Mendocino County is filled with visual artists, ceramicists, weavers, writers and practitioners of all manner of the creative arts. But what do you do when it comes to the business side of creating art? Marketing and selling your wares, tracking expenses and figuring out profit and loss statements are just as important if you are painting, throwing a pot, or writing a book. Mendocino County artist Erica Fielder notes, “Artists are in commerce no matter if you paint one canvas to sell or produce thousands of mugs.”
West Business Development Center has helped numerous artists throughout its 30-year history and indeed, founder Sheilah Rogers recalls, “Probably 40 percent of our first clients were artists; Erica Fielder art and illustration, Nansee New ceramics, Amy Melious photography, Laura Buckner jewelry and so many others making jewelry, ceramics, paintings – every kind of art you could imagine.”
With this kind of history and specialist advisors, West Business Development Center is just as well positioned as when it was founded to help those in the creative arts. We sat down with two local authors who have just launched their first books with help from West. Alena Guest is a 30-year Fort Bragg resident who runs a successful clinical hypnotherapy practice in town. Molly McCalla, who goes by the pen name Mori Natura, was born in Ukiah and has lived in Redwood Valley. Both authors have launched riveting first books about very prescient topics. Guest recounts her experiences in Hollywood as a young actress in the pre “Me Too” era and her journey to process these experiences and thrive in her memoir, Ravishing. McCalla tells her firsthand experience of her home burning to the ground in the 2017 fires and the relationship of humans to the earth in Wildfire Weeds. One is a memoir, one is a work of fiction, but both delve deep into the psyches and inner experience of each author and make us think about what their experiences mean to ourselves and to the world at large. We had a chance to sit down with both authors and here’s what they had to say.
Why did you write your book?
Mori Natura (MN): I wrote my debut fiction novel Wildfire Weeds after my neighborhood was destroyed by wildfires in Redwood Valley in October 2017. My book is set on a ridge top in Redwood Valley a week before the fires, and my main characters discuss the fire ecology of California intimately, while they prepare for the threat of fire in the dry Fall. I’m witnessing huge shifts taking place in Mendocino County, between the economic downturn reflected by the end of the “Green Rush”, and the new normal of catastrophic, huge, wildfire storms and Mendocino is having a really intense reckoning with how rural populations are going to thrive in the years to come. I wanted to tell these stories on behalf of the unique culture of cannabis cultivation and environmental stewardship and I wanted to write about how my home community is navigating these phenomenal changes.
Alena Guest (AG): The bravest thing I ever did was to reveal the shameful secrets that had been moldering in my subconscious by writing a memoir. I’d had some success in the 70’s as a young actress in Hollywood, but that also meant I was abused by powerful men in the industry. Long before the #metoo era, I was unwittingly a part of the conspiracy of silence by generations of sexual assault victims.
The first time I thought about putting pen to paper was when my mother died in 1984. Then, during the 2008 downturn that took so many people’s homes and livelihoods, my husband and I lost ours too. My father died shortly thereafter. Drowning in anger and grief, I turned to my pen as a floatation device. Yet curiously, I didn’t write about the recent tsunami of catastrophes, instead, for the first time I began writing about the multiple abuses and betrayals I’d endured.
In 2014 during a hypnosis meditation session I had strong insight that I must tell my story. After that I wrote like my life depended on it. Ironically, I completed Ravishing the week the allegations against Harvey Weinstein were made public. Ultimately my book tells of a life long quest for sovereignty—a heroine’s journey in which I find the power to exercise my own choices. Through writing my book I’ve found it isn’t what’s been done to you, but what you do with it that counts.
How did West help you with marketing your book?
MN: West has been perhaps the single most helpful contributor to making me feel like I am truly launching an author career that I can point to. I have learned that as an author I am not just here to write and offer my creative thoughts to the world. We are actually supposed to wear many hats, and one of those hats is the ever-important marketing hat. In order to really, truly find readers on a wide scale, there’s an immense amount of energy that one must devote to the task of establishing and sustaining social media networks. For a woman that has never started a business and rarely done any marketing for any reason, this past year has been a pretty steep learning curve for me. Enter West and the multitude of free services they offer. They literally have helped me in all the ways that I needed support: creating a website, establishing an author platform presence online, and preparing me to pursue the right avenues to ensure that I am successful in wider and wider circles. I didn’t know much about the author business before I got to West. I had cobbled together ideas from countless hours of research, but it has been so much more satisfying to work with professionals who have done this, know what to do, and are helping me be accountable to my own goals.
AG: The value that West Company and particularly their expert advisor in book marketing has given me, is incalculable. After the heavy lifting of writing a book for ten years, it seemed overwhelming to then take on the task of marketing it. I didn’t know where to begin. Now, instead of feeling anxious and unsure about promotion, with my advisor’s prodding I feel excited about it. Not only I have I learned about a myriad of promotional strategies, I’ve learned that I can accomplish things I never thought possible, with a little encouragement.
What is your favorite thing to do in Mendocino County?
MN: I grew up in Ukiah and came back to Mendocino County after college because I realized just what a wonderful and gorgeous place we have here. I’ve travelled the world, but there’s something about the redwoods, the Pacific Ocean, and the Northern California hills that makes Mendo feel like home. My favorite activities are anything involved with the natural glory of Mendocino, whether that be hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, or camping: I love being familiar with the local flora and fauna and having a deep relationship with this place.
AG: One of my favorite things to do in Mendocino County is to drive along the jagged edge of the Pacific Coast Highway to the tiny city of Point Arena. It is worth the hour long drive each way, to see a screening of a first run play by a London company, at their Art Deco inspired movie theater. For a few dollars you get rock star seats. And if I get there early enough, I can also enjoy a mouth-watering pastry across the street, at Frannie’s Cup & Saucer.