If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

WWK's May interviews will be: 5/2--indie author Bobbi Holmes, 5/9--TG Wolff (aka--Anita Devito), 5/16--Chocolate Bonbon author Dorothy St. James, 5/23--Lida Sideris, 5/30--Food Lovers' Village (and multiple Agatha winner) Leslie Budwitz. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our May Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 5/5--John Carenen, 5/12--Judy Penz Sheluk, 5/19--Margaret S. Hamilton, 5/26--Kait Carson.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Tina Whittle's sixth Tai Randolph mystery, Necessary Ends, debuts on April 3, 2018. Look for it here. Tina was nominated for a Derringer Award for her novelette, "Trouble Like A Freight Train Coming." We're all crossing our fingers for her.

James M. Jackson's Empty Promises, the next in the Seamus McCree mystery series (5th), will be available on April 3, 2018. Purchase links are here.

Dark Sister, a poetry collection, is Linda Rodriguez's tenth published book. It's available for sale here:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with the authors in this anthology on 4/14! Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in August, 2018.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sunflower Season in the Sunflower State

Cultivated beauties. Photo by Burt Morey. Used with permission.

 by Julie Tollefson

It’s sunflower season in Kansas, the Sunflower State, and oh my do those yellow flowers make people happy.

Last weekend, a sunflower field a couple miles from my house drew such a massive crowd that law enforcement officials advised the owners to shut it down at midday. (Don’t ask me how one shuts down a field on a public road—that’s a mystery.) At one point, traffic heading to the field was reportedly backed up more than five miles—hundreds of cars, maybe? I actually tried to calculate something approaching an answer. To start, I imagined everyone drove a large-ish car at 16.5 feet long and allowed a generous 10 feet between them (26.5 feet total). Divide 26,400 feet (5,280 feet per mile times 5 miles) by 26.5.  Answer? A thousand cars sat on that highway, occupants eager to get a selfie in the sunflower field. Whew! That’s a lot of math for a writer.

My husband and I stayed out of the way—way out of the way. Instead, we spent the day exploring the backroads of another county seventy-five miles to the west, where we had the highways and the prairie and the state flower—the wild native Helianthus—all to ourselves.

Wild sunflower at sunrise, western Kansas.
I’m not immune to the beauty of the cultivated sunflowers, but my heart lies with the tough little flowers that doggedly take root in the ditches and field edges and stream banks across the state.  The state flower, once considered a noxious weed, thrives wherever it finds a bit of soil. It reaches for the sun and dances in the legendary Kansas wind. No cultivation, no coddling necessary.

I’m sure there’s a lesson in the tale of two sunflowers.

The cultivated sunflower has an easy life, a gorgeous home among its brethren with all the fertilizer and water it could want. It’s the society matron, straight-backed and proper. It’s the son who follows his grandfather, father, and brothers into the family investment business. It’s beautiful and privileged and wants for nothing. 


Except the society matron hides a dark secret, her perfect hair and makeup nothing more than a mask for her insecurities. The son yearns to ditch the family business and study art history.

The wild ones.
Then there’s the wild side, scraping for purchase in a harsh land. The PI who operates at the edge of the law. The homesteaders who, heeding Horace Greeley’s advice to “Go west, young man,” leave the comforts of New York to eke out an existence on 160 treeless acres of the High Plains. To them, life within the confines of the field looks easy, stress-free, but would they sacrifice freedom for security?

The best stories have room for both. Indeed, these tensions—between the face our character shows the world and the one she sees in the mirror, between the desire to break away from the strictures of community or to break in to the life of luxury—are the foundation of the best best stories.

But enough of lessons from the secret lives of sunflowers. This week, I just want to enjoy the beauty of late summer and the yellow flowers of all shapes and sizes that inspire people to get outside, experience fresh air and sunshine, and feel joy in nature.

A couple of publication notes:
  • I imagine all states have resources to help residents and visitors enjoy the roads less traveled. Here, we have the Byways of Kansas guide. A new version came out this summer, and I had the pleasure of writing about two of our byways: The Western Vistas Historic Byway that cuts through the High Plains of western Kansas (near and dear to my heart) and the newly designated Land and Sky Scenic Byway in far northwest Kansas, which travels through the truly stunning Arikaree Breaks.
  • My newest piece for Lawrence Magazine takes a look at the cool story of how a local high school student’s turn with a metal detector led to the first physical evidence of what is likely the second largest ancient city in the United States.


Jim Jackson said...


I usually have one or two small sunflowers in my yard that are the result of bird food gone wild. And I'd like to point out one additional difference between the cultivated fields and the wild ones. The straight-backed ladies are cut down for their seeds or harvested for oil. The wild ones may lose their seeds to birds as well, but they are individually much more likely to have a few progeny to carry on the family line.

~ Jim

Julie Tollefson said...

True, Jim. One of my favorite fall/winter things is watching little birds balance on the wild seed heads. Often, the stems bend and sway under their weight. Must make plucking dinner from the flower quite the roller coaster adventure!

KM Rockwood said...

I'm fortunate to live near a few nature preserves and natural areas.

The Appalachian trail, which is good for short excursions as well as the through-hikes,passes a few miles away.

A restored upland wetland, Happel's Meadow (it used to be called Bear Swamp) is maintained as a wetland on the summit of a mountain, and it has some interesting plants and flowers growing there.

Margaret Turkevich said...

Our local Gorman Farm in Cincinnati has glorious fields of sunflowers which are rotated every year, perhaps because the sunflowers deplete the nutrients from the soil?

Kath said...

The wild sunflowers planted by the birds rarely get to a very big size. Seems squirrels or maybe skunks delight in eating them, cutting down their heads. What a perfect flower to provide such beauty and to sustain wildlife!

Kait said...

They are gorgeous! We planted sunflowers along the edges of our vegetable garden one year. Heard they helped cut down on some pest or another because they attract birds who eat the pests. I don't know if that was true, but I loved going out to the garden at various times and seeing all the sunflower heads pointed in the same direction!

Great post, gorgeous pictures!

Dena Tollefson said...

Julie- Your way with words is so poetic and takes me to a visual I would not normally see. I love this about your work. This idea of a sunflower as a society matron is especially compelling! Awesome, Julie!

Julie Tollefson said...

KM - You are fortunate! I would love to see the wetlands on the mountaintop. Adding it to my "some day" list!

Margaret - The fields really are impressive. Other crops require rotation for best results, so maybe that's the case with Gorman Farm, too.

Julie Tollefson said...

Kath - We have such an abundance of wild sunflowers that there seems to be enough to go around for both wildlife and humans. Perfect!

Kait - Thanks! I don't know whether they help with pests, but they are beautiful.

Julie Tollefson said...

Aww, thanks, Dena! You know, I can say the same thing about your paintings. They bring out a kind of underlying strength in nature, wild at times, cultured at others, always beautiful.

Warren Bull said...

What fun. Can I expect the secret lives of Sunflowers in a publication near me?

Julie Tollefson said...

Ha ha! Warren - Another gem for the (overflowing) idea file.

Shari Randall said...

Absolutely glorious! Thank you for sharing, Julie.