“If you read for pleasure, there’s probably more pleasure per inch in Pickard’s work than almost any other current crime novelist.”Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Pickard has evolved into a novelist of substantial literary power.”The Denver Post
The Incredible Traveling Author! -- 50 Libraries/ 50 Towns *
Nancy’s Journey Through Kansas for Kansas Reads ’09.
- Kansas Humanities Council
The greatest honor of my writing career occurred when The Virgin of Small Plains was chosen to be the “Kansas Reads” book of the year for 2009.
As described on the website of The Kansas Center for the Book, “Kansas Reads” is:
“A statewide reading and discussion project sponsored by the Kansas Center for the Book and the Kansas Humanities Council! Recommended by a committee of experienced and qualified librarians and educators, The Virgin of Small Plains was chosen by the State Librarian for its broad-based appeal that encourages and sustains spirited discussion.”
2009 was the third year of this wonderful program that spotlights books written by authors who have strong connections to Kansas. My connection is that I have lived in this state for more than half of my life, after moving here from Missouri. In 2008, The Learning Tree, by the photographer Gordon Parks, was selected to launch the Kansas Reads program. Then came Truman Capote's book, In Cold Blood. In 2010, the book the whole state is reading is Barack Obama’s, Dreams of my Father.
It was more than enough of an honor for my book to be chosen, but when I got the news I saw the opportunity to embrace and expand that thrilling moment into a year’s worth of happiness by trying to speak in as many libraries in the state as I could manage to visit on my own. I love solo driving trips, I love to travel back roads, I love libraries, I love meeting readers, and I love to see the various landscapes of my state. Not to mention that everywhere I go in Kansas is a chance to gather material and inspiration for my stories. So, opportunity beckoned, I set up appearances in small towns, filled up the tank, and started driving.
Although the official program of reading covers only one month, I drove around the state meeting librarians and readers for three months, plus a little more. I’m still astonished that I was able to do most of it from January through March, which on the face of it should have been insanely hazardous, as everybody knows that western Kansas is snowed in during the winter. Except, that winter, it wasn’t. While my friends and family back home in Kansas City were shivering and shoveling that year, I was more often than not in 60-degree weather—once it was 80!-- wherever I went, with the sole exception of an impressive snow and ice storm in southwest Kansas in March. That was a big one, with highways closed between this state and Oklahoma. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go to Oklahoma! Instead, I was lucky enough to be snug in the nicest bed & breakfast you can imagine, watching KU bastketball on the tv in my room, while snow fell on the early tulips outside.
Over those months, I went to 50 libraries in 50 towns!
It was one of the highlights of my life.
I am so grateful to the Kansas Center of the Book and to its director, Roy Bird; to the Kansas Humanities Council; and to my publisher, Ballantine, for helping with expenses and furnishing books for libraries and beautiful posters. I cannot say thank you enough to the lovely people I met along my route—library directors, library staff members, library patrons, library board members, and lots of other people along the way. To a person, they were kind, welcoming, generous, and supportive. We talked a lot, laughed a lot, and shared stories of all kinds, both mine and theirs. Before I left on my first leg of this journey, I already loved the small towns of this state, but my respect and admiration for the people in them has only grown as a consequence of these experiences. It’s not easy for small towns out there; the determination of their citizens is impressive.
I took some photos while I was traveling, and I kept a blog at the time. That has been reproduced here, with a tiny bit of editing. I don’t mention many people’s names in this travel journal, because I would have had to leave out so many, and I didn’t want to do that. If I could have, I would have written down everybody’s names! I hope that if you met me on one of these trips, you will know that I very much enjoyed making your acquaintance, and I thank you for coming out to see me and hear me talk. If you work in one of the libraries, in one of these towns, I can’t thank you enough for how you prepared for my visit and then welcomed me. If I stayed with you in your bed & breakfast, I can say without a single exception that I loved it. Great beds, great food, great hospitality. If I could do it every year, I would, and the only thing stopping me is that pesky business of having to write books.
So here they are. . .some photos of things that caught my eye and a few notes to accompany them. I hope you enjoy this journal. I absolutely loved having the chance to create it.
With love to libraries,
* P.S. I really did go to 50 towns/cities and 50 libraries, but they aren't all represented in this album. If you don't find your town or library here, it's not because I don't love you! It's because I didn't always have my camera, and also because sometimes I was too busy driving or visiting to write about it. Please know there is not one single town or library I visited where I didn't have a lovely time. You were ALL wonderful to me, to my book, and to the Kansas Reads program. I can't thank you enough for your hospitality.
Kansas towns visited: Ashland, Cimarron, Dodge City, Elkhart, Garden City, Hugoton, Johnson City, Liberal, Meade, Syracuse, Ulysses
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Kansas, here I come!
See those itty bitty counties down in the far southwest corner of Kansas? That's where I'm going at this end of this week, and I'll be gone for about ten days. It's my first real tour on behalf of Kansas Reads '09 which is featuring The Virgin of Small Plains as its book of the year. I'll be appearing at libraries in ten towns, and happily driving around day after day until it's time to come home.
I'm really looking forward to this trip. Love solo driving trips. Love rental cars. Love small towns, cafes, libraries, and nice people
(My home county is Johnson. Look at the bottom of the funny jig-jagged part in the northwest corner. It’s the yellow county under the blue.)
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
On the road again
Off I go to southwest Kansas. First stop, Ashland. See you there!
Thursday, January 8, 2009
The Red Cliffs of Kansas
The author has landed! And in an awfully nice place, too.
More about that later. But first, I want to get down in writing the two Events of the day before I go to supper.
On my way to my destination, Ashland, I drove through Greensberg which is the Kansas town that got blown away by that F5 tornado a year or so ago. I guess I thought the town would look more rehabilitated, with more spaces filled in, so I was truly shocked to get there and see a place that looked as if the tornado had gone through last weekend. Of course, the debris is gone. And nice new buildings, small ones, are up. And there is construction going on everywhere, and there are handwritten signs thanking many, many people and agencies. But I'm telling you it is still shocking. First of all, it is flat ground, so you can see forever, wherever you stand. And what you see is blocks and blocks of streets and black, twisted trees. The houses are gone. There are some rebuilt on the south side of town, but the old neighborhoods? Gone. I was in Greensberg a few years ago--saw their meteor and The World's Deepest Hand-Dug Well--and I recall it as one of those cozy midwest towns with porches, shades trees and white clapboard homes. Gone, except for the winter-bare trees, which look very spooky.
What also shocked me was to see how big that twister was. It's unbelievable how wide it was, and since the ground is flat and nearly everything on it was flattened, you can see the twister's width, from side to far side. There are people who saw it from a distance and thought it was a storm wall, because their brains refused to compute a tornado that big.
I was surprised that it made me want to cry. I didn't, of course. Would have been rude, with all the hopeful work going on, but that's how I felt--shocked, really shocked, and weepy.
The next Event was happier. There was a point where I made a left turn and pointed south and from there on the scenery was GORGEOUS. Rolling ranch land, but craggy and rough, and very Western-looking. There are red cliffs and when the setting sun hit them today they looked bright orange. I could have driven that road for hours.
And now I'm at the Wallingford Inn in Ashland, with a king-sized bed, and Victorian decorations, and I'm going to supper!
Later: I'm suddenly, finally, pooped. The drive seemed easy, though, especially with good music to serenade me all the way. Boz Scaggs goes especially well with this scenery.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Up Close to Kansas
These are the Gyp Hills. This part of them is state-owned, and leased for raising buffalo. Saw a herd of them, too far away to photo.
Can you see the white-tailed deer?
The Wallingford Inn, Ashland, Kansas
So much wind today! But inside the Ashland Library where I was speaking to about 70 middle and high school kids, all was calm. Such gracious, nice people, lots of laughter, great pork lunch, beautiful drive. Even heard the story of two, possibly three murders.
I HAVE to put this down before I forget it. From a very fun woman I met just now: "My dermatologist is going to burn off my little skin cancers, so I have to run to the vet's to pick up some of the nitrous oxide they use to freeze the bull semen they use for artificial insemination. I'll be right back!"
I'm still laughing, and when she went out the doo she was laughing, too. I love the country!
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Crème de la stove
I fell in love with this 1950's-era Chambers stove in the kitchen of the bed & breakfast where I’m staying in Ashland, Kansas. Chambers stoves are very cool stoves, and this is the coolest of the cool because it does all kinds of tricks. It’s plated in gen-u-ine copper, and it has a secret hiding place where I could put a clue to a murder. Pretty neat-o.
I'm having such a great time. Gorgeous scenery, better weather than anybody could have expected for January in Kansas, and lively, smart, funny, interesting people. I'm lovin' it.
I left Ashland at noon, drove a beautiful country route to Meade, did a gig that included homemade cherry cheesecake, drove to Liberal, just had a beer (yes! not a dry county!) with a rib eye (my fav cut of meat) and mashed potatoes loaded with garlic, cheese, onions, and sour cream, and now I'm fat and happy in a motel. It would take a microscope for me to find one single thing about which to complain on this trip.
Also, nice rental car, thank you, Enterprise.
Morning: Lots of hunters staying at this motel (a Holiday Inn Express in Liberal). Either they're all on another floor, or else they were so tuckered out last night that they didn't make a peep.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
I took this shot today in the Cimarron National Grasslands, and I did exactly what it looks like I did: stopped my car in the right lane, got out, left the door hanging open, walked to the front of the car, stood in the middle of the road, and snapped the photo. I was in no danger of being flattened by a semi. Ha! The worst that might have happened is that tumblin' tumbleweed might have rolled over me.
This is my poor little hovel for the night at The Cottage Inn in Elkhart, Ks.
There is no restaurant open in this town on Sunday nights, so we are dining at the Assisted Living Center.
Tumbleweed not tumblin’.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Blue, white, and palomino
This is a photo only its mother could love. I do love this palomino color of grass, though--which isn't accurately captured in this shot-- and I like the white band between earth and sky. It looks like the earth's aura. Although I prefer Kansas landscape when it's uppy and downy and curvy, there's nothing like miles of straight flat earth to slow down my pulse and make me feel peaceful and content. I feel no panic or restlessness at all when I'm on flat expanses of never-ending land; rather, I feel as if I could happily stick around for a long time.* No, I do not wish I were a pioneer woman! I like Kansas, but I'm not crazy.
My mom, who was born in 1916, had a Little House on the Prairie early childhood on the plains of Montana, so maybe I inherited my love of prairie from her. Her dad was a sheepherder. She, my grandparents, and two aunts lived in a tiny house fives miles from the nearest neighbor.
*All bets are off if the wind is blowing non-stop.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Another truck, another sagebrush, this one outside of the library in Hugoton, Ks.
I heard that last August, this area got a most unseasonal rain--right at the perfect time for growing bumper crops of sagebrush. The woman who told me that also said that she later saw a town practically buried in tumbleweed. Oh, to have been there with my camera!
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Publicity in a small town
This is officially the cutest thing ever, at least when it comes to publicity. I drove into Johnson City, near the Colorado state line, and look what I found IN THE MIDDLE OF MAIN STREET! Yes! Me! Of course, I stopped, parked, got out, and took the photo. Then I watched cowboys in trucks drive by and slow down to see who was appearing in town that day. I love this so much.
The motel behind it is where I'm staying tonight. In a few minutes I'm going to go have a malt at the very real, very still-operating 1950's soda fountain down the street.
And here it is, the soda fountain in Johnson City, Ks. (Click on photo to enlarge it so you can see the details.) Note the hammered tin ceiling. The wonderful table and matching pink chairs have "Coke" logos on them. I had a small--ha!--chocolate malted that was made perfectly, and for which they wouldn't let me pay. It's a sweet place in more than one way.
Tomorrow, I'm on to Dodge City. I'll watch out for outlaws and lawmen.
Author book tour chat: Nothing beats small towns for getting your name out, albeit to not many people. But still. When I drove into Liberal, I turned on the radio and heard my name. It was an ad for my appearance at the library. Last night in Hugoton, I turned on the tv, and there I was again, in repeating ads for my appearance next Monday in Ulysses. I am nearly convinced of my own importance.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
This Way! Which Way?
No photos today. I was too busy being cranky. But I'm okay now. At least once a trip I hit a wall, and today was that day. Part of it was that I didn't like going from tiny towns and wide open spaces to a much bigger town, traffic, and colder weather. Part of it was just, well, seven towns in eight days. But I gave myself a good talking to, had a fine chicken fried steak for supper, met some nice people here in Dodge City, and all is better now.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Footsteps in. . .sand? In Kansas?
Even the tumbleweed is struck dumb with surprise.
It's Sand Dune Park outside of Syracuse near the Colorado line.
I like to surprise people with photos of Kansas that no one expects. Well, this time, I was the one who was surprised. Sand in Kansas, who knew? I even have sand clinging to my shoes to prove it.
The lovely folks here apologized for not putting up my name on the movie marquee. Maybe next time.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
I'm staying in a lovely b&b in a town -— Cimarron-- where cowboys used to go when they "got out of Dodge." I’m feeling somewhat rejuvenated, because of the nice and entertaining people who came to my speech, and who brought pot-luck supper, and who then stayed to tell stories about murder. Hog heaven for a mystery writer.
Note to self: Next trip, remember that it's hard to tour and write at the same time—which I had foolishly thought I might do. Those activities involve two different sides of my personality, I suspect, and maybe even different sides of my brain. On this trip, it's been impossible to be Gregarious Public Speaking Meeting Strangers Author and then go back and be Withdrawn Introverted Lost in Space Writer. I get too revved up, I think.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
All of Us
Inauguration Day: On Sunday evening, serendipity gave me this photograph in the driveway of my hotel. It wasn't until I downloaded it that I realized it's a gift for this day.
Conditions haven’t been right for me to take any photos of the size of the wind farms out here. They are HUGE, jaw-droppingly huge, covering many, many acres. One set of them on I-70 in western Kansas just goes on and on over the next hill and then the next one, and then when you think you've come to the end of them, there are more. I think they're beautiful in their own way. Today they were all completely still. I wish I'd seen them on the day last week when I was in 50 mph gusts. It might have been a little unnerving!
Kansas towns visited: Baxter Springs, Oswego, Pittsburg
Sunday, February 15, 2009
On the road again!
I'm gone again. This time to SE Kansas libraries. No tumbleweed down there, but maybe I can take a picture, or two.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Writers need cookies
There used to be two warm chocolate chip cookies on this plate. :: Wipes crumbs off mouth:: The little bowl to the upper left holds chocolate candy that the B&B owner placed beside my breakfast this morning. She works on the theory that there cannot be too much chocolate, and she puts that theory into practice all over her lovely home in Pittsburg, Ks. Last night, I spoke to readers in Oswego, Ks.; today I talked to high school seniors; tonight the Pittsburg Carnegie Library is serving supper and me to their patrons. I hope I'm half as popular as free food!
It was a wonderful night, full of nice people and fried chicken.
Here's a local account -- The photo can be labeled: "Author Looking Road-Weary." The weird hair is just pulled back into a ponytail.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Jesse and me, on Route 66
Jesse James didn't sleep in the red brick building above, but he did allegedly rob it when it was a bank. Now it's a cafe and bed & breakfast, where I'm spending two nights in Baxter Springs, Ks.
I've gone from immaculate Victoriana last night to bare boards tonight, and I love the dramatic contrast. These are the steps I faced with my luggage. I laughed, and then I climbed.
As usual with every bed & breakfast in which I stay, I'm the only lodger. Is it me, lol?
My room. Free wifi and a lot of history. Big windows, bare wood floors, echoing halls.
My view. The mural is of a cattle drive.Click photos to enlarge.
Amazing! The cafe on the first floor puts on tablecloths at night and turns into a Cafe with really good food.
It's cool being the only overnight guest. I've got my door open and I'm playing my music loud for the ghosts in all the empty rooms down that long hallway.
Strange thing. The owner put me up in a room that she called the most popular, but I noticed that she looked skeptical when she said it, and in fact, she then muttered, "I don't know why." I've peeked in all the other rooms and they're all nicer than this one. But I like this one the best, too. I think it's the positioning of one big window that lets in a lot of light.
This place would be a GREAT setting for a ghost story. Maybe the room with more light would be the evil room. Cackle. It lures unsuspecting guests in by looking cheerful. bwah ha ha.
I'm very close to the town of Galena where a brothel madame and her son killed a bunch of miners for their $$ and dumped the bodies down abandoned wells. And not all that far to the north there was a mother and son who, well, I'll tell you after you eat.
Interesting part of the state, this.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
This is the charming library in Baxter Springs. I was here a while back, and I’m delighted to return. But now I am really ready to go home.
Kansas towns visited: Colby, Goodland, Grainfield, Hill City, Hoxey, Norton, Oakley, Quinter, plus stopped in at the library in Gove City
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Go two counties over from the west side of Kansas and then go two down from the top. That's where I am tonight, in the town of Colby. Tomorrow, I'll go a bit west to Goodland, where I'll spend the night, and then I'll start back east on Thursday, working my way back home through a total of nine towns and nine libraries, after also doing two yesterday nearer to home. It may sound grueling, but it's not for me, at least not yet, because I love doing this stuff. But I forgot my camera!
it's 80 degrees here in Colby! This is western Kansas! in March! Will be 40 tonight.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I didn't know until these trips that Kansas has two time zones! I'd wager most Kansans don't know that the far western edge is in Mountain Time, and that's where I am now. The people here tell me it drives them crazy, because they go to a lot of nearby towns for stuff and may have church on Sunday in Mountain Time and a doctor's appt. on Monday in Central Time.
I have to be about 70 miles east of here tomorrow at 10 a.m. CST. I'm so confused.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
I'm holed up in a truck stop motel by the side of the highway. Nothing to brag about, but it's clean and quiet, and I'm dirty and tired, so that works out pretty well. Talked at a library at 10, another at noon, visited one at 3, talked at another at 7. Had a really good time, but how do politicians do it month after month??? Maybe they like hearing themselves talk more than I like hearing myself talk?
That's all I got. 'Night.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Today, a sword swallower took me on a ride on the ocean floor. True story.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Sword swallowers & ocean floors
So when I gave my talk at the library in Oakley, Ks., they held a drawing for one of my books. It was won by a handsome white-haired gentleman who turned out to be a semi-retired sword swallower. His parents were sword swallowers, and he had grown up traveling with Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey, and other shows. I was, of course, entranced to hear this, and when he and his charming wife invited me to hop in their restored turquoise hot rod and have lunch with them, I jumped to say yes. When they learned I wanted to visit the Monument Rocks shown above, the sword swallower objected that I couldn't go alone, and he offered to be my guide. So that's how I happened to drive over what once was an ocean floor, in the middle of Kansas, with a nice man from the circus.
Kansas is sooo not boring!
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Same landscape, different light
See the photo in yesterday's post. When I saw these rocks, they looked entirely different from any of these three photos. Instead of bright orange, or blinding white, or layered grey, they looked pretty and pastel in soft yellow, soft white, soft peach, and soft silver.
Tomorrow, home again.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
On the road again
To Kinsley, Hutchinson, August, Wichita, Newton, Winfield, Junction City.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Itty bitty library
I'm spending the night in an ordinary motel down the road toward my destination tomorrow, but this library I stopped at earlier today is no ordinary place.
It used to one one small room here in Richmond. Now it's two, but only because the cafe next door closed, and the library got the kitchen. Townspeople removed the appliances and grease, a man from town laid the new flooring, and the librarian's husband built the new bookshelves. There's a wonderful spirit here, and a love of books and reading. Kudos to librarian Connie Weber and to her smart, funny, lively patrons.
Yesterday, my mom told me about a city where the powers-that-be decided to save money by closing the libraries, but people marched in the streets to protest, and the city backed down. Yay, people! When citizens still care about their libraries, there's hope. Not to mention, people NEED libraries more than ever these days, so they can use the computers to look for jobs, or go to check the newspapers, or rediscover the joy of free books, videos, and music.
Even in towns that are really struggling, libraries are alive. In Kansas, alone, there are approximately 330 libraries, isn't that impressive? Guess who has visited ten percent of them since January?
Now I’m off to the next stop -- Kinsley, Ks. There will be something very interesting to show from there. I'm not just guessing--I already know.
Something really lovely happened at my library back home last Sunday. They named a conference room after me, complete with plaque. I may have cried.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
This is the drum maker. . .^^^
And here are a few of his drums. . .^^^^
He's Jerry Weaver--architect, musician, sculptor, drum creator, and more--who is married to Joan Weaver who is, literally, a weaver, recipe inventor, wonderful cook, actress, and more, as well as being the director of the library in Kinsley, Ks. where I spoke today. You can imagine what their house looks like--a gallery of creativity.
And I? I am propped up in a lovely bedroom in a B&B, feeling contentedly full of Joan's cooking and the hospitality of this town.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
I’m in Wichita. No photo from me today; maybe tomorrow. On the spur of the moment, I led a kind of cool writing exercise during a workshop today. We were at a library, and I grabbed a painting from their picture-lending section. I showed it to the class and asked them put themselves--or a character-- into the painting and imagine what they might smell, hear, touch, taste, see. What they came up with was so cool and surprising--it amounted to words that hinted at a story. It was doing it in a group that made it work--because they took each other by surprise by noticing things that others didn't see. Eye-opening.
Tomorrow I'm off to Augusta, which is just a bit east of Wichita.
The wind here today was incredible. Up on I-70, according to the news, 13 semi's overturned. The highway patrol said they found one every 10 miles. I don't understand that statistic, but hey, if they say so. . .
Monday, March 23, 2009
Map of my world
If you click this photo to enlarge it, you can see where I've been in the last two and a half months. Look for the dark red lines. I like this photo (taken by Joan Weaver, in Kinsely), because it hides the middle of my body, where all the chicken fried steak has gone.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Caldwell, Kansas, then
I was in this town today, very close to the Oklahoma Border. It didn't look quite like this, but I think maybe some of those buildings still stand. If I'd had this photo when I was there, I could have checked. It was a big land rush and cattle drive town, wild and woolly, as evidenced by this quote from a website called Legends of America:
"During its reckless cowtown period between 1879 and 1885, Caldwell 'boasted' a higher murder rate, and loss of more law enforcement officers than other more famous cowtowns. During this period, violence claimed the lives of 18 city marshals, leading a Wichita editor to write, "As we go to press hell is again in session in Caldwell."
My kinda town!
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Caldwell, Kansas, today
One hundred and thirty years later, give or take a few, things are quieter on the trail, too.
I've found a new "smallest library." Today I visited a one-room library in Sedan. The two-room library is in Richmond, and the three-room library is in Grainfield. Cute as buttons. Buttons with books.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Possibly gone tomorrow, as we are expecting snow.
I'm at a b&b in the town of Newton. It's a little two-bedroom apartment, with kitchen. I could live here.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Crunch through the tulips.
That combo of deep pink, white, and black is really pretty, isn't it? That's the fence in front of The Iron Gate B&B here in Winfield. Originally, the fence kept out the cattle.
First “weather” I've had in about 40 towns!
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Sunset from inside the lovely B&B where I’m staying in Winfield.
Sunset, from outside the same house
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Before the snow
Remember the photo below with the wooden swing and the spring flowers? This photo is from the same back yard at the little b&b in Newton where I stayed on Thursday night. The owner is a photographer; her brother is the sculptor of this and other works on the grounds.
I made it to my gig in Junction City today! The weather got better, instead of worse.
Home again and glad to be here at last, though it was another wonderful trip. This is the last of my major Kansas tours for Kansas Reads ’09. Now I'll have one more short one, then a scattered handful of appearances, and then I can settle down to. . .what do you call it? WRITE! It has all been wonderful. I really mean that. Wonderful, inspiring, exciting, so interesting, and full of the nicest people, from one end of the state to the other. I’m so grateful for this experience!