Capturing Iceland

This is my Iceland Writers Retreat writing competition submission. While I didn’t win this year, I was one of the finalists. I’m including the photos I took during the 2014 layover that inspired this piece.

The rules:
Iceland – Regard the Moon! Many authors have drawn parallels between Iceland and the moon. Write a max 500-word essay, story or poem on this theme.

Capturing Iceland

Stop One.
I’m completely alone. While evidence of human life surrounds me in the form of a lighthouse, a shipwreck, and a church of carved stone, I haven’t actually seen anyone in miles. The wind sandblasts my face raw as I step away from my rental car, and I wish for a scarf or a thicker jacket than what I’ve chosen to wear during my layover in Iceland. But this is okay. I’m on an exploratory mission, and thoughts of what I might find eclipse the desire for warmer outerwear.

Pictures are what I’m after. As a travel photographer, sitting in Keflavik International Airport and waiting six long hours for the next flight to Seattle isn’t an option. I never reject an opportunity to experience new places, and this layover affords me just enough time to circle the Reykjanes Peninsula with my camera. So I challenge the April winds, pushing ahead for the sake of art. A few clicks of the shutter later and I’m off again with a piece of Iceland safe in my memory card.

_DSC8500_DSC8478_DSC8489Stop Two.
A strip of faded asphalt cuts through a lunar plain. Down that road, the Eurasian and North American plates diverge in a tectonic rift. On a footbridge that crosses between the two sides, tourists have fastened padlocks to the chain links of the handrails. The love locks are red, purple, and gold—inscribed with names like Katja and Eros, couples who hope to stay together, even as the continents slowly drift apart. I raise my camera. Click._DSC8508-Recovered_DSC8526_DSC8522_DSC8519
Stop Three.
Beneath my feet, subterranean sea waters encounter cooling magma, and steam curls skyward from the earth’s crust—a thousand souls rising from sulfurous graves. A part of me thinks I should be afraid. This mysterious land could open up and cast me into its molten core. But, the explorer in me sees the beauty in it, recognizes her own insignificance and feels nothing but awe. Click._DSC8599
Stop Four.
I follow a sign that points to the Blue Lagoon. It’s a rapturous blue heart in the middle of a lava field in which—ah-ha!—every Reykjanes visitor has congregated! I want to stay, commune with fellow travelers. Dozens of heads bob up and down in the geothermal spa, and I envy them their cotton bathrobes and more time than myself. But, the layover hours have ticked away, and I must return to Keflavik. I aim my lens at the lagoon before departing. Click._DSC8543_DSC8551_DSC8545
Stop Five.
Reluctantly, I surrender my keys to the rental car company and pack up my camera. As I do, a thought strikes me—I have captured nothing. Iceland, in all of her tumultuous splendor, has captured me instead! How can I leave when there’s still so much left to see, things that don’t fit on a square inch of digital memory? As I head towards my gate, face thawing and hair a tangled mane, I’m already planning a solo mission to explore the rest.

Adventures in Self-Publishing with Lilly Maendel


While many of you are slogging through years of classes in pursuit of your MFAs and sketching outlines of your first novels, my 6-year-old niece Lilly is already one step ahead of you. With only a kindergarten education, she has penned numerous short stories and is well-known in her North St. Paul neighborhood.  Lilly travels door to door, selling her work for 50 cents, which everyone knows is  minimum wage for authors.

I was honored to receive a first edition copy of her novel, The Missing Pig, while visiting her last week. She wrote, illustrated, and self-published it. The Missing Pig is the first book in her Pig Trilogy. The second one, The Pig Knocking Food Down, was also recently released and gifted to her Grandpa Hanson. Rumor has it, the third and final installment, yet to be named, will be on the shelves around the Christmas holiday.

Keep your eyes open for Lilly Maendel, publishing world!

Everyone knows that all good novels starts with “Once upon a time…”
Who needs a major publishing house when you have construction paper, a red pen, and three staples? Keep overhead down and bring your profits up.
The hardest working self-publisher under the age of ten.

Three Times is Never Enough


Today, I’m at Jansen Art Center in Lynden, Washington on a writer’s retreat with 11 other writers. We’re all sitting in the library upstairs, sipping coffee and tapping away on our laptops. I’m pouring through photos of Ireland and trying to gain inspiration to finish writing the final chapter of my book. Yes, the FINAL chapter! And as I wrap up my thoughts on my journeys through Ireland, I find myself missing it again, longing for the rain slicked streets in Dublin, the perilous country roads, the rainbows springing up around castle ruins, and talking with boys in bars. Maybe one day, after my book is published, I’ll have the opportunity to go again. One, twice, three times – with some places, it’s never enough.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward


This past week was a difficult one for me. I am close to finishing my book and wondering how my Word Babies will be accepted by the world. Will people buy my book? If they do buy it, will they like it? What if it gets ripped apart in book clubs? What if it doesn’t get published at all?!

Part of my anxiety stems from the fact I just entered the first four chapters into the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. Contest finalists will be announced in June, and the winners will be announced at the writers conference in July. Finalists will receive ribbons to wear at the conference, and I find that quite glamorous – being marked for greatness by the literary powers that be, hobnobbing with agents and editors, and proudly discussing my written offspring.  So now, of course, I’m worried about not being awarded a ribbon and am already fraught with jealousy over a yet to be determined list of winners. (insert loud, exasperated sigh.)

This morning I boarded a ferry to Lummi Island to spend part of the day writing at the Beach Store Cafe. It’s the perfect place to grab a chair by the window and let those worries recede into the waters of Hale Passage. Sitting here and reading over my manuscript, I am reminded that I write because I love writing, not because of finalist ribbons or promise of where my Word Babies will travel. Writing is like steering a boat through fog. I don’t know if the waters ahead are smooth or turbulent. I don’t know if I’ll even find the shore or how long I’ll be sailing. But, I keep moving forward.

What’s the alternative? To stay docked?

I am assured that all writers have doubts about their craft. Does anyone else out there worry so much about things that haven’t even happened?



Today I am dreaming of County Galway and the Connemara Loop, channelling the spirit of Ireland to finish my memoir. Next week I’m flying to New York City to attend a pitch conference and will have the opportunity to pitch my book directly to the editors of some major publishing houses. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how I’m feeling. (Stressed out and panicked are a little more accurate.)

Sometimes I think back to being a little girl, living in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of a one-stoplight town and dreaming of all of the things I wanted to do with my life. I always wanted to be a writer. I repeated that dream over and over again in my journals. But at some point in time, I lost sight of that – probably when I started noticing boys. They’ve always been a distraction…

My priorities are a little different these days. I’ve cancelled many dates to hang out with my manuscript, and honestly, I feel that has been the better time investment. My book, and all of my dear little word babies, are my pride and joy, and I feel like I am finally putting something good into the universe. 🙂 No matter what happens in NYC next week, I know I am doing my best to follow my dream.

Before and After the Shutter Clicked: Memoir is Therapy

Love is an unreliable lens through which to look at a person. The same can be said of vacation. The viewer is left with a romantic memory of an experience, bereft of all its glaring imperfections.

Memoir writing has caused me to confront my romantic notions of Ireland and to be brutally honest with myself. I look at the pictures I took during both of my trips and think of some of them – that was such a good day. I wish I could go back there and relive that moment. But then I put pen to paper and I remember that a photo just represents one moment, and it is suspended in a perfect grace in which the before and after are unknown and irrelevant.

I now question the past – before and after the shutter clicked. How happy was I really? Why, when I returned from vacation, did I feel like one of the crumbling ruins scattered across the Irish countryside? Why did I allow myself to travel so far for love only to lose it? Maybe I was looking for something I never really had in the first place; was my experience really as perfect as I remembered? Finding answers to those questions can make for some great writing. However, the process is painful to the writer.

Memoir can be summed up in an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.” I am in a perpetual state of Ireland. I don’t want to be, but in order to write about it, I have to continuously think about it and examine every last detail and all of my actions. And I fall in love with the same person, over and over again with the sad knowledge that my heart gets broken. Who, except for a writer, would voluntarily subject themselves to so much pain?

Some people pay for therapists; I write. And through the therapy of memoir I discovered the error of my thinking:  Ireland hurt me because I held onto the microscopic pixels of memory like they were living things.

As I write my first book The Parting Glass, I am learning to be thankful for my Irish experiences and the opportunity to learn from the past instead of wallow in it. I love that I can now view my photo albums with the full color spectrum of reality.


I attended the Chuckanut Writers Conference this weekend and pitched my book, The Parting Glass, to 3 different agents. All three expressed interest. Two requested a couple of sample chapters via email and one wanted a completed manuscript. So, now I have the challenge of actually finishing my book. I’ve been so focused on perfecting every last sentence I write, that progress has been slow (although I am about 25,000 words in). Some valuable advice I got was to set a minimum writing goal. Each day, for example, maybe I write 15 minutes at an absolute bare minimum or maybe 2 pages. I can perfect it later.

I know many hours of writing and self-promotion are in my future, but that’s okay. It will all be worth it when I see my book on the shelves of Village Books. It will be worth it when I can actually do what I love for a living. I’ve never wanted anything so badly in my entire life.  And to think (as my friend Sherry pointed out), I almost took a political science class last fall instead of Laura Kalpakian’s Memory into Memoir class. Sometimes one decision can change the course of your entire life.



The skies are still overcast here in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m not entirely sure what the sun looks like anymore, but I’m feeling optimistic anyway. I have plenty of reason to be hopeful this week. The Chuckanut Writers Conference begins on Friday morning and runs through Saturday, and I’ll have the opportunity to pitch my book to 3 different agents. I’ve decided (at least for now) upon the title, “The Parting Glass”, and about 100 pages are complete. Because I am writing memoir, I only need 50 completed pages to move forward (vs fiction, in which agents will ask for a completed manuscript).

So, the rest of my week will be spent polishing up the first 50 pages and continuing to expand. I never dreamed how difficult it would be to actually write a book. Silly me, I thought I would just be able to sit down and crank out 250 pages and be done. My friend Richard wrote 400 pages of his book in just 2 months – but that’s not typical. I’m a slow worker, and that’s because I want my finished product to be perfect. Several themes I never anticipated have also emerged during the first 100 pages that are worth exploring a little further. Hopefully, at least one of the agents will appreciate what I’m trying to do and pick up my project. I’m only thinking happy thoughts!

Here’s my possible pitch idea (what I’ll tell the agents on Friday). Would any of you read my book based on this? Anything you’d be curious about? :

When a restless young traveler decides to try Irish whiskey in a local bar for the first time, the last thing she expected was to get a ticket…to Dublin. Some would later say the whiskey was just trying to get to its home when she pulled out her smart phone and booked the airline ticket. Not wanting to travel alone, she pursues international online dating to find a travel companion. What seems like a simple search turns into a series of romantic misadventures across the Emerald Isle full of memorable characters such as a considerate doctor, a mysterious cop, and an incendiary bartender. Set against the breath-taking backdrop of a ruin-dotted countryside and lively cities, the Narrator sets out to capture all the important moments with her camera, but it’s her unguarded heart that is captured instead. After a few months back home, she grows restless again from dreaming of distant hills that always look greener and books another ticket to reclaim her heart. Unfortunately, she returns only to discover that the man she loves isn’t exactly who she remembered him to be.

The Parting Glass is a toast to all of the wonderful people of Ireland. But, it’s also about idealizing a moment in time as remembered through the unreliable lens of vacation. It’s about learning which experiences are impermanent and which ones last forever.

A Picture without a Picture

I’ve been reading Susan Sontag’s essays, “On Photography”.   A few pages into the first essay she writes, “Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”  She refers to snapshots as souvenirs – and that clicked for me, so to speak.  I don’t buy souvenirs, I take pictures.

However, on my first trip to Ireland I chose not to photograph one beautiful moment.  I felt that capturing it would somehow rob the moment of its magic.  1,000 words could never do it justice, but I attempted to describe for my memoir what didn’t feel right to photograph.  This short piece will be at the end of Chapter 6, about my first day in Dublin.

Lady in the Leaves

In a shaded courtyard somewhere outside the National Gallery, I sat down to rest my feet and lament my insensible choice of footwear. The wind gusted, and a squeal pierced through the sound of rustling leaves, attracting my attention. A few feet away, I saw her.

Alone, she drifted across the courtyard through a sea of autumn color. Arms outstretched, her weathered hands poked out from the tailored ends of her coat as the wind tousled the white curls above her wrinkled face.

Leaves like glowing embers showered from the trees, and she raised her arms to them like a child in the rain, smelling the sweet, earthy fragrance as they tumbled through her hands. Then she kicked through the brittle waves, her scarlet checks touching the gleeful corners of her pale-blue eyes as she watched them rise and fall.

Instinctively, my fingers ran across the buttons of my camera to collect the image before the moment vanished. But as euphoric notes burst forth with each kick of her polished shoes, I began to fear that the sound of my shutter would startle her out of her moment. And even if it didn’t, could I simply click and capture her joy – bringing her home like a cheap souvenir?

No, this flicker in time wasn’t mine.

I picked myself up, a hot pain radiating across my soles, and limped away unnoticed by the lady in the leaves. Her picture still hangs in the only place that it should, living and vibrant in my gallery of memories.


Life in Focus 2012

Focus changes over time.  Interests either evolve or quietly dissolve.   The people who hold our attention today either grow more captivating or fade into the backdrop of our ever expanding lives.  But, I think with each hour of each day, we somehow fine tune what matters and hone in on our true talents and abilities.  Just think, 4 years ago I wanted to be a firefighter!  I was so passionate about it too!  Now? I’m so glad I figured out my calling in life does not involve 3 a.m. wake up calls and 4 alarm fires.  I’m far more content to work on my writing and photography.

Sooo, 2012…

I’m about 6ish chapters into writing my first book – a memoir about my trips to Ireland.  In tandem with that project, I’m working on some short fiction and using my new favorite website, Writers Market, to find appropriate publications for my work.  Goals?  Finish the memoir this year, secure an agent, and find a publisher.  If Elizabeth Gilbert can sell Eat, Pray, Love there’s no reason why I can’t sell Ireland (a far more interesting “I” country, in my opinon).

Photography is still interesting but in a different way.  I tried the whole taking portraits and wedding photo thing for a little while, but it drove me absolutely crazy.  I prefer taking photos as life happens without being concerned if the bride got a picture of the bouquet toss or if someone refuses to pay for their pictures because of their armfat.  That’s not fun. And I didn’t get into photography to create more work for myself – I wanted a calm pastime.  So, I will continue to photograph the world as I see it on my terms, with one goal: learn one new thing each week.

So, there you go – a snippet of my life and of things to come.  Here are some previously unpublished photos from the past month:

Haiku with a Stolen Pen

This was the sky at noon today.  I briefly regretted not having my D90 with me but remembered David saying, “the best camera is the one you have with you.”   So, this is the noon sky as captured by my camera phone. 

To spice it up a little, I decided to write a Haiku.  Random, I know, considering I haven’t written a Haiku before.  I had to steal a pen to do it, but felt it was worth the petty crime.  If you’re not familiar, Haiku is usually three short lines. The first line contains 5 syllables, the second line seven 7 syllables, and the third line contains 5 syllables.  It doesn’t rhyme, and should create a mental picture.   Here’s my first attempt…

Empty cobalt sky
Brush a white seraphim dance
Heaven turns canvas

Afternoon Poetry

The word “poetry” elicits a wide variety of responses from people, but the most common one seems to be exhausted disinterest.  Asking someone to read a poem is like asking them to complete a math problem.  I understand, I really do.  But, I took a course in American Literature last spring and developed a new appreciation for it – although more for the free verse style of Walt Whitman.      

This weekend I decided to write a short poem with the intention of taking a picture to go with it.   I’m not normally poetic – I prefer writing short stories and am steadily working on book about my Irish adventures.  However, there was a vision in my head I needed to somehow express this weekend.   I have absolutely no idea what title to give it. 

Thank you, Ronna for helping me put together this shot!   Here is the yet to be named poem.

In this journey, he is the kicked-up dust on the road
that settles to the ground moments after I pass by.   

The wind lifts the fading footprint into the air,
and it becomes a swiftly diffusing memory across the ethers.    

And you, my love, are the phantasm of a wandering spirit. 
You flicker across the horizon, pulling my heart forward but never closer.