After transcribing the Wilson family letters for the four remaining siblings, I wondered why hardly anyone knew about the great sacrifice of the family during WWII.
I’d never thought of writing anything besides letters and genealogies, but I set out to learn to write “for real,” just to be able to share their story. In the early 1990s I got a subscription to Writer’s Digest, studied how-to books, about writing and about submitting something to a newspaper or magazine.
“Meteors of August” was my very first published essay, August 2, 1993, in The Des Moines Register. They even paid me $50 for it! Even better, I knew that–after several rejections–I was beginning to catch on to writing that connected with readers.
Since I’d not been interested in history before, I was also doing my own crash course in WWII, especially anything that had directly affected any of the five Wilson brothers. I requested the combat records and casualty files of the brothers who were lost, and I joined combat unit reunion groups to be able to correspond with men who knew one of the brothers or who served in the same unit. And I did a lot of journaling, which included prayers.
A year later, after more rejections, Paul Berge’s “Rejection Slip Theater” featured my story about trying to reconcile the idea of my farmer farmer, who never flew again, being the instructor of advanced cadets during the war, a first pilot on B-17s, and even commander of a B-29 Superfortress at the end of the war.
The day after “Reconciling Dad” was on “Rejection Slip Theater,” Lee Kline of WHO-Radio interviewed me about it for Father’s Day.
For the next few years, several essays and stories were published in The Register and also local newspapers.
University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival
One of the best things I did toward what eventually became Leora’s Letters was to attend the Summer Writing Festival three times at the University of Iowa. I took several workshops, one year staying two weeks, but soaked up more ideas in Drake Hokanson’s “Literary Nonfiction” classes. Using fiction techniques for nonfiction was a new concept for me, but I was brave enough to sign up for the advanced class. Students came from all over the nation and I knew I’d never see them again, so took the leap. I learned more that summer (I also was in other workshops for children’s writing, essays, etc.), and gained more courage.
The Drake Hokanson classes were a turning point for the way I thought about writing. I still use his worksheets for gathering sensory triggers for writing scenes.
After gaining some confidence that came with an income from essays in The Iowan, Midwest Living, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Des Moines Register, I came down with painful fibromyalgia in 2001. I couldn’t concentrate to write. I couldn’t even read during years of mental fog.
When the brain fog lifted a little, the God-nudges to share stories was still there–especially the one to make sure the Wilson story wasn’t forgotten. I started a website about 2015. Yes, I lost over a dozen writing years in there. Still a puzzle, but I was so thankful to be able to journal again. By then, essays were no longer sent through the mail but through electronic submissions.
At my first Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop in 2016, I began to experience a delightful community of writers. I also learned so much about social media and marketing, and received feedback on parts of what would become Leora’s Letters.
Although I’d whittled some more from the manuscript, the copy I sent to readers for feedback was still very bloated.
Coauthor Robin Grunder
In late 2018, I join an on-line subscription Facebook group called “Write That Book,” where we could interact with experts who gave talks on all phases of writing. That’s where I “met” my coauthor, Robin Grunder. I still have never met her in person, but certainly hope to one day. She put the manuscript on a diet, removing rabbit trails which were fascinating to me but which actually detracted from Leora’s story itself. (I wanted to cry, but I knew she was right!)
Last summer the manuscript was finally ready to share with about a dozen beta readers, who were writers I’d “met” through my website, through “Write That Book,” as well as some of the original readers who’d hung in there with me. Once I had feedback and had tweaked as much as I could, I eventually had to declare the story “done.”
Hiring someone to upload the manuscript to Amazon also included internal design and reworking the elements of the cover. Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II was published as a paperback book at the end of November 2019, with the ebook version in December.
One of the most delightful things about having a book published was sharing during programs (getting to say yes after not being able to since 2001 was such a nice surprise), meeting people at book signings, and radio interviews, most of which happened right before Christmas.
One of my prayers about the story was that people would want to visit places where the family lived, went to school, and are buried. A huge answer to that prayer, one I could never have anticipated, was the Dallas County Freedom Rock, which was dedicated just last October. All five Wilson brothers are featured on it!
And the sacrifice of one central Iowa family, my own Grandma Leora’s family, will never be forgotten.
The spring of 2020, I’d had requests for an audiobook version. I’d never even listened to one so asked the “Write That Book” members (now called “Write That Book with Tricia Goyer“) how to go about it. Audible, they said, so I began to research that, but really hoped to find someone local to narrate it.
A website is a great place to practice writing. My 400th blog post was published on joynealkidney.com this summer.
And I’m working on the manuscript for Leora’s Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression (working title). If God lets me live long enough, I’ve got plenty of notes (as well as Leora’s own memoir) for a third book, about her growing up years.
Moral to the story: Publishing a book takes 1) a lot of study and practice (a website is a great place for that, and begin to collect followers and feedback), 2) a writing community with lots of cheerleaders and generosity, and 3) lots of perseverance.