The Next Big Thing: Elizabeth Fletcher Guest Blogs

Thank you to Alison Morse for inviting me to participate in The Next Big Thing. Thanks also to Michele Campbell for loaning me her blog. If string theory is right and there are eleven or more parallel universes, she’s definitely living in one reality that I want: a free-spirited woman making her way in another part of the world. I can’t wait to see what creative work her adventures inspire.

I haven’t had luck finding a second writer to participate [Michele, sure you’re not working on anything?!] (OK, I’ll post something here this summer! -M), but I am thrilled that Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew accepted this mission.

Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew writes, loves, teaches and urban homesteads in South Minneapolis. When she’s not chasing her gregarious four-year-old daughter around the neighborhood or dancing with her partner Emily, she’s doing her best to support the spiritual life of writers. Her books are Swinging on the Garden Gate: A Spiritual Memoir (Skinner House Books), Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir (Skinner House Books), and On the Threshold: Home, Hardwood and Holiness (Westview Press). You can connect with Elizabeth at www.spiritualmemoir.com and www.elizabethjarrettandrew.com. You can find Elizabeth’s contribution to The Next Big Thing at http://www.spiritualmemoir.com/heart-and-craft/.

What is your working title of your project?

The title is Heartland, and my working subtitle is: An Unlikely Story of Marriage, Magic and the Maya.

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Where did the idea come from for the project?

I had been working on a collection of short stories set in Guatemala for two years. Then soon after I returned from my last long trip in Guatemala, I was in shamanic journeyspace. While in that altered consciousness, I was told to start writing a memoir about my physical and spiritual travels and I was given the title of Heartland.

I felt stunned when I came out of journeyspace. First of all, I rarely if ever received “thou shalt” commandments in my journeys. Second, I had always seen myself as a fiction writer and I valued the privacy that fiction offered. It took me some time to loosen my grip on that identity. After a month of avoidance, I shelved the short stories and began working on Heartland. I came to see that many of my real-life experiences in Guatemala were remarkable…definitely stranger than fiction.

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What genre does your book/project fall under?

I describe it as part travelogue, part spiritual memoir.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmm. It’s much easier to think of actors to play characters in my fiction than it is to contemplate stand-ins for real-life people, but I’ll give this thought experiment a go. When I think of people to play my persona, I have to consider age since it factors into the issues I’m facing in the book. I also have to find someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously. We don’t share many physical characteristics, but Jennifer Garner seems like someone who could pull off serious and silly, as well as anxious and exuberant, really well. I’d have to pick someone who can play a kind but skeptical foil to Jennifer Garner. My husband is a Star Wars fan, so I think he’d be pleased with me casting Ewan MacGregor.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A thirtysomething woman juggles life between Minnesota and Guatemala during a five-year period, blurring the boundaries of reality and testing the bonds of her marriage, as she searches for her home in the world.

Will your project be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m at least one deep revision away from sending it out, but I hope to find an agent to represent it.

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How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

To be determined. I started writing Heartland in late 2010, and I’m edging closer to the complete draft. As an aside, I wrote the last page months ago but I have yet to write the first chapter. My goal is to have the draft finished by the end of 2013.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I cringe when I use this book as an example because it was such a raging phenomenon, and I have no delusions of grandeur that I would receive an iota of that success, but Heartland shares similarities with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Other influences include Traveling Souls: Contemporary Pilgrimage Stories by various authors, Hope Edelman’s The Possibility of Everything, Peter Mathiessen’s The Snow Leopard, and Robert A Johnson’s Balancing Heaven and Earth.

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Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The duende of Guatemala inspired me to write this book. To be more specific, I’ve been inspired by the pastel colors of colonial buildings that hide courtyards of heaven or hell, by the raucous laughter of children chasing a soccer ball on a dusty road, by bees humming in golden stalks of maiz during the rainy season, by the drunken man laying in a pool of his own blood at the roadside, by the wind that washes sin away, by the soft-spoken midnight shaman who cured my heart arrhythmia, and the ghosts, both good and bad, that reside on a strip of geographically and politically unstable land.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Guatemalan ghosts, shamans, spirituality and magic.

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Thanks, Elizabeth, for the inspiration! If you’d like to follow her on Twitter, here’s a link: @esfletcher

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