GREAT WRITERS, RIGHT HERE

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                 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.

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Experiencing the KLA (Kansas Library Association) Authorpalooza on October 20th

KLA Authorpalooza

KLA Authorpalooza

A writer friend alerted me to the new Authorpalooza element of the Annual KLA Conference in Wichita this year. I looked it up on the web and downloaded the application in order to have the opportunity to participate in the event. When I received my acceptance notice I was happy.
Why not try this venue and see what it’s all about?

In the Author Alert that was sent out from KLA, the advice from organizers that proved to be the most helpful to me is listed below:

Prepare to Make the Most of Your Time

• Be prepared with your elevator speech for both readers and librarians…can you hook a librarian’s interest in your books and your potential as a speaker or presenter in just a couple of minutes? How would you expand if you have a little more time to chat?
• Do you have cards or bookmarks that librarians can take with contact information? Bring them with you!
• Have you done other presentations or book talks that you can draw on? Have you gotten good feedback? Consider making a one-page CV with dates and information. Print one to show, print a small stack to hand out to interested librarians, post it on your website, or have it ready to email when you receive inquiries!

I drove from Lawrence to Wichita – roughly three hours — and arrived at the Hyatt Regency an hour before set-up time with my rolling suitcase full of copies of my book, The Starlings in London, bookmarks, business cards (really a book cover, with the book’s description, price and availability), and a one-page CV. I also had a 20” X 35” poster of my book, a yardstick, duct tape and a collapsible lamp.

When the doors to the conference room opened, I rolled my suitcase in and immediately spied a woman whom I recognized, although I was pretty sure she did not know me. Her name is Susan Kraus. (I once taught her son in the gifted program at West Junior High in Lawrence.) I introduced myself and sure enough, she did not remember me! With an hour to kill, we decided to go to lunch. Over salads and french fries, we talked about our books, and current writing projects…a little about teaching and being a therapist (which she is).

Then back up to the conference room we went. By now almost all the tables were occupied by authors who had already set up and were ready to go. We scurried over to an empty one and shared a table. On her half Susan had her name, her books, post cards, a large description of her mystery series on a book holder, a vase, and strips of paper with printed matter for each librarian’s name, name of library, email of librarian and request for phone number. These were for librarians to fill out, fold over and stuff into her vase. On my half I rigged up my poster with the help of my lamp, duct tape and the yardstick. I also had my name, and the rest of my promotional material I previously mentioned.

Wait time came next. Eventually the librarians strolled through in groups. They paused at certain tables and when they paused at ours, we took the opportunity to pitch our books to them. Later on, when there was a lull, I wandered around the room and looked at other author displays. I enjoyed a chat with Robert Day (I have read his work in New Letters and found it interesting.) I also talked to Denise Low. (I had researched her ahead of time and I knew about her book, Jackalope. I bought a copy.) My next door table neighbor was Annette Hope Billings. At one point a microphone was offered and she did a reading from her poetry book, A Net Full of Hope. I liked it very much and bought a copy.

On the next door table neighbor on our other side was a man called Roy J. Beckemeyer. The title of his book of poems, Music I Once Could Dance To, drew me in. I borrowed a copy and read some of his poems. They snapped my interest to attention and I bought a copy of his book, too.

That’s about it, readers. Since arriving back in Lawrence to my normal life, I have thought about the librarians and the authors I met and I am taking the time to read the authors’  books. Right now I am enthralled with the poems of Beckemeyer. Here’s a very short one:

Confessional

Are sins of omission empty as they sound,
Free of all passion, hollow and round?

Are the acts we commit
In the dark of our souls
Worse than when we forget
To embrace or to hold?

When zero hour comes,
In the blackness of night,
Won’t sins of omission
Also hold back the light?

~Roy J. Beckemeyer

Like it?

Creative Emergence

Lately, I have been thinking of these two words: creative and emergence; about how they fit together to form a certain meaning.

In a radio interview on September 26th about my writing of The Starlings in London, I chose to focus on a section of the book where the artistic and aesthetic environment is evident. Here the narrator of the book, 12-year-old Lily Starling, is captivated by the allure and beauty of the English countryside and seaside as well as witnessing the working process of painters, like that of her father and his artist friend Lawrence.

Writing in a diary for the first time, Lily tries to express how the old windmill–where her father and Lawrence go to paint–affects her with its tangible and intangible spirit. “Is the windmill really brown?” she begins.

Lily is thinking about what she feels about what she sees. She is struggling to understand it. She decides to submit herself to its control over her thoughts, her being, and attempt to write about it. This is the narrator’s creative emergence.

Something about the place (private; overlooking the sea; by a reedy canal), the object (the old windmill…a sort of vessel), brings its visitors rapture, coupled with self-renewal. Why else would painters and impressionable girls, like Lily, go there again and again and try to capture its essence?

My present thinking about creative emergence is that it occurs not by the struggle to control it, but by submitting to its powers over you, the artist. It comes from the unconscious and the artist must recognize its appearance and harness it while you work your art to create your vision.

 

 

 

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 3

I took the summer off…now I am hard at work again. So where was I in the story? Oh, I remember: THE FINAL FILE.

Said final file was sent to a book designer, Molly Cook, recommended to me from the artist Nancy Purington who created the cover art for The Starlings in London. This cover captured in art the essence of what I decided to convey in the dilemma with which Lily Starling and her family are confronted once they reach England. I have to say the cover exceeded my expectations and has not ceased to capture my imagination when I look at it in book form, or better yet, when I study the painting itself.

The book designer worked and reworked and reworked the design to get what I wanted: simple presentation, with the letters interspersed throughout the book in block print, yet looking like real letters on the printed page.

This part took weeks to get right.

Because I read so much and am critical of what I read as well as its presentation, I went one step further. I submitted the book designer’s pages to my copyeditor. And, she did find a few things that needed tweaking!

Another aspect of publishing which I have not yet mentioned is the feedback I received every step of the way from a cousin who used to be in the book design business for major publishing houses in NYC.

It’s 8:55pm. I know not to call once the minute hand for 9:00 has ticked into its getting- ready-for-bedtime place.

“Oh, Hi! Sorry to bother you so late in the evening, but can you just take a look…”

“I will, but in the morning.”

“OK. Thanks!”

Whew! Thank God for devoted cousins.

So, what am I getting at here so far? Publishing is an act of collaboration. The higher the abilities of the collaborators, the better the final product.

Now, to take it one step further.

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Thursday, September 8th, was the celebration of my book at our local bookstore here in Lawrence KS: The Raven Book Store. This store is the neighborhood gem for all of us here who love books. And this store caters to the needs of local authors by promoting them and their new books. They gracefully exhibit the books and provide opportunities to gather together over wine and cheese to listen to authors present excerpts in oral presentation. Again, this is another example of collaboration. This time between authors and bookstore and neighbors/Lawrentians (Not D.H.).

My writing group is called The Write-On Group. We came together on Thursday to the Raven Book Store to promote my new book and to present their work to an audience. Again, collaborative effort and celebration.

Here is the program for the Raven reading, if you wish to take a look.

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So how does it feel to be published and have your work celebrated? It feels like your work has been officially stamped and sent out into the larger world.

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 2

So how did capturing a “smell” in notes turn into a manuscript–a book–and why would publishing said book change a person?

The Dad who smelled earthy, the smell in the train station of metal burning foreshadow the coming of age the narrator (a twelve-year-old girl) is about to go through.

The writer (me) is committing to following the idea of a girl coming of age to its conclusion. Somewhere early in the writing, not long after taking notes on smell, I came up with the book’s title The Starlings in London. This is the one thing I never wavered about. It helped me focus on the unfolding story.

I decided I was going to write this story of anguish, the break-up of a large American family in the foreign city of London in the late 1950s and I decided I wanted to contrast the city with the country to make it more interesting for the reader, and to give the anguish a breather once in a while.

The book’s ending, I knew from the book’s beginning. That helped give it bookends so to speak.

Each chapter I wrote was brought to writing group to be critiqued. I did not incorporate all the suggestions of the other writers. Instead, I thought about the suggestions and decided which of the suggestions made sense to me.

After a good long year of writing and critique in writer’s group, and re-writes, I then worked without interruption…not reading any books during this 3-month period because I did not want any other voices in my head other than the ones I was honing in the book. No reading. No Facebook.

When I had completed the manusrcript to the very best of my ability, I sent it to a very good copyeditor. Lots of grammatical errors were corrected. I had to give way to her suggestions about word changes (hard to do). For instance, I wrote that Lily Starling states, “my socks were dew wet.” The copyeditor changed that to “wet with dew.” For the most part I went with all the copyeditor’s corrections/suggestions, as in copyeditor knows best. However, I would only do this because I know how good my copyeditor is.

Now we have the final file. Great! I can read again! Check out Facebook if I want to again. Have a dinner date not just with my husband, but with friends. Rejoin the human race.

To be continued…

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 1

Yes! my new book The Starlings in London is out! My last blog was about a road trip. I always imagined road trips as LONG. Enough time to even change the inside of you by what you experience along the way, so much so that you even act differently when you return home. Hopefully more grounded and with greater perspective about life. Well, the road trip to Bentonville, AK was short and it was everything I had hoped it would be but it did not change the inside of me.

Publishing has changed me. It may take a few blogs to convey this change.

Read on if you want to hear about it…

First you have an idea and begin to type or write something. My idea began with writing about smell in a writing group. My “smell” was getting off a train as a kid in a zombie like condition in London in the wee hours of the morning after a crazy trip across the Atlantic on The Queen Mary to rejoin my father, which is later fictionalized in the book.

Writing assignment in writing group:

There are smells to seasons. There are smells to places, and there are smells to every time of one’s life. Use this prompt and write something. (I don’t like prompts, but I was trying to be a good group member.)

Okay, okay. What can I possibly say? I’ll jot down some notes:

Smell of the change:

Deadness in the air, gritty, greasy, metallic, foggy, gray heavy air, permeates nostrils. It hangs on the insides of them. Combines with sights clanging, shuffling of feet, train whistle, deadness, different shades of gray, tiredness, wasted, depression, forced smiles, vacancy, wool coats in summer, nothing obvious, or direct, unseen forces, reaching through a pea-soup fog and finding a hand, whose hand is it? A friend, a family member, a stranger?

The above notes became these words in The Starlings in London:

Dad smelled earthy. I was sure he had not had a bath. The skin of his cheeks was loose, yet bristly. The hanging mole next to his left eye jiggled in my right eye. My warm blood leaked fast, out of my face, down my throat, past my chest, and through my stomach, coursing toward my toes.

I smelled metal burning. My spit tasted like poison. I could no longer hear anything.

to be continued…

A “Published Book” by Students for Students of Students Has Impact

The book Written and Illustrated by: A Revolutionary Two-Brain Approach for Teaching Students How to Write and Illustrate Amazing Books by David Melton is a wonderful tool for adapting to your school’s writing programs, but only if there is a teacher in charge who cares deeply about children, writing, art, books, and professionally finished products.

For eight years, I developed my own writing program using this book. Each year, the student books got better and better. As the writing program grew in reputation more students wanted to write a book, to have a book by the end of the program to take home and keep. A book they could display on their own shelves, knowing they had created it from its very inception to its self-manufactured sewn and pasted product. (Many of them looked like professionally published books.)

Ron Knox for the Lawrence Journal World wrote an article “Student writings will be added to West library” about the pride some of my students took in their books. In order to have a book to take home and one book for the library these students had to make two. It took a semester of work to complete them.

I liked when Knox said, “After the students and their parents cleared the room, Burlingham spoke softly about her student’s accomplishments.

“Patience,” she said, “that helps bring them along.”

The class, although part of the school’s gifted program, was open to everyone. Some of the kids could flat-out write, she said. Some struggled to finish their projects.

For the words of the students and a photo open this link:
http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2006/feb/01/student_writings_will_be_added_west_library/

Meeting the Carvers

Last night I met the Carvers—Raymond and Maryanne—in a dream. She was tall and slim with close-cropped hair. There was a “divide” between us, which I was trying to bridge. Raymond was standing next to her leaning against a car, his arms crossed across his chest. He was wearing a soft plaid flannel shirt and glasses. He seemed approachable in a distant sort of way. I was trying to figure out how to “get close” to Maryanne, or at least make a beginning so maybe that could happen.

Maryanne abruptly left the no-happening scene and disappeared. I took off after her trying to find her. A little while later, I saw her across the street, holding up a fluffy dead cat by the neck. I could tell by her determined gait that she was VERY upset about the cat and knew what she was going to do with it.

I imagined her thinking MURDERER.

“Maryanne,” I called across the road, “I am SO sorry. What happened?” She did not look my way, but continued on her own sacred path.

I stood there for a second wondering what to do.

I Can’t Breathe

A friend up here in the Northwoods slipped me a copy of The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. I was in her bathroom and saw it on the back of the toilet. My father used to do that—read in the bathroom—but I never have.

Some days later, this friend loaned me her book. It is, as the cover says, The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.

For reference, my friend said, “It’s very depressing.”

Walter Cronkite said, “This is can’t-put-it-down history,” which is also on the cover.

Having finished the book last night, I feel authorized to disagree with Walter Cronkite. Like a husband who experiences very real pain in his abdomen when his wife is in labor, so in reading the very personal stories of people breathing in dust for five years, I experienced very real trouble breathing in the here and now. Consequently, I put the book down many times in order to go outside, take my present bearings, and breathe in the fresh air.

It was the individual stories of people and families recounted in the book that got to me. Egan lays out where they came from and why they chose No-Man’s-Land to settle in, then takes the reader through their personal experiences during the Dust Bowl. We get to know what motivates each person so that we come to understand why the farmer, the doctor, the school teacher did not get out, but stayed to endure unbelievable hardship, accepting all of its consequences.

Those consequences led to ruined lungs, thriving lives replaced by barebones existence, loss of livelihoods and land, and for many, death.

In the end, farmers stayed put even as foreclosure pounded at their doors. As one resigned farmer wrote in his diary on December 12, 1936:

“Well, there is not a great deal to report. Winter, in Inavale, is just staying, just living. But I don’t look for or expect anything going on any more.”

I am thankful to be here in the Northwoods with a view of the lake peeking through the trees, breathing clean air, fresh and scented with pine.

The Importance of Siblings, My Cousin, and Old Friends

I have two sisters and two brothers, and each one of them is a part of me. For many years, I lived relatively close to them all. Now I live fifteen hundred miles away. I can’t just get in my car for a quick visit. I have to save $, and plan carefully so that I can see them all.

May 8th I flew to Newport to begin my week east with my cousin Dorothy. I unfolded myself into her life: walks on the beach, yoga, lobster pizza, clam chowder, talks about books, family, health. I am now reading a book that Dorothy’s husband, Jim, recommended: Memories, Dreams, Reflections—C. J. Jung’s telling of his life story. It is an educational experience, filling me up with new ideas, making me think about the formation of individuality and identity.

After a few days, I rented a car in Newport and drove to my older sister Krissie’s house in Connecticut. It rained the whole time I was there, so we didn’t do much other than drive around to see the countryside in the rain, and talk. We got into our sister zone, where we discussed beloved places from our childhoods, memories of our parents, our children, her grandchildren, animals, plants, and books. We went to her local library, where we talked to her friend the librarian. Krissie took home several books that the librarian recommended, two of which I have read: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn, and Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer.

After a couple of days with Krissie, I drove into NYC to drop off my rental car. Once there, I immediately resumed my NY identity, dodging traffic through familiar streets. Yeah, I’m young again! I can manage New York’s vibrancy and complexity. Yes, I can!

I happily walked from the Upper East Side to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I sat on one of the benches in the entryway for an hour enjoying the different mix of people, looking at their clothes, listening to their voices.

I’ll come back tomorrow to experience some art, I thought. Before I left, I decided which exhibition I wanted to see: “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity.”

I was treated to dinner and spent the night at the apartment of one of my oldest friends. This friend and her husband have seen me through many different lives. When I looked across the table at them, I still saw the eighteen-year-olds I knew from college. What does each of them see looking at me?

The next day after the Metropolitan, I took my suitcase to Penn Station and placed it in baggage. Then, because I was late, I quickly headed to the Museum of Modern Art to meet my youngest brother, Michael John, for lunch and the Cartier-Bresson exhibit. Although we didn’t really talk about what we each saw, I did go back when my brother said, “Did you see Jung, Capote?” My brother is a writer. He has recently written a treatment and is about to begin work on the screenplay.

I made it to New Jersey Transit in time for the ten to four. My older sister Randi (pronounced Rondi) met me at Princeton Junction. This sister does not really drink wine, but over dinner she sipped a little with me. Her husband cooked and we talked. Listening to her discuss her life, I thought that what she says makes a lot of sense. When I went to bed, she put a little nightlight in the bathroom for me. As a child, she was always my light in the dark, and perhaps I was a little that way for her, too.

Early next morning, my younger brother Stephen picked me up, drove me to his house, and cooked me breakfast. His wife’s chickens had laid the eggs we ate. Warm and yummy! Stephen and I talked about his art projects. He took me to see his wife’s flower shop, then drove me to the airport.

I made it back to Lawrence without any travel hitches. Paul bounded toward me at the airport, as happy to see me as a joyful puppy. I am filled to the brim with my love for sisters, brothers, a cousin, friends, husband, and, not mentioned in this blog, my adult children, and adult stepchildren.