Mary Lou Sanelli
Mary Lou Sanelli

Advance copies of my new book sit on the counter top of my publisher’s bookstore in Pioneer Square. I take a step closer.

“Wow!” I cheer. “They’re perfect!”

My publisher sighs deeply. As if even his lungs won’t believe the idea of “perfect.” There is always more to do, more to correct, and I get all that, but at the moment I want to run across the street to my favorite wine bar and order champagne!

This is exactly why I love having these meetings with my publisher: He gives me the business side of things. It’s also why he doesn’t much like having these meetings with me. Because I don’t fully understand the business side of things.

“We should celebrate,” I say.

“I wish I could,” he says, sighing again.

I laugh because this is a familiar place between us, the same place we’ve been before, and the same place we will be again until one of us backs off to give us both more room, so it doesn’t unnerve me like it once did.

There are occasions when you question whether it’s appropriate to ask someone to celebrate with you. This was one.

I thumb through the pages. For a minute, trepidation takes hold, a rush of fear that no one will actually want to read everything I’ve had to say for the last five years.

But there’s no going back. It’s the end of a whole long chapter. But like all new chapters, also a beginning. A launch.

I clearly remember the day I finished the manuscript. I sat reading and rereading the last page, and by then not one sentence made any sense, and I had to walk outside three times before I finally turned it in.

And that’s that. Clean slate. And when I finally got up, I ran the tub and sat on the edge dribbling in drops of lavender oil until the room felt as steamy as it looked.

Submerged in my favorite private place, I felt as if I’d just sent off everything I have to give.

Who was it that said that it is only in the giving that we receive? I agree.

In another time, in what feels like another era, my first novel was published in the fall 2019, The Star Struck Dance Studio of Yucca Springs. Fun title, right?

Well, that’s what I thought. But by March 2020, it sounded like way too much fun. The story is about a hate crime and how a dancer finds the compassion to forgive his attacker, but even so, in every possible way, the book became irrelevant overnight.

But before it did, I was on roll, teaching dance in every corner of the globe, so that in January 2020, I was in Thailand. So, yes, I caught Covid before anyone back home knew how those two chilling syllables would change everything for everyone.

And, yes, it was bad.

I spent the worst of it on a floating-raft/hotel room on the Chao Phraya River, and it was an awful place to be sick, not only because on top of everything else the rocking made me queasy, but because the bed was hopelessly far from the bathroom.

I remember trying to feel my way to the tiny sink, holding on to the wall and wondering if I’d ever be well enough to leave the room, let alone Thailand.

Three days later my fever broke, and I remember the release, like heat hissing out of me, and how the sound of rushing water suddenly penetrated the room. It was there all along, but I couldn’t hear it before.

One huge plastic bag floated down the center of the river. It’s amazing to me how distinctly I recall that bag, now.

Not to completely change the subject, but for anyone who has read this paper for years, you may remember Madeleine Wilde’s Notes from the Garden.

Though Madeleine is no longer with us, her collection of writings was recently published, too.

I love any writing that conveys what matters most to another, and gardening meant everything to Madeleine.

I’ve never known anyone who loves to garden like she did. True, she can be all observer, present but only through the eye, and starkly informative, “The propagation stuff can happen next month, along with the bulb orders.” But then I’ll come upon a line so intensely personal that I underline it and mark it with a star: It is a quiet time to move slowly, and to look closely. For me, this is where her garden gate swings fully open to reveal how Madeline is not writing about a garden, she is writing about gardening.

The sentence feels as deep-rooted as her beloved trees and shrubs, almost subconscious, like breathing.

I know that a reader may come to our book because of a beautifully designed cover, but they stay for the story.

I wonder if Madeline, upon seeing her new book — its cover, its illustrations — would feel as I do, both thrilled and sad, accomplished and lost.

I feel a little lost.

Sound carries in the garden. On the south slope of Queen Anne, I crane my neck to hear what Madeline might say, “Achievement, like a well-planned garden, spares you nothing.”



Mary Lou Sanelli, author, speaker, and dance teacher, has been part of The Queen Anne & Magnolia News since 2009. Her novel, The Star Struck Dance Studio of Yucca Springs, was released in 2019. Her newest title, “Every Little Thing,” has been nominated for a Pacific Northwest Book Award and is forthcoming in September of 2021. Find copies at Queen Anne Books and Magnolia’s Bookstore. For more information, visit