I wrote a book.
I accomplished my biggest life goal today. So here is my long, exhaustive story of writing a book, in case you are interested in how this journey has come to an end: From the time when I first learned to read and write, excelling in all the advanced reading and English classes in school, I have loved books and everything about them. I wrote poems in second grade that won contests and were published in a book. I wrote and drew children’s stories by the time I was 10, hand bound and printed from a typewriter, dreaming of having them published someday. I devoured the nature books my grandma and uncle had on the bookshelves, even dictionaries and encyclopedias, fascinated by the complexity of words and their ability to transform a reader with knowledge through words on a page. To go on journeys and adventures in the imagination just by peeling back the pages and diving in.
I remember the moment, not long after moving to California in my early 20’s, driving home from work, that I decided on a few goals that I wanted to accomplish in this lifetime. The first was to design for a magazine. I did that five years later, making my way to art director just before my first daughter was born. The other goal was to write a book. The problem was, I didn’t know what to write about. I didn’t have a story to tell, or knowledge to share. My first honest attempt was nearly exactly twelve years ago, as I was home with a brand new newborn I found a little time on my hands and decided to attempt the NaNoWriMo, where one challenges oneself to write a 40k word novel in the 30 days of November. I wonder if I still have that unfinished novel, somewhere, but it was never finished and the idea of writing a book was shelved until a few years ago.
Two years ago my good friend Pascal Baudar asked me why I wasn’t writing a book. I didn’t believe I had the authority to write about anything even though I had completed my MS program a few years prior and had been writing scientific research papers for years. I went with the idea of a mushroom cookbook and put together a nice proposal and submitted it to a publisher. It was nearly accepted, but was turned down at the very last minute. I know now they had just signed another similar book with another forager. The editor felt so strongly about my book that he passed my information along with a recommendation to a literary agent who fell in love with my concept and photography which led to a meeting in San Francisco early last summer. However, after a few more ‘no’s’ and her impending leave of absence, she also passed my information on to another agent that she thought would be a better fit. At this point, I nearly gave up but persisted anyways and sent her my proposal. She came back to me with good news, but the publisher didn’t want a cookbook. They wanted a mushroom guidebook for beginners and requested a new proposal. Within days, I turned around a new proposal and they were thrilled, but wanted a book profiling 25 top mushrooms of North America with 40k words and 50 photos in six months.
The problem was, mushroom season in Southern California was certainly over and was waning on the west coast. Not to mention the onset of a pandemic. Oh, and many mushrooms I had never found yet, particularly Hen of the Woods which is only found on the east coast. Six months to trust nature and my mushroom hunting abilities to show up across the country to find something I never found before. Luckily I have a few fantastic friends who have helped along the way to make this possible.
Five and a half months later, I have submitted all of my work, despite the editor changing the deadline several times. I leave for the east coast next month, one more time, to find the one I am still missing. The hen of the woods. For now, the biggest part of this project is done. I wrote a book called ‘Mushroom Wanderland’ and it will be published by Countryman Press, released next year.
‘What next?’ … everyone asks. It is strange to be working towards something for so long, for a lifetime, for it to go to the last stage of ‘I want to write a book,’ ‘I am writing a book,’ to now ‘I wrote a book.’ And that is it. There is an emptiness, a silence, very much like that of the birth of my daughter exactly twelve years ago, where a thing that was once a part of me, is now separate and vulnerable to face the harshness of the world. I will probably write another book, not sure what about yet, but I know I will continue to wander and wonder about the world through this very human experience.
PREORDER NOW: Mushroom Wanderland: A Forager’s Guide to Finding, Identifying, and Using 25 Wild Fungi by Jess Starwood
The breathtaking beauty of mushrooms from a master forager: how to identify and use them in cooking, home remedies, and spirituality.
Foraging for mushrooms is a meditative and rewarding escape. Even if readers aren’t ready to head out into the woods, this enchanting visual guide is a welcome introduction to 25 easily identifiable species, organized by location and use. Author Jess Starwood has led hundreds of foraging trips, sharing her knowledge of nature with students. This, her first book, is a celebration of fungi—perfect for both beginner and longtime mushroom admirers.
No matter their use, all mushrooms have specific characteristics that are easy to recognize with the right teacher. Under Starwood’s guidance, readers will learn to identify caps, stipes, gills, and pores. They’ll encounter species such as Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Candy Cap, Chanterelle, and more; learn the best harvesting seasons; and enjoy delicious recipes using culinary favorites. But, above all, this guide will have readers growing their connection to nature and dreaming of the wonderful world of fungi.