Launching a New Book

The year I completed my examinations process to become a registered piano technician, a New Yorker named Ben Treuhaft attended the national piano convention. Treuhaft campaigned through the nineties for donations of pianos, repair parts, and technician service to upgrade the condition of Cuba’s musical instruments. He made a plea at the convention for help with the project called “Send a Piana to Havana.” After the Soviet Union pulled out of Cuba, people and their instruments suffered due to the lack of supplies for all kinds of pursuits.

I contacted Mr. Treuhaft to offer help. Several months later, he brought a beautiful and talented Cuban pianist on tour across the country and she played an amazing concert here, at the local college. The sample CD of her recordings that arrived with promotional material for the tour has remained a favorite disc in my collection. Her appearance in my hometown planted the seed which 20 years later has blossomed into the fictional suspense novel Sonata of Elsie Lenore.

I’ve been asked to officially launch Elsie Lenore at a county-wide monster piano concert February 9. The quadrennial event serves as a fund-raiser for music scholarships at Cowley College. The invitation to make Sonata of Elsie Lenore part of the 2020 Keyboard Duet Festival surpasses anything I could have dreamed. Even better, we’ll have another professional Cuban pianist joining the county’s piano students at this event.

Last year at this time, I was scrambling to prepare for a big adventure to Cuba. I made lists of things to bring, sorted clothing and supplies, checked everything multiple times, and packed my bags. The first week of March, I joined a group of strangers from across the US in Miami and we toured Cuba together. The day before I left, I posted a short note to my Facebook page.

“Getting ready for a big adventure! Nail-biting nervous to be heading out with a group of soon-to-be friends on an educational and good-will mission trip to Cuba. Yes, Cuba. Down there south of Miami. I hear it’s a unique and fantastic experience.”

A number of people responded on the post itself with excitement and encouragement, but I also received a private message from a piano technician colleague in Wichita. “I hope you have time for two friends to meet you in Cuba,” he wrote. “One is a technician involved with our donations of pianos to Cuba project. The other is coming to WSU next fall for graduate study in organ and piano.”

This opportunity iced the cake. Cuba’s musical contributions to the world stage are legendary and I was, after all, heading to Cuba to learn more about its music, its musicians, and its pianists in particular. Within two hours David Pérez Martinez emailed me. Together we worked through language barriers (I speak very little Spanish), as well as phone and internet systems with vastly different procedures. The evening of March 11, 2019, we met in person on the grounds of Hotel Nacional in Havana for a delightful visit at a table overlooking the Malécon Boulevard and the Atlantic beyond. Employed professionally as a pianist and harpsichordist in Havana, David was in process of pursuing further training in organ performance. He had applied to a few universities in the US, including Wichita State University.

Five months later, David arrived at Eisenhower National Airport, WSU having offered him the best situation.

It has been thrilling to return hospitality to this son of a nation that offered exemplary hospitality to me last March, and to keep up with his graduate studies and performances at WSU. His unparalleled joy at the keys warms the heart and provides inspiration to students of all ages here in Cowley County.

Mark your calendars: February 9, 2020, 6:00 p.m., Brown Theatre at Cowley College, 125 South 2nd, Arkansas City, Kansas. It will be a spectacular event!

(Note: This post published in the 20th minute of the 20th hour of the 20th day of the year 2020!)

A New Chapter

Earl Nightingale said the hardest job you can tackle is thinking a thought through to its end. That’s what writing is. You get an idea and not only have to think it through but revise it many times to make it more effective.”

— Marvin Swanson

This morning I headed to the college in Arkansas City to prepare pianos for the spring semester. My mind was drawn to the day I worked at that same task one decade ago. While busy twisting tuning pins, getting the fleet of pianos tuned up after the dry winter air soured them, my phone rang. It was the hospital in Winfield. My dad had arrived and was having “a little heart attack.” To this day, I cannot fathom why the medical person called it “little.” They had decided he should go to the Heart Hospital in Wichita. Do I need to drive him there, I asked. No, she said, we will send him in an ambulance.

Thirty-six hours later, after a procedure in Wichita, after  my sister from northern Kansas arrived, after a lengthy visit or two in his hospital room, laughing and remembering, and saying “I love you,” after a last phone message recorded on my answering machine while I was en route home, (“Please bring my walking stick next time you come up. Don’t make a special trip.”), another heart attack took his life. It was January 13, 2010.

We were called back to the hospital late at night by a nurse who didn’t think he’d make it through this one. This was the Heart Hospital. She ought to know. Kay and I dressed hurriedly and rushed back, fretting through a cantankerous stop light that refused us a green, running it red, racing to the parking lot and dashing in, only to learn he had just passed.

And so, in that moment, the role of grizzled and wise family elder passed to my sisters and me. We were orphans.

That was ten years ago. I marvel at what he and my mother missed in those ten years. Though I miss them more than ever, life goes on. Things my dad missed include weddings of several of his grandchildren, and break-ups of others, births of my three grandchildren, as well as several of my sister’s, watching them grow,remodeling our house—complete with geothermal heat pump, solar panels, and wind turbine,

 

remodeling a building in downtown Winfield into an art gallery,

friendships renewed, new friends made, international travel opportunities, heartaches and joys, hopes, dreams, and disappointments.

Life goes on.

I also marvel at the way my dad’s death opened a new chapter in my avocation. He was a master at new chapters. And he taught me well. When you face inescapable changes in life, it is far better to embrace them and turn a corner to new adventures than to wring your hands in despair. Losing my dad reminded me that you can’t take life for granted. If there’s something your heart urges you to do, do it. Conversations and events in the days following his exit convinced me to return to writing, an ambition from my early years. It was time to finish a book I’d started 28 years previously. I’d put it aside to raise a family, and to get beyond the emotional upheaval of those times. For ten years now, I have risen early to put pen to paper. And I have finished three books in those ten years.

In the Shadow of the Wind went to press in 2014. Two years later I finished Sundrop Sonata, a novel of suspense started in my wild imaginings 12 years previously during the summer following my mother’s death.

And as I write this today, Sonata of Elsie Lenore, a sequel to Sundrop Sonata, is ready to upload to the printer. It should be accessible by February 9.

Book #3 has been an adventure of another kind, taking me to Cuba ten months ago, bringing new friends into my life and bolstering old friendships. (More about this in future posts.)

Three books in ten years. I think my dad would be pleased.

With his career thriving and a baby on the way, life looks good to Stefano Valdez, a Cuban classical pianist. Then a postcard from the past shatters his world. Days before the expected birth, he heads south to find the author of the card, a sister he long believed to be dead. Trailing her to Cuba, he unwittingly places his Kansas family in the sights of the crime ring that destroyed his sister. Will he discover the hidden message in her hastily-penned words in time to save his family?

Awakenings

For the last few weeks, I’ve contemplated the question raised by Marvin Swanson decades ago. What things do hamper our awareness of our immediate surroundings? Things that distract our minds, keep us focused on inner dialogue, perhaps. Though he noted several young friends who were television addicts forty years ago, I suspect Marvin would be amazed to find that today we can take our screen distractions to any place at any time and ignore what’s happening in front of us.

 

From Marvin:

I’ve been thinking of what puts blinders on awareness: feeling down, worry, being an eccentric wheel around an unproductive crush, too much alcohol or drugs.

And what increases awareness? How can one develop greater awareness? It often seems to take a change from the ordinary—a change of feelings, of routine, of environment. How can we make the familiar stand out in freshness and newness? Go outdoors. Enjoy stimulating conversation with a new acquaintance. Read a good book. Listen to music. Sometimes a good TV show or movie works. A change of season helps too.

Awareness is increased by (1) change (2) time to analyze experience. Can we add more to our list?

MS

What have I missed by being self-absorbed? How can I break out of that box?

What works for you?

Internal Photograpy

(I have given much thought lately to people from my earlier years who gave encouragement for my endeavors and advice for life. Marvin Swanson was foremost among them. From his desk, his correspondence, and his mechanized wheel chair, he sought adventure and celebrated life like nobody else. I’d like to return to my plan to share some of his gems of wisdom through quotations from his letters. Miss you, Marvin.)

“I’m going to concentrate on photographing pictures with the film between my ears. Then I will classify and store them and run them by at night when I can’t sleep–instead of sheep.”

Marvin Swanson

 

Why Belong?

The “Writing Life” can be lonely. Sometimes that’s good. I need time to think, time to plan, time to write, review, revise and re-write. All these things work best in quiet isolation. Too much stimulus can be—well—too much. It almost seems stunting at times and I feel a creeping desperation to run and hide.

However, the last few weeks have given me several reasons to celebrate belonging, and to feel grateful for networking with people in general and other writers in particular. I belong to two regional writing groups, Kansas Authors Club and Oklahoma Writing Federation. Each has its own strengths, as well as limitations. Others may find the initial limitations enough to stay away. When they are handled with good humor and flexibility, the benefits of belonging can outweigh those stifling stimuli.

Why belong? Here are a few key reasons.

Like nobody else, writing friends understand what I face with time management, craft development, and the daunting prospect of marketing my published words. In the past month, I have exchanged drafts with some good friends for feedback. As always, my writing friends make fine critique partners. I benefit in two ways from exchanging critiques. First, of course, I learn how the selections I send impact a reader. And second, when I return the favor, I find my own skills of reading “like a writer” are honed ever sharper. The ability to read my own words as an editor might read them enhances my writing.

In the last month two writing friends tipped me onto opportunities to share my books. The first event was the anniversary of a little bookstore in El Dorado called The Next Chapter.

A charming atmosphere with aisles of used books (and a few new releases) made this book signing a delight. It was initiated by a writing friend and colleague in Kansas Authors Club.

The manager of The Next Chapter introduced me to DartFrog which is a gateway for Indie writers to offer books in independent bookstores across the country. Marketing is probably the single biggest challenge for me so I was excited to learn about DartFrog. Perhaps you would like to check it out: www.DartFrogBooks.com.

Another tip from a writing friend and colleague in Kansas Authors Club put me in touch with the Wichita Barnes & Noble bookstore. This local branch is hosting a “Local Author Day” in July. I submitted my suspense novel for consideration to be included and received word that I was accepted. I just filled out the event agreement to be one of the writers featured in Barnes & Noble.

In addition to these exciting events, writing groups host conferences. Over the last few years I have attended several conferences in Kansas and Oklahoma and gleaned many tips from the featured instructors. Beyond regional groups, many genres have national organizations and host conventions for the edification of writers who attend. Most conferences offer writing contests also, which can be a great way to get feedback on your work. I even received personal help adding seals of excellence to my online book covers for award-winning books. A big “Thank You” goes to the staff of Meadowlark Books.

The benefits of belonging number so many, why wouldn’t everyone want to belong? The old adage, “You get out of it what you put into it,” surely applies to writing groups. But when the balance tips to the point you find yourself putting in more than you could possibly gain, burnout is expected. Then it may be time to flee the stimuli and hermit yourself away in a writing retreat. Until that time, I will reap the benefits of belonging as long as possible.

Something for Every Writer

 

The Holiday Inn at Kellogg and Rock Road in Wichita is The Place To Be the first weekend in October 2019.Writers of District 5 of the Kansas Authors Club have put together a fantastic event you won’t want to miss. With over thirty classes—many offered twice for your convenience—there will be something for everyone. Several special activities unique to this conference will ice the cake for your convention experience.

Keynote speaker Paul Bishop from California will be in attendance throughout the entire weekend to share his decades of experience writing crime novels as well as his experience assisting other writers meet their goals. A special opportunity for a few lucky registrants will be a one-on-one conference with Paul to get feedback on the first pages of their current work-in-progress.

Join Clare Vanderpool, Wichita’s own Newbery Award-winning author, for a special catered lunch on Saturday as she reminisces about the special books throughout her life. Tickets for this lunch are available with registration.

The annual literary contest, open to any writer in Kansas, or any member regardless of residence, is accepting submissions until June 15. A category never before included in the annual contest deals with author blogs and/or websites. Don’t delay! Submit your poems and stories at http://kansasauthorsclub.submittable.com .  For complete contest information see: http://kansasauthors.org

A special opportunity for poet members of KAC will be the juried poetry/music event on Saturday morning, Rhythm-A-Ning: A Poetry & Music Event. Poets will read their poems through once while two accompanying musicians and the audience listen; then the same poem will be read through again with the two musicians improvising to the poem. This will result in a spontaneous ekphrastic experience for all; poets, musicians, and audience. Join us in this unique auditory experience! The accompanying musicians are Bill Glenn on percussion and Seth Carrithers on acoustic bass, two well-known Wichita improvisatory musicians.

Poetry selection for this event is via a blinded juried submission process. It is open only to KAC members (statewide or out of state) who will be attending the convention. Your submission is your guarantee you will be in attendance. Though the selection is by juried submission, this is not a contest. No prizes are awarded (except you get to participate!) and a rejection does not reflect on the quality of the submitted work, but rather what works best for the program.Deadline for submission to this exciting opportunity is June 15. Don’t wait too long!

For complete details: http://kansasauthorsclub.weebly.com/news-for-all-members/rhythm-a-ning-a-poetry-music-event

Of course there will be the awards presentations. Youth awards are scheduled on Saturday afternoon, and adult awards are split between the Saturday banquet and the Sunday luncheon.

Another first for KAC is a trolley tour sponsored by the city of Wichita. Sign up to take a trolley on a guided tour of several scene locations featured in the historical novels of member Michael Graves. Travel in style with Graves to downtown Wichita for insights and commentary on location by the author of  To Leave a Shadow and Shadow of Death.

During each cluster of classes a panel of presenters will share different topics with ample time for taking questions. Want to learn more about blogging? Don’t miss the blogger panel Saturday morning. What about the rehabilitative power of poetry? Come learn about the poetry program at the Douglas County jail Saturday afternoon. Have you submitted your books to a previous contest only to watch another writer receive the award? Sunday morning learn tips from past winners about what they think helped their writing.

There will be workshops for everyone. Are you interested in research techniques for historical novels or biographical tales? Don’t miss Michael Graves, HB Berlow, or David Nichols.

Are you working on a memoir? Mike Hartnett will share his journey writing a memoir in his workshop.

What about historical romance? Check out Tracy Edingfield.

Suspense novels or thrillers? Paul Bishop, Curt Bohling, HB Berlow, Mike Graves and Tracy Edingfield.

Interested in juvenile or YA writing? Don’t miss Clare Vanderpool, Claire Caterer or Tracy Dunn.

Are you a poet at heart? April Pameticky, Kevin Rabas, Ronda Miller and Diane Wahto.

Journalism? Dan Close

All workshops are open to writers of all ages and all genres, with presenters sharing ideas that could be applied to any writing effort. Each workshop possesses appeal for every one of us.

Registration for this fantastic writing convention is now open.

Details: http://kansasauthors.org.

Hotel reservations: KS Authors Club

We hope to see you in October in Wichita!

Capturing the Poetic Moment

Writing a poem is the easiest thing to do and, at the same time, the hardest. District 5 is excited to announce a workshop at the October convention aimed at claiming those varied moments of inspiration for poetry. The class, “Capturing the Poetic Moment,” will look at methods of capturing poetry. Presenters Diane Wahto and Ronda Miller plan to illustrate ideas with poems they have written. They will share how they managed to hunt down the poems and let them loose in the world.

“Poetry is everywhere—in nature and in our families. We write about lovers, children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, animals. A poet will snap to attention, salute, and write  when that poetic moment appears.”

Ronda Miller is a Life Coach who works with clients who have lost someone to homicide. She is a graduate of the University of Kansas and continues to live in Lawrence. She is a Fellow of The Citizen Journalism Academy, World Company, a Certified Life Coach with IPEC (Institute of Professional Empowerment Coaching), a mother to a son, Scott, and a daughter, Apollonia.

She created poetic forms loku and ukol. She was the co-chair, along with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, for the Transformative Language Arts Conference at Unity Village September, 2015. Miller was poetry contest manager for Kansas Authors Club (2011-2014), District 2 President of Kansas Authors Club (2015 – 2017), state Vice President (2016 – 2017), and is the club’s current State President (2018-2019).  When she isn’t coaching clients, volunteering time to Kansas Authors Club, or writing poetry, she is busy learning life skills from those she works with. Miller presents workshops throughout the U.S.

She has three published poetry collections, Going Home: Poems from My Life, Moon Stain, and Water Signs.

Diane Wahto started writing poetry in 1983 when she entered the Wichita State University MFA creative writing program. Her poem, “Somebody Is Always Watching,” won the American Academy of Poets award in 1985, and was published in the American Institution of Discussion Review.

Since then, her work has been published many times in various journals and magazines, and she regularly places in poetry contests. Most recently she won the poetry division of the 2019 Kansas Voices contest.

After graduating from WSU in 1985, she taught journalism at Winfield High School and English Composition and creative writing at Butler Community College.

Her book of poetry, The Sad Joy of Leaving, was published in October 2018. The book launch was held at Watermark Books and Café, where she read with Michael Poage and Kelly Johnston.

Other recent publications include “Empty Corners” in Same, “Persistence,” in The Ekphrastic Review, and “Yellow Music,” in Heartland. She is co-editor of two issues of 365 Days: A Poetry Anthology.

Diane is the president of Kansas Authors Club District 5 and has served several years as Awards Chair for the state. She is co-chair of this year’s convention in Wichita. She lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband Patrick Roche and their dog Annie.

Diane Wahto
Ronda Miller

 

Letter to a Young Writer

I received an invitation to write a letter of encouragement to a grade school student who dreams of writing. Perhaps these thoughts are relevant to writers of any age.

Dear Joslyn,

Your teacher told me you dream of being an author. That is awesome! You have taken the important first step toward achieving your dream. The support of my fifth grade teacher launched my dream long ago and I appreciate her more than words can say. Perhaps you also will correspond with your teacher for the rest of your life.

Do you love to read? When I was your age I did. I still read a lot. I love the way I can escape to different times and places through stories others share.

If you haven’t already started, I encourage you to keep journals of your activities, your experiences, and—most important—your thoughts and feelings about everything. The more you write, the better your writing will become. It’s one of those things where “practice makes perfect.” Our alphabet and the written language derived from it are perhaps the most important invention of humanity. Used with skill, words possess the power to change the world.

Today it is easier than it has ever been to see your work published. No longer do you have to convince agents to represent you and offer your manuscripts to publishers. At the same time, because of the ease of publication through online sources, anything you publish will have A LOT of competition. To attract readers, learn to make your work stand out. Take your writing seriously. Study the intricacies of our language and its rules of grammar. Learn the basics of storytelling.

How do you do this? English classes will get you off to a good start. Beyond school, how-to books on writing are easy to find. I took special creative writing classes as early as high school. And when you finish high school, there are university tracks which offer intensive training in creative writing.

You could join a writing club. These groups bring writers together and they welcome members of all ages.

Enter writing contests. Many contests welcome submissions by students. A couple of contests available in Kansas are Kansas Voices and the annual literary contest sponsored by Kansas Authors Club. Submit your stories and poems as often as you can. After the winning writers are selected, contest judges often offer suggestions about how writers can improve their craft. Don’t resist revising and re-writing your first drafts.

If you are bold, you could attend workshops and conventions to learn more about writing. It is invigorating to surround yourself with others who share your passion.

Seek a variety of activities to understand how other people view life. Pursue adventure. Crave new experiences. Engage in life. Watch people and listen to their speech patterns. Collect friends and get to know them inside and out.

Allow yourself to feel deeply the entire circle of emotions. Learn what it’s like to love intensely, to laugh with abandon, to rage helplessly, to fear powerful adversaries, to feel your heart break with sorrow, and even to despair with little hope. Write it all down, sparing nothing.

Careful observations as you experience life could lead to unique twists in your stories that make them stand out. Use your experiences to feed your imagination. Create new worlds and write them to life.

You have set out on an exciting journey.

Be proud that you have taken the first step toward your dream, but don’t be surprised if life dictates a few detours. Embrace them also. Farm them for scenes, characters, places, and conflicts. And never stop writing. It’s a long road and a lot of hard work to see your dream come true. You may get discouraged, but don’t give up. Every step of the way is worth it. Someday you may touch a needy heart. Someday—maybe soon—you will make a difference and help change the world with your words. There is nothing more important.

Good luck to you and Write On!