Echoes from the Prairie

Hard copies are on the way! Finally! More soon….

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Echoes from the Prairie Preview

Echoes from the Prairie

Preview of Memoir Selections from the Forthcoming Publication

October 27, 2012

By Lynn Burlingham

(an excerpt from her blog:

 A group of thirty people gathered at Signs of Life in Lawrence, Kansas, on October 27th to listen to short memoirs from Echoes from the Prairie. Eight of the twenty-one authors in the book offered selections that evening. I was among the presenters.

First up was “Roadmaster,” by Charles Higginson. Delivered in a dry, direct, tongue-in-cheek manner, this is a story about riding out the adolescence of one’s child, with patience. This particular story centers around a father-daughter conflict over a car. With this storyteller, readers immediately know what they are going to get and begin to smile. “If you have children of a certain age, you know that as time passes you occupy different spots on a spectrum of attitudes. You begin as the Fount of All Wisdom. As your kids come to realize you’re fallible, but usually on the mark, you become a Person Worth Listening To. And then, for a while you become the Idiot Oppressor. With luck, after several of those magic years, you slowly move back in the other direction.”

“Three-Hour Cruise” by Judy Graverson-Algaier is a descriptive account of getting stuck in a desert in the United Arab Emirates on what starts out as an ordinary afternoon family jaunt. “Predictably the wind had died down, and without population there was little noise. We were so far out we hadn’t heard the ubiquitous adhan, the haunting age-old call to prayer that arose skyward religiously at sunset, even in many places deep in the desert. Other than the occasional gronk from a distant camel, or a whisper of the occasional breeze, it was silent.”

In “Jen’s Addiction” by Jen Nigro, the author uses first person narrative to bring the reader inside her mind as a child, then switches to her adult voice to look back in time. “No one else in my family seemed to notice the chill I felt, nor did they comment on my attachment to the vent. This was good on two fronts. One: I didn’t have to compete for resources. And two: it gave me plenty of time to perfect my heat habit, uninterrupted.”

“Tell Me a Story” by Deronda Ashley starts out in the style of a children’s book, with a certain safe ring to it, then weaves back and forth between the author’s grown-up perspective as she looks back at her childhood, and her perspective as a child growing up in Phillipsburg, Kansas.

“Grandma, tell us a story about when you were a little girl in the olden days,” the grandchildren begged.

We went to Martha’s Café with Daddy, my aunts, uncles, or friends. I would stand in the seat and eat butter pats until someone spotted me and took the dish out of my reach. They always told me, “No!” But butter tasted so good!

The next year the pats didn’t taste so good. “Why don’t these taste the same Mama?”

“It’s not butter anymore. It’s Oleo margarine.”

In “Van Welden’s Drugstore,” we are introduced by Sherry Williams to a known place, her father’s drugstore/pharmacy in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was originally owned by her grandfather. Sherry’s story shows us how the store gave her a strong sense of identity. I liked her description of its offerings: “things anyone might need, like rhinestone jewelry, baby bottles, vaporizers, alarm clocks, heating pads, thermometers, Chanel #5, lipstick, and face powder. Shelves along the walls held items like pencils, notebooks, lined paper, shampoo, packaged home permanents, toothpaste, vitamins, cough syrup, aspirin, band aids, Caladryl, dye, mouse traps, coloring books, paper dolls, toys, and silly putty.” A child’s fascination with these sundry things, the accounting of items (the mark of an observant drugstore owner’s daughter), and the pride she felt at seeing their family name on the store are evident.

“Angels and Goblins” by Kathryn Schartz gives the reader a sense of the author’s religious grandmother, a Southern Baptist, and her grandfather, whose own concocted religion was a mix of ideas from hymns and poems. (He would drop Grandma off at the church door.) Grandma’s religion and homemaking skills brought the comforts of traditions such as “how to make dolls out of hollyhock blossoms so the petals resembled beautiful evening gowns,” while Grandpa instructed through stories of goblins who came after recalcitrant children. As Kathryn sets out into the world, her own set of beliefs evolves, but she never forgets the comfort of her grandparents’ solid routines.

“Boxes,” a short memoir by Lynne Ellis, details the important place of boxes in the author’s big family. In their house, boxes were used for holding things. They were organized by category: boots, wheels, costumes, good clothes, mittens and gloves. Much later, boxes come to symbolize moving out of her marriage house: boxes packed with pain. Folded within that pain, however, is also the memory of a box that one of the author’s eight siblings gave her for holding her own things, a precious box in this turbulent household. The story ends with a box containing letters from others and notebooks in which she wrote to help herself heal after her divorce. This box of notebooks is SOMEWHERE, she tells us, letting us know that she’s moved on.

In “Uncle George,” I introduce George F. Kennan both as my uncle and as a world-famous diplomat. I give background on how he came into my mother’s Norwegian family and won them over. I then move forward in time to his death and what the New York Times had to say about him. I recount his role with my mother and what his family gave to our family. I zero in on what he gave specifically to me in deed and words, and end with how he showed his love and affection for me even at the very end of his life.

One woman who attended the reading came up to me before she left and said, “What struck me about this reading, which I enjoyed very much, was the common thread of all you writers being survivors.”

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Items from Pat McNees vis Jerry Masinton

Why’s everyone so down on the memoir?
(J. Nicole Jones, LA Review of Books via, 1-14-13). Critics take grim satisfaction in tearing the genre to pieces. How quickly they forget Nabokov and Karr and Wolff. “Maybe there is at least one more reason for memoir, ever so slightly more legitimate than an extended therapy session: because a story is better that way. While some require the freedom of fiction, what if some stories need the pressure of truth — not because a writer perceives reality or confession as more interesting or so different from fiction, but because there is a unique dialogue that happens only in memoir between the present and the past.”

Do memoirs have to be so unhappy?
(Sophie Roell, The Browser, via, 1-14-13). Legendary critic and memoirist Calvin Trillin discusses his favorite books of the genre. He writes that memoir is “a form that’s existed for a long time. What may be different about a lot of the recent memoirs is the writers are not necessarily well known. Mary Karr is a poet and poets in the United States, you don’t even have to say they are not well known because there aren’t any well-known poets. So I think that’s one difference between a memoir and an autobiography – the person doesn’t have to be a household name to write a memoir. Maybe Mary Karr’s book started that – the idea of somebody just having an interesting story.” Trillin also suggests that memoirs tend to be short, and many autobiographies are “huge doorstops.”

Don’t Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay
(Nicholas Carr, Wall Street Journal, 1-5-13).
The e-book had its moment, but sales are slowing. Readers still want to turn those crisp, bound pages
“From the start, e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction, with novels representing close to two-thirds of sales….Readers of weightier fare, including literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, have been less inclined to go digital. They seem to prefer the heft and durability, the tactile pleasures, of what we still call “real books”—the kind you can set on a shelf. E-books, in other words, may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback.”

Try Audible for 30 days and get a free audiobook
(Audible is a major producer of audiobooks)

Your breakup is boring
(James Camp,, 11-12-12). David Foster Wallace was inspired to write about a breakup. So are a lot of memoirists. It’s not always worth it

Sarah S. Kilborne has an interesting piece about success with email marketing in the January issue of The Biographer’s Craft, an eletter you get with membership in BIO (Biographers International Organization). The BIO conference this year (the fourth conference) will be held in NYC May 17-19 at the Hotel Roosevelt. Make your reservations now!

To join BIO, go here (you do not have to be published, or famous, or even writing a biography, but it is a group of like-minded people–like-minded if you belong to WBG):

Stay Tuned: A Self-Published Book About TV Gets a Major Publishing Pick-Up (Dave Itzkoff, Arts Beat, NY Times, 1-2-13)
<<In the course of chronicling the modern-day history of television, the author Alan Sepinwall has made a bit of history himself, becoming the rare self-published author to be picked up by a major press. On Wednesday, it was announced that the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster had acquired his well-regarded book “The Revolution Was Televised,” which Mr. Sepinwall put out late last year.

Pinterest Marketing Tutorial For Small Business Owners (Lisa Angelettie)

17 Common Blogging and SEO Mistakes–Do You Make These? (Tom Southern, guest posting on OnlineIncomeTeacher)

How (and why, and whether) to disable Java:
Gizmodo article: How to Disable Java in Your Browser by Eric Limer (1-12-13)
Limer says Java isn’t good for your for your computer’s health right now. It can mess it up pretty bad. Bad enough that the Department of Homeland Security is warning us all to turn it off. OK, but how do you do that? Fortunately, it’s not that hard.

Even the Dept of Homeland Security wants you to disable your java (1-12-13)
Bugs remain (story dated 1-13-13)–sector.html

HOWEVER: My computer guy, Claude Kerno, says all this concern is unwarranted for people like us — that all software needs updating now and then. (Also, Firefox automatically disables Java.) several people say that a fix that was supposed to be fixed isn’t quite fixed yet. By now it probably is, but just be aware that some people think this is a problem. (Not Claude.)

When I can find the time I intend to do this online (and thought others might find it of interest):
Power Searching with Google

Found this through a Lifehacker announcement of a Power Searching course:

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Vanity Fair Tips

A few suggestions from Vanity Fair:


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What about longer works?

“I trimmed it down to five pages to read aloud for this class. That’s all the further I could go. At first I wrote 70 pages.”
Although this was said in our group more than a year ago, I remember clearly the punch to the gut it delivered. I was aghast! Of course, moving from free-writing to composed essay or story generally involves a great deal of shortening and reworking, but in this case, from the painstaking details of a complex and important family matter being described, it was obvious to me that we had all lost a great deal of the story. Maybe not the facts of the story, but certainly the essential inner thoughts of the writer around the story. What a tragedy, I remember thinking. I wanted to know more of the story. But moreover, it was the distress in which this writer in our group had so obviously persevered to meet the constraints of the class sharing that deeply affected me.

“Yes, it’s 728 pages long so far.”
What? I had known this writer for nearly two years! I had no idea she had written a comprehensive memoir of such length! In our group! She had been sharing short pieces that matched our topics, but all extracted from this longer work, about which we had no idea. She went on to explain that she wanted to work toward formulating and organizing the piece into her book, finally, but was having trouble doing so. My heart went out to her, I wanted to help! We all wanted to support her in this giant task. But as a group we have never worked with longer volumes.

Additionally, others over time have shared that their book-length manuscripts have been submitted to publishers, are ready to be submitted to publishers, or are in process. In the past six months, three writers have come to the group who have already accomplished book-length manuscripts. As far as I know, none of us have read them, and we haven’t talked about them in group. Personally, I have only had the opportunity to read and comment on two book-length manuscripts over the past three years—same author.

We are not publishers or memoir editors or experienced writers. We are members of a writing group, willing to give thoughtful (and kind) feedback on each other’s’ work. Why doesn’t that include long works? It seems obvious that there is a need here, and an opportunity. Both for the writers and for the readers.

What can we do to accommodate these pieces and their authors? Aren’t we falling short in not doing so?

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My Daughter Cora and I at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas

Why this photo?

Perhaps memoir in the making as it happens! Desperate for art, my daughter Cora and I spent 2 days at the very end the old year (you know that 2012 year!) taking in some art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art–this relatively new museum–in Bentonville, Arkansas. It’s about a four hour drive from Lawrence, KS where we both live. This museum designed by architect Moshe Safdie is set in the woods with a natural spring running through it. Quoted from the Crystal Bridges Museum website “The trails and grounds of Crystal Bridges are a must-see part of the Museum experience. More than 3.5 miles of trails wind through the Museum’s 120-acre site, providing guests with access to the beautiful Ozark landscape. Highlights include the historic Crystal Spring, for which the Museum is named, and several outdoor sculptures along the Art Trail. Designed to spark the imagination, the trails help guests form connections to the land and its history, as well as learn about art and Arkansas plant life.”

What got me right away was the buildings’ architecture: a series of pods in the woods; the setting: the woods and pools of spring water. What got me next, was the level of art in this museum. A few of my favorites were the hummingbirds, orchids, and blue butterfly of Martin Johnson Heade from his trips to Brazil. The blue butterfly has one wing in shadow and one in light. Since I have been thinking a lot about shadow this holiday season, I was struck by the visual contrast so beautifully portrayed in this painting. One friend over the holiday talking metaphorically said, “the greater the light in a person, the greater the shadow.” Wow! I thought, here is an exact visual example of what this friend meant, only I am seeing it in the luminous bright blue wing of a butterfly, its other wing so dark, you can barely see it.

From the time my daughter Cora was a little girl on upwards, we have visited art galleries and art museums, mainly in NYC, Washington DC, Boston, and Chicago. To be at Crystal Bridges with her when we both have the love of art and nature, when we both thrive on discussions of whatever is on our minds and in our hearts (this year light and shadow in life and how light and shadow plays out over the Christmas holidays) was how I experienced the light of Xmas. We both saw and seemed to fly on the gorgeous blue luminous light of the Brazilian butterfly.

Now it’s the New Year. I think it was Virginia Woolf who said once you have seen something beautiful in nature, it stays with you forever. You can draw on it for inspiration at any time. Cora’s birthday is tomorrow. I will ask her what was most important to her about our trip to Crystal Bridges. Will she say Heade’s blue butterfly?
–Lynn Burlingham
also posted at

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Howdy Folks

Hi and Happy New Year friends.  We are having a mild winter here in Northern Virginia so far.  Back to the grind after the Holidays.

I can recommend Sebastian Barry and Jim Harrison as a couple of writers you might want to check out.

It might be worthwhile to setup this blog so that people can log in with individual id’s and make posts and comments. I think the blog is a good idea.

Hope all are well.  Best wishes for 2013.


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Our new project

I know only a couple of us have experience with blogging, but I love the idea of having a blog for the Great Plains Writers Group! Thank you to Nicole for jumping right in and starting it. I hope those of you who have never blogged (or aren’t even sure HOW to blog) will give this format a try. Personally, I think this format ties in a great deal with what we talked about Wednesday: silencing our inner critics, writing from the heart, and sharing our thoughts about writing with each other and anyone else who might come along with an interest.

I find blogging to be a very freeing experience. When I blog, it’s almost like a stream of consciousness. I’m less worried about perfection. (By the way, if you’re reading this post and find a bunch of e’s missing I have nothing against them- my “e” key seems to be protesting its use tonight). A blog is a great way to express my thoughts about a topic (in this case writing). Usually, when I blog about something, it’s because it’s something I feel passionate about, or something I need to process. I’m big on talking through my thoughts, but there isn’t always someone available to listen. Blogging allows me to put it all out there for consumption. Sometimes there is feedback, most times nothing; but it feels good to WRITE, and my mind is lighter afterward.

Most of my blog posts on my personal blog are a snapshot of what’s happening in my world at a given moment- what’s important to me. Often there isn’t a lot of detail, but it’s a wonderful tool for remembering the details of stories I’d like to write later, as it allows me to go back and re-read and re-experience what I was feeling. Blogging, for me, is about capturing the heart of the story and sharing. It’s something I often struggle with when I sit down to write memoir or other pieces, because I get too caught up with the fact and forget to include the feelings: the touch, taste, smell of it all. I guess you could say blogging helps me find a different angle in my story.

Like Nicole, I feel that I express myself better through writing than I do speaking. I can choose my words more carefully, get them in the right order, ensure I am saying exactly what I mean to say. Oops- that sounds a lot like my inner critic talking! At any rate, I hope our group will embrace this new project as an extension of our Wednesday night meetings; as a way to continue the conversation about writing even when we can’t be together. I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts!


blog photo

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The discussion …

The discussion after the discussion…
Most often I find myself mulling over the rich discussions we have in class on Wednesdays. Sometimes I think I talk too much, so I don’t add things. Other times I just don’t think of what I wanted to say until after class–usually on a country road in the dark on the way home or over coffed the next morning. Plus, it’s easier to formulate my thoughts in writing. I communicate better here. I imagine that others in the group feel the same way. So, for our “Writing in the New Year” topic, I decided to try an experiment by starting this blog. Posting is open to all members of the GPWG writing group. Write about whatever you want! Add photos, customize as you like… What do you think? Should we get started? –Nicole

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