I first met Shelley Smith Jones back in October. She and her husband, Rick, live in Mazama with their two horses. Shelley contacted me, as the writer of this column, and asked if I would like to read her book in order to write about it in a future column. I eagerly agreed and met Shelley at the Mazama Store where she gave me a copy of “Petting Tigers: My Life as a Witness of Jehovah.” The book was beautiful, with an alluring cover and a lovely photo of Shelley and Rick on the back. I began reading right away, but then life got in the way along with book club books, library books that I finally reached No. 1 in the queue of, and fluffy beach reads to read on vacation. Recently I was finally able to get back to reading Shelley’s book and am so glad that I did.
Although this is not a book review column, I would like to give a synopsis of the memoir. This is a recounting of a life, beginning in childhood, of a woman who was raised by a mother that was a devout Jehovah’s Witness. This life was not what Shelley Smith Jones would have chosen for herself, yet she felt trapped and unable to change her path. If you are looking for an expose or a dark story about trauma, this is not it. The author does not debase or slam the religion. Instead, she writes about her own experience and then continues on with a story of inspiration and hope. As Elizabeth Stix Bernstein, the editor, writes, “‘Petting Tigers’ is about imagining and achieving a way out and the slow, clumsy steps that inevitably follow a rebirth.”
When I met again with Shelley this past week in her home, I talked with her more about her life now, as well as what it was like bringing her story from a manuscript to a printed book. It took 10 years to write, take it through editing and to print. The book almost never made it to this point except for the encouragement of neighbors, one of whom, David Oliver, designed the book cover.
Shelley was able to find an editor through her friend, Winthrop resident, Carolyn Bronson. Carolyn’s son, Po Bronson, is a journalist and author with many connections. After the editing process, the book was finally ready for printing, which was done at Gorham Printing in Centralia. Then she had 200 books on her hands and not the clearest idea of how to sell them. The marketing, Smith-Jones tells me, has been the hardest part. Independent bookstores have been the most successful method, as they take books on consignment. Of course, there is Amazon, but with a bazillion books being sold on the web giant, it is difficult to rise above the fray there.
Slowly but surely though she has nearly sold through her first printing and is getting ready for a second. My feeling is that much like Shelley’s life; this book will blossom and flourish. It would not surprise me in the least to see a movie made from the book “Petting Tigers.” Shelley’s book is available at Trail’s End Bookstore in Winthrop.