Monday, December 7, 2015

Publishing a book in Italy

I expected to learn many things in my move to Italy, but one of them was not how to get a book published here. Before I came to Italy, I wrote a memoir about my spiritual journey, from working at Apple Computer, to going to seminary, to working at a women's federal prison, to being diagnosed with breast cancer, to finally transferring full time to Italy.

My Italian teacher loved the book, and wanted to translate it into Italian, which she did. She then shopped the book to publisher's here in Italy, and I am so please to say that we found a publisher, and the book is now available. The great thing about this book is that it is dual-language, Italian and English. The first section is in Italian and the second section is in English.  If you are trying to learn English, or Italian, this would be a nice book to have on your shelf.

You will see a link on my this page that directs you on how to order the book. There is also a companion guide that is free and available for down load, if you are interested in following your own spiritual path.

We had the presentation of the book at the Galleria Grefti here in Umbertide. We had a great turn- out and even the mayor showed up. FYI, that's me on the right and the mayor is on the left.

The evening was a little nerve wracking for me as I made a commitment to read part of the book in Italian. I managed to stumble through. The Italians are always so nice when you try, no matter how much you mangle their beautiful language.

Here is an intereview I did with the publisher about the book that gives some of the background of the content.

1. When did you decide to write this book?

I made the decision to write this book while I was still working as a chaplain at the Federal Correctional Institute in California.

2. What prompted you to write this book?

In the United States, most people do not want to think about the prison population, despite the popularity of the television program “Orange is the New Black.”  One of the female inmates asked me to promise that I would not forget her. She said that female inmates were the “forgotten of the forgotten.” By this she meant that while male prisoners are ostrasized by society, female prisoners are totally ignored by a world that denies their existence. This book is my effort to remind people that there are now 200,000 women incarcerated in the American Federal prison system, and each one of them has a story.

3. Looking back at your early religious experiences, do you believe that the deep faith you had as a child was a positive part of your life, or do you think it was a sign of your unhappiness?

I think it was both. Because I had an unhappy childhood, I had to look outside of my family for solace and comfort. As a child, I found this sense of love and acceptance in my relationship with God. I also believe that I was born with a gift of faith that allowed me to be open to the spiritual part of my personality. Overall, the faith that I had as a child, was a positive thing for me in coping with my circumstances.

4. In your book, you said that prior to beginning your training, you did not believe that the prison was a place you wanted to work. Instead, you thought that working with children in a hospital was your calling. How did working at the prison change your mind about this?

Before I worked at the prison, I had never known anyone who had gone to jail. I had never knowingly broken a federal law, and so I had no sense of identity with women who were incarcerated. I wanted to work with children in the hospital, because I had worked with and loved Marisa, and felt that I could identify with children in similar circumstances.
Once I started working in the prison, I began to see each woman separately with her own individual story, rather than just being a “woman in prison.”  Could I personally identify with the choices that the women made and the circumstances that they lived in? No. Their path was not my path. Their choices were not my choices. However, I came to understand that even though I personally could not identify with the events in their lives I could identify with their humanity. I could identify with their pain, their grief, their loneliness and their regret. I found that our emotional connection was stronger than our differences. My sense of our common humanity was stronger than a lack of identity with them, and so I was thankful that I had this opportunity to work with this population.

5. If you could go back in your work at the prison, is there anything about yourself that you would change?

I would change several things. First I would feel less intimidated by the power structure and organization of the prison system. The system is designed to intimidate the individual from the moment you enter the premise. The fence around the prison is not just for safety but to demonstrate an unbreachable authority. I wish I could have recognized earlier that the symbols were only symbols, and not believed in the power that they tried to exert over me.

In retrospect, I would  not be as anxious about doing the right thing. I would have more confidence in myself to be able to know how to be with the women in prison. I would be more clear with myself that the women had made choices that I, given my circumstances in life, would never have made. In certain ways, the women in prison were just like me, but in other fundamental ways, they were nothing like me. I would acknowledge this and acknowledge that I could still be helpful to them.

6. How did your life change after your experience at the Buddhist retreat center? Would you advise others to try this type of experience? Why?

The path of my life changed significantly after I attended the workshop on Death and Dying at the Buddhist retreat center. It not only was the beginning of my spiritual journey, but it also afforded me an opportunity to confront some religious biases that I still held that were no longer relevant in my life. The retreat also provided me a safe space to confront my own fear of death. For those people who are struggling with this basic human fear, I would recommend attending a Buddhist retreat such as I describe in the book.

7. In your book you describe visiting Italy when you were quite young. By having this experience at such an impressionable age, what influence do you think it had on you and your understanding of American society? Do you think that it limited you from totally integrating into American society because you had experienced this different world, or was it an advantage in some way?

Like many Americans, I have tended to idolize life in Italy. Italy represents, to many of us,  that which is lacking in American society; a strong, loving family, a slower pace of life, a more cooperative, rather than competitive environment and of course, excellent, fresh food. Change requires a vision of the future we desire, the ability to tell the truth about our current circumstances, and plans for the first step of change. Italy has been my vision of the ideal future. This vision has allowed me to get through many difficulties in my life, and I suppose in some ways, also kept me from feeling totally integrated into American society and culture.

8. Do you think your search for your five stones was a mystical journey or a psychological journey?
Let us first define these terms, spiritual and psychological. I think sometimes in modern discourse we equate the two in a way that is not helpful. To me, spiritual, comes from an understanding that there is a force in the universe larger than ourselves, while psychology is the work that helps us unravel our personal psyche. Beginning a spiritual quest, will often lead to psychological understanding. My search for the five stones was a search for life’s meaning in respect to my understanding of a force larger than myself, and so I see this part of my life journey as more of a mystical experience than a psychological experience. 

9. What was the criteria that you used to establish that faith, courage, kindness, service and love were your five stones?

Intuition was what guided me through this mystical journey. Where this intuition came from, I can not say for sure, but I believe that it was a force larger than myself that led me.

10. According to you, what was the symbolism of the stones? Why do you think that the hand of God showed you five stones and not other obects?

From a Biblical perspective, five is a number that is often used to separate the good from the bad; such as the parable of the 10 virgins, where five of them were foolish and five were wise. (Matthew 25:2) I think the story that is most applicable here is the story of David and Goliath. David took five smooth stones in preparation to kill the giant. (I Samuel 17) . What was it that Goliat represented? What was the large thing in my life that needed to be slayed? Perhaps it was this story that was in my unconscious when I had the dream about God telling me to find five, smooth stones.  

11. Do you think that there are other stones to search for or is five the perfect number? (If yes, what other number is there, if not why is 5 the perfect number?)

For some reason, I have always felt a special relationship with the number five. There are five letters in my first name, five letters in my middle name and five letters in my last name. For me, it felt complete to find the five stones, and discover their meaning for me. I believe that every spiritual search is individual but is always centered in the context of the greater good. It is important to remember to question what is the greater good for humanity especially given the terrorist attacks we have recently witnessed. If you believe that God is telling you to do something that is good for you and your religion but is against the common good of humanity, I think your idea has not originated from God.

Please feel free to email me through the web page if you would like to discuss any of these ideas.

The book is also available as an ebook, and you can order it through Amazon.


  1. Congratulations, Susan! Wonderful to hear of this special honor. Love your life!!

    1. Hi Melanie. Thanks. It's busy, that's for sure! Hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

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  3. Three cheers about the Italian edition. Next time we see you and Gary we'll toast it! Which I expect will happen sooner than later. Happy New Year to you both.

    1. Thanks Steve. It was quite a process, as you can imagine. Happy New Year to you and Lori as well.