It was the spring of 2017 when I took a poetry course, taught by the local poet laureate. Being the anti-procrastinator I am, I started working on my final project the night after we got our syllabus. The project was to create a chapbook of all or some of the poems we would be writing for class that semester. I decided I’d make it easy on myself and create mine on Shutterfly—no staples or glue for me.
All semester, that book was like a piece of sculpture I kept adding clay to and chipping away at. Because all my poems were autobiographical, I titled it Life, Inverse. In that class, I psychoanalyzed myself, sharing parts of my life I never thought I would share with anyone.
I learned a lot about myself that spring.
I started my own book publishing company, Campbell Peach Press; my mom grew up in Campbell, Missouri, and we always wanted to go back to the Missouri Peach Festival someday. I learned how to write short and overcome my fear of public speaking (almost). I learned to love the spoken word as much as I did the written—to appreciate the oral storytelling form—for such teaches us to be active listeners.
Before then, I’d thought that because I was a storyteller, I could not be a poet; like the ballads of Tom T. Hall, all my poems told a story. They were grounded and concrete and that was okay, for a poem was whatever I made it. My love for poetry grew along with my love for Shutterfly, for I didn’t have to be a skilled photographer to make beautiful books.
Shutterfly was for writers, too.
From that final project, I created the second edition of Life, Inverse as a Christmas gift for another professor, under whom I worked as a work-study student in the English and Communications Department and where I would work for three more semesters; it was there I working when my mom’s time ran out, and there would be no more peach festivals.
Following that second edition of Life, Inverse, I decided that every person who had ever supported me in my writing would eventually get one of my one-of-a-kind Shutterfly books. I wanted them to one day look at it and say, “I knew her when,” though I believe that everyone I have given one to will know me forever.
All that creating on Shutterfly helped me become more aware of not just the words and how they sounded but of how they looked on the page. I was not an illustrator, but I could be a graphic artist, and so I began taking pictures whenever I saw something I thought I could use in one of my books. Because I sought out these images, I went to places I wouldn’t have visited otherwise. I began to look more closely at everything—to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
That summer, I worked on Slow-Speaking Lady (a nod to Anne Waldman’s Fast-Speaking Woman, which had been one of the required readings in the poetry class) for my professor and now friend, with whom I collaborated on the school’s annual literary arts journal. I also worked on The Post-It Poet (and other community college stories), based on my adventures at Pensacola State College—a gift to my other boss in the English department and the one who had hired me.
That following spring, my mother was in an automobile accident. Following her heavenly transition, I created Stories of Mom: The Memories, the Moments (as compiled by her daughter).
With that book, I was able to encapsulate memories Dad had forgotten, my brother had shared, and my grandmother had never known. I did what I wished people had done on her online obituary guestbook—share memories of her, no matter how small, for you don’t realize how precious a memory is until you know there won’t be any more of them.
The summer after I graduated with my A.A. and my A.S., when my friend retired from the English department, I gifted her Dream in Chocolate When You’re Feeling Blue—a collection of brief poems inspired by the silly little sayings inside Dove Chocolate candy wrapper foils. Dream was also largely autobiographical, with the inclusion of old family photos and snapshots of my college life. What I remember most about creating this book was that the bulk of it was done during that long, hot summer when my husband, my daughter, and I were carless (eventually becoming homeless). I was spending an insane number of hours in the Math Lab, conquering algebra by using it as an escape from my fear of being trapped in a desperate cycle of financial instability. I would often be on my laptop under the breezeway after class, working on Dream. I didn’t know to whom this book would go then, but I knew it would be ready when I knew the answer.
This summer, I worked on A Memoir of Mother Goose—a series of vignettes based on the nursery rhymes Dad always read to me, and Children of the Blue and the Grey, about life in the American South and the transcendent nature and suburban graffiti that is prevalent in Pensacola. These books were for two Facebook friends I have never met but who have supported my writing.
This Christmas, I made a chapbook of poems on motherhood for a friend who had just published her own beautiful chapbook of poems, Queen and Stranger. Even though I never took her class, I feel like I know the core of who she is from reading her work, especially when I hear her read it; for no matter how much we try to hide behind our work, poetry is extremely personal.
It is not another person’s fiction but our truth.
When someone shares their poem, they aren’t just sharing their work—they are sharing a piece of their soul.
My books have continued to improve (I still need to take a different peach photo) as I learn more about how to use the app. The advanced editing feature is a must-use.
This hobby can get expensive, but only if you let it. The way to get the best deal on Shutterfly is to have your book ready so that when you get a coupon code for a free book, you can combine that code with unlimited free pages (I’ve had to do this with a couple of my books that have exceeded the 20-page minimum). You also want to make sure that your book is set to hardcover (my preference), as the free book codes usually include that; (if your book is set to softcover, it won’t have a spine).
These books, however rewarding to give and receive, are also very time-consuming; I have worked for months on one book. When I was working full-time at my alma mater, I would spend my lunch hours in the Writing Lab, working on one of these. For someone whose main focus is photographs (see what I did there?), it might not take as long to put together, but because mine was text-heavy, punctuation like em dashes and apostrophes did not transfer over when I copied and pasted them into the app. It was a tedious process; even after I made all the corrections, I would read every piece aloud, sometimes twice. The eye is good for grammar, but the ear is great for flow.
My next project will be to write a storybook for my daughter based on the Calico Critters (the Hopscotch Bunnies, in particular), using their Instagram photos, as well as Hannah’s Hymnbook—an ongoing scrapbook in which I document all the memories of my daughter as they happen or as I remember them. Trying to capture everything with a photo or video would be ceasing to live in the moment. Shutterfly, rather, helps me relive that moment by providing a beautiful medium to place those memories—in a physical book and a digital copy that will endure forever.
Through Shutterfly, I discovered not only my love for graphic design but how to share my writing in the old-fashioned way that is becoming more beautiful the more rare it becomes.
I have not been paid to endorse Shutterfly in any way, nor do I receive any special discounts for promoting them. I simply love their product.