When writers achieve milestones in their professional careers, it’s cause for celebration. Such is the case for novelist Lynne Morgan Spreen. Her debut novel Dakota Blues is now available on Amazon and Kindle. Book signings and book events are beginning to fill her days.
Lynne writes with a particular idea in mind … she wants women to see choices and recognize the power they have over their lives. She urges women to pursue options and have the courage to step “out of the box,” especially as they emerge into the second half of life and as circumstances change. This theme runs throughout Dakota Blues. I might add, Lynne reflects this spirit in her own life.
The protagonist in Dakota Blues is Karen Grace, a woman the reader can identify with and care about. As I read the novel, I wondered what I would do if faced with Karen’s changing situation and choices. This morphed to wondering about my own choice-making. This in turn stirred some deeper self-reflection.
I think it came on as I matured. I saw women my age being advised to do things to their faces and hair and bodies in pursuit of youth, but it was a game we were destined to lose, and why should we even have to play? I felt devalued. I felt I was being told that, for all my suffering and striving, for all my hard work and contributions and accomplishments over fifty-eight years of life, I wasn’t good enough. In fact, I wasn’t as good as some young thing with unlined skin and perky boobs. This was unbearable to me, and I rebelled.
How did you nurture and develop this passion?
The more I learned about aging, and the more I wrote about it, the bigger it got in my heart and mind. It grew from an interest to a passion to a mission. People began to read my blog and comment on it, and although this occasionally included men and younger people, it was primarily women in the second half. Most of the women are so heroic! Every one of them has a story. I began to understand that there’s a tradeoff between youth and age. Youth may be supple and tight, but age is wise and unshakeable. That’s the compensation for having bad knees or wrinkled skin!
How did the idea for Dakota Blues come about?
I love the idea of a middle-aged woman sleepwalking through her life until one day it explodes and she must adapt, and in the process, hopefully, realize she’s been her own jailer, and that she is now free. I tried many iterations of this theme, but when I traveled to North Dakota on an unforgettable roadtrip with my mother, I realized I was in love with the place. It’s almost like a genetically endowed passion for the land.
Character names are important. How did you arrive at the name Karen Grace? Any symbolism in the last name?
Karen is the name of my elder sister, and this is my gift to her. Yes, Grace was intended to convey that we do sometimes receive grace when least expected, and it can change us. The grace that Karen received came in the form of Frieda, and also, ironically, in the incident that occurred in Wyoming.
The landscape and setting are very vivid in Dakota Blues. Is this the product of having lived in North Dakota? Or vacationing? Or family history and lore? Or?
I never lived there, but every four years, Mom would take us kids back to see her mother and family. From Union Station in LA through Salt Lake City to Dickinson. Such a great adventure! All four of us kids still love trains.
We stayed with my grandmother and two maiden aunts in a house that was over one hundred years old and couldn’t have been more than a thousand square feet, if that. Sometimes my aunts would visit at the same time and bring their kids. We would line up in sleeping bags on the living room floor. During the day, we might go swimming at the old community pool and much of this is reflected in the story. Of course none of those places exist anymore. It’s all in my memory.
The description of landscape is so precise because I paid attention as Mom and I drove from Denver to Dickinson and back on that memorable roadtrip. I brought along the digital recorder and would often stop the car to get a better look. Luckily, Mom is as entranced by the outdoors as I am. We would get all excited about a broken down barn or homestead.
When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I can’t answer that. It’s like asking when and how did you know you were alive?
You have created your own “book business,” from writing, to blogging, to building your brand, to self-publishing, to marketing, to teaching classes on how to use social media. Why do you feel this is such a viable choice for today’s writers?
It’s viable because it is possible, and frankly, traditional publishing is becoming impossible. The market is growing, but the traditional publishing window is closing. New writers are unlikely – this is what a panel of agents told us at a recent writers’ conference – to be picked up.
And if, as in my case, you have written a story about a fifty-year-old woman who experiences incredible growth, power and freedom, no agent or publisher will care. No, unless you write your memoir about having escaped from a third-world country, only to be sold into the sex trade in New York City, and then rescued by a would-be terrorist who later blows himself up on the Brooklyn Bridge, forget it.
Not every writer needs to do all of the activities listed in your question, but at the very least, a writer could prepare a manuscript, upload it to an e-publishing service and have her book available in digital form in a few days. She could tell people about it via email. That would be the bare minimum, but it illustrates how easy it is to become a published writer today.
What is your writing “work” day like?
It’s not “work.” It’s WORK! I work all day, every day. Right now my husband is on a three-day fishing boat, and I’m so happy because I don’t have to feel guilty about ignoring him.
In a few days I will begin babysitting my infant grandson five days a week, nine hours a day, and I sure hope he takes lots of naps. For the next 10 months, I don’t really know what my day will look like but I’m sure it will be gratifying to spend that time with him.
But to answer your question, this is what my day looks like now: I’m an early riser. From about 5:30 to 9 I read the daily papers on my laptop, interact on social media and email, read and respond to blogs, and get ready for my day. From 9 – noon I work on my writing (crafting my weekly blog post or working on my next book.) After lunch, I do busywork in my office and dip my toe into social media again. Then about 2:30 I try to stop and go back to normal life, but if Bill’s busy watching sports or something, I’ll work some more.
What would you say is the main conflict in Dakota Blues?
Karen’s desire to remain stuck in her old, unsatisfying rut, when everything is telling her to move forward.
How did you arrive at the title Dakota Blues?
I wish I could say something more romantic, but I was brainstorming and it came to me.
What can readers expect from you next? Another novel? A short story collection? Non-fiction?
All three! I expect to have a collection of short stories out by Christmas (The New Country – Stories of Midlife and Beyond); a curated collection of my most popular blog posts (Any Shiny Thing – Essays about Midlife and Beyond); and a novel about a smug retired CEO who is stuck raising a surprise grandbaby in her affluent, intolerant senior community.
What advice would you give to today’s writers?
Unless you’re writing a journal for your eyes only, or a memoir for your family to remember you by, you should approach writing as a business. You wouldn’t apply for a job as accountant if you’d never taken a class or received training. Hone your craft, and consider the reader as you construct your story.
And along those lines, you must establish a readership. This is as much a part of the business as writing.
Who are your heroes, past or present?
The little guys who struggle heroically without any acclaim, day in and day out. For example, parents who are underemployed and struggling financially, or teachers who are saddled with ridiculous burdens and yet never give up on the kids. Young people who don’t know where they’re going to find a job in this economy, but still maintain a positive attitude.
Do you feel writing gets easier or harder as time goes on?
Oh my gosh, easier. I know so much more now about how to write.
If you were casting Dakota Blues as a film, who would you have play Karen? And Frieda?
I would like Annette Bening to play Karen, and Sissy Spacek to play Frieda.
How much of the character Karen Grace do you feel is autobiographical?
This is a hard question, because every word in that story came out of my head. Some of it relates to me specifically, as with Dickinson being my mother’s hometown, and the fact that I spent my career in human resources. The questions and answers about aging are mine as well. But no single character is based on any one particular person in real life, including my own.
Thank you, Lynne Morgan Spreen!
Visit her website … www.anyshinything.com
Click on the Books Page to read more about Dakota Blues.