It’s Meet the Author Monday! Each week we meet a new author and get to know a little about them, their writing process, publishing experience, and tips for other writers. Today we’re talking to Nancy Lewis, author of Smiling at Strangers.
About Nancy Lewis:
It all started with a high school award. It came as a surprise to Nancy Crouch–now author Nancy Lewis–when, as a senior in high school in New London, Connecticut, she received the Excellence in English award during her school’s senior awards event. A shy introvert, Nancy still remembers the shock of having her name called to receive the award. But what she remembers most is what she said to her mother the next morning, when her mom congratulated her on winning the award. “Someday,” Nancy said, “I’m going to write a book. But first I need to get some life experience.”
Sixty-two years later, Nancy decided she’d gotten enough life experience to write that book. Along the way she earned a degree in English from one of Connecticut’s four teacher colleges, then discovered after two years of teaching that she’d picked the wrong profession. She made a wiser choice in choosing a life partner, and six decades later is still married to her husband Richard, with whom she has two sons and five grandchildren.
Further education, this time in library science, led Nancy to a job setting up a medical library for a rehabilitation hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and another for the State Energy Office in Little Rock, Arkansas, while Bill Clinton was governor. She also picked up a master’s degree in adult education, which she never used. In 1996, she was offered an opportunity to edit a book. She went on to spend the next 25 years doing freelance book editing, having found an occupation ideally suited for an introvert.
Until she was in her late seventies, Nancy habitually avoided initiating interactions with strangers. Then a series of small, seemingly minor, events awakened her to the need to come out of her shell, face her fear, and acknowledge that she yet had something to offer in an increasingly disconnected world, even if it was only a smile. Something was needed. Something she could provide. Simple kindness.
In 2017, during her 80th year on the planet, Nancy began writing the book she foresaw when she was 18. Smiling at Strangers: How One Introvert Discovered the Power of Being Kind is that book. She is using it to inspire others to discover for themselves the power of offering kindness to strangers in service to a more connected, “we”-focused world.
About Smiling at Strangers:
It all started with a smile. A trip to the local farmers market created an opportunity for the author of Smiling at Strangers to offer a simple kindness to a stressed young mother shopping with four small children. She made eye contact and smiled, and the mother responded with a soft “Thank you.” This single act is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another. The message it sends is, I see you and acknowledge our kinship as members of the human species doing the best we can. I wish you well.
Everyone deserves to be seen and acknowledged. In a world that many experience as cold and lonely, receiving a simple smile can bring the warmth of connection, however brief.
Smiling at Strangers: How One Introvert Discovered the Power of Being Kind, written by a shy and introverted author, is a handbook for building a community of kindred souls who share her mission to create a kinder world one smile at a time. Although it has much to offer to anyone wanting to share kindness with others, its target audience is kind-hearted socially shy introverts who tend to restrict interactions with strangers in public places. It will empower even the most introverted among us to interact in the world in a different way through actions as simple as a smile of acknowledgment.
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Author Interview with Nancy Lewis:
- What was the key challenge you faced when writing this book?
When the coronavirus announced its presence on the planet as we moved into a new decade, I was making plans to launch Smiling at Strangers in my hometown of Bellingham, Washington, in late spring of 2020 and use it to spark a local kindness movement. Normally, this is the time when Pacific Northwest residents come out of hibernation from the short days and wet gray of winter and begin hitting the streets, shops, parks, and wooded trails, where encounters with strangers are common. Instead, spring brought with it a global pandemic that restricted our presence in public spaces except for purchasing food and other necessary supplies while maintaining six feet of distance, marked with tape on store floors. So I put a hold on the publication and book launch plans, assuming the time wasn’t right for releasing a book advocating face-to-face connection with strangers.
Then something happened. As I made my forays into food stores to replenish supplies, I noticed that while some people seemed intent on getting in and out with as little interaction with others as possible, some were finding ways to connect and offer kindnesses to strangers. Like the man who noticed I’d left my cloth shopping bags in the bottom of my cart when the checker said they’d been instructed to pack all purchases in paper bags. Allowing kindness to overcome fear, the man followed me out to the parking lot and knocked on the window of my car, holding up my bags so I could lower the window enough to receive them. While walking through the park that borders my apartment complex, I was surprised at the increased number of vocal greetings I got from others as we passed one another (while wearing our masks and maintaining safe social distance). I soon learned that a “hi” or “good morning” and a raised hand communicated a shared acknowledgment of our connection. Social creatures that we are, and kind at heart, many of us were finding ways to “smile” at each other in creative and joyful ways. That was the validation I needed to proceed with publishing the book.
- What have you found is the best way to market your book?
At the moment, personal connection with potential readers seems to be working best for me because I’m passionate about getting out my message. People seem to get that, and it touches something in them. I’m currently making that connection through speaking opportunities and venues: podcasts, Zoom interviews, book clubs—invitations which I’m saying yes to, which is surprising considering that I’ve defined myself as a shy introvert. But that limiting self-definition is overridden when I’m talking about the book and the self-transformation that has occurred as I’ve pushed against my comfort envelope. That said, I have to add that the best marketing tool is the book itself. The “voice” of the book and its personal stories motivate kindred spirits not only to follow my lead but to recommend—and sometimes give—the book to others.
- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It both energizes and exhausts me! The exhaustion comes from resistance—a mental and emotional state anyone involved in a creative endeavor likely experiences. But when I manage to push through the resistance and actually engage in the writing process, I’m energized. Sometimes even euphoric! Creating something out of nothing is a high that’s hard to match.
- Tell us about your first published book. What was the journey like?
My first (and only other) published book is one I coauthored with my husband, a biologist who at the time we wrote it taught exercise physiology at a local college. Its title is Keeping in Shape, and its target audience was 10- to 14-year-olds, the age demographic of our own sons. The exercise craze had yet to start, and we wanted to encourage preteens to stay active in order to develop and maintain healthy bodies. Without pitching it to publishers, we typed up the manuscript and sent it cold to Franklin Watts, a New York publishing house that’s no longer in existence. When we hadn’t heard anything back after several months, we decided it was a failed project and focused on writing articles for Ranger Rick’s Nature Magazine, which we were having success selling. About a year later, we were surprised to find in the mail a contract and a check for a thousand dollars from Franklin Watts, and Keeping in Shape was published on January 1, 1976, 45 years almost to the day prior to the release of Smiling at Strangers.
Fast forward those 45 years, and as I’m setting up my Amazon author page for Smiling at Strangers I come across information that “Nancy Lewis” has also published a book titled Keeping in Shape. When I hit on the link, it takes me to an Amazon page displaying a blank cover showing only the title and my name, plus information that there is one copy available: “used. Very good, retired from children’s library.” Price: $50. Maybe it will become a collector’s item!
- What does literary success look like to you?
To me it means having provided value. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a book. Any piece of writing that provides value to the reader qualifies as a success. An unpublished poem a friend shares with you can have a more profound impact than a best seller written by a famous author that everyone is raving about.
- What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Although I had an offer from a traditional publisher to publish Smiling at Strangers, I chose to self-publish so I could keep control of the book. When I made that decision, I was aware that producing a book that met the standards of a traditional publisher would involve outsourcing all the components that a traditional publisher would provide: cover design, interior design and layout, editing, promotion and marketing: a substantial outlay of funds and energy. I also chose to hire a virtual assistant to help me plan and execute a book launch and assist me with promotion and marketing post-launch. In my opinion, it’s money well spent. Self-published books that don’t meet industry standards are birthed with a serious handicap if commercial success is a goal. According to self-publishing.com: “Because traditional publishing has been the standard for so long, self-published authors are considered the underdog. The stigma often has to do with the quality of self-published books. This is why it’s so important for self-published authors to pay for professional services.”
- What is your favorite quote?
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” –Dalai Lama
I don’t think this is an exaggeration. I truly believe that we’ve reached the point where our survival as a species depends on our ability to live from a “we” perspective of inclusion and care for one another rather than from a “me” focus on personal gain and power.