Marion Owen of Kodiak sees gardening as a metaphor for life, and that is one of the subjects she spoke about Saturday evening at a dinner attended by more than 80 gardeners.
Owen was one of two out-of-town speakers at the Alaska State Federation of Garden Clubs annual convention this week. She is also one of the authors and editors of "Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul," a collection of 101 inspirational stories that made the New York Times' bestseller list for three months this year.
"With 5,000 stories from around the world, it was a lot of work reading and editing," Owen said. "But it was a dream come true."
In addition to weeding down 5,000 stories to 101, Owen, a former merchant marine officer who has lived on Kodiak since 1984, wrote one titled "Yellow Irises." Co-author and editor Carol Sturgulewski of Anchorage wrote three stories, while Anchorage Daily News gardening columnist Jeff Lowenfels contributed one.
The headlined list of authors includes motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, the creators in 1993 of the "Chicken Soup" publishing phenomenon; Cynthia Brian, Cindy Buck, Pat Stone, Owen and Sturgulewski. The book includes pieces by Nelson Mandela and the late Erma Bombeck.
One story tells of a little boy who tried to grow doughnuts by planting Cheerios. Another concerns a Vietnam veteran who mastered talking to plants before he could relearn how to talk to humans.
"I can't think of anything more exciting than trying to tell the world how special and important plants. They are not lifeless green statues," Owen said in an interview. "Doctors have discovered that having a view of a natural scene or having plants around you reduces your recovery time and reduces use of painkillers in the hospital. You can't be pissed very long in the garden or taking a walk. It totally defuses you."
"Besides," she added, "working with Carol is a blast."
Sturgulewski collaborated with Owen when she and her family lived on Kodiak from 1998 to 2000.
"Marion and I had been assigned to work together on several Alaska Magazine stories in 1990, and we thought we made a good team. So when I moved to Kodiak we tossed around ideas, and she suggested a gardeners' book."
The two Alaskans sent a book proposal to Chicken Soup Enterprises only to discover that the company was receiving 20 proposals a week and there were already six for a gardening spin-off, Sturgulewski said.
"They picked the ones they liked and asked if we could work with other people. We had three big conference calls, but otherwise did everything over the Internet," she said.
Sturgulewski, a former feature writer for The Anchorage Times, felt the skills of the five editors dovetailed nicely: "Marion is a master gardener. Cindy teaches English and does free-lance public relations in Iowa. Cynthia is a radio talk show host in California and Pat is a magazine publisher in North Carolina."
"Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul" came off the presses Feb. 15. "That day I had champagne with my oatmeal," Sturgulewski said.
The book, like the original, "Chicken Soup for the Soul," was intended to be "upbeat, inspirational and true," Sturgulewski said. Although stories by celebrities like Charles Kuralt are there, most are written by unknowns who have not been published before. "We wanted stories that could happen to anyone."
Owen is scheduled to sign copies of "Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul" at Hearthside Books downtown from 1-3 p.m. today.
The book is the 39th spin-off since 1993. The series has sold more than 52 million books worldwide and been translated into more than 30 languages, Owen said.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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