About Beth Christopher

Hopeful writer who relies on music, nature and serendipity for inspiration, along with obscene amounts of coffee. www.bethchristopher.com

On the Trail with Author Paige Stirling Fox

If you’re new to this blog, my “On the Trail” interviews feature people who follow their dreams and live creative, unique lives. If I had my way, I’d jet around the globe and join these amazing folks on their favorite trails, but for now, cyber hiking will have to do.

Today’s guest is Paige Stirling Fox, a life coach and facilitator of personal growth and spiritual programs and workshops. She believes in the power of circles of women, and has created and led many programs including Women Circling the Earth, a year-long retreat and coaching program, and Breathing Space, circles for women who have survived cancer. In addition to working as an early literacy specialist, Paige is also a reiki master, a certified labyrinth facilitator, and the author of The Flowering House.

Beth: Welcome, Paige! I’m so excited for our hike today. Tell us about this lovely trail you’ve chosen.

Paige: Hi Beth. I’m excited as well for our ‘hike’. This trail is close to home in Whitby, Ontario about an hour east of Toronto. It’s in a conservation area, called Heber Down where I used to do creek study in primary school and now hike regularly with my family. It’s where my children have learned to skip stones, studied beaver dams and whittled sticks with my husband. It’s also where we regularly walked with our black labrador, Pumpkin, shown in the picture, who is now too old for long hikes. So, lots of great memories.

Beth: Congratulations on releasing The Flowering House. Tell us all about it! What prompted you to write this book? And what did it feel like to actually hold the first copy in your hands?

Paige: Thanks Beth. I wrote the initial story of The Flowering House over ten years ago, after I had just gone through a major transformation in my life. In the story, Camilla keeps a perfect facade, but lives with the hidden truth of sealed off rooms and a trashy backyard, until the day she hears a ringing bell behind a closed door. The story is a metaphor for all that we hide away and what happens when we courageously open the door and follow our hearts.

The story was simple and inspiring and I initially thought it was a children’s story, but I was conflicted because it seemed to have so many lessons for adults. My life changed and grew over the past ten years while the story lived in a drawer. About a year and a half ago, my Mom passed away and I had a strong prompting to take this piece of writing out. Then it all became clear – this was my story, but also a story for all women who hear the call to ‘something more’ in their lives. I wrote a guided journal or workbook to accompany the story and decided to publish.

It is a joy to hold it in my hands and now to begin sharing it more widely. There is a deep sense of fulfillment and also an excitement for me about the new connections it is allowing me to form with others.

Beth:  Because the story was simmering in your subconscious all those years, did you find that it just flew out once you set pen to paper? What was the process of writing a book like for you? Were there serendipitous or surprising moments along the way?

Paige: Yes, the initial story did just fly out. I like to think that it was a true creative act in that Spirit/Universe/Muse (whatever you like to call that something larger that we tap into) was guiding the story even before I could see the significance and meaning of the metaphor.

Then the real synchronicity is that I was not equipped ten years ago to write the second part of the book. In that time, I deepened my own spirituality, became a life coach, and began creating and facilitating personal growth programs and retreats for women. These women’s lives then informed the book in ways I cannot even fully acknowledge. So when I took to writing the journal workbook it flowed because I had the knowledge, skill and lived experience. This is where I think we are challenged – to really trust in the right timing of our projects. It makes sense to me now that The Flowering House could not have been written ten years ago as I was not yet who I needed to be to be ready for it.

Another wonderful surprise in the bringing The Flowering House to life was affirming how to have intention guide the creation process. So my main intent for the writing and production of the book was “ease and flow” and that anyone who was to touch the project would add more joy and love to what I had already created. Honestly, the greatest joy for me was finding and working with incredible women who added their skill through the illustrations and editing and publishing of the book. And I know that the reader will feel the energy of the illustrations as a perfect complement to the words.

Beth: The community that comes together over the birth of a book is such a gift, and one I never expected to find when I first started writing. The illustrations by Lena Ralston are stunning. How did you find each other? What was it like working with an illustrator?

The Flowering House - Lena Ralston, Illustrator

The Flowering House – Lena Ralston, Illustrator

Paige: Yes, absolutely. It was an unexpected gift for me too. You think of writing as a solitary endeavor and yet there are incredible groups to support you in the writing process and then it is a group effort to publish.

I found Lena online in a portfolio site for children’s illustrators. There were hundreds of portfolios so again I followed my intuition. When the “R’ page opened, Lena’s illustration was at the top of the page and I just knew she was the one for me. I opened her work and saw that she was a symbolic artist as I am a symbolic writer. Of course, it took a little convincing to bring her to take me on as a client – Lena works with traditional publishing houses of children’s books, and here I was a self-publishing author of a book for women.

I got her to agree to just read the story, and that was all that was needed. Lena tells me that the story resonated with her at a deep level and allowed the artwork to just flow for her. And it was so easy to work together – I gave Lena complete freedom because I loved and trusted her work, and she thrived with this freedom which is not always provided when working with other larger clients. Joy for us both.

Beth: Now that the project is complete, I imagine you’re busy with the business side of writing — marketing, book signings, etc. What do you do to satisfy your creative nature? Is there another book in the pipeline? What’s next on your bucket list?

Paige: Yes, it’s interesting… when you’re done with one book, the next one starts to call to you. I do have a series of books in mind about the power of personal story to guide us through transformative life experiences. It’s not just something I will write, but will plan to facilitate workshops for others to learn about the power of their story. So it’s percolating…

I am, however, trying to stay present to all the opportunity to learn from and grow from this experience of bringing The Flowering House into the world. You are right – there are book launches, marketing, promotion, etc. And so far what I’m recognizing is that because this book resonates for so many women, there are opportunities for me to form and deepen connections with women who are telling me about their life transitions and what they are longing to bring into the world more fully.

To satisfy my creative side, I also do soul collage work, and learned yesterday a little bit about felting, so there are some fun things to keep my hands busy as my mind begins to create.

As for bucket lists, I trust new dreams will be born of this experience. I would love to be a Hay House author in the future, and I enjoy public speaking. And it’s a balance of dreaming new dreams while staying grateful for the present. I love my life and I am doing what I love…my family, being a mom, impactful work, great colleagues and friends, lots of women’s groups, yoga etc. I trust that the next part of my life will unfold just as it’s meant to.

Beth: At a conference I recently attended, super-agent and author Donald Maass said that there’s never been a better time to be a writer, in terms of personally connecting with your audience. While Twitter intimidates the crickets out of me, I know that so many great connections can be made there. You’re active on Twitter (@floweringhouse) and Facebook, and I’m sure you’re already experiencing the joy of meeting people who have connected with your writing. How can readers purchase a copy of The Flowering House?

Paige: Yes, Beth, I agree that there has never been a better time to connect with people who are interested in your writing. I too am just at the baby steps of learning about Twitter, but I’ll get there. Facebook is more natural for me.

Anyone interested in learning more about The Flowering House can visit my website at www.thefloweringhouse.com and link directly to my publisher’s website to purchase the book. It will also soon be available widely through online bookstores such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Beth, thanks for the opportunity to chat with you today.

Beth: Congratulations again on fulfilling a wonderful dream, Paige. You’re truly an inspiration! My copy of your book is en route as we speak, and I can’t wait to read it. Thanks so much for sharing your time, and best of luck!


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Happy Melty Mother’s Day!

Not jewels, not a gourmet dinner at a schwanktastic restaurant, not a year’s supply of lattes — nothing beats home made gifts for Mother’s Day. I morphed into a soupy mess this morning when I opened the goodness from my wild children. I adore this necklace courtesy of my nine-year old son, and will proudly sport it all day.

My seven-year old daughter made this card. If you look closely, you’ll see that she designed the cover for my novel, formerly called “Disappear.” She nailed important details like an old barn surrounded by overgrown grass, and a girl who fades away as she “spirit walks” to another time. Funny thing – both kids are too young to read it, but they know so much about the story. Mainly from me dragging them on random research trips, like to the Crow reservation, silent movies, or my endless quests for dilapidated barns. In her careful, best printing, the inside of the card read: Dear Mom, I like it when you make spaghetti. I hope you get your book published. Love, Sophie.

I’m an emotional mushball on the best of days, but today? Fugettaboudit. I just try to take it all in and savor the innocence and pure, sweet love from the greatest blessings of my life.

Huge schmoopy Mother’s Day wishes to all you magic mamas!

On Fire about Burning Through Pages

Last week I stumbled across these clever posters designed by artist Mike Andereck for the non-profit group Burning Through Pages. They’ve gone viral, and chances are this isn’t the first time you’ve seen them. Immediately smitten, I visited their website and was surprised to learn that Burning Through Pages is based right here in Denver. Their sole purpose is to “inspire a love of reading in today’s youth by recommending, donating, and discussing books.”

Hark! I thought to myself. I’d never heard of such an organization. I read on. “There are no quizzes, just conversations. If you don’t like the book, you can give it back. If you do like the book, there’ll be another one waiting for you, free of charge. The important thing is that an adoration of reading grows. It’s not what you read that’s important to us, it’s that you enjoy whatever it is that keeps you burning through the pages.”

How beyond cool is that?!

If you’re interested in learning more or supporting this unique organization, check them out at http://www.burningthroughpages.org.

For Writers of All Stripes (and Spots)

I just spent the most delightful weekend at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. If you’re into writing, and are on the fence about attending a writing conference, scale that puppy and go! I’ve been to several in the past few years, and I always walk away with my spirits bolstered and feeling more equipped to do my thang.

At the PPWC, authors, editors and agents led workshops on a whole slurry of topics ranging from craft to marketing to the business of getting published. There was even a session on 18th century forensics for historical mystery writers. While the sessions were inspiring and left me wishing I had a larger brain to absorb it all, my favorite moments were interacting with other writers.

A writer’s natural habitat often resembles some form of solitary confinement, so when you turn a bunch of them loose, it can get loud. It’s wonderful to be around others who understand how much joy chasing words around can be, and yet, how BLOODY FREAKING HARD it is to get those words published.

Another thing I love about these conferences is the diversity. You meet the most interesting people. At my table one morning was a soldier who wrote a memoir on his experience in Afghanistan. Sitting next to him, a Viking impersonator who writes 6th century Scandinavian high fantasy. Despite thirty or forty years between them and wildly different manuscripts, they were yipping up a storm. Not about writing, surprisingly, but about how the Viking impersonator likes to drink Guinness from the horn on her Viking hat. But that’s another story.

If you’re a writer in the Denver area, there are some great conferences coming up. Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop runs the STELLAR LitFest June 1 – 16. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold is September 7-9, and the Rocky Mountain chapter of the SCBWI runs their Letters and Lines conference Sept 22-23.

So much I loved about this year’s Pikes Peak conference . . . the workshops, keynote speakers by industry giants such as Donald Maass, and most of all, meeting other writers.

The worst part? Getting fleas. Technically, the fleas didn’t come from the conference. The hotel was very clean and shiny, as were the writers for the most part. The fleas came from the giraffes I fed. And I suppose they weren’t really fleas. But they were crawly little suckers and I’m sure I didn’t have them before the giraffes.

My family trekked to Colorado Springs for the awards banquet, and the next day we visited the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, where you can FEED GIRAFFES! It’s maybe one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. The giraffes are quite tame, and come right up to you with their long black tongues leading the way. With their bizarre combination of elegance, goofiness, and drag queen eyelashes, I’ve decided that along with llamas, I must have giraffes on my Pipe Dream Farm.

I never fathomed I’d go to a writer’s conference and leave with giraffe spit on my hands, but there you have it. That’s why I love writing. You never know what’s going to happen next.

Have you attended a writer’s conference before? What surprised you?

Angry Bird Invasion

This morning, I assumed my usual position on the couch, where I resemble a half woman-half blanket creature with a laptop growing out of her spleen. That’s how I look most mornings as I “work” (Facebook) and drink my coffee whilst trying to psych myself up for a run. I had every intention of running. It was a gorgeous spring morning. The meadowlarks are back, and their show-offy warble is almost a more beautiful sound than coffee brewing.

Anyway, I was typing away on my trusty laptop when I hear the scritchscratchfluttercrash of a bird in our wood stove, a surer sign of spring than tulips or allergy medication. Every spring, lusty starlings get the inexplicable urge to nest in our stove. And every spring we set them free, only to find that ten minutes later, they’re scritchscratchcrashing inside the stove again. This happens several times until they finally wise up, or our neighbor’s cat solves the matter for us.

Because this is an annual occurrence, we have a routine:

  1. Open the patio door — gateway to actual trees, which happen to be much better for nesting.
  2. Close all bedroom doors and blinds in case the bird can’t find the escape hatch. Nothing worse than a frantic starling trying to bash his way out a window.
  3. Lock the dog away. This is the most important step, as in past years we’d assumed our dog couldn’t catch a bird. That was a false assumption.

I opened the door and waited for the starling to fly away.

Nothing happened.

I peeked inside the stove, bracing myself not to scream when a freaked out starling flies into my face.

Empty stove. No bird. I assumed I’d frightened it, and it crawled back up the chimney pipe to hide. I returned to the couch, and more importantly, my coffee. After several minutes, I heard the scritch-scratching again. This time, I tiptoed into the room, and when peeking through the stove glass, I was surprised to see a chickadee there. Chickadees are smarter than starlings. How do I know this? They’ve never flown down our chimney before. And they listen to NPR.

Because I was dealing with a shy chickadee and not a dim-witted starling, I changed my strategy. I followed the three steps listed above, but when as I opened the door to the stove, I snuck back to the other room so as not to intimidate the wee bird with my massive presence.

Pretty soon, my nose hairs began to freeze together because I’d left the patio door open so long and it’s only forty degrees outside. I don’t hear anymore fluttercrash coming from the stove, and hope that the chickadee has flown to freedom. But then a strange noise – sort of a tiny, muffled thumpwhacking came from the kitchen. The kind of noise you might expect to hear if Tinkerbell (or a rogue chickadee) got trapped in the mound of pots and pans piled in the dish rack.

I crept into the kitchen and lifted up the roaster, praying that a pissed off chickadee wouldn’t torpedo out of there and peck out my eye. Again, I was met with nothing but silence.

I go back to the couch. Rinse and repeat. More flappy, weird noises emanate from the kitchen, but when I inspect, there’s no sign of the bird. I still haven’t shut the blasted patio door, and now this tiny creature has not only turned our house into the Yukon, but it has prevented me from working out. Then it occurs to me how beyond pathetic it is to blame a chickadee for not going on my run. I wait ten more minutes, hiding on the couch so the bird can fly away, fly away, fly away home.

When I come back from my run, the house is very quiet, and my eyes dart around for signs of a seriously wigged out bird as I enter each room. It’s a little too Hitchcock for me. With my luck, the kids will come back from school, try to grab a snack from the cupboard and get whapped in the melon by the original cast of Angry Birds. Or we’ll all settle in for a nice relaxing evening, and suddenly there will be carnage! carnage! as our dog makes a disastrous Avian discovery. Yes, I’m being dramatic. The bird probably flew out the open patio door when I wasn’t in the room. But we can’t know for sure.

So Darrick, when you come home, there may or may not be a chickadee in the house. Consider yourself warned.

On the Trail with Cirque du Soleil’s Heather Reilly

We’re on the trail with my lovely friend Heather Reilly, of the Canadian performing sensation, Cirque du Soleil. Before we duck inside the big top, tell us about our hike.

Heather: This trail is from a hike up Idaho Peak in British Columbia. From the summit the view is of the Slocan Valley. I grew up in this area and there is nothing I enjoy more than being in the mountains. Any mountains. On this particular hike, I was with my parents and it was just before moving from BC to Ottawa. The weather is very unpredictable on the mountain and there is often snow well into the summer.  We had a stellar day and the fields were in full bloom.  It was fantastic. I think I was destined to always follow a variety of “trails”… it was the name of my hometown in BC:  Trail.

 Beth: I’ve been to your gorgeous hometown with a different kind of circus, Up with People — which is how you and I met. Tell us about your journey with Cirque du Soleil. How many years did you travel with Cirque before settling into corporate headquarters in Montreal?

Heather: I consider Up with People my “not for profit circus” compared to Cirque du Soleil and when I add the two together, I spent fifteen years touring (seven years on the road with UWP and eight years with Cirque). My first position with Cirque was the Tour Services Director (TSD) for the touring show Quidam in Miami. The TSD is responsible for all of the personnel services on a tour, including overseeing the human resources needs, payroll, other finance services, a school for the children who are either artists or children of artists, IT, and a kitchen facility. On a Cirque tour there are approximately 130 people (55 artists and the rest support staff) and they represent 20+ nationalities. I stayed in the position of TSD and worked with the production of Alegria for the next two years.

In mid-2003, our company announced that a new production would be created and launched in 2005.  I knew that the chance to work on a creation was very rare so applied to be the TSD on the new show.  I got the job and once again switched shows to work on Corteo, which premiered in Montreal in 2005. In the summer of 2006, I was promoted to General Manager (GM) of Corteo. It was a honour to be the GM of the largest touring show Cirque had ever created.

We continued in the US and Canada through the end of 2008 and then, after preparing two other shows to make the leap over the Pacific, I went with Corteo to Japan.  I lived in Japan for 2009 in 3 cities (Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka).  During the summer of 2009, I was asked if I would be interested in moving to Montreal to take on the position of Director of Human Resources for the Touring Shows Division.  It was not an easy decision, leaving the world of touring and group of people who I had been with for more than five years, but it felt like the right step, since these opportunities don’t come often. I agreed and finished with Corteo in December 2009. I’ve been in Montreal since then.

As the HR Director for the touring shows, my team of eleven (technicians, Advisors and Sr. Advisors) support eleven touring productions and approximately 200 staff who are based in Montreal. In total, it’s about 1,500 people.

Beth: An impressive and dizzying career! What are some of your favorite cities and why?

Heather: From my Cirque tours: Boston and Portland OR are two I could easily live in. I like the pace of the cities, lots of things to do during the different seasons, and they aren’t huge like the LA or NYC areas. Denver is a natural “like” for me. I consider it my social home with all the people I know who live there. In Japan, I could move there tomorrow if a position came up. It is an amazing country that fascinated me every day I was there and still does. From the UWP days, I liked the cities that had charm no matter where they were. A strong community, some history, people that were involved, and some natural beauty always helps.

Beth: Cirque has been going strong since the Eighties. With all the different shows, each unique in their own right, the creative well must run deep. How often does a new production launch? When is a show retired? What do the creators draw on for inspiration?  I’d love to get a peek behind the curtain.

Heather: The company began in 1984 with grant money from the federal and provincial governments.  It is true that each show is unique: the costumes, music, themes, staging are all specific to the production. Although there are similarities, one can never say, “I’ve seen one, I’ve seen them all.” We typically launch a new show every two years in the touring world and it’s been around 18 months for the Resident Shows based in Vegas. The timing is based on need and the development we’ve had in markets globally.  Shows have rarely been retired although we have some now that are getting close. Ones that have closed may have been due to economic reasons or a couple that just didn’t fly.  It’s certainly not the plan, though.

Each creator draws their inspiration from their experiences, but the final approval comes from Cirque. The company is a bit of a “dream factory”. The examples I often use are from Corteo:  it has an opening act with women performing aerial acts on giant chandeliers. This vision, from the creator Daniele Finzi Pasca, was from his childhood and the dream to swing on chandeliers. Corteo also has an act with “bouncing beds”. What person hasn’t jumped on a bed in their lifetime?  Now imagine if you put a trampoline where the mattress goes… now that’s bouncing!

Beth: I adored Corteo, but perhaps my wild children should avoid seeing it. They don’t need additional inspiration to bounce on the bed. 😉 I love the “dream factory” image. It reminds me of Erin Morgenstern’s novel, The Night Circus. For me, that book evoked the dream-like mystery and beauty of a Cirque performance. I have a secret hunch the author might have been one of your former cast members. What have you read lately that you’ve loved?

Heather: I guess it’s a good thing Corteo has already had it’s run in Denver 🙂 There are a few books that come to mind as favourites. I went through a phase before heading to Japan where I read a lot of Asian themed stories. Two that I couldn’t put down and have recommended many times are Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Fergusson and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama. Hitching Rides is an account of Fergusson’s adventures in Japan as he travelled from the southern most point to the northernmost point of Japan by hitchhiking. He follows the cherry blossom season as it moves from south to north and has many great adventures along the way. For someone who has been to Japan, they will recognize many cultural traits of the people there and for someone who hasn’t been, it’s still a great adventure. The second book, Thousand Blossoms, is non-fiction. It’s a beautiful story of a set of twin brothers who are separated during WW II and grow up with very different lives.

From the non-Asian category, my recent love is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  My family has always had pets, both cats and dogs, and I couldn’t help but think about a Golden Retriever we had for many years. I simply couldn’t put it down. For me it’s a must read for anyone who has, or had, a dog. It should also come with a kleenex warning.

Beth: What’s something from behind the scenes that would surprise the average Cirque fan?

Heather: One thing that people usually don’t think of is the community behind the scenes. First of all, we have families who travel and with those families come children. The children add a lot to the spirit of the tour. Some of these children are born on the road and others are older. We have school on the tours. Just like a regular school, children attend classes from Grade 1 through high school graduation and complete with the same certification as children who attend school in Quebec. We also provide the meals for everyone each day. Four chefs serve over 300 meals daily trying to meet the palates of the world. It’s a great way for us to try new things… the chefs are awesome!

From a performance point of view, I don’t think people realize that most of the artists do much more than their main “act”. They move props, assist other acts, and can have multiple roles. The changes of costumes mask that people may be the same from one scene to another.

Beth: How fascinating to think of those kids growing up on the road. The travel, the performances, the international food, the adventure . . . now I’m getting itchy feet again!

What do you miss about being on the road? What do you appreciate about your new digs in Montreal?

Heather: Having lived on the road and out of suitcases for fifteen years, the time was right to stop touring. There are two things that come to mind that I miss. The first is the spontaneity of road life. Leaving a site or theatre and deciding with people to go to a restaurant or explore an area right at that moment is special. In my “new” world, things take time to plan: people have different schedules, children, jobs, etc. that need to be managed so the “in the moment” opportunities with other people are fewer.

The second is reaction of the public. It didn’t matter whether it was UWP or Cirque, taking an audience on an adventure for two hours is a privilege. They chose to come see what we do. Their reactions, smiles, excitement, the applause . . .nothing can replace that.

Montreal is a great city. I’m very lucky to have been able to leave the road and stay with a company I know and move to a city that I know and like. I didn’t have a hard time adjusting to the change or at least not as hard as I’d expected. I live in a wonderful house built in 1916 that still has a lot of original charm. No more white corporate apartments or hotels (unless I’m on a trip) for me. I also chose to live in a true neighbourhood where I can walk to everything I need, talk with my neighbours, and enjoy the multicultural city I’m in.

I don’t know if this is where I’ll stay forever, but for now, it’s a very good place to be.

Beth: And it was very good to hear about your exciting life. Thanks so much for sharing, and congratulations on your many accomplishments!

 

Hunger Pangs

Young Adult book editor Jessica Schein said, “There are books we all love, and books we can’t put down, and then there are books that morph into cultural events.” She’s referring, of course, to the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I ADORED the novels, and am completely geeked-out excited about seeing the movie, which in case you haven’t heard, OPENS TODAY!!!!!

Movies almost never live up to my expectations after having loved the book, but there are so many things the Hunger Games film has going for it – a knock-out cast, Suzanne Collins’ involvement in writing the script, and the dedication of director Gary Ross to “give the audience the same experience they had when reading the book.” Check out this brief interview where he talks about making the film, plus some sneak peak footage.

Interview with Hunger Games director Gary Ross

If you’re braving the masses to see it this weekend, may the odds be ever in your favor!

Pipe Dream Farm

I like to daydream. You already know the one about getting my novel published. Another dream of mine is to have a hobby farm where I’d raise llamas, alpacas and goats (oh my!). While it sounds a bit whack-a-doo, I’m totally serious. I come from a long line of cattle ranchers, and while I have no desire to become a bovine baroness, the urge to raise livestock runs deep in my DNA. I’m too tender hearted to slaughter my lovies though, so it couldn’t be cattle. Or pigs or chickens because of the stench.

Much to my wild children’s chagrin, every year I drag them to the llama barn at the 4-H fair so I can feast my eyes on those creatures that look like they’ve walked straight out of a Dr. Suess book. They hum to communicate to each other, and spit or neck wrestle when they’re mad. They’re curious and quirky. Seriously, how can you not love a face like this?

Llamas are known for their wool, but did you know that there are also guard llamas? Llamas can kick a coyote’s keister, and a couple of llama’s together can even put a whooping on a mountain lion. I’d like to raise a few ninja llamas, whose offspring could be sold to protect sheep, or for that matter, anyone who needed a little extra security. Think about it… would you attack someone with a 400 lb llama, who depending on her anger level, could hawk a loogey from all three of her stomachs?

My hobby farm would also have goats. Not only would we never have to mow the lawn again, we’d never have a weed problem because goats are cool like that. Our cloven-footed friends are the best weed whackers to come down the pike since Roundup, and they don’t cause cancer or birth defects. Several counties around here use goats for weed mitigation. Goats prefer weeds over grass. Sic a goat herd on a patch of noxious weeds and they’ll stop that weed from growing again, since their stomach acid destroys the seeds. They’re relentless, and will even climb a cottonwood to get to a patch of leafy spurge. Not only do they eradicate weeds, their hooves aerate the land, and their poop fertilizes. A trifecta of goat goodness!

With my penchant for career choices involving llamas, goats, and writing, it’s probably a good thing I married a dude with an MBA. But a little daydreaming never hurt, right?

What are your pipe dreams?

On the Trail with Author Gennifer Albin

YA author Gennifer Albin’s debut novel CREWEL comes out in October. It’s the first in a trilogy, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Incapable. Awkward. Artless.

That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: she wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen as a Spinster is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to embroider the very fabric of life. But if controlling what people eat, where they live and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and wove a moment at testing, and they’re coming for her—tonight.

Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her Dad’s stupid jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because once you become a Spinster, there’s no turning back.

Beth: That gives me chills! Genn, before we discuss your book, tell us about this photo and our cyber hike.

Genn: It’s in Rocky Mountain National Park, on the East Inlet trail. It’s been a while though! I was just about to get married. By far my favorite trail is one that leads to a waterfall or lake, so most of the trails in RMNP fit the bill.  I was married in nearby Estes Park and my husband and I spent the next day taking in the park.  My parents are Coloradoans at heart and I spent every family vacation on trails in the Rocky Mountains. Looking at this picture, I realize I need to get back!

Beth: What a beautiful place to get married. Some of my best hikes have been in RMNP, too, including the time I almost ran smack into a bull elk.

With Crewel, you had agents knocking down your door. Then you landed a six-figure, three-book deal with publishing giants FSG/Macmillan. What the heck was that process like? How did you keep from leaping out of your skin?

Genn: First of all, I give total credit to my husband for keeping me sane.  I guess you could say he’s my muse and my therapist.

It was very much like a dream. It all started at the tail end of April and we were wrapping up the auction at the beginning of June.  I didn’t sleep a whole lot that month, but when I did there was a moment when I was waking up each morning in which I remembered what was going on.  Then there was a second of panic mingled with excitement.  It was very much like the waking moments of my wedding day or the day after I gave birth to my children.  My whole life was changing and it took a while to adjust.

Beth: I can’t even imagine internalizing those changes. Crewel hits the shelves this October, and it’s going to be a big, freaking deal. Besides working on the other books in the trilogy, how has your daily routine changed now that you’re on this major path to publication? How has it not?

Genn: I will be the first person to admit that life has changed and not changed in all the ways I did NOT expect.  Because I am writing a three book series, we opted to place our children in a wonderful Montessori school, where they actually do something besides paint the bathroom with nail polish while I try to get in a quick writing session.  I expected that I would write more – as in quantity – once I became a fulltime writer, but as life will have it, there are always edits or sick kids or emails or twitter conversations.  I’m learning to be better about scheduling my time, but I definitely find there are more demands on my time.  And the thing about publishing is that things often come up at the last minute.  But really it’s a mixed bag.  One day I will drink five or six cups of coffee and try to beat out a respectable word count at the desk and the next I’ll get an email about a blurb or a new foreign deal and then I bounce around the house, too excited to work.  Most days I just drink a lot of coffee and try to say no to the lure of twitter.

Beth: Oooh! Talk about the foreign deals. I don’t even know what I don’t know about that.

Genn: I’m very fortunate that Foundry, my agency, has excellent reach when it comes to foreign deals, so we only sold North American rights at auction. Foundry has co-agents in a lot of agencies around the world and works with some amazing scouts.  We also recently got an in-house foreign agent who is handling Foundry’s extensive children’s and YA list.

In terms of Crewel and foreign sales, some of the territories sold quickly and others were at auction for much longer.  In my personal experience, the foreign auctions just take a bit longer. It’s really a learning experience. Some territories prefer to buy one book at a time.  Others will offer for the whole series.  I’ve received some amazing marketing plans from some of my foreign publishers when they made offers.  I think the coolest thing of all is that I get copies of all the various foreign editions.  But on the flip side, there are all sorts of tax issues and forms, too.  Thank goodness Foundry guides me through it all.

Beth: Can you tell us which countries, or is it still under wraps? Speaking of under wraps, can you talk about the cover process? Are the authors involved? I love that you have a fan art contest on your blog for a mock cover design. When the official reveal will be?

Genn: We’ve sold Brazil, Great Britain, Germany, Poland, Russia, Spain and Turkey. As far as the cover goes, I’m fairly active with the Apocalypsies, and it seems like everyone has different experiences.  Personally, a few concepts were shown to me in October and I got to voice my thoughts.  In the end the decision was made by the big-wigs, and I think it’s a beautiful cover – and very different.  We should be revealing it any day, but I’m still waiting for the details.

Beth: How amazing will it be to see your book in different languages?! Especially Cyrillic. I hope you post those covers on your blog. Crewel was born during Nanowrimo — the nation-wide “write a novel in one month” program. How was that experience? Had you written a novel before? Tell us what kept you going during what must have been a crazy, intense month. Besides copious amounts of coffee…

Genn: I can’t wait to see them.  I’ve seen the UK cover, and I love it.  It’s interesting that it emphasizes similar elements as the U.S. but is completely different.

Nanowrimo was really about finishing for me.  I’d put pen to paper before and written a few chapters, but I’d never stuck with a book.  Nanowrimo taught me that I needed to just let myself write with abandon for the few hours I could scrape together during the week.  In the past, I’d tried to outline books and gotten bored.  With Nano I knew where I was going to start and where I hoped to wind up.  It taught me a lot, especially to shut up and write.  After Nano I knew I had a mess, but something about rewriting that 50k seemed much less daunting than starting at the beginning.  Basically I gave myself permission to write crap.  I wrote crap.  And then I revised.

Beth: What are some un-put-downable books you’ve read lately?

Genn: I’m really behind on my reading list, but two that I read straight through were The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, and Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer had this amazing creep factor.  It played on stories we’ve seen before but it was so original.  I was glad my husband was asleep next to me, but then I realized it was dark and I needed to pee when I finished it.  That’s a good book – one that makes you scared to tiptoe to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Cinder was just so fresh.  I sort of had it figured out in the first few chapters, but it didn’t matter. I liked the characters and the world. I can’t wait for the sequel Scarlet.

Beth: Lastly, what advice do you have for those of us in the trenches?

Genn: I hear a lot of people saying “don’t give up,” and you shouldn’t.  But I think learning to listen to your instincts is key too.  Perseverance is an admirable trait, but if you are not happy or fulfilled, who cares?  Take a chance. Put yourself first. Allow yourself to dream. And at the end of the day, listen to what your gut tells you. I was working on a manuscript before Crewel. I’d spent a month or two on it, but I was lost. When the inspiration for Crewel sparked, I knew I could persevere with the first idea or I could let it go.  In grad school, I told a friend I was finishing my PhD because I felt it was important to finish, and, bless her, she told me I was crazy.  She was right.  My heart wasn’t there.  It wasn’t what I wanted to do.  Letting go and listening to myself, allowed me to do what I really wanted. Don’t ignore that inner voice.  At the very least, write down what it says and make it a character in your next book.

Beth: I love it! It’s been such a blast getting a glimpse inside your writing life. I’m counting the days until I can feast my eyes on Crewel. Congratulations and thanks again!