What If Everyone Acted As If You Didn’t Exist?

tonerfacewebThat’s the premise of my novel-in-progress, Naming the Stars.

In Naming the Stars, 16-year-old Mary-Louise comes home from swimming lessons one day to find she is absent from family photographs, her bedroom has turned into a linen closet, and all of her possessions have disappeared. More troubling, her family goes on as if she never existed. The only person in town who can actually see her is a boy she calls Fish, a YMCA swimming instructor, but Fish is hiding from a troubled past and the person he sees is entirely different from who she thought she was.

What if everyone acted as if you didn’t exist?

With dreamlike realism and with a dash of cosmology, this coming-of-age story explores the important and often fragile connection between the roles we play in others’ lives—as siblings, children, friends, and partners—and the unique identity we must find in ourselves.

Coming someday soon (I HOPE!) to book places everywhere.

The Great Disconnect

IMG_1359This morning, I head off for one week of solitude at an inn with no television, no cell service, and no in-room telephone. This rare luxury coincides with the last week of my year as a McKnight Artist Fellow, and I’ll use it to revise the novel I wrote late last summer in San Francisco.

I’m grateful for the support of the McKnight Foundation in making this happen, but also to my husband who is going to be soloing at home (though he is also probably going to enjoy the rare luxury of time to devote to one of his hobbies – drumming), the coworkers who will pick up some duties at my full-time job, and to the company that provides me with vacation time, all of which allows me to basically do what the picture at right symbolizes.

My storyteller’s brain sees those bare tree branches stretching skyward and thinks they’re dreaming of buds, blossoms and leaves-the as yet unrealized possibility of spring.

In the north, where this winter is the longest we’ve had in ages, a day like yesterday (70’s, sunny, mild) isn’t taken for granted. It’s best to spend every moment you can outdoors, drinking up the sunshine and the fresh air. As it was Easter Sunday and this involved conversation and a meal with the extended family, it meant that time was spend indoors cooking and gathered round the table, and at a certain age, one is expected to behave like a mature adult and linger at the table, chatting, while the younger ones escape outdoors to play frisbee or flop on the grass.

So I felt a little awkward and guilty when I slipped away, and flopped down on the grass outside, a reasonable distance from the family teens,  who wouldn’t have liked their over 50 auntie/mom-type to bust in on their conversation.  I wouldn’t have minded if some of the older folks joined me out there, but they felt more comfortable inside.

I felt a little out of place, out there on the lawn by myself, but maybe it was that writer’s brain of mine at work-that took the risk of feeling guilty and out of place for the reward of  a few quiet moments to imagine what the bare tree branches might be dreaming about.

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

IMG_1244

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.