Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I say author essay because that's the feature... but, how do you define someone like Betty Rodgers under a one word moniker? You don't and you can't. First and foremost, she is a  filmmaker and an extraordinary one at that. Her passion for her documentary project "Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor" is evidenced by the results her and her husband, author Ken Rodgers, have produced. The trailer alone is at once chilling, captivating, moving, and momentous. It is documentary film at its best. "Bravo!" is currently being prepped for the film festival circuit. Did I mention she's also a world class photographer? Then there's also her work producing and editing the Idaho Writers Update, which if you've been living under a rock, you might want to check out considering two of the country's up and coming writers, Alan Heathcock (VOLT) and Anthony Doerr (Memory Wall), are Boise residents. Well, as they like to say, there must be something in the water out there and I believe it's inspiration, determination, and pure talent. Betty Rodgers has obviously drunk deep and long from the those waters, for she has all three in spades. I am happy to have filmmaker, editor, writer, and photographer Betty Rodgers for this week's Author Essay Feature
Enjoy - J. Goertel


A parent can set the tone for how we view individuals.  Mother helped me adore my Auntie Kay by making sure I knew how she had triumphed over the life-long effects of breaking her legs as a child.  (In the early 1900s she was confined in a cast and bed for weeks.) How brave she was for serving in New Guinea as a WAC officer during WWII.  Instead of pointing out any shortcomings, Mother taught me to see the worth in this tall, intelligent, attractive brunette. This woman whose long, graceful fingers nimbly played concert-level classical piano. This woman who frequently engaged in passionate conversation about the cosmos, politics, and philosophy.

And there was my Uncle Harry, Kay’s husband.  This easy-going, handsome, fun-loving man, known as the “Long Tall Texan” although he hailed from Oklahoma, was respected and admired for his strong work ethic, common sense, humor, and cooking skills.  He too served as an officer in the Pacific during WWII.  That’s where the two met and married.  Both of them returned home, raised fine sons, and gave themselves as advocates for male and female veterans through their affiliation with the American Legion.

Mother made certain we attended every special event involving my aunt and uncle, such as Harry’s installation as the California State Commander of the American Legion, Kay’s speeches championing better conditions at veterans’ hospitals and equal rights for female veterans.  In some way, I knew they were fighting for me, too.  Yes, I admired and adored them both.

As the years went by, this background of respect and honor for veterans stayed with me.  When Auntie Kay passed away, Mother helped sort her belongings and showed me her writings about World War II.  From her book, “New Guinea, A Magic Name and A Magic Isle,” some insight into my aunt’s experience upon arrival at the American cemetery in Sapuda:

“I can’t begin to describe the emotions that filled our hearts and eyes, and overflowed onto our cheeks, as we stood there.  We thought of the heartache of the parents and wives of these boys, we thought of the tragedy of their having to die so young, and we thought of the magnificence of their courage and the firmness of their faith and belief in what they were fighting for, in what they gave their lives for; the ones they loved, the flag they loved, the God they worshipped, in two words, THEIR AMERICA!  We swore that we would never betray that faith and belief, or betray their trust in us to preserve the things they loved and died for.”

And on anticipation of returning to American soil:

“We will have…the exaltation of having done our part in winning the greatest war of all times.  However, the greatest gift that we will take back with us is the knowledge of what war is, what it can do, and an appreciation of the great faith in America that inspired the magnificent courage in our boys.  We are determined that their sacrifice will never be repeated by their sons, that what they fought for will be preserved, it will never die or fade—THEIR AMERICA.”

As we know, there have been many wars since, and my cousins did serve during the Vietnam War.  My husband, Ken, also served.  He didn’t talk about it a lot after we met, but one of his best friends told me what a hero he was because of where he served and what he lived through.  I only knew that March 30, 1968, was a day that had imprinted his life forever, but I knew none of the details. 

When we began to attend Khe Sanh Veteran reunions in recent years, I became keenly aware of the stories I heard and of what Ken had experienced, in part because of my aunt and uncle’s example.  Through them all…my aunt and uncle, my mother, my husband…I had learned to pay attention to the significance of history, service, and sacrifice.

This is what led me to a sense of urgency in recording the history of the men in Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marines...the men with whom Ken served.  As they sat around the tables and reminisced, it reinforced what I instinctively knew…that theirs was also an incredible tale of courage and sacrifice for our country, and that we couldn’t afford to let the Khe Sanh veterans’ experience fade into oblivion. We needed to preserve it for their children and grandchildren, for American history, for mankind.

And so, that seed of adoration instilled in me by my mother, along with the men like Ken and his Bravo Company brothers who lived their story and were willing to tell it, have resulted in our new documentary film, “Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor.”  After viewing the film, a common response is, “I care about these men…I love them.”  Now, after forty-four years, their story is told and their service acknowledged.  It is a testimony to the human spirit.  It is the direct result of the power of adoration.

An avid birder, Betty Rodgers is also a filmmaker and photographer living in Boise, ID, with her husband Ken. Her images are exhibited in homes, businesses, and private collections around the west. She also publishes the Idaho Writer's Update, the state's primary resource for literary information and events.  For recent news of Betty:

To follow "Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor":

Friday, April 20, 2012

ALL 'LIT' UP LOST WEEKEND 6-PACK with MEG ZUCKER (Don't Hide It, Flaunt It)

Lost Weekend 6-Pack

2 Movies, 2 Books, 2 Drinks  

It's been a long week. I know, I know, yours too. I considered skipping the LOST WEEKEND 6-PACK segment for this week when a writer friend out in California had to pull out due to a family crisis. But, the 6-PACK seems to be a lot of folks' favorite feature here at ALL 'LIT' UP. And I knew I could use a lost weekend right about now myself. 


Once again, through the beautiful machinations of putting this blog together for Randy Becker at NexTv, I have come to know another writer who has opened a door in my heart, mind, and soul. Isn't that what writing and literature is supposed to do? Of course it is, so when I came across Meg's "Don't Hide it, Flaunt It" blog I found my heart in my throat, my mind reeling, and my soul smiling. It's been a challenging week... I'm sure for more than a few of us, but Meg knows a little something about challenges. But first, her LOST WEEKEND 6-PACK for ALL'LIT'UP. It's inspiring. She's inspiring. Enjoy ~ J. Goertel  


I am both grateful and laughing at the fact that James asked me to do a six-pack that includes two movie recommendations when for the past several months I’ve been encouraging my husband, John, to put his sharp, dry wit to use as a movie reviewer, which is something I’ve never tried. His goofy angle is always to ask, “Is this movie good for the Jews?” I’m always so amused to look for that answer now that I think I’ll steal the theme for this piece. It doesn’t hurt that I’m already in the mode because the Jewish Daily Forward is also publishing one of my articles shortly.  

Incendies. Last year we went out with friends to see this film on nothing more than the typical vague recommendation of someone we knew who said they heard it was great. That doesn’t really prepare one for such a powerful anti-war film that revolves around murder, rape, incest, torture and decades of hidden heartbreak. So emotionally gripping was this story and its surprising conclusion that we couldn’t stop analyzing it for days afterward. The plot is centered in Lebanon beginning with the civil war in the early 1980’s, with the Israeli invasion only as a backdrop, and concludes in present day, where the villains and victims of that era deliberately bury their memories and live together as best they can. Until they can’t. I can only apply the “Good for the Jews” analysis to the fact that I kind of waited on pins and needles for the scene where the Israelis would contribute to the mayhem and that moment never came (at least in this film).  

Tropic Thunder. On an equally serious note, uh, okay maybe not so much, this 2008 send up of the intelligence of leading actors, the way Hollywood makes its blockbusters and the studio machinations that drive the business had my Good for Jews/Bad for the Jews meter clicking like a metronome. But despite all the laughs, it was Tom Cruise’s portrayal of the overweight, balding, hairy-chested, loud, obnoxious, heartless, Jewish studio boss that was truly unforgettable.It pained me to be laughing so hard at something so blatantly bad for the Jews. 

On to the books. In 1999, before leaving on our honeymoon, John and I made a pact to read each other’s favorite novels on the beach. In hindsight, I won’t comment on the fact that we were so happy to go to beautiful Maui and….read. Yet, we took great pleasure in seeing each other so absorbed. John brought John Irving’s Cider House Rules for me. I gave him Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. I saw John’s humor and pathos in Cider House and the character of Homer Wells. John Irving’s writing touches incredibly real feelings and experiences but wraps them with such humor that I found myself laughing and nearly crying together. That’s a feat. In Pillars, John followed my love of history that extended even to the building of a cathedral in 12th Century England. Follett’s epic storytelling and historical research took us deep into a long gone culture. I loved the fact that John couldn’t put down this 976 pager, just as I couldn’t. 

What to drink? The “Avatar” Martini was a hit at my 2010 Oscar party and my friends still remind me how much they loved it. Vodka, vermouth, blue Curacao and lemon juice – colorful, delicious and strong enough to keep everyone happy so that no one noticed that I never saw Avatar. Also, my favorite pairing with sushi continues to be a Frogs Leap Sauvignon Blanc. Dry and crisp, it is perfect (even without the fish…). 

As I close, having just learned of Dick Clark’s recent passing, I will channel him and end this fun Six-Pack experience by not saying “good-bye,” but instead, “So long.”
Ever since Meg Zucker can remember, others have been turning to her for guidance. Meg was born with a rare condition known as ectrodactyly, leaving her with only four digits on her body and shortened forearms. Unlike others who have quietly overcome many stumbling blocks to reach their goals, Meg has navigated life’s challenges wearing her limitations on her sleeve, literally. Most recently, Meg has published in Parents Magazine(December 2011), worked with Scholastic on a Storyworks article about her family (October 2011) and was a guest on Today (NBC) in January 2012.

She also runs a weekly blog called, “Don’t Hide it, Flaunt It” (, and often speaks publically in support of her self-help message. Among other engagements, next month Meg will be delivering a corporate diversity presentation to employees of Viacom/MTV. Meg completed her undergraduate studies in History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and received her law degree from New York University. In addition to her literary activities, Meg is currently the Global Anti-Money Laundering Officer at a financial services firm in New York City. Meg lives in New Jersey with her husband, John, and their three children, two of whom also have ectrodactyly. Meg is in the process of writing a self-help book working with literary agent Lisa Leshne of the Leshne Agency.

For more information, feel free to visit:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ALL 'LIT' UP : From The Editor's Desk

This week there was no Pulitzer awarded for fiction. I am as disappointed as the rest of my writer friends, both established and those still toiling to have their voices heard. Most writers are of this latter category, but what is unique about the community of writers is their ability to root for one another. Writers are outraged by this year's non-Pulitzer for fiction, because we have a sense of community which allows us to put aside our own personal dreams and ambitions to champion other authors, poets, and publishers. The decision to not award a Pulitzer acts as a collective slap in the face to all those who dream to simply have their work read. Seeing writers around the country and around the world rally to the defense of the finalists, whose work was not deemed prize-worthy, is evidence that the written word is alive and well and reinforces the notion that we have always been our own best advocates. Writers are readers and in the end it is this audience we feel not sympathy for, but empathy with for this missed opportunity by the folks at Pulitzer to be with us, not against us. Each year brings a new variety of fiction which manages to cater to a wide audience with increasingly eclectic tastes and the message that not a single work of fiction was good enough to be acknowledged says more about the process and the people behind it than it does about the books that didn't win. The authors of those books won something more important than the acknowledgement of a few outsiders, they won the admiration of readers and writers everywhere who at a minimum may just be curious enough to seek out these three very different works ("Train Dreams" by Denis Johnson, "Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell, and "The Pale King" by David Foster Wallace) just to see what all the hub-bub was all about or not about in the case of the Pulitzer board which chose to simply not champion fiction for readers everywhere. Three very deserving writers lost out in this year the people at Pulitzer yawned rather than shouted for fiction writing and writers, but I believe the community of writers and readers, who are one in the same, won anyway. Read these three books and judge for yourself - that is the only measure of worth that matters.

"Train Dreams" by Denis Johnson

"Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell

"The Pale King" by David Foster Wallace

Friday, April 13, 2012

THE LOST WEEKND 6-PACK with Jen Tucker (The Day I Wore My Panties Inside Out)

Lost Weekend 6-Pack

2 Movies, 2 Books, 2 Drinks

I've got to come clean. Author Jen Tucker won my fiction debut, CARRY EACH HIS BURDEN, on a GOODREADS' giveaway. She also loved the book. Her review of it was gushing. She also interviewed me at her blog. But these are not the reasons why she's this week's LOST WEEKEND 6-PACK feature. It may in fact be simply that she has one of the most provocative book titles I have come across since looking for talent to provide content for All 'Lit' Up: THE DAY I WORE MY PANTIES INSIDE OUT. And I was worried about giving my mother my book? Truth is, she's a great writer with a fresh perspective and doing it all while raising three children with her husband. I'll toast to anyone who can write anything while balancing all that. Cheers ~ J. Goertel


I have to thank my buddy, James, for letting me spend time at All “Lit” Up today. He is really putting me to the test with my six pack choices. When he first asked me to stop over and list two drinks, two movies and two books to loose myself in over a weekend I thought it would be a snap. I lived in that moment of ease for about five seconds. Then I realized that my choices are dependent on a few things. First being my mood (Am I feeling zombie apocalypse or lovey dovey?). It also hinges upon my current location and its scenery (Am I lazily lounging in a hammock on the beach, or am I in an igloo investigating the mating habits of polar bears?). Finally, if Nostradamus made a prediction that should cause me worry and these are my last moments on earth, would that information impact my decision? Then I remembered that I don’t worry about freaky predictions, and almost all was well again with my soul.

So let’s pretend that this is the scene. We are pretending due to the fact that so far this scenario has never happened. My husband, Mike, our three kids and two golden retrievers have all gone off to parts unknown for a weekend away. I am alone. I am alone in my house. I am alone in my house and smiling ear to ear. I love them, and miss them, but right now it’s all about me.

Let’s go first with the beverages of choice. For my birthday in January of this year, Mike and I met friends in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. On our way to dine at Harry & Izzy’s, we walked by The Canterbury Hotel. Legends have stayed there. Its richly grained wooden walls hold many a secret, I’m sure. I grabbed Mike by the arm and suggested that we wander in, sitting belly up for a quick drink at the bar. Our bartender was young, and witty. I called him Mr. Sensitive Ponytail Guy. He made me a margarita that knocked my socks off. Rather than fill the glass with the usual sweet and sour mix, he used red grapefruit juice. Married with the salty rim, this beverage had me in heaven. I must consume this drink first. It is a need, not a want.

My other go-to thirst quencher would be my favorite $4.99 bottle of Sutter Home Pink Moscato. Hey, gasoline costs over $4.00 a gallon! We all have to make sacrifices, right? If I am being truthful, I cannot stomach paying a senseless amount of money for something that I will be drinking. The shelf life of wine is not long in my home.

I am shuffling through a few different movie choices in my head. Do I go with my favorite or do I branch out and watch that one film on my “must see” list? Decisions, decisions… I want to watch an oldie, but goody! I love the 1963 movie, Charade starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Regina is a little unhappy and as a result she is contemplating divorcing her husband. After her hubs is murdered, she realizes their savings is gone and tries to piece together what happened. This film keeps you guessing “whodunit” until the very end. Mystery and laughs abound in this silver screen gem. Did I mention again that it stars Cary Grant for gorgeousness sake? Let’s start the movie-a-thon with that classic.

I feel the need to go “old school” again for my second flick of the weekend. The 1986 film, About Last Night, stars Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. I think it one of the quintessential films created in the 80’s. It’s about romantic relationships, growing pains of entering adulthood, best friends who meddle in one another’s romances, and how the choices we make impact others. I have a slight adoration for the director, Edward Zwick, who was one of the creative forces behind the television series, Thirtysomething. I still carry a grudge that it went off the air. I am just being honest with you.

Oh to flip through the pages of a book undisturbed! I am so excited! It took me a few years to jump on the Hunger Games train, and I am now one of “them.” I have the first book under my belt and the others in the trilogy, Mocking Jay and Catching Fire, are perched on a shelf in my office, just waiting for us to spend quality time together. We will finally have that long awaited date! I have to find out what the future holds for Katniss! Please don’t tell me what happens, please?!?

I believe that my previous reading selection is really one book. It had a mishap at the printers so it morphed into two books on accident. It’s so crazy how things like that happen. That is my story and I am sticking to it. My second book selection is going to be 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Sounds uplifting, doesn’t it? This dream list of destinations has been waiting for me to read it since my mom bought me a copy for Christmas in 2003. I want to pour through the pages, looking at locations near and far. I am excited to see if there are any suggestions listed that I have already visited. It could give me an idea for an excursion with my husband, or a place to journey to as a family. Armed with my pencil and yellow highlighter, this book and I will have a marvelous time.

And just like that, my six pack weekend has come to a close. It was phenomenal while it lasted. Now if only I can make this happen in real time. Anyone want to hang out with a gorgeous bald man and his three kids for the weekend? They are all potty trained… Anyone?

Jen Tucker has never met a gluten free cupcake that she hasn’t liked. A former teacher and educator, she worked with children in school, hospital, and enrichment settings for many years. In her years at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, it was Jen’s job to bring the “hands on fun” into the visiting exhibitions in the galleries. She broke away from writing children’s books and thematic units last year with her memoir, The Day I Wore my Panties Inside Out, which was a semifinalist in the humor category in the 2011 Goodreads Book Awards. Jen’s newest tale, The Day I Lost my Shaker of Salt, will be released in 2012. She lives in West Lafayette, Indiana with her husband, Mike, and their three children.

Some days are better than others. Have you ever had one of those days where you felt like you just could not catch a break? Author Jen Tucker had one of those and shares every bit of it in her new memoir, The Day I Wore my Panties Inside Out.” Her tales of escapee pets, missing dry cleaning and her own Mommy Dearest moments will have you laughing and relating. Her fierce love of her son with special needs and reflections on her battle accepting her father’s “C WORD” diagnosis will have you in tears. Sprinkled with bits of reflection and fun, this is a story that will make you always double check to be sure no day will contain a wardrobe malfunction.

For more information feel free to visit the links below:

on amazon

Monday, April 9, 2012

ALL 'LIT' UP's ON THE ROAD AGAIN with JENNA BLUM (The Stormchasers)

JENNA BLUM is a force of nature. She's an international bestselling author and a stormchaser. She not only talks the talk, she walks the walk - following severe weather all over the country, but especially in the Midwest, while still finding time to write, not only her bestselling novels, THOSE WHO SAVE US and THE STORMCHASERS, but also for her own blog and as a guest postress at many others - such a grub street daily. She has even graced ALL 'LIT' UP - her OSCARS EDITION LOST WEEKEND 6-PACK was one of the most popular posts so far for me and NEXTV. I am always looking for the connections between writing, authors, books, and movies. So her "Writer On The Road: Holcomb" piece, with its touchstones of TRUMAN CAPOTE and IN COLD BLOOD, really struck a chord with me. These touchstones coupled with the fact that she is now adapting one of her own novels for the screen - THOSE WHO SAVE US, only further sweetened this writing/authors/books/movies connection. Good stuff here. Enjoy - J. Goertel


In the late fall of last year, I very gently broke my left thumb by catching it in a screen door handle. The door, yanked open by the Kansas wind, took my thumb with it. Too embarrassed to provide yet another anecdote proving my characteristic accident-proneness, I didn’t confess what had happened until weeks later when, at a routine physical, I realized it was probably pretty bad that I still couldn’t bend my thumb. The physician immediately referred me to a specialist for x-rays, so I found myself one gray November morning in a Wichita orthopedist’s office, discussing literature before breakfast.

“What is your profession,” the doctor, Jean-Louise, asked me as he manipulated my injured thumb, maybe attempting to assess what line of work would enable a woman to break a bone in a screen door.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Ah,” he said, nodding. He was a gentle man with a French accent and certificates attesting to his education in several European countries. ”What brings you to Kansas?”

“My partner lives here,” I said, “and I’m researching my third novel.”

“Love and work, good reasons,” said the doctor. “So you are going to be the first important novelist to come from Kansas?”

“No,” I said, a little indignantly. “There are lots of great writers from Kansas.”

The doctor looked up at me, light glinting off his glasses. ”Oui?” he said. “Who?”

“Well,” I said. “Frank L. Baum.” Then I remembered that the author of THE WIZARD OF OZ, practically a Pavlovian reaction whenever you mention Kansas, was born in Chittenango, NY.

“Um, Willa Cather?” I said.

In fact, Cather was born in Virginia, and I wasn’t all that sure she had written much about Kansas in the first place. I left the doctor’s office with an official diagnosis of broken thumb, a prescription for steroidal-level Tylenol, and an ongoing argument.

Nursing The Broken Thumb

Which I continued with the doctor in my head, the way you do. Of course, once in my Jeep, I recalled a whole list of favorite novelists from Kansas. Laura Moriarty, whose debut novel THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING grabbed me and didn’t let me go, whose second and third novels I greeted and devoured with joy, whose fourth novel THE CHAPERONE I was lucky enough to read in ARC form (and which will be out June 5 of this year). Scott Heim, whose MYSTERIOUS SKIN had been made into a movie and whose WE DISAPPEAR is one of my favorite books. I’d had the pleasure of meeting Scott at Grub Street Writers when we were both teaching there. And NYT bestseller Sara Paretsky, whose novel BLEEDING KANSAS I listened to on audio when, on the East Coast, I was lonesome for the Sunflower State’s panoramic skies… The list continued, and I reeled names and titles off in my head as I drove.

But, I realized, many novelists came to Kansas, wrote about Kansas, and left again. It’s one of the things I love about my new adopted state: it’s the American Istanbul, the crossroads between East & West. I thought of the pioneers coming here in their wagon trains, loading supplies at Independence, KS, then sealing their geographic fates and those of generations to follow by deciding to go north, on the Oregon Trail, or south, on the Santa Fe. I thought of the Ingalls family, whose most famous daughter Laura chronicled her family’s stint in Kansas in a book called LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE that inspired thousands of girls, myself included, to run around in sunbonnets and call their parents “Ma” and “Pa” even if they happened to come of age in 1970s New Jersey.

And I thought of perhaps the most famous novelist of all to come to Kansas for a story: Truman Capote.

You couldn’t grow up in my family and not love Truman Capote. My dad always said when he met my mom she was a dead ringer for Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” My sister and I both went through our Holly GoLightly phases (my sister with her dark glossy hair being more successful, though I was the first to break in the long black cigarette holder). We argued over which was the better book, MUSIC FOR CHAMELEONS or OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS. My favorite, though, was:

I loved–and love–IN COLD BLOOD. It’s the only work of nonfiction I read for pleasure. It’s the only nonfiction I reread every other year. It’s the book whose writing is almost as mythic as the story it contains: Truman Capote leaving the glitterati in New York City and coming out to tiny Holcomb, KS, dragging Harper Lee to play Ethel to his Lucy, charming his way into the ranks of Kansas law-enforcement who very likely had never seen the likes of a tiny fur-wearing man before–and eventually into the jail cells of the men who had murdered the Clutter family on their ranch, for a monetary prize that didn’t even turn out to be there, in cold blood.

Maybe Truman hadn’t come from Kansas, but like many writers before him, he had come to Kansas for inspirational succor. And he’d left with a tale so apocryphal and chillingly reported that it not only changed his life but invented a new genre: creative nonfiction.

How was it I had never been to Holcomb before?

Thanks to my alternate life, stormchasing (which I did to research my second novel, THE STORMCHASERS, but really, in that chicken-and-egg game familiar to many writers, I’d written a novel featuring stormchasing because I loved big weather in the first place), I knew the geography of Kansas better than I did Massachusetts. Back at the house, I looked up Holcomb on Google Maps.

It actually exists, this place Capote describes, in the opening lines of IN COLD BLOOD, this way: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’

It shouldn’t have surprised me that Holcomb is real, given that IN COLD BLOOD is, famously, a true story. But in the way you imagine things you love in books can’t be real simply because you’ve given them life in your own mind, I was surprised. And a little awed. And amazed that, as much and as often as I’d chased severe storms near Holcomb, I’d never been there. I’d skirted it on several occasions, and I knew that in clement weather, the land around Holcomb looks like this:

and in less clement weather, like this:

But I had never been to the town itself.

What better place to visit for Writer On The Road?

I would make a pilgrimage to Truman Capote. I would go to the town he had gone to. Stay where he’d stayed with Harper Lee. Visit the Clutter ranch. And write about what it was like 47 years later.

Thrilled by the prospect, I did my due diligence. I set aside days on the calendar. I charted the drive to Holcomb and back. I looked up hotels and discovered that, disappointingly, there were no longer any accommodations in Holcomb, so I’d have to stay in the nearest town, Garden City, whose motel reviews said things like, “Pretty good except for the smell of the meat0packing plant across the road.” I made reservations at the hotel farthest from the meat-packing plant. I reread IN COLD BLOOD. I watched the movie versions: “In Cold Blood,” “Capote” and “Infamous” (liking the latter Truman bio the best). I tried to convince my partner to be my Harper Lee, to no avail (he had to work).

I was all set to go–and then.

I remembered I have a deadline.

Not for this column, which after all I intended to write on the road. But for the screenplay based on my first novel, THOSE WHO SAVE US.I’d told the producer I’d hand the screenplay to her around the end of February. Which we both knew really meant the end of March and maybe a little bit into April–since I’ve never written a screenplay before, and it’s a kindness on my producer’s part that I’m being allowed to take a crack at this one, and the process is something like singing country western your whole life and waking up one morning to be told you have to sing an opera. It’s all music, but the forms and skills required are very different.

Running off to Holcomb to visit with the ghosts of Truman and the Clutters seemed a much easier prospect.

Once I realized this, I shelved my copy of IN COLD BLOOD, broke off winning my mental argument with Dr. Jean-Louise, and returned to the decidedly unglamorous work of hammering out architecture. I felt sure Truman would understand. After all, he had sacrificed many a gala and gossip session over Manhattan martinis to stay in a Holcomb hotel room and create things that looked like this:

Screenplay On A Wall

–although Truman’s notes were written on legal pads instead of on a wall.

And he had probably relinquished many a Kansas Manhattan with Holcombites, not to mention more running around the High Plains with “foxy” Alvin Dewey, the prosecutor on the Clutter case, to stay in and file sections of IN COLD BLOOD to The New Yorker, which originally serialized the book. Truman understood sacrifice. It’s probably why he looked like this:

Truman, Somber and Grave

All writers get this: sometimes, to get the work done, we have to give up what we want to do and instead write what we have to. Because our first obligation is to the story and the people in it.

For me, for now, Holcomb would have to remain what in my head it had been for decades: an idea.

Until next time, when my deadline will have been met.

Truman fans, please stay tuned.

JENNA BLUM is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of THOSE WHO SAVE US and THE STORMCHASERS. Jenna is also one of Oprah's Top Thirty Women Authors. Jenna writes writing and advice columns for Grub Street Writers in Boston, where she has taught fiction workshops for over 15 years, and she currently lives with photographer Jim Reed in Wichita, KS, where she's working on the screenplay for THOSE WHO SAVE US and her third novel. Please visit Jenna on Facebook, Twitter (@Jenna_Blum) and at

* this essay first appeared on grub street daily.