Onto the Page with Norm Schriever
In 2010 Norm Schriever was living what many might consider the American dream. His work in real estate, finance, and law afforded him a lavish lifestyle, and he lived in what he describes as a “fun house,” a 1940s grocery store in East Sacramento that he converted into his residence and where he hosted charity fundraisers and art showings.
But Schriever had always wanted to write, and in 2011 that desire led him to sell or donate everything he owned – the cars, the house and most of his possessions. He moved to Costa Rica, settled behind a wooden desk, splashed some Bailey’s in his coffee and began to work toward his dream of becoming a novelist.
One year later Norm Schriever returned to Sacramento, this time to start his cross-country journey to promote his first book, “Pushups in the Prayer Room.”
“Pushups in the Prayer Room” chronicles a trip around the globe which Schriever embarked on in 1999. After one year of working three jobs and never leaving the house to spend a dime, he was able to save up enough money that, when aided by credit card debt, allowed him to touch down on six continents and spend time in more than 20 countries. What began as a year-long intercontinental party trip would, ten years later, evolve into the story of one man’s quest to uncover his purpose in this world.
Schriever was kind enough to share his thoughts and experiences with the Sacramento Press via email.
On life in Costa Rica:
I was out of my comfort zone every minute of every day, and I’ve never felt so alive! Costa Rica was my first stop in 1999, and so it made sense to write the book there. I lived in Tamarindo, a sleepy little surfing village on the Pacific Ocean. Most of the roads are still dirt and they don’t have mailing addresses. Though a tourist mecca during the high seasons, the base population is around 500 people. Real friendships are able to take root because people are so detached from outside circumstances. But it wasn’t vacation, because there are also a lot of conflicts and complexities – everyone is jockeying for money or market share with the tourists, whether selling seashell necklaces or cocaine. You had to be very careful but I found if you gave love and respect to the people you would get it back. It was perfect for a writer.
On the ritual of writing:
I like sitting in the same physical space. Down there I found my place – a simple wooden desk that faced the sliding glass doors out onto the balcony. From my perch I could look up and see the tops of the jungle trees that led down to the ocean and the sailboats in the bay.
In the morning I drank Costa Rican coffee with Baileys, at night a glass of red wine. I’d open the door to let the ocean breeze in. Thursday through Sunday I knew the drunks, cokeheads, and thieves were running around so I’d keep a big knife handy in case anyone tried to enter and mess with me. I’d put on my oversized headphones and listen to groovy music at full volume. The rhythms give me energy and the artistic process of music is one that closest resembles my writing.
On the everyday challenges of his work:
When I write the most difficult thing for me is not thinking of what to write next. When I’m in the zone I lose time. It may feel like twenty minutes have passed but when I look up it’s actually been three hours. The challenge is to get back into that place and it’s definitely not at will. I’ve always been blessed with this imagination and creativity, and my challenge is getting it out of my head and onto the page before it’s lost.
On the magic of the written word:
My writing is nonfiction so in that regard I just have to recall and document real life experiences. That being said there is an incredible amount of creativity in the presentation – what angle to come from, what pace, what voice, what kind of humor to interject, and how to visually weave it all together through words. I am part of the eternal human conversation, and it’s an unbelievable thrill to be able to add one small line to it. Writing allows me to reach someone on an emotional level, to have a visual conversation. Writing moves and grows and takes you on a journey. I am the tour guide into a brand new world.
On learning the basics:
Originally I had been telling stories with photos on Facebook and then my blog. The feedback was so great and I had always wanted to write a book. I literally knew not a damn thing about not just the writing, but the publishing process or literary publicity. I had great help and guidance from Authority Publishing, a self-publishing service in the Sacramento area. I made it my full-time job to learn the game by doing it – observing and stumbling forward each day. Now I send out press releases, do radio, TV, and print interviews, coordinate giveaways and charity work with the book, release parties, and a ton of social media to garner interest.
What’s in a name:
“Pushups in the Prayer Room” has both a literal and a metaphorical meaning. The book isn’t so much religious as it is spiritual with a warmly human message.
I did pushups and situps every day during my travels. My hotel room in Chang Mai, Thailand was so small that I couldn’t stretch out to do my pushups. I walked down the hall and found a room that was labeled “Prayer Room” in ton of different languages. It was empty and spacious so I started doing pushups, and as I did I started thinking about that room, and how people were all pretty much the same no matter where I went. They wanted the same things – to make some money, put food on the table for their families, to have a safe place to rest their head at night, the hope for their children to have it better than they did, and the chance to pray for all of these things. But as human beings we are so mired in creating divisions and focusing on differences – class, race, ethnicity, politics… these false divisions create a lot of fear and strife among mankind. I began to ponder what I could do to help break down these barriers, and that is the origin of “Pushups in the Prayer Room.”
On the journey back home:
Since I was a long-time Sacramento resident, I wanted to spend as much time as possible here when I returned stateside to promote the book. It was like a homecoming, and the warm reception by old friends, former business associates, neighbors, new readers and the community at large was so unexpected.
The message of the book is ultimately about all of us trying to leave this world a better place than when we found it, and I was overjoyed that our Sacramento community received my message. So many people were eager to join this positive movement. I am truly proud of our city!
On what happens next:
At the end of June I’ll finish my U.S. tour and return south, this time to San Juan Del Sur, a fishing town in Nicaragua. I plan to set up shop and get to work on my next book, "Get Happy", which will chronicle my journey from Sacramento, selling my possessions and moving to Costa Rica to pursue my dream of writing “Pushups in the Prayer Room.” I’m looking forward to a spartan apartment, adopting a street dog and doing charity worked with underprivileged local kids.
Last words to our Sacramento readers:
Thanks for all the love and support! I’ll see you next year when I’m back in town promoting my next book, and you’re going to love it! If you ever find yourself down south, in the sunny side of the world on the lip of the ocean where people are pregnant with happiness, then look me up – mi casa es su casa!