Wednesday, September 16, 2020

You read it here first: The Big Quiet

Alright, so maybe this is your second time reading this poignant and beautiful excerpt from Lisa D. Stewart's memoir The Big Quiet. Gold star for you! For those who have not had a chance to read this story about one woman's extended horseback riding trip, you're in for a new treat! Not only does this book recount the exciting 500+ mile adventure of the single experience Stewart waited 50+ years for; it is also a book about the deep inner, geographical, historical, and social reflection we undergo when we do things that are deeply meaningful to us. Have a taste for yourself here, and indulge further when you pick up a copy at our online bookstore!


Turning Home

“I’m headed home.”

Through the phone, I could hear Bob lean back in his chair.


I could picture him surrounded by stacks of paper-clipped, double-spaced manuscripts from unknown, master-of-fine-arts writing students and some of the nation’s most celebrated authors. Sunlight would dapple his desk this time of morning in the 1930s, three-story, Stick Style house, reminiscent of Gothic England, on the university campus. He would leave midday to begin the three-and-a-half-hour drive to find me and bring me supplies. He knew I didn’t mean for him to come get me. I was turning to ride back home. Five hundred miles would be my total.

On the day I confessed my desire to take this trip, I had convinced Bob I would not change; I would want to come home. Bob takes people at face value. When I am sure what I want, and it makes some degree of sense, he delivers, either with acceptance or physical support, as needed.

Bob always has been clear about himself and his work. There is something about his presence, tall, with the vigor of willow, able to sustain the shifting force of politics, religion, society, literature, even university bureaucracy, without becoming boorishly opinion¬ated or self-centered. One of his most common phrases in conversation is, “I don’t know anything, but…” which may be the quality I love in him most, because he does know a lot, and he never presumes. He takes time to formulate his thoughts into words, or crack a joke, which makes him late in the flow of conversation. At dinner parties, I have seen his mouth open with a joke in the pipe-line, when two other people toss in their quips ahead of him. I watch in discouragement as his mouth slowly closes, and he takes another sip of wine. His joke would have been funnier than theirs. At least twice per night, however, he will tuck one in, and the table will explode with laughter, because Bob’s quiet demeanor makes his humor a shock. You have to get to know him.

Bob won’t repeat himself, won’t explain himself, and rarely apologizes, which is why he is deliberate, to avoid the need for inefficient mistakes. On this trip, he used his reserve to reserve judgement. Everything that I had said would come to pass, had, so far. He trusted me. When I told him I was turning back for home, he may already have guessed it, from my call last night, when, after I excitedly described Nathalene and her spring, I worried over the pavement. I no longer would be gone ninety days, and I would see only the western side of the state. That was never mentioned.

My husband was learning what I had discovered thirty years ago in my first journey on horseback: Making X number of miles or arriving at a particular destination along the way was almost always irrelevant to the trip—and inconvenient.

This trip wasn’t about trying to impress anyone; it was about me. Chief and me. Without Bob, none of this would be happening, but it wasn’t about Bob. This strange person I had become, this neutral observer, this feeler of heat and light and energy, was a being outside of the Lisa Bob had married. This was okay, because, for the time being, he had become my neutral helper. For the first time in my life, I had no man to take care of. I had let Bob go in order to ride, to greet, to observe, to record. He listened to my morning raptures and my evening relief. He brought me things.

“I feel myself for the first time in my life,” I had told him on the phone during one of my morning gushes about the beauty of the land. I felt like a man. That was the only way I knew to describe this feeling of mastery and calm, having no such female role models.

There were moments, in the past, when I had felt powerful and capable—as when I rode my motorcycle alone to Washington, D.C., and to Houston on business with a .38 revolver in my breast pocket. Like when I crafted feasibility studies, marketing studies, and business plans for entrepreneurs. I’ve had no powerful female role models to demonstrate how it is a capable woman feels. Emergency has always made me calm and clear-headed. I could lead soldiers into battle, I believe, with the right training. I could drive a bulldozer. I nursed my son twenty-four months and my daughter thirty-three months and felt exactly that powerful and comfortable in doing so, despite modern belief that letting children nurse until they are ready to stop (as most ancients did) is weird. I followed my heart, just as I did when I rode Chief away from his pasture.

Now there was nothing but pavement ahead instead of safe gravel roads, which provided traction and repulsed fast cars. It was one thing to ride on high alert on gravel roads and highway shoulders; but to ride on narrow pavement with nowhere to go when a car popped over a hill was a level of drama I couldn’t justify, even if fourteen days from now I’d be on gravel again. I didn’t come out here to get myself killed.

“I want to see more of this cropland,” I told Bob on the phone. “I haven’t filled up on it yet. I was too busy to see it when I lived here.”

“That’s just great.”

“I’ll call later to let you know a little better where I am. Don’t get here too late.”

“Have fun,” he said.

I had trained him to stop saying be careful.

Stewart's route

Monday, September 14, 2020

A Meadowlark Press and Quincy Press Collaboration

 NEW! A Kansas literary journal!        

We (Tracy Million Simmons and Cheryl Unruh) are incredibly excited to announce a new Kansas literary journal featuring true stories set in Kansas.

105: Meadowlark Reader will be a
print journal (paper and ink!) and will publish stories about Kansas written by people who have lived within the bounds of this crinkle-cornered, mostly-rectangular state.

Yes! A journal of Kansas stories! By Kansas writers!

Why 105? Our goal is to share stories from writers who live or have lived in each of the 105 counties of Kansas.

And we plan to showcase the diversity of Kansas writers in this journal.

Whether you live in a city, a small town, or on two acres of timber along the Verdigris River, if you write true stories about your days and nights under this big Kansas sky, we want to read them.

The theme for our inaugural issue is: beginnings (whatever "beginnings" means to you).

Our submission period is: November 1-December 31, 2020. Our first issue will be out in April or May.

Another exciting thing? 105 Journal will have a directory of resources for Kansas writers: bookstores, writing groups, publishers. These listings will be free.

In addition, advertising will be available for those wishing to promote their writer-related businesses.

For more information, visit our website:

So there ya go, Kansas writers! Reach under your bed and dig out those personal Kansas essays you’ve already written. Or write something new. We look forward to hearing from you.

Cheryl & Tracy

Visit 105MeadowlarkReader on Facebook. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

What are you reading this weekend?

Happy Friday! As some of us wrap up the work week and others begin a new one, let's take a moment to sit quietly with a good book -- ahh, a little escape from our own reality and a portal into our protagonists' realities.

Publisher Tracy Million Simmons is making her way through the Kansas Notable Books and is currently reading The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. "This is a great time of year for Kansas readers!" she said. (Dobby agrees.)

Tracy and Dobby in their happy place.

Publicist Linzi Garcia loves to start and finish her week of teaching by reading Meadowlark books in her quiet office. Today, she's neck-deep in the mystery of Opulence, Kansas by Julie Stielstra. This weekend, she'll spend time with Headwinds by Edna Bell-PearsonThe Big Quiet by Lisa D. Stewart, and Valentine by Ruth Maus. "I love where these narrators -- fictional and real -- take me," she said. "I'm always on an adventure."

Linzi is always surrounded by books -- complete and in progress.

What and where are you reading this weekend? Do you read one book at a time, or are there multiple books on your nightstand? Books in the car? In the bathroom? Wherever you may be, we hope you enjoy your reading time!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Birdy contest has us feeling good, how about you? -- JC Mehta Selected Poems Introduction

The 2021 Birdy Poetry Prize contest is underway! We are thrilled to see submissions rolling in and encourage you to keep them coming. 

Our 2020 Birdy winner is JC Mehta, who kindly shared Selected Poems: 2000-2020 with Meadowlark --the manuscript chosen by judge Stanley E. Banks. To get you as excited as we are about Birdy, we would like to share with you the introduction to Mehta's book, written by curator and editor of the collection, Brenna Crotty. 


"JC Mehta will tell you exactly who she is. 

"In 2018, while working on a collaboration between CALYX Journal and Cordella Magazine, I was lucky enough to get to reprint one of Mehta’s poems, “Recipe for an Indian.” The very first line demanded How much Indian are you? and in the same line retorted All of it. The poem itself—short and vivid—braided together an identity built on hunger, desirability, trauma, family, and yearning. I knew absolutely nothing about JC Mehta as a person, but I suddenly felt like I had a very clear window into who she was in only nine lines. 

"So when Mehta reached out and asked me to curate this collection from twenty years of her work, I had to say yes. Her poetry invited me into experiences both similar and wildly different from my own with humor and a complete lack of self-consciousness. With sharp and incisive language, each piece provides an immersive moment, inviting the reader into the experience of growing up half Cherokee, of self-harm and losing friends, of teaching and aging and loving and living in the Pacific Northwest. Nothing is veiled, nothing is alluded to, and her humor is ever-present, wry and witty. Any writer who begins a poem with My psychologist says (don’t you love when poets start like this?) has levels of self-awareness and genre savvy that speak to years of dedication to identity and craft. 

"I have a great admiration for Mehta’s style of poetry because I have always had a soft spot for writing that is unafraid. Occasionally brash and belligerent, occasionally tired and defeated, every poem is refreshingly honest in its self-reflection, each one adjusting a new shard of identity, large or small, to provide a glimpse at a deep and complex life. Mehta’s focus is most often on the self: one’s body, bloodline, trauma, relationships, and place in the community. In “Place Settings,” the very second poem in this collection, she tells the reader: All my family’s dead so nobody’s / left that knows there’s an Indian / girl with a sick head / who grew up poor and sometimes / likes to fuck women gone / and snuck into this little fĂȘte. There really isn’t time for florid metaphor when laying bare the self—these poems are written with a knife, not a quill. 

"When I received three hundred of Mehta’s poems and was tasked with selecting a third of them for this book, they were sent to me in alphabetical order. Considering many of them are deeply personal and confessional poems, I found it to be a strange and immersive way to construct an image of a life and its histories, one where childhood experiences were fresh and pertinent at any moment in time, where there was no real beginning or end to an eating disorder. In choosing the order of this collection, I tried to preserve that non-linear feeling. I didn’t want to construct tidy trajectories that followed poems from childhood to adulthood, from suicide attempts to recovery, mostly because Mehta’s own poetry largely dismisses such neat lines and parameters. In her poem “Recovery,” she asks, Recover is a funny word, like / what’s buried that needs covering / again? The self is a fractured and complex subject throughout the book, and my hope is that a nonlinear collection such as this preserves the fraught and capricious relationships that we all have to our own changing and evolving identities. 

"Instead of a timeline, I focused on the twin centers of Mehta’s work, the I and the you. Her depiction of herself is clear and consistent, told in bold and sometimes lonely strokes, and the introduction of the you changes that dynamic. The you is always the same unnamed figure, a lover or life partner. I want you to be the only one to say my name like it mattered. The body of my pieces I wrote for you (“Let Me Go Quietly”). As the fragments of the I create a clear and vivid picture, there is a beautiful grace in the way Mehta moves her same unsentimental but deeply loving focus to another, the way it begins to encompass a we beyond the I or you. There is a wild serenity that develops within that concept of we, creating a softness even to some of the familiar edges of grief, and that is the movement that I believe is at the center of this collection. 

"Perhaps a little confusingly, the poem I selected as the first of the collection is titled “Editor’s Notes,” and I did it because it slyly addressed the questions that I had when I first read through Mehta’s body of work. Did all this really happen, did / those people really die? Did you seriously / try to kill yourself? She already knows the questions you’ll have, and she has ready responses that are all the more satisfying and invigorating for their freshness and honesty. She might tell you something about you, too. 

Brenna Crotty


We look forward to reading all the manuscripts to come! Visit for contest details. To learn more about Mehta, visit

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

From the Publisher's Desk: A Kansas Notable, An Audio Book, On the Pages of Publisher's Weekly, and More!

Or . . . How I Keep Busy in a Pandemic 

The Kansas Notable Medal made a stop at the Meadowlark Office before traveling on to its author, Edna Bell-Pearson. Headwinds was named a 2020 Kansas Notable Book by the Kansas State Library.

News is probably better served in bits and pieces, but I am one who tends to walk around mulling over all the Meadowlark news inside my head for weeks and weeks before committing it to paper. And by paper, I mean website form, of course. Though paper remains a big topic here at Meadowlark. In fact, as I'm writing this, I've got new Meadowlark author, Jerilynn Jones Henrikson, sitting on her hands, patiently waiting for the next proof edition of her book, A Time for Tears, to be delivered. This is a beautiful book and a timely one. It falls in the historical fiction category, and we are calling it YA. It's going to be loved by all ages, though. I can tell already that it's going to be popular. 

We are also in the print proof stage of a first book of poetry by Arlice W. Davenport, titled Setting the Waves on Fire. I am proud to add such an accomplished poet to the Meadowlark bookshelf. For fun, here's a little video of my first glance at the cover of this gorgeous book. I saved it for you, as I wanted Arlice to see it before the rest of the world did. He is pleased, and we will be launching this book in the very near future. Stay tuned!

I hope everyone has had a chance to read Meadowlark's newest Kansas Notable title. (I can say it like that now because we have now have two!)  But let's face it, in my mind, they are all notable. It certainly is a thrill, however, when our stories are recognized by others. Here's a great interview with Edna Bell-Pearson, author of Headwinds, written by Linzi Garcia and published in the Emporia Gazette.

In other fun news, a Meadowlark book is in Publisher's Weekly, the August 31, 2020 issue! The Big Quiet: One Woman's Horseback Ride Home, by Lisa D. Stewart has been getting some great reviews. It's feeling like quite a success for a book released under stay-at-home orders. And the best news is, we're just getting started. For an opportunity to listen to Lisa read from The Big Quiet, read all the way to the end.

Another pandemic book (is that what we're calling them? note to self: must come up with a better nickname for 2020 books) that is making a good impression with readers is Opulence, Kansas, by Julie Stielstra. Just take a look at all the Opulence action at Goodreads! Just take a look at that big sky on the cover. You feel better already, don't you?

And one more new thing that I've been eager to announce, and that moment has finally arrived . . . <insert drumroll here> . . . Meadowlark has produced our first audio book! Many thanks to Ruth Maus for being such a great test subject for this endeavor. I've learned so much! For instance, did you know that "editing" with your ears makes your brain work in an entirely new way? I mean, of course it does, but what an education. Though I've longed considered myself a "good listener," I have never listened with such intention and focus before. Ruth has recorded her book of poetry (a Birdy finalist, 2019), Valentine and it is (so far) available at the following locations: Kobo, WalmartScribdGoogle Play, Chirp, Apple, and NOOK AudiobooksIt will soon be available at 43 audio retailers, including Audible. 

And not to worry, Pete Stone Fans, we (author Michael D. Graves and I) are currently working on Meadowlark's second audio book. This is happening! In the meantime, we are still waiting for that perfect time to host our Pete Stone cocktail party and reading for book 3, All Hallows' Shadows. Grab your copy and get it read today. There may be some prizes for Pete Stone trivia winners at the event.  

"Pete Stone continues to develop as an individual and decent human being. He's the kind of guy you cheer for and groan at when he uses a line. The history is accurate and the flavor of the time is spot on. My heart went our to Wil. The kindhearted and unlucky professor. The entire series was enjoyable and interesting with a little romance and mystery. Happy Reading!" --D.A. Irsik, author of the Heroes by Design series 

Sending much love and good reading!

Tracy Million Simmons

Owner/Publisher, Meadowlark Press

Register to attend this free reading with author Lisa Stewart at


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Birdy Poetry Prize Contest is OPEN!

Happy September! This marks the opening of the third annual Birdy Poetry Prize competition. Let the manuscripts start coming in hot! 

The winner of the contest will receive $1,000 cash and publication by Meadowlark Books, including 50 copies of the completed book. All entries will be considered for standard Meadowlark Books publishing contract offers, as well. Meadowlark welcomes entries from across the U.S. 

Full-length poetry manuscripts (55 page minimum, 90+ pages preferred) will be considered. Poems may be previously published in journals and/or anthologies, but not in full-length, single-author volumes. Poets are eligible to enter, regardless of publishing history. Previous winners and published finalists of the Birdy Poetry Prize competition are NOT eligible to enter.

Previous winners and finalists include:

  • A Certain Kind of Forgiveness by Carol Kapaun Ratchenski (winner 2019)
  • Valentine by Ruth Maus (finalist 2019)
  • Selected Poems: 2000-2020 by JC Mehta (winner 2020)
  • Kansas Poems by Brian Daldorph (finalist 2020)
We look forward to reading this year's submissions. For more information, and to submit a manuscript, visit

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Opulence, Kansas - Chapter 7

Opulence, Kansas by Julie Stielstra follows the story of Katie Myrdal, a sophomore living in Chicago who lost her father to suicide. The circumstances of his suicide and the unknown nature of his private business ventures are peculiar, and while detectives search for answers, Katie lives with her aunt, Maggie, and her uncle, Len, in Opulence, Kansas -- a place where Katie can finally see "a long way out here. From the ground."

Chapter 7 (pp. 31-36)

    "So," said Maggie, as she put away the skillet. "How do you feel about going to church?"
    My immediate, thoughtful, gracious response was to stare at the dish towel and go, "Um."
    "It's okay, she said." You don't have to. I don't always go either, but Len likes to. 'Some keep the Sabbath going to church, I keep it staying at home...'"
    I started. I remembered that poem! From my Emily Dickinson period...
    "'With a bobolink for a chorister and the orchard for a dome,'" I said.
    Maggie picked it up: "'God Himself preaches the sermon, and the sermon is never long...'"
    "So instead of getting to heaven at last, I'm going all along!'" we finished together and laughed. Wow. Just this nice feeling of pure pleasure, just being with someone, doing the dishes and saying an old poem.
    "After the service, we're having a picnic--for Memorial Day."
    I'd forgotten it was Memorial Day weekend. And instantly felt terrible--I was out here, laughing in the kitchen with Maggie, while my mom was going to be languishing alone over my dad's ashes... but she probably wasn't.
    "Oh, hell, I am so sorry," Maggie said. "I didn't think... Oh hell..." She stood nervously wringing at the dishrag.
    I liked how she swore.
    "It's okay," I said. "I forgot too. Now I feel bad. I shouldn't have forgotten, it's just so weird... Part of me is glad when I forget, and then I feel guilty, but I can't help it..." I trailed off
    Maggie wiped back a straggle of her hair. "Anyway," she said, "the church is hosting a picnic with the social service in town--for the kids and families with problems, you know? Battered women or kids with parents who died or who are gone in the military--just any family with kids who need some help. I don't know, would you want to come? Help out, meet some of the neighbors? Maybe--if you don't mind, maybe you could bring your camera and take some pictures? Just for the folks who'll be there, they might like some snaps..."
    Church picnics are not exactly my thing, obviously. Mom was raised Catholic, I think, but Daddy wasn't anything, or that's what he always said. I don't think I ever went to church. But when we studies the Middle Ages in school, I always kind of liked the stuff about the monasteries. Quiet, orderly, simply: you prayed and ate and worked all at certain times, and it was silent. And modest. 
    "Really, it's fine if you don't want to." But you'd be absolutely welcome to come."
    "Sure," I said. "I'll come. I don't have any church clothes, though."
    She laughed. "The pastor'll be in jeans under his robe. God sure doesn't care."
    Why not? And if I took a few pictures of people and their kids, why not?
    I liked the singing. The hymn books had all the words for you and everyone else knew the melody, and somehow the tunes were so... I don't want to say predictable, exactly, but there was something simple and direct about them, that even I could kind of tell where the lines would go, and after a verse or two I could sing along. Singing with people--another nice thing I never expected.
    Afterward, I was introduced to Pastor Dave, a ruddy-faced graying man who shook my hand and said simply, "Bless you and welcome!" He was in fact wearing jeans--and work boots--under his robe. He took off his robe to come into the gathering hall to help set up tables and the men all heaved the tables around with much screeching and scraping of metal and linoleum. More people started coming in with a burst of kids' and women's voices, and there were smells of casseroles and salad dressing and onions. Someone started frying up hamburgers. We stayed inside because the clouds were piling up again, shot through with blazes of sunshine that came and went. I tagged after Maggie, who introduced me to the Kirchners and a bunch of other people, and many of them had the same last names, and I lost track of who was who. They were all very nice and smiled at me and said they were glad to meet me. They did not ask what grade I was in or how long I was staying, though everyone did manage to make some kind of wry comment about how different this must be from Chicago. And every time I said--honestly--that yes, it was different and in a good way. That made them happy, and overall it was pretty easy. 
    It was like people out here knew how to live with space between them. In the city, there are so many people all in the same place that you storm along and grab your own space before anyone else can take it and act like there's no one else there. And then, when you're with people you do know, it's all hugs and kisses and oversharing about your diet and other people's marriages and the state of your bowels, for all I know. Out here, there was plenty of space for everybody, so you were actually glad to see each other as it happened, and chat and have a friendly word, and then leave spaces for breathing. I was a total stranger, but that was okay.
    I got out my camera, and Maggie started lining people up, and I took their pictures, and they all just stood there grinning, and it was no big deal. She knew who everybody was, so we'd sort through the shots later on. I took some candid party shots, just for the heck of it, and then went to find the bathroom. It was down a windowed hallway, and when I came around the corner, I saw a guy sitting on a bench. He didn't notice me. He looked about my age, maybe a little older, so maybe not so much into mom-and-kids theme that afternoon. He sat hunched forward, his elbows on his knees, intent on his cellphone. The sun emerged from the clouds and suddenly rim-lit him: outlined his shape, the curve of his back, the angles of his elbows and shins, light on his forearms and the toes of his boots. I snapped off three shots and the sun disappeared. He still hadn't seen me. The bathroom was right opposite where he was sitting. When I got there, he glanced up and I said, "Hi." And went into the bathroom. I felt embarrassed that he could hear me flush the toilet. He said hi to me when I came out again. What the hell. 
    "Hi," I said again. "I'm Katie, Katie Myrdal."
    "Oh, right. Len and Maggie's, what, niece, right?" I guess word travels fast.
    "Yeah. Nice to meet you."
    "Did you get, like, something to eat or anything?" I asked him."
    "Naw, no, thanks. I just brought my little brother to this things. My mom had to work, so I said I'd bring him."
    "Oh. Which... which one is your brother?"
    "Fat little dude in camo pants." I knew who he meant. "He's Doug. I'm Travis. Travis Gibb."
    "Then he turned his head. His hair was shaggy, just uncut long, not on-purpose long, but not all over. The right side of his head was almost bald, just a feathery fuzz, with a few strands off the top falling down. The skin was stiff, shiny, pink, creased, and he didn't really have a right ear, just a gnarly little rim around the ear hole. I felt a little sick, but was damned if I'd let on. The pink shiny skin sheath went down his neck inside his collar. And his right hand... curled, contracted, two fingers missing. He placed his hand by his thigh where I couldn't see it.
    "Burns," he said. "You haven't heard the Gibb house fire story yet?"
    I shook my head.
    "Your dad, I heard he died," he said.
    I nodded.
    "I'm sorry," he said. "So did mine."
    "In the fire?"
    This time he nodded. "Back in January."
    "But you and your other family are okay?"
    "Mom was working. Thank God. I got Dougie out, and he was fine. But my dad... he was done. Nothing to do for him"
    "My dad shot himself," I said abruptly. What, was this some kind of competition? Whose dad had the most gruesome death?
    "I heard that," he answered. I stood there, twisting my camera strap, while Travis Gibb sat there and looked up at me. "It'll get easier," he said. "Takes a while, though. Maybe not so bad for me. My dad was a song of a bitch."
    "Mine wasn't!" I said. "Not to me."
    He stood up.
    "I better go find Dougie," he said. "See you around, I guess. Maggie and Len are good people. They'll take good care of you."
    And he walked away.