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.

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

Hotel information:

KS Authors Club

Registration: http://www.KansasAuthors.org