Writing fields lie fallow – Where will this lead?

When I sent my manuscript off to find an agent, I looked forward to taking a breather from the intense writing regimen I’d maintained for the last several years. In the past, each time I finished a book project, I knew what I’d write next. This time I didn’t.

Who knew taking a break could be so hard?
Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

Memoir, fiction, children’s books, essays. All have popped into my mind. None of them ignite passion. I know myself well enough; if passion isn’t there, it won’t be long before I lose interest. Perhaps I’m not meant to write another book? The idea alternately exhilarates and frightens me.

Knowing I’m happier with a project, I signed up for two art courses so I’d have a creative outlet during this break. By stretching my mind in new ways, I anticipated I’d fill the time and achieve the sense of fulfillment I experience through writing.

Yet, the sense of calm I sought didn’t come. My reminders to myself to be patient; my self-assurances that my purpose would present itself; my intent to relax and enjoy this unscheduled time worked only intermittently.

When my husband asked me recently how it felt to not write after spending the past many years doing mostly that, I blurted out the truth: “I feel lost. Completely lost.”

Lying Fallow – Time to Rejuvenate

When I connected this past week with Shirley Showalter, a wise woman who also grew up on a farm, she likened my current state to ‘lying fallow.” Lying fallow is the agricultural practice of letting the ground rest for a season or more by not planting it to a new crop.

Lying fallow is a metaphor I understand. It’s one that makes sense. By allowing time for rest and space for energy to regenerate, many new things are possible – in the land and in myself. Thinking about this time in a new way helped.

I recognize this time of lying fallow for what it is and what it isn’t. This time IS an opportunity to take a break, to try new things, to spend more time with my son and granddaughters, without the pressure of a writing deadline. It ISN’T a guaranteed next book idea; it isn’t productivity in the same way I’ve been accustomed to; it isn’t even a defined period.

Returning to writing

What seems clear after three months is that I miss writing. By stepping away from writing entirely, I let go of a tool that’s helped me through tough times in the past. I may not have a big project to work on, but even small writing projects can be useful. Writing this blog post helped clarify where I am, reassuring me with a sense of the familiar.

Whether it’s journaling or returning to more regular blogging or through essays, I’m going to capitalize on the comfort zone of writing often enough to let the writing help me think through this time of lying fallow.

For this season of lying fallow to work, I have to be patient. To curb my expectations. To rest. So here I am, doing my best to let this time be what it is, not to force it, to accept whatever happens.

Have you experienced a season of lying fallow? Or by other names, a sabbatical, a break, a breather? How has it been productive for you? I’d like to hear your experience as well as any advice you’d offer me.

Taking writing on the road

Writing can be a solitary business. When I’m working on a writing project, as I am now with my novel in progress, I get to my keyboard each day by 9 a.m. and do my best to stay on task until noon. I dive headlong and alone into my story – forgoing phone calls, emails, social media and texts. For the past couple of months, I even set aside blogging. (Did you notice?)

I was urged out of my writing isolation by an invitation from Janet Givens who offered her home on Chincoteague Island, VA, as a retreat space for writers she’s come to know via social media. Since my writing friend Mary Gottschalk and I love a good road trip; we love talking writing; and we love the inspiration that inevitably results from our time together, we loaded the car and headed out.

Friends & writers - Mary, Shirley & Carol

Friends & writers – Mary, Shirley & Carol

We looked forward to joining the authors on Chincoteague Island, but the journey to get there was an equally important part of our experience. In Harrisonburg VA, we spent a night with Shirley Showalter, author, friend, dairy farmer’s daughter, and co-founder with me of I Grew Up Country. The beauty of the Shenandoah Valley grew more vibrant in color and meaning as Shirley and her husband Stuart shared their Mennonite and family history. Thoughtful conversations about next stages in writing and life made it difficult to move on.

Natural beauty deep in the earth.

Natural beauty deep in the earth.

After a morning at Luray Caverns and an afternoon in the Shenandoah National Park, we were welcomed to Charlottesville, VA, by Joan Rough and her husband Bill and their dogs – Max and Sam. In between tours of Monticello and the University of Virginia, we tucked conversations on Joan’s upcoming memoir, Bill’s playwriting, and art in general since Joan’s creative talent manifests in many directions.

Making avatars into real people. Mary, Carol & Joan.

Making avatars into real people. Mary, Carol & Joan.

Monticello in spring

Monticello in spring

 

 

 

Finally on Chincoteague, we joined Janet, poet Merril Smith, memoirist Marian Beaman and author/nurturer of women’s voices Susan Weidener. Loosely structured, the retreat became whatever each of the authors wanted. Blogs. Poetry. Editing. Essays. Marketing. Technology. Who knows what will result when a group of creative minds come together? Friendship. Sharing. Support. Inspiration. Synergy, for sure.

Synergy: the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.

Every day of the trip brought new thoughts, new inspiration, new friendships and richer understanding of renewed friendships. I hope you’ll take a moment to look into each of the women from this writing journey. You won’t be disappointed.

Cooking together deepens the writing experience.

Cooking together deepens the writing experience.

Even though writing can be solitary, I’ve never felt alone. The synergy of weeks like this are one reason why. As I return to working on my novel, I’ll do it with renewed enthusiasm and insights ignited by this trip.

 

One bit of Synergy: Our discussions of social media techniques led me to make a couple of changes. I added a box you can click to notify you of responses to comments you make. And, I moved the share buttons to the handy position below. If you find these posts interesting or helpful, please share with your friends.

It’s “I Grew Up Country Day” – How will you celebrate?

We expect you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Hopefully with enough restraint to leave room to celebrate a far newer day.

What country stories could you tell?

Have country roots? Let’s celebrate.

Since Iowa Governor Branstad signed a Proclamation declaring March 18, 2015, “I Grew Up Country Day,” 50+ folks have joined our Facebook page where we encourage, collect and celebrate stories of growing up country. If you have a story to tell or would like to hear from other country folks, please join us.

We don’t have enough folks all in one place this year to stage a parade – maybe next year. Which doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate. My fellow country girl memoirist Shirley Showalter and I offer a few suggestions:

1. Do something you did growing up country:

  • Bake cookies or bread,
  • Invite a neighbor over for coffee,
  • Take a walk in the Back 40 or a nearby park,
  • Visit someone in the hospital.
  • Spring is almost here so get out in the yard or garden – reconnect with the land.

2. Pull out the old photo albums, trigger some memories, and share them with someone – a family member, friend, neighbor.

3. Jot down a memory or two about your country life.

4. Join us at I Grew Up Country, our new Facebook page, and share those memories with others who have country roots.

5. Take a walk down Main St. in a small town. Enjoy the fact that you can smile and say ‘Hi’ to everyone you meet and not feel in the least strange.

6. If you have older relatives – parents, aunts, uncles, cousins – who grew up country, ask them to tell you a story.

Shirley's sugar cookies - appropriate for St. Patrick's Day and I Grew Up Country Day.

Shirley’s sugar cookies – appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day and I Grew Up Country Day.

7. Spread the word about I Grew Up Country. Here are a few ways we’re doing that.

I will spend much of today caring for a friend who recently had surgery. Shirley is baking cookies to share with neighbors, using the sugar cookie (“cakes”) recipe in her book.

Please do celebrate I Grew Up Country Day and tell us what you did. We’re eager to hear.

I Grew Up Country – New initiative encourages storytelling

On Monday, March 9, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a Proclamation declaring March 18, 2015, “I Grew Up Country Day” – in Iowa and wherever food is produced.

Governor Branstad lent his support to "I Grew Up Country"

Governor Branstad lent his support to “I Grew Up Country”

Haven’t heard of “I Grew Up Country”? Let alone a day to celebrate it? Not surprising. The day and the concept are brand new, the brainchild of fellow author Shirley Hershey Showalter and myself.

Last fall, Shirley and I shared the podium for a reading from our memoirs at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City.  Afterwards, over a latte, we discussed the fact that every time we shared our own stories about growing up on farms in the 1950s, people were eager to step up and tell us their stories.

Prairie Lights Bookstore - where "I Grew Up Country" began.

Prairie Lights Bookstore – where “I Grew Up Country” began.

Readers of my memoir Growing Up Country told me the stories made them think of their own growing up years; they also told me reading these simple stories made their own lives and their memories more important somehow. Shirley heard from people who read her memoir Blush and remembered butchering day, baling hay, milking cows, swimming in farm ponds, and downing food from tables loaded with fresh produce, meats, and homemade desserts.

We agreed we needed a place for all these people to find each other, to share their stories, to take pride in their collective appreciation for the country way of life.

The seed of an idea began to germinate. Over the weeks it took root, and this month, Shirley and I are kicking off “I Grew Up Country,” an initiative to encourage, collect, and celebrate stories of growing up country.

Here’s how we’re spreading the news:

We’d like to hear from you.

Our collaborator Millie had a great idea. She encourages any one who grew up country, to tell us how you’d complete the sentence:

“I know I Grew Up Country because …”

She even suggested a few answers, which brought smiles of recognition from Shirley and me. Here’s Millie’s contribution to start us off.

“You know you grew up country: If you bring home more stuff from the dump than you went with … Or you know you grew up country if you can sew on a button or hem a skirt … Or, You know you grew up country if you have ever stood barefoot in a garden eating a sun-ripened tomato — the juice dripping down your arm and off your elbow.”

Leave a message here and click on over to Facebook to meet other country folks and share your stories there. And, please, spread this news to anyone you know who grew up country.

The big questions: Memoir or fiction? Is the Past ever Past?

Life is full of so many questions. What’s for dinner? White wine or red? Is it time to turn on the furnace?

The writing life is no different. Three events coming up in the next several days let me join other authors in discussing some of the big questions writers face. I expect those discussions to both fun and challenging. Equally fun is that you can join in on some of those discussions even if you’re not in Iowa.

The Big Decision – Memoir or Fiction? – On Thursday, October 15, at 6:00 p.m. CDT, my long-time writing buddy author Mary Gottschalk and I are the featured guests in a free teleseminar hosted by the National Association of Memoir Writers. If you’re interested in exploring The Big Decision with us, there’s still time to sign up. Click here.

Celebrate Writing PosterCelebrate Writing at MPL On Saturday, October 18, at the Marion Public Library in Marion, Iowa, I’ll join other fiction writers in a panel discussion on “The Art of Fiction.” Other panels will explore the Perks & Perils of Self-Publishing, Writing Memoirs, and Selling Your Book: Marketing. After lunch, Mary and I will reprise the Fiction or Memoir discussion in a small group workshop. If you’re in the area, seats are still available for the morning panels and a noontime Lunch with the Authors. The afternoon workshop is already wait-listed. For event details, click here.

Live from Prairie LightsIs the Past Ever Past? – On Sunday, October 19, from 2-3 p.m., I’ll be in Iowa City for a book talk and reading at Iowa’s iconic indie bookstore – Prairie Lights. Reading at Prairie Lights is an honor in itself, but this event is even more special because I’ll be joined by author Shirley Showalter, author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets A Glittering World. Shirley and I have more than a little in common even though we grew up 1,000 miles apart. Just one tidbit: we’re both dairy farmers’ daughters who grew up to be authors. We’ve only met online, so it will be great fun to meet in person and share the podium.

Since our three books are all set in the past, Shirley recalled William Faulkner’s quote “The Past Isn’t Dead. It isn’t Even Past,” which we adapted for our talk title. If you’re in the area, join us. If you can’t be there in person but you’d still like to hear what we talk about, you can tune in as Prairie Lights streams readings live.

These events offer a unique ability for in person or live interaction over the airwaves. I hope you’ll join in for one or more.

Since I’m still preparing for these presentations, I’d appreciate your thoughts. What do you consider the major factors in whether to to write about a topic as memoir or fiction? What comes into play for you in considering fiction “art”? How do you react to Faulkner’s quote? Is the past dead? If not, why not? How can it be that the past isn’t even past?

Tips for being in two places at once

The magic of a modern-day book launch.

file0001820510540I’m not in the habit of defying the time/space continuum, but this month I’ll be giving it my best shot. July is the official launch of my World War One-era novel Go Away Home, and the month is packed.

My first event is a library book talk today. The week of July 8, I return to eastern Iowa where I grew up for three events. At the same time, I’ll be zipping through cyberspace making the first four stops on a virtual book tour. The rest of the month repeats the challenge with more blog stops and more in-person events each week. July’s last event (at least that I know about right now) is July 25.

Maybe the best I can hope for is not to meet myself coming and going. I’ve taken these steps to ensure a smooth launch:

  • Written four versions of a presentation that focuses on Writing History. It’s a challenge to anticipate what audiences will want to hear, but my journey from memoir to fiction with an emphasis on the historical commonality seems a good place to start. With four outlines in hand, I can adapt on the go as the presentation evolves based on audience questions.
  • Wrote a multitude of guest posts. Invitations by author/bloggers Shirley Showalter, Annamaria Bazzi, David Lawlor, P.C. Zick (July 9),and Christoph Fischer (Aug 4) to visit their blogs have helped me prepare for interviews, focus my thinking and get the word out. I’m grateful to them for hosting me.
  • Product in place. My eastern Iowa events are in towns without bookstores. Since I know from my memoir experience that people want a local place to buy the book, I’ve arranged with two pharmacies, the county historical society and a library to stock copies.
  • Media outreach. I’ve returned to my public relations roots to prepare media materials and made them available on my website. I’ve targeted pitches to key media for interviews. I’ve made sure local media in the geography surrounding my events have news releases and images well in advance.
  • E-mail marketing. On the theory that people who know me will be most interested in hearing about Go Away Home, I’ve sent a series of targeted e-mails to everyone on my list. The response has been encouraging and sends me forward on a wave of good feelings.

Modern technology is a wonderful thing. Without the Internet, wi-fi, and cell phones, this would not be possible. Time will tell how my body reacts to being in two places at the same time.

No doubt, I’ll arrive at the end of the July exhausted. During the month, I know I’ll have reconnected with old friends, met many new friends, and had a lot of fun.

I think I’m prepared. I hope so. But are there other things I should be doing? If you think of something, let me know. It’s not too late. After all, if I can be in two places, surely three can’t be that difficult 😉

How did transportation open up your world?

As a farm kid, getting my driver’s license was a huge step. Without it, the bus to and from school was my only option. With a license, I could participate in cheer leading, sports, choir, speech contests, and a multitude of other activities. A license was my ticket to the outside world.

Janet Givens

Janet Givens

Since she lived on the Kazakh Steppe, Janet Givens has been exploring cultural differences and how they are bridged. She’s invited me to her blog to talk about how transportation plays into bridging those gaps as they did for me growing up on the farm and for Liddie, the main character in my upcoming novel Go Away Home.

Transportation: The path between worlds: Carol Bodensteiner

Posted by Janet Givens on May 21, 2014, in Crossing Boundaries, Life, Travel

I’m pleased to have Carol Bodensteiner join us this month. But in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that for nearly the first year I was active in social media, I got Carol confused with Shirley Showalter. They both wrote memoirs of growing up on a farm, both had blond profile pictures, and both were from somewhere west of me. But I’d read Carol’s memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl early on, so when Shirley announced the launch of her book, Blush, earlier this year, and I realized she’d grown up in Lancaster, PA, I figured it out. 
I came to see these two remarkable women for what they truly are: twins separated at birth … (Read more)

How has transportation figured into expanding your world? Or restricting it? We invite you to join the discussion – here and on Janet’s blog.

Transportation – The path between worlds: Carol Bodensteiner – See more at: http://janetgivens.com/transportation-the-path-between-worlds-carol-bodensteiner/#sthash.pVZLCbLP.dpuf