The Ingenium Books Podcast: Author. Publisher. Changemaker.

Leaving the Safe Harbor with Tanya Hackney

September 01, 2021 Ingenium Books Season 1 Episode 33
The Ingenium Books Podcast: Author. Publisher. Changemaker.
Leaving the Safe Harbor with Tanya Hackney
Show Notes Transcript

You’re likely familiar with the term “safe harbor.” Figuratively, it’s any place or situation that offers refuge or protection. Literally, it’s a harbor where ships can stay safe—whether from a storm, or pirates or during war. 

What about “Leaving the Safe Harbor?” Why would we DO that??? 

Our guest today knows a thing or two about leaving the safe harbor. You could say Tanya Hackney wrote the book on it! Actually, she did.

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Introduction (various voices) 00:05
Welcome to the Empowered Author podcast. 
Discussion, tips, insights and advice from those who’ve been there, done that, helping you write, publish and market your nonfiction book.
Being an author is something that you’ve got to take seriously. 
I’m proud I’ve written a book. 
What does the reader need, first? What does the reader need, second?
What happens if you start writing your book before you identify your “why”? What’s the problem with that?
You’re an indie author, you take the risk; you reap the rewards; you are in charge of the decisions. You’re the head of that business. 
Every emotion you’re feeling when you’re writing is felt by every other writer.
The Empowered Author podcast. Your podcast hosts are Boni and John Wagner-Stafford of Ingenium Books.

Boni Wagner-Stafford 00:59
You’re likely familiar with the term “safe harbor”. Figuratively, it’s any place or situation that offers refuge or protection. Literally, it’s a harbor where ships can stay safe, whether from a storm or pirates or maybe even during a war. But what about leaving the safe harbor? Why would we do that? Our guest today knows a thing or two about leaving the safe harbor. You could say Tanya Hackney wrote the book on it. Actually, she did. Welcome, Tanya.

Tanya Hackney 01:30
Hi. Hi, Boni. And thank you for having me.

Boni Wagner-Stafford 01:33
You’re welcome. So “Leaving the Safe Harbor”: congratulations, first of all, finishing and publishing your new book, which if it isn’t available at the time that this podcast publish, it is coming very, very soon. But probably listeners will be able to find it. “Leaving the Safe Harbor: The Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat”: we could just unpack so much in that title alone. But let me ask you to tell me first about your journey as a writer. How did you start? How do you think about yourself as a writer? That sort of thing.

Tanya Hackney 02:15
I think you can learn to be a writer but I think that, for the most part, writers are born and not made. And I was born holding a pencil in my hand. I think by the time I could write, with a pencil in my hand, I was already thinking about sharing writing with the world. And so I wrote my first book when I was six years old. And it was a book about an elephant who hated his birthday because it was right next to Christmas. Coincidentally, my birthday is right near Christmas. So …

Boni Wagner-Stafford 02:48
And mine is too. That’s funny.

Tanya Hackney 02:50
A little autobiographical. I illustrated it. I made a cardboard cover. I showed it to my family. I was very proud of this book. And I knew that someday I would write a book. So it’s been on my bucket list pretty much since I was six. And I have honed and practiced that craft my whole life. I’ve written poetry and fiction and nonfiction. I studied creative writing in college. I went to Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Middlebury College, the summer between my junior and senior year. And I’ve been writing a blog fairly consistently since 2008, when we moved aboard our boat. So I’m always a writer in the background, even when I’m doing other things: teaching or homeschooling or managing the family. But underneath it all, I’m a writer and I write every day.

Boni Wagner-Stafford 03:43
Awesome. So let’s talk about “Leaving the Safe Harbor” and why would we ever do that. And it is, of course, what you wrote your book about. But it’s also so much more than that. But let’s take a look at “Leaving the Safe Harbor”, both from the perspective of it being a concept, a way of living and the title of your book. How did all those things come together for you?

Tanya Hackney 04:10
Well, we could talk about it literally or figuratively. We literally left a safe harbor. We left the suburbs of Atlanta with our young family. We had three kids under three when we left Atlanta. And we were bored by the American life. We had pursued the American dream and we had it: we had everything that everybody ever wanted. And we were very bored and we decided to pursue our – the dreams of our youth. And we left that safe place. And after we bought the boat, we left that safe place where we had tied the boat up. So there were some ways in which we literally left safety. And then figuratively, I think we came to view safety as an illusion. A funny story I had read in the newspaper that a woman was feeding pigeons at midday at a park and a tree just died in the park and fell on her and killed her. And for whatever reason, this particular story is the one that stuck with me. I thought, “My goodness, you could do everything right: you could live in the safe suburban neighborhood and have the husband and the children and the life that you dreamed of. And then you could be, you know, sitting in the park one day and the tree falls on you. And am I doing with my life – you know, will I have any regrets? If that tree falls on me at midday, what haven’t I done that I would like to do? Because I should probably get busy doing it.” And so that view that safety is an illusion, in a sense, is what allowed us to leave it and go live our lives. And not, you know, just wait. We didn’t want to wait for someday. 

Boni Wagner-Stafford 05:58
So the people won’t necessarily know, other than the quick mention here, but that you did buy a boat and moved onto a boat with your three children at the time. But the story kind of just started there. So many people will think that it is a remarkable thing to do: to sell a house and pack up and move onto a boat. You guys did that plus you had three small children plus you ended up having more children. So it was it was you and your husband and your growing family. Tell me a little bit about that.

Tanya Hackney 06:35
So we had conceived of the idea of buying a boat and sailing away when we were teenagers. My husband’s family had a boat. He grew up sailing in the Florida Keys and in the Bay of Florida with his family. His dad is a sailor; his grandpa was a sailor; so he’s the proverbial son of a son of a sailor. So the summer we fell in love, he was sanding the bottom of his dad’s boat. And so that was always a part of our lives. I was not a sailor but I love the water. And when we found ourselves kind of trapped in suburbia, it was an idea that we came back to: this idea that someday we would sail away into the sunset. And lots of people talk about that. It’s not an uncommon dream. I hear especially men like this dream – this idea of running off to sea – and sometimes it’s the woman’s dream. In our case, both of us decided that that would be a cool thing to actually pursue. And leaving suburbia was the first step: was, we moved back to Florida, back to be near the water. We bought a small sailboat. We learned to sail. It took us a few years. We made a five-year plan. And we ultimately bought a 48-foot catamaran. We started sailing it. At the time, we had a six, five, three and one-and-a-half-year-old. And everyone said we were crazy, which, you know, they have a point. 

Boni Wagner-Stafford 08:07

Tanya Hackney 08:08
But we loved it. We loved it. I guess crazy is better than bored. And we had heard of other families doing this. We hadn’t heard of any other big families doing it but we are nothing if not determined and nothing would dissuade us: we just could not let go of this idea of finding adventure and being on the water with our kids and raising them while traveling. And traveling, if you have a large family, traveling by plane or – I mean some people do it by RV, but that limits you to places where there are roads. So we thought that this was a really cool way to show our kids the world. And so that’s kind of the beginning of the story.

Boni Wagner-Stafford 08:51
Right. And then you had a fifth child while you were underway.

Tanya Hackney 08:56
Yeah, we spent our first big travel – we traveled from Tampa Bay to the Florida Keys and we learned how to cruise; we learned how to provision the boat and live on a mooring ball and make our own power and make our own water and live with some discomfort. And we were learning that and while we were learning that, we got pregnant. We traveled to the Bahamas. So I was a Bahama Mama. And we came back when I was seven and a half months pregnant and had a baby in Sarasota, Florida. And we brought her home to the boat and she has never lived anywhere but on the water. 

Boni Wagner-Stafford 09:33
That is so cool. 

Tanya Hackney 09:35
And she’s 10 now, so that was a while ago.

Boni Wagner-Stafford 09:39
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Boni Wagner-Stafford 10:16
So through all this – so you continue to write. You’ve got – anybody who hasn’t lived on a boat, this happens: we’ve lived on a boat as well, so you and I share that bit of perspective in our realities – but in my experience, people say, “Oh, you’re, you know, it must be so relaxing.” It’s like, “Um, it’s actually the most work of any place I’ve ever lived.” And you alluded to it: you have to make your own power and make your own water and you’ve got to, you know, monitor your system. So you’re taking care of all of that, living on a boat. You have five children. You are homeschooling your children. How are you finding time to write?

Tanya Hackney 11:04
That is a challenge. Probably the hardest thing is balancing all of the things that I want to do. I have big dreams: I’ve always been a person with big dreams. I have a million ideas. Obviously, time and energy are the limitations and I can’t pursue everything. Usually, if I’m focused on one thing, all the other things are falling apart. So if I was absorbed in a writing project, then the kids were playing instead of homeschooling or the bread wasn’t getting baked or people were having, you know, toast for breakfast instead of, you know, homemade muffins or something. So it’s a bit of a juggling act. And I would be lying if I said that we did not drop balls all the time. I have to kind of look at my life seasonally. So there was a season when we had small children: I was doing all the baking for the family; I was making everything from scratch in the kitchen galley, actually. And we had cloth diapers, which is something, you know, you have to run those every other day and hang them in the sun and the whole thing. I know. Yeah, I’m a bit of an overachiever where that goes. And so obviously, during those years, writing was by hook or by crook. One of the things that my husband and I did as a coping strategy, aside from finding time for the two of us where we would go outside or sit on the back, you know, back step and tell the kids not to interrupt us for an hour so we could have a conversation or we would put them to bed early and set aside time for each other: aside from setting aside time for each other, we also gave the other one permission to take a night off. So when, I guess, my second or third one was itty bitty, I would leave the kids at home with Jay and I would go sit in a coffee shop somewhere and write. And I had one evening to myself for the first few years. And then we would try and give each other time on weekends just so that we could have some focused self-care time. And what I choose to do with that time is usually go kayaking or write or read a book: something solitary. And that’s how I found the time to do that. So obviously, I wasn’t going to be writing any kind of full-length book while I was pregnant and nursing and changing cloth diapers and sailing.

Boni Wagner-Stafford 13:32
So let’s talk about what’s in the book. You know, we do learn a little bit about your – we do learn a lot about your story in the book but it’s more than that. So “Leaving the Safe Harbor” kind of starts to set the tone in terms of the title. But tell me about how you conceived of a way to approach the telling of that story. Because I think it’s fascinating.

Tanya Hackney 14:02
Well, I had written extensively about our life: we had shared it through our blog. And I didn’t want to rewrite the blog; I didn’t want to simply publish the blog – which, you know, I probably could have done: assembled all of those essays or done it as a how-to but I felt like that had been done before. I found a list of nautical idioms. And I love idioms. I just love the English language and I love – I have a passion for clichés and I love to mix metaphors, you know. I’ve been known to fall off the turnip cart yesterday. 

Boni Wagner-Stafford 14:39
Right. Yeah, yeah. 

Tanya Hackney 14:41
So I just love idioms. And so I found this list and I found them fascinating. And I started to think about them in terms of life lessons. I started to realize that we had learned a bunch of things living on the boat and that these idioms could easily be interwoven. And I’ll give you an example. Ships passing in the night is something that literally happens: you pass a ship in the night, you sort of, you know, wave at each other or talk on the radio and their lights disappear in one direction and your lights disappear in another direction. And that, for me, became a metaphor for friendship afloat because so often we’re passing friends: they’re going north; we’re going south; we might overlap for a day or two, find fellowship, our kids get to play with their kids. It’s a wonderful, deep, rich time but it’s brief. And then we’re passing. Sometimes we’re literally passing: we see, you know, each other go in one – different directions on a chart and we chat on the radio and that’s all we get. And so each of those idioms became, for me, a metaphor for some aspect of our lives. And I began to explore the idea of writing a book that was thematically organized. And that was tricky because how can you tell a story chronologically while also weaving in these idioms and the themes of life lessons? And that was – I set a very hard task for myself. I hope that I was successful.

Boni Wagner-Stafford 16:16
I believe you’re successful – having read the book, of course, and published the book. But I’d love to dig into another example. There’s a decision-making one. Or any other example that comes to your mind of the idiom and how you helped describe the life lesson and some of the experiences around that.

Tanya Hackney 16:43
So I can do two contrasting ones. There’s one called – there’s a chapter called “Smooth Sailing” and there’s a chapter called “Batten Down the Hatches”. “Batten down the hatches” is where you hope for the best but you plan for the worst. Battening down the hatches is something we actually shout on Take Two, which is the name of our boat. We shout, “Batten the hatches!” when we see rain coming and our little crew run around dogging the hatches, which is, you know, how you turn the handles to tighten the window against the gasket to keep water from leaking in. And it’s something that you do in life: when you’re preparing for something difficult, you also batten the hatches metaphorically. Because life is hard and things happen. And sometimes you have to prepare for those things. And so the chapter is about actual storms at sea and things that have gone wrong but it’s also about the human response to trouble: when you are struggling and what you’re doing to prepare and how you maintain an optimistic outlook even while you’re struggling and mitigating risk and dealing with difficulty. And then “Smooth Sailing”, as you might guess, is a shorter chapter than “Battening Down the Hatches”. 

Boni Wagner-Stafford 18:02
Because it just doesn’t happen very often in real life. 

Tanya Hackney 18:05
No. And quite frankly, I think I used the quote from J.R.R. Tolkien from “The Hobbit”, that good stories are soon told and not that interesting. You know, okay, “So we put the sails up; we sailed; nothing broke; we didn’t have a storm at sea; we didn’t meet any pirates; nobody fell overboard. It was a great day. The sun was shining; the wind was blowing.” And then you’re done telling it. But if you say to me any of those idioms – “uncharted waters” or “batten down the hatches” or “smooth sailing” – I actually can conjure a day that epitomizes that idiom. And so for me smooth sailing was a day that we were sailing to the Bahamas and it was blowing like crazy, which usually means very uncomfortable seas. But we happened to be sailing behind a chain of islands and we had a rare condition of smooth water and fast wind. And we were trucking along with double digits of boat speed. So, you know, a sailboat going fast is about like, you know, a bicyclist riding their bike – like you could probably ride your bike faster than we were sailing but it feels screaming fast. No waves and just a beautiful, beautiful day. And we all remember this day: it sticks out in memory. So I love to weave in the stories of those idioms, the literal meanings of those idioms as well as the figurative meanings of those idioms. And I think for that reason, the book might have a broader appeal than just someone who might want to go sailing with their family. I feel that those life lessons could be learned vicariously, if you will.

Boni Wagner-Stafford 19:50
Yeah. Yeah, I think that makes total sense. So I want you to tell me a little bit now about the emotional journey that you’ve been on, with respect to the writing and publishing of this book. Tell me about how you observed your emotional relationship to the manuscript as it was developing and then what it was like to kind of let go of it as you started to work with the publisher – which is us, of course – and prepare to give birth to the book out to the world.

Tanya Hackney 20:32
So I wrote the book – I started it in 2017. I actually, the first chapter I had written years ago as a blog post and I had not posted that blog: I had shown it to my husband and he said, “That is a beautiful piece of writing but I don’t think it’s a blog. I think that’s the beginning of a book.” So I just tucked it away. I tucked it away; I never published it. And I went back and I revisited that when I was ready to think about a longer manuscript. Once I had an idea for the structure of the book around those nautical idioms and life lessons, I then proceeded to write the first five chapters and outline the rest of the book and then periodically revisit that. I committed to finishing it when we came back from traveling in the Caribbean in 2019. It took me a year to finish what I would call the rough draft. And then I spent another year rewriting, just revising – doing a heavy revision. I got some feedback after that revision and then I did some more revisions. And at that point, I had taken the book as far as I felt that I could take it. And I was tired of looking at the same thing over and over again: I just felt like it needed some fresh eyes. I didn’t want someone to tell me how much they liked the story; I really wanted someone to tell me what was wrong with it and where it really needed to be polished. And so that’s how I – that was the point at, where I was when I connected with you. And I, at that point, called it done. I printed up a paper copy with a cover that I had designed – just a photograph – and I took it down to the print shop and I had them spiral bind it. And I felt very pleased. I felt a big sense of accomplishment. And then I set that aside. And I’m glad that I did that. I did that instinctively. I was also warned that the process could be heart wrenching because you have to let go of your idea of what this is. Possibly it’s a great book – or a good book and – but it might not be the book that will sell or it might not be the book that the reader needs. Maybe the professional can look at it and say, “This is good but we can improve this.” And so I was ready for that process: I was ready to let it go. And if I hadn’t – I think if I had tried to hold on to it, I would have found the editing process heart wrenching because I did have to rewrite some things. And we did have timeline problems. And I didn’t want to touch it again. But I did. And I was willing to let it go because, you know, on my shelf, I have this thing that I printed up that was my book as I conceived it. And now I have this new thing that’s a slightly different animal and hopefully will read even better than the original did. So I guess it could be heartbreaking. But I was ready to let it go and to – I was hopeful that Ingenium could elevate my manuscript into a readable, sellable book. And I’m very, very pleased with that process. And I loved that it was a creative collaboration and not simply me handing it over and walking away. Or, I mean, I looked at the three options: at, you know, self-publishing, traditional publishing and then this sort of hybrid. I was afraid that if I submitted it for publication, I would lose it: that it would just disappear or sit on someone’s desk for five years and that it would never find an audience. I was afraid if I published it myself, that I would publish shoddy work and I didn’t want to publish shoddy work. And so you found me at just the right moment where the manuscript was almost finished and I was figuring out how to bring it forward. And you – Ingenium – just was invaluable in helping me figure out what to do next. And doing all the things that I couldn’t have done by myself, had I chosen to self-publish. It is definitely a much better book than it would have been had I simply gone with Amazon Kindle or something like that.

Boni Wagner-Stafford 24:46
Yeah. Well, it is a fabulous book, our opinion. And as you said, it is far more than a book about living on a sailboat. Of course it’s about life on a sailboat. It’s about, you know, raising a family on a sailboat. But it really is about more than that. It’s about more than, you know, deciding that you want to pursue your travel bug; it really is about leaving the safe harbor and the risks and rewards of doing so, you know, regardless of the scenario. So two more questions that I want to try to get in. One is any of your kids following in your footsteps and showing signs of wanting to be a writer?

Tanya Hackney 25:32
My oldest is very, very creative. I was actually afraid that he was going to beat me to publication. He wrote a novel the last year that we were traveling. He was very dedicated. He showed much more regularity in his writing habits than I did. He sat in his chair from 10 o’clock to midnight, every night, without fai,l for an entire year, hammering out this post-apocalyptic novel, kind of in a cyberpunk genre. It’s a fascinating book. It needs a lot of editing. So I think he’s tripped up on that. He wrote it in one complete chunk. It didn’t even have chapter breaks. I know. It was impressive. It was. He’s got quite the imagination. So he definitely loves to write and he has written for our blog. The others struggle a little bit. And actually, I think they kind of wish that I had not written a book in which they are the characters. I think there’s a danger there that I, you know, they’re like, “Mom, you probably got it all wrong.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve definitely got some things wrong.” But there’s a – they’re all very private. I’m married to an extreme introvert; I’m the polar opposite. But I don’t mind: I’d share anything with anybody. And they’re like, “Don’t tell anybody anything.” And so I had to walk this fine line between sharing our life – because I want it to be an encouragement to others who want to pursue their dreams – and not revealing so much that they felt that I had violated their privacy. And I wanted to be as truthful as possible. And so I guess in that sense, I was very self-deprecating. I am not the hero of my memoir, unfortunately. I’m neurotic and I’m a control freak and I have a bad temper. And if you looked up like “adventure woman” in the dictionary, my picture would not be next to that entry. And so what we did was extraordinary because, oh, because it isn’t necessarily – it wasn’t necessarily a logical fit. So I love to say we were ordinary people attempting something extraordinary and sometimes succeeding. 

Boni Wagner-Stafford 28:01
Right. Okay, final question for you today. What are you writing next?

Tanya Hackney 28:08
I am working on two different projects. So one of them kind of grew naturally out of the first project. And that is one of the things I talked about in the memoir is how my spiritual journey – there was a spiritual journey that happened while we were taking the physical journey and I have had over the course of my life, some very, I don’t know how else to say: the miraculous encounters with who I will call God. And I don’t like to put God in a box. But I have a very strong spiritual walk. I would say that I am a Christian. But I’m – but I only like disorganized religion. So that’s my caveat. But I have a very strong connection to the eternal and that well of wisdom. And I am writing a daily devotional. It’s a book of meditations. I’m a person who gets up every morning and does a morning reading. And it’s something I’ve done for years and years. It’s kind of how I stayed sane. People asked me, “How did you raise five children on a boat?” And I said, “I got up and I prayed for strength every day.” And that was not an exaggeration. That was not metaphorical. Like I got up every day and I prayed that I would not go crazy or throw anybody overboard or do something crazy. So that spiritual peace is something that I fed off of and learned through the hardships of our life. And so I want to pass that on. The book would be called, currently, the project is called “Deep Calls to Deep” and it’s mostly readings from the Bible: verses surrounding the ocean and water and the stars and things that I personally connected with. And so in the book, there are more stories from my life and the ways in which the water speaks to our spirit. And I don’t know where that’s going to lead right now: it looks like I’m supposed to be writing 365 short essays – which I can do because it’s bite-sized chunks as opposed to one big, long narrative. Simultaneously, I’m working on what I would call a prequel about my childhood, driving on road trips with my family, which is what got my – which is what infected me with the travel bug. And that project may end up being a collaboration because there are lots and lots of stories to tell about what I would call the great American road trip. And I don’t intend on, you know, just writing the same book with a different mode of travel. But there are obviously some parallels between the things that you learn traveling, whether you’re doing it by road or by water. So those are the two things I’m working on.

Boni Wagner-Stafford 31:06
I look forward to learning more. Yeah, they sound so interesting. Any – closing and I should have teed you up that I was going to ask this question; it just occurred to me right now that I’m going to, that I wanted to ask you this question – any advice that you can think of, based on your experience with “Leaving the Safe Harbor”, that you would have for other authors who may be struggling to finish writing or maybe struggling with that decision of how to get their book out into the world? What would you advise other authors?

Tanya Hackney 31:39
So I think one of the things that helped me the most was finding a buddy: I really needed some accountability; I struggle with consistency; I got, you know, a million ideas and, you know, lots of loose ends and how to tie those loose ends up. I found a friend who also wanted to write a book. And she and I committed to a certain number of words per day; we committed to meeting weekly and discussing our work; we were reading each other’s work while writing our own work. And that accountability and setting kind of a goal to be finished by a certain date helped me finish: helped me actually finish. And then I shared the manuscript with five people I chose very carefully: people I thought would be honest with me. And that’s – two pieces of advice I would give is set a finish date, work toward that finish date, find a buddy and then find some readers who can give you some feedback. I am very grateful that I did not go with the self-publishing option. I have a friend who did bring a manuscript to fruition that way and she is now looking for an agent and thinking about publishing the traditional way because there are some hard things about self-publishing. So I’m grateful that I found this middle path. I didn’t even know – when I set out on this journey, I assumed there were two options. You know, Kindle Publishing is super easy now. You can be an author tomorrow, if you would like. So there was the self-publishing and then I knew about the traditional route where you find an agent or you shop your manuscript. And I didn’t even know about this middle path. And so that was an exciting discovery for me. And I think it’s a great way for new writers to get their work out there. Obviously comes at a – there’s a, you know, a risk and benefit to everything. And there are costs involved. But it’s a shared risk and I appreciate that. I appreciate that you’ve got some skin in the game and I’ve got some skin in the game. And we’ve both worked very hard and both of us will hopefully taste the fruits of our labors sooner rather than later.

Boni Wagner-Stafford 33:58
Absolutely. We will. And so “Leaving the Safe Harbor”: we’ll have links to where you can get a pre-order. At the moment of this recording, the book is available for pre-order. It will be available widely wherever you buy books very soon: “Leaving the Safe Harbor” by Tanya Hackney. And Tanya, thank you for joining us today. 

Tanya Hackney 34:19
It was a pleasure. Thank you so much. 

Boni Wagner-Stafford 34:24
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