If compilation editor Helen Kay Polaski should decide to get out of
writing/publishing business altogether, she should consider becoming a job coach.
"Everything in the world can be boiled down to 'life is short,'" says Helen during a
recent interview. "Write the story. What are you waiting for? Have the party. Eat the
pie. Even if we're 95, life is short." |
After hanging up the
phone, I wanted to run to my computer, pull up every single half-baked article or idea
that's been sitting there for the past six months, hit send, and e-mail all magazine
editors I could think of. The cliché Helen referred to is so worn out that its tread
particles lie on the roadside, but what Helen says makes sense. Her compelling
sensitivity to understanding this one truism has brought her where she is today, heading
up the Rocking Chair Reader anthology series at Adams Media.
She comes from a family of 16 children, (Helen's number 7) growing up in Metz,
Michigan, a small town in the upper portion of the Lower Peninsula. Their family did
everything together. Mother Stella stayed home with the children as long as she could
financially, and their father was an animal trapper who sold furs for family income.
"At that time, you got forty dollars for a mink, and that was in
demand. He still does that [trap for a living]."
In their tiny,
one bathroom house, the four boys slept downstairs in one bedroom while the girls slept
upstairs. While a family with three children or less is the norm these days, Helen says,
"I can't stress enough how wonderful it was growing up with a big family. We didn't
have anything, but we had each other."
Helen was on the newspaper staff
in her senior year in high school. She later was hired as a reporter/photographer for her
local newspaper after submitting Brownie troop stories. Over time, Helen was a journalist
for several local newspapers, including the Ann Arbor News and became editor at
the Milan News-Leader.
After seventeen years, Helen had enough and
wanted to do something
else with her writing so she began writing short stories, and
to her delight was getting published in anthologies such as Crumbs in the Keyboard
and Nudges From God.
Eventually she came up with her own anthology
series idea, and put out a call for submission on her newly developed Web site. She
published her first anthology, Forget Me Knots: From the Front Porch
(Obadiah Press) in 2002. This anthology of 47 international childhood stories is
different because all of the stories entail a front porch theme.
Through a series of circumstances ("Everything happens for a reason," states
Helen), it was suggested she forward her next book idea, Forget Me Knots:
Beyond the Garden Gate to Gary Krebs, publishing director for Adams Media (Avon,
MA), an independent publisher particularly well-known for its leading book series
including The Cup of Comfort, Knock 'em Dead, and The Everything
To Helen's surprise, Gary contacted her four days later, asking
if she would consider putting her anthology book series aside and compile their
Rocking Chair Reader anthology. Helen agreed, and did all the hard work this
endeavour requires: formulating the submission guidelines, collecting and editing
stories, and working closely with each author.
Each story in the
Rocking Chair Reader series brings the reader to a special place - small town
Americana, and Helen sees to it that each writer is treated as, well, a writer - an
unusual feat in today's highly competitive, crème-de-la-crème fight into the New York
Times bestseller charts.
It's her personal touch and
remarkable insight that makes Helen such an unusual editor. Helen says, "Everybody's got
a story to tell. Everybody's got a tearjerker. Everybody has a humorous story. You just
have to be able to listen, to be able to hear the story and get through the rough of the
muck...to be able to read between the lines and not hurt feelings, which is hard."
She even calls her writers. Says Helen, "You need to make it personal; I
call a lot of my authors and talk to them. I've prayed with some of my authors - we get
to know each other."
When it comes to working with a storyteller
for an anthology, Helen gently prods writers. And because of this, she finds she gets
more from them. "We hold back. We all do it. We hold back because we think someone's
going to ridicule or laugh." She adds, "Somebody just needs to care enough to help you
and pull it out sometimes."
There are other times when she receives a
frantic e-mail or phone call from a writer who's not ready to have their story
published, and Helen will allow them to keep it. "I want them to love it in the book more
Helen's deadlines are very tight. For example, this
August guidelines were initially posted for their next series, and by mid-November Helen
was putting together the final contracts, author bios, and profiles.
much as Helen loves writing herself, right now she doesn't have time outside work for
that. Fortunately, her own book ideas haven't quite faded into the background. "I want
to have 100 books in my lifetime, whether it's editing or writing."
"I always say, 'Think big.' Shoot for the moon, land on a star, but don't sell
Helen loves the work she's doing at Adams Media
and can't say enough about her boss, Gary Krebs, editor Kate Epstein, and the rest of
the staff. "I really did fall into a warm apple pie with a little ice-cream on the side,"
says Helen about her being hired. "It's delicious. And anytime I can help someone reach
other people through their stories, my goodness, what more can you ask for? What more is
There's more work for Helen at Adams Media. The first
Rocking Chair Reader anthology, Coming Home, is available for purchase
through Adams Media www.adamsmedia.com or www.amazon.com. Their second book, Memories
From the Attic, will be available March 2005.
Helen just finished her
work with Family Gatherings and there is a call for submissions on their fourth
installment, Something Old, Something New.
seasoned writers may send an e-mail to email@example.com or
firstname.lastname@example.org to request
Helen sees people as being "loosely
packed." By that she means, "Life is short, and there's so much more we can pack in.
Make the most of it. " Here's to stuffing ourselves in 2005.