The Story behind the Story

Story and Memory

Our two new fall books–Spider Woman’s Children and Rug Money–are beginning to arrive in bookstores, libraries, and maybe even your own mailbox. We’re shouting from the rooftops about how beautiful they are, how useful and inspiring. Celebrating new books always reminds me of the stories behind the making of the book. Little moments, like getting up at 5 a.m. to watch the sun inch its way above the rim of Canyon de Chelly or speeding around narrow curves sliced through pine groves in the Guatemalan highlands, in the rain. But all those happy memories of place lead the way to even happier memories of people, which is what I cherish most about working on any book: the authors, our best-ever photographer Joe Coca, and the artisans–always the driving force.

Canyon de Chelly at sunrise. Photo by Joe Coca from Spider Woman’s Children: Navajo Weavers Today.

The Other Side of Impossible

It’s impossible to make a book, especially the kind Thrums Books makes, and not be transformed by the experience. Every time. Of course, I learn about a place and its people and how the textiles represent their lives, their land, their history. But often I learn the deeper, individual stories of people. I might come to understand how an over-sized laugh hides great sorrow, how poverty and hardship nurture patience and gratitude, how a maker’s life–spinning and weaving and hooking rugs–provides possibility for each day and the next.

But only a smidgen of these memories, these stories, make their way into each book, or at least in an obvious way. It’s like the thousands of photos shot for a book that must be pared down to a couple hundred or fewer. You pick the stories (and the photos) carefully, you’re forever changed by the rest.

Here’s Cheryl Conway-Daly, coauthor of Rug Money. I love this picture of her holding an umbrella over Joe at the beginning of a Guatemalan downpour. She made it possible for him to photograph the rug hookers from the community of Quiejel. This is the story of Cheryl: humbly, and with great humor, working behind the scenes to make the impossible possible.


Here’s the other side of that camera in the rain, the other side of impossible that Cheryl always helps along.

Rug-hooking artists from the community of Quiejel, Guatemala. Photo by Joe Coca from Rug Money: How a Group of Maya Women Changed Their Lives through Art and Innovation.

The Story behind the Story

Here’s Jimmy and Irene Clark. We visited their home while Lynda Teller Pete interviewed Irene for Spider Woman’s Children: Navajo Weavers Today. As Irene recounted the details of how she learned to weave from her mother and dyed yarn with sage and alum, there were also the details of meeting her husband Jimmy at the Chilocco Indian school, how they danced that first time to The Tennessee Waltz. And there sat Jimmy the whole time we were there, quietly at the edge of the room, a story behind the story.

Story behind the story


Discover more stories, and memories, and beautiful companion photos all woven together at Thrums Books.

Spider Woman's ChildrenAvailable at ClothRoads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at your favorite local bookseller

Rug Money Available at ClothRoads, Cultural Cloth, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your favorite local bookseller

4 thoughts on “The Story behind the Story

  1. Kate Colwell says:

    Too early in the morning to be writing. The title of course being: The Stories Behind the Stories.

  2. Kate Colwell says:

    Karen- I think you just found the title for your autobiography (for that far elusive day when you retire). You have so many stories to tell and you do it so well in this short blog form. What a wonderful book it would make. Thanks for filling us in behind the beautiful words and photos that get published.

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