I first crossed paths with February’s “Spotlight’s On…” interviewee, Mary Aalgaard, in college. But it wasn’t until a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference at the University of North Dakota years later that we officially met. A friendship quickly blossomed, and Mary and I have become faithful companions to one another in areas of writing, mothering, music, spirituality and life in general, even though largely from separate cities/states. When the flood hit our city last spring, Mary offered safe harbor to my five children and me. Not many would be willing to risk their sanity by welcoming six additional people into their home for a week, but Mary did and I will never forget her open arms. Every writer needs a fellow traveler, one who will be there for the long haul, provide honesty and encouragement in the journey, and be within reach for all of the ups and downs of the writer’s life. Some of us are lucky to have many such people in our lives; I consider Mary one of my steadiest compatriots.
Recently, Mary ventured into the blogosphere. After some collaborative plotting and Mary’s creative vision, Play off the Page was launched. She’s experienced an awesome debut and has been warmly welcomed into the world of blogging, thanks in large part to her engaging posts. Mary also writes regularly for Her Voice magazine in the Brainerd, Minn., area and is an aspiring children’s novelist, piano and drama teacher, journaling mentor, knitter, church musician, and mother of four boys.
Mary, welcome as guest blogger to Peace Garden Mama!
I’m going to have to pretend that I know very little about you, for the sake of the readers. Seriously though, I’m really happy to feature you here and am anxious to ask you first about blogging, since it represents new terrain for you. Has the world of blogging met your expectations? What has most surprised you about it?
I’ve experienced surprises that have surpassed my expectations. I had no idea that blogging was all about connections. I thought I needed a blog for a specific purpose. That’s true. I needed a focus. I want my blog to be inspirational. I lead journaling workshops and talk about journaling and encourage people to write their stories. I’d like my blog to be a place that they go to stimulate their own journaling. What I’m finding is that writers really want to connect and encourage other writers and I’m affirmed and encouraged with each post. That’s what I like the most – the connections. And, the more I write and the more I think about writing, the more I do. It stimulated ME to write more and it’s helping me get back into writing fiction. I suppose the only thing not to like about the blogging world is the time it can consume. You have to set limits, but there are so many great writers out there with such great offerings!
Are you still journaling these days, even though you blog now, too? What are the benefits of keeping track of our lives? Is it all for naught, or do you think something valuable comes from the act of journal-keeping?
I have been journaling since junior high. I keep my journals in my cedar chest in my room. They are a record of my life, my musings, my longings, everything. I know that some day my children will read them. They might save them for their grandchildren. Blogging is only a piece of real life. It is a focused theme that others can relate to and understand. Journaling can be endless flow of thought. It is often deeply personal, not always understood, and not always meant to be shared. Journaling helps you organize your thoughts and understand your feelings. It is the story of your life’s journey. Everyone’s is special and unique.
What about your other writing? What are some projects you’ve been working on lately? Do you have some particular goals for the coming year? What about long-term writing goals?
I entered a story in the Highlights for Children contest. I love contests. They give you a theme and a deadline and a prize for winning. I need to enter more contests! I’m also working on a YA historical novel set in Minnesota in 1941-42. I wrote over 200 pages a while back, got side-tracked by life, and have given it new energy at the start of this year. My IDEAL writing schedule is to work on my fiction for two hours/day/week OR 14 hours a week. That gives me wiggle room for busy and not-quite-so-busy days. Even keeping that goal in mind has set the rhythm in motion and I have a good kick-start to the project.
And your work for Her Voice, how do you come up with your material? What do you like about that form of writing?
The editor for Her Voice is Meg Douglas. She gives me so much creative freedom. I know she likes my stories and my writing. I have a wonderful relationship with her that is built on trust and quality work. Her Voice is a great magazine for local stories. You can never run out of good subjects. I write often about life as I see it, raising four sons, the artistic endeavors I undertake, people I’ve met, people and events that inspire me. Her Voice publishes just four times a year. I found that blogging helped with all the extra ideas I’d come up with for stories. My next story in Her Voice is about a choir that is made up of voices from around the state. The executive director and artist director are a mother son team. They’re called From Age to Age and they’re wonderful!
What are the names, ages of your boys (if you want to share), and what do they think about your writing? Do you think any of them are aspiring writers?
I have four sons. Bobby is turning 16 at the end of the month. I’ve been helping him learn how to drive. Yikes! That takes more courage than submitting manuscripts. Still, I see him growing in independence and self-confidence and it thrills me. Zach is 12. He inherited the music gene, but is also strong in science and math. He plays the trumpet, and a little piano. I love band concerts! Then, I have the twins – Charlie and Eric are nine. They’re each others’ best buddy. They’re energetic and full of love and life. They’re my biggest encouragers. Charlie joined the author’s club in his class that I help lead. It thrills me that at least one of them thinks about writing. But, who knows?
What is the hardest aspect of raising a family and accepting the writing/creative life?
I had to accept that I am not like my mother. Oh, I have some of her qualities – nurturing, consistent, regular meals, but I daydream. I’m not organized. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I’ll get involved in playing piano or writing and forget all about bedtime, for me and the boys. I think they like that. One night we stayed up late singing old Disney classic songs. But, you asked about the hardest part. I guess it’s being there for them and staying focused on them and trying not to daydream about writing or music, but being there for them when they need me. But, really, the boys are my biggest inspiration. I’m not sure I’d have nearly the great ideas or motivation without them.
What about your work in theatre – what hopes do you have for that part of your life?
I direct an art-drama day camp with my friend Jennifer in the summer. Our purpose is to stimulate creativity in kids. We have them create their own characters and write their own show – as a group. It’s fascinating to me. Of course, I’m facilitating that process, but I often sit back and enjoy the interaction. Kids know how to tell a story, and it’s so fun to watch them come alive. Jennifer has them digging into different art forms. We want them to Play off the Page! I have some ideas for writing plays, but haven’t started work on them, yet. I miss being on stage myself, but find that’s nearly impossible as a single-mom.
How does your faith intermingle with your creative work?
They are one in the same. All good and great gifts come from God. I pray often, Lord, let me be your ink. Or, when I play piano for church, I know that the Holy Spirit is filling me and I’m pouring it out for others. God is working through me with my art.
You are a very nurturing person. What are some pieces of wisdom you’d like to impart in those who are just starting…in any creative pursuit, whether it be music, writing or drama?
If you have the urge to create something, whatever form, that IS your gift. Whenever you hear a voice saying "You’re not good enough," that’s the Devil speaking. If you’re saying to yourself, "Who am I to create (whatever it is)," say, instead "Who am I NOT to?" If you don’t answer the call of your gift, you will feel empty and unfulfilled. Live your gifts. Do it boldly, and see what wonders you can create.
Anything else you’d like to share about your journey?
Find a strong supporter. One is enough, but the more the merrier. If you have at least one person who always says, "I believe in you," then you will always have the courage and energy to keep going. That person will not let you fall into the pit of those negative voices that tell you you’re not good enough. That person will reach her hand down into the murky muck you got stuck in and pull you out with all her might. Allow someone in who will do that for you. Then see how high you can soar.
What is your blog address?
www.maryaalgaard.blogspot.com (Play off the Page)
Thanks so much for taking time to share with us, Mary. I hope everyone will visit your blog next!
Thanks for reading all of this. Walk boldly on your creative journey!