Topeka Library book project unites local writers

Ryan Thompson

Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library released “Twisting Topeka,” their community novel for 2016, Sept. 25.

TSCPL hosts the Community Novel Project each year. Librarians Lissa Staley and Miranda Ericsson organized the project.

“Community Novel is a year long project at the library to introduce skills-based programing to writers so that we can do a hands on project together to create, write, edit, publish and market a book from start to finish as a way to help everyone learn those skills,” Staley said.

The project started in January and ended in September. During that time, the library hosted a series of education programs open to all, even those not participating in the project.

In the past, writers took turns writing one chapter for the novel. This year, the project took a different approach and participants made a collection of short stories. The premise of speculative fiction and alternate history in Topeka tied all of the stories together.

Staley and Ericsson required all contributors to provide feedback on three other stories in the collection.

“The requirements [for the Community Novel Project] are more based along participation to make sure you’re participating collaboratively,” Staley said. “We work hard to make it not just an anthology, but be more interactive than that.”

Some of the writers shared their experience participating in the Community Novel Project.

“I am very much an amature at all of this, so Community Novel Project was really attractive to me because there were deadlines set,” said Jamie Crispin, Community Novel participant. “Each month there was a workshop, so if I needed education I could attend. I knew throughout the whole project what needed to be done and when.”

Crispin joined the project without any background in creative writing.

“I wanted to start something and finish it and see it go through all those phases of life,” Crispin said. “That’s what the Community Novel Project did for me. I don’t think I would have a short story right now, or the short story wouldn’t be at the level that it is if I hadn’t gone through this process. I am way more confident.”

Accomplished writers participated as well. Duane Herrmann published for the first time while in high school in 1969 and has continued to write since.

“I haven’t stopped because I never wanted to stop,” Herrmann said. “I wanted to write. It’s all I ever wanted since I was a little kid.”

Even with decades of experience, the project provided a challenge.

“I’ve written straight fiction and I’ve written straight history, but to take what I knew happened and then change it in believable ways was difficult because you had everything set and you had to keep people in their own character and these were real people,” Herrmann said. “The struggle was where do I leave the real history and go into fiction?”

He was also unused to the collaborative side of things.

“[Trading feedback] was hard. It forced more interaction.”

“Twisting Topeka” is available for purchase at TSCPL.

The premise meeting for the 2017 Community Novel Project is scheduled for Jan. 28 in the Marvin Auditorium of TSCPL. Anyone in the area can participate in the project.

“Next year will be a collection of creative nonfiction,” Staley said. “We don’t know more about next year’s project yet because we [are waiting] for the premise meeting for community members to actually decide through consensus what kind of topic they think would work well.”

More information about the Community Novel Project and getting involved can be found at