Interview with Margaret Rose Realy, Oblate

CGSA CoverWe have a lovely book to enjoy today, dear readers!

Not only that, but all you writerly types get to learn a little bit about the flexibility, patience, and Providence that are part of the successful writer’s life.  Read on to learn more about Margaret Rose Realy and her latest book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac.

Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB, is a contemplative lay hermit. She grew up just outside Detroit, sharing a home with her maternal grandmother where the love of gardening flourished. Margaret reveals her love of nature, learning about the Creator through his creation, with a Benedictine spirituality, in her books, columns, and presentations. 

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Because my blog is about the writing life, I asked Margaret to share a little bit about what went into the making of this book.  She kindly obliges.  Read on!

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EMC: How did you get the initial idea for this book?  

MRR: The first publisher I worked with, Circle Press, had started production on my first book, A Garden of Visible Prayer; Creating a Personal Sacred Space One Step at a Time,(now a  2nd Edition). In a meeting Fr. John Bartunek and Claudia Volkman discussed the need for a book that looked at the traditions of the Church as revealed in nature. Father wanted a book that was grounded in our faith, and took away all the new-agey-bunk that detracted from knowing the Creator through his creation. It was at his suggestion six years ago that gave direction to my writing. Circle Press eventually closed down that division.

leaf logoEMC: As so often happens in the publishing world, alas.  But that wasn’t the end, was it?  Tell us what happened when you pitched the idea for this book.  

MRR: It seems that the concept for this book (A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac) was out of my hands. The second publisher for A Garden of Visible Prayer, FAITH Catholic, had discussed with me a book of the same nature that Father had suggested. FAITH was a very small book publisher and after much prayer, I felt they weren’t the right ones for the title. So rather than say no out-right, I waited. Good thing I did. They, too, closed down their book division.

Claudia, then with Franciscan Media/Servant Books, still had an interest in my manuscript and asked that I pitch it to her at Catholic Writers Guild Live conference. Having worked with her before, it felt more like tea with a friend—who just happened to be an acquisition editor. Franciscan Media decided the manuscript wasn’t a good fit for their house and I moved on.

The manuscript was pitched a year later to Ave Maria Press. Thanks to Lisa Hendey, who had reviewed the manuscript for CWG’s SoA several years back, and recommended it to AMP.

leaf logoEMC:  Can you tell us a little bit about the process for getting the contract to write your latest book?  

MRR: Bob Hamma of Ave Maria Press wanted me to rework the book and gear it towards Catholic moms…you know, because, Lisa Hendey. Since I do not have family and never had children, I knew I couldn’t produce the book he wanted—readers would know I wasn’t all that—and turned him down, twice. We finally agreed to meet at CMN in Texas (2012) to discuss what I could produce that would meet Ave Maria Press’ market needs. It was there that we agreed on the layout for an expanded manuscript that combined sections from other manuscripts into one book.

leaf logoEMC: How long did you wait from time of pitch to when you signed your contract?  What happened with this project in that time?

MRR: After the meeting in August 2012, we discussed the outline and the contract and advance, which were settled upon by April 2013. I was given one year to produce the new manuscript.

leaf logoEMC: How long was it from the time you signed your contract to actual publication?  What were some of the highlights and challenges you encountered during that time?

MRR: I began researching and compiling materials immediately after our August 2012 meeting, assembling chapter folders through the winter. Every year I offer several spring presentations, gardening and Lenten, and the spring of 2013 was no different. The rewriting began later that summer. My manuscript was to be submitted the end of April 2014, and much to my editor’s delight—and AMP’s graphics department—it was sent the first week in January 2014. That gave the publisher a good year to work it through production for edits and design. It was here that the work changed in perspective. It was no longer MY book but OUR book—a sentiment important to all authors.

 My greatest challenge was—and still is—that I am just a gardener. I failed and had to repeat English courses in college. When I realized being called to write I was dumbfounded. I had to set aside my fear—and being totally clueless—and remain attentive to the task placed before me. Our Lord has provided beautiful people along my journey, skilled at critiquing and editing my writing—like you, Erin—to help me keep moving forward.

 What delighted me most in the writing of this book was sharing my love of gardening and God. Each section of each chapter brought some level of joy. I often felt that I was doing an odd sort of evangelization by offering some of what our church teaches in a way that brings to light the Bible parables that were related to nature. It was fun researching and then correlating spiritual themes and then to actualize them in a garden setting. I pray that those who read my book might apply some of the gardening themes to their own outdoor prayer space and in doing so draw closer to Our Lord.

leaf logoEMC: If you could sum up your mission for this book in three sentences, what would you say?

MRR: I need just one: It’s the first book to offer gardeners spiritual resources and creative projects that connect a love of gardening with their Catholic faith.

leaf logoEMC: Count me as one of your readers who is getting connected to a love of gardening through the Catholic faith, thanks to your warmly detailed book!  Any parting advice for aspiring writers?  

MRR: This is the hardest question of all. I never aspired to be a writer or author. I had to discern in the call to write, what it was that made me come alive, what—besides prayer and my love of God—brought me joy, and then translate that into words. I was happiest gardening and sharing my love of it with others. I drew great peace, with the help of many volunteers, creating gardens of prayer and memorial. This is what I knew, this is what I loved, so that is what I wrote.

We’re told to write what we know, and you write about what you love.  The fruit of that is clear to the many of us who love your work!  Thank you for stopping by, Margaret.  Readers, it’s spring, and it’s Passiontide.  I can’t think of a better time or better reasons to get yourself a copy of A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac.  This will be a book you keep as a reference.  I already plan on getting clear Contac Paper for the cover to keep it from getting all raggedy.

Homeschoolers, also, take note:  my oldest read this through before I could finish it, and she loved it.  If you use gardening in your curriculum so you don’t have to spend so much time weeding, your older children (5th grade and up) might enjoy this book as well!

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