Hurdling inertia

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI ran track when I was in high school. I did the mile, two-mile and the 440 relay. I was good for going the distance. However, I humbly refused to do hurdles. It’s one thing to put one foot in front of the other over and over again at a reasonable pace. It’s quite another to defy gravity and jump over metal bars topped by a solid piece of wood. (Yes. Almost to the analogy part). I might not have been able to get over those physical hurdles, but I’ve been jumping over metaphorical hurdles one after another.

2011 I finished my first draft ever of a full-length book.
2012 I sent that draft off to a half dozen friends to get feedback.
2013 I had my debut book edited by a professional, purchased cover art and released it into the world.
2014 I had a book signing event in the U.S., was asked to write guest posts on multiple writer’s blogs and started book two.

And then my four-year stint of metaphorical hurdle jumping came to an anti-climactic halt. I may even be stretching it by counting 2014 as a hurdle year, as I had planned to be finished with my first draft of book two by 2014, not still in the beginning phases.

What in the hurdle happened to me?

Perhaps I just need inspiration. They say that if you want to do something, anything, you could go online right now and find thousands of articles telling you exactly how to do it. Probably a number of vimeo or youtube videos would show me step for step how to get back on track with my book, leading me into the framework with the enthusiasm of a bunny following a carrot a boy playing Minecraft.

But my problem is something else entirely: I have been enjoying life. Being in the present. Taking on other writing assignments. Collaborating on exciting projects. Meeting new friends. Using inappropriate punctuation.

I really DO want to get back to novel number two, but I’m wondering if you all might entertain a little idea I came up with all on my own to jumpstart the creative writing process.

I am inviting YOU to give me three elements for a short story along with a genre of your choice. Example: An orphan, a violin and a stranger: Mystery.

Yes. I know there are websites that can automatically generate this kind of stuff for you, but I like the idea of “interacting” with my actual readers and having their input.

Ball’s in your court! (What’s with all the sports metaphors author Kristin Anderson? Geesh!)

The axe, the horn, the reviewer

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I have been writing recently not about my own novel, but about the beautiful writing of author Michael Cunningham, the insightful Crater Lake series by Francis Guenette, great mother’s day presents and environmental organizations in The Hague. Well, sometimes on an author blog you need to mix it up and toot your own horn.

Tooting your own horn can have two meanings in this context. Those who have known me in years past may now have a vision of an alto saxophone in my hands, my lungs expanding as I break into a solo while playing with an indy band. Yes, that used to be my creativity. Sax was my axe.

But in recent years, my passion for music and connecting to others through song has given way to a new form of connection; writing, whether through my author blog, my expat blog or my debut novel Green. The difference between playing a live gig and interacting with the audience and writing a blog post or a book are too numerous to count. But there is one big difference: time.

If you nail a solo, or sing that third part harmony in tune, people respond instantly with clapping, a nod, or a follow-up comment on how much they enjoyed the performance this evening. Sometimes words are not even necessary to convey appreciation or dismay. Body language speaks volumes. With blog posts, people read, but don’t always comment. Those who do comment display a certain daring to enter into the written word–a comment on a post that is now present on the internet, linked to your profile in some manner, a digital footprint of your existence.

Dropping a quick comment of “sweet solo” or “enjoyed the performance tonight,” is a zen moment in time without a history or a future. That is the beauty of music. Recordings, whether CDs or YouTube videos, can be listened to again and again. Books are locked to the page and are usually only read once, twice if you’re extremely lucky. But for all the people who have read my book, many have given me verbal feedback or quick little Facebook comments of “loved it”, “it was awesome,” reminiscent of the friendly compliments a musician might receive; compliments that are in the moment. Oh what an author would give to turn those quick compliments into written reviews. Why? Not for the ego (okay, a little for the ego), but for the fact that reviews beget new readers. And that is what all writers want: people to read their work; the more the better.

And so, when I discovered this review on Amazon.co.uk from a complete stranger, I had to share it with you, and toot my own horn. Luckily, this review doesn’t give my debut novel GREEN the axe. On the contrary; it shows that somewhere in England there is a reader who understands me as a writer of fiction, saw the characters within the novel growing before her eyes, and appreciated the presentation of the eco message in my novel Green. If any of you out there who have read my novel need a little inspiration to write a review, here it is!

Posted June 17, 2014 on Amazon.co.uk. (five stars)

The fact Anderson’s novel is described upfront as a ‘romance’ book is almost a disservice to what is in fact, a novel that transcends the rigid romance genre. ‘Green’ has been written with real literary insight and intelligence.

Our two protagonists are city dweller Ellie Ashburn, who indulges in a consumerist lifestyle, surrounded by friends, while her time is occupied with an ascendant career. Despite this, Ellie still holds traditional values close to her heart which is apparent after a series of unsuccessful relationships with LA men leave her despondent. Ellie is about ready to give up on love altogether until she meets environmental activist Jake Tillerman. And thus the setting for our romantic backdrop is revealed.

Despite the odds, the two fall for one another in the kind of way that would have E.L. James’ temperature rise – however, the relationship between Ellie and Jake provides more than a romantic romp, it is the perfect narrative arc to engage the audience in political diatribes and discussions which bring to the fore eco-concerns about how the way we live impacts on the environment.

It is important to note that the novel never becomes a sermon on Anderson’s part to force environmental issues down the throats of readers, and this is shown through a series of comedic, passionate and frustrating events which take place as the couple grow closer. This is how Anderson really showcases her talent as a writer, she makes both of our heroes likeable, honest, human and never one dimensional. As readers we learn from selective narrative how each character has come to see the world and define it, while examining what it means to compromise and relate to one another within this.

‘Green’ is a multi-faceted novel that is both informative and entertaining!

The inspiration that is Michael Cunningham

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My friend Riette from book club invited me to join her Friday night to see author Michael Cunningham speak at Theater aan het Spui. This American author is most known for his Pulitzer prize-winning book The Hours, published in 1998. I read that book years ago. I was impressed by his writing style, but also remembered longstanding traces of melancholy from the reading experience. Nonetheless, I jumped at the opportunity to attend a Border Kitchen presentation and hear him speak. I picked up a copy of his latest book The Snow Queen, which he would be discussing at the event, two days before the reading.

Photo courtesy Michael Cunningham's website

Photo courtesy Michael Cunningham’s website

Within the first five pages, I was completely drawn in. Not in a Da Vinci Code, page-turning way, but in a poetry turned novel walk-about within the inner workings of people’s minds, hopes, aspirations and connections. His unique descriptions had me looking at the world through foreign eyes that created devastating beauty where I had only seen ugliness. A man snorting cocaine in the morning was somehow transported by grace in Cunningham’s prose; the unspoken bond and understanding between two brothers is dissected and lain forth; not with the precision of a scalpel, but with a poesy of shocking sensualism.

Hearing Michael Cunningham read a passage from his book aloud transformed the beauty of his writing to an oral language of tradition beyond the words themselves.

After unsuccessfully trying a line of questioning about how being a gay man informs Cunningham’s writing, the interviewer finally changed tactics to a more relevant subject; the author’s writing process. As a teacher, Cunningham informed us, he encourages his students to find their own writing process. With that disclaimer, he shared his approach: daily, steadfast writing, without the influence of drugs or alcohol; no checking emails during the writing process, rewriting a sentence or passage again and again until it is right, not always being in collecting mode as a writer. In other words, although he is observant to the world around him, and his characters are informed by others, he also allows himself to go out with friends and interact with the world as Michael Cunningham the person, not as a writer looking for inspiration for his next plot.

He admitted that sometimes he re-writes one sentence a hundred times. A hundred times? He also writes enough content for two books during his writing process and in the end, only uses about half of it. Talk about killing your darlings; that’s a 50% kill rate.

I had more than one  “aha”  moment during the evening, but the following insight was a big one. Cunningham explained a phenomenon that occurs in his writing. When he reaches page 70 or 80 of a new novel, he is sometimes overwhelmed with the conclusion that the novel is not what he set out to write. Thus, he starts another novel, and so on and so forth. But finally, he realized something; novels will never be that rigid thing you pictured in your head, because characters and plots develop on their own, becoming bigger and other than you imagined. Letting go of those preconceived notions and limits lets the book breathe itself into existence. I’m paraphrasing here, and adding my own interpretation of his words. But as an author who has stopped an attempted novel at page sixty on multiple occasions for this very reason, this was a light in the muddle of my writing existence, encouraging me to revisit my abandoned manuscripts and approach them Montessori style: freedom to develop (open my mind!) within a controlled environment (consistent writing schedule unhindered by the sister muses of  Merlot or gin and tonic).

Michael Cunningham

Kristin posing with author Michael Cunningham

By the end of the reading, I was completely jazzed, excited, ready to embark on a new writing project. Encouraged by Pauline, another book club friend of carpe diem persuasion, I posed for a picture with author Michael Cunningham.  After he’d signed my book and disappeared behind the curtain, my friend looked at the iPhone pictures.  Most, including the one of me and Michael, had been taken with a flash, creating a muddled gray light around us. Oh! Woe is me!

Michael looks more like a devil than my new found inspiration, and I look, well, a bit like a poser in need of Weightwatchers membership than an aspiring author. Despite this rather ghastly digital rendition, for me the moment was one of absolute clarity. I am a writer and I will continue to persevere as a writer, and I am inspired by this wonderful man,  Michael Cunningham the person and the author.