Local author and United Kingdom native Sabrina Verney found paradise in 1966 on a beach in the Yucatan at the age of 19 with a dedicated group of truth seekers called The Process. The Process sought, according to Verney, to “peel away all your social training up to that point and replace it with what is true. It was a time of social revolt.”
Verney speaks about that experience, detailed in her memoir “Xtul” (Publish America, Baltimore, 2011) as the second author in Eduardo Santiago’s Idyllwild Author Series at 2 p.m., Sunday, May 27, in front of the INK Bookstore on North Circle Drive.
“For me it was an experience of paradise and at the same time a loss of paradise,” she recalled. I was only with them for three months.” Because she was underage at the time, her parents hired an attorney to come from the United Kingdom to repatriate Verney and several other underage English attendees.
She writes how that single three-month episode reverberated throughout her life and profoundly influenced her choices. “It changed me,” she noted. “I could not go back to the life I knew before. I could no longer hide. I moved to New York City at the age of 27 and began my recovery period. I went from being very insular to becoming a citizen of the world.”
Verney is the only local author to have been included in Santiago’s series, both because of the subject matter and the quality of her book. Santiago likes to vary the series by selecting authors who write in various fiction and nonfiction genres, as well as essayists and memoirists.
This is Verney’s first book. “I don’t know if I’ll write another,” she said, “but this is a book I had to write.” When Santiago asked why she had waited 30 years to write it, she replied, “I wasn’t ready.” Once she began in 1999 she said the story was not hard to write. “I wrote down everything I had remembered. I put everything in chronological order.”
Feeling she had to know more about form and make connections that might help get this book published, Verney enrolled in and completed a bachelor’s program in creative writing at the University of California Riverside. While in the program she showed her manuscript to her advisor. “This is a manuscript,” he said. “It is not a book.” Verney wanted to know how to make it a book and the advisor gave her a hint. “Before page three, I want to be in the center of the story,” she remembered him saying. “And that was it. I wrote the book.”
Verney talked about the process of writing this book and how re-experiencing this life-changing moment in time continues to ripple outward, shaping her life. “I’ve become seriously involved in this community and in issues that affect it,” she said. “We have crises everywhere. I want to learn the big picture and help shape what comes. I have kids, brilliant kids. What kind of a world do I want for them?”
In “Xtul,” readers will experience the beginning of her transformation. In the first chapter she writes, “It’s not a smooth running tale. The chronology is patchy. Mysteries remain. Time has stretched and compacted in ways that don’t make sense, but I see no reason to tidy it up with the logic of hindsight. … The surprise is how much I do remember … atmospheres, smells, textures, remarks, feelings, that remain packed flat all these years, like clothes in a trunk which, when lifted and shaken out, resume their original shape. Style quaintly ostentatious perhaps, but colors still vibrant, buttons secure, their integrity, their tender dignity, intact.”