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  • Mj Pettengill

Free Falling


At this moment, writing feels a bit like standing beneath a gushing waterfall with a small cup in hand. It often seems this way while in between significant projects, such as completing a novel and waiting patiently to begin writing the next one. 

Since I am writing a series, the characters are not neatly tucked away at the end of each book. Instead, many wave their arms, calling out to me in the dream world, or whisper ideas into my ear throughout the day. It may sound as if I should be concerned, perhaps she is losing her mind, you might think—on the contrary.

I believe it is a positive, healthy indication that my creativity is alive and well. I usually stop and ponder my characters, their stories, sometimes knowing their fate or thinking that I know. One of the most significant parts of trusting my process is knowing that while guiding me, the characters will lead me to the discovery of many unplanned developments. 

Being willing and able to inhabit my characters, seeing through their lenses, opens up a new and unexpected world. Awareness is vital. There is a certain taking your hands off of the wheel, taking place.

    I learned during the process of penning, Down from the Tree, that timing really is everything. In the preface, I explain how I was in a hurry to write it. I was pressured by my own timeline, ignoring my instincts, which, if you know me on any level, is a huge mistake. Placing too much pressure and many over-reaching goals can produce the opposite outcome. It is possible that when forcing creative projects, you are limiting your potential. What I took away from this (after scrapping over twenty chapters) is that it’s not only okay to be in the void, but it is essential. I have decided to rename this "time in-between" as free falling. 

    This does not only apply to those in the writing world. If you are open to it, you can adopt this way of thinking in all areas of your life and work. Let your life catch up with you. Stop running.

    At that time, I had the tools to craft this novel. I had completed years of painstaking research. The characters and my readers were waiting. Yet, I would sit down to write and freeze. It was not like now when my head is flooded with words. I was stuck. Being the stubborn one that I am, I would have none of it. I had the framework of the story constructed; it was simply time to bring it to life on the page.

    I was both hiding from and confronting what was going on in my world. Samuel, the narrator of Down from the Tree, and I were both losing our mothers. Of course, I did not plan this. I was going to expand on Samuel’s loss and his life after his mother’s death. Everything changed when my mother fell ill and died as I was writing this. 

    The initial chapters were aligned with the first two books. They were okay. I was digging into other characters, letting Samuel and myself off the hook. Then, as my mother’s health quickly deteriorated, I opened the door to authenticity. Not that my other work wasn’t acceptable. Being present in both Samuel’s and my world was transformative. 

    I could climb the tree with him and try to comprehend the world without her in it. By reaching back to the child within, grasping her hand, and pulling her into a full embrace, I had discovered honest writing at its best. (Thanks, Samuel.)

    I journaled, played music, wrote poetry, and spent a good deal of time in the wild. The initial challenge for me was to pull back the veil and step into the process. I am a firm believer in transformative arts. I have facilitated both writing and music programs for adults and children. My creative ventures have proven to be instrumental in my wellness and ability to thrive when it seems like the world may be crumbling away.

   Although I’m most comfortable in solitude, I am going to share more often. I joke about being a hermitess, or even more dramatic, an anchoress; but, I flourish inquietude. It is a requirement for productivity. Knowing my place—my connection to the wild—has always been vital to my well-being, reaching new heights over the past few years. 

    I have written about a dozen books. They are in various stages. When I came across the 298, everything changed. Many of my books are of historical nature, inspired by my family’s rich background. 

     Some are memoirs, one being my thesis for my MFA. I have at least three nature journals. One was about to be published in 2018 before my mother got sick. I think about going back to it and getting it out there, but not yet. Free Falling.

    Instead of collecting my thoughts and dreams and filing them away for future reference, I am going to share more. I am taking back my voice. I'm showing up here. I used to write two blogs daily. I became so involved with the 298, I did not continue.

    My offerings will be a combination of thoughts relating to the Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series, nature writing, cultural narrative and traditions, historical and intergenerational trauma integration, and ancestral healing. I will avoid current politics but will express my response to our world as it continues to swirl about in the most unexpected manner. I will stick to social history and how the lost or edited stories have shaped us without our knowledge.

   I will continue writing about Sarah Abbie Wood, illuminating the significance of finding our ancestors, piecing together untold stories, or what I refer to as false narratives, and do so without judgment. It's the acknowledgment that sets us free.

    One of the books to be published in the future is Marya’s Mother. It is the long-time journey of discovering my mother and her mother—ultimately, a road map to myself, my children, and future generations. In the meantime, I will free fall. I will continue with the Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series as long as the stories continue to emerge.

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