Ask a writer a question . . .
It’s sounds as if life, outside of the political realm, is treating you well. Having grandkids will let you feel younger for a while, but from what I understand, they also make you feel your age, particularly when they get to playing-catch age and want you to accompany them on their adventures.
I published Seldom Seen: A Journey into the Great Plains with the University of Nebraska Press in 2009. It’s about my walk from Kansas City to Helena, Montana. Lots of cool stories, landscape and nature (bears, even), and more people than you’d imagine. It sold well and is still selling. It won mentions in literary contests and really built my reputation as a quality writer—beyond just being a good journalist. (See it Amazon. The cover is stunning. The press did that on their own and never let me near it. http://www.amazon.com/Seldom-Seen-Journey-Great-Plains/dp/0803216165)
The second book, Canoeing the Great Plains: A Missouri River Summer, is about the return trip from Montana on the Missouri River. It came out May 1. Again, lots of nature scenes, adventures (thunderstorms, tornadoes, rapids), and a surprising number of people, given the river’s upper reaches are so remote. (See it here: http://www.amazon.com/Canoeing-Great-Plains-Missouri-Summer/dp/0803271883/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8)
I’m giving library talks and presentations to small groups to promote the new book. I have stuff scheduled on and off all the way into October. The press does what it can for promotion, but if I want this to move, it’s in my best interest to get out there and tell my story. The library talks work, too. I gave one before an audience of 250 people at the Plaza Library on May 6. Barnes and Noble on the Plaza handled the book sales. They were overwhelmed. Before the presentation, the bookstore rep sold out all the copies he brought. During my talk, he rushed back to the store and cleaned all my books off their shelves. He sold those through and began taking orders. I think we sold over 50 books and would have sold more had he had the books on hand.
I also have to get entrepreneurial, which is not in my blood. I am the one who has to peddle books at small groups and smaller libraries. It’s forced me into territory that’s not comfortable for me. I even got one of those credit card readers for the phone. Not everyone has cash or checks on them anymore. The more avenues I have to get someone’s money, the more likely I am to get a book sold.
Like I said, I’m not comfortable in the entrepreneur role. I’m a writer and just want to write. But I’m doing the selling and promotion because Canoeing is a great book. I did my apprenticeship with Seldom Seen, and it’s a good book, damned good. But Canoeing is a masterwork. People who have read both have told me that the second really is a ringing endorsement of my writing skill.
I don’t believe them, however. I’m not sure I have any talents or skills at all. I just know hard work and perseverance. I have a lot of that kind of motivation. I take something I’ve written and through sweat and persistence, make it decent. That people tell my writing is good are really telling me that the work I put into my writing has paid off.
Now, if I can get struck by lightning, really hit the writer’s lottery, and turn Canoeing into a bestseller, that would be fantastic.
And fantasy, too. Truth is that Canoeing will sell because I’m selling it with book talks and presentations. After a time, that will settle down and the book will sell steady just as Seldom Seen has. I won’t be making it rich anytime soon.
You might ask where I get all this time. I’m living the kind of life I’ve always wanted. I teach at Johnson County Community College. It’s adjunct work at slave wages. But it’s enough, with Virginia’s salary and understanding (she’s an RN and puts up with me) to pay the bills and give us a decent, middle-class existence, which is saying something. I get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee or tea, and sit down to write 1,000-2,000 words. If I do that every weekday, I’ll have a book soon. (Then comes revision, which is the fun part. Drafting it just drudgery.) Since I’m teaching online for now—face-to-face again in the fall—my time is my own. I spend some of everyday promoting the book, which is heart-breaking business, filled with rejection and angst. But after I do that for an hour or two, it’s over and I get to be a family man.
My life is actually much different than when you were helping me on the campaign trail. That was 2006. All that year, besides working on Ph.D. and running for office, Virginia and I went to adoptive-parent classes once a week with Jackson County Division of Family Services. On January 1, 2007, we picked up our new foster kid, my nephew, in Reno, Nevada, and brought him back to Kansas City. After a rigorous round of psychologists, home studies, lawyers, and so on, we were able to adopt Nick in July 2007. He was four and a half. Now, he’s just turned 13. He does well in school, has a passel of friends at school and in the neighborhood, and has developed an intriguing personality. That’s saying a lot, considering what he was like when we adopted him.
He’s my sister Angela’s bio kid. She went down the meth hole and is now under psychiatric care due to the kinds of damage she did to herself with that drug. She is nowhere in Nick’s life. We have not heard from her for over seven years. I hear of her, however, through my other sister, who keeps tabs on Angela. It’s a sad case. When Nick came to us, he had already seen more tawdry and nasty stuff than most people see in a lifetime. Fortunately, he was young enough that with some care and a good, loving atmosphere, he’s developed a trust in us that came only slowly and over the course of a few years. He never asks about his bio mom, and when asked, he shows no interest in knowing about her. As far as he remembers, we have been the only parents he’s known.
My daughter, Sydney, is 25 now. She’s had her problems, mostly growing up and maturing stuff, since she moved out of the house. But she seems to have gotten herself together the last couple of years. She works down at the Alamo Drafthouse, that movie theater in the Power and Light District. We go there for movies from time to time, and it’s always so good to see her in her management role. She walks around with a headset and seems so in-charge of things. Most importantly, she trusts me and calls me a couple of times a week. It’s always great when she comes by to spend part of her day. (She’s also a local roller derby star!)
Adopting Nick changed life irrevocably. After a couple of years, I climbed fully out of the political game and don’t miss it at all. I stay active in the Westside neighborhood, which is like a little town, with all the internecine fights and loves, alliances and conflicts that you can imagine. But when it comes right down to it, the good guys are my good guys and the bad guys are my bad guys, and I’ll defend them because they are mine. When Nick needed regular schedules and comings and goings, I joined the Ironworkers Union and left Ph.D. work for three years. I’d completed my coursework and just needed dissertation. But who wants to write a dissertation? I didn’t. But worked slowed down in the recession. I started teaching at JCCC and took up writing dissertation again. Three years of hard labor, dissertation was. Heartache. Pain. Doubt. Depression. I finally earned a doctorate in history from UMKC in November 2013, almost ten years after I started Ph.D. studies. I keep expanding my CV with scholarly articles, presentations, and conferences.
Since I went back to dissertation, I’ve continue teaching. I work with the union during the summer. But this year, with book in the works, I decided that bridgework was too hard for a 52 year old. I’m drafting my fourth book and revising my third, teaching, and am a house husband and father.
I don’t have a social life to speak of, either. I meet one friend for lunch once a week, another for coffee once a week, and have a few other close friends that I hang out with from time to time. I keep bees (a life’s dream of mine) and try to keep up with the house.
So, as far as things go, life is pretty good these days. I keep my union dues paid. After all, who knows when the carpet is going to get pulled out from under this dream? I’m a pretty fair welder and will have something to go back to if all this falls apart.
I imagine you’re still in business at the print shop? I’m sorry you lost your political bid, but didn’t you have some success with that in the past? It seems to me that you were an elected somebody in Raytown not too long ago. I may have that all wrong.
What would you say to a lunch sometime soon? It would be nice to see what you’re up to, how’s business, etc.