Everyday Adventures: New Writing Endeavors in 2017

Happy New Year! I hope you all had lovely breaks for the Holidays, and are looking forward to 2017.

I am embarking on two new writing endeavors for 2017. The first is teaching a Creative Writing class to seniors this semester. I can’t wait to work with this group of students. I have been told they are fun, talented and amazing, and I am honored to be able to work with them! I am quite sure I will learn as much from them as I hope they learn from me.

My second writing endeavor will be attending my first-ever writing conference this winter. As an introvert, I sometimes default to working on my writing at my little desk in my little room, and have a hard time reaching out to the wider community. I treasure my membership in MN-NICE, the Minnesota chapter of ACFW, but this conference will be my first venture beyond MN-NICE. Many thanks to the encouraging, kind, and supportive members of MN-NICE who have given me the courage to take this next step.

“The best advice I can give on this is, once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before. If there are things you aren’t satisfied with as a reader, go in and fix them as a writer: that’s revision.”                                   Neil Gaiman

In preparation for the conference, I will be reading and revising my first fifty pages, as well as working on an updated query letter. The check for the conference is in the mail, the date is on my calendar, and my work is cut out for me. I will keep you posted on my progress!

What new endeavors are you embarking on in 2017? Is there a way I can support you?

Thank you for reading, and blessings to you in 2017.








No Luck , Still Stuck


This was one of my kiddos’ favorite board books when they were little. By Phyllis Root, with silly illustrations by Jane Chapman, it is about a series of animals who try to help an unlucky duck get out of the muck. Each attempt is followed by the refrain, “No luck, still stuck.”

This refrain is fitting for my manuscript, lately. Having heard back from an agency that Amber in the Mountains is not a good fit, I feel a bit like Duck, who keeps turning to different animals for help. Thankfully, like Duck, I am surrounded by encouraging family and friends and a wonderful writers’ group.

I’ll keep writing, revising and querying and hopefully, with enough pushing, pulling and prodding, I will hear the lovely sound of “Spluck” and Amber in the Mountains will be released from the muck sooner or later. Until then, thanks for all your encouragement and support!


Everyday Adventures with Erin: Outlines and Tacos

frost-1191931__340So, my project for this snowy winter morning in Minnesota is to condense my entire novel into a one-page outline. As a writing teacher, I cavalierly assign outlines and never think about them much. . . but having a one-page limit makes outlining quite a challenge. I will bring my new-found empathy for my students into the next outline I assign.

After nearly three hours of writing, cutting, adding, playing with formats, and cutting sotacos-1613795__340me more, I am at one and a quarter pages. However, my time is running out. We are having guests for dinner and I need to start  cooking. We are having a build-your-own taco bar, but it won’t happen if I don’t get going!

Do you ever shut down your computer and hope inspiration or clarity will hit you the next time you turn it on? In the meantime, here’s to taco meat–a finite task I can accomplish in a set amount of time. Maybe as I chop veggies, I will be able to think of things to chop out of my outline, too.





Everyday Adventures with Erin: Writing Again!

Hello Out There!

For those of you who are wondering whether I have fallen off the writing bandwagon, I am happy to report, despite not signing up for NaNoWriMo this year, I am industriously writing this month.

My WIP (work in progress) is at nearly 50,000 words. As much as I wanted to get to 50K today, I am excited because a sticky plot point I kept wondering about suddenly became clear! Also, I feel good about continuing some research that I began last spring, on the Crow and Blackfeet Native American tribes.

On another fun note, while scouring the Internet for just the right use of a star sapphire, I realized I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I would have to make it up myself. I guess that is why we write–to have opportunities to use our imaginations.

But, the best thing about writing today was my youngest, while hanging out in my room for moral support, said, “Mom, it’s like when you were dating Daddy and he always said ‘if’ you get married, but you said ‘when’ you get married. You say ‘if’ you get published, but I say ‘when’ you get published.”

Awww. . . isn’t she sweet?

(Everyday) Adventures with Erin: Reliving My Youth

As exciting and dramatic as it sounds, this week, reliving my youth is tooth-366335__340 anything but. At the ripe old age of (fill in the blank with any age older than nineteen), I have just had braces applied to my teeth–for the third time!

After surviving the discomfort of getting braces while suffering from a cold (it is hard to breathe when you are mostly upside down and have a plastic guard in your mouth), I had to go home and eat soup. I had forgotten how tender my teeth would be with the braces on. In fact, a week later, I am still not able to bite through a sandwich or an English muffin. I received a very helpful checklist from the dentist, detailing what foods I can and can’t eat.I was slightly offended that the list was in cartoon form, but I guess I am not really their target audience. While I am past the stage of enjoying Starburst and licorice, I was dismayed to see pizza crust on the list. And popcorn and nuts? With sadness, I brought my high-protein almond packs and bags of microwave popcorn home from school this week, having resigned myself to living on soup and yogurt at lunch time.

To make matters worse, I also have occasional facial blemishes (commonly known as zits) and silver, wiry hair popping up on the top of my head. Is it any wonder I am confused half the time? My body can clearly not decide what age it actually is. Thankfully, Madeleine L’Engle (I know–I quote her all the time, but she is my favorite author), says:

I amadeleinem still every age that I have ever been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be. Because I was once a rebellious student, there is, and always will be in me the student crying out for reform. . . Far too many people misunderstand what putting away childish things means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old, or a thirteen-year-old, or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. . . if I can retain a child’s awareness and joy and be fifty-one, then I will learn what it really means to be grownup. (L’Engle 199-200).

Although I am considerably younger than fifty-one, now is as good a time as any to practice thankfulness, which will hopefully lead to joy. After all, braces are definitely a first-world problem.

In the meantime, I think I’ll start taking notes on what it feels like to get braces. Maybe I’ll even get brave enough for aqua bands, like the girl in the picture. Who knows? Perhaps a middle-grade protagonist is in my future.


L’Engle, Madeleine. A Circle of Quiet. HarperCollins Publishers. 1972.




Adventures with Erin: RenFest


For those of you who haven’t realized, I am also a contributor on www.Landsuncharted.com. Recently, I wrote about visiting our local Renaissance Festival (for the 17th year in a row, I think)! You can check out my post on Renaissance Festival here, if you aren’t already following us at Lands Uncharted. I love the adventure of living in a fantasy world for a day. This adventure is even more fun now that my children are old enough to join in (although my son does keep trying to convince his dad to buy a giant sword).

Do you have a Renaissance Festival or Fair near you? What do you like best about attending?

Adventures with Erin: The Kenneth Stories


Recently, I was teaching my students about personal narrative and telling them one of my earliest memories involved climbing a “mountain” with my imaginary friend, Kenneth. I was four, and we lived in Washington State. On sunny days we could see Mount Rainier from our windows, so mountain-climbing was a normal pastime for us. All I needed was my clear, plastic, Winnie-the-Pooh galoshes and a rain jacket, and I was ready for adventure. We’d go out to the log pile and hike up and down it, pretending to reach the summit. Kenneth and I did everything together. He began his life as a darling doll in a pink dress, but after I washed his hair several times in the bathtub, he ended up with a blonde dredlock sticking straight out of his head. My dad wasn’t comfortable with Kenneth in his dresses, so my grandma sewed him blue pants and a red shirt. However, Kenneth the doll wasn’t always allowed to play outside or go to the grocery store with me, so he quickly became imaginary.

Fast-forward a few decades (nearly four). As I was speaking to my students, I realized there is probably a connection between my vivid memories of Kenneth, who had his own personality and actions, and writing my story characters. Years ago, long before I started writing fiction, I read Madeleine L’Engle’s book, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. The part of L’Engle’s book that puzzled me the most was when she was talking about story characters having a will of their own. She says, “It was an exciting plot and I thought I had the story pretty well under control. I had long and carefully worked out what was going to happen to Adam and the other characters” (209). As a teacher who had been teaching plot chart for years, this made sense to me. But L’Engle’s words that follow made me pause. She continues, “Then something unexpected happened. Adam had gone nearly three nights without sleep. . . he woke up and there, sitting in a chair and looking at him was a young man named Joshua. Adam was very surprised to see Joshua. Madeleine was even more surprised to see Joshua” (209). Following the story was a bit of a foreign concept to me, until I started writing fiction myself.

L’Engle says, “I had a choice at that moment. I could ignore Joshua, refuse to allow him into my story. Or I could have faith in the creative process and listen to Joshua” (209). I vividly remember listening to Kenneth, my four-year-old best friend, as we climbed the mountain. When a log rolled out from under me and I fell, knocking out my two front teeth and hitting the back of my head on the stone porch, Kenneth was there. He was there as I rode my red tricycle around my driveway, carting a glass jar of spiders behind me. He was there when I got in trouble and was sent to my room. Being comfortable with an imaginary friend as a child has perhaps made me more comfortable with characters who don’t always act in the way I expect.

For a while, while working on Amber in the Mountains I was worried about naming a character after my grandfather, because I really couldn’t tell whether the character would turn out to be “good” or not. It took an act of faith and surrender to follow the story and see how he would turn out, instead of forcing him into a tidy plot chart.

Have any of you had to deal with unexpected or unruly characters in your writing? How did they turn out?



Adventures with Erin: Small Spaces

Recently, my husband and I moved rooms in our house from a relatively normal-sized bedroom to the 8 x 10 room that used to be the study/office. The small room is adorable–once upon a time, a long time ago, it was even the nursery–but it has meant rethinking how we organize and how much “stuff” we really need. As Americans, it often feels so strange to us to choose the smaller size–of anything. How many of us, if offered a free upgrade at the coffee shop, will opt for the larger size–even if we don’t need the calories and aren’t really that thirsty?

Moving recently has helped me remember that my American perspective isn’t the perspective of much of the rest of the world. Living in Odessa for three weeks and in St. Petersburg for a summer made me realize the sheer size of homes in the States. While Russian trains and cathedrals are immense, Russian homes are not. In St. Petersburg, we shared an apartment with a mother and daughter who both had the equivalent of Master’s degrees. Their apartment consisted primarily of a multi-purpose room where the living room couches were really day beds. At night, the living room became the bedroom. There was a very small kitchen and an even smaller bathroom. The dinner table was against the wall across from the day beds. The apartment was sunny and bright, with a multitude of oranges and reds, but if you needed privacy, you went for a walk.

Moving recently has also helped me remember living in my first college dorm room. How many of you can relate? With only a few feet between twin beds, little desks, little closets and often communal bathrooms, tiny space living is very important. I remember our next-door neighbors cramming eight or more people into a children’s wading pool they placed in between the beds in their dorm room. We all put swimsuits on and had a prayer meeting in the pool (filled with water by placing disinfected trash bins under the shower and hauling them down the hall and into their dorm room). Tiny spaces take creativity, but they can be a lot of fun!

I am so thankful for IKEA and HGTV’s Tiny House Househunters show. Lately, they have both given us inspiration that living in small spaces can be enjoyable and worth a few sacrifices. (Plus you can’t beat the Swedish meatballs for lunch!)

Are you embarking on a tiny living adventure? Maybe you are heading overseas or you are off to college in a few days. As you look around and wonder how, exactly, you are going to manage to survive in this new space, keep in mind people are more important than things, embrace the challenge (and, at risk of sounding like a commercial, maybe plan a trip to IKEA)!

Adventures with Erin: Hiking Cathedral Spires

This was a great week to spend in the Black Hills with family. Since Mica in the Wilderness, my Work in Progress (WIP) is at 40,000 words (about half-way completed) and takes place mostly in the Black Hills, I am going home with lots of fresh inspiration. I had forgotten how hard running at over 5,000 feet elevation really is, let alone how steep the hills are! At one point, we were running up a gravel trail at 24% grade!

I also had forgotten how magical the rock formations are. Driving a short ways on Needles Highway to get to the Cathedral Spires trail head didn’t make me instantly hyperventilate this year, but it did take my breath away to look over the cliffs and see vast expanses of hills and hawks circling below us.

I confess, I didn’t get out of the car at some of the overlooks. I am glad I was surrounded by much braver family members, who can serve as examples for Helen!


However, I did enjoy climbing the Cathedral Spires trail. Seeing the Spires from the back gave me a unique, new perspective that I am storing up in my mind. Since I am much more a pantster than a plotter, (I write by the seat of my pants, instead of developing a plot chart first–which probably surprises those of you who know me, since I tend to be overly organized in the rest of my life!) I am excited to see how these new images will show up in my book.

What adventures have you had this summer? Are you ever inspired to write about them?



Adventures with Erin: Grandpa’s Mountain

Last week, I received a great question from Monica about the banner photo on this site, and I thought I would tell you a little more about “Grandpa’s Mountain.”

This peak is in the Black Hills, outside of Custer, and is where my grandfather’s ashes are scattered. Last year, my kiddos were old enough to make the trek and I decided to tag along.

Climbing in the Hills is steep and rocky, and makes me nervous. The boulders are smooth and grey and slippery, with silver specks that glint in the sunlight. The valleys in between them are full of rust-brown pine needles and grey and pink pebbles, which can cause you to lose your footing as well. I am most comfortable hiking if there are pine trees I can hang onto. The pines are tenacious but pliable, and their roots provide a welcome anchor to steady me when I slip.

My husband and two older children climbed confidently ahead of me, but my youngest daughter and I made our way up more carefully, holding hands, with me holding onto trees with my other hand. We had to switch hands often, as trees were available, but I tried to lead the way and keep branches out of her face.

I was so surprised to be able to climb so far up the rock. In previous years, I would have stayed home and had coffee with my grandma, but last summer was the first time we visited the Hills since she passed away, so I joined my family in most of their activities, instead.

My youngest daughter is a trouper, and, like my other children, I am convinced she is part mountain goat. We climbed and climbed until I made the mistake of looking down. My head instantly started to spin, and I decided we better sit down and take a breather. I rested my back on the warm, firm rock face until my head stopped spinning. As we sat, my daughter pointed out hawks circling and soaring–below us.

My daughter wanted to hike to the top with her dad and her older siblings, but since I was the one responsible for her safety, I decided we better just sit tight and wait for everyone to come back. We spent a lovely half-hour relaxing and enjoying our ‘bird’s eye’ viewpoint.

This year, my brothers and husband and brother-in-law will make the trek again, this time to release my grandma’s ashes to join my grandpa. Even though last summer I missed coffee with my grandma, I am glad my children and I got to see the world from Grandpa’s viewpoint. When I think of my grandparents, I will think of hawks soaring, the strength of the pine trees, and the warmth of the grey cliff strengthening my back.

Rest in Peace Grandma and Grandpa.