An Open Letter to KWA

As a former president and current member of the Kansas Writers Association, is it incumbent on me (as it is all members) to state my feelings regarding the forthcoming changes to the organization.

It is noble to recognize that an organization in existence for over 16 years which has not ostensibly changed since that time is no longer serving the needs of its members. Change can be painful, especially to those of the “Old School” who constantly repeat the mantra “This is not how we used to do it”. Those are naysayers. The individuals in KWA who have recognized a need for dramatic change are to be commended.

However, both the recent newsletter and web page article, “The Future of KWA”, send mixed messages which require clear and precise clarification.

From the article: We had several Board meetings in July to discuss how to make KWA relevant. We kept several questions in mind: What would best serve our membership? How do we offer our members even more opportunities to interact? How do we promote our members – and help them learn how to promote themselves? How do we best utilize our resources? We took a hard look at all of our offerings to decide what to focus on for our future.

This is followed immediately by the declaration that there will no longer be an Adult Contest nor a Scene Conference. However, a Youth Conference will still be offered. Unless the age demographic has changed dramatically since my departure from the Board in April of this year, I do not see how this serves the membership, which is made up largely of adults. Youth writers will not attend monthly meetings, will not have the time available to commit to such an organization, and will not be the focal point of networking with adult writers. I feel this focus serves the need of Board members more than general membership.

From the article: “Gordon Kessler, our current Ambassador and founding member of KWA, is going to start an affiliate program in the Kansas City area. We’re not quite sure what that entails just yet, but we are excited to be able to reach more of Kansas.

If the intention is to downsize the organization to a manageable level, how can an affiliate program in another city serve the current membership? Additionally, for the current Board to be uncertain of the details is disturbing as it appears to be more of a whim than a concrete idea, serving the interests of a one individual member and, once again, have no relevant bearing or usefulness for the general membership.

There are many members of KWA who do not come regularly to meetings and some who have never attended a meeting. The aspects of networking to them is more significant. If such members are not on Facebook, their only viable connectivity is via a monthly newsletter, which can include pictures and links. From the August newsletter: ” We don’t live in a society that waits by the mailbox for a monthly volume of news to arrive. News is happening right now and anything from last hour is old, so why hang onto an aging format?” As the current membership has an older demographic, there are still individuals who do not share this digital vision. Nevertheless, this notion was broached nearly a year ago and it was rejected under the premise of respect for the older members. Does this change indicate that respect is lost or simply that it is too difficult to put together a viable monthly newsletter?

Rather than focus of platforms and query letters and marketing and agents and e-publishing, the focus should be on the craft of writing. The indication that regular write-ins will be conducted and critique groups will be encouraged is definitely a step in the right direction. However, I still sense that the Board is considering its needs over that of the general membership. Politics still play a part in an artistic group. Whereas the popular response to that is “That’s just the way things are”, I reject the notion entirely. There is no room for this type of attitude when the goal is to help others develop their skills. What purpose does it serve to denigrate the speakers at a conference…on the morning of the conference, yet never having lifted a finger to provide meaningful input, assistance, or support? The Board does not need to be filled with warm bodies but rather scintillating minds.

Beyond looking at the organization as a whole, the Board needs to look at themselves. Anything short of a completely altruistic attitude does not belong. Change can be painful. But in order to move into the future, KWA needs to break with the past and not simply in terms of presentations and newsletters. Active recruitment of new membership from all writing genres and styles. Community involvement to seek out the fringe artists who do not have a unified organization to connect with. “Cross pollinating” with other art forms and other artists within Wichita and the surrounding area.

In the end, the organization will follow the dictates of the Board unless the general membership speaks up loudly and proclaims “This is MY organization and I want you to speak to MY concerns.” Otherwise, a great notion will become a memory.

[Some may question why I chose this forum, my blog, to make these comments. I know that some of my followers are nowhere near Kansas. Perhaps they are interested in joining a writing group in their own area and will use this as a cautionary tale.

However, it was done as much for a sense of free speech. When I posted on the KWA Facebook Page my resignation from the presidency, the post was taken down the next day with the commentary that I was airing dirty laundry. The irony can not be overlooked: a writers group censoring a writer.

This was meant as an open letter and, as such, invites open civil commentary. Perhaps I will be ignored. That will be more telling than any retort. My honest hope is that the organization will survive for the betterment of the general membership. I wish you well.]

Time to Get Back to Writing

For months, I’ve done little in terms of writing. You know, actually sitting down at a keyboard and constructing sentences out of words and paragraphs out of sentences and…Well, you get the point.

I’ve been a leader, an advocate, an administrator, a chair, a madman lunatic doing everything possible to put something together for others. Right or wrong, plus or minus, for better or for worse, this is what I’ve done. But I’m a writer and it is necessary to get back to the good old ritual of making stories and drawing characters and inventing places.

I’m currently re-working my procedural “The .9 mm Solution”, inspired by the ideas expounded by my brother-in-law with regard to the judicial and penal systems. (He would refer to them as ramblings but I’m able to find inspiration in anything.) It’s a perfect time to be finalizing this piece because there is another writer’s conference, OWFI, coming up in early May. Instead of being the guy running the show, I’ll get to be the guy running around in the show.

It is always special to be in the vast company of writers, regardless of genre or experience or level of competency. After all, the nature of what we do is similar. I didn’t get to do too much of that at the KWA Scene Conference because I had to be there for everyone. Except me, of course. Now I get a chance to take in the view, listen to something interesting, meet new writers.

But first, it’s time to get back to writing.

After the Conference

I said yesterday that the 2013 KWA Scene Conference was like a wedding: Nothing was perfect and everything was beautiful. In the end, you only remember the good things. It will be left to those of us on the KWA board to sort through things, analyze and evaluate.

I truly feel blessed to have had such wonderful and diverse speakers. Stan Finger’s presentation on his book, “Into the Deep”, was completely moving and inspirational. Esper’s discourse on YouTube as a viable platform opened many people’s eyes, almost as much as his work. Roy Wenzl gave sound advise for writers regarding focusing on story and NOT the author. We will look forward to his new book on Father Emil Kapaun. John Jenkinson showed that the author’s voice can be tinged with humor while making a statement.

But there was no doubt that Jenna Blum, the keynote speaker, was our star. With great wit, she challenged those to work hard, as hard as she did through over 100 agent rejections, to bring your stories to life and see them through to being published.

There are so many things that a writing conference can be. There are only a few things that it should be. That is: entertaining, informative, and inspiring. I believe we accomplished that.

Putting on a Conference – KWA Scene Conference, Mar. 16, 2013

Have you ever organized a conference of any kind? Neither have I. But I’m doing. With the help of the board of the Kansas Writers Association, the KWA Scene Conference is less than a week away.

I didn’t know anyone of enough stature who could speak at a conference. But one recommendation led to more. Surprisingly, they all were from the Wichita, KS area. Just shows you that there’s talent everywhere.

Sometimes, my “Old School” mind hides the possibilities of the digital age. I created a commercial for YouTube. Who creates a commercial for a writer’s conference? I did.

Our Newsletter editor became a de facto Promotions Director and called around to local businesses. I’m almost sure she’s never done anything like that before. But now we have sponsors and prize giveaways. We added Events to various websites.

And when the flyers and online info wasn’t enough, well, I made the sacrifice to go on t.v. (Hey, somebody had to do it.) KSCW agreed to interview me for their morning news show. Kara Newell, the host, was a real professional.

I’m scheduled to go on KSN, the NBC affiliate on Tuesday, Mar. 12. The two appearances combined don’t even come close to fifteen minutes of fame. But they may encourage or inspire a writer out there to figure it is time to expand upon their knowledge and networking.

Sometimes I think I don’t know what I’m doing. I just figure it’s better to do everything.

How Pitchapalooza Led to a Book Deal

Pitchapalooza is a strange and unique event. Hosted by The Book Doctors, it offers the participants the opportunity for a one minute pitch. No more, no less, than one minute. After you have made your pitch, you are critiqued on it with the aim to help you make your pitch better. The winner gets a future meeting with an agent or publisher or editor uniquely qualified to assist.

You never know what it will lead to. This is my story.

SPOILER ALERT: I did NOT win.

It was at the KWA Scene Conference in 2012 that I participated. On this blog, I debated which of two pieces to pitch: a traditional neo-noir hardboiled mystery or an experimental piece of Transgressive fiction. I chose the latter. It was unique enough to stand out even though it might not be the most commercial piece to pitch.

I had looked up Pitchapalooza on YouTube and saw several examples. I wrote and re-wrote my pitch. I practiced. At the Friday night session, the twenty entrants were randomly drawn. I was confident going in. But as the participants came and went, I waited. And waited. And waited. Nerves were starting to settle in.

And then I was called. And, to be honest, I nailed it. I hit it out of the park. Pick your own analogy. But I did what I was supposed to do. I was ready for that cash bar.

At the end of the session, the five panelists excused themselves for a review/vote/consultation. They came back a short time later to announce that they had a winner AND an honorable mention. I knew from my research that was unheard of. They did not usually have Honorable Mentions. I was announced as that rare honoree. Initially I was disappointed but having been mentioned at all, to have been considered, WAS a victory.

One of the panelists was Dan Case of AWOC.COM Publishing who was quite taken with my pitch, my story, and me. I had a one-on-one session with him on Saturday as well as one with Arielle Eckstut, one of the Book Doctors.

Flash forward two months to the OWFI Conference. One of the sessions was on the Elevator Pitch. Again, my Transgressive work, having recently been perfected, was blurted out in a one sentence pitch. More applause and appreciation.

I run into Dan Case. He remembers me. He still wants to see what I’ve got up my sleeve. I send him both pieces that I pitched back at the KWA Scene Conference. We can flash forward some more. Because Dan Case decides to publish the neo-noir hardboiled mystery, “Swan Song”, currently available on Amazon Kindle and Paperback, Barnes and Noble Nook and Paperback, and Kobo e-books.

It’s really mind-boggling, amazing, fascinating, and fun, all at the same time. I keep thinking that Raymond Chandler published his first novel, “The Big Sleep”, when he was 51. I beat him by six months.

It’s only a start. I know that. I don’t know where it actually goes from here. But it all really started because of a crazy event called Pitchapalooza.

The Evolution of a Novel – “Swan Song”

Why do writers write? It is the fascination and obsession with the Word. Their connection, their sound, their emotional weight. We are story tellers and we tell our stories with words.

This is the story of “Swan Song”, my debut novel published by Deadly Niche Press. {The Kindle Edition is available at Amazon.com; the print version will be available after the first of the year.}

In 2007, I won a prize in the Adult Poetry Division of the Kansas Writer’s Association’s yearly contest. At the presentation and corresponding reading at Watermark Books in Wichita, KS, I talked with Storme Maynard who told me about a strange thing called NaNoWriMo. All you had to do was write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. No problem, right?

The stress of the thing was palpable. Writing poetry in Boston in the mid 1990’s was a thought-provoking, emotional, and at times intellectual process. But we took our time until we got it right. This thing was literary insanity. But I finished it; I completed a “book”, such as it was. However, looking over my effort in December was out of the question. The holidays were approaching and I didn’t want my sloppy 50,000 words to depress.

I did work on it. Many times through several years. Eventually I came up with a piece of neo-noir hardboiled fiction that still captures my attention and creates striking images in my mind. Keep in mind that it is still nothing more than a manuscript at this time.

That is until I met Dan Case of AWOC.com. He was a speaker at the KWA Scene Conference in 2012 and a panelist for Pitchapalooza, sponsored by The Book Doctors, David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut. In a what-the-heck kind of moment I decided to pitch my Transgressive novel, Weekend Getaways, or Adventures in Contract Killing. I got an honorable mention for my pitch and some additional people looking in my direction, one of whom was Dan Case.

I ran into him at the OWFI Conference in May. We talked; he said he was interested and so was I. I sent him the manuscript for both. Knowing that the Transgressive piece might be a harder sell, he opted to start with “Swan Song” which has just been released as an e-book.

I am thrilled and pleased and know that the work has just begun. But consider the evolution: writing contest to casual conversation to online writing event to writer’s conference to pitch session to another writer’s conference…

There are those who say that NaNoWriMo is silly and it’s not really about the art and craft of writing. There are those who say that writing conferences are a venue for published novelists to garner attention. There are those who think that an e-book is somehow not a “real” book.

Whoever those people are, I do not agree with them.

Putting Together a Writing Conference

As President of the KWA (Kansas Writer’s Association), it is incumbent upon me to oversee the organizational aspects of our yearly writer’s conference. Just between you and me, I’ve never done anything like this before.

But I have been to conferences both big and small. Two day conferences with multiple tracks. One day seminars with one speaker. They are not all the same and one is not better than the other. That being said, I figured I would just come up with a theme, figure out who I knew (or who I knew who knew someone) and create a string.

It seems to be working. I have six varied speakers, all from different backgrounds, all presenting something more personal to them who I know will engage our attendees. No, this is not an advertisement. Not yet, anyway. It is simply a way of reminding myself that there is a human aspect to all the “necessary details” (venue, food, advertising and marketing, etc.). That human aspect is the speakers.

At some point, I plan to meet with each of them individually. That is something I am really looking forward to. It will be a sneak preview, if you will, of the conference itself. More importantly, it will be a chance to meet with, on a human level, a variety of writers far different from myself, who are at different stages of their careers, and who bring something rather unique to the table.

I am surprising myself at the balance between my organizational and creative sides and pleased to know that they co-exist in harmony. The end result, I believe, will be an intriguing conference that people will appreciate. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

I Write Transgressive Fiction; Does That Make Me a Bad Guy?

I got a Tweet from David Henry Sterry, one half of The Book Doctors. I had met him and his wife, Arielle Eckstut, at the KWA Scene Conference in March of this year while competing in Pitchapalooza. I pitched my dark comic Transgressive novel Weekend Getaways, or Adventures in Contract Killing and was well received.

The Tweet from David was “what exactly is transgressive fiction?” I responded “Main characters who feel confined by the norms of society. Think Fight Club & American Psycho. (was this a test?)” He came back with “not a test. just curious. is curious george transgressive character? cat in the hat? certainly max from wild things, right? ” Interesting. I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective. I clarified: “Got to add drugs, sex, violence and other taboo subjects into the mix. For the characters, THAT’S normal.” Sometimes the Socratic method does work best.

For my own interests, I looked researched on Wikipedia and found this definition by LA Times literary critic, Michael Silverblatt:

“A literary genre that graphically explores such topics as incest and other aberrant sexual practices, mutilation, the sprouting of sexual organs in various places on the human body, urban violence and violence against women, drug use, and highly dysfunctional family relationships, and that is based on the premise that knowledge is to be found at the edge of experience and that the body is the site for gaining knowledge.”

I looked back at my novel and the other collection I put together, Unemployed and Dangerous: A Trilogy of Transgressive Novellas. Was my work really like this? It was true that I explored very dark themes. The approach was offbeat, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, somewhat lyrical. There was an off-handedness to the extreme behavior, as though it were all just normal.

I have worked in customer service or retail for the better part of thirty years. I am certain that my life experience has informed my writing. I have always enjoyed film noir from the 40’s and 50’s, especially with the deep and dark psychological undertones. There is more than just crime in good crime fiction.

I had to go very deep within myself for that collection of novellas, scaring me at times and my wife just enough, before we both realized that I was lowering myself into a well but also pulling myself back up. And yet I know it’s there.

So, I conclude that I am NOT a bad guy but one who recognizes the possibility of badness, madness, degradation, and despair. Just as it is within all of us. And it is daring and scary to dive into those waters for the sake of a piece of writing and it is a dangerous journey to come back to stable ground. It creates an understanding of duality. It forces self-examination, which is necessary on both a personal and artistic level. It broadens the scope of character and literary skill.

I choose to go there knowing that I have the strength of will and the love of my wife to get back. I would not be satisfied any other way.

A Worthwhile Responsibility

Yesterday, I was voted in as the president of theKwa, the Kansas Writer’s Association. I had already been feted to become president in 2013. But the sudden resignation of founder and recent president Gordon Kessler created an instant vacuum.

Enter The Tikiman, aka “Rabbi” Dude.

Well, it seemed like I was jumping aboard a moving train, loaded with freight and heading for a pre-determined destination. No worries. All you need are a passion for writers and writing and a desire to foster a community of individuals with an artistic temperament. All things being equal, it feels like the Boston Poetry Scene from the mid-90’s.

This is a responsibility that I relish, not for any sense of glamour or prestige or to add a bullet point to my obituary. This is exciting because lighting the fuse of conversation, setting off an explosive interaction, creating an environment of discussion and networking is worthwhile.

I know people will see beyond the manic personality and the Hawaiian shirts and be glad that they are on that same freight train. The adventure is just beginning.

They don’t tell you about dinner.

It is only two days away from the Kansas Writer’s Association’s Scene Conference. It’s time to think about what it means to be a writer.

I’ve known, ever since first grade when the teacher had us put those ten vocabulary words into ten sentences, that words were a source of fascination. This notwithstanding the extensive library my parents maintained. And, in grade school, high school, college (where my second major behind film-making was creative writing). Training to be a writer.

Going from a “portable” Smith Corona typewriter to a Brother Word Processor. Identifying the hardware and being able to use it. Falling behind the computer generation and then feverishly catching up. Reading and expanding my reading list. Immersion in the Boston Poetry Scene in the early 90’s. Classic Greek and Roman poets and a few Dadaists and Surrealists thrown in for good measure.

Trying to get back to screenwriting while making a home in Kansas. Turning my attention back to the start, back to fiction. Crime fiction. And then discovering Transgressive fiction. Allowing myself to dare to experiment and be different. Or be myself, as the case may be.

Membership in the KWA. Subscription to Writer’s Digest. Teaching myself all the computer skills necessary, still being behind the curve, but catching up slowly. Learning about blogging and websites and creating a platform. My wife got me Ariel Gore’s book “How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead” and other such books. They’re great. Great insight, fantastic suggestions, good feedback into becoming a better writer and getting published.

And then there is that shake of the head. I’m spitting distance from turning fifty, a married homeowner with a full-time job, and just as many personal responsibilities as artistic desires. I’m not young enough to drop everything and go on an extended book signing/reading tour of colleges in a five state area. I’m not old enough and retired to attend writing conferences on either coast and expand my social and professional networking circle.

I’ve got to go grocery shopping and make dinner and take out the trash and pay bills and show up to work often enough where they do not doubt my sincerity of working there and allow me to keep making a living so I can pay my bills.

The bottom line is that I take everything I read and hear and discuss about writing and becoming a published writer and having a career as a writer with a grain of salt. I’ve got to fit everything that is MY life into an intricate jigsaw puzzle, sometimes daily or weekly or monthly or yearly. Whatever happens to be the priority of the moment.

I squeeze in some reading during two fifteen minute breaks and a half hour lunch. I post a blog when the urge strikes. I check up on the social networking as much as my limited resources allow. And I write when there is some new story to tell or some old story to revise.

And my wife, who is also my editor and biggest supporter, knows that the door open is an invitation and the door closed is a sign of immersion. I try to remind myself of the definition of ‘discipline’ every time I am at my desk in my office and when the laptop is turned on.

I keep reading the sage wisdom of published writers and what worked for them, hoping to come across someone EXACTLY like me. Because anyone else is either older or younger or a different gender or in a different profession or a different state. I haven’t found that person, as you may have guessed. Thankfully, at least for my wife’s sake, there is no one exactly like me. Therefore I am charting my own path.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go clean up the dishes from tonight’s dinner.

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