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Month: December 2016

Happy New Year from Amsterdam!

Happy New Year from Amsterdam!

Happy New Year from Amsterdam!

I hope you and those you care about have a wonderful 2017.

I know I have much to be grateful for. This month I’m celebrating my first year as a published author, which is something I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to say! I’m extremely happy to have connected with so many amazing and interesting authors and readers this year. I’ve learned so much from all of you. I am indebted to those who have bought my books, reviewed them or told their friends about them. Without your support and encouragement, I wouldn’t be able to call my first year a success. Thank you!

Amsterdam Light Festival

I know I feel like rejoicing! Since we have to wait another twenty-four hours for fireworks, I want to share with you one of my favorite ways to celebrate the winter here in the Netherlands, visiting the Amsterdam Light Festival.

From late November to mid-January, Amsterdam is lit up with dancing, pulsating and glowing light art installations floating in the waterways, projected onto monumental buildings or attached to the many bridges crisscrossing the city center.

There are two routes. The Water Colors route displays monumental pieces placed in the Herengracht and is easily accessible by boat or bike. The Illuminade route is comprised of smaller, interactive objects and installations my young son loves to play with. This second route is meant to be walked, meaning the works of art are placed fairly close together. It winds through the Plantage neighborhood, where Artis Zoo, the Hollandsche Schouwburg and Hortus Botanicus are located. Walking the Illuminade route has become a family tradition on the second day of Christmas.

The installations and objects created especially for this event by artists and architects are quite a departure from the yuletide displays I’m used to seeing in the American cities I was raised in. There, homeowners try to outdo their neighbors by creating the brightest or most extensive Christmas light shows adorning their houses and yards. It was favorite pastime during December to drive around the neighborhoods and see which displays me and my friends liked the most.

Here in Amsterdam lights aren’t strung up only for the holidays, but to brighten up the long dark nights of late autumn and winter. The Dutch tend not to go overboard with the Christmas theme, choosing for subdued elegance over flashy abundance. Strings of white and yellow lights are arranged to look like snow in the windowpane, covering a tree’s branches or dusting the tops of shrubbery. It’s not the extravagant, vibrant, flashing mishmash of Santa’s and reindeer of my youth. But it is quite lovely.

If you’re in Amsterdam in January, be sure to check out the Amsterdam Light Festival from a boat, bike or on foot. The installations are lit up at 5 pm until 10 pm. Don’t forget to bring an extra warm jacket; we’re experiencing quite the cold winter at the moment!

While you’re waiting for the lights to turn on, check out one of the many holiday markets and ice skating rinks, or head out to the Amsterdam Arena and see an exhibition of ice sculptures. If you’re in town for New Year’s Eve, don’t miss the organized fireworks display at midnight in the front of the Scheepvaartmuseum Museum. It is quite spectacular.

The Amsterdam Light Festival has become my personal highlight during the long winter months, an event I make a point of visiting several times during December and January.

What about where you live; what is your favorite holiday or winter event held in your hometown?


Happy New Year!


Guest post on Women Writers, Women’s Books

Guest post on Women Writers, Women’s Books

How Archival Research added Texture to my Novel

I’m so excited to see an article I’ve written about the historical research I conducted while writing The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, now featured on the front page of the amazing online magazine, Women Writers, Women’s Books! What an honor!

I’d love to hear what you think of the article, and what your responses are to the questions I pose at the end of the article:

“Fellow authors, do you conduct archival research in order to add texture to your fiction? Readers, do you expect fiction to be well-researched, or are you just as happy to step into a completely fictitious world?”

Have a wonderful weekend, Jennifer



Why do I write?

Why do I write?

Motivated by Passion

I’m always amazed by the number of people I meet who have a well-developed idea for a book in their heads but have already convinced themselves they aren’t ‘good’ enough to actually write it. “You’re a published author,” they say, “maybe you can write it up for me.”

Since my first book’s release in November 2015, I’ve been asked to author three memoirs, a science fiction novel, a technical manual and a daily calendar of inspirational quotations, in return for dinner at a fancy restaurant, a bottle of fine wine, and even a bag full of coupons an acquaintance was almost certain hadn’t yet expired.

To put this in perspective, during the five years I worked as a journalist, no one ever asked me to write up their memoirs for them. While in many ways it’s flattering, I’m always left confused by these very serious requests.

When I try to laugh it off, joking that I can’t write up an idea still floating around in their head, that I’m not the right person for the task at hand, they usually press on anyway. What if they gave me notes or an outline? Or perhaps I could interview them?

Inevitably I have to gently explain how much time it takes to work out the storyline, research potential characters and places, then write out the dialogue, scenes, and chapters of a one-hundred thousand word work of fiction. Not to mention the months of rewriting and revising until the novel takes form, only to send it off to editors and proofreaders to be picked apart before starting the revision process all over again.

A variation of “I had no idea how much work went into writing one book” is the end of the conversation before they walk slowly away, contemplating the unexpectedly complex and time-consuming creation process.

These conversations usually put me in a reflexive mood as well, leaving me wondering why I do this to myself. In the end, it’s the passion for the subject matter, the need to find out what my characters do next, and the desire to see the story through to its resolution. That’s what keeps me going into the late hours of the night and restrains me from throwing the manuscript away when I discover an unrealistic plot twist or my editor finds a plethora of mistakes and it seems as if it’ll never be ready for publication.

Fellow authors, what motivates you to keep writing when things get tough?

Fellow readers, do you have an idea for a book worked out in your mind that you haven’t written down yet? Why not?


* The beautiful bouquet of flowers seemed like a good way to visualize my joy at finally getting my new website  up and running! I’m still playing with sidebar images and a few other things behind the scenes, but if you have any comments or suggestions for improvements, I’m all ears. Have a wonderful week!

Goodreads giveaway: Down and Out in Kathmandu

Goodreads giveaway: Down and Out in Kathmandu

On December 16, 2015 my debut novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, hit the actual and virtual shelves!

I’ll never forget the feeling of astonishment and joy when I searched on Amazon and found my novel on the same lists as my backpacker fiction writing heroes…

To mark this momentous occasion, I’m giving away one signed copy of the Second Edition paperback. If travel thrillers are your thing, or you simply want to visit Nepal and Thailand from your armchair, you won’t want to miss this!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Down and Out in Kathmandu by Jennifer S. Alderson

Down and Out in Kathmandu

by Jennifer S. Alderson

Giveaway ends January 09, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


Parakeets of Vondelpark

Parakeets of Vondelpark

When I first moved to Amsterdam, the last thing I expected to see where flocks of rose-ringed parakeets residing in the city’s many parks. The beautiful pink and blue rings around their necks and in their tail feathers make them quite a sight to see. If you hear their high-pitched squawks nearby, go take a closer look. Thanks to their curious nature, they’ll probably check you out as well!

The first official sighting was in 1976 in Vondelpark, the same place where the once pet birds were presumably released or escaped. This park is still their main breeding group and large colonies can easily be spotted there flying around, feasting on nuts, or poking their heads out of the tree holes they like to nest in.

At the last official count in 2010, there were 3,700 wild parakeets in Amsterdam and 10,000 in the Netherlands as a whole. Their population doubled in size since the previous count in 2006. Though in some countries they are seen as a hostile, non-native species, here in Amsterdam we are quite proud of these hardy little green birds and they are by many considered to be ‘local’.

What kinds of unexpected wild animals do you have roaming around your city that visitors find strange, unique or interesting?

Swayambhunath stupa of Kathmandu

Swayambhunath stupa of Kathmandu

Swayambhunath stupa

The Swayambhunath stupa is one of the most recognizable symbols of Nepal, which is why I chose to feature a silhouette of it on the cover of my debut novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: Adventures in Backpacking. It is part of a large temple complex perched on a sliver of land rising high above the Kathmandu Valley floor, collectively known as the ‘MonkeyTemple’ thanks to the colony of well-fed primates which reside there.

The central stupa is topped by a gold-colored block onto which Buddha’s face has been painted on all four sides. Some say his watchful eyes are intentionally menacing so as to ward off evil. The nose is the Nepali number ‘1’ as well as the symbol for unity. The stupa’s broad white base represents the four elements: earth, wind, fire and air. Prayer flags covered in mantras flutter from lines attached to the stupa’s spire, allowing the wind to spread their holy messages. The thirteen concentric rings on the spire symbolize the thirteen steps which must be taken to achieve Nirvana, represented by the umbrella perched on top.

I took this picture in the fall of 1999, during one of many visits to this awe-inspiring UNESCO site while volunteering in the Kathmandu Valley as an English teacher. Miraculously this enormous stupa survived the devastating earthquake of April 2015, though most of the surrounding temples and shrines did not. I feel privileged to have seen this complex in its full glory.

Here’s a very short excerpt of Zelda Richardson’s first visit to the mind-bogglingly beautiful shrines, stupas, temples and monasteries known collectively as Swayambhunath, accompanied by her guide Khamel:

“She paid her entry fee and rushed through the last gate, anxious to get inside. An enormous eye stopped her in her tracks. It floated ominously above a half-dome the height of a five-story building, painted completely white.
“What is that?”
“It is a Tibetan stupa, a holy place for Buddhist peoples. The eye of Buddha reminds us he is always watching.”
“And that one there?” Zelda pointed towards a large stone cylinder, covered in ornate carvings.
“That is an Indian stupa, Hindu people pray there.”
“But they are right next to each other!”
“Yes?” Khamel looked at her quizzically before moving on.

Is there a sculpture by Picasso in Vondelpark?

Is there a sculpture by Picasso in Vondelpark?

Picasso statue VondelparkScattered throughout Amsterdam’s largest city park – Vondelpark – are several statues and sculptures, including one designed by Pablo Picasso, Figure découpée l’Oiseau. Though Picasso intended it to be a bird (note the feet recognizable at the bottom of the sculpture), Amsterdammers have always seen it as a fish and locally it’s known as ‘Picasso’s Fish statue’.

It was a gift from the artist to Amsterdam in 1965. That same year, the city organized an exhibition of artwork featuring some of the most important international sculptors at that time, to commemorate Vondelpark’s 100th year of existence. It was curated by Willem Sandberg, then director of the Stedelijk Museum. Picasso allegedly gave the sculpture to Amsterdam as a token of his friendship with Sandberg.

But was it really his to give? The great artist himself created a small, scale model of the sculpture out of sheet metal, and the Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar created the eight-meter high version now standing in Vondelpark. Nesjar was an acclaimed painter, sculptor and graphic artist who developed a unique method of concrete sculpting called “betograve”. He introduced Picasso to the technique, sparking a twenty-year collaboration during which time Nesjar turned twenty-four of Picasso’s drawings and scale models into large public sculptures.

Figure découpée l’Oiseau is also executed in betograve; white concrete was poured into a form tightly packed with black stones, then – once set – Picasso’s lines were sandblasted into the slab, exposing the gravel beneath the surface.

When you read about Carl Nesjar and his oeuvre, the sculptures he and Picasso collaborated on are usually credited as: “Designed by Pablo Picasso, executed by Carl Nesjar.”

What do you think: Is our beloved Fish statue a Picasso? Or is it really a Nesjar?

Here’s a link to an interactive map of Amsterdam, pinpointing the Fish sculpture:

Here’s a beautiful 2-minute long video of the 1965 exhibition in Vondelpark:


The Lover’s Portrait added to Stedelijk Museum and Jewish Historical Museum libraries

The Lover’s Portrait added to Stedelijk Museum and Jewish Historical Museum libraries

In August 2016, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery was added to the library collections of two incredible cultural institutions: the Stedelijk Museum and Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.

The Stedelijk Museum, one of the world’s most renown contemporary art museums, decided to include my novel in their collection thanks to my descriptions of the processes involved in the restitution of Nazi-looted artwork.

A few weeks later, I received word that the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam was so pleased with their prominent role in The Lover’s Portrait they added it to their permanent literature collection.

Wonderful, humbling news!

Next time you’re in Amsterdam, check out these incredible institutions and pop into their libraries to peruse through my book!

A fuzzy, yet lovely, depot photo of The Lover’s Portrait: The Art Mystery being entered into the Stedelijk Museum’s library collection (location: 211 C 33).

The Lover’s Portrait at Pink Point Amsterdam

The Lover’s Portrait at Pink Point Amsterdam

I am *extremely* proud to see The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery on display at Pink Point Amsterdam on the Westermarkt!

Pink Point is the world’s first gay and lesbian tourist kiosk, providing general information, pamphlets, advice and travel tips for LGBT tourists. Their knowledgeable staff can also tell you more about the history of the neighboring Homomonument — the world’s first tribute to the many gay and lesbian people who lost their lives during World War II. They also have flyers about this touching memorial available in 11 different languages. On top of all that, Pink Point has an incredibly extensive assortment of LGBT souvenirs and postcards!

When in Amsterdam, stop by Pink Point to learn more about the LGBT community and the history of the Homomonument. While you’re there, browse through my book, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, to learn more about the treatment of homosexuals in both Amsterdam and Europe during World War II.

“The Lover’s Portrait creates both respect and delight.”

Set in the Netherlands, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery is the contemporary story of American art history student Zelda Richardson, who finds clues to the whereabouts of a collection of masterpieces hidden somewhere in Amsterdam, secreted away in 1942 by a homosexual art dealer who’d rather die than turn his collection over to his Nazi blackmailer.

This amateur sleuth mystery describes the plight of homosexuals and Jewish artists in Europe during World War II, as well as the complexities inherent to the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.

“The novel provides thoughtful, engaging reading that keeps you eagerly following past events and present predicaments.”

From Pink Point, take a short walk to either Boekhandel Vrolijk or Caffè il Momento to pick up your own paperback copy!