By Jim Alf
As an author of a self-published book of local history, I felt quite alone promoting sales.
Wanting a network and camaraderie, I thought about renting a booth at an event with a few other local authors. I mentioned the idea to author Dennis Miller who was very enthused. We decided to give it a shot and began by assembling a short list of local authors.
Thirteen showed up at our first meeting, six of whom quickly opted out. A suggestion that we ante $20.00 each to get started got an indifferent response. Enthusiasm was low. We were discouraged but determined, so we got more ink and more airtime, made posters and recruited.
Dennis and I set the second meeting for July 29, 2015. We put our books on the display shelves I had made and waited. At five minutes to the hour we sat alone in the room with a hundred empty seats. At two minutes to I told Dennis the ship was taking water and our dream of the Chippewa Valley Local Authors Group was history. A minute later an author walked in and placed a book on the shelf with ours. Then, another came. Several members of the Western Wisconsin Christian Writers Guild arrived soon after, followed by others who caught wind of our burgeoning group from news items in the Leader-Telegram, Volume One or on Channel 13.
Humbled by the tepid reception of our first meeting, I cautiously solicited ideas and waited. A few cautious suggestions were offered, then a few more, and 15 minutes into the meeting the fire fell and it became like an old-fashioned tent revival. I passed the plate for 20 bucks, someone shouted we needed a tent, another said two tents. The price of a booth at Festival in the Pines was instantly researched online—no, we decided, we were going to need two booths—and moments later a calculator appeared, costs were added up, and the next thing I knew $50.00 membership fees were being pressed onto Laurie Norlander who had mentioned that she was a CPA. All we were missing was our leader, and the job soon fell to Bill Callaghan, an executive in his family’s business, and the future president of our organization. The word group was exorcised from our original name and when the sawdust settled we were the Chippewa Valley Local Authors.
Bill Callaghan, the true believer who has provided expert leadership as President, called meetings every week to make the rapid preparations for our first exhibit at Festival in the Pines. On August 28th, just one month after our previous meeting, we set up in the rain at Carson Park and made a two-day, successful run of displaying our books. We did things right, we did things wrong and we learned.
Appearing on that drizzly day in the park was CeCelia Zorn, PhD., retired nursing instructor from UWEC who has become our Secretary. She is our expert keeper of the minutes and composer of beautiful letters. Karen Olson serves as Vice President and gifted designer of exhibits. Laurie Norlander has kept us on the financial straight and narrow. Others constantly serve to fill every need, amazing Dennis and I with the fulfillment of our dream.
With the coalescing of our group, which has grown to 33 members, we had an epiphany about our role in the arts community. When arts are mentioned the usual entities come to mind: music, theater, visual arts, sculpture and others. As we began exhibiting alongside those artists, a new concept of ourselves slowly emerged. Just recently we were invited by Deb Johnson, Executive Director at the Heyde Center for the Arts, to display our books as part of a Typography exhibit, and as we did so, the scales fell from our eyes.
What we produce, we at last realized, is literary art—a contribution to the community as worthy as other genres. Having discovered that, our goal must now be to shoulder our way into the public consciousness as a legitimate art form and work hard to improve our craft so we might be acknowledged on the same scale as the other talented artists of our region.
Taking part in the newly emerging Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, we intend to exercise our talents to evolve methods of presenting the written word, surprising ourselves with the beauty that can come from within, whether by perspiration or inspiration.
And if the fire falls again, we will grab a bolt and illuminate our real name: Literary Artists.