Sunday, December 31, 2006

Award News

As a writer, I’m pretty much a ball of neuroses at every stage: Does this idea bite? Does this first sentence bite? Does this whole manuscript bite? Will my editor finally discover that I’m a no-talent hack who somehow managed to fake her way through the last book without being found out?

When Airball: My Life in Briefs was published, my biggest fear was: What if my book goes out into the world. . . and nobody notices? And while it’s true that Airball hasn’t changed the literary world as we know it, it’s gotten enough recognition here and there that I know that at least a few people have noticed—and read—my book.

My two latest bits of recognition are very exciting. I’ve recently found out that Airball has been chosen for two more state award lists: Kansas’s 2007–2008 William Allen White Award Master List for grades 6–8 and the 2007–2008 Texas Lone Star Reading List, also for grades 6–8. Airball was previously named to the Maine Student Book Award list for the current school year, 2006–2007. Throughout the school year, students from these states read books on their lists then vote for their favorite in the spring. The book that garners the most votes wins (duh).

I’m thrilled that Airball has been included on these lists. The William Allen White Award is especially close to my heart because that’s the award I voted on when I was growing up. I remember getting bookmarks printed with the master list each fall and thinking that all the books on it must be magical and special to have been named to such a list. I tried to read as many of them as I could so that I could be an informed voter when the time came. I’m delighted that students across the country, at least from Maine to Kansas to Texas, will be reading my book over the next two years.

Whether I win any of these state awards or not, that’s the real award for me: knowing that middle-graders are reading (and, I hope, enjoying) Airball.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy Birthday to Ashley!

Today is my daughter’s birthday. My oldest baby is turning 23. It hardly seems possible. I mean, am I not still 23?

But she’s a wonderful daughter and I’m lucky she’s mine. Tonight one of her activity groups is having a New Year’s get-together, and instead of taking cake and ice cream to celebrate her birthday, as we had originally planned, we’re firing up our new chocolate fountain (again with the chocolate fountain!) and setting out strawberries, bananas, Rice Krispie treats (yes, Rice Krispie treats dipped in chocolate—this is what they eat in heaven), pretzels and assorted other goodies for dipping. Ashley’s favorite dipping item is marshmallows.

Happy Birthday, Ash!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Updates & Tidbits

This fall I was very lucky to be invited to many writer events. On September 29, I motored down to Wichita to sign books at the first-ever Kansas Book Festival. It was a rollicking success, with busloads of students from all over the state rolling into Lawrence-Dumont Stadium to listen to storytellers, authors, musicians, and historians. Plans are underway for next year’s festival.

That evening I was honored, along with the fourteen other Kansas Notable Books authors, at a ball at Exploration Place, Wichita’s science museum. We received very cool medals, so big and heavy I felt like I’d won gold at the Olympics. Actually, we were all treated like we’d won the Olympics. After the ceremony, we listened to jazz, enjoyed an incredible spread of food (I was seated next to the chocolate fountains—yes, they had two: one for white chocolate, and one for dark) and yumptious wine from Wyldewood Cellars, and toured the museum exhibits, including the flight simulators and the traveling Sue the T-Rex exhibit.

Kansas Notable Books authors at the ball. I’m standing between the wonderful Jane Kurtz and David Parks, who was accepting for his father, the late Gordon Parks.

On November 2, I visited Piper Middle School, where I spoke to the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, conducted a writers’ workshop for students who are particularly interested in writing, and afterward signed books. It was a fun day. The students were very attentive and asked great questions, and the school building itself is very impressive. Their stage is at one end of the commons area and has auditorium-like seating so that it was very easy for the kids to see me, for me to see the kids, and for all of us to talk back and forth.

<—During one of the assemblies at Piper Middle School.

<—Writers’ workshop at Piper Middle School.

On November 3, I drove out to Manhattan (Kansas, not New York, which would have been fun, too, but a much longer drive) to the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, one of my favorite, favorite conferences. I met Harley Jane Kozak, whom I’ve loved since she played Annabelle on Guiding Light, attended Nancy Pickard’s editing workshop and lots of panels (including my own on writing for children and on the Kansas Center for the Book), and hung out all weekend with book-loving pals old and new.

On November 14, I attended the fall book fair at Prairie Elementary School in Prairie Village, Kansas. Mrs. Renft, the book fair committee, and the students all made me feel so welcome. They saved a parking spot for me right by the front door with a sign that said “Reserved for Author L.D. Harkrader.” The kids were excited about reading Airball and jostled each other in line to be the first to get their book signed. Mrs. Renft did a great job organizing the fair, and Reading Reptile provided the books.

On December 2, I gave a little talk and signed books at Book Barn in Leavenworth as part of their Holiday Open House. Book Barn owners Bob and Barb Spear are wonderful hosts. Barb made chili and other tantalizing food, and Bob and a friend played music on different stringed instruments. Book Barn is a very homey, welcoming store, and many of its loyal customers go there just to hang out with the Spears and talk books, history, politics, music, or whatever subject comes up.

Wow. I’ve done a lot in the last few months. I think I need a nap.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Blog Spam—Who Knew?

I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the word “flatulence” on my blog because ever since, I’ve been getting posts in the comments section advertising Viagra and remedies for all kinds of embarrassing physical ailments. (And now that I’ve mentioned the word “Viagra,” I’ve probably just invited more of these comments—sigh.)

I deleted those posts and—sadly—had to change my settings so that now I must approve all comments before they can be posted. Since the Viagra comments are obviously automated, I could avoid the problem altogether by making everybody type in the misshapen letters and numbers they see in those fuzzy boxes, but that’s so annoying, and I don’t want to discourage real-live, sincere comments. (And, I’m embarrased to admit, I can’t always decipher those misshapen letters. I’m always afraid I’m typing in the wrong thing. I can’t be the only one. Can I?)

I guess nothing on the Internet should surprise me, but I really wasn’t expecting anybody to spam my blog.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Governor’s Inaugural Family Festival

Okay, now that I have the flatulence problem under control and a handle on the holidays (only one left—Happy New Year!), I can finally devote myself to my blog again.

Speaking of a happy new year, 2007 is starting with a bang. I’ve been invited, along with the other Kansas Notable Books authors, to participate in Governor Kathleen Sebelius’s Inaugural Family Festival. The festival’s theme is “Main Street, Kansas,” and it will feature the best of Kansas’s authors, artists, craftspersons, and musicians, as well as food, culture, and history. It sounds like a lot of fun, and I’m thrilled to be included.

The festival is free and open to the public, and I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Yes, that’s right—flatulence. I’m working on my next novel, and I find myself researching synonyms and descriptions for, well, farts. I’m sure it seems as if I’m seeking out bathroom humor on purpose (first the underwear in Airball, and now this), but I promise, when I started this book, intestinal gas was the furthest thing from my mind. Now, however, it has become essential to the story. It’s called The Adventures of Beanboy, after all, so ignoring the flatulence factor would be like ignoring the six-ton elephant in the corner.

Anyway, this is what I’ve come up:


It’s not much of a list. I can’t keep typing “toot” over and over. So if anybody has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Also, I haven’t forgotten to post more about my Piper visit, the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, and, now, the terrific book fair I participated in at Prairie Elementary in Prairie Village, Kansas. As soon as I get a handle on this flatulence problem (soon, I hope), I’ll write more about them, and also about some award news I’ve gotten recently.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

LPL (Longer Post Later)

I haven’t been able to post anything about my visit to Piper Middle School on Thursday because right afterward I had to pack so I could leave at 6:00 Friday morning for the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave. I’ve just arrived home again, and I wanted to quickly say that I had a wonderful time at Piper. The students were delightful, attentive, and full of great questions, and the faculty and staff treated me like a celebrity.

I also had a great time (as usual) at the Conclave and wholeheartedly recommend this conference to all mystery lovers—readers as well as writers. Over the next few days I’ll post more about my Piper visit, including photos, as well as about the Conclave.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Off to Piper

I’ve been horribly remiss in keeping up with my blog. I blame it on lots of writing and drawing (fun), celebrating Halloween (fattening but fun), getting a tooth crowned (not so fun), and preparing for some upcoming writing-related events (fun and exciting).

One such event is my school visit tomorrow at Piper Middle School. I think I’m ready. I have my presentations tweaked, my visual aids packed, and my clothes laid out. I’m eager to meet the Piper students and faculty, talk to them about writing, and sign some books.

Piper, here I come!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Saturday the 14th

Well, Friday the 13th came and went, and nothing terribly exciting or wonderful happened. But you know what? So many exciting and wonderful things have been happening to me lately that I don’t mind giving Good Fortune a day off.

Example of exciting and wonderful: The Borders in Lawrence, Kansas, invited me to do a book signing this morning as part of Educator Appreciation Week. I had a great time, got to know the children’s department manager, Annie, and hung out with my dad, his lady friend Cissy, and my Aunt Imogene, who came to show their support.

<------Me at Borders with my dad and my Aunt Imogene. (My dad is the tall one with the beard.) Cissy took our picture.

Bookstores can be dangerous places. I can’t resist shopping, no matter how much willpower I arm myself with beforehand. As usual, I ended up buying more books than I signed.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th, and I know traditional superstition says that this day should hold back luck, but that’s only because traditional superstitionists (yes, I made that word up, and yes, it shows) weren’t raised by my mother. Mom always said Friday the 13th was a lucky day for her, so I grew up looking forward to each and every Friday the 13th, convinced that something exciting and wonderful would happen to me. After all, the thirteenth day doesn’t fall on a Friday just every month, so when it does, it must be special. (Yeah, yeah, I know—Tuesday the 22nd doesn’t happen every month, either, and nobody thinks that’s special. If it made sense, it wouldn’t be a superstition.)

Anyway, I’ve been waiting for something exciting and wonderful all day. It’s noon, and so far nothing. I haven’t given up hope, though. I still have twelve hours.

If nothing else, I’m having a good hair day.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Stardom Postponed—Alas

Sadly, my TV appearance in Topeka with Nancy Pickard has been postponed. We'll be rescheduled to another day, however, and I’ll post the information here as soon as I get it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I’m a TV star!

Well, I guess that depends on your definition of star, but I am going to be on television:
Northeast Kansas Live
11:00 am
October 16
Channel 27
Topeka, Kansas
And the best part is that I’ll be appearing with Nancy Pickard. How cool is that? I love Nancy. I’m a huge fan of her writing—The Virgin of Small Plains is one of the best books I’ve read this year—and of her personally. She’s a gracious woman who goes out of her way to help other writers.

The TV appearance was arranged by Marolyn Caldwell, who runs the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, a terrific mystery conference that takes place each fall in Manhattan, Kansas, and who is herself an accomplished writer. Thanks, Marolyn!

So at the moment I’m slightly terrified as I rip through my closet trying to find appropriate TV attire. (Note to self: You really need to get some appropriate TV attire. First find out what appropriate TV attire is.) But I’m also excited and extremely thankful. Many, many incredible things have happened to me since Airball was published, and I know how lucky I am.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Updates & Tidbits

• The time has changed for my book signing at the Lawrence, Kansas, Borders store. It will still take place on Saturday, October 14, but I’ve been invited to participate in the store’s Storytime and read from Airball, so the time has been changed to 11:30 am. This sounds like fun, and I’m really looking forward to it.

• A big THANK YOU to my friend, writer Suzanne Lieurance, who invited me to be a guest for her University of Masters teleclass, Freelance Writing: How to Jumpstart Your Career, last Tuesday. I had a great time chatting about writing for children. The hour flew by. We ran out of time before I knew it (which says a lot about how hard it is to shut me up once I start talking about writing).

• Today I’m getting ready for my trip to the Kansas Book Festival. I’ll be signing books tomorrow, Friday, September 29, in Vendor Tent 2 from 2 to 3 p.m.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Calendar of Events

I’ve added a calendar page to my website so that I can list events I’ll be participating in, such as book signings, book fairs and festivals, school visits, and conferences. My sister says, “Great idea. Makes it a lot more convenient for stalkers to keep track of you.” I prefer to think it’ll make it easier for interested readers to keep track of me and get a book signed if they choose.

What’s probably closer to the truth is that it will make it easier for me to keep track of myself. I’ll have all my upcoming events listed in one place, so I’ll know at a glance where I have to be when.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Thorpe Menn Awards Luncheon

Thorpe Menn nominees Felicia Hardison Londré, Joel Goldman (winner), and me.

Last Saturday, September 16, my husband and I attended the Thorpe Menn Awards Luncheon at the main branch of the Kansas City, Missouri, Public Library (more about this library in an upcoming blog post) and had a wonderful time. I’m always a frazzled nerve before events like this, convinced I won’t be able to think of a single intelligent thing to say to anyone and that I’ll stumble through these nonconversations with broccoli stuck between my front teeth.

I shouldn’t have worried. The Kansas City, Missouri Branch of the American Association of University Women is a fabulous group of women who know how to throw an awards luncheon. From Stefanie Hatfield, who coordinated the reading committee and chaired the luncheon hostesses (and first called me with news that Airball had been nominated), to Gloria Bandstra, who introduced the nominees during the presentations (and could easily take her stand-up comedy routine on the road, she’s that hilarious), to KC AAUW President Linda Berube and all the other members, each person there made us feel welcomed and appreciated. It’s hard not to have a good time with such a warm and gracious bunch.

Rainy Day Books was there with copies of the three nominated books, and I signed many copies of Airball for AAUW members.

Here I am signing
Airball for AAUW member Myla Gentry.

I want to thank the AAUW again for nominating my book and for making me feel so welcome at the awards luncheon. Thanks also to my husband, Larry, for his moral support and for being on duty to ensure that my teeth remained clean and broccoli-free.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Writing Teleclass

Friend and fellow writer Suzanne Lieurance teaches a telephone writing class, Freelance Writing: How to Jumpstart Your Career, at the University of Masters. This Tuesday, September 26, at 7 p.m. Central Time, I’ll be her guest, talking to students about writing for children.

The teleclasses are recorded so that students can listen at their own convenience. Suzanne has more information at her Working Writer’s Coach blog.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

School Visit

I’ve been invited to do an author visit at Piper (Kansas) Middle School on Thursday, November 2. I’m looking forward to talking with the Piper 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. If you’re a student there, I’ll see you soon!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Book Signing

The Borders in Lawrence, Kansas, has invited me to sign books from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 14, as part of Educator Appreciation Week. If you live in the area, stop by and say hi. I’d love to see you.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


I finally read D.L. Garfinkle’s Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl, and I love, love, love this book. It’s the kind of book you can’t put down, even though you don’t want to get to the end and have to leave the main character and his world. It’s the kind of book that, once you do get to the end, you first close the book and hold it tight to your chest for a moment because you can’t let it go, then you run and out tell everyone you know that they must read it.

Storky is the hilarious and heartfelt story of Michael Pomerantz, nicknamed Storky, a smart, funny, but dorky kid who is trying to survive his first year of high school and convince his long-time buddy (and secret crush) Gina to see him as more than a friend. And if that’s not enough, he must also deal with his hugely popular older sister, his divorced parents—law-student Mom and ladies’-man Dad—and their respective dating partners. Garfinkle totally nails the pain and heartache of high school, but shows it with humor and and lot of spunk. Michael is the kind of kid I would’ve wanted to hang out with in high school. Heck, he’s the kind of kid I did hang out with in high school. I love this character.

And did I mention I love this book?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Library Workshop

This Saturday, September 9, I’ll be speaking at the Kansas Association of School Librarians District I Workshop in Tonganoxie. It should be a great day because it involves three of my favorite pasttimes: hanging out with librarians, talking about books, and eating Chinese buffet for lunch.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day Escape

Just as on Memorial Day, I celebrated Labor Day by running away from home. Actually, I spent Labor Day doing some actual labor—sitting-in-a-chair kind of labor. Once again I took my laptop and settled into one of the cushy chairs in the middle of the mall to work on my novel. And once again I was able to focus for hours and get an amazing amount of writing done as the retail world swirled around me.

If the mall weren’t a 45-minute drive away and I didn’t have to figure out what to do about the kids, I’d go there every day to write.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Library Thoughts

When I was a kid, I’d ride my bike downtown to our public library, an ancient building with an equally ancient collection of books, stuffed in shelves from floor to ceiling. Usually it was just me and Mrs. Turner, the book-loving, kid-loving librarian (who must’ve been at least a hundred years old at the time, and still seemed the same age when she retired a few years ago) roaming the creaky-floored aisles, digging for books I hadn’t yet read. I’d make my choices (difficult, since I was limited to three checkouts at a time, although sometimes Mrs. Turner would make an exception), she’d stamp the due dates, and I’d head off on my bike, so eager to plunge into new vicarious adventures that I often couldn’t wait till I got home, instead careening recklessly down the sidewalk as I balanced an open book between my handlebars. (NOTE: Reading while riding a bicycle is possible, but rarely successful.)

Fast forward thirty years, and I’m still roaming the aisles of the public library. Same town, many of the same books, shiny new building—which is dedicated to Mrs. Turner, and rightly so. But now I’m hardly the only patron. The place is fairly rocking every time I go in. And these days, besides the head librarian, there are at least three or four other library employees checking out or reshelving books at any given time. The floors are even and the shelves easier to reach (which is progress and probably a good thing, although I miss the creaks, squeaks, and rickety library ladder; I also kinda miss the musty smell, although if I crack open one of the older books, I can still get a good whiff of it). My heart swells when I see so many people making use of one of my very favorite places.

Still, I can’t help noticing the crowd is mostly concentrated around the computers rather than the books.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Writing Coach

My friend Suzanne Lieurance is a writer with a ton of credits and nearly twenty years experience. She has also been a teacher in a variety of interesting and challenging settings, including a reservation in South Dakota and an alternative high school in Kansas City. She has recently combined these two talents—writing and teaching—to become a writing coach. To learn more about her Working Writer’s Coaching Program, visit:

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Kansas Notable Books

I finally found the complete list of Kansas Notable Books (thanks, Jerri!). Wow. Airball is in great company.

2006 Kansas Notable Books
  • Airball: My Life in Briefs by L.D. Harkrader
  • Capote in Kansas: A Drawn Novel Ande Parks
  • The Darkest Dawn: Lincoln, Booth, and the Great American Tragedy by Thomas Goodrich
  • Deputy Harvey and the Ant Cow Caper by Brad Sneed
  • The Great Blues by Steve Semken
  • A Hungry Heart: A Memoir by Gordon Parks
  • In the Small, Small Night by Jane Kurtz
  • The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers by Marci Penner
  • Maggie Rose and Sass by Eunice Boeve
  • The Moon Butter Route by Max Yoho
  • Oceans of Kansas: A Natural History of the Western Interior Sea by Michael J. Everhart
  • Ordinary Genius by Thomas Fox Averill
  • Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas: A Field Guide by Michael John Haddock
  • The Youngest Brother: On a Kansas Wheat Farm During the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression by C. Hugh Snyder

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fifteen-Minute Salvation

Last week I talked to my editor about the first few chapters of my novel-in-progress. She was enthusiastic, encouraging me to enlarge my vision of the story, making it bigger and bolder, using the art (because I’d included illustrations in the chapters I sent her) more broadly and as more of a storytelling element.

Which was all very exciting. But also frightening. What if I couldn’t enlarge my vision enough? What if that enlarged vision was still too mundane? What if the story never lived up to its potential? Nothing paralyzes me quite like fear, and for the past week I’ve been living in this weird state of excitement, fright, and depression.

But I’ve stumbled onto a cure, or at least a temporary cure. I’ve been forcing myself to sit down for fifteen minutes at a time to write. I’m not writing actual manuscript pages, although bits of dialogue and story creep in; I’m only taking notes, brainstorming, letting my mind wander over characters, relationships, settings, plot. And once I start, I can’t stop till the fifteen minutes are up, no matter how badly it seems to be going. At first I tend to write inane and useless things like:

Okay, I have to write for fifteen minutes about Griffin and his problems. What do I want to say? Where do I want him to go? What scenes jump out at me? I can’t stop now. I’ve still got fourteen and half minutes to go.

But as I push on through my allotted time period, my subconscious starts doing its thing, and before I finish (which is usually at some point past the fifteen-minute mark because once the ideas roll in I have to follow them) I’ve not only come up with new ideas for the story, I’ve shaken off the paralysis and am excited once more about digging into the story.

This isn’t a permanent remedy. The doubts creep back in the next day, sometimes later the same day, and I have to do my fifteen-minute cure again. But it’s nice to have a weapon in my battle against fear and paralysis that, so far, hasn’t misfired.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Meeting Up

This afternoon I’m going to a Writers Meetup at a Borders coffee shop. My friend Suzanne set it up (she’s much more energetic and outgoing about these things than I am), and so far 30+ area writers of all stripes have RSVPed. If they all show up, Borders will be bursting at the seams.

One thing Suzanne wants to find out from this first meetup is what kind of group these 30+ writers would like to form—critiquing, schmoozing, networking, promoting, whatever. A group I’d love to be part of would be one that meets, say, once a week at a coffee shop or bookstore (or mall or auction barn—see previous posts), laptops and lattes in hand, to write. Not to write something together, as a group, but to write individually in the company of other writers for several hours, then have time at the end to read what each of us wrote or bounce ideas off each other or even just to comment on how well or dismally our writing went that day.

I actually know of a group like that nearby, and if I didn’t have kids and a host of other responsibilities, I’d join them in a flash. Maybe one day, when I’m old(er) and the kids have flown...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hooray for Laptops

I spent most of the last week at the county fair, where my son was showing his steer. This is his first year in 4-H, his first year to show at the fair, and I’m very proud of him. Friday night was the livestock auction, and to combat the sheer mind-numbing boredom of sitting in the auction arena for many, many (i.e. four) hours, waiting for the five minutes near the end (after they’d finished with the goats, sheep, and hogs) when my son would bring his steer into the auction pen, I brought along my laptop and fired it up to work on an article for Children’s Writer I’d blocked in earlier in the week.

I’ve talked before about how much writing I can accomplish while sitting in busy, crowded places, such as the mall, but I really wondered whether I’d be able to write much at the auction. A comfy chair in an air-conditioned mall, with an espresso bar a short escalator ride away, is one thing. A stuffy cow barn on a hot August night is quite another. But I sat there on my hard metal chair Friday night, laptop propped on my knees, the auctioneer yammering and bidders calling out all around me, and finished the entire first draft of the article, writing so quickly, in fact, that when I reached the end of the article, I still had an hour’s wait before it was my son’s turn to auction his steer.

When I write in a public place like this, the hubbub of the crowd becomes white noise that sort of insulates me, and I’m able to focus without any distractions. Seems strange, I know, when potential distractions are bubbling all around. But they aren’t the same distractions that usually derail me: email, snack breaks, dirty laundry, remote control. I wish I could figure out a way to maintain that same focus in the comfort of my own home. I can’t imagine how much writing I would get done.

And a note about the cow image above: No, it’s not my son’s steer. It’s a clip art photo that came with my Word software, which I thought was fun and have been looking for an excuse to use. My son’s steer is a shiny black Angus/Brangus cross, while this cow appears to be a Hereford.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Thorpe Menn Nominees

I’ve ferreted out the titles of the other two books nominated for this year’s Thorpe Menn Award. The three nominees are:
I’m looking forward to meeting Joel and Felicia at the awards luncheon.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

An Embarrassment of Honors

More wonderful news: Roy Bird, Director of the Kansas Center for the Book, emailed today to tell me that Airball: My Life in Briefs has been selected as one of fifteen Kansas Notable Books of 2005. Yowza! And, because my book is on the list, I’ve been invited to attend the Black, White and READ All Over Ball at the Kansas Book Festival. I love getting dressed up to party with the governor. (I mean, I assume I love to party with the governor. I guess I’ll find out.)

This recognition and the Thorpe Menn nomination (given by the AAUW to a Kansas City area author) are gratifying not only because they’re incredible honors, but also because they’re given by folks close to home. I grew up and still live in rural Kansas, and one of my goals in writing Airball was to paint a vivid picture of life in Stuckey, my fictional Kansas town. It’s rewarding when readers tell me, “You got it right. This is exactly what it’s like to live in small-town Kansas.” And now these two honors are coming from those same people, the people who live here and (I hope) recognize their home in the pages of my book.

Thank you to the Kansas Notable Books committee and to the Thorpe Menn committee. As soon as I find out the titles of the other books honored and nominated, I’ll post them here.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Stunned and Thrilled

Well. I just got off the phone with Stefanie Hatfield of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), who called to tell me that Airball: My Life in Briefs is one of three finalists for this year’s Thorpe Menn Award, given by the AAUW for literary excellence by a Kansas City area writer. You know how Oscar nominees always say, “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” and you wonder if it’s something their publicist told them to say to make them sound humble and nice? Well, now I’m saying it: It’s an honor just to nominated. And I’m not saying it just to sound humble and nice. (Humble? Are you kidding? I’m posting this on my blog two minutes after I found out.) I’m simply stunned—and thrilled—that of all the books published last year by Kansas City area writers, the awards committee chose Airball as one of the finalists.

At the awards luncheon on September 16 I’ll find out who won, but honestly, I’m more interested in meeting the AAUW members and the other finalists. I’m not worried about winning. I’m not expecting to win. It really is an honor just to be nominated.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Kansas SCBWI Conference

An update on the Kansas SCBWI Fall Conference, September 29 & 30, 2006, in Parkville, Missouri (just north of Kansas City): The conference schedule, brochure, registration form, and instructions are available online at

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Scene of the Crime

When I read mysteries, I encounter clever murderers able to commit crimes without leaving evidence, who can only be brought down by brilliant, intuitive, and determined detectives. Last week, however, I attended the monthly meeting of Partners in Crime, the Kansas City chapter of Sisters in Crime. The speaker was a forensic scientist from the Kansas City Crime Lab, and I came out of his thoroughly fascinating presentation convinced that in real life, criminals are just plain stupid.

Example: Two guys stole an SUV and noticed a weird smell coming from the back. They investigated and discovered, to their surprise, a dead guy, wrapped in plastic. So they called the police to report the body. (Who says car thieves can’t be good citizens?)

The police arrived and found that the dead guy was the owner of the SUV. They went to his house, chatted with his girlfriend, and uncovered an interesting story. The dead guy had apparently run low on crack, so he sent his girlfriend to a crack house in a less-than-savory part of town to buy more. While she was there, the three crack dealers became a bit vulgar and, uh, suggestive. When she came home and reported their rude behavior, the outraged, soon-to-be-dead guy grabbed a knife, jumped in his SUV, and headed to the crack house to confront them.

Okay, let’s pause here for a moment to reflect. If you’re considering a life of crime, here are a few suggestions:
  1. Before you steal a car, check it thoroughly for human remains.
  2. If you don’t want your girlfriend to be sexually harrassed, avoid sending her to a crack house.
  3. Most importantly, do not, under any circumstances, charge into said crack house by yourself, looking for a fight, armed only with a knife. Crack dealers have much better weapons.
And in this case, they used them. They shot the guy several times with several guns as he fled from the house toward his SUV. (Yes, they chased him down the street, firing handguns. And nobody reported this. The police only discovered a crime had been committed when the car thieves called to report the body. Am I the only one who finds this disturbing?)

The crime lab came up with ample evidence to convict the three crack dealers for murder. One crucial piece of evidence was a bullet that grazed the victim’s head and lodged in the door of the crack house as he ran out. Investigators found blood, tissue, and hair on the bullet that matched the victim.

So I’ve decided things work the way they’re supposed to: In real life, criminals are stupid, which makes the world safer for the rest of us, while in fiction, criminals are clever, which makes murder mysteries much more interesting to read. And in both cases, criminals are brought down by smart, intuitive, determined investigators.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Pulled In

I’m possibly the last mystery lover on the planet to have discovered Elizabeth George, but I’m fast becoming a fan. I’ve enjoyed the filmed versions of her Lynley and Havers mysteries on PBS’s Mystery! the last few years, but until recently had never picked up her books.

(Okay, I actually had picked up her books on several occasions, but put them back down again, frightened, I think, by their hefty 800-page length. I love a long, meaty novel I can sink into for a lengthy wallow, but I don’t love starting a long book only to find I dislike the writing, story, or—worse—the characters. Do I continue reading, hoping it will get better? If so, for how long? Will I be sucked into reading the whole thing only to toss it across the room at the end, disgusted at myself for wasting all that time?)

But I saw the audio version of George’s A Place of Hiding in the library last week and checked it out on a whim. A day or so later, I saw her book on writing, Write Away, on sale at my local bookstore and snatched it up, too. I haven’t finished reading or listening to either, but I’m already hooked on both. I’m listening to A Place of Hiding in my car, and I find myself thinking up errands I have to run and places I must drive, simply to hear more of the story (which isn’t good for global warming or my budget). And she hooked me in the first chapter of Write Away with this:

...characters are interesting in their conflict, their misery, their unhappiness, and their confusion. They are not, alas, interesting in their joy and security. The first gives them a pit out of which they climb during the course of a novel. The second robs them of story.

So very true. And judging by the first few chapters of A Place of Hiding, it’s obvious that Elizabeth George is a master at creating wonderfully complex characters who must spend all their time climbing from pits, and her stories are the richer for it.

So now I’m an Elizabeth George fan and am looking forward to starting at the beginning of her series and discovering the characters and stories other mystery fans have loved for years. Lucky me!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Kansas Book Festival

This fall I’ll be participating in the first-ever Kansas Book Festival, which takes place September 29 and 30 in the Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita. I’m looking forward to connecting with other writers, readers, librarians, teachers, and booksellers.

Festival activities include:

• Author appearances by Kansas writers
• Traditional music
• Cowboy poetry and western literature
• Stories of haunted Kansas
• American Indian storytelling
• Characters from Kansas’s literary and historic past
• Tributes to Kansas writers such as Gordon Parks and Langston Hughes
• Hands-on family activities
• Bookseller booths

For more information, visit the Book Festival website:

Sunday, June 18, 2006

For the Love of It

The last few weeks have been good writing weeks. I’ve spent large chunks of nearly every day either writing or drawing. And I’ve been...happy. Which has just driven home a truth I sometimes forget in the publishing hubbub: What truly gives me joy is the act of creating. Publishing what I’ve created is wonderful, too. And long droughts between acceptance letters are depressing. But even in the dark times publishing-wise, the simple act of putting words on a page, sinking into my story, developing my characters to the point that they become a surprise even to me, fills me with great joy and satisfaction. It really is about the writing.

Monday, June 12, 2006

I Love a Mystery

I read all kinds of books—history, humor, adventure, sports, nonfiction—but my favorites, by far, are mysteries. And if a book combines history, humor, adventure, sports, or even nonfiction with a mystery, that’s even better. Lately I’ve read two mysteries, one for middle-graders and one for adults, that are both worth blogging about.

Behind the Curtain, by Peter Abrahams, is the second book in his Echo Falls mystery series aimed at readers in grades 5–8 (but great for anyone of any age who likes a good mystery). In this outing, intrepid sleuth/soccer star/budding actress Ingrid Levin-Hill is tracking down steriod dealers—discreetly because she’s afraid one of the culprits is her own brother.

Both Behind the Curtain and the first book in the series, Down the Rabbit Hole, are adventurous, funny, and fast-paced. One of my favorite aspects of the series is the way Abrahams paints the fictional town of Echo Falls. Setting tends to be an under-appreciated facet of fiction, but an evocative setting such as Echo Falls, with its rich history and social structure, adds depth, believabilty and atmosphere to the tale. The characters are well-drawn, especially my favorite, Grampy, who’s “had it up to here” with nearly everything.

Desert Run is Betty Webb’s fourth Lena Jones mystery, and it’s running neck-and-neck with her second, Desert Wives, as my favorite book of the series. In this installment, P.I. Lena is overseeing security for a crew filming a documentary about the World War II German POW escape from Camp Papago, Arizona. When former escapee Kapitan Erik Ernst, who has moved to Arizona and was the star of the movie, is murdered, Lena plunges into an investigation to clear the Kapitan’s Ethiopian caregiver of the charges. She soon realizes that Ernst’s murder is tied not only to his 1944 escape, but also to the 1944 murder of a family on a nearby farm.

Desert Run is well-written, well-researched, and tightly plotted, and, as in the previous Lena Jones mysteries, includes a bit of social consciousness (in this case, prejudice against immigrants and development encroaching on the natural beauty of the landscape) without becoming preachy. Like Behind the Curtain, Desert Run paints a vivid setting. My mom grew up in the Phoenix area, and I still have relatives who live there; I love being able to revisit the Arizona desert and its cities through Betty Webb’s books. Desert Run also does one of my favorite things in mysteries: It weaves real-life history into the modern-day fiction, then adds an Author’s Note at the back of the book to give readers more information about the 1944 German escape.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Kansas SCBWI Conference

For children’s writers in the middle of the country, the Kansas chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is planning a terrific fall conference:

On the Yellow Brick Road to Publishing: Brains, Heart and Courage Needed
September 30, 2006

McCoy Meetin’ House
Park University
Parkville, MO

Conference Faculty
Along with keynote addresses, panels, and breakout sessions, the conference will offer manuscript critiques and a first-page critique session. Registration forms will soon be available on the Kansas SCBWI website and will be mailed to SCBWI members in Kansas and western Missouri. Email for more information and to request a registration form.

I was on the faculty of last year’s Kansas SCBWI conference, and I can vouch for the professional quality of the conference and the enormous amount of information, as well as cameradie, you’ll find there.

Kansas SCBWI is a chapter of the international SCBWI organization.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

78 Reasons

I admit it: When it comes to how-to-write books, I’m a junkie. I’ve read so many in the last 15+ years that it takes a rare gem to startle me out of my advice-induced stupor. Pat Walsh’s 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might is one such gem.

Walsh is founding editor of MacAdam/Cage, an independent publishing house in San Francisco, and his book is a frank, funny look at the submission process from an editor’s point of view, focusing on ways aspiring authors shoot themselves in the foot when sending their writing out into the world. The book validates things I already knew (proofread your cover letter and don’t mention your pets), confirms a few things I suspected (yes, editors do save the worst submissions to giggle about with their colleagues), and explains some things I had only vague ideas about (what is a P&L statement, and why does it wield so much power?).

One quality, other than the biting humor, that sets this book apart is Walsh’s honesty. He repeatedly urges writers to be honest—in their writing, in their dealings with editors and agents, in evaluating their own work—and he leads the way by presenting his advice with unflinching candor. How refreshing to hear that, no matter how often editors at conferences protest to the contrary, editors do take agented submissions more seriously—and read them more quickly—than unagented submissions. How nice to finally know how editors feel about the slush pile—and why. How wonderful to find that most editors value honest, straightforward cover letters over the hopped-up hype many how-to books advise sending out.

I have only one quibble with this book. Walsh says recommendations from successful authors are one of the best ways to get editors and agents interested in reading your submission. I’m sure this is true, and if you know a successful author who loves your work, by all means, ask for a recommendation. But Walsh advises budding writers to go a step further, to send their manuscript to authors they don’t know, asking them to read it and send back a positive blurb. He says authors won’t mind, that in fact, they love finding new writers they can recommend to their own agents. Please don’t believe this. Published authors do not welcome unsolicited manuscripts any more than agents and editors do, and they have even less time and motivation to read them. Sending your story to a writer you don’t know is a colossal waste of time for both of you.

That said, the other ninety-one pieces of advice in this book are worth reading and acting on. They truly could make the difference between a book that may never be published and one that just might.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Great Writing Day

To celebrate Memorial Day, I ran away from home. Early this morning, while the kids were still asleep, I kissed my groggy husband goodbye and took myself and my laptop to the mall. Scattered throughout our mall are cushy leather chairs, end tables, and plants set in cozy seating groups. I picked a chair in the center of the mall, near an electrical outlet, and settled in with my laptop and a latte.

I arrived so early that at first the place was pretty quiet—just me and a couple dozen spry senior citizens, completing their morning laps. But it was Memorial Day, and a stormy Memorial Day at that, certainly not backyard barbecue weather, so soon the mall filled to frenzied capacity.

And in the middle of it, I wrote. Some writers need calm and quiet in which to write, but for me, a buzzing shopping center is the perfect writing environment. At the mall, I'm not distracted by laundry, dishes, the television remote, or email, and the activity creates a kind of white noise that insulates me. All those people keep me from feeling lonely, but, unlike my children, husband, and dog—and the guy at the espresso bar who made my latte—I don't have to interract with them. I like the feeling of having the world go by around me as I work.

As soon as I got there, I dove into a chapter I'd started yesterday, and I wrote until at last the chapter was finished. I looked up and realized I'd been sitting in that leather chair, without getting up to look in the refrigerator, make more coffee, or otherwise distract myself, for two solid hours. I was astonished.

And starving. I toodled down to the food court, where I started the next chapter while nibbling on orange chicken and fried rice. An hour and a half later, my brain was beginning to feel tapped out, so I loaded my laptop, the cute little capri pants I'd found on sale at JC Penney as I stretched my legs after lunch, and myself into my car and drove home dizzy with joy at the terrific writing day I'd had.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Blog Neglect

I haven’t posted anything to my blog in two weeks, but I have a good excuse: I’ve been writing. Which is always good news, and the even better news is that I’m pleased and excited again (finally) with the way my story-in-progress is coming together. It’s funny—being submerged in my characters’ lives day after day gives me the feeling that a lot is going on in my own life, when in truth, the only thing I’ve been doing is sitting in front of my computer.

Which is certainly nothing to blog about!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Center for the Book

I know it seems that every post on this blog seems to mention something about the Kansas Center for the Book (KCFB). So to clarify: No, I’m not a paid spokesperson for KCFB. I’m just a very happy member.

KCFB is an affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, which “was established in 1977 to use the resources and prestige of the Library of Congress to promote books, reading, libraries, and literacy.” The national center has state affiliate centers in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia. Thanks in large part to our tireless KCFB director, Roy Bird (who is also a writer), the Kansas affiliate actively promotes Kansas books and authors to libraries and bookstores in the state, bringing authors, librarians, booksellers, and readers together in many different venues, including author dinners, book fairs, and, next September, the Kansas Book Festival in Wichita.

I can’t guarantee that every state affiliate is as active and writer-friendly as our affiliate here in Kansas, but if you’re an author trying to connect with book professionals in your own region, you owe it to yourself to check out your state’s Center for the Book.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


I had a wonderful time at the NCKLS Book Fair. It's always a great day when I can spend it with book lovers. I hung out at the Kansas Center for the Book table with fellow Kansas writers Robert Collins, Lora Reiter, Ann Parr, and Roy Bird, who is also the KCFB director; met librarians from all over central Kansas; and talked books with dedicated booksellers from Manhattan and Emporia.

I've been spending a lot of time in Manhattan lately, and as I was driving home it occurred to me that this town, with its wide tree-lined streets and historic limestone buildings, surrounded by the breathtaking Flint Hills, has started to work itself into my heart. This came as a surprise and a bit of a shock. I'm a Jayhawk, a bleeding-crimson-and-blue alumna of the University of Kansas, located in Lawrence, the best city in the state—hands down. I can't have fond feelings for Manhattan, home of in-state rival Kansas State University. Yet I do. I still love Lawrence best. But I look forward to my trips to Manhattan, too.

<--------Kansas Jayhawk

Sunday, April 30, 2006

NCKLS Book Fair

Speaking of Manhattan, this Thursday, May 4, I'll be at the Manhattan (Kansas) Public Library for the North Central Kansas Libraries System Book Fair. I'll be there with other Kansas authors at the Kansas Center for the Book booth.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave

This morning I sent in my registration for the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, a terrific conference for mystery readers and writers that will take place November 3–5, 2006, in Manhattan, Kansas. This is the third year for the conclave, and I recommend it to anyone who loves mysteries. It's a smaller conference, warm, friendly, and very well organized, with terrific panels and workshop sessions, and past keynote speakers such as Margaret Maron, Carolyn Wheat, Carolyn Hart, and Patricia Sprinkle. Last year the fabulous Nancy Pickard presented Part 1 of her revision workshop, which in itself was worth the price of admission. This year she'll present a refresher of Part 1 as well as her revision workshop Part 2.

Speaking of Nancy Pickard, I just finished her latest mystery, The Virgin of Small Plains, which centers on the fifteen-year-old unsolved murder of a beautiful young woman found frozen on a cattle ranch in Kansas, and the tangled lives of the townspeople most intimately involved in her death. WOW, what a book. I predict it will be nominated for many mystery awards next year.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Ste-e-e-e-eamboat A-Comin’!

One of the best things about my trip to Chicago was meeting picture book author Jill Esbaum and getting an autographed copy of her book Ste-e-e-e-eamboat A-Comin’! I’m not surprised this book won the Friends of American Writers Juvenile Literary Award. The story is a vibrant poem that evokes the excitement of a riverboat landing in a sleepy Mississippi River town. The details—burly, brawny roustabouts; pickles and brass spittoons; upstate papers bringing news—paint a vivid picture of a small town in the 1800s, and the rhythm of the poem moves perfectly from slow anticipation as the riverboat approaches to the bustle and commotion of passengers and cargo disembarking to quiet settling in again as the riverboat pulls away to continue its journey. The illustrations by Adam Rex echo that rhythm, with pictures becoming larger and more energetic as the riverboat arrives, then smaller and more pastoral as the riverboat fades away.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Home from Chicago

The Friends of American Writers awards luncheon in the Crystal Room of the Union League Club in downtown Chicago was fabulous. A jazz guitarist played as the writers met Friends members and signed books. The lunch itself was delicious, and the members treated us like royalty.

The Friends of American Writers honored four authors:

• Children’s Picture Book: Jill Esbaum, Ste-e-e-emboat A Comin!, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
• Children’s Novel: L. D. Harkrader (me), Airball: My Life in Briefs, Roaring Brook
• Adult Fiction: Dean Bakopoulis, Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon, Harcourt
• Adult Nonfiction: Steve Bogira, Courtroom 302, Knopf

Many thanks to the Friends of American Writers—who truly are friends of writers—especially the Juvenile Literary Awards Committee and committee chairman Caroline Wheeler.

An added note: I was a bit nervous about taking the train from O’Hare to my downtown hotel. I was sure I’d get on the wrong train, end up in a suburb in Indiana, and wander the streets the rest of my life, lugging my suitcases and never finding my way back. I shouldn’t have worried. Taking the Blue Line from the airport to downtown Chicago is nearly idiot-proof, and just to prove that any idiot can do it, here's a picture of me on the train:


Yes, I’m sure I looked like a goober snapping my own picture, but the two other people on the train car were obviously native Chicagoans, immune to the lunacies of tourists from the sticks like me. They didn’t give me so much as a sideways glance.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Kansas Author Dinner

I had a wonderful time at the Kansas Author Dinner in Wichita. I met several librarians, plus booksellers from Watermark Books and Book Kansas!, had fajitas for dinner, and signed copies of Airball: My Life in Briefs.

Now I'm packing for my trip to Chicago.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Flying to Chicago

I hardly ever travel, but lately I've turned into quite the jet-setter. I'll be at the Kansas Author Dinner in Wichita this Thursday, at an awards luncheon in Chicago on April 12, and at a book fair in Manhattan (Kansas, not the famous one, but a very nice town in its own right) on May 4.

I'm excited about the trip to Chicago for a couple of reasons: 1.) it's Chicago; and 2.) the reason I'm going is to accept an award. The Friends of American Writers gives four awards each year—two to adult books, one to a children's picture book, and one to a children's chapter book—and this year my novel, Airball: My Life in Briefs, won the award for children's chapter book. I'm stunned (in a good way) by the news.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Driving to Wichita

On Thursday, April 6, I'll be at the Century II Convention Center in Wichita, Kansas, attending the Kansas Author Dinner sponsored by The Kansas Center for the Book. I can't wait to meet other Kansas authors, librarians, booksellers, and book lovers.