Writing and Publishing Journey

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.

Transcribing letters on the old MacPlus (with a MacBottom hard drive and MacChimney to keep the computer), in son Dan’s room, so was around 1990. It sits on the old library table from the Victorian house in Guthrie Center, where Leora’s parents and siblings lived during the 1920s.

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.

A small fraction of helpful books about writing.

“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.

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I’d hope for an “Intermediate Literary Nonfiction” class that summer, but got brave enough to take this awesome one.

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.

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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. I was 75 years old! 

One of the most delightful things about having a book published is sharing during programs (getting to say yes after not being able to since 2001 was such a nice surprise), meeting people and hearing their stories, and radio interviews.

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, Grandma Leora’s family, will never be forgotten.

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The spring of 2020, I’d had requests for an audiobook version. I’d never even listened to one so began to research how to go about it, but really hoped to find someone local to narrate it.

I’m so blessed that Paul Berge agreed to do it. Here’s the blog post about that journey. The audio version of Leora’s Letters is available only as a download from Audible and iTunes.

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 Dexter 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.

March, 2023: Since writing this post, my 800th blog post has been published, as well as Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression. The third “Leora book,” Leora’s Early Years: Guthrie County Roots, was published last fall. I’m working on a manuscript for What Leora Didn’t Know: The Aftermath of World War II (working title).



  1. Thanks for sharing your story. I find the journey of writers and teachers to be interesting. Most people don’t say much. They keep quiet in the background. A few like to speak up. It takes a very special skill and bravery to be able to do that. They want to tell stories and teach about things they feel are important and to be remembered. There are lessons in life we need to hear.

    Good for you.

    • I think that because I was ill for so long, people took it for granted that this writing thing was only recent. Before then, though, it was nerve wracking to share those beginnings with a public. By the time I started getting better, I wondered how much time I have left to record the stories that I really “needed” to share. The website really helped with that. This is because someone asked. I hadn’t mapped it out before, hadn’t looked back.

  2. Isn’t it amazing how expansive the process of writing can become? It is certainly a craft, but then it is so much more. It is also an incredible journey.

      • I think that never ends. Perfection is like one of Plato’s “cardinal virtues,” ever sought but never attained!

      • Editing. If only we could skip that most tedious step. A while back I posted “The Never Ending Edit” because I found the objective of perfection to be unreachable. By the way, I also had a Mac Plus setup like yours, minus the chimney.

      • I kinda like editing. And research. Easier than coming up with a scene in July 1930 where the grandfather dies of a heart attack in an Iowa field while showing his teenaged grandsons to shock oats, his body brought into town, then what? I do know that the funeral was in his own home. Umm, we still have the Mac Plus! It sits under our old crank-up telephone.

    • I know a few who also have a gift for it. When you read theirs, there’s a magic to it, but I’ll bet they’ve had to employ old perseverance with the gift!

  3. Thank you for sharing the story of your writing journey, Joy. I’m always on the lookout for inspiring stories to encourage my students. Most of them don’t get the hard work and perseverance part. But, oh, the rewards when they do!

  4. I so enjoyed reading about your writing journey! When I first started reading your blog, I was impressed with your enthusiasm and attention to detail. Details really matter…they bring a story to life and make you care about the people you are reading about! I am so glad I found you!!! I wish you continued success with all your writing projects! 🙂

  5. Thanks for sharing the story of your journey to becoming a writer, Joy. It’s an inspiration and a lesson to others (including me!). Keep up the great work!!

  6. Thank you! It seems daunting when you start thinking of all the work it takes. Good encouragement to just keep moving toward your goal.

      • Self care! Yes. And that one is so hard to stick to because it seems “selfish” but really it’s the most selfless thing one can do. I struggle with it…

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