Exploring Sally Cole-Misch’s book “The Best Part of Us”

The reviews are in—and they’re very, very good. The first novel by Sally Cole-Misch, The Best Part of Us, is attracting favorable reactions from the critics. The Michigan Daily calls it a “captivating celebration of nature that pushes us to consider our connections to the Earth.” Reader’s Favorite calls the novel “a lush and lovely homage to the natural places where her protagonist grew up.” Kirkus Reviews praises the book as “a dramatic, rewarding story about a woman reconnecting with family, nature, and herself.”

A longtime communicator for the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Regional Office, Cole-Misch is making the rounds to talk about her novel—and giving generously from sales to boost the work of groups like FLOW.

Join Cole-Misch and FLOW Senior Policy Advisor Dave Dempsey on September 27 at 5 p.m. Eastern for a virtual conversation about, The Best Part of Us, and how the book captures our essential connections to nature and celebrates the Great Lakes. Click here to register for the virtual event

We asked Cole-Misch about the origin, message, and details of the story.

What is a major takeaway you hope readers will glean? 

I hope this novel can resonate deeply and optimistically for readers, because, if they can recognize the value nature holds in their lives, they will consider how their actions are impacting what they value, and hopefully change those behaviors as much as possible to become part of the solutions.

The Best Part of Us tells the story of a woman who must decide whether to save herself and her connection with nature in order to explore the same choice humanity faces—for Earth will survive and heal over time, but our values and actions will determine whether humans and other species can as well. When we decide to understand and value our connections with everything else on the planet, we will act to prevent further devastating impacts of climate change or even the next pandemic.

How long has this story and novel been taking shape in your mind?

I started freewriting scenes about 10 years ago, after I’d taken a short novel-writing class at a local community college. I’ve always lived in the nonfiction world as a journalist and in the environmental communications field, so I had a lot to learn. The idea of creating an entire family of unique characters was daunting and exhilarating.  

How autobiographical is it?

The setting was an obvious choice for me. Everything else—the plot and scenes, the characters, and the conflicts and solutions—are all fiction. The setting I know well, as my grandparents also built a log cabin on an island in northern Ontario where I spent my young summers. I pulled from a few of my experiences like picking blueberries, sailing and swimming, and hiking in the woods that are generic to anyone visiting the region to ensure authenticity and to hopefully pay homage to the natural world found in the upper Great Lakes region.

 There’s a powerful sense of place in the story, in fact, the place is almost a character. To what do you attribute that?

One of my primary goals for this novel was that the natural world is an interactive character with the other characters in the story. In my many years in environmental journalism and communications, I’ve learned that the most important step to helping people understand our interconnectedness with and impact on nature is to get them outside. When they do, the emotional connections and benefits become clear.

The benefits of spending time in nature are well documented: it feeds the soul, reduces stress, and makes us more aware of the world around us as well as within. The vast majority of us seek out these benefits on vacations, whether it’s at a family cottage, a national park, or in a backyard garden. What we value, we act to protect.

Indigenous characters and heritage are significant in the story. Why did you develop this, and how difficult was it as an outsider to that community?

Because of my work with members of several Indigenous tribes and nations in the Great Lakes region, I couldn’t imagine writing a novel based here without including them. I wanted to represent the Ojibwe of this region as accurately and thoughtfully as possible, and thus I studied their language, traditions, and culture carefully, and asked those whom I’ve worked with to review various sections. They are deeply connected to the Earth as a culture, so they were an easy choice to represent that side of the spectrum of relationships that humans can have with the natural world.

What experience would you like readers to have?

I hope the novel’s readers feel immersed in the beauty of nature, and particularly in the northern Great Lakes region’s vibrant rocks, trees, water, and sky, and through the story can consider the powerful gifts nature provides to each of us—from its calming underlying presence to its interconnectedness with our daily lives. I hope they feel hopeful when they turn the last page.

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