Saturday, May 25, 2013

Planting Seeds for Growing Stories

Every once in a while I meet someone whose creativity and passion for their work inspires me so much, I find myself lost and disoriented for a moment. This is often the case with people who grow things. I am apparently drawn to those who nurture the land. Or perhaps it is because as bookish and nerdy as I am, my roots are from farmers and gardeners. I more than admire a green thumb. A part of me has always imagined myself to be a person who can and will plan and orchestrate a visually stunning yard, or at least a cozy, out-door space for living and relaxing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Visit to Today's Dodge City High School

Tracy Million Simmons with DCHS Students ~ May 16, 2013

While in Dodge City, I also had the opportunity to talk with some students at Dodge City High School (the current incarnation of what was Dodge City Senior High when I was a kid) about writing and publishing. They are still the home of the Red Demons!

The "new" school is enormous in comparison to what I attended in 1988. The librarian estimated that they have about 1,700 kids there, freshmen through seniors. The experience kind of blew my idea that my story was set in a somewhat modern Dodge City. My characters had cell phones, but they were most definitely a product of something much more like the smaller (maybe 900 students) high school that I attended. It's funny to think of that as small since Dodge City was (and still is?) one of the largest schools in western Kansas. We were certainly larger than our closest neighbors of Minneola, Cimmaron, Jetmore, Bucklin and Meade!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Author Interview: Kevin Rabas

Kevin Rabas is a writer and a poet. He co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State University and I have been honored to get to know him through Emporia Writers, an informal, independent meeting group of the Kansas Authors Club.

As Kevin has been a great inspiration to me, both for getting me to step outside my comfort zone and try new things with my writing, and as someone whose words and encouragement really helped me to get focused on getting my first novel published, I was very pleased when he agreed to participate in an author interview for my website.

Your book, Spider Face, is a collection of short-shorts that often read as much like poetry as prose. Like much of your poetry, the pieces feel very intimate, like stories some might share only with a close friend. As a reader, I feel as if I have been allowed to look through a book of snapshots of your past.

Spider Face is filled with works that follow the path the confessional poets (Lowell, Plath, Sexton) carved out. The first section is a series of shorts that culminate in an HIV test. I wouldn't casually talk about that, but it's been on my mind since the early '90s as a story I wanted to tell. Writing that series of interlocking stories provided me a way to say it, and a way to tell it with both humor and darkness, with a kind of narrative pull beyond what a quick anecdote holds. That section of the book talks frankly about sex and romance, about initiation into the world of adult knowledge. Much of the book touches upon that subject or theme. My aim is to do that with frankness and delicacy at once, without ever being gratuitous.

In terms of reading like poetry, sound is very important to me. I'm not for sound OVER sense, but very close. The line between these two is thin. If it doesn't sound good, I edit it until it does. Or I abandon that line, that paragraph, even that entire work.

How autobiographical are the stories in Spider Face? Would you classify them as memories conjured and captured at a later date or fodder mined from your personal archives. Are you writing your life all the time, or writing the memories that stick with you?

Although I take liberties to make the story sound, much of the work in this collection started with an "event" in my life. I'm not writing creative nonfiction here, but sometimes it's close. I'd say two-thirds of each story is true. I had to invent what I didn't remember. Other times, a change made the story better, more compelling, more poignant, more archetypal. One of the stories "Three AM" is taken from Japanese myth. So, that is not rooted in my life. The others are, for the most part. Some are stories others told me, such as "Spider Face." I wrote and rewrote the title story, off and on, for about five years.

What made you decide to present these as prose rather than poetry?

Dialog and action seem to function better in stories. In my own poetry, there are only about so many lines of dialog I can get away with before I begin to think: This would work better as a story or a play. Also, figuratively, there's more room to move around in a story. A poem, for me, usually has a smaller court, a smaller room. I know there are lots of good long poems. At that time, I preferred to turn longer stories or narratives into short shorts. Plus, I admire short short stories, and I wanted to try my hand at them, with some seriousness. I had written a handful. I wanted to write enough to fill out a collection. Furthermore, the "Elizabeth and KC" section called for interlocking short short stories. I wanted to explore how that would work.

How does your work with students influence your writing? Is there an added pressure to write/publish, beyond the expectations of any other university professor?

As Co-Director of the Emporia State University Creative Writing Program, and as a teacher within that program, daily I am called upon to lead and mentor a group of creative writers, a group of individuals who have just started on their path towards craftsmanship and towards eventual publication. I see it as part of my role to write well and publish so that I can guide my students more securely along that path. If I fall behind and don't know the market, how can I show my students the way? I can't know all of the market, but I can know a good deal of it.

As professors, we are expected to publish. Creative writers publish stories and poems and such, and literature professors publish scholarly articles. Sometimes professors do both. I think the expectations are reasonable, and those expectations keep teachers current in the field. It is not easy for a creative writer to publish, though, in that most small press journals publish less than one percent of what they receive. Odds are better for scholars. However, every kind of publication has its advantages. Anyone can enjoy a short story.

You are a multi-faceted artist, and I think I have heard you perform on drums as often as I have heard you read poetry. I am struck by the very rhythmic quality of your poetry. Which came first for you, music or poetry?

My mother worked as a reporter and editor for a small town paper. Sometimes she would take my sister and me along on the job. I'd hold her tape recorder when she went to chase a fire. I'd play with the waxer in the production room, pasting abandoned copy on the wall, on my arms. So, writing came first. My mother encouraged it.

I started music in fifth grade, like many. I wanted to play sax because Huey Lewis and the News had a saxophonist who soloed. I had a bad overbite, though, and my dentist said the saxophone reed would only make it worse. So, it was trumpet or trombone or drums. I chose drums.

In terms of combining poetry and music, the 1958 MGM LP *Weary Blues*, a collaboration between Poet Langston Hughes and Bassist/Composer Charles Mingus, was where it started for me. I listened to that recording at the MARR Sound Archive at UMKC in 1994. I admired it greatly. I shelved records, while that LP spun. I wanted something like that, I thought. Around 2000, I started something like it, reading poetry while KC jazz saxophonist Josh Sclar played. We played monthly at The Cup & Saucer in the KC Rivermarket area (4/Delaware). I drummed, too.

What do you do in your “spare” time… when you are not writing or teaching writing?

I like photography. So, I take a lot of pictures. I read a lot. I grade. I watch movies with my wife, Lisa. She loves movies. I play games with my son. He likes D&D. I drum.

Kevin Rabas co-directs the Creative Writing Program at Emporia State University and edits Flint Hills Review. He has four books: Bird's Horn & Other Poems; Lisa's Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner; Spider Face: Stories; and Sonny Kenner's Red Guitar.


Kevin's books on Amazon.

Spider Face at

Additional note from Kevin: I love to sign books and write messages. So, if you order a book directly from me, I'm happy to write in it. I'm on Facebook. Feel free to friend me. Also, local and regional bookstores often carry my books, such as the Emporia Town Crier, the ESU Memorial Union Bookstore, The Raven in Lawrence, etc.

Local bookstores are a great place to hang out--and to buy books.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Signing ~ Dodge City, Kansas

I had the most fun at my first big book signing in Dodge City on May 15. I decided to take the book to Dodge City, for its debut appearance at Cup of Jo-Nes. It seemed especially appropriate as one of the locations that inspired a scene from the book:

“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.”

Tracy Million Simmons. Tiger Hunting (Kindle Locations 859-860).
Robert Jones and the folks at Cup of Jo-Nes were extremely accommodating and friendly. They made me feel right at home. I had only a few moments of anxiety (assuring myself I'd survive just fine if nobody showed up) before I saw my first grade teacher, Mrs. York, coming up the walk. From that point on it was pretty much non-stop. Many friends and family members, but several total strangers, as well. The Dodge City Daily Globe had given me great front page coverage the day before the event, and it did the job of attracting some attention!

How awesome is that sign behind me? I didn't even notice it until after the whole event was over and I was looking at the photographs. Thanks to Evie Simmons, my daughter, for capturing images of the event.

Lindsey Loucks, to the left here, also had a book coming out on this day! I just purchased my copy and look forward to getting to know Lindsey and her work.

Two of my beautiful nieces sharing my joy. 

Stephanie and I went to high school together. She's a long-time friend of the family.

I hope the event brought several new patrons to Cup of Jo-Nes, as well. I had several tell me they had never  been  there before. I am glad to be the bait that lured them. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Front Page of the Dodge City Daily Globe

Dodge City native publishes first book

By Julia Kazar
Dodge City Daily Globe 

Posted May. 14, 2013 @ 6:00 am

DODGE CITY  --  Tracy Million Simmons was born and raised in Dodge City, and obviously the area had a big impression on her, as it's the setting for her debut novel "Tiger Hunting".

Read the rest here! 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

... I will be keeping an eye out for more from this author!

Oh! That's right. I'm supposed to be writing the next novel!

With just a little bit more than a month since my semi-official release date... I have started a list of lessons learned and, all along the way, I've been giving myself little pep talks. Don't worry so much about this one, Tracy. Just get to work on finishing the next novel. Stop checking the stats of your sales pages so obsessively. It'll only serve to bring you down. And besides, it's likely they only update once a day, at most, so if you just checked it 3 minutes ago, there's really no need to check again.

I had several weeks at the start when working on the "next" novel was a good distraction. But this marketing thing, I swear, it takes on a life of its own. It can be scary, as well as more than a little exhausting. It can also be a bit of an adrenaline rush while, though positive, is also exhausting.

Reviews from friends and acquaintances are awesome. But that same voice that gives the pep talks also says things like, Well isn't that sweet of her? You have such lovely friends, to say such nice things. All the while implying, of course, that the kind things are more to spare my feelings than anything. Sheesh! Who needs book critics with a voice like this inside my head!

That's why reviews from total strangers are awesome on a whole new level. Here's someone who hasn't shared lunch with you, hung out with you while your kids shared sandbox toys, attended years' worth of writers conventions with you, or looked you in the eye in any way and called you friend.

It's hard for the little voice to give too much grief over a review from someone you've never met before. As well, a 3-star versus 5-star review, even though heart-stopping for a moment, is still a "liked it" rating and who can complain about that? Not me.

Other lessons?

  • I've never been so current on all there is to know about the golf star, Tiger Woods. Who would have imagined that a Google alert labeled "Tiger Hunting" would return so much detail about that man's life?
  • Most books sell because people spend time selling them. This is a truth I suspected even before I set about publishing my own.
  • It is unlikely that any author will build a loyal following of readers with just one book. So... back to the keyboard I go (for something other than checking my sales stats).
  • It really can be OCD inducing to have so many places to check how many times your page has been viewed, an excerpt has been previewed, or a book has been purchased. Then again, I like to think of it as fodder for procrastination, and heaven knows I need more of that in my life!

This is a fairly short, light read and super cute! I believe it's something many women can relate to at some point. After all, I know I have, at times, wondered what happened to my "compass needle." There's a little bit of a possible budding romance as well and plenty of humor...had me giggling many times! I will be keeping this one to read again when I need a giggle and a smile. And I will be keeping an eye out for more from this author! By the way, absolutely LOVE Orville! Can he come visit me sometime?
~ Trinity Jo, 5-star Amazon Review

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Secret to Writing in Get 'er Done Mode

I had the pleasure of a lunch date with my son today. Kaman is 12 and he's a fantastic conversationalist. We talked about our current projects and activities; I asked questions and I learned a lot. I learned, for instance, about the possibility of launching a career in comedy via the internet (specifically, YouTube). I also gained a greater understanding of what he is learning in programming and what his ultimate goal is (to learn as much as possible about all the various possible applications of the programming language he is learning, which I think is Java Script).

Kaman asked me a lot of questions about my projects, as well. It is quite clear that he has been paying attention. He managed to query about every angle of my current, multi-faceted career(?) path. Let's just say he had a solid grasp of the things that are important to me and knows a considerable amount about what I spend my time doing.

One question he asked, was this, "If you were to quit working at the farmers market, and didn't need to work at dad's office anymore, would you just spend your time writing, writing, writing and publishing books?"

To which I answered, "Writing some; publishing little."

I had the luxury of time for many years. Sometimes I think of all the free time I had before I had kids... and how seriously I pursued writing through those years. I think I managed two or three magazine submissions and an award in a national short-short story contest. And I worked on a novel or two, of course. Endless starts and zero finishes.

It wasn't until my children came along that I started making true progress as a writer. It wasn't until I was the mother of three that I was regularly publishing pieces for fun and profit. And it wasn't until I was working two part-time jobs, as well as a fairly involved volunteer gig, and trying to keep up with two teens and a tween, that I finally managed to finish and publish a book.

I know it works differently for each person, but I feel little need to get things done when I have all the time in the world. It's when my life is full that I take the approach that I better get 'er done.

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.”
― Stephen King, On Writing

Blog Archive