Morning coffee with a lake view

Quiet Sunday mornings are absolutely one of my favorite life experiences. So many promising ideas upon waking. So much potential in the day ahead.

It is going to be a good day.

Savor your Sunday mornings, friends!

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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.

The art of being happily alone, a “Stormriders” update, and some other miscellany.

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No Internets mean much writings.

A solo weekend getaway would usually be considered an odd choice for me. I like people, generally. However, being bombarded with so many distractions (of political and sporting nature) this summer has not been conducive to fulfilling my commitments as a writer, and to myself. The distractions add up. With all the negativity and stress hanging around society lately, a weekend away from humans (physically and digitally) sounded like a phenomenal plan. An uncle owns a gorgeous piece of land on Little Alden Lake, a stone’s throw northwest of Duluth. And so, last weekend I ventured into the Great Northern Wild Pine Forests of Minnesota, with only my dog Layla (with the very real title of Bear Scarer bestowed upon her) in tow, and with the very real intention of disappearing from the rest of humanity for 72 hours. Minimum.

From my journal, the morning after I arrived:

Twenty-five minutes outside the city, and the pavement turns to dirt and gravel. The forest presses in on you as you take the winding road, which you begin to think is taking you into the bowels of a forest purgatory, or toward some hidden backwoods colony of survivalists; you try to ignore the banjos playing the theme from “Deliverance” in your head. You shouldn’t have started the journey after sunset… what were you thinking?
 
The moment when you are absolutely, hysterically certain you have lost your way and your fate is to be eaten by the bears, you are there. Ahead lies a little idyll of certainty in the heart of darkness. An A-frame cabin and a few outbuildings nestle between fully grown pines that soar into the black overhead. A precariously handmade stairway of stones create a path down a shaded slope to the lake. The property is surrounded by a thick ring of pine trees and underbrush, muffling the presence of the few neighbors who live there year round.

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Little Alden Lake, a.k.a. The Perfect Place On Earth

You turn off the ignition and are immediately aware of the utter absence of sound. The nocturnal creepy-crawlies, momentarily disturbed by the intrusion of bright car headlights, have fallen silent. You look up, and as your eyes adjust, you see the blackness has dissolved into a cacophony of the brightest stars you have ever seen. You could swear they are only a few inches from your face, for how bright and clear they are.

Your dog’s low, uneasy growl snaps you back to earth. She stares intently beyond the circle of light from your high beams, as if she can sense something out there, waiting beyond the trees. And, then out of nowhere, the unearthly shriek of a loon warbles up from the water, echoing through the trees. Your heart jumps into your throat. You run inside. You will unpack tomorrow.

You may be thinking I was thinking I’d made a big mistake. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being utterly alone for those three days was exactly what I needed.

Some people call it recharging their batteries. I call it an exercise in focus.

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Nature + wine = happy tingles. Thanks, Science.

Aside from the massive amounts of writing I was able to accomplish in the massive void left behind by the Internet, there are several moments from the weekend I can pinpoint, where I was not doing a whole lot. Waking with the morning and walking out onto the deck that faces the lake, watching Layla chase frogs in the grass, feeling the sun’s warm kiss on my skin, drinking in the scenery with my coffee, merely thinking about my novel… and I would feel this strange tingly buzz that started somewhere under my ribs and spread through my arms and legs, to my fingers and toes, flowing up my spine and prickling across my scalp.

I don’t know if there’s a word that can accurately explain that feeling (“Endorphins?” asks Science), but maybe I’ll call it the body’s reaction to the brain’s realization of pure and utter joy. Contentment. Confidence in the knowledge that when I did sit down to write, I would write and write and write. I was so happy I was tingly. Everyone should be able to feel that feeling.

So, I say, seek out the places that make you tingly. Take a break from the places that squeeze, that apply pressure, that weigh down, that pull apart. Unplug. Be by yourself for a weekend, a day, an hour even. Give yourself the space to rest, “recharge,” refocus. Let your senses take in the small things in those moments. The fluid sparkle of sunlight on the water. The surprising complexity of loon song. The squelch of mud between your toes. The hilarity of a hound dog learning what a frog feels like in her mouth (the frog survived). The late summer wind that already has a crisp bite to it, hinting of an early autumn. On a tree branch of a thousand green leaves, espying the one with a reddish tinge. How the wine in your glass tastes different as you breathe in the scent of fresh pine.

Allow yourself the pleasure of being alone.


STORMRIDERS UPDATE:

During my voluntary absence from human contact, I was able to complete the next chapter in “Stormriders.” For more information about the story, and to read the first 4 chapters free, you can visit my Stormriders page.

 NEW STUFF

While some of my other writing projects have taken a backseat to Stormriders (I’m only human, and just one!) I am still incrementally moving them forward. My Tanzania travel memoir survived its second edit, and I’m working on the specifics for getting that out into the world. Namely, to Amazon.com or not to Amazon.com. I would be appreciative of any feedback from my fellow indie authors, regarding alternative print-on-demand and e-book vendors. Which vendors are your favorites? What as worked for you, and what hasn’t?

I’ve also got a few short story ideas in my head that I will undoubtedly make available for free here, on my site, in the near future. More on that down the road!

New and beautiful things.

file_003-6I got new ink today! Thanks to Mike Grant at Saint Sabrina’s in Uptown Minneapolis, and thanks to Neil Gaiman for dreaming up the source material, I have a beautiful new reminder to keep taking risks with my writing and to keep jumping off proverbial cliffs, even when it seems like the only inevitable direction is down. Because sometimes… during the pursuit of dreams… sometimes, when you fall, you do fly.

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Writing amidst distraction, writing beyond excuses.

(Or: An ode to a typewriter.)

(Or, or: Buy, beg, borrow or steal a typewriter. Do it.)
Get one.

Get one.

I’m going to be brutally honest with my own self in this post. I’ve been terrible as a writer this month. I can count on one hand the number of times I sat down and focused and wrote more than a page of words. This includes my grocery lists. I’ve thrown out a sentence of new stuff here and there, but the primary focus has been on editing my travel memoir for publication (which, yes, has been pushed back and then pushed back again). The thing is, lately there’s always a reason for avoiding it – dog, work, cleaning, nap, writer’s block, whatever. Excuses.

I recently came back to my hometown in Minnesota after six years in Tempe, Arizona. I aim to stay in the tundralands awhile. The four-day cross-country journey could have provided some unique inspiration, had I not been driving twelve-hour days with a wriggly 70-pound puppy and all of my shit in the backseat, with barely enough time to eat a gas-station meal before passing out in the next dingy hotel room in the next town, in the next state over. Excuses.

Arriving home was another unique opportunity to write what I was feeling, from moment to moment: who hasn’t moved home after a long hiatus to find it unfamiliar, to find yourself a stranger even to members of your own family, unsure of your place in the place you grew up? It could have been a goldmine of inspiration. But there were jobs to hunt, and a 70-pound puppy to acclimate, and trashy daytime TV to watch. More excuses. And in between Live with Kelly and Michael and afternoon DIY programs on Home and Garden network, when there might have been a space to fit in a page or two… hopping onto a computer to use Microsoft Word, for me, has presented its own unique set of built-in digital distractions. (I curse you, Facebook. I CURSE YOU.) Hell, I haven’t even touched this blog, mainly because I was embarrassed I had nothing exciting to report, no status updates on any of my projects. Nothing new to say.

Excuses, all excuses. And not even good ones.

It took me two solid weeks of this – the procrastinating and avoiding and Facebooking – before I remembered the antique typewriter that was hidden away somewhere in my closet, where my mother had stuffed my old prom dresses, graduation gowns, and crumbling boxes of childhood memorabilia. I had found the typewriter at a garage sale, one summer when I was home from college, more than a decade ago. Forty dollars spent – a lot of money for an underemployed college kid and summer-employed day camp counselor – for a thing that would largely resemble an oversized paperweight and/or doorstop for the next ten-plus years. At the time, I bet I thought it was just an impulsive purchase, an antique whim… but now, I believe that something in me, something visceral, understood the truth in my future self and fought for it.

One week ago, feeling slightly depressed and completely aimless, desperate for a sign that I hadn’t forgotten how to form coherent thoughts on paper, I unsnapped the metal clasps that held the lid on the bulky protective case. My typewriter is an antique, a Remington Noiseless Model 7. Before I struck a single key, I did the research; my machine was manufactured shortly after Germany and Japan ceded their intentions of world domination. It is not travel-friendly: a solid lunk of metal with the heft of iron or an equally heavy alloy, and sharp yet delicate moving parts. The white paint that fills in the engraved trenches on the black plastic keys, to reveal the letters and numbers, is chipped and faded; some of the letters’ placements on the keyboard I hit only from the muscle memory of my fingers. There are rust spots in places; I wouldn’t know how important (or not) those places are, much less whether they could be replaced in the event the rust has eaten through some vital mechanism.

In spite of all of that, it still works.

When I’d located it, I quickly Googled “typewriter ribbon,” and imagine my surprise to find that there is still a market for typewriter-using writers (a.k.a. hopeless romantics, a.k.a. writers at the end of their rope). My universal ribbon was waiting in my mailbox a few days later. With the corresponding manual long gone (I don’t think the Model 7 even came with one, a casualty of the phenomenon of buying someone else’s “junk”), I decided to just go with it. Loading the spools was oddly natural. Things fit into place because of my hands but more importantly just because they fit, and when I loaded a sheet of paper and hit the first few keys, a mere test run, something happened, and I was off. Things ceased to exist outside of the clack of keys and the occasional bell-ring ding of the line break. No Kelly and Michael. No cell phone. No social media. Nothing but the sound of metal hitting ink ribbon hitting paper, and the sound of the story unfolding from my head.

Twenty minutes and five pages later, I stopped. But really, I will not stop. Thanks to a 70-year-old hunk of iron, I found my stride again. Removing myself from the siren call of modern technology somehow also lifted the fuzziness of self-doubt, and even twenty minutes renewed my confidence to write, and at least attempt to write well. And for those of you who find yourselves in a similar predicament – wrestling with your own day-to-day distractions, or simply craving a break from the bombardment of digital chaos that floods your screen every time you log on to your computer – that 40-dollar “paperweight” at your neighbor’s yard sale or the local thrift store might just be worth it.

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