Telling Stories

By Leslie Chaffin

When Sharon Brown read to her grandchildren, she often found herself “thinking that I could write a better story.”

Today she’s the author of three children’s books and is at work on a fourth. Although her stories about animals are told by one – Brownlee the Storytelling Lizard – they sometimes have a foot in real life.

 Petie the Parrot’s Amazing Adventures, for instance, is based on a real parrot who found himself being moved from home to home,” said Brown, who’s a reading coach at Roosevelt Elementary School in Wichita. “They live a long time you know, and Petie finally found a home where he could stay.”

Brown was encouraged to create Brownlee and Petie while participating in the Writers Group, which gathers on the first Tuesday of each month at the Linwood Senior Center and first Thursday at the Downtown Senior Center. Whether the story they want to tell is true or made up, it’s a chance for members to share ideas, receive feedback or simply get motivated.

“This is one of the best things in my life,” said Sharon Revell, who has created illustrations for books by those in the group. “I had always been an amateur artist, but never an illustrator. Finding this when I turned 80 has been a huge blessing.”

The Writers Group began about five years ago thanks to a suggestion by Senior Services volunteer Starla Criser, an author of several books.

 “I have a degree in gerontology, so I know that memoirs are important,” Criser said. “We started out with a few people and it has grown to about 30 authors, men and women, who write in different genres.”

Each meeting features a writing exercise. It might be using a seemingly disparate list of words together, such as “sunny, orange, excited, mulberry, tooth,” or describing an experience like “sit outside and write down the sounds you hear.” The group’s calendar is handed out at the first meeting of the year and includes the exercises. Members may prepare ahead of time or jot down their contribution as the meeting is in progress.

One member, Leigh Earley writes science fiction under the pen name E.L. Morrow. His first published book, The Doorkeeper’s Secret, takes the reader into the year 2094.

Other participants are working on memoirs to preserve family stories, which they may or may not intend for the general public. Bonnie Krenning wants her grandchildren to know about the generations that preceded them, including her brother, Murrel Lacey, who became known around the world for his expertise as a horse trainer. 

“I’m always surprised when people are interested in my life story,” said Krenning, who was a pilot in addition to her career in nursing.

Several participants focus on poetry, including Connie Holt, who has published Grandma’s Haiku for Children, and is now working on a book of poetry for adults.  

Gerald McCoy told the story of a talented young African-American pitcher in the 1940s whose life took a wrong turn to prison in Fireball! The Tragedy and Triumph of Isaiah Jackson (featured in the active age last September).

Whether they are just getting started or have been writing for years, participants agree that the group helps with topics such as preparing a manuscript for publication, designing a book cover and determining how they want to publish their book.

“Starla has been instrumental in helping many of the books get published,” Revel said. “She pulls everything together and her daughter, Angela, helps digitize and layout the book for publication at no charge to us.”

Brown’s books went international this year when Kristy Bruns, a friend of Revell’s, visited a sanctuary for abused women and their children in Nepal called Her Farm. Bruns took Brown’s books to Nepal, staying a few days at Her Farm to read to the children.

“We went there as guests, but we worked in the fields each day along with the women who were there for help and then read to the children before dinner,” said Bruns, who visited Nepal in May with her daughter. “The kids loved the books.”

Authors can also get information about marketing their books. Often, books are donated to libraries. Many books by members are available on Amazon.com, and several of the authors have Facebook pages. 

In 2017, Criser put together a book of writing from the group titled Write On, which was the first time many of the contributors saw their work in print. In July, she published another edition, called Write Again.

Attendance at the meetings varies,” Criser said. “Not everyone comes every month, and some prefer one Senior Center over the other. Anyone who is interested in writing is welcome to join in.”

For information about the Writers Group, contact Starla Criser at starlacriser@gmail.com.

Contact Leslie Chaffin at lrchaffin20@gmail.com

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