Wine, Perfume, and Possibilities

Author photo by Andrew Amundsen

While Naming the Stars promotion (visits, signings, talks) is only beginning, can you see how relieved this author is  now that the book launch is over? It was well-attended and successful, thanks to the help of my publisher, my wonderful local bookstore, my local newspaper books editor, and my favorite nearby coffee cafe.

Yes, it takes a village to raise an author.

But you do start out in a little remote hut by yourself. That one idea that grew into a full-fledged novel that is now Naming the Stars is the culmination of many other pages and ideas not at all about this book. Random fits and starts litter my big hard drive folder labeled “Prose.” (There’s one for “Poetry” too.) Completed never published novels languish there. A lot of the work in my Prose folder will never see the light of day. But I frequently revisit documents not touched in years – at the moment one of my projects involves harvesting one chapter from an old novel and turning it into a short story.

irisThree to four unfinished novels have not been entirely abandoned. I keep thinking I will get back to them. I may not. Ever.

Two possible sequels to Naming the Stars are not found in the folder yet. I’m excited about an idea for the first sequel — an idea that formed while I was making the final preparations for the launch — preparations that involved a glass or two of white wine, and a spritz of Fragonard Iris perfume.

I’m at the idea stage, remembering what I wrote about while in San Francisco, striving hard to let my inner artist free. I’m rereading that post now, ready to set off on my next writing adventure. Undoubtedly this will require more wine and perfume, more dreaming and, as always, more writing.



Newly Signed Author for Curiosity Quills Press

10538628_704776566242280_14451890461764092_nI am thrilled to announce that I have signed with Curiosity Quills Press, as announced in Publisher’s Marketplace on Monday, September 21.

Susan Koefod’s NAMING THE STARS, in which a teen girl 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 teen boy with a troubled past and secrets he’s determined to keep, to Kathleen Kubasiak at Curiosity Quills Press for publication in Summer 2016 (world).

This was the book I began writing in San Francisco during my McKnight Artists Fellowship year. The idea came to me on the flight there—I’d originally planned to write another novel, and during my first days there, wrote parts of both, but NAMING THE STARS took over my imagination and my speedy fingers.

To now see it on its path to publication is amazing! This next year will be filled with much activity around my debut young adult novel. The team at Curiosity Quills is already proving to be phenomenal, so it’s going to be a great ride!


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.


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.


Big Cheesy Novel, Uncategorized

Making Sense of the Journey

Photo on 2010-05-14 at 14.43It was early on an early June day, the sky a weighty sea of impenetrable blue, when I disappeared without a trace.

The  Year I Disappeared


I began my writing odyssey three weeks ago today. It ends* tonight, and I go back to work tomorrow.

Because I’m a geek (or an obsessed nut job), I kept track of my word/page count:

  • Total words written: 50,098
  • Total pages produced: 252
  • WIP #1 – The Big Cheesy Novel – 34 pages, 6,950 words
  • Brand new WIP #2 – The Year I Disappeared – 218 pages, 43,148 words

Guess which WIP I found more inspiring? I started The Year I Disappeared the first day of my trip. I had hoped to pump out a solid 50 pages on WIP #2, and more than met my goal. I completely stopped writing The Big Cheesy Novel after the first three days.

I brought along three non-fiction books related to The Big Cheesy Novel that I didn’t touch.

I bought six novels (from two fine San Francisco book stores, City Lights and Green Apple Books), read three (Milan Kundera’s Ignorance and Identity and Kjersti A. Skomsvold’s The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am ), and found many connections with WIP #2 which is a story about identity and belonging, themes of Kundera’s and Skomsvold’s novels. I don’t think I would have found any of these novels had I not stepped inside the bookstores and browsed through two wonderful, carefully selected collections.

Does this mean The Big Cheesy Novel is dead? Hardly. I’m very invested in the two main characters and will get back to it. The Year I Disappeared offered me the experimental opportunity I wanted, and I took it.

The majority of the pages were produced during my two weeks in San Francisco. Once I returned home, the volume dropped off quite a bit, which you’d expect. Life began to intervene with its many tasks and obligations, and fun events too, such as a few days at the cabin, dinner with friends, and so on.

What I learned in San Francisco was that the isolation from my “real life” made it possible to get the work done, get most of a first draft of a new novel pumped out (and the rest planned).

*But I think I can carry through with the rest of it at home now. It will be slower going, but it’s now onto the fun part of writing — revising, revisioning, polishing. I want to do some of that before I write the ending, which I think I can clearly see, but is not quite there. Endings bring all the themes together, and themes often arrive by surprise as I write and revise.

I want to make it my best work ever, and that takes a good deal of time for the pages to rest and for me to come back refreshed as well.

Thank you for indulging me, world. It’s been a nice break, though it honestly got a bit lonely out in the country’s second most densely populated city. Nice to be home again.


Top Ten Sounds of Columbus Avenue, North Beach, San Francisco

IMG_033710. Hourly fire truck sirens.

9. Double-decker tour bus guides announcing arrival in North Beach, pointing out Italian restaurants on Columbus

8. Chinese radio station broadcasting at corner newsstand while newsstand owner’s wife does her morning stretches. Guy still owes me a quarter change for the Wednesday newspaper.

7. Loud, late night dance music beats from nightclub across the street.

6. Loud, late night shouts from nightclub guests running up and down the street announcing, “It’s midnight! It’s midnight!”

5. Insistent honking from irritated SF drivers forced to idle through green lights, while drivers ahead of them can’t move because someone is trying to park, take a left turn, or do the kinds of things all drivers occasionally need to do.

4. Bird song limited to wisecracking starlings.

3. Babble of languages from around the globe, foreign tourists and native SF Chinese-Americans, who sound as if they have survived for decades without ever speaking English.

2. Hum of street cleaners every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

1. Crazy old guy with the walker (a very dapper dresser, I should add) yelling “You’re a robot! You’re a robot!” to the world at large.


How to Set the Inner Artist Free

IMG_0337For the past 11 days, I’ve been in San Francisco, staying in a neighborhood that has often inspired writers:  North Beach, the epicenter of the Beat Generation. This writing expedition is funded by the McKnight Artist Fellowship I won earlier this year.

So far, I’m nearly 170 pages and nearly 35,000 words into an entirely new novel based on a glimmer of an idea that came to mind before I left. Every word I’ve written in the novel has been written in the past 11 days, in a hotel room at the Hotel Boheme. It’s the story of a missing girl and a boy named Fish who is hiding from his past. There are bits of magical realism in the story, and that’s about all I will say about the book.

Just a few days before I left, a letter arrived from the McKnight Foundation which included this quote from President John F. Kennedy:

“…if art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him…”

JFK said this in a speech just before the National Endowment for the Arts was established. While McKnight is funded by an independent philanthropic organization, so my generous patron is not subject to the political push-and-pull of  NEA funding, I wondered what it really takes to set the artist free. Don’t get me wrong — the McKnight has changed my artistic life, and I’ve been using the affirmation (?) to push myself to a new level. Still, why do I hold myself back at times?

Today I visited the de Young galleries and took in the Richard Diebenkorn retrospective of his years at Berkley. I was inspired by the following list, which was found among the papers of the painter after his death in 1993. (Spelling and capitalization are as in the original.) I thought they are exactly how I’m trying to drive myself through this period of intensive writing. There were many other things Diebenkorn had to say about his process along the lines of the list.

There are areas in the new novel I’m writing where I’m feeling uncertain. I’m so glad that the McKnight Foundation is giving me faith in myself and my process. At the de Young, I felt I was with fellow artists, all trying to, in Diebenkorn’s words, “tolerate chaos” in the artistic process. In other words, don’t worry too much about making meaning out of everything, making sense. Just practice the art. Get it out there. The rest comes later.


Notes to myself on beginning a painting

1. attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued—except as a stimulus for further moves.

3. Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.

4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

5. Dont “discover” a subject—of any kind.

6. Somehow don’t be bored—but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.

8. Keep thinking about Polyanna.

9. Tolerate chaos.

10. Be careful only in a perverse way.