The Big Swim: Book titles, covers and more big swimming

The spirit behind these articles on getting published is to encourage you with your book by taking you through my ups and downs as a first time author. My climate change book, "The Big Swim," will be published by New Society Publishers in February, 2015. Over the summer, we finalized the title and cover. Meanwhile, I planned a new "big swim" to raise funds for a local climate adaptation project.

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The next hurdle was the cover. My husband had come up with an image of a woman swimming near a topo map with melting glaciers. I had vague visions of a woman seen a distance swimming in a nautical chart, warm yellows and lovely blues, and a distant glacier.

Also, the marketing survey that New Society had me complete came back in the form of catalog copy. I wasn’t happy with it and spent a lot of time revising it. New Society responded that my revisions didn’t meet the required format. So I reworked the revisions into the required format.

In addition, there were copy edits to be made. I expected my editing process to be one of the intimate, intellectual give and take sessions for which authors pledge undying gratitude to their editors in their acknowledgements. Instead, New Society contracted the manuscript to a copy editor who gave a thorough and deferential edit which took only a few hours to review. Once I got over my surprise, I realized that The Big Swim  had already received that intimate, intellectual substantive edit from Shaena Lambert and it was to her that I would pledge my undying gratitude.

During this time, we were settling back into our Cortes Island home, going through pretty much every item we own and deciding if it deserved a place in our newer, much smaller house and battling an infestation of moths in our stored woolens. Every afternoon, I rode my bike to the lake for a good, long swim.

Cortes Island has two central lakes, Hague and Gunflint, where just about everyone who lives on or visits the island swims and plays. The lakes had unprecedented algae blooms in the spring, complete with orange scum and the smell of dead fish. When I went swimming in July, there was a weird blob of white about a meter down that looked like cirrus clouds.  

I’ve swum these lakes for twenty years. If I averaged 60 swims each year, that’s 1,200 swims, many of them well over a mile. All that lake time is blurred into one long, blissful moment: the clear greenish water shafted with light, my rhythmic breath amplified by the water, the trail of bubbles from my fingertips, the water’s gentle hold. Every time, I’ve emerged feeling like a better person: cooler, more collected, happier.  

This summer, I did my best to ignore the creepy algae cloud. But it made me feel miserable. So I came up to speed on lake biology and devised a fundraiser idea for the Friends of Cortes Island, the local environmental group that was arranging testing and looking into solutions.

Predictably, it was another “big swim”: to swim all nine lakes on the island in one day, almost 10 K of swimming with some daunting hiking and boating logistics thrown in. I would get together a team and people could sponsor us. The Nine Lake Swim would be a rallying point for raising money to test the lakes and find solutions. The team of four came together pretty quickly, once people realized I seriously thought the swim could be done. We started training swims and figuring out boats, cars and trails.

The activity helped me cope with climate change writ small upon our island. The algae blooms in the lakes every spring, but under certain conditions it can really take off and, due to climate change, those conditions are increasingly likely to occur. In a common metaphor, climate change has loaded the dice.

The summer was also marked by the dearth of purple starfish, the result of a wasting disease probably linked to climate change. For years, I had laughed at visitors who proudly sent us pictures of the purple starfish. To me, they were like daisies, nice but too prolific to be special. Now it was like the daisies stopped blooming. It’s hard for me to take these changes in. I need something positive to do in response.

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