This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, we were joined by Gwen Olton, co-director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, to talk about her new book that’s hot off the press from Microcosm, From Conflict to Community: Transforming Conflicts without Authorities. We love this book, which borrows from many different styles of conflict transformation and resolution to bring us the practical tools we need to listen to each other and navigate the conflicts we face every day — without calling the cops or HR.
Check out the video below, and also read the blog interview Gwen wrote for us to talk more about her book and its process of coming into the world!
MCP: What inspired you to write your book?
GO: There were a few things that coalesced to inspire me to write the book. I had finished reading Sarah Schulman’s Conflict Is Not Abuse and her discussions of “bad friend” groups and the influence they have on conflicts stuck with me. At the same time, I was supporting many folks with conflicts that were relatively minor – not the sort of thing you might bring to a mediator but enough that they were disruptive in a person’s life. Meanwhile, whenever I was invited to facilitate a workshop on conflict or attend someone else’s workshops or skillbuilding on conflict we were very rarely talking about how to support others in conflict when you’re not a mediator or the parties aren’t really sitting down together to discuss. And amidst all of this, has been the growing awareness of just how much we escalate conflicts up to authorities instead of working within our circles to try to work things out.
What was it like to publish with Microcosm?
Easy peasy! I don’t have a basis of comparison since this is my first book, but communication and transparency have been excellent, which I really appreciate.
What was the submission/query process like for you?
They were pretty straightforward processes. I had an idea for this book, I fleshed it out a bit and submitted the idea. Then, I exchanged some emails with Microcosm and provided a writing sample or two and that was that!
Do you still have your original query to us? Are you willing to share it?
Sure! See below:
This book would benefit the reader by offering a large array of strategies for transforming conflicts without appeals to punitive authority figures.
Three publications similar to mine would be:
1. How to be Accountable Workbook: Take responsibility to change your behavior
2. Doing it Better: Conflict resolution and accountability after abuse in leftist communities
3. Unfuck Your Boundaries: Build better relationships through consent, communication, and expressing your needs
My book is unique from these and other titles in that it provides the reader with tools for successfully navigating these struggles as both a participant in a conflict and as a 3rd-party intervener without formal training. Folks would be interested in buying this book when they want help keeping community and relationship intact and don’t have access to formal mediators or facilitators, or cannot afford them. I want to offer this book because I see a deep need for collaboration and conflict transformation skills and believe folks can be empowered to work on these practices even without formal training. I want to offer something that is approachable and easy to pick up and brings relief to those who are in conflict and don’t know where to turn. I have a background in transformative mediation, restorative justice and restorative process facilitation, group decision making facilitation, and a number of communication practices including Motivational Interviewing and NVC. I have a MA in conflict resolution. I volunteer as a mediator and conflict consultant for a number of small organizations including a local low-power radio station and roller derby league. I also offer non-court based mediation to folks by referral for free.
I appreciate your consideration and am open to feedback about this pitch if you have time and willingness to share it. Thank you.
What else have you written?
This is the only book I’ve written but I write newsletters for the organization I work at frequently as well as blog posts. I have some things on Medium.
What are you currently reading?
Right now, I’m reading:
- Inciting Joy by Ross Gay
- The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization by Peter T. Coleman
- Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight, by Aspen Baker
- The Myth of Normal by Gabor Mate
What’s the best book you read in the last year?
This is weirdly hard for me to answer because I have an aversion to choosing a favorite or best anything and also because of my poor sense of time but two books I really enjoyed and think I read last year are:
- Oak Flat: A fight for sacred land in the American West by Lauren Redniss
- The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (or maybe the whole trilogy)
What’s next for you?
Besides living, working, and trying to be part of community generally here in Rochester, NY, I’m working on some projects combining visuals / illustrations and writing. Right now I’m working on a visual guide or workbook or zine on some conflict practices, trying to turn some information into some easier to digest and use illustrations. I’m also in the early stages of collaborating with a friend in the Netherlands on visuals, maybe a book, on collaborative practices.
Where can people find you online?
I’m not in a ton of places / spaces online but here are a few I can think of:
Any in-person events coming up soon?
Not for the book at the moment. I do a lot of in-person events related to conflict with work which you can find at our website. Hoping to do some in-person book events soon!