New Experiences Ahead

When traveling51B-QMYu45L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

across the

borderline from

the familiar to

the unknown,

an open mind

is the best travelling companion.

The line above is from my poem, “New Experiences Ahead,” which has just been published in June Cotner’s latest anthology, SOAR! Follow Your Dreams (Andrews McMeel Publishing).

It’s so beautifully fitting that June’s new book has come out as I work with my graduating senior to ready her for college and adult life.

Dress for the unpredictable,

as everything is subject to change.

Many memories have come back to me about my graduation and preparation for college, and I want her to have even better experiences than I did. My one regret is that I didn’t live at school — I missed having the kinds of close relationships that my husband has with his college friends (many are lifelong friends).

So I’m doing everything I can to make sure my daughter doesn’t miss out. Just a few days ago, she applied for housing at Hamline University, my MFA alma mater.

It will be challenging, no doubt, living away from home (even though she won’t be very far away). I know she will keep an open mind and she’s always been a far better dresser than I ever was.

I can’t wait to see the rest of the motivational quotes, inspirational wisdom, and positive thoughts throughout the rest of SOAR! It sounds like a great graduation gift (hint – hint) so there’s my one commercial message. It’s available wherever books are sold for $12.99.

The Renewing Powers of Conversation

IMG_1311Driving through the Minnesota River valley as I made my way from the Twin Cities to St. Peter — where even though the calendar says it should be spring — I saw that it was clearly not spring at all. Not yet.

Yes, it’s true that the seven plus inches of snow that fell yesterday is melting fast, and there were quite a few puddles to splash through, but nowhere are there signs of green. Even big business marketing green.

I had thought I would be able to see the Jolly Green Giant from the highway, but he was nowhere to be seen, and I learned later that the statue is 60 miles down the road from Le Sueur, (home of the Minnesota Valley Canning company and the famous “Valley”): all 55-ft of him in gorgeous pea green fiberglass can be seen in the town of Blue Earth, Minnesota.

I did spot the billboard with the Giant, tucked between still denuded trees at the crest of the jolly not-quite-green valley. Even in the billboard, the Giant looked more sepia than green, as if he had not yet put on his spring bloom.

Even without much spring green to cheer me on, my spirits rose. I’m a river valley girl, born and raised on the river bluffs just south of St. Paul, and there is nothing so cheerful as a winding drive in river valley country.

I had travelled to St. Peter as a guest author at a book festival sponsored by the St. Peter Library, and even though I tend to the quiet side, conversation with readers about writing and books steadily energized me in the way that spring energizes so much.

After the event, a new reader friend, an author friend, and I made our way to a new winery in the area, Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery. The vineyard can be seen on the hillside next to the tasting room. The photograph above is the view from the as-yet-closed terrace of the tasting room (it’s not quite warm enough for wine to be enjoyed outside).

Our new friend gave us a taste of a Minnesota rose, made from local grapes and I brought home a bottle for later. I drank a glass of cabernet sauvignon, made from Napa Valley grapes, and that brought back memories of my time last summer in San Francisco. A bottle was purchased for later. We dined on artisan pizza baked in a wood-fired brick oven.

Best of all was the conversation with two friends, one who had returned to St. Peter after spending much of her life in California, another who is a writer friend published by my publisher. I almost passed on the outing and I’m so glad I didn’t.

I don’t know why it always seems surprising how enjoyable and refreshing good conversation can be. We talked about our lives as working women, wives, mothers. How we have endured struggles with health, balancing the needs of our families and communities, managing creative time (both as writers and readers).

I used to think that conversation was the first thing to jettison when I was pressed for time. There never seemed to be time for socializing, as it always seemed like I “should” be doing something else.

The fact of the matter is that good friends, having good conversation, is the juice of life.  Companionship can be ambrosia, providing a renewing, rather than a draining experience.

Maybe after all this time I am learning how to find better friends, and it is a most rewarding thing to do. Friends and good wine? Even better.

 

Heading South Soon!

South central Minnesota, that is. I’m heading down to visit St. Peter, Minnesota, as one of the visiting authors in the third annual St. Peter Reads Book Festival.

A ticketed “Moveable Feast” precedes a free public book signing at noon. All three Arvo Thorson mysteries - Burnt Out, Broken Down, and Washed Up - will be available for purchase. What is a moveable feast? Authors spend time at the brunch tables, meeting attendees and visiting about their respective books. The event is headlined by Nicole Helget.

April 5, 10:00 AM – 1 PMspbf

ST. PETER, MINNESOTA

St. Peter Reads Book Festival
Gustavus Adolphus College
Jackson Campus Center
St. Peter, MN 56082

How Spoken Words Transform Writing

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I watched the light filtering through colorful glass panes of the Black Forest Inn as my husband and I dined before Cheap Theatre’s “Oh Hell, a storytelling show,” featuring new performers Danny Klecko and Mike Finley, and Cheap Theatre veterans. More about how their performances went later in the post.

The colored light transformed the dim, old-fashioned interior of the restaurant into a magical place, filtering it without the need of Instagram help.  While there, my husband snapped a shot that I’ve saved as my author photo of the moment. Sitting in that light, in that place, and witnessing spoken word performances for the first time gave me much to consider. As I listened, I thought of whether I’d be up for spoken word sometime, how I could use spoken word techniques in my work, how reading one’s pieces out loud provide feedback you can’t get from just reading off the page.

Danny and Mike performed admirably – Danny, in fact, hit it out of the park, choosing ‘shame’ as his topic: he told both stories and poems about how  he rose above shame when he made his career choice – that of a baker.  He handed out loaves of Saint Agnes bread to select audience members, asking if there were any Republicans in the house who might appreciate the “fruity, Christmassy bread” he designed for then first lady Mary Pawlenty. His performance stunned longtime host Erica Christ, who commented that she had guessed wrong placing Danny so early on the night’s list and wondered how anyone was going to be able to follow him.

Those transformative performances and that transformative light are all part of the transformative year of being a McKnight artist fellow. I’m continuing to transform as an artist, and find inspiration and material everywhere, no longer concerned with what anyone else thinks of my artistic path. Lately I’ve been writing more poetry again, including finishing a children’s book piece that I’ve sent out to as many publishers as I can find. Several poems have found homes, in new June Cotner anthologies, in an upcoming Lief, and others are in process. I submitted my recording of “Singed” (you can hear it on Northern Community Radio – KAXE & KBXE) to another poetry audio contest.  I submitted a new poem for Common Good Books love poetry contest, and had a lot of fun working on that piece with my writing group.

I haven’t abandoned prose either. The novel I wrote in San Francisco is being edited now, and I’ll work those edits in a week-long writing retreat at the Journey Inn, later in April.

Writers fuss too much  about choosing one genre over another, developing  identities to separate their work in the marketplace (or to be able to write it at all) — writing under one  (or more) pen name for prose, maybe another for their poetry, and on. I think that while these choices may help free some artists, they aren’t for me.

I want to express my  artistic identity with a singular vision of an artistic spectrum, an enriching approach that borrows from all the forms I chose to write in – poetry, prose-poems, prose, and any other combination (I’ve even written interior monologs within a novel in a two-columned theatre-like dialog). I like that I don’t have to choose once the kind of artist I want to be and stick within that narrow definition. Most importantly, I’m guided by trying to have as much fun with the writing as possible. Slowing down. Lingering through revision. That’s what it’s all about for now, and what I’m all about for now, artistically speaking.

Now’s The Time

ImageHelp. Please. I’ve often been too shy to ask for your help in helping my own career as an author grow. But now I’m going to. Perhaps I should have asked more before. Well. I’m asking now. Here’s what has spurred me on.

It’s been a tough year for small businesses that are all about the book. I’ve seen two favorite local bookstores close in the past year. Another looks like it may be on its last legs. Yes, there are some bright spots, a few new stores opening, but they face an uphill battle.

Worst of all now, my publisher is facing hard times, having laid off most of the staff (including family members). A skeleton crew is keeping things running for now, but who knows what the future holds. If the worst happens, my books might go out of print.

Here’s my call to action.

If you’ve thought about buying local bookish things, consider a North Star book. Plenty are available from the company’s website, but they aren’t shy about you ordering or buying from wherever you like to get your book fix.

If you like mysteries and like Minnesota, then why not give one (or all) of my books a try. Like to keep your local bookstore thriving? Ask them to order my books for you. Prefer the big online websites? Go for it! Already have my books and like them? Buy some for gifts. Can’t afford to buy and prefer to get books from your library? Ask your library to buy the books. Prefer ebooks? Go for it, they count!

I thank you.  North Star thanks you.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman did not have choice or free will and neither do you.

Susan Koefod:

Thought provoking – thinking of my nephew who is presently in treatment, other relatives who struggle daily with addiction.

Originally posted on debbie bayer blog:

Phillip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

Phillip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

In the wake of the tragic loss of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a great artist, partner, father, brother, and son, I offer the following facts about the neurological disease of addiction.

The overwhelming majority of adults in the western world have passed through experimental stages in their lives where they have dabbled with some kind of brain altering addictive substance, i.e., cigarettes, alcohol, prescriptionpain killers, ADHD medication, anti-anxiety medication, and yes, even marijuana (save the ‘it’s not addictive” arguments for later, please).  And the overwhelming majority of these adults will emerge from their experiments unscathed, believing that their free will and good choices are what saved them from becoming addicted.

The problem with this thinking is that it is factually incorrect.  In other words, they are all wrong.

What saved them (you) from becoming addicted is that their brains did not respond in the same way that…

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Guest Post: Susan Koefod

Susan Koefod:

It’s ok to just walk away from your writing. In fact, more than ok!

Originally posted on Mysteristas:

Giving It a Rest

One of the hardest parts about being a writer, at least for me, is not the actual process of getting down to the business of writing. Though of course much can get in the way of writing. For me, those obstacles include a full-time job, children, a husband –- you know –- real life!

I’ve been blessed with a supportive husband who patiently lets me hide out and write when I like. My kids are in their late teens and creating on their own. And my job, well, that continues but I’m thankful I have it.

And I’ve been fortunate enough to never have writer’s block. I can pretty much always come up with something –- flash fiction, poetry, a piece of a novel –- when I set out to do some writing. In fact, I can put out a lot of words. During a two-week…

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