Is there life after graduating with an English Degree?

Novelist Susan Koefod '81 speaking to students and faculty in Derham Hall. Photo by Michelle Mullowney.

Novelist Susan Koefod ’81 speaking to students and faculty in Derham Hall. Photo by Michelle Mullowney.

Yes. You can have a career, English grads.  That was the message at a recent event at St. Catherine University. It was an honor to be invited back and be among other accomplished professional women who found career homes in many places.

My thanks to Jill Jepson for the invite and to St. Catherine University for hosting!

 

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.

When Art Resembles Lief

Jeanne Lutz’s commentary about last night’s LIEF reading at SubText: a bookstore (“fifteen of the most eclectic writers out there read their work as part of LIEF Magazine’s debut celebration”) recapped the event so well that I won’t do more than you refer you to it, especially since it included a bonus picture of me wearing the “best glasses ever“. You be the judge of both the glasses and my eclectic piece (included below) – and I thank Jeanne for including my effort and glasses in her review.

This event delivered more than a pleasant reading by St. Paul’s finest poets. In the basement bookstore’s comfy, mismatched arrangement of chairs, the Lief Troupe never got bogged down in heavy-handed seriousness, even though some of the poems were serious, some sad (mine was).

The arrangement of voices played like a fine chamber orchestra, each player’s spirited solo complementing the player before and the one after, as well as the rest of the ensemble. I had a smile on my face the entire time (that is, after I read my piece – see below) and particularly enjoyed the quick humor of the emcee. I’d as lief have every reading go the way of Lief’s, with that same kind of insouciant, light hearted attitude.

The reading reminded me of what I like about writing, and I needed that reminder because there is often so much I hate about writing: it requires hours of work, results most often in rejection/criticism, and success is typically rewarded with little to no payment. The very definition of #insanity.

My best work comes when I work in good humor, off the cuff, with no other intent but to play and enjoy what comes of it. Write happy to be happy. Be as Lief. I’m going to do my best to keep to that. That said, here’s my Lief poem, a bit mournful, bittersweet. I played viola.

Vivian, in her grief

Vivian, in her grief, lost her singing voice so she turned to tuning pianos to make her living — she lived hand to mouth — mouthed the songs sung by beggars — begged for answers to her prayers, for release — released her coil of once-lustrous hair — hair gone pearl gray at her temples, scarcely waving now it was so thin — thinned her window-grown seedlings so the strong could survive and grow — grew whisper thin as the years passed —passed by in the streets unnoticed — noticed how the snow banks sunk into gray shanks of slushy foam — foamed mute with fury when they took her toy poodle to the pound — pounded incoherent on her ex-lover’s door though he’d died so many years before — before, she had inspired everyone — everyone who had loved her now-lost naive luster — lusted no more for her when the loss drove her mad, from his death-bed — bed to bed — to bed every man, though not a one was like him — he had gone off to war and died, taking her song and leaving her grief — in her grief, Vivian turned to tuning pianos to make her living.

How Murder Makes End of Summer Not So Bad

AutumnWhy is it that in the middle of July, autumn seems like the last thing on anyone’s mind? Maybe even grownups want to hold onto that summer vacation feeling as l-o-n-g as possible. Thinking about fall brings back memories of the END of long, leisurely summer days, even for people who don’t necessarily take summer vacations. The possibility is just gone, dead until another cycle of seasons rolls by.  In no time, we all have to wear socks again (GAH), put away the patio furniture, and send our summery selves into hibernation.

That’s why murder, as in fall-release murder mysteries, is so great. To help all of you get past the dreaded end of summer blues, consider marking your calendar now for a couple of fall events where I talk about my murder mysteries and launch a new one into the world.

There’s nothing quite like being able to look forward to a new murder mystery. That is my goal. To brighten your day!

The latest list of  Broken Down events is here!

If you would like me to appear at your bookstore, university, book group or other gathering, please contact me here.

A Reading Group Guide is included in the book.

2012 Broken Down Events

September 18, 7 pm

ROSEVILLE, MN

Barnes & Noble Bookstore
Har Mar
2100 North Snelling Ave
Roseville, MN 55113

Broken Down book signing and discussion. Books will be available for purchase.
Location information

September 27, 7 pm

EDINA, MN

Barnes & Noble Bookstore
Galleria
3225 West 69th
Edina, MN 55435
Broken Down book signing and discussion. Books will be available for purchase.
Location information

October 11, 7 pm

SOUTH ST. PAUL, MN

South St. Paul Library
106 3rd Ave N 
South St. Paul, MN 55075
651-554-3240
Washed Up discussion. Both Broken Down and Washed Up will be available for purchase.

Stay tuned…..more events coming soon!

Tell Me About It: An Author Visits a Book Group

What a wonderful experience to have articulate readers tell me about their experience reading my book.  I’ve attended several book groups now, groups that have been meeting — typically monthly — for years. The one I attended this past week had its genesis 17 years ago. I’m so impressed by the longevity. And the always thoughtful questions they pose, and comments they make.

It’s only a little terrifying. 🙂

A couple of common areas of inquisition tend to come up.

They ask if characters are based on people I know and the truth is – thankfully – they are not. I say thankfully because perhaps I’m a wimp. Memoir (non-fiction) requires bravery I am not capable of. I dwell enough on my flaws, errors and poor judgment. Better off thinking about someone else’s.

The other surprising aspect of facing a roomful of people with questions about my book is that I find myself remarkably inarticulate about some aspects of the book. For example, I am often asked why I didn’t name/make my setting a real place. While the setting is inspired by my hometown in combination with nearby river towns, I didn’t call the town either Inver Grove or Red Wing (the site of the real crimes that set the book in motion).

Instead, I named it Somerset Hills, a name which borrows “Somerset” from a location near where I live now with the “Hills” of Inver Grove place names, like Inver Hills.

One reader came up with a really satisfactory explanation for why the place is fictional and I asked her to write that down and get it out on Goodreads or elsewhere. Can I summarize what she said here? I’ll try. She said that making setting fictional gave me more leeway to do what I needed to do (and believe me, she put it far more eloquently than that).

Others chimed in to say that using a real place would bring in lots of criticism if the details weren’t “just so.”

I’ve stumbled around trying to explain this to Mary Ann Grossmann, the St. Paul Pioneer Press book reviewer.

I guess the real answer has something to do with wanting to make my home territory larger. Dust it off and send it out into the world, giving it a presence that it deserves. I want the reader who picks up the book in a New Zealand library to find the place real enough, but also magical, just like I found the China of Pearl Buck’s novels. The Russian countryside of Tolstoy.

I want the setting to be more than just an address, a geographical description, a point on a map. It’s somewhere out there, a place you visit only in a book, but want to revisit again and again.

I want it to feel like a faraway place that exists only in once upon a time.

I guess that’s the explanation. Hope it makes sense! So thank you to the book groups that have invited me, the hostesses that have warmly invited me to their homes, the readers who have gathered to read and comment on my book. I appreciate you!

Creation and Re/Creation: Writing and Reading a Book

And so my book, today you are launched into the world.

Already you are in the hands of book reviewers across the nation, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, and many points in between. May they read you and have good things to say about you.

The hard cover version of you is taking a short journey to Michigan, then New Jersey, where you will be warehoused and distributed to bookstores, and then put on bookshelves or sent to readers who order  you online.

You have been digitalized and will be available a few days from now for instantaneous electronic distribution, so that people who want to store you on a cyber bookshelf instead of a wooden one can do that.

As an expression of the imagination, writing a book is one type of creative literary experience. Reading is a similar creation, a mindful activity that allows a re-invention (re-creation/recreation) of the author’s vision. Reading is the other half of the creative process. Yes, the reader is your creator too, book, an artist who works alongside your author. Both accomplish feats of literary imagination only humans are capable of. Through the reading of a book, a unique bond is formed between writer and reader, and it all starts with you, book, with the words journeying across your pages.

In your preview form, you enticed Library Journal to read you, who told the world you are a “smashing debut,” that you have “astute observations and gorgeous prose,” that your author  “crafted a suspenseful thriller.” Three other well-known mystery authors read you, and had great things to say, too.

Oh, book. These first readers have told your author that her vision for you was achieved far beyond her expectations. She had hoped to have a book published one day, and that happened. But to hear that it’s you, book, who are making the exact impression she hoped you would, is a dream come true.

How wonderful it is to hear of your noteworthy impact on such important influencers of book buyers. Beyond that, it’s a beautiful feeling to hear an objective, reputable reviewer say that your prose is gorgeous. This phrase has been singing in your author’s head from the moment she heard it, and it inspires her to work hard on her next creations so that they are just as gorgeous, just as astute.

I hand you off, my creation, and send you out into the world, to readers everywhere. I hope as you take your journey through other imaginations, that you provide a pleasant re/creation for an afternoon, a plane ride, or wherever you may find yourself read.

Enjoy the trip.

The Infinite Journey of the Imagination

And so we move to the next phase. A box of books arrived today and we celebrate briefly on the patio.

Briefly.

Because nothing has really culminated, in the sense that there is an end result, even though the physical reality of the book suggests that.

What’s clearer than ever is that writing is all about process. There’s really no ending, no beginning, just a constant continuation, just like reading. One word leads to the next, one paragraph to the next, one page, then another, then chapter after chapter, and even when the revisions end and the book gets to that critical stage of FINALLY turning into a book, nothing is over really. You just follow all the steps to take it to the next stage. And after you reach that stage, you continue to the next.

 

This book has moved out of my imagination and is now in the world. I’ve done my best with it, and while there is a lot more that I can do to make sure it finds all the readers it can, those options and actions are finite, unlike the imagination that led to all of the words and the world in that book.

So come along with me, both on the infinite journey of the imagination, and the finite journey of a few hundred pages in a book. I’ll take you on another journey with the next book too. And the next one after that. And the next.