Me with Cathy Callen

On Saturday, December 10th, I drove with writing friend Cathy Callen to Topeka to attend the Great Writers Right Here Authors’ Fair at the Topeka and Shawnee Public Library. Both of us had books to sell. She had Running Out of Footprints, a biography of three generations of her Neff family relatives, “who arrived on the scene in Kansas City in the late 1800s full of energy and potential, contributed as political, business, religious and medical leaders in the city, and then gradually disappeared into obituaries and the census data.” And, Words in Rows; Poetry and Prose, a delightful witty collection of her poetry and short memoirs. I had my coming of age novel The Starlings in London that intertwines the everyday life of an American London school girl, the release and respite of holidays in a seaside village, letters back to the US., the stress and agony of rising family tensions, shocking revelations, and the excitement of first love.

We arrived promptly at noon and began to set up our displays. I shared my table with a George Feliu, a young fantasy writer who preferred his bright crimson Walmart tablecloth to the pastel green one embroidered by my Norwegian grandmother. We used his. He eyed my book warily as I did his, since fantasy is not a genre I usually read and I suppose my type of novel, not his. But, by the end of the three-hour fair, we were chatting away about our lives and even joking and teasing each other.

I used the fair as an opportunity to look at other authors’ books. “Can I take your book to my table and look through it?” Each person I asked obliged. In this way, I bought a Sheila Dalrymple’s picture book called Tex the Turkey’s Jiggly, Jaggly, Wiggly, Waggly Thing as a gift for a young relative. I bought Denise Low’s The Turtle’s Beating Heart; One Family’s Story of Lenape Survival for myself and had her sign my copy of her Langston Hughes in Lawrence that I had purchased the day before at the Watkins Museum in Lawrence. I was so interested in an issue of The Little Balkans Review: Gordon Parks. Coal Mining. Settlers Vs RRs and kept it so long at my table that the editor simply gave me 3 issues. I figured he figured I’d read them and spread the word. Louise Krug (Louise: Amended) and I traded books. She gave me her Tilted and I gave her The Starling in London. (We once did some writing together about 7 years ago.)

I also used the fair to talk to the publishers present about my memoir, Jewels That Speak. More than one seemed interested in the jewel theme as a way of telling a family story; the Freud/Tiffany legacies; self, lost and found. I’ll definitely follow up on these leads.

On our way home back to Lawrence, Cathy and I chatted about our experiences at the fair. Although these experiences were not identical, they were both positive. We both saw ourselves as putting our work out there and making bridges to the larger regional writing community. We both felt we were helping to make our work grow.