060918 tracy and tyler

Owner of Meadowlark Books, a local publishing house, Tracy Million Simmons (right) attends a book launch by poet Tyler Robert Sheldon at Ellen Plumb's City Bookstore May 26.

The life of Tracy Million Simmons has been one spent in writing.

The owner of Meadowlark Books has created everything from fiction to essays to technical writing.

When she was about 6 years old, she decided she wanted to write a book. She wrote and illustrated it on notebook paper, stapled it, taped it and considered herself as good as published.

Later, Simmons wrote for the yearbook and newspaper in high school and junior high. It was in yearbooks where she came to realize how much she enjoyed the publishing side of the business — putting together the product itself.

In college, though she worked for the newspaper at the University of Kansas, she chose a major other than writing or journalism.

“I think I probably started writing a novel back in college,” Simmons said.

But she found the task too daunting.

As much as she enjoyed writing, Simmons didn’t picture herself doing it for a career. She imagined herself writing when she retired or in her spare time, but never full-time. However, she kept ending up on career paths that led to writing or publishing.

“All my jobs always ended up either writing or doing book-type work, newsletters, that type of thing,” she said.

Her first real job after she graduated from KU had Simmons writing for Orbis International.

“They had a flying eye hospital,” she recalls. “They traveled around and did surgeries on this plane, training doctors in third world countries to do, basically sight-saving surgeries.”

Simmons revised the nonprofit’s aircraft maintenance manual and later worked on newsletters.

After her children were born, she began writing for the pure pleasure of it, which led to freelancing for extra income — something she did for 15 years — where she worked for all kinds of people, from small publishers to dentists.

“I guess it’s always been writing,” she said. “Writing or editing.”

For Simmons, writing is largely about exploring and learning something new, so taking on new tasks — such as writing content for websites back when the internet was still relatively new — wasn’t something at which she balked.

“Writing for me has always been a way of connecting with people, whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction,” Simmons said. But it’s also kind of been my way of exploring the world.”

This is one of her great strengths as an author she believes — her ability to connect with others through writing and use it to sort out her own thoughts.

“I make sense of me, I make sense of the things I encounter,” Simmons said.

Despite her love of the written word, Simmons has challenges to overcome, such as a tendency to be too busy. She said she often overcommits and, because of this, spends less time writing. Simmons considers “distractibility” her biggest weakness.

“I tend to say yes to other people before I say yes to me,” she said.

Simmons has a local group of writers with whom she meets. She said they keep her on task, so to speak.

“If you’re interested in writing, I think having other people who are writing in your life is really important because they push you — they keep you focused and they push you to keep working on whatever it is you’re working on,” she said.

She’s a member of the Kansas Authors Club and has been for almost 20 years, something that has been good for her and helped her meet people around the state. This and her experience working with publishers has helped her become a publisher with her own company — Meadowlark Books.

The local publishing company was born when she and two other authors — Kevin Rabas and Mike Graves — had a book they wished to put into print and couldn’t find a publisher for it with whom they wanted to work.

So they printed it themselves.

The book, called “Green Bike,” is still available through Simmons’ company, along with many other works Meadowlark has published.

The company has grown, adding eight books to its catalog last year. It has about 13 total with four more scheduled to come out this year. She said she can’t offer advances or anything like that, but the company splits its profits with authors.

The company publishes books of all kinds — poetry, fiction, nonfiction — with midwestern themes. Simmons said she enjoys working with the authors and forming relationships with them.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve done with Meadowlark,” Simmons said . “My friend, Cheryl Unruh, she compared it the other day to a midwife, like you’re kind of helping birth these book babies or something, And it does kind of feel like that.”

Simmons has published two books of her own, “Tiger Hunting” and “A Life in Progress and Other Short Stories.”

These books and others printed by Meadowlark can be bought at Ellen Plumb’s City Bookstore or directly from the company’s website at www.meadowlark-books.com.

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