Author Next Door: Sally Cole-Misch

We are a part of nature, and it is a part of us.

by Grace Meyer

Sally Cole-Misch would like her readers to “reconnect with nature and with their own special places in nature.”

Her book, The Best Part of Us, is a coming-of-age story that follows Beth and her family each summer as they return to their grandparent’s island. The 284-page novel explores a bond between humans and a place in nature that they hold dear to them. One day, when tragedy strikes, the Lyndee family is forced to leave their island indefinitely, and the bond between Beth and her island is tarnished for the next fourteen years. A now-grown Beth has made a life for herself in Chicago when her grandfather, Taid, writes her a letter, making her decide the fate of the island herself.

Cole-Misch’s process of writing her book dates back to 2012, after 35 years as an environmental journalist and public affairs professional.

“I started writing the book when I was in Stanford graduate program for fiction writing. I started that in 2013 and I had a first draft by the time I ended the program in 2016. Then I sold it to a publisher at the end of 2018,” Cole-Misch explains.

Within this time, however, Cole-Misch did not escape the countless drafts every author goes through.

“All told, I probably had about fifteen drafts between 2013 and 2019.” She says.

However, writing The Best Part of Us wasn’t always a top priority—in fact, Cole-Misch says writing the novel was never on her “bucket list.” It wasn’t until she was out in her “special place in nature” reading that inspiration struck. She was thinking about how great she felt being in her outdoor escape when she started wondering about how being in nature can affect someone psychologically.

“I already knew about the benefits of being in nature. It lowers our stress levels, it makes us feel a part of something larger than ourselves. There are different chemicals that nature releases that helps us relax, and it makes us look at the bigger picture,” Cole-Misch explains.

She then googled the benefits of reading fiction and describes them as being “virtually the same.”

Cole-Misch decided to challenge herself and thought “What the heck?” It was at this moment where she decided to write The Best Part of Us.

Within the novel, indigenous people play quite a large role in the plot. As a person outside of the indigenous community, Cole-Misch made sure she was careful and accurate when writing about the culture.

“I did my research. Through my profession I worked with several Ojibwe tribes on the U.S. side and the First Nations on the Canadian side,” she explains. “I researched the treaties and I had several of [the Ojibwe] read the drafts of the novel. I wanted to really be respectful of their culture and history.”

For new writers who want to write about a community that they aren’t a part of, Cole-Misch recommends to “do your research” and “don’t be afraid to reach out to people in that community.”

Currently, Cole-Misch is looking forward to in-person book events that will take place in the summer, as well as ongoing book club conversations across the U.S. and Canada via Zoom. She’s also playing with new ideas for another novel.

Cole-Misch hopes that when readers finish The Best Part of Us (and, let’s be honest, inevitably become attached to Dylan and Lily), they “will come away with a greater reflection and appreciation for the role that nature plays in our lives. We are a part of nature and it is a part of us.”