You Should Be Writing author Nita Sweeney has added a new author interview her Bum Glue blog and this time she interviewed fellow Mango author Cheryl Leutjen, author of Love Earth Now.
In this Bum Glue series, I interview other authors. This author interview is with Cheryl Leutjen, another of the “Mango’s Best Authors” I had the pleasure to meet at the Mango Publishing table at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. Cheryl’s friendliness and patience with my many questions (my book wasn’t even out yet) made me feel part of the “Mango family” right away. More importantly, her book, Love Earth Now, covers two of my favorite topics: climate change and mindfulness. I can’t wait for you to get to know her as well.
Nita Sweeney (NS): When and how did your writing journey begin?
Cheryl Leutjen (CRL): That’s tough to say. I’ve always been a writer, though usually to suit someone else’s purposes. I’ve written extensively as a student, geologist, lawyer, and mom—some of my notes excusing the kids from school were quite inspired. I used to write in a diary as a kid until I got punished after my mom read it. That stopped me from putting any personal information on paper for years.
I only began writing for myself again when my kids were tiny and “mommy drinking” wasn’t yet a thing. Journaling—in a notebook with a sturdy lock on it—became my best therapy. When I discovered some humor and the occasional scrap of wisdom showing up on the page, I threw caution to the wind and started a “mommy blog.” I regularly, sporadically, infrequently, and sometimes shared all my wisest insights with all seven of my followers.
Then a new acquaintance invited me to a one-day writing workshop. It was affordable, near home, and facilitated by someone I trusted not to shred me. So off I went, seeking to hone my blogging skills. What poured out onto the page that day instead became (spoiler alert) the foundations of the book I’d publish five years later.
Writing is now the essential therapy that keeps me from running down the street screaming every time I hear more bad news for Life on Earth. Which is far too often these days.
NS: I hear that about the bad news! Tell us about your process. Plotter or pantser?
CRL: I’d say pantser but haven’t pants become optional in these days of Zooming through the pandemic? But “flying by the seat of my underwear” is an image I’d rather not propagate, so we will go with pants.
I’m a Gemini, and my attention span is . . . squirrel! Forcing myself to focus on one project for any length of time is tough at best. The most I can wrangle from my ever-distracted mind is a good solid essay before getting bored with the whole endeavor. That’s why I call my book a storybook because each chapter is a standalone composition of where I was on any given day.
NS: What’s your biggest writing struggle and how do you handle it?
CRL: My biggest writing struggle is believing that anyone else would want to read the hairbrained drivel I put on the page when I first begin to write. And truthfully, no one would want to read any of my (what author Anne Lamotte calls) “shitty first drafts.” I am certain I’d be excommunicated from the writing community if one ever got out.
It’s in the editing and crafting that transforms my brain lint into something more akin to literature. So when I catch myself doubting, I read a paragraph of something I’ve managed to hone to my satisfaction. Every single time, I’m floored. I don’t recall having written something I don’t hate, until I see the proof on the page. Then I re-confirm my commitment to writing.
Again and again.
NS: What is one thing about writing you wish you’d learned earlier?
CRL: I always thought of writing as a solo enterprise. Like the character Jo in Little Women, I entertained romantic notions of myself toiling away alone in the garret with ink-stained fingers and maybe a mangy cat for company.
What I’ve learned is that connecting with other writers, finding outlets for sharing the frustrations and also the successes, makes my own process that much easier. When I couldn’t find a group that offered the kind of support I sought, I started my own, a Meetup called The Natural Muse. We nature-inspired writers gather in the green spaces of Los Angeles—yes, there are still many!—to write. We don’t critique, and we don’t “should” anyone. We do offer community and accountability for getting the work done. How can I not show up when I’m the organizer? How can I just play Scrabble on my phone when everyone else is writing? Peer pressure has gotten such a bad rap, but done right, it boosts my productivity like nothing else.
NS: What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever heard?
CRL: “Only write about what you know.” So much of what I know now is because I got curious about something, and in the process of studying it, I discovered something to write about.
NS: Do you write by hand or on a computer?
CRL: Though I sometimes journal by hand, I always use my computer when writing for public consumption. I can type so much faster than I can hand write, and I need top speed to spit out those shitty first drafts before the inner critic has too much time to chime in. I’d never finish a single sentence if writing one of those by hand.
NS: What are you currently reading?
CRL: I just finished The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’m the kind of reader who has the book I’m finishing in one hand, and the one I’m starting in the other, but right now, I’m taking a pause. This book was so engrossing, and I’m still hanging out with the characters. It feels disloyal to ditch them for another cast so soon.
The book in the other hand, though, is Jane Fonda’s, What Can I Do?: My Path from Climate Despair to Action. Jane Fonda has done so much to raise awareness about climate change, and I aim to learn from the master.
NS: Is there a book you couldn’t finish?
CRL: For fiction? Never. I will speed read through the worst novel because I. Must. Know. How. It. Ends. It’s a compulsion. If there were a self-help program to spare me from reading another potboiler, I’d sign up today.
As for nonfiction, there are so many I can’t name them all. I start with such lofty ideals about delving into some Topic of Great Import. Then I get bogged down in the nitty gritty, and the book gets abandoned like so many New Year’s resolutions.
NS: What book couldn’t you put down?
CRL: I’m a voracious reader, so there are many books I’ve read until deep into the night. The one that stands out is The Help. This was years ago, when my kids were younger and needier, so mom doing nothing but read all day was cause for alarm. But that’s exactly what I did, one glorious Sunday, sitting out on my deck letting the youngsters fend for themselves. Or maybe Dad sorted things out. I have no idea. Because I was somewhere in Jackson, Mississippi.
NS: What would you like readers to know about your book, Love Earth Now?
CRL: Love Earth Now is a deeply thoughtful and often comedic exploration of my own efforts to make an eco-contribution. It’s not “Top Ten List” of what you can do for the planet because I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution to the many challenges we face.
Each chapter of Love Earth Now concludes with a “Love Earth Invitation,” a simple and contemplative exercise that prompts you to explore your own feelings and calls to action. These eco-mindfulness moments provide the opportunity to reflect and discover what you can do right now to contribute to a sustainable future for us all.
NS: Has your writing life turned out differently than you expected? If so, how?
CRL: My writing life is sporadic, much as everything else I do. I produce like breeding rabbits for a while, and then not at all. I often judge myself for failing to honor the “write everyday!” maxims, but after nearly six decades on this Earth, I am learning to accept that I’m cyclical by nature. Even the most prolific bunny gets has an off season.
What does astonish me is the amount of work required to market the writing. Until I wrote a book, I still thought a platform was the place you stand while waiting for a train. Now there are all these expectations about blogging, email lists, cross promoting and engagement rates. It’s like thinking, “oh, won’t it be fun to get a puppy,” and then realizing just how much work that little one requires. Totally worth it, and totally exhausting, too.
NS: What’s next for you writing wise?
CRL: Next, last and current are pretty much the same when it comes to my writing: employ every weapon in my self-motivational arsenal to keep myself churning out those shitty drafts. They may become blog posts, essays for a new book, or therapy for my mental health. It’s rather like having a baby. The kid may grow up to be a drummer, a baseball player, or a politician. But you tend the infant as you would any other until you get some inkling where they are headed. Then, it’s time for music lessons, Little League or the debate team. Wherever they may land someday, the challenge is always lies in getting myself to put my fingers on the keyboard.
NS: Mermaids or Goddesses?
CRL: I choose Greta Thunberg. Jane Fonda. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I need strong, flesh-and-blood women to inspire me right now as we stare down the ecological, societal and political crises we face. And may warrior Athena be with us all.
NS: Toast or bagels?
CRL: Shhhh, please! I’m trying to avoid carbs, even though I also believe life without them is not worth living. I am a walking, breathing contradiction of myself at any given moment.
NS: Ocean, mountains, or forest?
CRL: Yes, please. Just get me out there, anywhere in nature, on a regular basis. As long as the weather is pleasant, the skies aren’t full of smoke, and the bugs aren’t biting. Because, truth is, I’m a creature comfort-loving Nature devotee.
NS: Leggings or jeans?
CRL: Jeans if you’re talking the stretchy kind that I can squeeze my Menopause Bod into. Leggings are but a distant memory now.
NS: Dogs, cats, fish, guinea pigs, or horses?
CRL: We had a continuous procession of animals in my childhood home: dogs, cats, fish, guinea pigs, gerbils, and rabbits. And I loved them all. Except for that deranged gerbil who would clamp his jaws around my slender wrist until one of us passed out.
But it’s been all about the felines in my adult life. My family and I used to love to travel before the pandemic, often at a moment’s notice, and cats were the easiest to accommodate. Or so I say. I have one silky gray, muscular, cat draped over my left hand as I struggle to type with the right. Until he tells me it’s time for lunch, anyway, and then I’ve got to go.
Cheryl Leutjen’s deep love of Earth, as well as her hope for a bright future for her children, fuel her passion for responding to the challenges of our time with heart, hope, humor, and spiritual practice. Cheryl writes and speaks to share her experiences on the razor’s edge between Earth-mindfulness and eco-madness, not because she’s got it all figured out, but in solidarity with anyone else who’s fumbling along the path of more conscientious living.
She draws from her experience as a geologist, attorney, small business owner, spiritual practitioner, wife and mother to claw her way out of the abyss of eco-despair. She seeks solace from the sages in Nature who reveal the wisdom she needs to navigate a more Earth-loving path.
Cheryl facilitates the Natural Muse Meetup for Earth-loving writers. She serves as Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the North East Trees nonprofit organization, “bringing Nature back” to urban Los Angeles County.
She resides in Los Angeles with her husband, two children, her muse Atlas Cedar, and three cats who care not one whit about any of her credentials.
Her book, Love Earth Now, won a 2018 Silver Nautilus Book Award.
A Journal of Inspiration & Instruction to Keep Your Pen Moving
Writing Inspiration from Incredible Authors. Gathered by Brenda Knight and writing coach Nita Sweeney, author of Depression Hates a Moving Target, You Should Be Writing provides you with writing wisdom from a variety of accomplished authors.
Writing Practice on Every Page. This journal is a must-have for writers everywhere. With quotes from a diverse group of historical and modern authors to use as creative prompts on every page, you’ll be able to bring your writing inspiration with you wherever you go. You’ll find plenty of great advice, such as Toni Morrison’s encouragement, “As a writer, a failure is just information. It’s something that I’ve done wrong in writing, or is inaccurate or unclear. I recognize failure—which is important; some people don’t—and fix it.”
The Power of Doing One Thing Every Day
What can you do for the environment? Do you find yourself wondering what on Earth you can do about the serious environmental challenges we face today? Do you worry there’s nothing any one person can do that will make a difference? Most people say they would like to do something to make the world a better place, but they just don’t believe they have the time, energy, money or power to do anything that will make a real difference. Are you willing to devote 20 minutes a week to find out? Environmental activist Cheryl Leutjen has the planet’s back and is betting you do too. Her powerful book of inspired ideas and eco-mindfulness calls upon us all to Love Earth Now.