Archive for Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Author shares tales with TJHS students

April 9, 2003

American history class became all the more interesting when Don Coldsmith walked in the door.

Coldsmith, a Kansas author and historian who lives in Emporia, recently talked to eighth-graders in Cathy Harrell's classroom at Tonganoxie Junior High School. Among the students hearing him speak was one familiar face -- Coldsmith's grandson, Zach Young.

Students intently listened to Coldsmith, and then asked him questions about history, and about how they, too, could become writers.

For Coldsmith, who is 77, the journey to writing novels was prefaced by a career in medicine.

"I didn't start writing until pretty late in the game," said Coldsmith, whose first novel was published in 1980.

But even while running a medical practice in Emporia, Coldsmith worked at his writing long before that. In the 1960s, on his days off, Coldsmith wrote articles for horse magazines. The family was raising horses, so that seemed like a natural.

In 1971, he began writing a weekly newspaper column, "Horsin' Around," which is published in about a dozen midwest weekly newspapers.

His columns have focused on raising children in the country, humor and nostalgia.

His first novel, which was based on stories his grandfather had told him about homesteading on the prairie, never sold, although he used some of the material in subsequent novels.

"My first published novel was set in 1542 in the Kansas Flint Hills," Coldsmith said. "It was about a lost Spaniard who couldn't get home when Coronado turned around and went back."

The books were so popular that his editors wanted a sequel -- again and again.

"That's about 32 years ago and we're still following the descendants of my lost Spaniard," Coldsmith said.

He's also written various other historical novels, all set in the Great Plains.

Writing his novels in longhand, with a full-time secretary to type, Coldsmith is a prolific writer. He writes about four hours a day.

"We turn out about one-fourth of a million words a year of manuscript," Coldsmith said. "I write in longhand, give it to her, she processes it through the computer and hands it back to me to make changes."

Although Coldsmith has lived 40 years in Emporia where he practiced medicine from 1959 to 1991, he also has early ties to Tonganoxie.

For one year in the 1950s, while he was applying to medical school and needed a part-time job and a place to live, Coldsmith served as pastor at the Tonganoxie Congregational Church. He and his wife, Edna, and their first child lived in the parsonage.

Today, his ties continue. The Coldsmith's daughter, Glenna Young, and her children, Heather and Zach, live in Tonganoxie.

Coldsmith said he enjoys talking to school classes, especially when the students want to know more.

"They were interested," Coldsmith said of the Tonganoxie eighth-graders. "They were just getting ready to study the Civil War, and of course there are always the couple of kids who are interested in writing."

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