MONMOUTH — Fine. Then what?
Even as a little girl, Maren Bradley Anderson asked follow-up questions. When no answers were forthcoming, she nevertheless persisted.
“I’m that writer who started telling stories to myself when I was 4 years old,” said the Monmouth author. “My mom and dad would tell me bedtime stories, and I just kept them going.”
Anderson wrote even before she could read, learning early on that the universe isn’t composed of atoms. It’s composed of stories. Infinite stories. They dart and dance and skitter about her head, sometimes colliding with one another. Her novels are sometimes a stone soup of various tales.
Her 2015 romance novel, “Fuzzy Logic,” tells the story of Meg Taylor who buys an alpaca ranch and soon encounters two dashing swains — one a shy veterinarian and the other a charming financier. Life and death on the ranch compel her to re-evaluate more than her love life.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally), Anderson knows a thing or two about alpacas. She and her husband David Anderson, a computer science professor at Western Oregon University, raise the camelid creatures at Evergreen Terrace Farms Alpaca Ranch off Fishback Road outside of Monmouth.
So is “Fuzzy Logic” protagonist Meg Taylor really Maren Anderson in literary disguise?
“There are autobiographical bits, but not really,” Anderson said. “I pitch it as ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ on an alpaca farm.”
There is also a dash of “Pride and Prejudice” for a slight hint of Jane Austen.
The story behind Anderson’s 2016 novel “Closing the Store” dates back 2,431 years to Aristophanes’ play “Lysistrata” where women deny men sex to stop a war. Director Spike Lee used the same premise, dealing with inner-city violence instead of the Peloponnesian War, in his 2015 movie “Chi-Raq.”
In Anderson’s version, a presidential candidate and her best friend use the idea of a sex strike to stop a long-running American war.
Anderson came up with the idea for her 2019 novel “Sparks” after learning some farmers believe it’s bad luck to tear down a barn. She researched the superstition and found it relates to cowsprites — mythical fairy-like creatures who supposedly live on farms and take a personal interest in the well-being of barns and livestock.
“If you are good to your cows, the cowsprite will take care of you,” Anderson explained. “If you don’t take care of your cows, the cowsprite will ‘take care’ of you. It’s crazy, it’s crazy. I love it.”
Like almost all writers, Anderson frequently finds herself asked where she comes up with her ideas.
“You know that place, that invisible shopping center, where Harry Potter went to get his wand?” she said. “It’s the store next to that. That’s where I get my ideas.”
Actually, she added, finding ideas is rarely a problem.
“It’s not a question anymore of where do I get my ideas,” she said. “It’s how do I make them stop?”
As well as writing novels, Anderson teaches English at Western. In addition, she is the editor of the Timberline Review, a literary review magazine. She also edits PURE Insights, a journal of research and creative works by undergraduate students at the university.
Her writing has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor and Alpacas Magazine, and she writes plays for both children and adults through Apple Box Children’s Theater.
“Occasionally, a poem also happens,” she said.
Although Anderson has been constructing stories since she was 4, it took her a little longer to figure out how to make a living as a writer.
“I didn’t come up with that answer until I was in my 30s,” she said.
She earned a master’s degree and pursued her love of stories as an English professor.
“I decided I should teach because that’s kind of like writing,” she said “I didn’t take writing very seriously until I had my first baby. That first year after she was born, it made me realize that time is not infinite, and that if I wanted to be writer, I should really finish something.”
While her daughter was an infant, Anderson participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, an annual program to encourage writers and provide them with the discipline to finish their projects.
“When people say they don’t have time to write, I tell them about that first year when I had a 1-year-old,” Anderson said. “I also volunteered to cook Thanksgiving dinner that year,”
That was while she graded her students’ final exams.
“And just to put a cherry on it, I had stomach flu that lasted three weeks,” she said. “That just proved to me that I could write a novel. That was this shift I had in the in the way I perceived writing. I always was a writer, but that’s how I became a writer who finished things.”
Now, 13 years later, Anderson devotes at least an hour ever day to her own writing — between juggling children, college students and alpacas. She said she hopes her love of stories is contagious with her Western students.
“I teach freshmen,” she said. “I enjoy it because it’s my way to introduce them to literature. My whole challenge is to hopefully inspire them to open a book later on.”
Specifically, she added, she wants to introduce her students to William Shakespeare.
“I try to sneak Shakespeare into everything because he’s the other man in my life,” she said.
The main man in her life, of course, is her husband David. A computer science professor and writer make a surprisingly good pairing, Anderson said,
“He and I are actually in the same world,” she said. “He creates worlds with little black squiggles, and so do I. And they’re both equally real.”
They also find themselves united in their love of alpacas.
“We didn’t have livestock growing up,” Anderson said. “Both of our mothers came from farms and worked their butts off to get out of the farms.”
Nonetheless, when she met her husband at the University of California at Berkeley, they made a deal.
“It came up one night that if we won the lottery, we would have a house with a barn,” she said.
It turns out, they didn’t need millions. They found the opportunity to buy their 14-acre Polk County property.
“We knew we couldn’t just fill it with barn cats,” Anderson said. “We had to put something bigger in it.”
A radio ad came on for alpacas. The Andersons found they could use a bare piece of land, start an alpaca farm and write off many of the improvements.
“Of course, they’re adorable,” Anderson said of the animals. “They’re the cutest, fuzziest little fluff balls.”
They raise the alpacas strictly for fleece and breeding stock. They can’t bear to see them used for meat, she said.
“We made a deal when we moved out to the farm,” Anderson said. “First of all, I’m not going to milk anything. I’m also not going to can anything. We both agreed we’re not going to raise meat animals because we’re both too squishy soft.”
Alpacas have many charms beyond being fuzzy little fluff balls, she added.
“The nice thing about alpacas is that they’re really low-maintenance livestock,” she said. “I’m not a big person, but I can handle any of the critters on the farm.”
Many other writers live and work in Polk County. Anderson knows many of them through Willamette Writers and other professional networks.
“It’s kind of bananas how many writers there are here,” she said.
The ability to write and the camaraderie of fellow writers combine with the other factors of her personal and professional lives to create a personal story Anderson finds as idyllic to anything she could conjure.
“I’m extremely lucky,” she said. “I 100% know that. This is pretty ideal. If I could knock out a bestseller, that would also be lucky.”