MORRIS — It’s pleasant, indeed, rewarding when good things come at a later stage in one’s life. Just ask Stephen Drew of Morris. At 64 he has had his first book published, “Into The Thin, A Pilgrimage Walk Across Northern Spain,” in which he talks about baring his soul and seeking redemption while connecting with nature and other pilgrims on a very special journey.
“I’m overjoyed,” he said of having his book published. “I gush a bit about the publisher, Homebound Publications. They are an independent press that believes in the power of contemplative writing. It is extraordinarily difficult to have a book published traditionally these days, especially with no previously released work. They took a chance with me. The cover and interior designs are elegant, and spot on to the spirit of the book. It landed well there. Beyond that I’m grateful for the book I was given to write, and feel it is exactly as it was meant to be.”
Drew’s book, due out in September, is an extension of the experience of a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James) that crosses northern Spain from France. Though the story is centered there, it extends to those things that brought him to walk, the reflections and revelations of pilgrimage, and its aftermath. The Camino unfolds in three distinct yet often overlapping phases: the carnal experience of the body learning to walk 15 to 20 miles per day, followed by the interior experience of mind, emotion, remembrance, and reflection, and finally ascension into the mountains of Galicia in western Spain with its spiritual and mystical experiences.
The book has been called by the publisher, “In parts a travelogue, a love letter to Spain, and a chronicle of changes under the influence of grace, a story told in the language of the soul.”
“Writing a memoir can be a painful thing,” Drew said, “especially one like this. It’s a remarkably personal story, and the depth of writing frequently made for challenging days. It had its moments.”
Drew has lived in Morris for just over nine years. He came, he explained, “because I was seeking some simplicity and serenity and I found both.” He enjoys reading and walking or hiking on a daily basis.
“I first became aware of this area as an 18 year-old living in New Haven. I’d run errands to Goshen for an employer, and I thought it would be lovely to live here some day. Of all the places I’ve lived since, I’ve never loved a place more than this. I consider it a blessing to have found myself here. It’s home. It is an easy place to find quiet, and for me that is essential.”
Drew began writing while living in Philadelphia in the mid-to-late 1980s (during his late 20s and early 30s). He found he had a “writing voice,” but was distracted by the circumstances of life and set it aside until more recently. “That voice has seasoned nicely, so I guess it all worked out well, perfectly in fact.”
He was called to writing for several reasons. “It was mostly those who I read early on. I was especially drawn to Thomas Wolfe, a bit verbose, but the power of his language could move me to tears. To think that could happen on a page was intriguing. Of course, Hemingway was in the picture as well, then. He was the polar opposite of Wolfe and showed the beauty and power of economy of writing. But on a deeper level, that mysterious source has always expressed through me with words. They just seem to come naturally for me. It’s also an extraordinarily intimate art form, and that appeals to me as well.”
In terms of published writers, as mentioned, Drew enjoys and admires “the old guard,” mostly Wolfe and Hemingway, along with F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck, and more recently Pat Conroy, Paulo Coelho, and Toni Morrison. “For memoir, I really love Frank McCourt, Mary Karr, and Dani Shapiro. I could go on. There are just so many newer and lesser known writers that have moved me, but mostly I admire beautiful writing in just about any flavor. I’m also of the mind that anyone who writes as a way of processing life is admirable.”
Drew enjoys solitude, the inner work of writing, and the problem solving that arises. “I love the release of authentic expression. The process is a meditation, a quieting, an attitude of receptivity. I center in prayer before working, then I set about it. Time passes, always more time than I thought. I notice the word count has increased. When I wash through what I’ve written, it feels like I’m the first person who gets to read it. Then craft steps in and it’s time to make good sentences. It’s a wonderful way to work.”
As for his inspirations, Drew said it’s not so much a place or “something reducible” but more of a state of mind. “I’m the kind who wakes up at two or three in the morning to scribble notes when there is an active project on, or sometimes just for a random website post. I have no real idea of the mechanics, but I could talk about it for hours.”
He is currently in submission with another non-fiction work, but “there is great hope for the novel at some point.”
Stephen Drew is clearly off and running in the literary world.
His first book can be pre-ordered from Homebound Publications (www.homeboundpublications.com), Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or through any local independent bookseller.