Yoga, Divorce and Self-Publishing

Dec 19, 2016 by

Yoga, Divorce and Self-Publishing

A COFFEE HOUSE CHAT with Mike MacConnell.

“We met. I loved. She left.”

Mike’s six-word story, published on our LitSite, is the perfect introduction to his book THE YOGA OF DIVORCE: A Mindful Route to Resolving Disputes.

Alex Risen and I sat down with Mike—my ex-colleague, former boss, old friend and new author—to discuss divorce, yoga and self-publishing.

D: Your book, half memoir/ half self-help, recounts the end of your 25-year marriage. A painful and private experience. Why did you decide to write about it?

M: I decided to write about it because I found myself oddly empowered by the whole experience.

It came at a point in my life when everything was crashing around my ears—my business had just come to an end. My mother had just died; my father was dying; I thought I had health problems though it turned out I didn’t—yet because of the practice [yoga] I had every morning, I came out at the end feeling stronger and happier. Not because it had happened. But because I had responded mindfully to the challenges. And I thought that other people could benefit.

A: How long have you been practicing?

M: Eight years now.

D: One of the most difficult parts for me to read was when you and Judy [Mike’s wife] told your son. You planned it. You had a date and environment set up, and it was after you negotiated most of the divorce.

M: Yes, we wanted to wait until we knew the answer to important questions before dumping the news. And we were lucky. He was older. He was in university and, in fact, before he left had predicted we would fall apart. At a certain level he had anticipated the whole thing, and yet, for the next two or three years—I don’t recount this in the book—I rarely saw him. I still don’t see him much. That’s really hard.

D: Because of the divorce?

M: Initially. But not now. He’s in his 20s, in Chiropractic College. He’s got a girlfriend.

This was a kid, mind you, who spent a lot of time with his parents. It’s a bit of a night and day transition.

D: You really prepared for that meeting. Can you speak to that?

M: Yes, I have this phrase: the brain is Velcro for negative and Teflon for positive. I think we’ve evolved to fixate on negativity as a survivor strategy. To deal with all manner of tragedies our ancestors had to prepare for the worst.

They primed us with an anxiety gene. As an antidote, I make a discipline out of taking my mind to the best possible scenario. To anticipate an encounter by imagining the goal. The best possible outcome. That relaxes your nervous system. By the time I had done the visualization I had positive expectations.

D: I was initially only interested in the memoir part, but I found myself intrigued by the self-help part and it was that section that pulled me in.

M: Well, thank you for sharing that.

D: You love literature, like all of us English teachers. You are a published poet. You have been writing for a long time. When did you start to write nonfiction?

M: I’ve been in a writing group for eleven years and spent the first seven writing poetry. Only poetry. I started working on this three years ago.

D: So not a long time. What led you to self-publish?

M: I have difficulty with rejection. I was the guy in high school who didn’t ask girls out unless the grapevine had already told me there might be some interest.

I changed careers when my school went out of business. I went into conflict mediation, because I couldn’t bear the thought of knocking on doors because I knew there were no jobs out there.

D: I just need to interrupt here to say you are a natural mediator. Students would often go to you with their problems and conflicts.

M: I was the middle of five children.

D: Ahh. That explains it. So you hate rejection…

M: Yes. A Penguin editor asked for the book—I met her at a launch and she liked the title, but I never heard back from her. And I wanted the book out.

D: So you didn’t do the rounds at all?

M: I googled the ten best lit agents and sent them a query letter with a partial MS.

D: And you head back from…

M: No one.

D: So not even a rejection?

M: No, never a rejection. I was spared that! (laughs) But I didn’t exert a lot of effort.

The grapevine was pretty clear. I heard from a lot of people (you being one of them) that the pub climate is really tough right now. And this issue around timing was a major concern for me. I felt I could spend a year—

D: Or more…

M: Right…trying to submit, nurturing contacts, and with no certainty. There was already no certainty the book would be good. No certainty anyone would like it or ever read it. But, if I self-published, I could have the certainty that it would exist.

D: And you saw it as important for your new career?

M: Yes.

A: You could have written a book about mediation to give you credibility, but how much of that credibility is because you had to mediate your own divorce?

M: Well, thank you for picking up on that. I wasn’t a mediator then. I hadn’t done any mediation courses. But when I got through the divorce, I realized I’d just mediated that. I had actually, literally, created a persona that I brought into the discussions.

And I still allowed a part of myself to still be the needy grabby guy, because I didn’t want to give everything away. ‘I wanted to bargain. It was the discovery that by accessing the part of myself that was neutral—which is the definition of a mediator—and which for me in practical terms meant no longer taking the bait.

And not to malign Judy, to suggest she was trying to bait me—it was just part of our dynamic. We were caught in this pattern. I would trigger her by my silence and she would trigger me with her anger. And I would always react. Once we decided to divorce, I realized, ‘I’m no longer the failing husband,’ because I always felt bad that she was unhappy. That it was my responsibility. But then I realized it wasn’t my job anymore.

I think I have the line in there: I may not be too good at marriage, but I’m really good at divorce.

D: And let’s say a word about Judy. She wrote the forward in your book.

M: Yes, she did! And encouraged me to write about us.

D: A tribute to mindfulness and mediation.

M: But this isn’t a book about mediation. I don’t think the word occurs more than once or twice. This is really a do-it-yourself book. How to manage your own divorce with yoga.

I could go to the mat every morning, with everything crumbling around me, and have real moments of well being.

The universe is okay. I’m okay.

D: One of my favourite parts is when you’re in the classroom, between classes, holding the phone, having just fought with Judy, waiting for your class to come in so you could teach pre-Socratic philosophy.

M: Yeah, (laughs) talk about the examined life and the importance of rational thought. And that was early on, while I still grasping for a way to get through it.

D: But once through, you put it down on paper and wanted it out.

M: Yes.

D: Once you decided to self publish, how did you come up with FriesenPress?

M: I googled first. Everyone’s first response. I didn’t like the hard sell I got from my first call. But I was gathering information. I called up a couple of book distributors with some questions. Frieson was mentioned as having good quality books.

D: What made you think of calling distributors?

M: I don’t know, actually. And then, well my shopping style is—I’m very much a guy—is surgical. Whatever I need, I go get. I impulse shop. I didn’t do a careful analysis. I committed right away. I sent them $500 and then had immediate buyer’s remorse. I thought, Oh my God! What have I done?

But now I’m so glad I did. It was five grand and I paid it up front.

D: How did you find the process?

M: Great. There was one contact person. I could never talk to the editor, which I at first found difficult. But the system worked. They responded immediately. I had hundreds of questions and never waited more than a day for a response. Not always the response I wanted, but a response nevertheless.

D: How did you find the editorial process?

M: There are different packages you can purchase. I didn’t purchase the diamond-studded version. But I got one that had editing, cover design and two revision rounds, and I still have some marketing handholding to come.

With the editing process I told them I didn’t need a line-by-line edit, since I’m an English teacher. They said they were going to do it anyway, since it was part of the package.

So, apparently my commas leave something to be desired. You may remember I was never much for the niggly nuts and bolts stuff. Commas vs. semi-colons. Who/whom. Which and that.

A: I still have trouble with that.

M: I sympathize. And what I really wanted was the structural stuff. I had three books: the memoir, the yoga and the stuff on a way of thinking about conflict resolution strategies. And my writer’s group, fabulous as they are, just knew it was kind of tangled.

So, Friesen was really good at putting it together, and not in an abrasive way. They would put their changes in tracking changes and they were only ‘suggestions.’

And I did hire another structural editor, whose whole thing is about story telling. I hired her, said I had $1,000.00 and asked, “What can you do for that?” and she never read a word.

D: What did she do?

M: She said send me your table of contents. Now, fortunately, I had an eight-page table of contents with detailed subheadings.

And she basically whupped my ass. She knows me. I get all abstract. I get pedantic. She gave me this structure. Every chapter had to have 1) a problem, 2) work and 3) a resolution. Then she wanted the whole book to have that arc—

D: We are smiling, because Alex loves structure.

A: Swear by it.

M: Yeah. It works.

D: Anything unexpected with the self-publishing?

M: No nasty surprises at all. I had to buy quite a bit extra for the index, but that wasn’t a hidden extra. I could have done it myself, but would have had a dozen nervous breakdowns.

D: Any advice to other authors?

M: Yes. DO it.

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