Saturday, December 31, 2011

Return of the Desert Darlings!

What better way to close out 2011 and begin 2012 than with a replay of one of my most popular posts?  Have a wonderful New Year everyone. Stay safe....

Prostitution has always gotten a bad rap and during the Great Depression it was a topic of widespread comment and concern.  Many Americans believed that the economic crisis might lead to social and sexual chaos and cited the increase in prostitution as an example of this. Sadly, they failed to understand that in many cases, prostitutes were not the morally weak, selfish, power hungry femmes of early films such as Baby Face and Blonde Venus, instead they were women, single women and single mothers, who like the men of the Hoover Dam, did what they could to stay alive. The idea of the male supported family was prevalent, welfare was non-existent and women had few economic opportunities available. Ads like those below were common.

 LV Evening Review Journal 6/24/31

LV Evening Review Journal 8/18/31


In 1930, Las Vegas was a railroad town with a population of just over five thousand. Due to a zoning glitch when the town was originally laid out, two areas in North Vegas, what is now the downtown area, were exempted from the laws that restricted gambling, alcohol and prostitution. One of those two areas, known as Block 16, became famous for its easy access to prostitution.  The bars and casinos in this area had tiny shacks in the back where their clients could be serviced, and one establishment, the Arizona Club, built a second floor to house a bordello.

Between 1930-1931 an estimated 40,000 unemployed men arrived in Las Vegas in hopes of getting one of the 5,000 jobs that would be available at the new government works project later to be known as the Hoover Dam. The legalization of gambling in 1931 brought visitors and gamblers in record numbers, and the liberal divorce laws introduced in the same year increased the population as well.  Block 16 thrived. The girls paid the city doctor $2 a week for a medical clearance, which kept them off the law’s radar. At one point, an estimated 300 women worked the area as prostitutes. Brothels and speakeasies were scattered along US 93/95 between Las Vegas and Boulder City, the government sponsored town built for the Hoover Dam workers. In 1931, the Railroad Pass casino opened just beyond the gate of the Boulder Canyon Project Federal Reservation. Behind the casino on the hillside, tents and small cribs were set up where prostitutes performed their services.



And they were very popular with the men from the dam.

Oral history records reflect that there are fond memories of the prostitutes. An entry from the diary of a Hoover Dam medic states he paid “$2 to Babe to blow it.”  Quite a job, I must say, considering that men at the dam made an average of $5 a day.

In my upcoming novel, Ragtown, Mae and Sally are sisters that work the cribs behind the Railroad Pass. While their presence in the novel was originally intended to be minor, Sally and Mae took over at some point and decided they had a story of their own to tell. Two women, just trying to survive.  And as Sally states, “the dam isn’t the only dangerous place to work in the desert.”

Desert Darlings

What better way to close out 2011 and begin 2012 than with a replay of one of my most popular posts?  Have a wonderful New Year everyone. Stay safe....

Prostitution has always gotten a bad rap and during the Great Depression it was a topic of widespread comment and concern.  Many Americans believed that the economic crisis might lead to social and sexual chaos and cited the increase in prostitution as an example of this. Sadly, they failed to understand that in many cases, prostitutes were not the morally weak, selfish, power hungry femmes of early films such as Baby Face and Blonde Venus, instead they were women, single women and single mothers, who like the men of the Hoover Dam, did what they could to stay alive. The idea of the male supported family was prevalent, welfare was non-existent and women had few economic opportunities available. Ads like those below were common.

 LV Evening Review Journal 6/24/31

LV Evening Review Journal 8/18/31


In 1930, Las Vegas was a railroad town with a population of just over five thousand. Due to a zoning glitch when the town was originally laid out, two areas in North Vegas, what is now the downtown area, were exempted from the laws that restricted gambling, alcohol and prostitution. One of those two areas, known as Block 16, became famous for its easy access to prostitution.  The bars and casinos in this area had tiny shacks in the back where their clients could be serviced, and one establishment, the Arizona Club, built a second floor to house a bordello.

Between 1930-1931 an estimated 40,000 unemployed men arrived in Las Vegas in hopes of getting one of the 5,000 jobs that would be available at the new government works project later to be known as the Hoover Dam. The legalization of gambling in 1931 brought visitors and gamblers in record numbers, and the liberal divorce laws introduced in the same year increased the population as well.  Block 16 thrived. The girls paid the city doctor $2 a week for a medical clearance, which kept them off the law’s radar. At one point, an estimated 300 women worked the area as prostitutes. Brothels and speakeasies were scattered along US 93/95 between Las Vegas and Boulder City, the government sponsored town built for the Hoover Dam workers. In 1931, the Railroad Pass casino opened just beyond the gate of the Boulder Canyon Project Federal Reservation. Behind the casino on the hillside, tents and small cribs were set up where prostitutes performed their services.



And they were very popular with the men from the dam.

Oral history records reflect that there are fond memories of the prostitutes. An entry from the diary of a Hoover Dam medic states he paid “$2 to Babe to blow it.”  Quite a job, I must say, considering that men at the dam made an average of $5 a day.

In my upcoming novel, Ragtown, Mae and Sally are sisters that work the cribs behind the Railroad Pass. While their presence in the novel was originally intended to be minor, Sally and Mae took over at some point and decided they had a story of their own to tell. Two women, just trying to survive.  And as Sally states, “the dam isn’t the only dangerous place to work in the desert.”

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Costa Rica's Gift of Happiness

There are few places in this world that my husband and I agree would be a great place to visit and possibly live.  Now that he has retired, we have been talking about the 'places to live' part even more, and one country keeps coming up. Costa Rica. The happiest country in the world.  A place where he can do whatever it is that he does all day and I can write, or teach, or just got lost in the culture.   The problem is, we've never visited Costa Rica so we can fall in love with it (as I know we will) and I want to go. I really want to go.
Insert Me-and a writing notebook

So cruising around the internet as I often do, I stumbled upon a sweepstakes that has me pretty excited.  I must confess, I am not a huge fan of contests or giveaways, simply because I never win.  I know everyone says that, but I really. Never. Win.  However, some of you are a bit luckier, and because I am such a kind person (and hope you will think of me as a possible 'companion' if you win) I have to share with you.

The Costa Rica Tourist Board is giving away one week, all expense paid trips to Costa Rica. Yes. One week in the Happiest Country in the World.  They are giving away one a day with about six weeks left in the contest, and you can enter daily.  That means I have forty-ish more chances to win, and so do you!

Possibly the coolest little guy ever

There are five different adventure packages that you can choose from and you must choose when you enter. Just watching the videos for each made my heart long for a walk through a rainforest, a nap on the beach, or a romantic dip in a hot tub in paradise.  The five happiness packages are tailored to different interests and include the Authentic, Adventure, Wildlife, Romantic and Adrenaline Happiness packages.  (It was a difficult choice, but I went with Adventure.) 
 
So visit the Costa Rica Tourist Board Gift of HappinessFacebook page, like it, then click on the Gift of Happiness on the left to enter.   

And remember who sent you there---

Saturday, December 17, 2011

12 Blogs of Christmas: Favorite Books

As a writer, I think there is no better gift at Christmas than a story.  For the 12 Blogs of Christmas, I took book suggestions from several others and had quite a response! From traditional, to humorous, to contemporary and a few that some wouldn't think of as a Christmas story, the list is quite diverse and entertaining.  Click on the book covers for more information, and be sure and visit all of the author blogs below in the 12 Blogs of Christmas!

My blog, I go first! One of my fav books ever is The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips. It's Christmas Eve in Wichita and most people are home celebrating with their families-but not Charlie Arglist. He's trying to tidy things up, so to speak, before he leaves town with the million dollars he has just stolen. Although I love Christmas cheer and happy thoughts, I like this book because it's a reminder that 'other things' are going on while the rest of us are celebrating---and not always the kinds of things we want to think about. And I have a mad writer crush on Scott Phillips.
 
Karen DeLabar is all about romance.  "I love reading it, writing it and experiencing it. My "go-to" book during the holiday season is The Gift which is a collection of three Nora Roberts books, Home for Christmas, All I Want for Christmas, and Gabriel's Angel. The three stories are short and can be considered romance fluff, but this time of year a little fluff is okay. Plus, they encompass everything I love about the holiday: magic, hope and love." Visit Karen's blog to discover some great Christmas movies with the 12 Blogs of Christmas!
 
No, Natalie Kenney the Toys'R'Us Big Book doesn't count. But your second choice certainly does! "I love Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum Mystery Series and she wrote a Christmas-themed Plum story: Visions of Sugar Plums. It's so difficult to choose a favorite book of any kind, but this one has tons of laughs, a hot guy, and a little Christmas spirit. What more can a gal ask for?"  Natalie is sharing some unusual, traditional and fun Christmas cookies on her blog during the 12 Blogs of Christmas. 

 "I have always had a love/hate relationship with life Christmas" says author D.C. McMillen. "It is for that reason that I recommend You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs. If you have ever confused Santa with Jesus (and who hasn’t?), tried to create an edible masterpiece in the kitchen without bothering to follow a recipe or waking your parents’ (and who hasn’t), or if you have ever felt undeserving of a perfection you cannot help but relentlessly strive for (and who hasn’t?) then this is the book for you. Filled with acerbic observations, witty commentary, and a consistent stream of self-depreciating humour, this is the perfect book to read while sitting in front of your freshly decorated tree and sipping a glass of red. Until you laugh too hard and accidentally snort wine out your nose. In honor of the 12 Blogs of Christmas, D.C. is toasting us with favorite Christmas drinks on her blog today! 
 
Erica Lucke Dean is all about a traditional Christmas. "I want to create a completely vintage feel in the house during the Christmas season.  It makes me feel like I'm back in my grandmother's farmhouse.  I like Dickens' A Christmas Carol for that very reason. Bring on those Ghosts of Christmas past. I'll be wearing my very best flannel nightie."  To share some special Christmas memories, visit Erica today, one of the 12 Blogs of Christmas.
  My favorite Aussie, Ciara Ballintyne chose The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett as her favorite. "The Hogfather is the Disc's equivalent of our Santa, but his sleigh is pulled by four hogs. An assassin has been commissioned to kill the Hogfather, which he plans to achieve by causing children to stop believing in him. To encourage children to believe in the Hogfather, Death takes his place to deliver all the presents. If the Hogfather dies, the sun will not rise."  Ciara is spotlighting some unusual Christmas decorations for the 12 Blogs of Christmas, so check those out!
 No, Wendy told him with a little smile. Only until Christmas. Then we have the capon.
Why is Justin Bogdanovitch's recommendation Stephen King's The Shining? "Well, long ago, while reading it for the first time, I had to look up what a Christmas capon was (how it was invented by the Romans also lands in Stephen King country). But back to The Shining...It takes place in the lead up to winter, the promise of the holidays brings a semblance of family unity even to the Torrance family. The ghosts come out before Thanksgiving. Danny eventually meets the dead thing in room 217 and it wraps her hands around him in a terrifying embrace. After Thanksgiving, when Wendy contemplates how to cook that special Christmas capon, the bruises on Danny's neck have faded. The Torrances, like any family, look forward to Christmas. Unfortunately, at this moment in the novel, they are in the calm eye of a monstrous hurricane force. I try to read The Shining or watch the Kubrick film sometime during the holiday, just to get in the mood; it's a perennial favorite!" For the 12 Blogs of Christmas, Justin is highlighting Christmas Faux Pas on his blog!

Now for something safe for the kiddies...
Raine Thomas says, "I love the Grinch! My favorite Christmas story is How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. My parents always let us stay up to watch the annual showing of the movie on TV, and they would read us the story before bed on Christmas Eve.  I've continued this tradition with my own daughter." Raine is entertaining us with Christmas music today, one of the 12 Blogs of Christmas!

Maureen Hovermale dug herself out from a pile of books and assorted bookmarks to address the subject of Christmas books properly: Charles Dickens is the MAN. Forget about Ebenezer, turn your eye on the Messrs. Snodgrass, Winkle, and Tupman and drink a glass of hot brandy-and-water while you’re at it. The best quote ever concerning Christmas is by Charles himself: Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!  ~Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 1836
For the 12 blogs of Christmas, Maureen is treating us to Christmas lingerie and other sexy holiday apparel (like fuzzy socks) today!


 As a kid, Amberr Meadows was a timid little bookworm, but she always dreamed of what it would be like to be one of the bad kids. "In real life, it never would have happened, because my mom would have killed me, but my rebellious daydreams were safe. I discovered The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in movie form first, and immediately after I saw it, I had to read the book, by Barbara Robinson. (Even then, I was of the opinion that a book is almost always better than the movie based upon it). The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is about a family of cheating, stealing, swearing, smoking kids who hijack the annual Christmas Pageant at the church and make it best one ever (hence the name). I thought the book was awesome, because it proved that even the most unruly kids could be kind, too." Amberr has some favorite and delicious holiday foods on her blog today for the 12 Blogs of Christmas!

Ever wonder how Santa gets down the really tiny chimneys?  Some houses have no fireplace and hence no chimney.  How is it that Santa manages to leave presents at those houses?  Melody Ann Jones-Kaufmann was one of those kids.  She had these questions and more.  "My Dad was smart enough to buy me a book about Silver Spurs, one of Santa’s elves.  This tale, written by Robert R. Knigge, answers those nagging questions that trouble logical children like myself.  I found that I as a parent had to answer those same questions and thus I passed my beloved book on to my children.  I suspect one day I’ll be reading it to my grandchildren because logic like the force is strong in this family."  Melody is taking a look at favorite Christmas toys, old and new, for the 12 Blogs of Christmas!


One Marie Patchen's fondest Christmas memories of books was the year that her grandfather bought her the entire boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series. "I read those books until they fell apart, and each book contained a special Christmas story, from the Big Woods of Wisconsin to the open plains of Kansas. That original boxed set is long gone, but a few years ago, my sister surprised me on Christmas morning with a new set.  She had searched the internet far and wide until she found the exact same set that I'd first received from my grandfather so many years ago.  Christmas was always an interesting affair in the Ingalls' household, and thanks to my sister, I got to re-live the experience." For the 12 Blogs of Christmas, Marie takes us down memory lane with Classic Christmas Cartoons...


These are some of our favorite books. What are yours?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Gift of Me

As writers, we pride ourselves on our ability to tell a story.  No matter the genre or the length, everything we do, in essence, is a product of us constructing a sequence of events and writing it in a way that others will find enjoyable.  I like to think it is our gift.   

Although we love to share our own little darlings, we should also consider that writing is not our only talent---we have the ability, and the desire, to share stories, regardless of who wrote them. We are storytellers. And at Christmas time, for some people, a story can be the greatest gift.

We've all read at least one book to a child, and delighted in their appreciation.  Some of us have read to a church group, or to family or in front of a class. Regardless of the audience, it is an experience like no other. It is a way to share something we love, a story, and see the effect it has on another.    

In the coming week, I will be reading to a group of senior citizens.  It's not the first time I've done this, nor will it be the last.  But this time, I won't be reading something I wrote, because it isn't about me.  This is a way to give something to them, a generation of people that have given so much for all of us, and it is something that they will appreciate more than a pair of socks, or a card, or a flower.

It is the gift of me.  My time and my talent for storytelling. I can assume we will discuss it and then share memories that the story may evoke.  We may laugh, we may cry, we may break into song. But in return for this, I know I will get smiles and hugs and encouragement.  Their gift to me.     

As writers, storytellers, I like to think that we have a gift---isn't this a great time to share it?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Fiction: The Fix-It Box


Trees are going up, Santa is on every corner and parties are everywhere.  But Christmas is also a very difficult time for so many people.  Please remember to keep them in your hearts.  

I wrote this short story ten years ago and thought I would share it this week.  I hope you enjoy.  


The Fix-It Box
by Kelly Gamble

Poker in hand, I watch as the small fire burns in the fireplace. I can attack the logs and attempt to stir the flames, or I can let them die naturally. This is my first fire, and I'm not very good at it. Frustrated, I lie in the middle of the floor, small bicycle parts surrounding me, strung in every direction. With Christmas morning only hours away, I am considering giving up. I am not much of a single parent, and would have never chosen to be one. But David made that choice for me.
Slowly, the fire burns, hanging on to what life it has. I try not to focus on the dancing flames. They entrance me and keep me from the task at hand.  As is typical of this time of year, my mind is flooded with memories and although I am trying to focus on the assembly of my son’s bicycle, I am overwhelmed by the thoughts of those who have tried to help me over the past year.   
My family has tried to convince me that I am not to blame. They tell me that I should get on with my life and try to forget the past. My father calls David a coward; my mother never mentions his name. Jacob, my brother, at a loss for anything else to say, simply reminds me in his cheerful tone to ‘keep my chin up.’  None of them will be over for Christmas this year.
I look at the directions again, this time attempting the Spanish version. I don't speak Spanish, but it sure can't hurt. My anger grows as I realize what a waste of time this is. I at least need tools, but I can't bring myself to go to the shed where David kept his fix-it box. That was his place, and I'm not ready to enter it.   
I have talked to three counselors. They wait while I voice my questions, then wait again for me to answer them myself. If I had the answers, why would I spend what little money I have on them?   I have quit going to therapy, quit trying to make sense of the nonsensical.  There are no answers.  He left no note, he showed no sign that he was unhappy. Although I have never considered death a choice, it is the choice David made.
I consider throwing the directions in the fire.  There are too many pieces; the puzzle is too much for me.  Instead, I regain my supine position amongst the parts and cover my eyes with the paper.
I try not to think selfishly, but it's the little things I miss the most. Someone to change the light bulbs, to fix the television, to make sure the oil is changed in the car; someone to put a bicycle together for our eight-year-old son. Jimmy. He's now the man in the family and tries to protect and comfort me. It's hard for me to look at him sometimes. I can't remember when I last saw him smile.
As I lay among the pieces, I scream. "I hate you for what you did to us!" Then I curl into a ball, crying myself to sleep as I often do; missing David's smile, his scent, his touch.
I wake when I feel a cold chill as the front door opens. I turn as I hear it close, and see my husband, dressed for the weather, standing in the entry.  As he removes his coat, he looks at me and forces a smile. I cannot speak.  Closer, closer he moves toward me and sits with me amongst the puzzle.  He looks into my eyes, and touches my cheek.
"I'm sorry," he whispers with finality, as if there is nothing more to say.
I have no way to respond. I watch silently as he begins putting together the bike, using the tools from the fix-it box he thought to get from the shed. He talks as he works, showing me how to use the many gadgets that are in his precious box. "You can fix just about anything with this stuff," he says as he begins replacing the tools in their designated slots.
"But not everything," I manage to whisper.
I want to know why he chose to leave us, but I am afraid to ask. More importantly, desperately, I just want him to stay. Without looking into his face, I say, "I can't do this without you."
He leans toward me, gently kisses my forehead and traces the tear that runs down my cheek. "I will always love you," he whispers as he stands and turns to leave.  As I feel the cold chill of winter rush in again, I realize David has no answers.  There is no reason, no resolution.  If he cannot account for his actions, why do I continue to expect an explanation?  I cannot continue to allow myself to die inside because he chose not to live.  Suicide was David’s choice; it is not mine.   
I wake Christmas morning to the sound of Jimmy running down the hall. I'm sure I look a fright, still in my clothes from the night before, but Jimmy's eyes are focused on the bike: or what resembles one.  He kisses me on the forehead, just as his father used to do, and says “Merry Christmas, Mommy.”
It is our first winter without David. The laughter that had always filled our home on Christmas Day isn't present this year. I go to the restroom to clean myself up and take a long look in the mirror.  I am here, I am alive, and I can do this.  I dress and comb my hair, and Jimmy and I make the best of our party of two. 
The gifts are all open, but one small box remains under the tree. Jimmy picks it up and hands it to me. "It's for you."
I tremble slightly, holding the small gift in my hand. "Open it," Jimmy urges.
Inside the box is a small key, one that I recognize. I pick it up, hoping its weight isn't more than I can bear.
"It's the key to Daddy's fix-it box," Jimmy says softly. "If we learn how to use all that stuff, maybe we can fix some things, too." He glances briefly at the bicycle, and then lowers his eyes, cautiously waiting for my response.
I gently take him in my arms, feeling a tear trace the same path that it had the night before. "Thank you, Jimmy. It's perfect."
As I rock my son, I clutch the key tightly in my hand, wishing the items inside the box could fix everything. I glance at my fire, which struggled through the night but survived. I have to smile.
I have the tools. It's time to learn how to use them.

 ******************


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hoover Dam Stories: A Thanksgiving Tradition

If you are working on the largest government project in the nation, and using men that are basically starving for your labor, how do you get any productivity.  Simple. You feed them. And that is exactly what Six Companies did.  They contracted with Anderson Brothers, a well known Hollywood catering service in the 1930's, to tackle the problem of feeding the growing number of workers on the Black Canyon project, later to be known as the Hoover Dam. 
 

They started in a mess tent that held about 350 men, and soon an additional mess hall was set up temporarily at River Camp, two miles upriver from the site. This was in the Spring of 1931, when there were only about five hundred men on the payroll. By November of that year, the workforce had increased to about 2500, and Anderson Brothers had a full scale mess hall in the town of Boulder City that was capable of seating 1200 at a time.

Anderson Brothers Mess Hall
Because the job site was 24 hours, so was the mess hall. Food was brought in by rail and by truck and it was never in short supply.  There was always a variety--steaks, pork chops, roast beef, fruit, fresh baked pies and cakes.  Meals were served family style, and when a platter was emptied, it was soon refilled. The food was excellent and there was plenty of it.  For $1.50 a day, deducted from their wages, the men could eat as much as they wanted, which included packing their own box lunch to take to the work site.


Their families, however, weren't so lucky.  They weren't even allowed in the mess hall---until Thanksgiving, 1931.

It was on this day that Anderson Brothers decided to open up their operation to the men and their families for the holiday.  The tables were dressed with crisp linens and at a cost of seventy-five cents for adults, children ate free, the 2500 employees and their families were served an all you could eat Thanksgiving dinner served on china. And they ate. 


  • ·         2400 pounds of turkey
  • ·         300 gallons of oyster soup
  • ·         half a ton of candied sweet potatoes
  • ·         300 pounds of cranberries
  • ·         760 pies
  • ·         half a ton of plum pudding

...these are just a few of the items served on that day

It had been a hard year for the thousands that had traveled from all over the country to take their chance on the Hoover Dam. They had lived in cars, tents, openly in the desert and braved deadly snakes and spiders, sandstorms, starvation and the unbearable heat.  They had begun moving into the rickety houses in town and businesses were starting to open.  Boulder City, the only city in the United States at the time with a 100% employment rate, was starting to come together as a community.  It was a long way from the Depression-ridden cities and towns they had come from, and a long way from the desert.  It was paradise.  And they were thankful.

It was a wonderful gesture of Thanksgiving on the part of the Anderson Brothers, but this day also marked a very important event in the history of the Hoover Dam: the unofficial birth of Boulder City as a community.  From that day forward, every Thanksgiving and Christmas during construction was observed in the same way and having holiday dinner at Anderson's Mess Hall became the first community tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Western Perspective by Darren Rome Leo

  In the past year, I've had the pleasure of getting to know Darren Rome Leo.  Darren is the author of Keeping Score: A Short Heroic Journey.  He is currently working on a novel  tentatively titled And We're Walking .  It is the story of a man named Finn and his search for peace and understanding as he hikes the Appalachian Trail.  His writing is profound, engaging and funny, and I am thrilled to be able to share Darren's 'Western Perspective' with you.  Enjoy!


When Kelly asked me to write about the damn Hoover, I didn’t really understand her vitriol for the vacuum.  I mean, my vacuum sucks, but that’s really what it’s supposed to do.  Then I figured out that she meant the Hoover dam and made an appointment to check for dyslexia.

Darren Rome Leo
I grew up in Utah.  I have a strong affinity for the arid land of dust and sand that permeates Kelly’s novel.  I spent much of my formative years roaming those red deserts of Utah, Arizona and Nevada.  In college, jacked up on PBR’s and the self righteous indignation of The Monkeywrench Gang, I even had a conversation on hypothetical ways to destroy that dam.  Most of them involved various purchases from Acme and the special skills of Wile Coyote.

The dam is the quintessential story of the west.  Through amazing effort and determination, and no small dose of audacity, we altered the land to suit our needs.  There are few, if any, stories of assimilation into, or coexistence with, the west.  Our history and our stories are rife with taming and conquering it.  That may be due to the very nature and ferocity of that western landscape.  As our forefathers steadily migrated across the continent, I imagine they were spurred on by welcoming environments.  They left the abundant Eastern seaboard and first arrived at the loamy Ohio River valley.  Later they reached the rolling plains and a seemingly infinite supply of bison.  Then they arrived at the towering Rockies.  I’m sure some pioneer let out an audible “Oh shit,” at that moment.  After finally struggling up and over those peaks, they looked out at the sprawling desert, and that same pioneer went, “What the fuck!”  I’m sure that certain places in the west, such as Green River, Utah, were founded by exhausted pioneers who said, “Screw it.  I’m not going any further.”

Those early western settlers had some grit in their character and a wanderlust in their souls.  They were not content with farming by the Mississippi or growing huge fields of wheat on the plains.  There was an inherent yearning to see what was over the next horizon.  Those that survived a winter in Montana or a summer in the Great Basin desert did so with the understanding that it was a pull no punches confrontation with the land.  We would eventually conquer that western land.  Rivers would be stopped up or rerouted.  We blasted tunnels right through the mountains.  We would ultimately create some unfortunate things out there like nuclear testing facilities and Phoenix.  

The unforgiving west imprinted on our DNA.  It is seen in the stories we tell.  The palpable environment is itself a significant character in a wide range of the so called “western” writers.  They find beauty where others see only a bleak and hostile land.  The characters are often less than attractive but celebrated for their implicit humanity; warts and all.  From Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey to Barbara Kingsolver, Thomas McGuane, Craig Childs, and Kelly Stone Gamble, these authors have some grit in their character and a wanderlust in their souls.  They can thank the explorers in their family trees and the vast and varied land we collectively call the West.

      I’m Darren, and I’m a writer.
From Finn's soundtrack:



Visit Thoughtvomit, where you can stalk Darren Rome Leo and follow Finn on his journey.



 -----

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hoover Dam Stories: Two Deaths


One of the questions people often ask about the building of the Hoover Dam is “How many people are buried in the Dam?”  There is a very simple answer to that: zero.  There is one dog, Nig, who was buried at the site, but humans?  None.   

Although the exact number of those that perished is disputable, the official number of deaths associated with its construction is ninety-six.  But I want to tell you about two: the first and the last. 

Before construction could begin, the United States government had to do a lot of pre-work at the site.  This began several years before the project was ever announced.  On December 20, 1922, an employee of the Bureau of Reclamation fell off a barge into the Colorado River during a geological expedition and drowned.  His death is considered, by many accounts, as the first death to occur in association with the Dam. 

Intake towers-during construction
The last occurred exactly thirteen years later on December 20, 1935.  On this day, a young man working on one of the massive intake towers fell to his death. 

The coincidence that they both occurred on December 20th is itself a bit of interesting historical trivia, but there is something else that connects these two deaths that make them even more fascinating. 

The first death--the man who drowned in 1922 was J. G. Tierney. 

The man who fell from the intake tower, marking the last death at the Hoover Dam?

Patrick Tierney. 

His son.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Looking for the (Next) Man in Black by R.W.W. Greene


I am honored to have R.W.W. Greene guest blogging for me this week. He awes me with his talent, always makes me laugh and is just one of those people that reminds me that the human race isn't all that bad.  Enjoy!

One day last month I found myself staring at a low, plastic toilet and thinking about music. The toilet used to belong to Johnny Cash, part of the plumbing system installed in the Man in Black's tour bus. The bus meant a lot to Cash. I made a special trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to see it, so I guess it means something to me, too.


I have a home that takes me anywhere I need to go, that cradles me and comforts me, that lets me nod off in the mountains and wake up in the plains: my bus, of course.” (from Cash, the autobiography.)


R.W.W. Greene
Cash sold the tour bus in 2003, after wife June Carter Cash died. The two spent a lot of time on the bus, touring near constantly since they bought the thing in 1979. Cash put more than $500,000 and nearly a million miles into it, criss-crossing the country and sharing the songs he knew.
I'd like to think that at least once Cash sat on that toilet and wondered, “Shit. How'd I end up here?” and thought about the story he was telling.

Cash was born in 1932, taking his first steps while desperate men and women rebuilt their lives and dragged America up by the bootstraps at the Hoover Dam. The music Cash listened to on his family's radio rose out of that Depression-era, must-do spirit: hardscrabble, sparse tunes with lyrics that moaned in pain, sprawled in the dust, and left everything behind in search of something better. One of Cash's favorite acts was the Carter Family, a musical clan he eventually married into. The Carters sang a lot of songs about hard times, harder work, and looking on the “brighter side of life.”


Cash and his contemporaries – Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Little Richard, Loretta Lynn, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc. – are the last generation of musicians to carry the spirit of those times forward. They were born at the end of the bad times, but they grew up steeped in the tales and the music of want and the working man. They heard the story second-hand, unlike Woody Guthrie who lived and wrote every day of it, but for a long time their music was the closest the American public could get to being there.

Cash died in 2003, Waylon Jennings in 2002, Orbison in '88, Elvis died on a toilet in Graceland in '77. Only a few bold, old men are left to tell those stories to the so-called Millennial generation, and I'm not sure the Gen Xers were paying attention when their time came to hear the tale. Who's left to make us feel the grit of the Dust Bowl and hear the scrape of the shovels at the big dam projects? You could argue that rockers like Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp are trying, but they heard the story third-hand at best. Their version of the tale may rock, but it's garbled. Lady Gaga, awesome as she is, likely hasn't heard it at all. Jamey Johnson? Maybe.

It's too important a story to let fade. We need to be reminded that there was a time when America was down on its luck, knocked on its collective ass, but managed to stand up stronger. It sounds like a story we could stand to hear now. (You hear that, Kelly Gamble? We're at a point where we NEED to hear that story you're telling. )


Could we do it again? Do we have the power to stand up and be better? We're good at occupying and organizing, tweeting and bitching, but could we lose it all and spend years of our lives busting rocks and digging holes to build a new world? We did once; maybe folks just need to hear about how it all worked, how it felt.


They're powerful, those songs. At times they've been my only way back, the only door out of the dark, bad places the black dog calls home.” (Cash, 2003)


The new tour, a million miles back and forth across the nation, could start here. Kelly's got a book. I know a few tunes on the guitar. Anyone have a bus we could borrow?

R.W.W. Greene is an English teacher, former journalist, and practicing (much practicing) fiction writer. Follow his exploits at rwwgreene.com and follow him on twitter @rwwgreene


Monday, October 31, 2011

The Ghosts of Beebe's Girls

In June of this year, I spent a week on Star Island with several friends.  Located seven miles off of the New Hampshire coast, it is one of the Isles of Shoals and in 1677 was first permanently settled, regardless of the Native American warnings to white men that “something evil was there that was not of this world”.  Yes, ghosts.  And a lot of them, according to what book, what television show or what old Shoaler story you listen to.
 
This was my second trip to the island.  Last summer, I did have two strange experiences in the small cottage I shared with seven of my friends.  I heard someone running up and down the hallway in the middle of the night, which was impossible since the hallway was only twenty foot long.  I also ‘dreamed’ I was thrown out of bed by someone claiming that I was in their room.  The next morning, I had a large bruise on my thigh, as if it weren’t a dream at all.  This summer, I saw the famous ‘unexplained red lights’ that appear off the island, lights that have been reported for over two hundred years.  I called to my friend, Jerri Clayton, and made sure she saw them too.  Others said it was just the moon, but I’ve seen a lot of moons in my days, and I’m claiming it was the mysterious lights.  Period. 

There are several ghosts that have been seen over the years, and I know most of the stories.  One of my favorites is that three little girls have been seen playing in their small graveyard that can only be reached by a rocky path away from the central area of the island.  While exploring, another friend and I wandered out to the graveyard.  The heavy stone wall that once supported the railing and metal arch now look like an old foundation. In the center, covered in green and brownish moss is a small obelisk. To the right of the obelisk are three tiny headstones: the graves of Jessie, Millie and Mitty Beebe.



The small island was populated by impoverished fishing families in 1857 when Reverend George Beebe was sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Natives and Others to minister to the residents.  He fathered a brood of children during his ten years on the island.  In 1863, Mitty Beebe was seven years old and had started going to school on the mainland, traveling by ferry.  It was there that she contracted scarlet fever or diphtheria, depending on the story being told, and passed it on to her younger sisters, Jessie and Millie, aged two and four.  

On the obelisk that stands in the graveyard are three inscriptions, one under each girls name.  Jessie’s is unreadable, worn over the years.  Below Millie's name the memorial reads: "Dying she kneeled down and prayed: Please Jesus, take me up to the Lighted Place.  And HE did."  Mitty's inscription says: "I don't want to die, but I'll do just as Jesus wants me to."   

Rev. Beebe built the family cemetery apparently intending to stay on Star.  But in 1867, four years after their deaths, the remaining members of the Beebe family moved to Littleton, NH, leaving the three sisters behind.



Did I see the three little girls playing in their graveyard? No. I tend to think ghosts know when you are looking for them and many times choose not to make an appearance. However, sitting in the graveyard, I was sure of their presence.  The sadness I had initially felt for them was replaced by another feeling, which I find hard to define, and can only describe as-- peace.  Three young girls, their family long gone. But they have each other--and an eternal playground to roam.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Author Interview: The Friendly Ghostwriter Laura Sherman




Boo! It's Halloween, what better time to introduce you to Ghostwriter Laura Sherman!  I recently had the opportunity to talk with Laura about ghostwriting, chess and her upcoming projects.  So sit back, grab some candy corn and meet Laura the Friendly Ghostwriter:  

What's it like to be a ghostwriter?

As a ghostwriter I get to step into the shoes of my client. It is an amazing
experience!  Ghostwriters get to learn a lot about many areas. I write fiction and
nonfiction. Both require research and interviewing. Sometimes I
land a job where I am already an expert in the field, but more typically I'm
learning from scratch.

What is the best part about ghostwriting?

I like helping my clients make their dream a reality. So many people really
want to have their books in print, but don't know how to write (or don't
have the time to write). I help them realize their goal. That is a powerful
motivator.

Since most clients don't know what to do with a finished manuscript, I often
help them find a publishing option and then work with them to market their
books.

You have two books coming out shortly, Chess is Child's Play and Joshua's
Missing Peace. Let's talk chess first.

Chess Is Child'sPlay is a book that I wrote with Bill Kilpatrick. It is
based on my experience teaching young children to play chess. When I had my
own children I realized that I could teach them early. Very early!

I taught my son to play chess at age four and I went on to teach his
classmates. I then founded Your Chess Coach and began teaching 30-50
children of all ages a semester to play.

Bill and I then took these techniques and put them down in a very easy to
understand way, so that any parent, of any skill level could teach their
young child. Even parents who have never seen a chess set can learn to play
and teach their children through Chess Is Child's Play.

My hope is to get many families teaching their children, before they start
school, giving them the amazing life benefits you get from learning chess.
It is also my dream to see every school teach chess at least once a week, as
part of the math program.

If schools did this we'd see a rise in the IQ of our next generation. You'd
also see increased self-confidence, patience, focus and a host of other
Laura Sherman
benefits. 

You must be quite a chess player!

I studied chess for many years, playing in tournaments around the country. My highest national rating gave me the honor of being the top 35th woman player in the US.


Joshua's Missing Peace is a book you are co-authoring. Can you tell me about
that?

Joshua's Missing Peace is a true story that I ghostwrote with Lori Suthar.
Her six-year-old son had been misdiagnosed and put on heavy psychiatric
drugs. These drugs made everything worse.

Lori, being the dedicated mother she is, searched for answers. She finally
discovered that her son had an extreme version of strep throat called Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS). Once she got the proper treatment (which started with antibiotics), she noticed an immediate change.

Joshua is doing well now and is eager to tell his story so that other
children don't have to suffer what he went through.

When Lori approached me to write her story I was thrilled. This book will
save lives. Most people know someone who probably suffers from PANDAS and it has a cure.

What turns Laura on?

What turns me on his helping people. I love to help others! I am often asked
how to break into ghostwriting, so I recently expanded my business to offer
coaching. I not only coach on writing, but on the business end.

I want to encourage writers to write!

For more information about Laura, her services, her upcoming books and PANDAS, click on the links throughout the text. 

www.LauraSherman.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/chessischildsplay
Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/laurasherman

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hoover Dam Stories: Johnny-behind-the-Rock


In 1931, with the country in the midst of an unprecedented economic disaster, tens of thousands of Americans made their way to the Nevada desert to seek employment on the biggest government project of the day--the Hoover Dam.  While most made their homes along the highway between the jobsite and the small railroad community of Las Vegas, forty miles away, the most desperate never made it beyond Hemenway Wash on the banks of the Colorado River.  This area was officially known as Williamsville, named for the U.S. Marshall who became the overseer of the tent community.  To the residents, it was known as Ragtown. 

It is hard to imagine how hard life was for the residents.  Initially, approximately five hundred men were hired from the multitude that had descended on the area, leaving the majority to starve in the desert.  Starve, that is, if they survived the black widows, rattlesnakes, scorpions and centipedes, not to mention the bouts of dysentery experienced from lack of clean drinking water and, of course, the heat related illnesses and deaths. 

The lucky ones had tents, but many lived under whatever form of shelter they could find: a cardboard box, a sheet strung between trees, a ply board lean-to or just openly in the desert.
RAGTOWN FAMILY
According to previous residents of Ragtown, there was a man named Johnny who lived behind a large boulder.  He was too old, they say, to be employed at the dam and he was alone in the desert.  He had nothing more than the clothes he wore and he rarely spoke to anyone.  He survived on the generosity of others.  His back story is a mystery.

During the day, as the sun moved across the sky, Johnny moved behind his boulder, finding the shady spot to sit in.  That became his life: living in the desert, no chance of getting work, sleeping behind a rock, no family, no clothes--nothing.  The residents called him Johnny-behind-the-Rock.  There is no official record of the man, and there is no account of what happened to him when Ragtown was cleared out by the government.  

I’m not sure that many of us today can even imagine that kind of life.  We think the world is against us if our cell phones don’t work, or if the electric bill is too high.  For just a moment, consider having no family, no friends, no job, one pair of clothes and a big rock to call your home.  Sadly, Johnny was one of thousands.

When I began writing my historical novel, Ragtown, I felt it important to breathe life into some of the minor characters that inhabited the area.  I wanted readers to see the individual struggles, the desperation and the horrors that many of these people experienced, just trying to survive.  Although I couldn’t possibly include all of the stories that came out of Ragtown, I am happy to say that Johnny-behind-the-Rock’s did make the cut.