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. 

Monday, May 12, 2014


Storm clouds were rolling in this weekend as we prepared to leave Dodge City. The rumble of thunder sounds different on the plains. I have so many memories of stepping outside as a child to watch and listen to the storms as they passed over. I miss it the way the rain announced itself on the winds in advance. Sometimes the sound of thunder made it seem as if the storm clouds were marching forward, darkening our big sky with their presence.

I spent the weekend with the winds of western Kansas and I embraced every minute of it, even though the dust and severe drought made me a little sad. I was able to sleep with the windows open, the winds were strong enough and cool enough to pass right into the house and create the perfect climate for sleeping in the upstairs bedroom of the farmhouse I was raised in.

My dad told me a story about going to Germany when he was in the army in 1954. "It was hot in Germany," he said. "We spent every day sweating and I was so homesick. Then one day the wind came up and the sweat dried. I didn't have any problem being homesick after that. You never realize how much you miss the wind until you don't have it."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Personal Work In Progress, Deadline Extended

Sometimes I am good at keeping my own deadlines. Sometimes I am really, really bad at it. With my current project, it's not so much that I'm having trouble getting the work done. The project just keeps growing. The more I work on it, the more ideas I have.

My Mother's Journals ~ early 1950s.
When my oldest niece, Ashley, graduated from high school, I put together a book of my mother's stories and excerpts from her letters. It was a wonderful (and emotionally exhausting -- my mom passed away in 1997) project. Several years ago I got the idea that I would do another version of the book when my second niece, Kayleen, and my daughter, Evie, graduated. They are my mother's grandkids #2 and #3. Several months ago, I talked with my nieces, siblings and sisters-in-law about adding to Mom's book. They were all for it, and so began the collection of new stories to add to what my mother had written herself, and the bits and pieces I had compiled from letters and journals she had kept.

My father even brought me journals I had not seen before, Mom's very own stories from 1950, 1951 and 1953. I've been immersed in transcribing them, and have enjoyed getting to know my mother in her teen years. (I had no idea she was so boy crazy, and I never imagined how quickly she fell head over heels in love with my father.)

Now I'm going through her photo albums again, as having the stories that line up with the images makes the album all that much more meaningful. I'm trying to decide how much to include and how many photos to print. Will everyone in the family be as delighted by this peek into my mother's teenaged mind as I am?

Since my deadline for having a hard copy in the hands of the next two girls to graduate in our family has passed, I've decided that they will get a "proof in progress" copy of my mother's book. There is more story collecting to be done here.

If I'm going to print a book, it might as well be a big one.

My Mom, Evelyn Reaujean Skaggs.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Shout Out to The Commons Book Club, Part III

This is the most awesome gift a writer can receive in the mailbox. I received a note from a dear friend recently who informed me that her book club had selected Tiger Hunting for their second read.

"Dear Tracy, Did your ears burn the afternoon of March 19th? Your book, Tiger Hunting, was the subject of our second book club meeting... all agreed they enjoyed your writing, but had some questions..." 

As I am composing my letter in reply, I thought I'd share the answers.

Question #3: How did you include local references so well?

I debated long and hard about placing Tiger Hunting in a real town. Dodge City is my town, after all—I was born and raised there—and I wasn’t sure how the natives would feel about me taking liberties with the culture and character of the city. I lived near Dodge City from birth until age 18, and lived there again from age of 27 to 33. I finally decided to embrace the “write what you know” theory. I placed the characters in Dodge City, and much of the early action in the story takes place in my own childhood stomping grounds south of Dodge City. In truth, there is a lot of fiction and reality mixed in the story, as far as time and place. The Dodge City of the 1980s rings much more true than modern Dodge City, and the Dodge City of Tiger Hunting is probably more stereotypically small-town Kansas than the actual place. The places in the story are a mix of real places, slightly altered places, and completely made up places that I chose to make a part of the city anyway.

“So,” he broke the silence. “Want to go try out the new coffee place with me on Wyatt Earp? Had you heard we’re getting civilized? Cup O-Jones. It’s a coffee house. Just like you had in Lawrence. Like Houston. Like on that television show, Friends.”
Wyatt Earp, absolutely a real place in Dodge City; Cup O-Jones, darned near the real thing. 

See Question #1, Question #2.

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