Cathy with her novella prequel as Donna Cronk holds Cathy's first full-length wholesome cowboy romance novel at the author's first Barnes & Noble signing in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Cathy has now released her third full-length cowboy romance, available on Amazon. Read on to learn about her writing process.
It’s a pleasure to introduce my friend and colleague, author Cathy Shouse. Cathy’s latest wholesome cowboy romance novel is the fourth in her Galloway Sons Farm series, including a novella prequel. And she's only getting started. More Fair Creek Romance novels are in the works.
Before we discuss the new book, meet Cathy and learn about her creative processes. I had planned to craft a feature story from our written interview, but since she gave me props for the questions, and I see no need to paraphrase her on-point answers, here’s our exchange.
Q. Cathy, you’re a resident of Fairmount, Indiana, and native of nearby Upland. Tell us about your childhood and how it influenced your work as a journalist and author.
A. My two siblings and I grew up on a small farm. Shetland ponies, being around cows, driving around to see how crops were doing, and listening to farm reports on the radio were the norm.
After writing long letters, at a young age, to my aunt who lived far away, and reading multiple books I’d checked out weekly from the library, my involvement in the high school newspaper wasn’t a surprise (started by selling and designing ads, ended as editor in chief my senior year).
Q. How did you decide to attend Indiana University Bloomington? Your major?
A. Since I was also an avid oboe player, and I didn’t get great career guidance, I graduated
with a BS in music and business. IU is a world-renowned music school. A highlight was Leonard Bernstein conducting our college orchestra. The story I wrote about that appeared in the Marion paper.
Q. What kind of work did you do after college, and where?
A. Post graduation, I worked in the business field, and as a “single girl,” I lived in a fantastic historic neighborhood in Indianapolis called Woodruff Place, which inspired some settings in my early stories. My husband, Jim, and I met when we were 29. We married about a year later.
Q. One important life theme you speak of often is that you married and had children at what you consider a later age than many peers.
A. This subject might be a novel in itself! But suffice it to say I’ve gone on some very bad, and some downright unusual dates. Here’s to my date who drove up in a crashed-up car to a hole-in-the -wall “restaurant” in Bloomington and “forgot” his wallet.
Maybe I’m more appreciative of romance because it didn’t happen right away for me. Our babies didn’t come along on schedule, either, although they were perfect in God’s timing.
I’d always wanted to write, and after my second child came along, I took that as a sign I should stay home and write, so that’s what I did.
Q. How did you come to live in Fairmount? The small, charming town is significant in your writing. Your first book is a history of the town. Was writing a book always a goal?
A. All the books I’ve read have influenced my life, not only the nonfiction but also the fiction
books. Relationships in fiction are great ways to learn. We can get into someone’s shoes and experience what we haven’t in real life. So having that phenomenon repeatedly, as a reader, made me want to offer it to others through my writing.
In college, I wanted to write books, and took creative writing as an elective. Also, I’ve had numerous people tell me I have a unique take on things (putting that in a flattering light) that might help others.
My life lessons might show up in my writing, although my most important goal as an author is always to entertain and give someone an escape from everyday life. Those two things are my prime motivators for reading and that’s what I hope to provide readers.
But writing fiction is a separate college course I never took, so in the meantime, when a bookseller at a writing conference reported that certain photo history books were “flying off the shelves,” I received good advice that Fairmount, with its famous people like James Dean and Garfield the Cat creator Jim Davis, might be a good basis for one.
Like the community in my novels, the people of Fairmount rallied around, starting with the Fairmount history museum, and helped find photos and tell the story of Fairmount. The rest is history!
When my husband and I wanted to rear our family in a small town, we thought of Fairmount, my parents’ hometown (they went to school with James Dean, even). The location worked well so we went for it. Multiple cousins and aunts still live here, and because we hung out with them every weekend when I was a child, we’re very close. There are reasons my characters have lots of cousins and aunts.
Q. Fairmount, population 2,655 in 2021, has been home to international celebrities. What influence do they have on your writing?
A. James Dean grew up with his extended family in Fairmount and became an iconic movie star before his tragic death in a car crash at age 24. (He was, in part, the inspiration for the cowgirl movie star in the third book in my series, Best Friend.)
As a local reporter in Marion, I wrote so many stories about James Dean that when they wanted to save his old high school, I once started an essay, “Jimmy and Me.” In the process, I learned how hard James Dean worked to get his acting "breaks,” and became a huge fan.
Jim Davis, who created Garfield, grew up in Fairmount. Davis tried other cartoon creatures but Garfield, by far his most successful, has been called a barn cat with attitude. Simply realizing that a creative life can spring from a small-town setting is inspiring!
Through researching the town’s history book, I learned that all kinds of exceptional people started out here, from college presidents to artists to national news reporters. These tidbits find their way into my novels.
Q. Tell us about your work as a writer for newspapers and magazines.
A. When I wanted to realize a dream to write, I started by reconnecting with my high school journalism teacher, who freelanced for the Marion newspaper. With his endorsement, I took on small assignments and ended up working on features, then went on staff part-time.
Over time I continued freelance, writing for five separate publications at one point, from Ft. Wayne to Muncie to Anderson. After writing thousands of articles, I’ve honed my craft and pitched magazine articles.
I was published in Family Fun, Indianapolis Monthly, and The Saturday Evening Post. More recently, I’ve written for Travel Indiana, and now am a contributor to Senior Life and Glo, free monthly newspapers in Ft. Wayne. I contribute to my community with weekly stories in the Courier, distributed in Fairmount and two nearby towns.
Q. How did you decide to pursue wholesome cowboy romance? You’ve published a novella prequel and three full-length cowboy romances.
A. Finding readers for my work has always been important and when I learned these types of stories have a following around the world, I decided to keep going.
Seven books are currently planned, and after that, I’ll likely start a spin-off series.
When Wyatt, Leo, and Gage Galloway inherit their family farm in Fair Creek, their father’s wishes bring them back home to Indiana. Meet the Galloway Sons and enjoy three inspirational novels about cowboys, family, and coping with life’s challenges.
Her Billionaire Cowboy’s Second Chance (Book 1) Single dad and businessman Wyatt is a widower struggling with life’s scars. Seeing diner owner Sierra Delaney again could be the start of his healing.
Her Billionaire Cowboy’s Triplets (Book 2) Artist Leo has lost himself in his work and returns home for a break. But the busy life of his best friend’s little sister, future single-mom Kristin, may renew him.
Her Billionaire Cowboy’s Best Friend (Book 3) International journalist Gage isn’t sure what home means anymore. But his high school best friend Bree Murphy’s life-changing news about their farewell encounter inspires him to figure it all out.
Q. Why do you find that cowboy romance is popular? Do you read books in the genre?
A. I’m glad you asked! Recently, I had the opportunity to delve into the first question in the Facebook group, Clean Cowboy Romance readers. Like me, others grew up watching TV westerns, and I guess that spawned an entire movement of readers who love cowboys. I find myself reading more inspirational cowboy romances.
I aim for my brand to include life’s challenges but to be on the lighter side, especially in the character personalities. When I turn the last page, I want to feel good and maybe that I learned something. That’s what I hope to offer readers.
Q. Which of your four cowboy-themed books is your favorite and why?
A. I’ll always love the novella prequel because it got me started in the publishing world. Her Billionaire Cowboy’s Twin Heirs is a Christmas story, which I love.
The novella has one of my favorite “meet cute” scenes when Caleb and Annie’s paths cross. Also, a mentor who became a dear friend edited it and she’s now passed away. I associate writing Twin Heirs with good memories. Since I offer it for free to give new fans a taste of my stories, more readers have read and reviewed that one. It’s an introduction to the Galloway Sons world, where many have chosen to continue with the other books in the series.
Q. Is the “billionaire” cowboy a specific genre? For example, is there middle-class cowboy fiction? Your cowboys seem down-to-earth with good core values.
A. Yes, “billionaire” is a genre and I think “cowboy billionaire” might be, too.
If you really think about it, land ownership often means wealth. But my books focus on cowboy values of appreciating the land, family, community, and having a strong work ethic and faith.
I also like their awareness of the seasons. They deal with winter. Spring will come. There is darkness and light. All of us are involved with seasons and nature but those who work outdoors are more so.
Q. Christian faith is also a part of your stories. Tell us about that.
A. Years ago, I was exploring fiction and started many stories, one of which ended up as the prequel to the series.
A reason I came late to writing about faith is because I think it’s a private matter. I didn’t
want to seem preachy or like I was judging others. I come from it like someone who’s still
trying to figure things out, and maybe my readers are too. Faith is a part of their everyday lives.
Q. What advice do you have for would-be authors?
A. I think the biggest thing for me was figuring out why I wanted to write. Only after a session
with a writing coach did I nail down my “why” for writing fiction, which helped me to find the courage and determination to publish my stories.
Everything is personal, and I feel vulnerable about it. With so many books in the world, it’s hard to think what any “regular person” writes matters. I decided maybe part of why I’m here is to put my brand of writing out there, and hopefully it would speak to a certain type of reader. That has been the case. My readers and I have a connection and understand each other in a way that’s special on both sides, from the responses I’ve gotten.
Q. In your new book, we meet Gage Galloway, who returns home to become involved with the farm, per his late father’s will. He learns that his high school best friend, Bree, is keeping a secret. How did you come up with the plot that unfolds?
A. When I decided to create a series, I made a list of what I love and what I wanted to include. I’m basically gaga over babies. Babies enter our world in multiple situations.
I’d written about getting the call to be a guardian for twin babies, also about having triplets through infertility treatments. I’d heard “secret baby” stories are popular with readers.
I didn’t find many books with people of faith who had dealt with unexpected babies, so I wrote one, keeping their perspectives in mind.
Q. This fourth book (including the prequel) in the Galloway Sons Farm A Fair Creek Romance series tells stories of four brothers in a wealthy farm family, set in a small, idyllic Indiana town. What’s next?
A. Having the cover of a book ready to go helps me to write the story. Currently, I have the next in line, Her Billionaire Cowboy’s Secret Heir up on Amazon for pre-order. I’ve gotten three more book covers designed so the series will go to at least seven, not counting the prequel.
Q. What do readers enjoy about the Galloway Sons and about the town--which is something of its
A. Hearing reader comments is one of my favorite things. They’ve mentioned that they like how the community pulls together for one another, and the way the characters are dealing with real issues, yet there are humorous conversations.
Quite a few liked that Sierra was coping with a new diagnosis of her disability in the “second chance” story, book 1. Some say they appreciate the faith aspects of my stories.
Q. Is Fairmount the model for Fair Creek? Do locals ask if the characters are based on people there?
A. Yes, the little Indiana town where I live was the inspiration for the series. The town inspires each book, too. If I’m trying to think of ideas, I will sometimes take a drive around town, or go sit at the coffee shop and look out the window, or possibly see local friends enjoying coffee, just as my characters do.
It gives me joy to immerse myself in that small-town feel. None of the characters are inspired by a particular person, although in this latest book, a side character was inspired by a dear friend who recently passed.
Q. Both Gage and Bree express their faith in God throughout the book as they acknowledge His plans for their lives. What’s your process for adding these themes?
A. I’m a Christian and as a journalist I write everything, but have always leaned toward the upbeat and inspiring, whenever possible. For many years, I wrote fiction on my own, with that same angle. But once I started writing stories closer to home and leaning into my heart as a Christian, interest in my books has somewhat taken off.
Getting awarded a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission to fund book 1 was early validation that I’m on the right track.
Q. A secondary plot involves Dale Murphy, an ancestor of Bree. Bree is passionate about keeping a museum and town festival going in tribute to the late cowgirl actress. Explain the roots of this storyline.
A. My little town has a famous person associated with it and I wanted one for Fair Creek. As a child, I was a fan of the cowboy Roy Rogers. I read his wife Dale Evans’ book, Angel Unaware. A photo of Dale dressed as a cowgirl made her the perfect muse, although nothing about the book is based on facts about her.
Q. I find your ending satisfying as it gives me hope that we still have good men around who want to love their people and do the right thing. What reaction are readers having to your ending? I liked how you teased us with what I thought would be a big engagement scene.
A. I was headed toward the ending you “thought” was coming (I don’t plot ahead) and then decided this proposal needed to happen in Fair Creek. After all, Gage is an international journalist turned cowboy, and he and Bree worked through a lot to be together, so I opted for a fancier, swoon-worthy ending.
Readers have expressed that they love the story, in general. Supposedly, the way readers feel at the end is what has them reaching for the next book. No one has specifically mentioned the ending yet, but sales for the next book have been brisk!
Q. Another unexpected subplot emerges near the book’s end. This one involves two new characters. Will they play roles in future books?
A. I planned that subplot before I started the book, which is unusual. I’m running out of Galloway brothers, and with all the discoveries I’m hearing about in real life regarding unexpected family, I decided, why not the Galloways?
Insider secret: originally, I planned for one character but since the family has twins in their genes, I went for that theme so there are two new characters.
Q. What else do you wish to share?
A. Want to know my big-picture, pie-in-the-sky dream? I hope readers will love the Galloway Sons of Fair Creek so much they’ll want to come to a reader event, held in my town that inspired the series, of course!
Connect with Cathy:
Facebook: cathy shouse author
Facebook: Cathy Shouse's Reader Chat Group
Note: The following feature story appeared in the Sunday, May 19, 2019 Courier-Times and Connersville News-Examiner. It is reprinted here.
by Donna Cronk
Chuck Avery never minded the idea of growing older.
If you're waiting for the punch line, there isn't one.
“When I was younger, I thought older people seemed respected and settled,” he says, adding that they are “not trying to impress anyone. Just trying to relax. It turned out like I thought.”
Avery, 84, spoke during a Tuesday brunch at Senior Living at Forest Ridge in New Castle. His topic concerned thoughts on aging.
The Hagerstown resident and Connersville native is well known regionally for his regular humor column that still runs in The Courier-Times and Connersville News-Examiner along with two other papers. At one time during his nearly 30-year side career as a general-and-humor columnist, his work appeared in nine newspapers.
Avery said he almost never knows in advance what he will write about in any given column. He credits former Hagerstown Exponent and Courier-Times Publisher Bob Hansen with giving him his start. He has no plans to quit writing the columns. But as for speaking gigs, he doesn’t do so many anymore.
He said last year, he spoke in Richmond. The person who invited him mentioned a stipend and told him to keep the talk to 15-20 minutes. Avery asked if he could have 25 minutes, and the person said no, 15 would be better. Avery responded, “If you’d raise my stipend, I won’t show up and we’d both be happy.”
Avery says it’s a true story, the kind readers have come to expect from the retired 27-year speech, drama, and literature teacher at Hagerstown High School. Youngest son Ian now teaches writing in Ohio. Chuck and wife Michelle have four grown kids, 10 grandchildren and two greats.
The couple became interested in each other while doing a play in Angola many years ago. She taught school for 31 years in Richmond before retiring.
Michelle says in their family, her husband is known for his storytelling abilities. She says he has the same personality at home that comes across in his columns. But, he says he wasn’t known for his wit while growing up.
Of his hundreds of columns, Avery says a personal favorite is about Christmas when he was a kid. A local organization sent the family some holiday gifts – and the Averys sent them back, requesting that the group give the presents to a family who needed them.
“We didn’t have anything but pride,” he recalls.
As a young man, he worked in Connersville factories where he found the jobs boring. Yet the experiences were significant because they motivated him to head to college and pursue something more interesting.
Along with his teaching career and sideline of column writing, producing books, and public radio commentaries, he and Michelle built two houses in rural Hagerstown. They still live in the second one, built a decade ago, which they designed and mostly built themselves. He still works on their property and cuts wood to heat the house.
These days his hobbies include learning to play classic guitar and improving his pool game. He works at both daily.
On Tuesday, Larry and Norma Meyer of New Castle were part of a packed house to hear Avery’s program. She worked at Hagerstown High School with Avery when he served as department head. She says he was witty back then.
Avery said once he finished talking in Richmond last year, the event host told the audience, “Next month, we’ll have a really good speaker.”
It’s all copy. And for Chuck Avery, it’s a good life.
Tips on aging well from Chuck Avery
During his Tuesday program, newspaper columnist Chuck Avery offered thoughts on how to avoid appearing old. He suggests that folks implement these tips as soon as they get their first AARP solicitation. He mentioned that for many at the luncheon, that invite came long ago. He shared:
1. Once you are invited to join AARP, start using rear-view mirrors when backing up. Receiving the invite means it won’t be long before the recipient can no longer use the arm-over-seat, turn-your-head-around-to-see method.
2. Begin parking in the same general area in big parking lots. Avoid trying to get into a parked car you haven’t owned for two years.
3. Commit to memorizing the make and model of your current car.
4. Make lists of every act you intend to do wherever you’re going. Avery deadpanned that he doesn’t get to a big city such as New Castle often but he had a list with two things on it for Tuesday. The list included go speak at Forest Ridge, then go to Kroger for a big ham.
5. Avoid abbreviations on your list. If you just put P and B on your list, you might end up with pork and beans.
6. Learn to address everyone as “neighbor.” That way you no longer have to memorize names.
Yesterday a letter (and pop-up card) arrived from a woman named June whom I have never met, but who saved newspaper clippings of my articles as well as copies of her magazine for women, to share with a friend of hers, Linda, who lives in Liberty, my hometown.
I should say lived in my hometown, because June's letter yesterday was to tell me that her friend passed away in February. June had told me that Linda had been to one of my signings, and asked if I would send her friend an encouraging note. I did just that a couple times, wishing her well in battling her illness. I am sorry to hear that she passed.
In this throw-away as well as often paperless society we live in, I'm touched to know that someone would actually take the time and effort to save articles that I write and that someone else would be happy to get them.
Yesterday's letter, which arrived in the bright green envelope above, is the latest in my stack of reader snail mail. This stack was started when my second book, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, came out approaching two years ago. I filed away the mail that had arrived after the first book, up until summer 2016.
The envelope on top of the stack is what I mailed back to June. You'll notice a sticker of a bird. I like to put stickers on my mail because I like getting letters with stickers on them. I always tell them at work that when I get a handwritten envelope with a sticker on the back (or sometimes on the front in one or more corner), I know that person "comes in peace."
Often I'm asked if I'm working on a third book. I can't say it won't happen, or that it will. But I can promise you that not a day passes when I'm "not" writing one thing or another: features for the newspaper, emails to a variety of friends, upcoming programs and something new in recent months: Wednesday devotions for Ovid Community Church. I have the Wednesday slot and I'm trusting the Holy Spirit for continued inspiration. If you are interested in seeing them or other devotions and posts, let me know and I'd be happy to add you to the group. (Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Meanwhile, I invited June, and I'm inviting you too, to my free program at Senior Living at Forest Ridge in New Castle at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 10. There's a free brunch, then program and the promise of a "lively discussion." I'm bringing a door prize and yes, a few copies of my books, if anyone is interested in buying signed copies or visiting with me after.
If interested, give Senior Living a ring at 765-521-4740 and tell them you'd like to attend. If you don't know where it is, put 2800 Forest Ridge Parkway in your GPS. The program is for the monthly Social Society and community members are welcome.
Meanwhile, let me say I'm grateful to those who continue to read these posts, take The Courier-Times, read my books or inquire about what I'm working on. Read on and I'll write on, good Lord willing.
Back in the winter, (don't you like using the word winter in the past tense?), LauraLisa out at Senior Living at Forest Ridge invited me to speak to the April brunch of the Social Society. It's free to any retiree who would like to come by. Just call to let them know you are coming so they will have enough food.
I decided to switch things up and do a new program for those attending. I've selected three posts from right here on my Home Row blog, and tweaked them for a "live audience." I'll be talking about basketball, newspapering and grocery shopping with the husband. There's time for questions about these or other topics, and yes, I'm bringing along a door prize. Best of all, it's free! So come on out to beautiful Senior Living at Forest Ridge, the place I tell folks that I'd like to be put in layaway.
While I'm plugging an upcoming program, here's a run down of some places I'll be speaking this busy spring. As I've said before, I could never have guessed that the "tour" continues, but it does, and it takes on new aspects. Maybe I'll see you on the road. We have a good time.
It's a snowy Saturday in that no-man's land between Christmas and New Year's. I think of this week as an extended snow day.
Historically, it's a hard time to get hold of people for feature stories. Government entities take a break, and lots of people are off work due to end-of-year vacation time or their workplaces are closed.
It's kind of nice; a break in the action before Tuesday arrives and we're thrust, ready or not, into a new working year.
I like today. It's 1:30 p.m. and I'm still in my pajamas! It's cold and snowy outside and other than taking the dog out, there is no reason to leave the house. There's no reason, even, to put on real clothes, but I may. Or I may not.
What I will do when I finish this final 2017 post is to clock some time for my newspaper job. Several January projects involve getting a head start, and permission to work on the clock from home for a few hours will help me greet Tuesday better prepared to tackle January.
I don't do politics on social media. Sometimes I have to hog-tie my fingers, but I don't go there. I don't argue or preach or add to the divisiveness I see and feel around me. I have many friends and family, not to mention readers, acquaintances and colleagues whom I love, admire, respect and maybe even on occasion simply tolerate, who disagree mightily on such topics.
In the online political realm, I am Switzerland.
What I will share is my Christian faith in the Living Trinity, the three-in-one of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit -- the only hope for humanity.
When I review 2017, I think of moments. There is my career high of covering the presidential inauguration and women's march from the aspect of what it was like to be there. It was an intense few days full of experiences, then back to the hotel to write and transmit everything to quite a few Hoosier newspapers. I will treasure the experience for the rest of my life.
I am grateful for yet another year of this ride as a regional author. To every book club, social or literary club, church banquet and program organizer, library staffer and author fair organizer who sought me out in some way, I am in debt. Going into each year, I think perhaps the ride is about over. So far, the surprise is that it hasn't been. So if you need a program or presentation or speaker, let me know at email@example.com.
There are many friends and author friends to thank for your help. I think of how Janis Thornton showed up at the Fishers Library last March simply to support me in my program on self-publishing, and how she would like to work with me further in developing a workshop-styled program on the topic. That same night, son Sam and DIL Allison surprised me by arriving at the end of the program to help me carry everything to the car and deliver a refreshing hot tea!
I think of Sandy Moore and our mutual support society with marketing ideas and cluing each other in on opportunities. There is Annette Goggin who I only got to know through the author ride, but who I think of as a friend and admire greatly. Plus, I am grateful for her asking me to her old-fashioned hymn sing! I loved it! (Let's do it again?)
I thank those -- and I'm thinking of writer friend Cheryl Bennett -- who posted reviews of my second book on Goodreads and Amazon. And I am grateful for the number of people I don't know whose reviews pop up.
Oh, the list above goes on and on to include, but not limited to Mary Wilkinson, my bestie Gay Kirkton, her parents, my boss Katie Clontz, and I know I am in trouble because I'm leaving out some people but I'm trying to hurry this along!
Other precious moments include the trip Gay and I took to Galena, Illinois, and to Miss Effie's flower farm near Donahue, Iowa, and the new friend I have now in Cathy, the entrepreneur and Gay's college friend who founded the flower farm and crafts-filled Summer Kitchen there.
I think of walking with John and Debby Williams and loved ones in their fight against Cystic Fibrosis.
I am surrounded by inspiring, creative, resourceful, fierce, sweet, empowered, wonderful women!
Brian and I took a pretty-much perfect trip to D.C. in September and by writing ahead for tickets and clearance, got insider looks inside The White House, Congress, Capitol, Pentagon and FBI Building. The Newseum was outstanding, as was hearing a lecture in the Supreme Court courtroom.
I'm so grateful to Kids at Heart Publisher Shelley Davis for accepting my books into her bookshop at the Warm Glow Candle Co. complex.
I'm grateful to my husband for his love and support. Grateful to spend time with extended family -- wonderful trips visiting Tim and Jeannie in Liberty, Brian's annual trip to see his brother and SIL Steve and Linda in Florida, hosting a master's degree grad party for our DIL Allison, attending a great-niece's wedding and a great-great niece's birthday party. I think of seeing our friend Coach Rick's football team, Trine University, win a playoff game in its undefeated-season year.
I think of the Midlife Mom sisters of Ovid Community Church, and the Bible Study Fellowship folks who help guide as the Holy Scriptures come alive to me each time I'm in them. I. think of my sons Sam and Ben and wonderful daughter-in-law Allison. Oh, and I'm grateful that Brian's McClellan clan continues to get together every Fourth of July weekend and for cousin Beth for starting a periodic cousins get-together.
I think of everyone who said yes when I asked if I could write about some aspect of their lives. I think of Steve Dicken, the English teacher I wish I had had in school, and of whom I am proud to have as a writing colleague now. I think of our dear friend Barb Clark. I think of my encourager and confidante Debbie McCray.
I have probably left out so much about this year that brought joy and sweetness. Life is short. We have to embrace every opportunity, love one another, care about one another. And if you are a writer, you probably have to write about it all.
I plan to keep doing just that. So bring it on! 2018, what do you have for me? Thank you God, for another year on this planet!
Happy New Year to you, whomever and wherever you are reading this.
There are many surprises in author world. So many that, ironically, I could write a book about the surprises associated with writing a book.
But for today, let's touch on keeping this journey going and evolving. As we know from science and from hanging out for a while on this planet, nothing (except for God) stays the same. As authors, we have to keep producing new material in one form or another. Or, we have to keep finding new audiences for our old material.
The key word here is new, and keeping things fresh.
Last year, when my second novel came out, WholeHeart Communications Owner Christy Ragle suggested that I develop a presentation on self-publishing. At first, I balked at the notion. I wasn't an expert. I didn't have all the answers.
But the more I thought about it, I realized that while no, I wasn't a pro, I knew enough to publish two books and certainly had advice and opinions on the topic. I also realized that no one has "all the answers." But I had some answers. And some behind-the-cover insights and thoughts on the experience of self-publishing and what comes next. It could all prove helpful to those thinking of going for it.
I also have had a number of would-be authors approach me asking for advice, or inquiring if I would read and comment on their manuscripts, and even if I would edit their books.
So I put something together and realized that yes, I had enough for a program. It's gotten me into a few venues and this Saturday, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., I'll roll out a sample taken from the larger program in the Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza, Fort Wayne. I'll be speaking during a panel discussion on "Top 10 tips for finding readers."
I'll also be around the rest of the day at the noon to 5 p.m. author fair. It's all free to the public, including these workshops:
* Secrets of Successful Self-Publishing 12:30-1:30 pm
Learn how to self-publish like a pro.
* How to Write 50K Words in 30 Days 1:45-3:15 pm
Writing Workshop with Michelle Weidenbenner.
* Writing Down the Genres 3:30-4:30 pm
Four authors who write in different genres: romance, Christian, non-fiction/history, and memoir—will discuss their process.
No preregistration is required to attend either of the panels or the writing class.
As writers, authors, or speakers, you never know if a particular presentation you come up with will be one that's requested over and over. My best tip in this area is that when you are developing a program, make it useful to those listening to you. It' not just about you. Give those you are speaking to food for thought, encouragement, challenge, how-to information or SOMETHING that has potential to help or change them. Years ago in the journalism field, we used to call this "news you can use."
Also, don't shy away from writing new programs to suit new opportunities that come your way.
Maybe it's not just food for thought, but actual food! A Zionsville librarian approached me asking if I would do a presentation on recipes from my first book. Oh, and bring samples. I said I could do that, sure, and told him that I would like to be reimbursed for the food expenses. He said it wasn't a problem. So I wrote a program called "Novel Food," shopped for, prepared and hauled in two dishes from recipes found in Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast.
One day at work the phone rang. A local elementary school asked if I would give a back-to-school program to staff, parents and kids on some aspect of literacy. Umm, sure? I mean, sure! I put one together called "What's Your Clue?" I've used it since then at a library summer reading program kickoff.
The point is that if we're going to continue our journey, we have to think out of the book or books we wrote, and delve into new territory.
Will it be perfect? Are we experts? No and no. Will it take time? Yes. Is it worth it? If you love writing and sharing with readers, yes. It is indeed worth it.
Donna Cronk is author of two inspirational novels, quite a few programs, and thousands of newspaper columns and feature stories. To connect with her about her programs or books, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s spring 1973. I’m in eighth-grade at Liberty Junior High School.
There was no high school-orientation night to plot our high school courses. I don’t remember signing up for freshman year other than my mother’s strong feelings about one thing.
She said I should take typing; that I would use it.
That fall I learned that everything in typing begins on home row, and soon our sweet business-skills teacher, Ethel Sharp, helped us expand our range to other rows on the keyboard.
My friend Cheryl Rodenburg also took typing that fall. One weekend, we decided to borrow her step-grandmother’s portable typewriter and practice our Typing I skills.
We thought it would be fun to create a weekly newspaper in Philomath, the farm community where she lived.
Philomath, in the northwest tip of Union County, Indiana, isn’t an incorporated town, and there are no businesses. But there was a street light outside the Rodenburg home (actually, a security light, no doubt billed to the family). There were several houses in the neighborhood and a lot of cars and tractors passing through the main drag. City life when compared to our much more isolated farm.
I felt so alive that weekend; in love with our newspaper project. Whereas three years earlier we spent weekends in marathon sessions playing with Barbies, this was a new era and I knew it.
I felt as though I could work on our little newspaper 24/7 and I would never tire of it, ever, ever. The power of the press had reached Philomath! And I knew that whatever stories we came up with about the neighborhood, the people would read them. They might have suggestions for more stories, and feel a sense of pride at being in print.
But with only home row under our belts that weekend, we weren’t yet skilled enough to pull off a weekly newspaper, or even one issue.
I ached with a desire to type fluently, stringing not just pecked-out words but sentences, and paragraphs together, to doing something I couldn’t quite verbalize the significance of, but it amounted to making that keyboard sing with the poetry of everyday people’s stories.
At home, there sat an ancient typewriter in the back of a closet. Mom unearthed it, but it was heavy as a Model T, and the keys had to be pushed hard into submission to gather enough ink off the old ribbon to leave a print.
Back in typing class, we kept getting better. Every beginner’s goal became the chance to move up from the manual typewriter to the modern IBM Selectric. I still recall the hum and slight vibration of the machine under my fingers, and the way the keys clicked so easily compared to the clack of non-electric keys. When my fingers sat on home row of that Selectric, I felt as a race horse must feel, itching to get out of the starting gate and move.
The sound of typing became music to my ears, a symphony when others typed at the same time. As the years rolled on, I joined the high school newspaper staff, became editor my senior year, and then studied journalism in college.
It was there I was introduced to video display terminals (VDTs) that we used in 1980s and 1990s newspapering.
What had not changed were the sounds and appeal of creating news stories, just as we had attempted as beginner typists that fall in Philomath. Only by the early 1980s, there was a screen and a curser and it felt so space-age to backspace and delete a stray character rather than attempt a neat job with the typewriter eraser or correction fluid.
Of course computers changed everything. The keyboards were connected to nothing short of the world and all its information in the form of the internet. But it also meant that everyone else was connected to the world. Would they still need local newspapers?
At some point, the clickity-clack of newsroom Associated Press bulletins and breaking news, as well as features and stock reports that printed out of that magical AP wire machine became obsolete. Computers silently transmitted all that copy to us.
As the years continued, many smaller papers stopped using their own presses and instead, printed at centralized locations.
At one time, a newspaper office was a noisy place. The press rolled, the keyboards of first typewriters, then VDTs, then computers clicked. The AP wire machine cranked out copy. People came and went in open-concept newsrooms and advertising departments.
You learned to concentrate in the midst of much noise and many disruptions. You didn’t think about it. Or if you did, you thought it was great to be a part of the pre-deadline mix; that it would all come together, somehow, as if by magic, into a printed newspaper. And it would all happen again the next day.
Most days now, someone comes by the newspaper office and says, “Sure is quiet in here.”
It’s true, too. Our Mac keyboards are so quiet that reporters with light touches can’t even be heard typing. The silence is deafening to where sometimes I think: Are we really making a paper? It's all happening so quietly.
At some point, I trashed my mother’s typewriter, that jet-black, heavy-as-a-Model-T number. As Brian would say, I was in one of my cleaning frenzies.
In the newspaper office, we were gifted with the typewriter that belonged to long-time owner Walter Chambers. It sits on his desk that his family also gave us. They thought his things should be at the newspaper.
The only other typewriter in the building rests above our old-time morgue, where old stories were clipped and stored for future reference. The typewriter typed the name of the topics of those stories on small envelopes. We never use that typewriter anymore. But no one is inclined to toss it out either.
I think back to October 1973 and the craving to know how to make a keyboard sing. I wanted to type fast and make newspapers.
It’s fall 2017. I’m in my thirty-fourth year as a paid community journalist. I still want to type fast and make newspapers.
Maybe some things don't change.
It's all about the new territory.
This week was a good one in the book-marketing department because the in-box brought details and posters from two large Indiana libraries affirming my acceptance as author at their fall fairs.
What that means is this. Potential new readers who might take an interest in my books will pass my table on two Saturdays in two separate cities. I might sell a couple, a few, or even a lot of books. But here's the real bait: if one of those readers happens to connect positively with what I write, that might generate an invite to a book club where all her friends have read it and want to discuss it.
Or it might mean that there isn't a peep until a winter's night when I get a call asking if I would be the speaker at her church's mother-daughter banquet come May. Or a beautiful hand-written letter arrives in the mail saying how much one of the books was enjoyed.
Or, nothing at all might result.
New territory. That's always the goal in author world.
When friends ask if I'm still selling books or doing anything with them, I see their surprise when I tell them yes. After all, they read the things a while ago, and in this super-fast-paced world, everything seems to be old news fast.
A book is like a homemade meal. Both take a lot of time to produce. There's all that ingredient-gathering, figuring out the recipes, having the right utensils, the cooking knowledge to prepare the dish properly, getting the right people to the table, and then, after such a long process to reach the end result, the book is read, the meal devoured.
Before the dishes are washed or the book widely distributed, the questions come: What's for dessert? (or) What are you doing next?
Well, if you're me or a whole bunch of other authors I know, what's next means looking for that new territory.
So along with the Fishers author fair, there's this one, which I heard through the author-vine, is a pretty terrific one, in Fort Wayne.
So what I know for now is that the author journey continues, and I am grateful to the Fishers / Hamilton County and the Fort Wayne / Allen County library staffs for selecting my books -- and me -- as a part of their author fairs.
If you or friends you know live in those areas, I'd love to visit with any of you on either of the first two Saturdays in November. The journey continues and as long as I can find new territory, I hope to remain on it.
AND, a bonus: My friend Sandy Moore, author of the children's chapter book, Sadie's Search for Home, and a new one coming out in December (which I'll let her announce more about when she's ready) also made the cut for these two author fairs. So we get to spend some time together. Any recommendations for a dinner spot in Fort Wayne?
In other news ...
Author Cathy Shouse of the Muncie branch of Pen Women sent this release along to The Courier-Times and I thought I’d share it here in full.
Cathy hosted me as a speaker last year and invited me to join the group. If there were more hours in the day, I would. If you’re looking for a group focused on the creative arts, Friday’s meeting would be a great way to check it out.
I met the guest speaker during a Tipton author fair two years ago and instantly liked her a lot. We’ve kept in touch and I’m happy to give her a plug, below.
Not only is this traditionally published author incredibly talented with art and words, she’s transparent and approachable. Here’s the info that Cathy sent:
Author and graphic designer Kelly O’Dell Stanley of Crawfordsville will speak at a luncheon program at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 20 in Muncie. Her topic is: “How to Express Your Creativity in Unique Ways.”
O’Dell Stanley’s work has been included in design anthologies and PRINT Magazine’s Design Annual and she has received a variety of awards for her design.
The author discovered writing as a new way of practicing her creativity. In 2013, her essay won first place in the Writer’s Digest Competition in inspirational writing. She’s published two books with Tyndale since 2015; Praying Upside Down: A Creative Prayer Experience to Transform Your Time with God and Designed to Pray: Creative Ways to Engage with God.
Her original monthly calendars are downloaded by hundreds of people worldwide Visit her at (www.kellyostanley.com or on Facebook at Kelly O’Dell Stanley, Author)
The catered meeting is an outreach of the National League of American Pen Women’s Muncie branch at Westminster Villa’s Community Hall, 5600 Westminster Blvd., Muncie. The cost is $10. Space is limited. To attend call Barb Kehoe at 765-288-2098 or email email@example.com
Pen Women is a national, non-profit organization with headquarters in Washington D.C., whose members are artists, musicians and writers.
Joyce and Jim exchanged vows on Fourth of July weekend 2013 on a New Hampshire hilltop. In this moment, Joyce told everyone to get comfortable because she had something to read to Jim and it would take a while. We would have expected nothing less. What we didn't expect was that they wouldn't have long together before they battled the demon of cancer that took Jim.
I’ve been a fan of author Joyce Maynard for 30 years. When I discovered her, she was knee-deep in raising kids and tomatoes, making pies, and beautiful Christmases. In the midst of all that, life got messy, and she didn’t shy away from sharing those parts, either.
There came the illness, then death of her beloved mother, a painful divorce; dating and relationships. And who happened to be in New York City on 9/11? Joyce, of course, as though sent to chronicle another moment that we needed to see through her first-person lens.
I would learn that Joyce had gained national fame as a teen with a New York Times magazine-cover essay whereby she rocketed to the description of "the voice" of her generation, and that led to a relationship with a famous man, her first heartbreak.
But what interested me most was not the fame part, but the ordinary part of her life – the kids-and-tomatoes part.
Add that homey side to the community-columnist and small-town-newspaper-reporter side of me, and I was hooked on her writing – and let her know.
Joyce came off the page when she invited me to stay with her during her epic New Hampshire yard sale before her move to California in the late 1990s. Who could guess there would be a second invite to New Hampshire, this time to see her marry Jim, the eventual love of her life, the dashing California attorney? Yet there my friend Gay and I stood on a New Hampshire hilltop, watching the ceremony in July 2013.
What nationally-acclaimed author gets that personal with her readers?
While she has always detailed the life and times of her generation, as well as shared personal details from her life, as though each reader is really her close friend visiting over coffee, The Best of Us is one we all wish she didn’t have to write.
She lost her love too soon. She tells us everything; things we don’t want to hear, but know she must say, about cancer and what you do when the person you love most is dying. Or before you know he is dying and you are frantically trying to find what will save him, and save you. But her fans have been around a day or two. We’ve seen cancer, and death, and pain, and disappointments along with our own hilltop moments. We understand.
At the end of almost every chapter, there is a simple, but profoundly poignant point offered by Joyce, a takeaway even, for us all. For example, while addressing a frustration over an inconvenience due to her husband losing his car keys, she writes, “In the old days, I would have made some sharp remark. How could he? I didn’t do those things anymore. ‘If only,’ I often said, ‘you could learn the lessons of cancer without having cancer.’”
She writes with candor, her signature, of course, in ways that sometimes make you wince and want to look away from plenty of ugly situations, not only of the cancer journey that we know won’t end well, but of heart-rending situations before the two found each other. We’re reminded of our own, personal, look-away moments. We're prone to hide them away rather than put them out there.
The joy that sparkles in this book is that Joyce and Jim found each other, and got to experience travel and life and love in a condensed form that I would call blessings.
Joyce and I are two different women in more obvious ways than we are alike. Yet perhaps at the heart of our curious connection is this shared core belief: That it isn’t real until it’s written. And that we don’t get to choose our life stories. They choose us. Then we tell them.
She spent a year after Jim’s death writing this book, and now she’s touring with it, something she revels in, and finds energy from. Writing a book is necessarily a solo experience with quiet and isolation. Joyce recharges by meeting her readers, hearing how they identify with her words, and how she identifies with them.
She will survive this. Jim had said he only wanted to be her good husband. He regretted, perhaps more than anything, the burden he would say he became to her, the pain his pain caused her. The way she can honor him now, I believe, is to press on and have a wonderful life, find new love and joy and, (I would add, most of all) faith.
She told me once to “Keep telling stories.”
I will stay tuned to hear hers. There will be new ones to find and I know she will write about them all. I hope that the next chapter will be one that makes her heart sing. Life is full of so much. Love, laughter, people we love and lose, relationships, sadness, disappointment, and moments that surprise and soar. She’s not done, this woman who chronicles life for the Baby Boomer generation.
I still see the two of them, Joyce and Jim, on that New Hampshire hilltop four years ago. They had it all.
From them, let us remember that our days are likewise numbered. And to cherish each and every one we get.
Connect with her at www.joycemaynard.com. Her book is available in bookstores, on Amazon.com, and if you are fortunate enough to catch her on tour, from Joyce personally.
Career community journalist Donna Cronk is author of two novels, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast, and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland.
Please join me this Saturday, Sept. 9, on the Union County courthouse square for four mini-presentations on Four Famous Folks From Liberty. At 10 a.m. I'll profile Civil War General Ambrose Burnside; 12:30 p.m. is the real "Little Orphant Annie," Mary Alice "Allie" Smith Gray; 1:45 p.m. will be Voice of the 500 Bob Jenkins, and at 2:45 p.m. is our own Miss Indiana 1988, Joni McMechan Checchia.
This weekend, Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 9-10, Union County, Indiana, honors its past at the annual Founder’s Days on the courthouse lawn in Liberty.
Last year I took part in the programming by reading some Hoosier poetry. The committee invited me back this year, but I decided to personalize the program with Union County history. And since local history—or any history, for that matter--is always more interesting when it speaks of people (his story = the story of people), I thought it would be fun to create profiles on some Union County natives whose stories go far beyond the small county’s borders.
While brainstorming, it occurred that when we think of a pioneer, we generally associate the term with Conestoga wagons heading west. But pioneers are also those who explore new territories in ways in addition to homesteading and community-building. I chose to highlight four.
A Civil War General
Liberty native General Ambrose Burnside was a national figure in a troubled time. He was the first person to come to mind when developing this program.
As Civil War Commander of the Grand Army of the Potomac, an entire seminar could be done on his service in that sobering war where 620,000 Americans died on our own soil. What I didn’t realize were his additional contributions to American life.
On a lighter note, for example, his name is still associated in pop culture for his unique facial hair, whereby his very name created the term “sideburns.” He invented an upgraded rifle from previous models – the Burnside Carbine – and was co-founder and first president of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
He went on to become a three-term governor of Rhode Island, a foreign-war mediator, a U.S. Senator, and – a fascinating side note – he was sitting under President Lincoln’s balcony in Ford’s Theater when the great president was slain.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, I’ll unpack more of Burnside’s story in the first of four 15-minute presentations on the courthouse lawn.
An orphan who inspired the Raggedy Ann doll
Specific details about her childhood are unclear. After all, the year was 1850 and there was no reason to think that the Liberty farm girl, Mary Alice “Allie” Smith, would in any way be associated with fame or legacy.
It is known, however, that the girl became homeless, an “orphan child” and as was the custom of the day, she was sent to “earn her board and keep” with a family that needed a “servant girl” to help around the house.
She found a home with a benevolent family in Greenfield, Indiana, whose home can be toured today as a museum. It was the childhood home of the man who would become The Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley. Little Jim was fond of “Allie” and the girl inspired his most famous work, “Little Orphant Annie.”
The story behind the poem, as well as the legs that the poem took in inspiring adaptive works – books, a movie musical, and of course the ever-popular play, “Annie,” not to mention one of the world’s most recognized dolls, Raggedy Ann.
And to think, the true orphan child is from Liberty, Indiana. The presentation about her is at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
An auto sport broadcaster
Veteran auto sport broadcaster, ESPN and other national-media talent, radio and track Voice of the 500, and even though he is retired, current track voice each May, Bob Jenkins was raised on Main Street in Liberty.
It was in our town that his international career covering auto racing around the globe was nurtured. He became enamored with watching small-town racer Levi Dunaway get his car ready for a Richmond run on Friday nights, and as a kid, Bob’s own raceway was the “oval” behind Miles-Richmond, where his dad worked.
Yet despite his successes around the world through his broadcasting and movie work, Jenkins reveals that he has thought about writing a book – one largely about growing up in a small town.
I had the privilege of writing about Bob in March when he gave a talk at a historical society fundraiser in New Castle, and we have emailed each other since with updates for this talk.
I’ll speak about Bob at 1:45 p.m. Saturday and have some autographed photos for those attending to win as door prizes.
Miss Indiana 1988 is former Liberty farm girl Joni McMechan Checchia. Today, Joni lives in Houston, Texas with her family, Paul, a doctor, and son Andrew, 16.
A Northwestern University graduate, Joni is an interior designer whose clients are located throughout the country, and she does volunteer work in her community. (By the way, her home was spared by Hurricane Harvey but many friends there felt the brunt of it).
Joni provides insights into the significance of growing up on the family farm, unpacks some special Miss Indiana memories such as touring with the Miss America USO program throughout the world, and sharing what it was like to be Miss Indiana and represent the Miss America scholarship program internationally.
She sent some autographed photos from her reign as Miss Indiana that will be given as door prizes during the 2:45 p.m. presentation.
If you are interested in these Union County legends, I hope you’ll come see me on the courthouse square Saturday. I’ll have a table set up with some memorabilia that might surprise you – from photos of the four I’m featuring to a children’s book I found that’s written about Ambrose Burnside.