Wednesday, May 2, 2018

An Interview with Marcia Lawrence, owner of Ellen Plumb's City Bookstore

To celebrate Independent Bookstore Day, Meadowlark intern, Jessica Jackson, took a moment with Marcia Lawrence of Ellen Plumb’s City Bookstore in Emporia.

JJ: What made you want to open Ellen Plumb's? What was your inspiration?

ML: I moved back to Emporia after an absence of nearly 40 years (I attended ESU in the 1970s). After a couple years, I was committed to staying and bought a house. I'd barely signed the papers on a mortgage when the announcement came that Town Crier (our former bookstore) was closing. Well, I can't live in a town without a bookstore! A group of community people met at my house for months, trying to find a way to bring a bookstore back to Emporia. Finally, I called a halt to the meetings, as business decisions like this cannot be made by committee. I'd been working closely with the Small Business Development Center at ESU on a business plan and financial projections--and this is not my first small business--so I truly understood the risks involved. After some deep reflection, I quit my job, invested all my personal savings, and opened Ellen Plumb's City Bookstore.

JJ: What makes Ellen Plumb's special?

ML: Ellen Plumb's City Bookstore is, by design and intent, a safe and comfortable place for book lovers of all kinds. The bookshop vision is to be community-oriented, to give back to the people of our town in promoting literacy and love of books. Of course, the other thing that sets Ellen Plumb's apart from most other indie bookstores is our Espresso Book Machine. We are thrilled that our machine has arrived in Emporia and is currently being refurbished by book-loving VekTek engineers. They will install the Espresso Book Machine at Ellen Plumb's in the coming weeks.

JJ: Ellen Plumb's has become a pivotal part of Emporia's community, not just the literary
Marcia Lawrence,
Ellen Plumb's City Bookstore
1122 Commercial St.
Emporia, Kansas
community, how do you feel about that?

ML: That's a very nice thing to hear! I grew up in a small Kansas town, and it took everybody to keep the community vital and thriving. That responsibility to cooperate, collaborate, and help the entire community thrive is practically part of my DNA.

JJ: Where do you see Ellen Plumb's in the future? Any plans?

ML: There's never a scarcity of dreams and plans for the bookshop! We are committed, this year, to growing and expanding genre selections, and hope to add about 25 percent more titles. We'll be adding to and refining some regular events. Naturally, there's a big push to roll out the first phase of the Espresso Book Machine program, with lots more to come in future years.

JJ: What about you?  What kind of books do you like to read? What is your reading life?

ML: These days, I spend many evenings reading ARCs (Advance Reading Copies). I work with our industry trade associations (American Booksellers Association, Midwest Independent Bookstore Association, IndieBound) to assess, critique, and promote new books--many by first-time authors. I always try to read the books written by authors who do book events at Ellen Plumb's. That's about once a week, so that's a lot of books in and of itself! Because of the imminent arrival of the Espresso Book Machine, I am revisiting some old favorites and a number of newer titles in the self-publishing, writing, and marketing/promotion genres. I particularly enjoy biography, history, and historical fiction. 

Meadowlark Author, Mike Graves, at Ellen Plumb's City Bookstore.

Meadowlark Author, Cheryl Unruh, at Ellen Plumb's City Bookstore.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Publisher's Diary - When Creation Falls

Izzy's first box of books arrived on Friday and I've been turning the cover over and over in my hands, caressing it, loving the image and the color. When we first began talking about the cover concept for When Creation Falls, I had never heard of the Stone Flower monument in Jasenovac, Croatia.

A monument stands
at Jasenovac, a flower
or a plume of smoke
opening to the sky.

~from "I find My Own Name in Shoah Records," Izzy Wasserstein, 
When Creation Falls (Meadowlark, April 2018)

I have read these poems at least a dozen times  throughout the process of selecting Izzy's book for publication, editing the book, and working with Meadowlark's layout and design intern, Sammy Beck, turning a manuscript into pages with a cover. I am struck by the number of times Izzy's poetic phrases have come to me, as comparison to things I've seen/done, as related to something I've read in the news, as memory. And I look at this cover and think that it is a perfect example of how the world is tied together in so many ways we don't often give ourselves time to imagine. Izzy Wasserstein was born and raised in Kansas. Meadowlark is a publisher of books with strong ties to the Midwest. Yet this cover depicts a stone flower that stands in Croatia, a monument that until a few months ago did not exist for me, a monument that has opened my eyes to far-reaching results of a story I thought I knew.

Nothing is so strange or new if you open your eyes wide enough, if you allow your mind to process the fact that everything is connected, that all of us are connected. Family Photo, I Rarely Write Before Dawn, Confessions of a Homeschooler, A Time Traveler Sends a Postcard Home... these are the titles of one poet's work, Izzy Wasserstein. These are the titles of poems where I see myself, as well, and because each time I come up with new connections, I will read these poems again and again.

...from "You Will Come Up Short", by Izzy Wasserstein:

The walls you build around yourself will crack.
The poem you write will fail.
This poem will fail.
Your song of protest will not sway the President,
nor the mayor, nor the mayor's dog.
You will pull apart your pockets seeking change,
and finding none, you will give up the milk,
   or the eggs, or the flour.

Starting with her Kansas childhood, Izzy Wasserstein explores questions of science and faith, myth and politics, When Creation Falls. From nights listening to Royals baseball on the radio to paleontology, from prehistoric past to end of world, these poems explore how we relate to an indifferent universe, how we make meaning, and how we might create something better.

Order through your favorite Indie Bookseller   -   Buy on Amazon
Order from Meadowlark Books

Cover Image: Bobonajbolji (, removed tree, mirrored image, added overlay - image alterations by Meadowlark Books. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Publisher’s Diary – Celebrating Poetry Month in April

I don’t read poetry.

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a dozen times.

Beyond a collection of poems I wrote in high school, an early book-binding experiment that included glitter on the cover, I adopted the “I don’t read poetry” stance for more years than I would care to admit. Thankfully, I've gotten the opportunity to spend a lot of time with poets in the last couple of decades. I have found poetry workshops among my favorite gatherings of writers to attend, and I absolutely love going to readings, learning to hear the voice of a poet so well they continue reciting poetry to me, inside my head, as I turn the pages of their books.

Poet by poet, I fall in love with poetry.

Ronda Miller is the current president of the Kansas AuthorsClub, a life coach for people who have lost someone to homicide, and an advocate for special needs children. I first began reading/listening to Ronda’s poetry through KAC workshops and readings where she not only brought me to attention with her poetry (she sometimes writes on subjects I might once have been too shy/prudish to talk about), but Ronda encouraged me to exercise my voice, to tell my own truths through poetry, as well. Ronda’s two books of poetry have a special place on my bookshelf. MoonStain was the very first poetry book published by Meadowlark in 2015, and we were delighted to add WaterSigns in 2017.  I have learned so much through Ronda’s poetry. I have gained an intimacy with subjects I only knew peripherally (or perhaps simply would not admit I knew) and greater empathy for women’s issues and women, in general. Ronda has become one of my near-daily touchstones. If I am not reading her poetry, we might be exchanging notes on our shared interest in Kansas Authors Club, our common appreciation for fine desserts, or advice and life tidbits as they occur.

Kevin Rabas is the 2017-2019 Kansas Poet Laureate, and I always enjoy bragging that he was a Meadowlark author and poet first. Without Kevin in my life, there would be no Meadowlark. He was a co-conspirator on Green Bike, as well as author of the beautiful volume of poetry and short prose, Songs of My Father (Meadowlark 2016). Kevin’s enthusiasm for the arts and poetry is catching. If I am ever in need of a spark of creative confidence, a bit of time in Kevin’s presence will usually do it. There is ample opportunity to hear from Kevin directly as he tours Kansas finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary (a complete schedule can be found at the Kansas Humanities website) or you can almost always find him at First Fridays at Ellen Plumb’s City Bookstore in Emporia. Kevin will also be the keynote speaker at the Kansas Authors Club annual writing convention, which takes place in Salina this year. I am excited to add Kevin’s new book, Like Buddah-Calm Bird, to the Meadowlark poetry shelf in 2018.

Cheryl Unruh is my sister from another mother, as well as my first friend in what was once-upon-a-time my new life in Emporia. I fell in love with Cheryl via her writing on her website and her long-running Emporia Gazette column, “Flyover People,” which eventually became two amazing volumes of Kansas essays. I was delighted in 2017 to publish Cheryl’s first volume of poetry, Walking on Water, where she explores the themes of Kansas/Kansans/children of the prairie in poetry with the same attention to detail she gives her prose. Cheryl’s humor shines in her poetry, as well as her heart. So relatable, I find myself tacking words from Cheryl to my mirror and inside the covers of my personal journals.

Olive Sullivan is a poet I have had the pleasure of getting to know solely through her poetry. Her book, Wandering Bone, contains some of my favorite poems, which I am sharing as part of my personal celebration of poetry this month.

There are currently five books of poetry on the Meadowlark bookshelf, with three terrific new volumes planned for 2018, including collections by Izzy Wasserstein and Tyler Robert Sheldon.

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I decided to give a gift of poetry to any reader who asked. Meadowlark Books has created a Poetry Sampler that includes selections from all of our poetry books, including our 2018 poetry books! Sign up via the form below to get this sampler (PDF format) delivered to your email inbox. It’s nearly ready to go!

Tracy Million Simmons
Meadowlark Books

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Publisher’s Diary – Entry 1

I visited Independence, Kansas, this past weekend to talk with Inksmith Writers, a Kansas Authors Club District 3 writers group, about publishing. It was a small group, an informed and interested group, and I had a blast. I talked about the origin of Meadowlark and the state (as I see it) of publishing today. “Full disclosure,” I told them. “I am an optimist. I look at the numbers of books being published each year and the growing variety of ways to get published, and I see opportunity. Perhaps a more realistic person would tell you to find another gig, but if you are like me (you just can’t help yourself) . . . you’re going to find a way to publish that book.”

This was one of my goals for 2018, to get out there and spend a bit more time sharing about the growing collection of Meadowlark Books.

I’ve always had fun talking about books. Turns out, it is even more fun to talk about books I’ve spent so much hands-on time with, editing, formatting, working on cover design. As I pulled out my show and tell on Saturday, someone asked if I had read all of those books! “Many times!” I answered, realizing I know these books almost as well as I know my own work. I read them. The author read them (again & again). I read them again. And most books get another set of eyes (or two, or three) as well.
Are we having fun yet? Yes. I am
definitely having fun.

It’s interesting to look back on my life and to see that, though Meadowlark only started as a publishing entity in 2014, I can come up with many stories that might have pointed to the fact that I might one day become a publisher. When I introduced myself to the Inksmith Writers, I said that I could share the “start” at age seven, standing on the kitchen chair at the table, in order to get enough weight on the big metal stapler to bind my very first book. Or I could talk about the high school yearbook staff, the transition from pasting up pages on blue-grid paper to using the first computers in school (as far as I was aware) that were there for something practical (like publishing a book).

I spent four years in college trying to convince myself to become a doctor, all the while being drawn to sniffing ink and paper in the enormous periodicals collection of KU’s Watson library, falling further in love with words on pages as I loitered in the stacks during summer breaks, reading from the “100 books every student should read before college” list and taking in everything from the stories between the pages to the way those books were bound.

When I got my first “real” job, in a non-profit humanitarian organization, much as I had envisioned, it wasn’t my psychology degree that was put to work, but my background in computer design programs. (Aldus PageMaker, my high school crush.) I spent nearly a year revising aircraft maintenance manuals, a job that might have seemed well beyond my range of interests, except for the fact that I was so entirely thrilled to be involved in the creation of what would turn out to be multiple volumes, thousands-of-pages, of books.

Perhaps becoming a publisher was inevitable, or perhaps it simply looks that way when casting back for the stories that led me here. Anyway, I have plans to share more of them, ongoing stories about what we are learning, the books we are loving, here at Meadowlark.

Tracy Million Simmons
Meadowlark Books

Everyday Magic: Field Notes on the Mundane and the Miraculous (Meadowlark 2017) features the best of Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's blog of the same title, fields notes on the mundane and miraculous unfolding around us, and how to live with greater verve, meaning and joy. Journey through whimsical, tender, and fierce explorations of travel and homecoming, beloveds and the art of loving, grief and resilience, the arts and politics, spirit and being a body... 

"With an open heart and often with sly humor, Caryn shares stories of bad vacations, burritos, family, faith, navigating a difficult childhood, and the passing of people dear to her. In these graceful essays I marvel, as always, at Caryn’s skill with language. Words are in her care and her command."
~ Cheryl Unruh, author of Flyover People: Life on the Ground in a Rectangular State

Monday, March 19, 2018

Best-selling books at Ellen Plumb’s City Bookstore for the week ending March 17, 2018

Head on over to Ellen Plumb's City Bookstore, 1122 Commercial, Emporia, KS, to get your own copy of Shadow of Death, by Michael D. Graves, and all the other Meadowlark titles!

Coming in at #4!
Shadow of Death, by Mike Graves. Paperback, $15.00
When a cop killer strikes Wichita, Pete Stone, Private Investigator, is on the case. He has to be. He wakes up in jail, battered and bruised and accused of a murder he’s almost certain he didn’t commit. He must prove his innocence before he’s abandoned by his clients, his friends, and one special lady. When Stone is not getting knocked around by cops, he’s getting roughed up by love. Second book in series.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Michael Graves at Ellen Plumb’s City Bookstore with Second Second Pete Stone Mystery Noir

Author Michael D. Graves will be at Ellen Plumb’s City Bookstore from 4:30 to 6:30 on Wednesday, March 14, for a book signing and short talk (starting at 5:15) about Shadow of Death, his second book featuring the 1930s private investigator, Pete Stone. Mystery lovers and those who enjoy books incorporating Kansas history are encouraged to attend. Both Pete Stone novels will be available for purchase.

The first Pete Stone novel, To Leave a Shadow, was selected for the 2016 Kansas notable list. Inspired by memories Graves has of his grandfather, Pete Graves, the fictional private investigator, Pete Stone, is an earnest gumshoe who finds himself, in this second novel, the subject of a police investigation rather than the investigator.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Book Note: Kansas History, A Journal of the Central Plains

Volume 40, Number 4 - Winter 2017-2018

We were thrilled to read the following Book Note in the most recent issue of Kansas History:

A Cow for College and Other Stories of 1950s Farm Life, by James Kenyon

"The author, an Iowa veterinarian for the past thirty-five years, grew up during the 1950s on a stock farm near Bogue in Graham County, Kansas, and offers here "all true stories from my life growing up in rural America" during a time he characterizes as "an age of innocence on the farm." Twenty-five delightful short essays follow--beginning with "A Cow for College" and including other titles such as "The Farm Dog," "Playing Baseball," and "Farm Boy's First Kiss." These stories will ring quite true and nostalgic to anyone who grew up in rural Kansas during the same era, but this delightful little volume should appeal to those of other generations as well."

Image link from the Kansas History Website

Available at Amazon, direct from Meadowlark Books, or from your favorite bookstore (ask them to order it if they do not already carry the book!)