Carolyn CJ Jones – Opening the Gates of the Heart

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My book, Opening the Gates of the Heart: A Journey of Healing, is a book of photographs of old wrought-iron entrance gates and uplifting prose that chronicles my healing journey from the depths of despair to joy and inner peace. It shows by example that peace is achievable and that, once reached, is then possible in the world around us.

Tell us something about yourself.

In the past decade, I have evolved from living on a sailboat to landlubber, married to single, drinking myself into oblivion every night to sober, nurse to author, photographer, and publisher, and from living in a van I renovated to homeowner.

Born in Pennsylvania, I grew up in a suburb north of Columbus, Ohio, and moved to Colorado as soon as I graduated from Kent State University Nursing School in 1974. I lived in Colorado, practicing nursing and photography, until I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1996 with my husband, to live aboard a sailboat. Our goal was to go cruising some day. We spent the next three years working on the boat, as we both loved to renovate structures. My claims-to-fame were varnishing teak trim, painting, working with epoxy, and designing and building storage spaces.

It all sounds very idyllic, and it was for a time. But, we had moved to California searching for happiness. Not knowing it comes from within, we were again reduced to the unhappy couple we had been before our move. It was at that time that I met and developed feelings for another man at the dock, and I began my journal writing to figure out the confusion I felt. That was the beginning of my writing. I finally left my marriage to make myself available to this man and soon discovered in a most humiliating way that he did not care for me. I was devastated.

After drinking and crying for two months, I finally decided to go on a road trip to “find myself.” First, I elected to get sober and moved to San Diego to do so. While there, I continued my daily journal writing. I bought and renovated an old RV van in which to travel when I resumed my road trip, which I did in 2002. Traveling around the Western States and Baja, I photographed dozens of gates. Those travels ended when I rented an apartment in 2005, and later bought a mobile home in 2008. My journal writing continued throughout all of this time and ended in 2010 when I started my own publishing company.

What inspired you to write this book?

Actually, I had no idea I was writing a book until several years after its inception. In one part of my life over “here,” I was journaling to maintain my sanity and my sobriety, and in another part of my life over “there,” I was taking photographs of these lovely gates I had discovered. It was nine months, literally, after I had photographed the gates in a San Francisco Bay Area neighborhood that I had an epiphany. One morning, I wrote in my journal, “I have spent a lifetime spinning webs of terror and shame between the spires that stand as sentinels to my heart.”

I was flabbergasted! Not two weeks earlier, I had named a photo of a gate covered with spider webs, Webs of Fear, and these words described that image way beyond the visual element. That prompted a search of all my journals for other phrases that described my feelings, ways of treating myself and others better, and principles of living. I discovered writings in my journals which described 15-20 of my gate images. It dawned on me that I had a book in-the-making, and it was at that point that I began to get inspired to continue writing the book.

How did you choose the title?

When I was shooting the gates, I couldn’t stop. I shot roll after roll of slides, and just couldn’t stop! I don’t know at what point it changed, but they began to represent my heart, closed from life’s hurts and disappointments. They began to be the gates of my heart. After I photographed them, and before I realized I had a book, I planned to sell the body of work to galleries as the Gates of the Heart series. When I realized I had a book, I titled it Gates of the Heart, which it remained until a few years later. One day, a friend, Sharon, was looking at the book for the first time and she said, “You know. It’d be much more open and appropriate if you named the book Opening the Gates of the Heart.” I thought about it, and she was right! The book is about opening the gates to one’s heart. It is so much more welcoming than Gates of the Heart. And that is how the title came to be.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

The first obstacle I encountered was a rejection from Chronicle Books. They were the only publisher to whom I had sent the book proposal. When they spent 3-4 months and then said no, I realized it could take a lot of time to get the book accepted by a publisher, what with submittals, a waiting period, and then potential rejections. Feeling like the message of my book could not wait for this process to occur, I decided to publish it myself.

I hired a designer, then an editor and we had the book ready to go to print. The files were submitted to the printer in early March 2010. I was using a local print broker who used a printer overseas. In late August, I had to seek another printer, as the quality of the book’s construction was not up to standard. I was fortunate to locate an American printer who did a lovely job, and I am proud to say I printed my photo book in the United States.

I overcame the printing debacle by keeping my patience, offering second chances, maintaining physical and emotional sobriety, and getting consult about when it was time to switch. The bottom line, however, was the feeling in my heart, in my gut. I knew I could not accept the quality of book that was presented to me; my book was more deserving than that. It was my heart and those feelings which led me to stick to my guns and require certain standards to be met. The print broker decided they couldn’t meet my needs and gave me my money back. I couldn’t have been happier and now I have a beautiful book. :)

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

Apparently, when I was in high school, I declared that someday, I was going to write a book that would be published. I have no recollection of this, but my sister who remembers every minute detail of our upbringing, tells me this is so. I am not surprised. I have always liked to write and, in fact, was placed in the Enriched English class in high school for my abilities. As an adult, trying to figure out something else to do other than nursing, I considered being a technical writer, but didn’t take the classes.

I got my start at serious writing while employed by the State of Colorado as a nurse resource consultant. In the capacity of being a program originator, it was my duty to write a detailed and comprehensive report to the Legislature about it. My writing skills advanced as a result of that paper, because everyone in the Department picked it apart and I had to learn how to put it back together to be authorized by them all. lol So I did. That job did a lot to advance my writing skills, actually, because I had a lot of convincing to do, in writing, that the program I had developed was for the benefit of the population to which we provided medical care and was cost-saving.

But the kind of writing I did for my book began when I started journaling. And I started journaling while still married, to try and figure out the feelings I had developed for another man. As I described above, one thing led to another and I became sober.

After starting sobriety, my clarity when writing increased by leaps and bounds. I took a job in a boating store, fell and hurt my dominant wrist badly enough that the pain led me to learn to write left-handed. It was when I made that switch that all sorts of things began to emanate from deep within. Often, I would stop after I wrote something and say out loud, “Where in the world did THAT come from?” This is very significant, for it is these journals in which I found much of the prose that appears in Opening the Gates of the Heart.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Not right now, but I did. While still married, I would sneak off the boat at 5 am with my legal pad, to walk to the local bait shop which was open, and write for a couple of hours before returning to the boat. I remember being terrified that my husband would find what I’d written. After I moved off the boat, writing became the thing I did to reward myself after a walk in the morning to a local coffee shop.

Once I became sober, my routine was to walk, come back to the house for coffee, read through 7 recovery daily meditation books, and then write for 2-3 hours. Mostly, I wrote about incidents and happenings; I hadn’t yet learned to identify my feelings. It was when I started writing left-handed that I began to write about my feelings.

I haven’t written in my journal since late 2009. I don’t know why. I just cannot seem to get motivated. I do a lot of writing about my book for materials I am passing along “out there.”

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

Oh, my, yes. The book chronicles my journey in sobriety, so my learning was tremendous. I learned to see myself in a positive light, and to see others with compassion and loving-kindness. I say this in one sentence, yet it does not describe the process through which I went to get from there to here, for I truly went from hell in my mind and heart to joy and inner peace. And that occurred while the book was coming together.

As far as publishing it, I learned about book design and editing, learned to clarify upfront the tasks for which I was hiring someone. The entire process from inception to production was learned from the Bay Area Independent Publisher’s Association, as I was a member of this group which shared freely their knowledge. I now am in the throes of marketing and distributing the book, and continue to learn about that aspect of publishing. Each day is a new journey, with new things to learn.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would get the manuscript to reviewers, like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly, several months before the book was due to be released. I waited until close to my anticipated publication date before I sent my book to these entities. They did not review it, as there was not enough time before the pub date. As it turned out, there was plenty of time, and they could have reviewed the book if I’d only known the pub date was going to be several months in the future. That was one of the problems I encountered because of the printing debacle. I would also handle more of the PR by myself, rather than depend upon a publicist as much as I did.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

When I was new to sobriety, I couldn’t get enough of Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Iyanla Van Zant, Eckhart Tolle, and Melody Beattie. Oriah, especially, helped me to locate my inner self through her words and style. In middle sobriety when I was dealing with old trauma issues, I read Claudia Black, Alice Miller, and John Bradshaw. They were helpful in my healing from these old wounds.

Now I read romance mysteries. Lisa Jackson comes to mind as one of several who writes such novels. I like the plot where the female gets hooked up with the male, all with the backdrop of an exciting mystery. It makes me feel hope that I, too, might someday find a mate again.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I have started taking photos for my new book, Gates of Grace. You see, after one walks through the gates of their heart, they then live in grace. I know it will have photos, but I do not know about the prose. I might write the story behind each gate, or describe why I named it what I did. Or, I will do more of the same – uplifting and inspirational words.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

First and foremost, follow your heart when you write. Let your heart pour forth. Join a writer’s group to get support for your writing, and join a local independent publishing organization to learn about how a book is published. Even if you are picked up by a trade publisher, you will be expected to market yourself, and the publishing group can help with that, as well as teaching you about the publishing world. Once published, join the national group, IBPA, the Independent Book Publishers Association. They have many offerings for making your book more visible “out there,” and have deals with major distributors like Ingram Book Group, so you as an independent publisher can get on with this major distributor who otherwise would disallow you as an independent publisher.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

There are two specific groups who would love my book – those on a journey of awareness and healing, and those who have been on such a journey, and have grown and changed because of it. The former group may be someone who is “stuck” and cannot seem to move forward in their life. They just need a nudge. Or, they could be someone who feels utterly hopeless and in great despair. In either case, the reader will feel hope, encouragement, and empowerment. Their way will be lightened.

For the latter group, the book serves as a reminder of where they have been and where they wish to go in the future, knowing that they can help direct the course of that by taking action.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

My website has a lot of information about me and the book. You can find me at www.gatelady.com. There are two important videos – one that describes the creation of the book, of which you readers now know, and one that is me reading from the book while the images are shown on screen. My website is also my blog, where I talk about each topic in the book, as it appears in order. There is also a widget which allows you to page through the book, to look at the photos, and to read the verse.