), I spent the next ten years reflecting and writing about the experience.
Hundreds of drafts later I finally had a book and a title to hang on it: A Raven in My Heart: A Memoir. The symbol of Raven, the great Trickster, was most appropriate and that becomes even more apparent when you read the book.
All my fears and insecurities flooded back the closer it came to print deadline. This was a very personal story and I was divulging things about Salmon Arm—the presence of active white supremacists for one—that the city fathers (and mothers) were not going to appreciate. Would I be stoned as I walked down the streets?
And what about my family and friends? How would they react to seeing themselves portrayed on the page? Should I have dredged up the family secret? Luckily, I had the support of the Gracesprings Collective authors behind me. Alex Forbes, Caroline Woodward, Deanna Kawatski and I had formed the collective about a year and a half earlier, mainly to take control our work and to work in a spirit of cooperation.
Once I’d set the date for the book launch, I wasn’t about to back out. The SAGA Public Art Gallery was booked, invitations and press releases sent, even as I felt the sickness of self-doubt gnawing at my insides.
About one hundred people showed up. Something happened that night. I think it was the love and support I felt coming from family, friends, and the community because I transcended the nerves that had plagued me my entire life. The Shuswap Association of Writers sponsored my launch, writers donated time and baking, The Dust Puppets played their toe-tapping music, Patrick Allwood wrote and performed a very funny skit with my emcee, Clive Calloway. Everybody was brilliant.
If there was a highlight it was Bonnie Thomas’s talk. I’d given her the manuscript to read. Her mother, Dr. Mary Thomas, a highly respected Secwepemc First Nations elder, was in a couple of scenes in the book. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t offending. She gave such a moving tribute to my book at the book launch that many people were in tears.
My friends Deanna and Alex also did themselves proud, reading from their own books soon to be published by Gracesprings. During the intermission, I signed books and everything felt right. I wasn’t hiding anymore. I’d thrown off the cloak of invisibility and everywhere I went after that people stopped to say how much they loved the book or could they buy a copy from me.
Emails began flooding in. People I didn’t know called me at home. Praise for “Raven” was heady stuff. It was better than any drugs I’d ever tried. I basked in feelings of worthiness because it was apparent that I’d written something that was touching people at a deep level.
The next day Deanna and I visited Alan Twigg. I told him what I had told people at the Banyen event. Publishing this book had changed my life. “The idea that one can be happy is a radical one,” he said. “Maybe you should write about it.”
It has been five months now since I launched Raven and my life has changed. As I go about the business of promoting and distributing my book, I’ve noticed a trait that wasn’t there before. Boldness! Radical boldness! It grows stronger every day. It comes from a willingness to believe in myself, and what I’ve written.
Call me naïve, but I’ll take it—I’ll take all this joy that comes from allowing my uncensored self to have a say. Life dishes up enough heartache, so I’ll grab the joy while I can.
-- Kay McCracken
[For more information on Kay McCracken and A Raven in My Heart: A Memoir, visit www.gracespringscollective]
A Raven in my Heart
from Salmon Arm Observer
A book by a local author now has an interesting connection with the Netherlands.
Amsterdam, the nation’s capital to be exact.
A Raven in My Heart, by well-known local writer Kay McCracken, is being studied by university media student Alieke Hoogenboom.
How the Dutch student came to study McCracken’s book is a story of family and personal connections that stretch between the two countries.
Many locals are responsible for helping Hoogenboom discover A Raven. Her uncle Arnold lives in Armstrong but attends weekly ESL classes at Okanagan College in Salmon Arm.
When his niece told him she needed to study a book that didn’t yet have international exposure, he went to his ESL teacher Tracy Riley for a suggestion.
Riley sent him to Hidden Gems Bookstore, where owner Beth Phillips suggested McCracken’s A Raven in My Heart.
The 270-page memoir artfully describes six years McCracken spent managing her bookstore, Reflections, in the 1990s. Stories of a mythological raven, a bookstore ghost, as well as protesting extremists are woven throughout the book.
“The book features many recognizable things: stress, grief, relationships and financial problems,” writes Alieke, 19, via e-mail.
“I think the reader can recognize many of these problems. It’s a book with an interesting mythological undertone.”
For part of her assignment, Alieke had to create a Netherlands-style marketing campaign for the book.
Playing the part of publisher, she translated parts of the book, wrote a description, and even created a new cover that would appeal to Dutch readers.
McCracken is thrilled her book is being studied internationally. and excited to be giving a reading to the ESL class this month.
“When I worked on my book for 10 long years, little did I envision that it would find its way to Dutch readers, or to any of the other interesting places it’s appeared. It’s a mysterious process and since I love a good mystery, I’m enjoying the experience.”
Alieke and McCracken have enjoyed e-mailing one another. The Dutch student has asked McCracken about the title, the content and the raven image itself, which holds a special meaning for McCracken.
“There are negative superstitions about the raven throughout history. Many people today are afraid of these birds. Not me. I think they are beautiful, intelligent and playful creatures.”
After taking the book to his niece on a visit back to his homeland, Arnold, part of the ESL book club, is now reading A Raven himself.
“I like Kay’s style of writing. I like the parts that describe Salmon Arm and its inhabitants. Sometimes I find it a dreamy but I find it interesting how the writer experiences different cultures, in particular the native culture.”
McCracken has enjoyed explaining Raven’s themes, like personal growth, Canadian culture and First Nations mythology, to Alieke.
“I wanted to tell my story of how I experienced life in Salmon Arm. This is a wonderful, creative, artistic town full of smart, socially conscious people. Sadly, there still exists pockets of intolerance, but that’s probably no different than anywhere else.”
Another important theme, the author says, is to believe.
“Even when things look the bleakest, when we lose everything, there’s always something else around the corner. Things happen for a reason. Have faith.”