Interview with Helen Kay Polaski Review
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If compilation editor Helen Kay Polaski should decide to get out of the 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 big 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 books.

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 than me."

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.

As 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 yourself short."

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?"

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.

Beginning and seasoned writers may send an e-mail to therockingchairreader@yahoo.com or rockingchair@adamsmedia.com to request writers' guidelines.

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.

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