Marlis Manley

A former college instructor of all forms of written communication, Marlis Manley Broadhead has award-winning short stories and poems in literary magazines—including Kansas Quarterly, Mikrokosmos, Crosscurrents, and Kansas Women Writers. Her debut novel, TROPHY GIRL, published by Black Rose Writing last year, was awarded the William Faulkner second prize in 2018.

Tell me about your latest book and what inspired you to write/create it?

Trophy Girl, my debut novel, is historical fiction because it takes place in 1957. It’s inspired by my bio- and step-fathers’ car-racing careers. The setting is the Midwest dirt-track circuit the week leading up to the first grand national championship. Fun fact: My step father won that one, plus the one the following year and again in 1958.

I spent years of weekends in grandstands eating a lot of track dust. Sometimes we’d go to three races in three towns in one weekend. When I visited my bio father, I cheered him on in his sporty Deutsche-Bonnet, which he raced with the Sports Car Club of America (far less dust but harder to keep track of the cars). My memories of being a fan and a long shelf of scrapbooks took care of most of the research, but I still relied on subject-matter experts for the mechanical particulars.

Share your personal publishing story. Did you choose self or traditional? How did you go from book manuscript draft to finished book available for purchase?

Let me preface by saying I started the novel 32 years before it was published. When I first published, there was no Internet, and there was no self-publishing as we know it today, so I shopped the manuscript to agents/large publishing houses briefly and then put it away while I wrote other things—poems, short stories, and another novel. I was teaching all forms of written communication excluding braille during those years. And of course I kept editing, until I finally got Trophy Girl to where I felt it was time to shop it again.

By then, self-publishing was both acceptable and profitable, but still a foreign notion to me. An author in a novelists’ editing group I’m a member of suggested I try a smaller publisher he had worked with—Black Rose Writing. They took it on and presto, I had a proof to deal with—several, actually, as I worked out the typos and glitches. Their designer did a great job capturing both the subject matter as well as the sense of alienation and longing (a 14-year-old orphan girl runs away looking for the champion driver she believes is her real father). They handled the printing and offered the book for sale and the printer handled distribution to the usual suspects—Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. It went to hardcover during the second year of availability. I’ve also sold copies at readings and signings—actually launching it at the 65th national championship in Hutchinson, KS, next to the souvenir and t-shirt concession.

Describe your writing routine. How many hours a day/days a week do you write?

I always dread this question. In reality, I’m always writing, but not always at the computer or taking notes. I’m the poster girl for how NOT to lead a writing life. Manic when it’s going well, depressed when I get off track. My whole life, I’ve been looking for that magical place to write—a garret in Paris, a cabin in the Northern California woods, a loft in Chicago, none of which came to fruition, although I’ve been all those places. I’m now tucked into a corner of a sunroom with 11 windows on a modest horse ranch in Kansas—a pretty good place to land, actually. But recently I’ve had an epiphany—the writing space I need to settle into is always only in my own head, which needs to be no more than an arm’s length from a computer or pen and paper.

How do you name your characters (if fiction or names changed for nonfiction)?

My racing champion fathers were both named Frank, as was my car racing Uncle, so of course that’s the name of my key male character. I chose Maggie for the late 30s aunt and Sandy for the teenage girl because they were popular in the story’s time period. I sprinkled in some actual drivers’ names from the old days for fun, which were marvelous—such as Buddy Quick, Charlie Lutkie, and Clark Racer—and named a car garage after a long-time racing family.

What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

Getting my head back into my mental writing space after traipsing through the mishmash of marketing. I used to be able to sit down and start writing when I hit the chair, sometimes reviewing and editing and other times moving the stories along. Now it feels like I’m dog-paddling sideways through a rip tide to get back to the story.

How do you come up with your illustrations/images/graphics?

I write fiction, so I don’t use illustrations. However, because my book is historical fiction, I did include a photo of my stepfather and the car owner/mechanic standing in front of the famous Blue 55 with the first national trophy perched on the hood.

How many unpublished or unfinished books have you written and set aside? What are your plans for them?

My second novel—a more contemporary piece about a secretly homeless socialite—is sitting in an agent’s office in new York (it was recommended to her by my marvelous editor, Brenda Copeland, who actually had me make the protagonist unsleep with an old school friend mid book—it was a bed too far, and slowed the action, plot wise).

I’m also working on two more novels and plotting a sequel to Trophy Girl, making her 19 and getting her into her own race car.

What do you do for book marketing? Describe your plan, how it is working, and what you want to add or change to that plan, if anything.

I launched September 30th 2021 at the race track where the national race takes place, gave readings for the local library and Rotary Club, did a signing at a funky, interactive clothing store, and have done two book clubs and a club dedicated to girls’ education. I have the book in three area libraries and two local bookstores—Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, CA, where I started the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference ( while teaching out there and Watermark Bookshop in my home town, Wichita, KS.

Of course, I have a website, post on Facebook and Instagram, use Twitter and Pinterest, and I have a newsletter—Mirth & Musings—for building an email list. I also did an interview with Karen E. Osborne for her “What Are You Writing, What Are You Reading” podcast, due to run in May.

I’m also joining book funnels—which is free—and have bought ads on Facebook, etc. Next I need to send my e-book and media page to about a dozen bookstores within a 100-mile radius to see if they would be interested in hosting me and/or selling my book.

Here’s the rub (to quote a fellow author)—I managed to post an editing tip on Instagram that reached close to 10,000 and I’m up to 1,300 followers . . . but I haven’t figured out how to convert very many to book sales. Like many writers, I’m uber uncomfortable putting myself out there.

How do you go about obtaining book reviews? Do you read them? How do you deal with the good and the bad ones?

I’ve appealed via social media, but overall I’ve found it hard. Friends and their friends have stepped up, and several 5-star reviews have come in unsolicited. I’ve also reviewed for others and traded books with the hope of a review. So far I’ve crested at 51 on Amazon, with a 4.6 rating. I’ve had only one 3-star, and there was no comment with it so nothing to learn there.

Do you prefer reading print, audio or ebooks? Why?

Print, but I read on my Kindle, computer, and phone as well depending on what it is and how long. Fun Fact: A researcher put out a book in two formats—stories completed on one page and then stretched out over two pages. Nearly every respondent preferred “turning the page.” Apparently readers are a tactile lot.

Who is your favorite author, book? The last book you read?

My favorite book as a girl was Black Beauty. I cried when I finished it, turned to our black Chihuahua, and said “Why couldn’t you have been a horse?”

I adore James Lee Burke—in part because I studied with him before he got smart, quit teaching, and started cranking out books with equally compelling characters and plots (which is why they’ve been made into movies) and some of the most lyrical writing you’ll find in his genres–or anywhere.

I’m also a huge fan of Laurie R. King, certainly her Mary Russell books, and not only because I can’t get enough Sherlock Holmes fixes but because the Russell character is the perfect counterpart to the Holmes character. The research she does fills the books with such rich details they’re almost reason enough to read her. And I never tire of Agatha Christie’s convoluted mysteries. The Jane Austen books are my go-to to refresh my brain.

I think Tillie Olsen’s short story “I Stand Here Ironing” is perfect. I read it to all my creative writing classes, and I choked up at the ending every time.

For reliably meaningful poetry, I turn to Mary Oliver.

I’ve just finished A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear and started Harlequin’s Millions—by Bohumil Hrabal—for the third time, and hope to soldier through to the finish because it’s worthy if not riveting.

There are many trends in self publishing that have come and gone. What do you think is going to change next in the self or traditional publishing landscape?

I expect a blurring of the now sharp edges between the two. I’m a retired English teacher and have spent my career distinguishing among levels of “good” as it pertains to writing. I’ve seen an increase of novels on the market that I don’t feel are worth my limited reading time—time being the one thing no one can get more of than our allotted share. But those books haven’t been written for me. As long as they have readers, more power to them. And I’ve been pleased to discover some real gems among self-published books that have earned their awards and space on the shelves. Of course promising writers telling wonderful stories will continue to be invited in to the hallowed halls of the big four and get their work shared far and wide—every writer’s dream.

Now that you have published a book/new book, what would you do differently this time?

Regarding the material, I would break my sentences into shorter bites so I can actually read them aloud. And I’d revise one last time with an ear to the music and rhythm of every sentence. I’ve edited a published copy of Trophy Girl just for myself as a way of trying to improve my current projects.

Regarding marketing, I would probably hire the gang at Women in Publishing to launch the book. I took their three month course, so I know a lot about what I need to know a lot more about how to sell books. I’ve compared the marketing experience as being trapped in a pinball machine with too many targets flashing and dinging and too few flippers.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

When I started plying my wares on social media to get readers aware of the book it took me 32 years to “finish,” it seemed obvious my message should be “Don’t give up on your dreams; keep on keeping on.” But at some point, I realized the more valuable advice for people with a goal or dream they can’t imagine letting go of has to be “Don’t wait.” No matter how difficult it might seem to try to weave it into your current life. I’ve imagined more than once how wonderful it would have been to have handed a copy of Trophy Girl to my stepfather, whose racing career inspired it. Fear and self-doubt are powerful enemies, but of our own making. Don’t wait.

Marlis’s Bio

A former college instructor of all forms of written communication, Marlis Manley Broadhead has award-winning short stories and poems in literary magazines—including Kansas Quarterly, Mikrokosmos, Crosscurrents, and Kansas Women Writers. Her debut novel, TROPHY GIRL, published by Black Rose Writing last year, was awarded the William Faulkner second prize in 2018.

While still in Wichita, her hometown, where she earned her MFA, she started the Learning Center at the Vo-Tech School for refugees from the Viet Nam war—located on the campus of her alma mater, Wichita High School East.

In 1981, she and her family moved to Iowa State University where she taught business Communications and worked part-time for Better Homes and Garden’s building department.

Thanks to the development of fax machines, she took that writing job to northern California. There she taught a variety of writing classes at College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg, California, while gazing over her students’ heads at the Pacific Ocean. She also founded the annual Mendocino Coast Writers Conference (still going), started a homeless shelter (a disaster eventually), formed the Mendocino Coast Children’s Fund (still thriving), and steered Fort Bragg Center for the Arts—a public showcase for local artists, who outnumbered regular folks out there five to one.

Back home in Kansas, she lives with her husband and a small menagerie on a modest horse ranch just south of Kansas City where she is working on her third novel and serializing stories on Amazon Kindle Vella in the brave new world of social media.

Honors and Awards

· Honored at 2023 Annual Kansas Author’s Dinner
· William Faulkner Literary Contest, 2018, 2nd Place for novel Trophy Girl
· Marlis Manley Broadhead Scholarship, Mendocino Coast Writers Conference
· Finalist, Nimrod Fiction Contest (19 finalists among 714 entrants)
· Second Seaton Award for Fiction, Kansas Quarterly
· M.F.A. Fellow in Fiction, Wichita State University
· Honorable Mention, Sixth Annual National Playwriting Contest, Wichita State University

More Information

Where to purchase Trophy Girl:


Barnes & Noble

Black Rose Writing