Once upon a time, in 1978, we moved to Seymour. I had a novel half written. This first novel began in the late night hours when I started typing it on an ancient Underwood typewriter. Both the printed pages and the typewriter moved north with me.
Prior to the move, though, we lived Illinois, where I knew no other writers. Not until I was settled in our new home did I find any. Back then, our local librarian was Vi Kollath. She was a quiet treasure in the community.
Vi kept an eye out for patrons who were checking out books on writing, with me amongst them. She told all her literary friends to come to the library one evening. That night was the beginning of The Quill Club and some very special friendships.
We started with monthly meetings where we shared our stories, poems and books and learned about writing from each other.
In the 80s, four of us began writing picture books together, creating a pen name that would incorporate all of our names into one. After much debate, we ended up with Lee S. Suthermoore — that's Lee for Lee Bock, S. for Susan Manzke, Suther for Colleen Sutherland and Moore for Bettyann Moore.
All of us had different writing styles and talents, but the differences didn't matter. We all shared a silly sense of humor. That humor charged our writing, and together we wrote as one.
Writing in a group is not the same as writing alone. When one person came up with an idea, we tossed it around, adding and changing it until the origin was hard to find. When looking at our stories after all these years, I can only remember one name I know I contributed to our story, that being Kyoko. I know this for sure because we had a Japanese girl in a story, and she needed a name. My aunt was Japanese, and her name was Kyoko before she changed it to Clara when she moved to the States.
Our writing evenings and weekends together were productive in many ways. One, we got out of the house and away from children and housework. Two, we learned a lot about collaborating. Three, we laughed a lot.
Somewhere along the way, our writing group came up with a character we all agreed on. His name was/is Yasgood Tinkoff. Our invented boy lived in a big city. He had a Mama, a little brother and all kinds of interesting neighbors.
Thinking back to the origin of Yasgood is kind of difficult for me. Many decades have passed since we four began creating him. In the last few years, two of us — Lee Bock and Colleen Sutherland — have passed away. That leaves only Betty (in Colorado) and me here in Seymour.
Thank goodness for the Internet. Betty and I reconnected and resurrected Yasgood. The original typed manuscripts had ended up with Betty, and together we edited our favorite story one last time. Eventually, Betty's friend, illustrator Annissa D. Wood, brought Yasgood to life.
This all took time, especially with creation of the artwork, but after all that, Yasgood's Neighborhood Countdown is now a real hold-in-your-hand book (it's also on Kindle).
The book in a nutshell: Yasgood is all excited about going to kindergarten until he walks around his neighborhood. His international neighbors count in German, Polish, Spanish, Japanese and even Swahili. Poor Yasgood is confused and afraid that he doesn't know how to count. 'I'm not going to school,' he declares. We added a glossary and pronunciation guide at the back of the book for the different languages.
If you'd like this picture book, I have a few, and there are a couple at Sissy's in Seymour. You may also check it out at the Muehl Public Library. Others can be bought at Amazon.com.
Once upon a time, there were four friends who wrote stories together. Though two of the friends have faded away, they live on in us and in Yasgood.
Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165; Sunnybook@aol.com; www.SusanManzke.net