Cultivating Connections

  • By John Kropf
  • June 19, 2023

How the Inner Loop helped me forge important bonds.

Cultivating Connections

The summer after I graduated high school in the small Great Lakes town of Huron, Ohio, I’d engineered a summer job in Manhattan as a mail clerk for a large Wall Street brokerage house. At 18, I had a vague idea I wanted to become a stockbroker. As a going-away present, my girlfriend gave me a blank journal to write about my upcoming adventures. That’s when I started the writing habit. After finishing that first journal, I bought another, and another.

Fast-forward eight years: I’d given up the idea of being a stockbroker and moved to Washington, DC, to start my professional life as an attorney — first at the Department of Justice and later at the State Department.

Washington became the launching pad for a couple of adventures: first, a cross-country drive retracing my grandfather’s 1919 trip, which he’d recorded in a logbook, and the second, a two-year assignment living in the central Asian country of Turkmenistan. Throughout, I kept writing.

In the early 1990s, I enrolled in workshops at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, to explore how to turn my private writings into stories. Many nights, after business hours, I’d drive back to my office at the State Department and stay until early morning, writing my first book idea at my work computer (I did not yet own a PC). That book, called Ten-Cent Trail, received about 100 rejections, but despite that, I kept my secret writing life going.

My second attempt at a book was based on my journal writings while in Turkmenistan. These ended up in my first published book, Unknown Sands: Travels in the World’s Most Isolated Country(By this time, I owned a laptop.) This one also racked up about 100 rejections from agents and small publishers, but my proposal was eventually accepted by an obscure independent publisher, Dusty Spark. About a year-and-a-half after that book’s release, Dusty Spark went bankrupt; in the aftermath, I collected 300 or so copies of my book in the mail (after paying the postage).

Sometime around 2015, I discovered the Inner Loop Facebook page and started attending their evening readings when I could. There was nothing else like it. Rachel and Courtney fulfilled a need in Washington for an open and welcoming writing community, bringing together a wide spectrum of writers that included academics, poets, and others like me who were “walk-ons.”

One event stands out in particular. I attended an evening at the Colony House and met the featured writer, Melissa Scholes Young, who was reading from her latest book, Flood. Before reading, she had a trivia question for the audience about her hometown, Hannibal, Missouri: What was Mark Twain’s hometown? I answered correctly and won a copy of her book. A connection was made.

A few years later, when I was ready to publish Color Capital of the World, I reached out to Melissa for a blurb. Here was a well-recognized, highly regarded writer, and she was incredibly gracious, taking the time to read my book and offer words of praise for it. Those words went on the back cover. All that happened because of a connection made years earlier at an Inner Loop event. I’m sure the Inner Loop has provided many such connections and inspirations to other DC-area writers. May this happy community continue to grow.

[Editor’s note: This piece is in support of the Inner Loop’s “Author’s Corner,” a monthly campaign that spotlights a DC-area writer and their recently published work from a small to medium-sized publisher. The Inner Loop connects talented local authors to lit lovers in the community through live readings, author interviews, featured book sales at Potter's House, and through Eat.Drink.Read., a collaboration with restaurant partners Pie Shop, Shaw’s Tavern, and Reveler’s Hour to promote the author through special events and menu and takeout inserts.]

John Kropf’s latest book, Color Capital of the World: Growing Up with the Legacy of a Crayon Company (University of Akron Press), has been praised by Michael Dirda of the Washington Post as “well-written and, for those of a certain age, suffused with nostalgia.” John has also published a travel-adventure book based on his two years in Turkmenistan, Unknown Sands: Travels in the World’s Most Isolated Country. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Middle West Review, and elsewhere. John currently works as an attorney in the Washington, DC, area and teaches at the George Washington University Law School. He lives in Arlington, VA, with his wife, Eileen, cat, Poppy, and dog, Caia.

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