Monday, August 25, 2014

In the Company of Other Writers

I am a homebody at heart, but am almost always willing to get out of the house for a gathering of writers. Sometimes I will try and talk myself out of it at the last minute, but the hubby usually reminds me that spending time with other writers tends to leave me energized. In fact, on Saturday, when I almost ducked out of an opportunity to go to the Local Author Workshop in Topeka, he said, "These are your people. Go. Have fun. Enjoy your day."

And I did, of course. I did all of these things.

I enjoyed the ride (with my writing friend, Cheryl) and I enjoyed the speakers. I even came home with a new author crush. Regina Sirois, author of On Little Wings, gave what was quite possibly the most powerful talk about our lives as writers that I have ever heard. I hope to write more about her amazing keynote speach soon.

Tonight I enjoyed yet another gathering of writers. Our local group gets together once per month. There is typically somewhere between two and ten members. More seem to be coming these days than fewer. We are growing, bit by little bit. It is a diverse and very casual group. We take turns leading each month and have covered a variety of topics in the last few years. Tonight we talked about tips and ideas for marketing our books. We had five returning and two new members, a lot of good energy, and it may be several hours before I make it to bed!

Now I am looking forward to several weeks of schedule-free evenings and perhaps even a few semi-free weekends so that I can devote more time to my most recent endeavor, a book published with co-authors
Kevin Rabas and Mike Graves. The Green Bike launch will be here soon!


Let me provide a teaser:

Emporia authors Kevin Rabas, Mike Graves and Tracy Million Simmons, will host a launch party for their new novel on Saturday, September 6, from noon to 2:00 PM at Town Crier Bookstore, 716 Commercial, Emporia, Kansas.

Green Bike follows the lives of three couples, using the McGuffin, or shared symbol, of a classic Schwinn bike to link parallel tales. Authors Kevin Rabas, Mike Graves and Tracy Million Simmons wrote the three tales of the novel independently, but collaboratively as they read each other’s work as the story progressed.

“Green Bike reads like jazz improvisational solos: each author works the narrative threads, making them distinct yet seamlessly interwoven to create a layered novel. Like the classic Schwinn of the title, this book will lead you on a wonderful adventure,” says Hardy Jones, author of Every Bitter Thing.

Rabas called the novel “a wild campus romp.” He said, “It’s at once a love story, a love triangle, a kunstlerroman (artist’s way novel), coming of age tale, wild college days tale, and tale about losing an aging loved one. How can it be all of these things? Because it’s a novel of parallel tales. We’re not just in one narrative. We’re in three.”

The book will be available at Town Crier Bookstore in September, as well as online bookstores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Learn more at www.meadowlark-books.com.

______________________________________

Kevin Rabas co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State University and edits Flint Hills Review. He has four books: Bird’s Horn, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar, and Spider Face: stories.

Mike Graves teaches Intensive English and TESOL courses at Emporia State University. His writing has appeared in Thorny Locust, Flint Hills Review, and elsewhere. He has recently finished a novel about a private detective set in 1937 Wichita. When life conjures its riddles, he turns to back roads and baseball for answers.


Tracy Million Simmons is a freelance writer with more than 500 articles in print and the yearbook editor for the Kansas Authors Club. Her novel, Tiger Hunting, was published in 2013 and was the winner of the 2013 J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book award.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Waiting on the Sky, by Cheryl Unruh

Cheryl Unruh, former columnist for the Emporia Gazette and one of my favorite authors, has done it again with her second collection of essays on the state I proudly call home.



In Waiting on the Sky, Cheryl describes Kansas--community and people--in a series of essays that remind us of the joy and peril, the love and the heartbreak of life on the ground in a rectangle state.

We who live on the prairie love our sky. It is as much a part of the landscape as the land itself. White the earth gives us roots and plenty of soft grass on which we can curl our bodies and fall asleep, the sky gives us flight, imagination, a place to go with our eyes, a place to go with our minds.

Cheryl once again makes me want to slow down, take more time to absorb the scenery, spend more time watching the clouds that pass overhead. The book takes us back and forth, from the landscape and experience of being Kansan, to Kansans themselves and glimpses of Cheryl's life growing up on the plains to her life now in the Flint Hills.

I was delighted, of course, to find "Tracy's Hometown" within the pages of this book (even though Cheryl revealed my secret childhood run-away spot). I enjoyed her ruminations on the western Kansas tumbleweed, as well, though I think I'm more appreciative of the wind, in general, than Cheryl. 

Waiting on the Sky is the book to keep on your chairside table, full of word morsels you will want to bite and then nibble again, to take with your morning coffee as you contemplate the start of your day, or to sample with your nighttime tea.

If you haven't picked up your copy yet, head right on over to Quincy Press for ordering instructions. 

See my review of Cheryl's first book, Flyover People, by clicking this link.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blog Neglect Does Not Equate With Writing Neglect

Life in July has provided plenty of fodder for topics to write about. I only hope that I have taken thorough enough notes to bring me back mentally to the place where I can eventually get everything I want to write written!

The big event for the month has been the final stages of preparing a book I co-authored with two friends from the Emporia Writing Group. Green Bike is a group novel due to be released the first week of September.

I also got news this month that my short story, Virtual Farm, has been selected for publication in Page & Spine, most likely coinciding with the release date of Green Bike! I made a deal with myself earlier this year that I would submit two new short stories for every rejection letter I received as a way of boosting my output... but I failed to set parameters for the occasion of an acceptance. I'm thinking the same deal -- two out for every response received. This means I'd better get to work!


Friday, June 20, 2014

A Blog Hop

I've been tagged in the #MyWriting Process blog hop by Nancy Julien Kopp, one of my friends from Kansas Authors Club.  I’ve enjoyed clicking back through writer’s blogs and reading about the writing process and I hope there are readers here who will enjoy the connections, as well.

Credit should go to Carole Malone for starting the Blog Hop several months ago.

To participate, a blogger answers four questions about her/his writing world and process, then tags two or three more bloggers. I have linked to my chosen bloggers below.

As for my answers…


What am I working on?

My number one two* project at the moment is a personal one that has absorbed what little free time I have had for the past several months. My mother passed away in 1997 and when her oldest grandchild, my niece, graduated from high school in 2004, I pulled together my mother’s efforts at writing her own memoir. Mom’s completed story made it to about age 10 and her notes a few years past that. My mother was an impassioned letter writer, however, and I was also able to take bits and pieces from the family stories she wrote to my sister and I over the years. The end result was a spiral bound book full of mom’s words.

This year, my mom’s second and third granddaughters graduated and I got the bright idea of adding to the book. My father unearthed some of my mom’s high school diaries. I’ve scanned photo albums and collected stories from friends of the family, nieces and nephews, my sister, my brothers and their families. It’s a project that could easily go on for years and years, but I think I’m pretty close to figuring out – mentally at least – how I am going to tie up the loose ends. I’m excited to present it to the grandkids in bound form this time, complete with lots of photographs, as well as some new memories.

As for the always ongoing writing projects, I continue to circle between a companion story to Tiger Hunting, a cozy mystery that is somewhere around the second draft of completion, and short story submissions which I have been dusting off and working on circulating once again. I missed all the deadlines for the Kansas area contests in which I typically try to participate, so in my head I have already moved to thinking about what I might submit to those contests next year.

*As project priorities often go, things shifted even as I was working on this blog hop. Slipping into priority position is work on a novel I co-wrote with two members of my local writing group a couple of years ago. We are in the end stages of preparing this book, which began as a group writing exercise, for publication. More news about that project will be available soon.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well if my work is Tiger Hunting, my only published novel at this point, I would say it differs in that it is shorter than most mainstream women’s fiction and perhaps takes itself less seriously. It is not a girl-finds-boy, lives-happily-ever-after in the end book. The point of the book isn’t falling in love, the point is finding the satisfaction of standing on your own feet independently.

I would like to say that the overall theme of most of what I write is that it manages, in some way, to capture the everyday normal. In fiction and non-fiction, I write often about being a mother, about losing a mother, about living under a big open sky, and about appreciating Kansas living, and the kinds of people who live in Kansas, in general.

Why do I write what I do?

So let’s say, for the moment, that the answer to what I do is, “I write fiction.” Because honestly, fiction has been the dream from the start, and everything I’ve written up to this point, if not literal practice for writing short stories and novels,  has taught me something about words and connections--on paper and in life--and I’ve learned most about my own ability and personal challenges, as well as creative need.

I haven’t always written fiction. My first success in publishing was in personal essays and non-fiction articles. Twenty-some years ago, exasperated with the sheer enormity of the task of writing a novel, I got the idea that I should back off from the big dream and start small. I started writing pieces I could finish in an hour, then I moved on to work that might take me two or more. Writing has taken me down many paths, and the paths I am drawn to have led me to writing about many different subjects and in many forms.

I think I return to fiction because I enjoy the freedom of pure imagination. Anything can happen when it isn’t real, yet there is sense and order in good fiction that you can’t necessarily duplicate in real life. My stories often start with a question I have about something I’ve heard or a person I’ve observed. Why does that person behave the way they do? How could they possibly get into that situation? I think I figure out the things that puzzle me most by crawling inside imaginary minds and working through the steps that might explain a person’s actions. The process doesn’t always result in a good story, but I generally feel that I’ve learned something from it.

How does my writing process work?

Looking at the big picture, I can divide most of my writing life into two modes. I am either fast-track writing, full of ideas and story starts and too many projects in progress to list, or I am in what I call finishing mode. In crazy writing mode, I have two or three journals nearly always at hand, each designated for different types of idea catching (or actual diary keeping) and my computer hard drive grows full with folders titled things like “book starts” and “fill-in-the-blank stories” and “inspirations” and “what ifs.” In finishing mode, I become more methodical. I comb through files and journals looking for the next piece to finish, work on it relentlessly until it feels polished, and then decide where it should go. When a novel becomes my focus, I might write and rewrite and polish for days or months before moving on to the next project. These modes have lasted for weeks or months… and probably even years at a time. It doesn’t sound like the most efficient way of getting things done, but I find that when I take time away from a project, the next time I look at it I can often see exactly what needs to be done to move the project forward.



Someday I imagine myself writing full time, with grown children and fewer job responsibilities and volunteer distractions. Taking time for writing is a luxury at this point in my life, but it is a luxury I continue to prioritize. 

Now for those I am inviting to play along...

Here are the questions:
1. What are you working on?

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

3.  Why do you write what you do?

4.  How does your writing process work?

And I look forward to reading answers from...

Lindsey Loucks, author of romance and other scary things. Lindsey published her first book, The Grave Winner, about the same time that I published Tiger Hunting. I met her via my niece while I was selling my books from my hometown of Dodge City. Lindsey was nice enough to buy one. Her books are always fun to read. 

Visit Lindsey's website.







The next author I am tagging is someone I've never met in real life. The Middle Munchkin and I were searching for books about China since she (my daughter) is planning a trip there very soon. We came across
Sihpromatum; I Grew My Boobs in China, which turns out to be one of the most intriguing travel memoirs I've ever read. My daughter enjoyed it, too. I am looking forward to reading the second book, due out soon!

Visit Savannah Grace's website.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dear Writer: Thank you for your submission...

So back to topics in writing...

In my recent state of busy, I defaulted to a place I've found myself in many times before. I searched my archives with the idea of dusting off pieces previously written and submitting them. I optimistically submitted a short story that a judge in a long-ago contest assured me was marketable to a BIG short story market. I always figure, why not start big. I was also attracted by the stats suggesting that this market sent rejections fairly quickly. I figured it would be a good way to get the ball rolling. Submit a story. Quickly get rejected. Submit again. Etc.

It's not as negative as it sounds. I don't mind rejection notes, you see. If I'm receiving them, it means I'm putting stuff out there. And let's face it... it's very hard to publish anything if you don't... you know, put it out there.

The surprise with this particular rejection was that it didn't come quickly. In fact, it was nearly double the expected reject time before I got the "Dear Writer: Thank you for your submission..." email. And the note, believe it or not, made me giddy. In my glass-is-half-full way, of course, I have decided that this means I cleared the first hurdle. Perhaps my story went up a rung on the slush pile ladder before getting rejected. I chose to see this as a victory.

I quickly turned the piece around and submitted it elsewhere. I selected a second piece to submit, as well. So we'll see how long I can keep this going. For every rejection, I'll send two more stories out into the world.

Heaven knows I have plenty of material to play this game for a while.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Palooza, A 44th Birthday, Two Graduations, A Wedding, and a Camping Trip

It's true... this entry has taken me eleven days to write. 11? How is that possible? How can a person, especially one who considers herself a writer by nature, take 11 days to write a simple entry about something so trivial as a 44th birthday?

Let me take you on a photo tour:

The line for "my birthday" dinner! I started celebrating on May 30 with the Dirty Kanza Palooza, a fundraiser for the farmers market I manage. Or... as I prefer telling everyone... look at all these folks who came to dinner on my birthday!
And here I am, cooking for all those people! No worries... I had lots of help. The Dirty Kanza is an annual event in Emporia that has grown quite a lot in recent years. (If you don't know what the Dirty Kanza is, check out some of the photos here. It is awesome!)

On the 31st the family drove west (4 and a half hours west) for a wedding. John (left of me) was my neighbor-across-the-field when I was growing up. He is one of my dearest and oldest friends. His daughter, Samantha, was a beautiful bride. 

It was a brief visit, but I also  managed to grab lunch with my momma's siblings, Aunt Gerry and Uncle Riley, before heading back home.



The kids and I were home for exactly one day before heading west (two and a half hours northwest this time) for a camping trip with friends. We explored the wonderful town of Lucas, KS. Lucas is well worth the visit, if only for a visit to the public toilet (pictured above). If you make it to Lucas, give yourself at least a day for the visit. There is a lot to see in this little town.
Moms hanging out in Lucas, Kansas. No, we didn't empty all of those wine bottles.
I took plenty of books for reading and writing on our trip, but actually ended up spending the abundance of my time sitting in a camp chair and watching the clouds in this amazing sky go by. I let the near-gale force winds (two days of them) blow the cobwebs out of my brain. We had one perfect day for visiting Lucas (The Grassroots Arts Capital of Kansas) and a rather stormy day coming and going. It was incredibly relaxing. I could have managed a few more days off!

Saturday was a farmers market day, a preparation for company day, and--in the evening-- my daughter and I travelled to Kansas City for the homeschool graduation ceremony of one of her good friends. I can't tell you how much I love these kids. They make me feel good about the world we live in. Through their eyes, anything seems possible.

Then came Sunday... perhaps the most amazing day of all... when we were joined by family and friends for our own little unschool ceremony for my daughter, Evie. I was overwhelmed by the show of love and support. It's such a rare occasion to have all of your friends from different walks of life in one location. I only regret that I did not have hours and hours to talk and spend with each of them.
(Photo courtesy of Dave Leiker - Thank you, Dave!) 

4-H Friends and Cousins, Old Friends and New Friends

Lots and lots of hugs. (Photo courtesy of Dave Leiker.)


(Photo courtesy of Dave Leiker.)

And finally, on Monday, we spent the day preparing for 4-H Day Camp, which consumed most all of our Tuesday. It was an event my son Kaman chaired this year. Unfortunately, Kaman ended up with a bad ear and eye infection (from the lake water?), but his sisters stepped in and filled his shoes for the event. I got to go this year, too, in my new role as a 4-H Ambassador leader. 

Again, my world was brightened by the energy of so many young people.

Maybe I have been subconsciously testing my endurance... making sure that I still hold up under the pressure of a full calendar at age 44. So far, so good, though I am looking forward to a lighter schedule (and maybe a couple of naps) in the weeks to come.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Blank Pages

Several weeks ago I received a very special gift from a local artist and friend, Onalee Nicklin. Books with blank pages have probably topped the list of things I most love for pretty much my entire life. The thing about a blank pages is that you get to fill it, and for a moment, before your pen first touches the paper, the possibilities are endless. Blank pages have the potential to become anything.

I typically have a collection of journals/notebooks/blank pages that fill my various needs. There is a scribble book, an idea book, one that is often in my purse or bag because it’s just the right size, and one that is beside my bed because you just never know when inspiration will strike. Sometimes I keep a grumble journal. Sometimes I keep one filled with gratitudes.

Onalee must have known this about me, as she made me a very special journal. It is personalized right down to the ruled lines within which are drawn by her very own hand. She has captioned several pages that must speak to her confidence in me… 








I love everything about this little journal. I’ve been carrying it in my bag, which is rarely far from me, though I know I am not going to just sit down and dump words in it at random. These blank pages will be purposely filled with phrases I have crafted to the point of complete satisfaction, and then I’ll probably put them aside and let them sit some more before I finally decide to commit them to these pages.


Endless possibilities… and I find myself trying them all out, by scribble, by captured phrase, by thoughts that get me through another stack of dishes or mundane chore. 


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