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.