2017 Updates, and Looking Ahead to 2018

Wait, what, it’s almost 2018 already? Hold the freaking phone…

It has been nearly a solid six months since I’ve posted something – anything – on this blog, about writing, or even not writing. For that obscene lapse in communication, readers, I profusely apologize. But a lot has happened. Allow me to share…

In which the author finds herself gainfully employed once more.

I accepted a position in county government, smack dab in the middle of my degree field, so that is the good news! (MANDATORY DISCLAIMER: All thoughts, opinions, etc. I post on this blog are mine and in no way represent my employer, whose name I am intentionally neglecting to reveal. Must keep day job and dream job separate, people! SECONDARY DISCLAIMER: And no, I’m not a spy or anything. County government administration doesn’t really require a new employee to bring with them a spy’s skill set, anyway.)

However, the inevitable trade-off with gainful employment is, of course, fewer hours in my day/week to devote to my first love and ever-aspiring career accomplishment: publishing a book people want to read. This acknowledgement has been a devastating one, friends. But by acknowledging this new yet necessary obstacle, I have been afforded the opportunity to actually expand my creative leanings into the realm of time management. I’ve discovered there is joy in rising before the sun, brewing coffee, and diving into the world of Stormriders for an hour or so, before most of the rest of the world has any idea a new day has begun. And this is speaking as a human being who keeps a List of Top Five Activities Of Which To Glean the Greatest Sheer Delight, and includes the art of sleeping near the top of that list.

In which the author recommits herself to the completion of the book of her heart.

The Red Earth Sings Beneath Our Feet a memoir by Jen Lynn Anderson

Once upon a time, a girl visited a land far, far away. It was many years ago, but the colors and voices and sounds and tastes of that land have stayed with her, vibrant and strong. Throughout that visit, she kept a journal. From that journal, came a story. A true story, according to the girl, but what she didn’t realize was her truth didn’t necessarily align with the truths of others. And so the girl soon realized she was left with a hopelessly personal and biased story, from the perspective of an optimistic and idealistic Western white mind. It was a story that did not tell the entire truth of the land wherein the girl worked and played and explored and rested her head for a month of her life. And the girl’s heart broke as she began to understand how close she came to harming the people and places she has come to care about the most, by making the story hers instead of theirs.

The world does not need another story of a privileged girl learning from people who look and speak differently than she does. The world DOES need to hear those people’s stories, from their perspectives. And so, the book that began as the personal tale of a voluntourist has become a journalistic voyage into the villages and neighborhoods around Moshi, Tanzania, to bring to Western attention the efforts of local nonprofits and non-governmental organizations, run by people who grew up within those same neighborhoods, visionaries working tirelessly to improve the lives of their neighbors and communities.

The Red Earth Sings Beneath Our Feet was going to be released late this year. For obvious reasons, that has been pushed back indefinitely while I rework the structure of the book and conduct interviews. But I am excited and grateful and privileged to tell this story the way it needs to be told, the way it should have been told from the beginning.

In which the author resigns herself to yet another headlong foray onto the literary roller coaster that is National Novel Writing Month.

Like my fancy NaNo mug? Get it here.

Thirty days. 50,000 words. Fifty. Thousand. I do sometimes feel a bit repetitious this time of year. You’ve heard it before. The problem is, I’ve gotten close but never actually have won NaNoWriMo. Every October, I prep and plan and post words of inspiration and encouragement. “THIS IS MY YEAR,” I say. Only, it never is.

So this year, I’m going into it a little differently. I’m taking my newfound love of early morning candle-lit writing sessions and will commit to put as many words as I possibly can into that hour before dawn. I am going to ignore the daily word-count.

I’m going to remember, each and every single time I sit down in front of my computer, that I am continuing a journey with the characters I love and whom I miss when I’m away from my keyboard. I’m going to surround myself with music and images that inspire me and remind me of those characters and places I am trying to get out of my head and into the book. And what the result will be? I won’t know until I’m there. But whether it’s fifty or fifteen thousand words, my goal is to have a completed first draft of Stormriders in my possession by the end of November. “Winning” be damned.

In which the author signal-boosts a wonderful little group of fellow writers and dreamers.

I’m a big believer in sharing. But as a writer, sharing your work is often incredibly difficult to do. Sometimes it is flat-out painful. Criticism hurts, and even constructive criticism can sting. But critique is a vital component of any writer’s growth in their craft. So what better cure for the sting than finding others who are on the same growth journey as yourself?

Writers groups are an invaluable resource for any seasoned or aspiring author. They prevent you from writing in a vacuum. Whether you have a story you already know you absolutely must tell, or are still searching for your story, a writers group gives you a place to start. To sit down and talk about your ideas, to navigate the tricky twists and turns of the imagination only writers know about. To commiserate about the numbing void of writer’s block, and tap for feedback on the books of our hearts (yes, even when that feedback hurts).

Fortunately, the Twin Cities, with its many celebrated arts communities, boasts dozens upon dozens of well-established writers groups. In any city or town around the TC metro, you can most certainly find a group of your fellow writer people who meet in a somewhat organized fashion at least once a month. Just in Carver County, we have juggernauts such as the Arts Consortium and the Chanhassen Authors Collective, for starters. For my part, I love the small but meaningful meetings of the Waconia Writers Group, where anywhere from four to a dozen or more writers of all ages and experience levels meet twice a month.

Writing can be a lonely experience. It’s easy sometimes to forget that we’re NOT alone. Writers groups help us remember that fact. So don’t be afraid! Find your people, find your story, and grow your writing.



Camp NaNoWriMo 2017 Status… Or, The Return of the Comeback Kid

It’s going to be a magical and courageous and inspirational comeback.


















Gonna keep on gaining ground with this project, and I hope to see you in a cabin for the next Camp NaNo event in June!

For more information, go to campnanowrimo.org





I’ve got some fantastic news from the world of Stormriders! Recently I completed a full chapter-by-chapter plot synopsis, to fill in any plot holes, etc. … and ended up with several new fully-developed characters AND a plot that works! 


Disclaimer: Please don’t worry… I headed into the writing process absolutely determined to make the plot work, and had a general idea of where I wanted my characters to go and why. However, “best-laid plans” etc. … whatever the expression is. It was a little thought, in the back of my mind, in that dark corner that all writers know about, where the doubt hides. The little thought nagging me every time I finished a chapter: “Are you CERTAIN you know where this is going?”

This was the first time I’d actually written everything down. And I mean EVERYTHING. Timelines for every single character. Travel times for distances that haven’t been used before (my folks use tall ships to get from point A to point B, crossing a huge ocean where the Midwest used to be). Motivations for why people end up where they do, and why they do the lovely or the terrible things they do. And friends, IT WORKS. It all works.


Conceptual cover art © Copyright 2017 by Jen Lynn Anderson. All rights reserved.

The plot worked so well for Stormriders that it morphed and evolved into this 3-book trilogy monster! Not my intention, but upon reaching the end of the synopsis I realized the fates of my MCs were left hanging. There is much more of their story to tell. And tell it, I shall!

This month is National Novel Writing Month’s “Camp NaNoWriMo” event (for those of you familiar with NaNo and recognize it in November, the founders host a spring event as well!) and I’m aiming for 2,000 words per day during the month of April. I want this story in your hands ASAP. I’m ready for it to be out there, and I can’t wait for you to read it! This chapter synopsis reaffirmed that fact.

I’m also working on a dialect manual (the Tiders speak in a creole dialect of Appalachian English, Scots English, Gaelic and pirate… oof!) because my heroine has to start speaking soon and I need to understand her if you’re going to be able to do the same. 😂 I’ll be including an annotated version of this in an appendix at the back of the book once we’re at the point of publication. I have a ton of rich material from my world-building exercises, so let me know if you’d be interested in learning more about Tider culture, and I can maybe make something happen!

For those of you who have generously donated to my Patreon: thank you so so much! Your first tangible reward, a short story set in the world of Stormriders, is currently in the editing process, and I hope to have that out to you by mid-May.

More updates to come!

If you’d like to check out my Patreon and donate to the Stormriders Publication Fund, click here.



26,589 Words and Counting

What the Other Side of NaNoWriMo 2015 Looks Like


I created a meme. #sexyguilttrip

Well, I made it halfway. Actually, a full 1,589 words over the halfway marker, before 11:59 p.m. on November 30th. Life did manage to sneak in again, albeit with significantly less intensity than last year (my attention-sucking fur monster is now almost 2 years old, so there was a big decrease in barking episodes and chewing incidents and general furball craziness).

While I am disappointed that I did not “win” National Novel Writing Month by hitting 50,000 words in time, the most pleasantly surprising aftereffect – one I was hoping might happen but was certainly not expecting would result in this much joy – is how much in love I’ve fallen with my story.

I know… that sounds weird. But I have to think that other authors agree with this description of this feeling. It’s love, plain and simple.

You find yourself voluntarily staying in on Friday night because you want to know what happens, what those blank pages are going to say on Saturday morning.


Seriously… it became a thing. Check my Instagram.

You find yourself thinking like your characters, puzzling over mundane life decisions in the context of “What would So And So say/do/act in this situation?”

You start rooting for the people you’ve created, when you realize you’ve written them into actual, independent-thinking human beings.

You’re both exhilarated and terrified when you tackle certain scenes because you have a fantastically complex and beautiful picture in your head of what is happening and you’re beyond afraid that you will never be able to translate what you’re seeing into words that allow other people to comprehend the fantastic complexity and beauty.

You’re desperate to know how your story ends, because you’ve invested a piece of yourself into the worlds you’ve built and the characters you’ve gotten to know; and even if you’ve outlined the shit out of your plot, you still have the nagging thought in the back of your brain that nothing is certain, and this whole thing might not turn out the way you expect.

You’ve found it: your voice, your stride, your confidence, your groove, the story you were meant to tell.


Possibly my favorite thing I’ve ever made, ever.

So I’m merely extending my NaNo deadline. I’m not ready to leave the world of The Bearers. For those of you who succeeded in hitting 50K, I am in deep and true awe of you. Well done. For those of you in my shoes, the pressure is off (slightly)! If you’re in love with your story, keep going. We’re the people who were brave enough to attempt a novel in a month. One month! One! NaNoWriMo opens up a multitude of doors for people. It’s up to us to choose to walk through them.


Thanks, President Obama.

December also marks a return to some shamefully neglected projects I’d left hanging in lieu of this crazy NaNo venture. With my fabulous friend and editor Kim’s expertise in all things prose, I will be completing a second edit of my memoir of Tanzania, The Red Earth Sings Beneath Our Feet, with the intent to release it in early 2016. More to come on that front! If you’re interested in learning more about the organization that made my experience possible, visit www.crossculturalsolutions.org.

I’m also hoping to release a second poetry collection, called Notes from a Bar Napkin, inspired by (you guessed it) the writing prompt of the same name that I’ve posted from time to time on this blog. There are plenty more where those came from. Sometimes I think I have to be slightly toasted to write poetry at all, let alone something that’s reasonably good enough for somebody to want to read. In any case, it’s a fun project and I’d love to share the fruits of my drinking habit with anyone interested.

So, I wish boatloads of inspiration and creative energy on y’all. Here’s to the writers of the things that people read!

Write on!



Your book needs a cover.


This royalty-free photo is brought to you by Pixabay.

It’s National Novel Writing Month, AND I AM EXCITED.

In the spirit of the month, late last night I found myself wandering the cavernous digital hallways of Pixabay, searching for stock photography to use for a prototype book cover for my NaNoWriMo novel, The Bearers. If you don’t know Pixabay (most of my graphic designer friends do), I suggest you get to know Pixabay. It’s a wealth of high-quality royalty-free images you can use without penalty for just about anything, including commercial use (see: book cover art). There are plenty of stock photography services out there (Shutterstock is a big one) but a lot of the time you have to pay a membership fee. I’m mentioning Pixabay because it’s 100 percent free to use.

Yes, if I was going to be sitting in front of my computer at 11 p.m. last night, I probably should have been writing. Instead I decided to exercise another creative outlet: graphic design. (This one’s more like a hobby for me, and I’m honestly not very good… still learning the fundamentals. If you want to see real dedication to the craft of graphic design, check out my friend and superstar Karli Foss’s stuff. She is the terrific artist responsible for crafting the perfection that is the cover artwork of my Tanzania memoir.) My late-night graphic design experiment led me to think about what goes into creating a good book cover, if you’re going to design your own. I highly recommend going the professional route if you can afford it, especially if you have a superstar graphic designer friend. But if you are going to give it a go and design a cover yourself…

Ultimately, in my opinion, you want your cover art to do two main things:

1. Look good.

Straight up. You want the elements of your cover art – images, text, etc. – to have a cohesive, attractive balance. I always find that less is more; keeping it simple and clutter-free is one of the best approaches you can take with a cover. Use fonts that are easy to read (avoid Comic Sans and Papyrus like the plague) and really think about what text you need on your cover. Be sparing with text. Treat your images with care. If you don’t really know how to use Photoshop without it being painfully obvious in the end result, just don’t use it.

Of course we judge books by their covers. It’s the very first impression of your story that a person formulates, and terrible cover art scares away readers before they even open your book. Do you want to tell me you’d take precious hours out of your week to read any of these books? Or these? (Real book covers, by the way.) Maybe you would, I don’t know. That is a whole other set of issues entirely.

2. Tell something about your story… but not too much.

You don’t want your cover to mislead readers. Keep it true to your genre (no robots on the cover of a historical romance novel… unless… nope, won’t go there). Avoid trying to be too avant garde with your concept. Covers that border on the slightly abstract or vague are fine if and only if they contribute to the narrative you’re trying to tell. You don’t have to give the ending away or even show a scene from your book on your cover; that said, a cover with artistic elements that harmonize with the content of your novel (or even just the summary on the book jacket) will draw readers in, if they are able to make that association before they read your book.

This is definitely a personal preference, but one of my favorite examples of cover art is the cover artwork for Gregory Maguire’s books. If you don’t know Gregory Maguire, his novels are reworkings of traditional fairytales, often from an antagonist or auxiliary character’s perspective. (He’s the author responsible for Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which eventually became a hit Broadway play… you might have heard of it.) The artistic styling of his book covers has become almost a brand, and the covers paint a clear picture without giving the entire story away. For examples of slightly more abstract covers, here is a great photo gallery of “The Best Book Covers of 2015 (so far)” by Frannie Jackson of Paste Magazine. Not on this list, but still an example of a simple cover at its finest, is ROOM, by Emma Donoghue. These covers may not give the story away, but they still tell the story. They tell potential readers SOMETHING about what they will find inside.

Not sure? Find help.

There are numerous articles out there in the Interwebs with tips and tricks to designing a stellar book cover. A lot of them are very thorough, and most of them give you the same basic advice: keep it simple, avoid certain pitfalls (there are a lot of lists and examples out there), and don’t use images from Google search.*

*The last point is extremely important. If you don’t take anything else with you from this blog post, remember this one. If the image you find belongs to an artist or designer and the image has been appropriated without their permission, that is stealing. Even if you found the image on a secondary site, if it wasn’t attributed to the image’s owner, you can be held liable for copyright infringement. Don’t learn this the hard, expensive way. Use Pixabay.

And of course, ask your friends. Definitely ask your graphic designer/superstar friends. Ask strangers on the bus. Ask anybody what they think. Feedback is important. Look at it as a free focus group study. You’re doing research. Come at it objectively. Use any criticism you receive constructively, and don’t take it personally. Knowing what even a random sample of people think of your cover is invaluable information to have at your disposal. It allows you to make the best possible decisions about marketing your book… especially when you’re publishing it yourself. That is why I’m putting my “masterpiece” online, for all to see.

So here it is, the conceptual cover art for my NaNoWriMo novel, The Bearers.

© 2015 by Jen Anderson. All rights reserved.

© 2015 by Jen Anderson. All rights reserved.

I’m currently using this on my website and on my NaNoWriMo novel page, but it’s by no means the finished product.** I love the simple image of a person who resembles one of my main characters. For context, I may inset a small, faint illustration of an important location in the story, in one of the corners. Please feel free to shoot me an email and leave your feedback… I welcome feedback! I crave feedback. Help.

The original subject is a nameless lady in a free Pixabay photo, with absolutely no relation to Kristen Stewart (to my knowledge). I was worried this would read a little too Twilight, but ultimately it’s just a prototype cover. I would like to know if there is too much resemblance to Bella Swan before I market this image too much or go ahead and print 500 books with it (that’s way, way down the road, of course). On second thought, I’d certainly be MUCH better off having Karli do it.

**2/4/17 UPDATE: Since this post, I’ve actually changed the cover art for The Bearers, to a slightly retro-style cover design that faintly reflects the science fiction book covers of the 1970s and 1980s (which have been an endless source of inspiration for me).  You can view the new cover art here.