Sunday, September 29, 2019

'Tis the Season for Cozy Cottage Concerts!

How many people can you fit comfortably into your living or family room? Seven? Twenty? That's a perfect number for a comfy Cozy Cottage Concert! If you plan it around Christmas, it becomes a comfy Cozy Cottage Christmas Concert. Invite your favorite folks over for snacks and a storytelling performance by Sharon Kirk Clifton. Some restrictions apply. The stories must be a part of Sharon's regular repertoire, all of which are family-friendly, and the "cottage" must be smoke-free. Contact Sharon

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Introducing The Innkeeper's Wife

The Lord has nudged me for a couple of years to develop a Biblical character as a vehicle to tell His story. I've not been reluctant at all. Quite to the contrary, I've been eager, but I needed His direction. As He so often does, He let me ponder the matter, ruminate on it for a long time, before giving it to me as a fully-developed idea, and He presented it as He had other ideas--as I was coming awake one morning. The innkeeper's wife! There! I had it! The character and the program's title in one fell swoop. Thank You, Lord!

THE INNKEEPER'S WIFE is a one-woman storytelling drama in which I portray the wife of the innkeeper who nearly turned Joseph away when Miriam (Mary) was about to give birth to Yeshua Ha-Mashiach (Jesus) in Bethlehem. As the fictional Tabitha (pronounced ta BEE tha), I will have assisted in the birth. I also will have witnessed the amazing events surrounding this Baby's birth. He's no ordinary baby. I befriend Miriam and keep in touch with the family throughout Jesus' ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to His Father.

I welcome your prayers as I launch this project. May the finished drama glorify our Lord Jesus Christ, and may He direct each step along the way to the inn.

Because of Christ,

Monday, January 16, 2017


Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Some call it research, but I prefer to think of it as a cold-case investigation, at least on my part. I’m talking about all that goes into crafting a new historical program.
A year ago, Ellen Munds, executive director of Storytelling Arts of Indiana, contacted me about going to war. She wondered if I’d be interested in developing a program set in World War 1, about some Hoosiers who participated in some capacity in the Great War, the war to end all wars. SAI and the Indiana Historical Society would co-sponsor the commission.
I told her I would love to do it.
She gave me five names from which to choose, or I could include all of them. I know of storytellers who can tell five or six stories in a half hour. I can’t tell five or six jokes that quickly, so I knew I’d have to cut the list.
One stipulation was that a portion of the research was to be conducted at the Indiana History Center’s William H. Smith Memorial Library. Not a problem. For all of my historical programs, that was always the starting point.
The prospective list included three soldiers, one nurse, and one pro-active mother. After looking through the folders of the five candidates, I finally shortened it to three, settling on Col. Robert H. Tyndall, a well-seasoned warrior who later was elected mayor of Indianapolis; Ruth Wright Coppedge, a licensed RN and Red Cross volunteer who joined a cadre of medical professionals to staff a base hospital; and Alice Moore French, the mother who wanted to make sure those serving in the armed forces were well-fed.
The Smith library offers patrons the opportunity to hold in their clean, lotion-free hands primary sources—letters, diaries, journals, and notes—for close examination. When I was working on my Civil War program, I held a letter written by Gov. Oliver Morton to President Abraham Lincoln. Seeing that there was writing on the back, I flipped it over. President Lincoln had responded with a note! That was a thrilling moment.
Sometimes there’s a problem with original documents, however. Take Col. Tyndall’s correspondence, for example. His folders are full of letters, primarily to his wife, Dean. Unfortunately, his script was small, he had a habit of dividing longer words, and the ink had faded as the paper had yellowed over the century. Most of the letters were illegible. Those to his children, however, were fairly clear, the writing slightly larger. Using them to see how he formed certain letters, I was able to decipher a few more passages in the letters to Dean.
Ruth Wright didn’t keep a war diary. When she was in her 80s, she granted an interview to the Rochester Sentinel, her hometown newspaper. It was brief and sketchy, but it gave some insight into her life as a war nurse. Among her materials at Smith library was a book, A History of Base Hospital #32. I found the text for the book online, also. She is listed in it throughout, so I was able to track her assignments and transfers. How I wished I had some more personal insights of her, though. Writers and storytellers love salient details. That’s what makes a story pop alive.
Serendipity is a wonderful thing! Once I’d selected and photocopied documents I needed from the Smith library, I went searching online. What was the life of a WW1 Red Cross nurse like at a base hospital?
I stumbled across the diary of Maude Essig, director of nurses at Elkhart General Hospital. Essig and Wright had grown up within 60 miles of one another. Further, her experience matched Wright’s. They were billeted in the same places, had the same duties, and knew the same people. Essig went into much more detail, however. They would have known one another well. Ruth began to breathe, to have a pulse. She came alive to me!
Alice Moore French was easy. She wrote lots of letters, ones I could actually read, and she wrote a complete history of the Indiana War Mothers, the organization she founded at the request of Herbert Hoover. And someone had transcribed it!
A storyteller always gathers much more material than she’ll use. In preparing Over There and Back Again, I certainly did that. I studied the constructing of the trenches. (Did you know there were three different ways to go about it?) I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the gases used in the shells. I watched old newsreels. And, with the help of Google Street View, I toured Contrexeville, where Base Hospital #32 was located, and I hiked the Vosges Mountains. The cutting is painful, though. I had to amputate one episode from French’s story that I really wanted to include. Ouch!
The United States entered the war 100 years ago, but this is not a program about the war. Rather, Over There and Back Again shows the effect of the war on three patriotic Hoosiers.

And their effect on the war.

For ticket information, details, and direction, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Roses and Skunk Cabbages at the IFWC

Last Friday, I packed my suitcase full of hope and enthusiasm and headed out for the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference, hosted for the first time by Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana. This event  replaced the Indianapolis Christian Writers Conference, which was hosted by Wesleyan Church World Headquarters. Thankful that the AU English department had agreed to adopt the orphan conference, I thought this year's event would be similar to the Wesleyan event which I had so thoroughly enjoyed. It wasn't.
       To compare the two point for point would be tedious, so I will hit the highlights (the roses) and the lowlights (the skunk cabbages).

The Roses 
I rode to the conference with good friend and fellow writer Ramona K. Cecil. I always love traveling with her. We're both talkers, so the car is seldom quiet.
       Once there, my first stop was the restroom. As I came out, walking toward me down the hall was my critique partner of about six months. How sweet it was to be able to finally meet and talk with her after having communicated only through email.
       We arrived with time to spare, so we chatted with other conferees, including Gayle Cobb, a gifted illustrator who will graduate in 2015 from Indiana Wesleyan University with a degree in art; a high-schooler, who is enthusiastic about writing and whose aunt just happens to be Ramona's neighbor; and woman who is passionate about sharing Christ with the deaf through sign language and the written word.
       As with most conferences, deciding which workshops to attend is a challenge. I've learned to sit up front only when I especially want to hear a particular speaker or when I know without a doubt the topic will apply to me and my writing. Otherwise, I sit toward the back so I can quietly slip out to another workshop.
       Linda Glaz presented on writing dialogue. She discussed how conventions in writing have changed through the years and what current trends are. She showed conferees how to eliminate intrusive dialogue tags (he said, she whined, he growled, she purred--you get the idea), replacing them with action beats that enliven the scene and supply readers with more information about the characters.
       Lawrence Wilson conducted my other favorite workshop, "The Ministry of Christian Writing." He is a writer, a pastor, and a teacher of theology. He spoke of the apostle John as a gifted writer, pointing out the poetry in his prose. He also emphasized the importance of disciplining oneself to write everyday. Something. Anything. "One learns writing by writing," he said. And if we consider our writing to be ministry, we should write with the same passion and purpose of John: to make Christ known, whether we're writing prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction.
       Other conference roses included some wonderful worship music, an informative panel discussion by an assortment of publishing experts, and a delicious Saturday lunch. The conference sponsored a writing contest, and the winners from among nearly 70 entrants received their awards. Though I was not in the least surprised, I was thrilled when Ramona's name was called as winner of the fiction writing award. Congratulations, Ramona!
The Skunk Cabbages
I didn't expect to encounter negatives at the conference. Ever since I heard the conference was a go for this year, I've looked forward to it, inviting and encouraging other writers to attend. This new incarnation lacked so many features that endeared the Wesleyan event to conferees, however.
       My first portent of things awry came when we arrived. After driving through pouring rain to get there and enduring strong, icy winds to make it from the car to the building, no welcoming fragrance of fresh-brewed coffee greeted us. I wasn't the only writer asking where the coffee was. After all, writers and coffee go together like Star and bucks. (Corny, I know, but I couldn't resist.)
       The wide-eyed student assistant tilted her head slightly and flashed a practiced smile that didn't quite reach the tip of her nose, let alone her eyes. "Coffee? Well, we do have a coffee shop on campus." On campus? This can't be good. "You just go out of this building and cross over to the next building. There's a coffee shop down in the basement." If we wanted a steaming cup of coffee, we had to go back out into the cold, wind-driven rain. No way.
       Water, then. Where could we get a bottle of water? You guessed it. To procure a bottle of water also required a trip through the hurricane, and even the speakers weren't allowed to take such contraband as water into the auditorium.
       I had time to enjoy the worship music before hurrying off to a consultation with an agent. That area was upstairs overlooking the lobby. Since my asthma was acting up, I took the elevator. The doors to the gallery where the sit-downs were to take place were locked. That was fine. No need to panic. I was a bit early, as I always try to be for such meetings. When the time for my appointment arrived, however, and the doors were still solidly bolted, I panicked. I trekked down to the registration desk.
       Great. The same non-coffee-drinking girl was still on duty. I told her the situation.
       "I know. We had them unlocked last night, but they locked them again." She knew they were locked? "Come with me, and I'll unlock them for you."
    I knew I keep apace with her fast clip. "By the time I'd get there, my 15 minutes would be over. I just want you to please inform the agent that I did not stand her up. I was there in good time."
       The Wesleyan Church World Headquarters was a compact site for the ICWC. The new site at Anderson U. is widespread, involving three buildings--not at all convenient, especially in inclement weather. Nor is the campus very accessible. Some conferees who had difficulty getting around in the time allowed between workshops were further challenged by the steps leading up to the dining area. If there was a ramp into that building, it must have been on the opposite side from where we entered.
       None of the above oversights, problems, or inconveniences would keep me from attending again, however. Most were likely the result of inexperience, since this was AU's first time to host. Hopefully, the coffee pot would be on the greet conferees and presenters next time. If I were to go again, I would plan ahead, taking along a brown-bag lunch, as a smart friend of mine did, bottled water, and a bag large enough to conceal both in the auditorium. If I were planning a consultation, I'd schedule it for later in the day. And I would make sure I wore comfortable shoes with good traction--the latter, if rain or snow were in the forecast.
       The most egregious affront, however, came from two of the plenary session speakers. One tried to convince us that we should accept life choices that are clearly condemned in both the Old and New Testaments of God's Word. The other, calling herself a social activist, stood far left of center as she recounted her version of the Michael Brown shooting--stories she said she'd collected from "eyewitnesses." Her background in theater equipped her to present a persuasive plea, but not to be a crime-scene investigative reporter. It was a political rant, one inappropriate for a Christian writers' conference. That's not why I save to be able to go to such a gathering. My goal is to hone my craft, to learn from the presenters about the business of writing and publishing, and to fellowship with other Christ-following writers, agents, and editors.
       The choice of speakers is not the result of inexperience or inadequate planning. A lot of thought and research goes in to choosing speakers. Those choices are deliberate. Therefore, it is with much sadness that I must say I will not attend another IFWC at AU.
       NOTE: I give the conference three stars out of five for the sake of the lovely roses, memories I will treasure.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Audience of One

I do wish artists would sign their work legibly so proper credit could be given. If you know who painted this lovely, please let me know.

My first storytelling audience had only one member. Mama. Her vision weakened through the years, beginning when I was in elementary school. Cataracts dimmed her sight so that she couldn't read even with her tortoise-shell reading glasses.
(Though I certainly didn't want her to lose her vision, I didn't like the glasses. She looked so stern with them, especially if they slipped down her nose a bit. I made sure I behaved very well when she wore them. In truth, she probably was squinting to see even with them on.)
Once I learned to read--and that's another story for another day--I read voraciously, devouring books like Cookie Monster gobbles cookies, except that I let no morsels fall to the floor. "When you come to a street corner," Mama said almost daily, "stop, look, and listen before you cross." I usually remembered her warning, but as soon as I deemed it safe to cross, my nose would go back into the book I was reading.
Of course, I always signed up for the Bookworm Club at the local public library, smiling smugly when I noticed the "worm" had only 25 segments to it's body. Long before summer was over, I'd have 25 segment stickers carefully applied to the sheet that said Sharon Kay Kirk at the top. "May I fill two?" The librarian would give me her longsuffering look over her glasses and tell me she expected no less.
I read. Mama couldn't. I knew she missed reading, since she used to do it a lot. So I became a storyteller, reading a portion of the book, then telling it to her. I certainly didn't want her to get bored, so, like Jo in Little Women, I did the voices. At points of great excitement, I acted out the action. Mama was not an emotional woman. If the story was funny, she'd laugh. Perhaps at a poignant scene, she'd smile and nod. I don't recall that she ever shed a tear for a story. That was fine. I wept enough for both of us.
Getting through Black Beauty was a challenge, once I reached the scenes of his brutal mistreatment. I couldn't tell it without tears coursing down my cheeks.
"Oh, for Heaven's sake, Sharon," Mama said. "It's just a story."
I was never quite sure that was true. If a story was really good, if it stirred the reader at some deep level, didn't there, wouldn't there have to be, elements of truth? Wouldn't Anna Sewell have had to know of such cruelty--perhaps not to a horse named Black Beauty, but to another? It seemed to me that where there was no truth, there was no story.
Mama went with me through my various phases of reading. She heard the stories of every horse novel in the children's department of the library, every Bobbs-Merrill biography, every Bobbsey Twins adventure, and nearly every story in Andrew Lang's colored fairy books. Together we journeyed through childhood classics, including all of Louisa May Alcott's books, Heidi, Robin Hood, and favorite Bible stories. My storytelling was our main entertainments.
Gentle reader, you may ask, "Why didn't you just read the books to her. Why tell them?" The answer is simple. I had already read the books or book scenes. I didn't want to read them over. Storytelling was a more concise way to get through the books. And it was fun! Don't misunderstand. I love oral reading! My one daughter and her family are missionaries on the other side of the planet. When Skype is working well enough to allow it, I read to my grandtreasures for an hour or so. At such times, I have to call a stop when my voice begins to tire. We are a read-aloud family, even when it's long-distance. But it is great fun to hear a story well-told, also.
Thus, I am a writer and raconteur (storyteller).
Write on and read on!
Because of Christ,

Your turn: (Please leave a comment.) How important was reading in your home growing up? Did you ever including storytelling? Feel free to comment on any other aspect of this post.

Thank you for stopping by my blog.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Just Released!

Be among the first to read and review The Second Cellar!

How could Leah’s dad dump his only daughter with an aunt she doesn’t even know—who lives in rural Indiana, of all places? Ugh! Aunt Becky has spent her life running all over Africa and Asia on some kind of a secretive mission. But what?
Things look up when Leah discovers a hidden ladder leading from a window seat in auntie’s old house to a second cellar. At the bottom it’s 1860. The people living in the house, the Newcombs, operate a station on the Underground Railroad. AWESOME! She thinks.
Leah finds a friend in Johannah Newcomb, but then stumbles on a story that will shatter Johannah’s world. Should Leah tell her friend and perhaps save the girl’s father from being killed by a gang of slave hunters? Would that alter history? Could history be altered? Should it be?
And what about God? Can He help? He sure didn’t do anything to save Leah’s mom when a drunken teenage driver killed her in a car crash.
After a neighbor boy, Trevor, reveals that he knows about the ladder and the Newcombs, he and Leah make a pact of secrecy and join in the risky business of helping runaway slaves.
Speaking of secrets, what is Aunt Becky hiding that could change Leah’s life forever? How does auntie’s mission connect with the Newcombs’ good work a century and a half ago?
* * *
The idea for The Second Cellar sprang from one of my historical first-person interpretive storytelling program, Abigail Gray: Living Under the Drinking Gourd, in which I tell the true accounts of the Underground Railroad in the Hoosier state and beyondThe stories of the freedom seekers and those who assisted them fascinate me. Both the program and the book are set in southeastern Indiana, specifically the Jefferson County area. The book is a tween (8-13 years of age) historical fantasy involving time travel.
* * *
Like many authors, I use Pinterest to collect images related to my works in progress (WIPs). Naturally, I have a board dedicated to The Second Cellar. When I began thinking about a cover for the book, I initially planned to use the house that is the model for Aunt Becky's home, a c. 1840s Federal-style brick house where some friends live. But as I perused TSC's Pinterest board, I came across this wonderful photo of the primitive ladder. Perfect! Problem: I had no idea as to the source of the shot. The picture wasn't connected to a link. I couldn't use it with the photographer's permission, so I went searching. For days I combed through photo sites in a fruitless quest. It began to look like I wouldn't be able to use the picture that so captured my image of the ladder in the book. Then I thought to do what I should have done three days before: I prayed. Within three minutes, the Lord answered that plea! When I saw it among so many others, I stared at it for a moment to take it in. And it was connected to a link to the photographer's site--where he had a contact email posted! I wrote asking permission to use the image. Two days later, he responded favorably. Greg Nyquist, thank you so much for your gracious permission. Gaze in amazement at more of his work HERE.

Just Released!

Be among the first to read and review my newest novel!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What's a "SnipTweet"?

A SnipTweet is a line or idea from a book. An author or reviewer might post a SnipTweet to give readers a provocative glimpse between the book's covers. It usually includes a link to the excerpted book.