Recalling the Nightmare: Memoir

Mike Hartnett, a retired business magazine editor/newsletter publisher, currently serves as the president of Kansas Authors Club District 2 in Lawrence. At the October convention in Wichita, he will offer a seminar about his memoir And I Cried, Too. The book recalls details about his involvement in four murders that occurred in Central Illinois in the 1970s.

At the time he was an administrator at Lincoln College, in Lincoln, Illinois.  Russ Smrekar, a student there, was caught burglarizing a dorm room. Hartnett expelled him and turned the evidence over to the police. Three days later Smrekar was arrested for shoplifting three pieces of meat from a local grocery store. Long story short: he killed four people who were witnesses to these misdemeanors. Hartnett was very involved with the police, testified to the grand jury, was under death threats, etc.

The college was never the same for him after that. He had been writing part-time for two area newspapers, enjoyed it, and took a job as an assistant editor for a trade magazine. But his head was filled with the murders – things that were never reported. Smrekar was eventually convicted of two of the murders. When he was dying in prison about ten years ago, he admitted to the two other murders. Those remains have yet to be found.

One of the highlights of Hartnett’s life was spending a morning with the late William Maxwell, who was the fiction editor of The New Yorker. He encouraged Hartnett to write the memoir. For a year, Hartnett wrote the saga, but about the time he was almost finished, he was promoted to editor, which meant a lot more work and travel. He put the murder manuscript aside – for about 35 years.

“About a year ago, a police detective in Illinois tracked me down in Kansas to tell me there was a new development in the case,” Hartnett said. New development? Smrekar died in prison years ago after admitting to all four murders. “The detective couldn’t tell me what the ‘new development’ was, but as we talked, it was clear we were in agreement: Smrekar probably had an accomplice for at least some of the murders.”

He decided there might be another chapter to write. Nothing new has developed, however, and he decided he better finish the book before it finished him. If all goes as planned, he will have fresh copies of And I Cried Too at the Wichita event. Coming summer/fall 2019 from http://www.meadowlark-books.com

 

Book ‘Em!

Mike Hartnett

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KS Authors Club

Registration: http://www.KansasAuthors.org

 

2019 Kansas Authors Club Literary Contest Opens April 1

Every year, all writers in Kansas, as well as any KAC member regardless of residence, are invited to submit work to the literary contest. There are divisions for young writers as well as adults. This year’s contest opens April 1. All entries must be received by June 15.

The youth contest is open to all Kansas students and to student members of KAC. Writers will compete with others at their age level in five divisions, Grades 1-2; Grades 3-4; Grades 5-6; Grades 7-8; and Grades 9-12. The categories include, Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, and Spoken Word Poetry. The winning entries (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and Honorable Mention) of each category and age division will be published in a book. Each writer with work included will receive a copy. Additionally, awards will be presented during a special ceremony at the October convention in Wichita.

The adult contest offers a Poetry division and a Prose division. 2019 Poetry categories include Theme (“Hook ‘em and Book ‘em!), Classical forms, Free verse, Narrative poetry, Whimsy, Japanese forms, Performance (spoken word), and a special category for New Poets.

The 2019 Prose categories include Theme (“Hook ‘em and Book ‘em!), Humor, Memoir or Inspirational, Flash Fiction, Stories Written for Teenagers, Short Story, Playwriting, and First Chapter of a Book–unpublished.

For the first time, there is a special category available for Author’s Blogs or Web Sites. To enter this contest, authors must submit the URL of a website they maintain, a “mission statement” describing the purpose of that website, direct links to at least 3 entries or pages that the author would like to highlight, and a short paragraph detailing how and where the site is publicized and promoted.

Each year Kansas Authors Club also sponsors contests for members who have published books during the previous months. Winners of each book contest are awarded cash prizes of $100.

The Kansas Authors Club Children’s Book Award was created in 2018 to honor the best book written with an audience of children in mind.

“It Looks Like a Million” is an award which focuses on the aesthetics of a book published by a Kansas Authors Club member. The book will be judged on cover design, interior formatting and design, and over-all look and feel of the book.

The Martin Kansas History Book Award was created in 2018 as a tribute to Gail Lee Martin, who was KAC State Archivist from 1995-2005. This book award is open exclusively for books about Kansas history by KAC members.

Created by Raymond and Margaret Nelson in 2002, the Nelson Poetry Book Award recognizes the year’s best poetry book by a Kansas Authors Club poet.

The J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award was established by Mrs. Bertha Coffin to honor the memory of her husband after his death in 1978. It is intended to honor the best published book for the year written by a member of Kansas Authors Club.

 

For more information on the 2019 KAC literary contests, including guidelines for submissions, see https://kansasauthorsclub.weebly.com/writing-contests—all-ages.html

What are you waiting for? Write, write, write!

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The Life of a Blogger

Have you ever wondered how to start a blog? How to keep it alive? What to write about? What makes a blog “successful”?

At the October convention, Kansas Authors Club District 5 will host a seminar with a panel of successful bloggers. Each panelist is invited to share their personal blogging story, focusing on what makes a blog attractive to followers. After their short presentations, class attendees will be able to ask questions and receive thoughtful answers from the experts.

Panelists include:

Nancy Julien Kopp

Nancy Julien Kopp writes creative nonfiction, poetry, children’s fiction and articles on writing. She has been published 22 times in Chicken Soup for the Soul books and other anthologies as well as magazines and newspapers. She has blogged for ten years about her writing world with tips and encouragement for writers. www.writergrannysworld.blogspot.com

Joy Hathaway Lenz

Joy Hathaway Lenz blogs at www.writejoywrite.blogspot.com
Joy is a mother, teacher, and writer in Winfield, Kansas. She blogs about nature, politics, faith, and family. She especially enjoys writing poetry and essays, often illustrated with her own photography.

Jim Potter

Jim Potter (www.jimpotterauthor.com)  writes memoir, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and articles on writing. He’s published Taking Back the Bullet, a contemporary novel; Cop in the Classroom, a police memoir; and Under the Radar, an award-winning play. Potter writes and records a weekly blog/podcast at jimpotterauthor.com. His subjects include writing, history, bios, and book reviews. His specialty is interviewing. Jim lives outside Hutchinson with his sculptor wife, Alex, where they grow sandburs, raise grasshoppers, and create art.

Sara Severance Weinert

Sara Severance Weinert blogs at emptynestfeathers.blogspot.com

Regarding her blog she writes:

What does a mommy blogger do if she missed the mommy-blogging avalanche of the last century? She writes about the empty nest. MomQueenBee (Sara Severance Weinert) prattles about readjusting to life without four sons in the House on the Corner, and has opinions on many things. She tries to be amusing.  (editor note: And often succeeds to the delight of her readers!)

If you have questions about how to manage a blog, you won’t want to miss this panel.

Hook ‘Em!

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Hook ‘Em and Book ‘Em!

Calling all writers!

The Wichita-based District 5 of Kansas Authors Club will host a weekend event October 4-6, 2019, at the Holiday Inn, 549 South Rock Road, Wichita, Kansas. Whether you are a beginner or have years of experience, there will be classes for everyone.

Over the coming weeks, various presenters will be featured in a series of posts here. Many of the planned workshops will enhance the theme with suggestions about how you can hook readers into turning every page, tips that are good for poets as well as any prose genre. Several classes will offer in-depth information about mystery and crime fiction genre, some even explore topics that involve research and detective work in historical settings.

There will be opportunities to chat with old friends, and make new ones. Share your writing adventures, successes, and dreams. Participate in a read-around. Find out the winners of the 2019 KAC literary contests. Great food—great fun—great classes!

You won’t want to miss the KAC convention 2019, “Hook ‘Em and Book ‘Em!”

Mark your calendars: Wichita, October 4-6, 2019.

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The Year Came In; The Year Went Out

http://www.amazon.com/Tears-My-Mother-Rashbaum-Burt/dp/145020399X

The year 2017 started for me in Japan. I read on my Kindle during the long flights and the first book of my year was Burt Rashbaum’s Tears for my Mother. It is a vividly graphic account of a family struggling with their mother’s encroaching dementia. Alzheimer’s remains a dreaded word for many families. It spares no group the horrors of mind disintegration.

Rashbaum’s account was deeply personal. The characters were patterned after some in his own family. He tapped vividly into the reality of what it could be like to watch your own self slipping away. Significantly for me, the author is part of my own family, the Jewish cousin who married into one side of my husband’s family. I enjoyed a few days in this cousin’s Nederland, Colorado home last summer, rewarding myself with a writing retreat in the artsy mountain community.  Before I left, Burt and I had swapped books and I came home with another novel of his, the 2015 release of The Ones That I Know.

http://www.amazon.com/Ones-That-I-Know/dp/1511961716

Like Tears, this story is based significantly on events in Rashbaum’s life. One of the characters resembles him a great deal, and another resembles his wife. Through the pages of this book, I again found myself immersed in post-holocaust Jewish reality, which unless you’ve been there is hard to imagine. It tells the story of a group of neighborhood friends, who grew up together in NYC and lost touch as adults. They reunite when one of them publishes a book about their youthful adventures. The book examines how connections of family and friends possibly go beyond the grave and revisit the same group in a fresh incarnation. It explores life’s purpose, as well as its challenges. It is a snapshot view of a variety of contemporary issues that have a basis in historical drama.

At the end, after reading these books, I felt I knew and loved my newly found cousins much better.

The year 2017 was ushered in for me by Rashbaum’s novel Tears for my Mother. It is fitting to conclude this book journey series with The Ones That I Know. Through my reading adventures in 2017, I felt my family expand. My circle of friends has grown as well, and that’s no small matter in today’s uncertain world. We hear much about alternative facts, conspiracy theories, rigged elections, international threats and climate change. The news media is under fire. Our courts are being stacked by extremists. Our constitution itself is on shaky ground. If one thing is clear, I believe that “the ones that I know” have something to say. As long as our constitution stands we need to exercise our right to write, to share our thoughts and ideas, our hopes and dreams, our memories and fears.

Americans consider free speech to be a birthright. It is guaranteed by the first amendment. Free speech serves to hold the powerful accountable and for that reason we must defend it fiercely. Our freedoms and rights will exist only as long as we keep using them.

For all my writing friends and cousins scattered across the country—“the ones that I know”—I say, “Write on!” And may the force be with us all.

the december project by Sara Davidson

http://www.amazon.com/December-Project-Extraordinary-Skeptical-Confront-ebook/dp/B00DB3D348

Sara Davidson’s the december project is a  treatise on how to navigate the December of life and “not freak out about dying”. It is a joint endeavor by Davidson and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, wherein “An extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life’s Greatest Mystery.”

Having the distinct privilege to meet some cousins of my husband’s during the summer of 2016, I came home with the realization that there are Jewish people in my own family. Not only that, but Jewish writers and kindred souls who appreciate the counter-culture of my youth more deeply than I do myself. And, though I do not personally know Reb Zalman, my cousins do. That made the book intensely more personal. Cousin Burt explained, “Reb Zalman was the closest I’ve ever come to meeting/knowing a true ‘holy man.’ It seemed every breath he took, and every word he spoke, was holy.”

Returning home from our 2016 visit with some reading recommendations from cousin Sharon, it was early 2017 before I got around to reading them. the december project was one of those books.

I was enthralled with Rabbi Zalman’s story. He had escaped the Nazis in Europe during the Holocaust years, and struggled with his faith upon arrival in his new country, America. Years later, after personal audience with the Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton, among other notable events, he became a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement.

I read the book because my cousin recommended it, and because I figured I was on the verge of my own life’s December phase. The book concludes with several exercises to help folks prepare for their check out. I found many of them to be good tips for any stage of life. Among them:

Begin each day with a thankful heart. Give thanks often.

Practice forgiveness. Forgive others who have wronged you. Ask forgiveness for your own mistakes. And perhaps the toughest, Learn to forgive yourself.

Review your life. Explore your purpose. Claim the life that is yet yours to live. What is urgent and needs to be done before you feel complete?

And one that speaks to my introvert’s craving for personal space: Make friends with solitude. Create an inner sanctuary—a place to go where you can feel the spark of the divine within you.

Solitude and sanctuary are concepts that are fast becoming archaic among the younger generations. Yet, I crave the space to find myself. And I wonder, if we can’t stand to be alone with our own selves, how can we expect others to find solace in our company? We came into this world alone, and most certainly we will leave it in a solitary experience as well. Get to know and love yourself.

 

Up next: About contemplation, or Discovering a few Kansas poets

Books of Inspiration

http://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Chaser-Finding-Father-Feet-ebook/dp/B003AVMZAY

To be honest, I didn’t expect to get much from Wisdom Chaser: Finding my Father at 14,000 Feet by Nathan Foster. A loose page labeled “Disclaimer” had been inserted inside. It fell from the book the first time I opened it. I don’t know who wrote the disclaimer, nor how I even came to have the book. One paragraph of the disclaimer stated, “If you are easily offended or would presume that a Christian should never use coarse language—DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.” (Emphasis mine.)

Okay. Why not? Are there truly people so sheltered as to be offended by coarse language? How could a Christian book include such language?

I truly don’t recall any offensive language in the book, just the honest personal struggles of a young man as he strove to find his niche in the shadow of a great father. Some of those struggles resonated with me. I could feel the emotions Nathan described since similar ones had visited my heart at various times.

Turns out, Nathan Foster actually grew up in Wichita—another book with a Kansas connection. However I’ve never personally met either him or his father. His father, Richard Foster, wrote the afterword in the book and affirms his son, Nathan. “Nate’s skills in wilderness survival are exceptional. He has. . .led groups of at-risk teenagers into the wilderness. . .and back again.” Survival in the wilderness is a topic close to my heart.

Some of Nathan Foster’s points resonated with me:

“Pace yourself. Move slowly. Don’t stop.” Good advice as we head into another marathon year of resistance.

“Time, my most valuable possession, is quite possibly my only real possession.” And thus, to share time with another person is quite possibly, “the pinnacle of human sacrifice.”

“Capitalism depends on materialism to survive.”

“Building and cultivating relationships is the most important thing I will ever do.”

Like Foster, I often feel “immobilized by choices.”

And, “Lost potential is the byproduct of every evil in this world.”

Can we begin to measure choices by the extent to which they influence lost potential in ourselves and others?

An inspirational and thought-provoking book, I can recommend Wisdom Chaser by Nathan Foster.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Live-Kevin-Olson-ebook/dp/B00E7V3OTC

Learning to Live With It by Kevin Olson, was another inspirational book that has already been mentioned in an earlier post. (“Considering Heroes” December 7, 2017) I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it again. I am full of admiration for Kevin and others who don’t let the poor hand they’ve been dealt stop them from making a positive impact in this needy world. They are our unsung heroes.

Sharon Cranford and Dwight Roth discover a distant kinship

Kinship Concealed by Sharon Cranford and Dwight E. Roth

http://www.amazon.com/Kinship-Concealed-Mennonite-American-Connections/dp/1937952428

The distinguished speaker rose after her introduction, an engaging and unique smile spreading across her African American countenance. With the ease of an experienced public speaker, Sharon Hill Cranford captivated the room’s listeners. She gave a brief history of her writing adventure, which started when she was confronted by a fellow faculty member at Hesston College in central Kansas, Dwight Roth, a white man with an Amish Mennonite lineage. He challenged her claim to the family name of Mast, a Mennonite name. Thus began their journey to discover a family connection through divergent lines of Amish immigrants to the US in the mid 1700’s. These two respected faculty members discovered they are indeed distant cousins.

The result of the research is a book jointly written by Cranford and Roth, Kinship Concealed. On the surface, it is a family story, a study in geneology that involved close examination of documents from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Texas. Deeper down, it is a modern examination of the American drama resembling Alex Haley’s Roots.

I was captivated by the family drama unfolding on its pages. How devout Christians could rationalize the purchase of slaves was horrifying and baffling. I cried with Cranford’s great-great-great grandmother as she was ripped from her infant, a boy fathered by the master’s son. Nika was sold away south and lost in history, but never forgotten.

Charley Mast, Nika’s infant son, lived to be emancipated. He passed along his stamina and the desire to excel to his children. Highly educated, Cranford’s family members have earned distinction in today’s world as leaders in their chosen fields. Cranford’s speaking engagement detailed her own experience growing up in Texas during the Civil Rights awakening, the outright prejudice and obstacles thrown in her path by white people in positions of power. Yet she endured and has become an icon to her family.

That these two distant cousins could find it in their hearts to undertake such a personal examination of the sins of our fathers and reunite as kin, signifies a hope that the rest of our society might one day reconcile. The events of 2017 painfully confirm we have a long way to go. But, as Cranford writes in her prologue, “If this story encourages any portion of our society to reexamine its heart, it can play a pivotal role in breaking down the barriers of distrust and prejudice that years of pain and hypocrisy have bred,. . .”

We are, after all, one big human family, built on the same foundation. If we listen to Cranford and Roth, perhaps there is hope yet for our shared future.

Coming next: Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

 

Decades of Memories: Memories of Decades

Sunrise. Sunset. Sunrise. Sunset.

Swiftly fly the years.

One season following another

Laden with happiness and tears.

                        -Sheldon Harnick

So goes the song from Fiddler on the Roof.

Earlier this summer, I was honored to be asked to photograph the fiftieth anniversary reception of some cherished friends. Fifty years. Five decades. Half a century.

Some time after that, I realized with a shock that my summer of 1967 held momentous memories for me as well. I had just turned twelve. In early June I was fitted in a Milwaukee brace, a structure of total spine length, from chin to pelvis. This was an attempt to combat the progressing scoliosis (curvature) in my spine and I wore the brace 24/7 for the next two years.

Fifty years ago. Overnight, my life changed. Childhood ended in an instant. One day I was rolling down a small hill in a friend’s yard. The next, I met sadness, despair and heartache. My life was changed. There was no return. Events and encounters during that time of life shaped my personality in many ways, some subtle, others blatant. Before the summer was over, my family moved two states away from the only home I’d known. Trauma after trauma.

I’ve heard it said that without the sad moments, you’d never know when you were happy. This rings true. Happiness and tears go hand in hand.

Swiftly flew the years, though it didn’t seem so at the time. Jump ahead to 1977, one of the happiest times of my life, forty years ago. August 6, 1977 was my wedding day, a day when I started a new life with my best friend from college, Craig Winter.

It was a hot morning. We had discussed the idea of an outdoor ceremony, but Kansas in August can be brutal. Instead we chose the small Methodist church of my grandmother, and fed everyone homemade ice cream at our simple reception.

Forty years have flown by, filled with happiness and tears. Alone today in Nederland, Colorado, I honor Craig’s memory. Our marriage lasted seven and a half years, until the day he flew away, an angel struck down by cancer at age 33. But he left me behind with a beautiful daughter to raise, another experience filled with happiness. And tears.

I headed west a few days ago, bringing seven-year-old grandson Donte, Craig’s grandson, to visit his mama in Denver. Donte had asked to visit Craig’s resting place. In the innocence and openness of childhood, he wanted to know where I “planted” my first husband. We took the short detour to the country church cemetery outside Lincoln, Kansas on our way to Denver.

Donte honored the grandpa he’d never meet, days before the 40th anniversary of our wedding. Words do not exist to describe the poignancy of the moment.

Forty years. Four decades.

I remember, Craigie. Happy anniversary.

Possibilities!

It’s exciting to be invited to participate in the Kansas Library Association’s 2016 Author-palooza. In addition to presenting their books, authors are instructed to share their experiences in presenting public programs.

I have been amazed at how many opportunities opened for me after my memoir was released. This is a new chapter in my life, and a very rewarding one to be sure.

Here’s my list of appearances:

In the Shadow of the Wind readings and inspirational programs on grief and healing

perf6.000x9.000.indd
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NUA5VVU

October 23, 2014  Grace United Methodist Church discussion

March 7, 2015       Douglass United Methodist Women spring tea

April 25, 2015       Fredonia First Baptist Women spring tea

May 6, 2015          Potwin United Methodist Women spring tea

July 10, 2015         Writers of the Wheat, Sunflower Plaza, Wichita

October 7, 2015    First UMW, Arkansas City, meeting program

October 14, 2015  Rose Hill UMW, meeting program

January 17, 2016   Howard and Severy UMC Sunday guest speaker

January 21, 2016   First UMW, Winfield, meeting program

 

Suspense Fiction (Sundrop Sonata) and writing programs

Sundrop Sonata Cover
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS

May 6, 2016          Winfield PEO: “The Legacy of Words,” featuring the WWII letters of my uncle Lester Harris, posted on my blog.

June 11, 2016        Kansas Authors Club, District 5 program, “Using Fiction Techniques in Writing Memoirs”

October 2, 2016    Kansas Authors Club, annual convention, “Note by Note/Scene by Scene: Crafting a Suspense Novel”

And the adventure continues!