Beth Peyton knew she’d made it when she saw her newly published memoir in the Chautauqua Bookstore.
“I can’t even describe what it felt like for me the first time I saw my book at the Chautauqua Bookstore,” Peyton said. “It’s really quite a feeling. It really is amazing.”
Peyton will visit Chautauqua to do a book signing at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in the Author’s Alcove on Bestor Plaza.
Peyton’s memoir, titled Clear Skies, Deep Water, was published earlier this year. It’s set on Chautauqua Lake, and tells the story of how Peyton found solace and recovery in the presence of a warm and welcoming community. After a year of turmoil — Peyton and her husband both lost their mothers and had to close down their business — the couple wanted time to recover and refocus.
“We were just trying to figure out what the heck we were going to do,” Peyton said. “Finally, we decided, you know what, we’re not sure what the rest of our life is going to look like, but we want to be someplace that we love. So we moved to Chautauqua Lake.”
Peyton’s a longtime devotee of Chautauqua Institution. She and her husband bought a part-time home in Maple Springs in the late 1990s and have made frequent visits to the Institution over the years. Peyton said some of her standout experiences with the Institution were taking a boat ride to an Emmylou Harris concert and getting to see Garrison Keillor.
Her writing career also began at Chautauqua. Peyton chose to give up her career in criminal justice in 2005 in order to care for her mother-in-law. She decided to devote her free time to writing, and took a creative nonfiction workshop at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center taught by Kristin Kovacic, wife of Week One’s poet-in-residence Jim Daniels.
Kovacic talked to Peyton about going to graduate school for creative writing, and recommended a program at Carlow University. Peyton applied and was accepted, something that gave her great satisfaction.
“I’m really proud that I went back to school to do a second career,” Peyton said. “It was a terrific experience.”
“I could remember things. I could remember conversations, I could remember events,” Peyton said. “I could remember the water and the sky and the way the light is cast here. Just the beauty of the place.”
Peyton said that writing and reflecting on Chautauqua gave her both joy and pleasure.
“It really made me focus on this place. And in order to write, you need to have a focus,” she said. “And the more I focused, the more I loved it.”
Peyton said the idea of being a published author still has her head spinning.
“It’s just a terrific experience,” Peyton said. “It’s all brand new. I’m learning as I go, which I think every writer does when they first get published. I’ve just had a ton of support, including support from Chautauqua.”
Being a newly published author also means adjusting to what Peyton calls the “amorphous” world of social media. Peyton said it’s been challenging, but she’s doing her best to keep up.
While the Internet has become a huge tool for authors in today’s publishing industry, Peyton’s favorite story about her memoir is one that occurred outside of cyberspace.
“A woman actually contacted me on my website and told me that she read the book,” Peyton said. “But she told me that she read the book because she saw the poster that was in the bathroom at Guppy’s, which is just right up the street from me. That feels real to me.”
Peyton said she’s still overflowing with gratitude over the fact that her book got published. She credits her publisher, SUNY Press, for taking an interest in her work.
“It’s such a treasure that university presses really do want to capture things that relate to New York,” she said. “I just feel incredibly honored to get selected to be published by a really terrific press.”
Ultimately for Peyton, it all comes back to Chautauqua.
“I’m really happy and proud about my association and affiliation with Chautauqua,” she said. “I’m just really bowled over that my book is in their bookstore and that I’m going to be doing a book signing. It’s huge. I’m just bowled over with gratitude.”