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

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

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

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

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.

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.
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.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hoover Dam Stories: It Takes a Village

I'm often asked, "Why the Hoover Dam?"  So I thought I would share how I first became interested in the subject.  It all started with a one room schoolhouse I learned about in an archeology class ten years ago:

In the early 1930’s, construction plans for the Hoover Dam brought thousands from across the country in search of jobs.  This resulted in the appearance of “shanty towns” or "Hoovervilles" in and around the area accessible to the dam.  One area that was home to several of these camps was called Railroad Pass, located just south of the current day Henderson, Nevada along Boulder Highway. 

Those seeking jobs brought their families. By the end of 1931, several of the residents of the camps felt a school was needed in the area. Although some monies were supplied by the state and the county toward the establishment of the school, it was the efforts of the residents of the Railroad Pass community that had the actual schoolhouse built and running by January, 1932.  Through the use of volunteer labor, and loans for supplies, the schoolhouse was built: a dirty white, one room schoolhouse, approximately 14’X16’ (before the expansion), with two outhouses on the north side of the building. 

The small structure filled quickly.  Within two months, the need for an addition was apparent. On March 12, 1932, a School Benefit Dance was held at Railroad Pass Casino to help raise money to pay off the existing debt and to allow for expansion.  The dance was met with an overwhelming response, with assistance from several Las Vegas merchants who donated prize merchandise and the Las Vegas high school whose band played in the streets of Las Vegas to sell tickets and distribute handbills.  
By December, 1932, there were approximately forty-five students enrolled. At one point in the mid 1930’s the number of students reported at the small school was seventy-two.  They ranged in age from six to sixteen and resided in the various camps around the Railroad Pass area, which included Texas Acres, Dee’s Camp and Showwalter Camp. 

The words of one of the teachers at the school, taken from an unsigned letter archived at the Boulder City Museum and Historical Association, best describes the conditions under which she worked:

“The people were rough and tough and so were their offspring.  Upon our arrival the first day, it is very hard to guess who was the most curious, the children …or us; I know we were the most frightened.  When we arrived with the wind and dust all 72 of the kids were lined up to look us over.  The biggest one stepped forward and told us that a couple of dames were not welcome.
In the midst of our first day, Mr. Greenwood and Art Klinger, school board trustees, came along to protect us just in case.  Mr. Greenwood (was) equipped with a gallon jug of home-made corn squeezings and Klinger with a baseball bat.”

While this story may seem to many like just a tale of how a school was built in the desert, it affected me a little differently.  The people who lived in these camps were representative of the most desperate our country had.  They had nothing, many living openly on the desert floor with their children: no shelter to protect them from the unbearable heat, barely enough food to fend off starvation.  But regardless of their economic situation, they wanted, needed to provide for the education of their children.  They understood the importance of an education and as a group, this ragtag community came together to build a school.  

The stories I share about the Hoover Dam aren't as much about the construction as they are about the people who built it.  After learning more about the school, I continued to read about these people, our grandfathers and grandmothers, who persevered during hard times, and still maintained the values they considered important, such as the education of their children.
While the dam itself is a grand structure, for me it is a testament to the strength of a generation.  A generation whose story deserves to be told.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reading Out Loud

It's done.  Written, revised, edited, rewritten, re-revised, re-edited, ripped apart and done again. It has been through readers, editors, fact checkers. Every chapter, paragraph, sentence, word. Every period, comma, question mark.  It's ready to go-right?

Not yet.

There is still one more step (actually two) before I send this manuscript, dripping with blood and sweat, off to my final two mentors for the big check mark, thumbs up or whatever the typical 'ready to go' sign is they use. Reading the entire manuscript out loud.

Yes, I know, we've read our manuscripts a gazillion times, some of us could probably recite them in our sleep. So why read them out loud? Simple. When we read to ourselves, our brain has a way of 'fixing' things for us.  We have learned to skim and skip and compensate for errors.  When we are forced to voice each word, we are more aware of the content of the sentences and those errors that we thought couldn't possibly be there suddenly are glaring at us like wild beasts.
What ever could I find in my perfect manuscript? Rough spots, awkward sentence structure, things that seem unnatural, holes in scenes, unclear references, run-on or choppy sentences, repetitive words and phrases, just to name a few.

So here I am, preparing for the big read.  I know I need to read slowly, otherwise my brain will do its thing and start compensating for errors. I am going to record it, so I want to read with inflection, make it interesting enough that I wouldn't mind listening to it myself, which I will do after it is done.  

Voices: Steven and Kayleigh
Each chapter of my manuscript begins with a quote from actual Hoover Dam workers or their families taken from oral histories.  Because of this, I have enlisted the help of a few good men (and a fine lady) to read these opening quotes.  I will read the chapters, word for word, with a pen in hand, marking spots to go back and fix.

Another voice: Dillon, not the random Elvis
So, if all I am worried about is finding my own errors, why do I care that the oral history quotes be present in this recording? And why go to the bother of having other voices speak these parts?

As I said above, this is the second to the last step before I send the manuscript for my 'stamp of approval'. The last and final step is to send this book through one final reader.  A professional reader, by my definition, as she reads an average of twenty books a week.  She will be the one that tells me if she can 'see' my scenes happening, if the dialogue 'sounds' natural, if she can 'smell' the river. And she won't be distracted by the words in print--she can't be, because she is blind.

(And next week, you will meet her right here!)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hoover Dam Stories: “They Died to Make the Desert Bloom” Guest Post by John Magnet Bell

I am honored to have John Magnet Bell as my guest blogger this week.  Please visit his links below. He maintains an exceptional blog and is an amazing writer.  Thank you, John for this wonderful story!  

Weeks before Black Tuesday, a vice-president of the Earl Radio Corporation went canary in a coal mine. “Last April I was worth $100,000,” he wrote. “Today I am $24,000 in the red.”

The Great Depression swept across the land like a tidal wave, crushing delusions and hopes alike. In 1931, when work on the Hoover Dam started, the average unemployment rate in the US had soared to 16.3%. That’s 8 million unemployed in a country of 124,000,000. People were living in caves and sewer pipes.
Thousands flocked to the dam site looking for work. California alone contributed more than 5,000 workers. (Out of Delaware came but one, if you can believe it.)

The first man died in June. His name was Raymond Hopland. A Six Companies clerk wrote down “heat prostration” in a book. I picture a black leather binding, and the page borders red. Also a black fountain pen with a golden nib.

Among the names of the official dead you find curiosities: Skaloud, a Czech name. Bolich, Serbian. Soderstrom, from the Swedish for ‘South River.’ Like the pyramids of Giza or the Taj Mahal, the Hoover Dam drew laborers from thousands of miles away. They hadn’t come to fulfill their destinies; they were hungry and penniless. Men, women and children rooted around in garbage heaps for scraps of food. They queued outside the soup kitchens, each man breathing down his neighbor’s neck. A contemporary reporter saw in them “a gray-black caterpillar.”
"a gray-black caterpillar"

Most of the hungry didn’t stay put. Southern Pacific Railroad threw 683,000 vagrants out of boxcars in 1931. That same year, Soviet agency Amtorg announced six thousand openings for skilled laborers in Russia. It got a hundred thousand applications.

Banks went under and businesses failed. As an after effect of Prohibition, there were no outlets for American grain. This was a country on its knees. The Hoover Dam was a symbol of renewal, and people responded to that symbol, not with their minds but their bellies. Of course, legs will carry the belly wherever it chooses to go.

I’m not saying hope wasn’t a factor. You don’t get up and start moving if you don’t believe in tomorrow.

Nowadays you can visit the dam and see a plaque there. “They died to make the desert bloom,” begins the inscription. It was put up to honor those who fell along the path.

Westward they traveled, chasing the sun.

John Magnet Bell is a translator, photographer and blogger. He churns out story prompts like there’s no tomorrow. Follow him on Twitter or Google+ and say goodbye to writer’s block.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Another Bad Dog: Interview with Joni B. Cole

 Joni B. Cole is one of the busiest women I know. When she isn't taking care of her family, teaching, conducting writing workshops or public speaking, she is writing.    
She is the author of Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive, the three volume "This Day" book series which includes This Day in the Life and Water Cooler Diaries: Women across America Share Their Day at Work, and the soon to be released Another Bad-Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior.
Joni has published numerous magazine articles and essays in literary journals, and is a frequent contributor to The Writer magazine. She has been a guest on CNN and dozens of radio and news shows and I am honored she took the time to talk with me today. 

1.Gina Barreca, columnist for the Washington Post, says Another Bad Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love and Neurotic Human Behavior, is, “funny, smart, original, and--just to keep us on our toes--occasionally heartbreaking.”  That's quite a review! How do you see it?
Gina is a bigwig author, humorist, columnist and academic so I appreciate that she took the time to review the book. A lot of reviewers mention that I’m funny and, apparently, someone who makes you pee your pants. But what I particularly loved about Gina’s review was that she also commented on the quality of the prose, which is important to me. Here’s an interesting experience I’ve had related to reviews. While they’ve been consistently positive (and if they weren’t, do you really think I’d bring this up?), the reviewers differ widely on how they see me in the book. If all are to be believed, somehow I am at once “friendly,” “arrogant,” “lyrical,” “crude,” “vulgar,” and the “Queen of Mean” “whom you will feel much fondness for” by the end of my “little” “tour de force” book.

2. One of the essays, "Strangers on a Train," was nominated for the 2011 Pushcart Prize. That had to be a great feeling.
You better believe I manage to squeeze in a mention of that prize nomination in almost every conversation, so thank you for bringing it up. But here’s the icing on the cake. That particular essay is about me having the worst hangover of my life, stuck on a long, hot train ride, fantasizing about Halle Berry to avoid puking on my fellow passengers, and experiencing an epiphany about myself and Western culture thanks to a momentary encounter with a Muslim woman. This reinforces to me that a story such as this can be meaningful and literary.

3. Interesting title. Where did that come from?
It’s the title of the first essay, which features my Chihuahua mutt. But I’d like to clarify that the essay isn’t about the dog; it’s about confronting (or not) a midlife crisis. As Publisher’s Weekly aptly wrote, this is “a person book…for better or worse.” For readers who buy the book and expect a lot of dog stories, I’m sorry. (But please know that I am sincerely a dog freak!) I’d also like to add here that at least I’m not the author Sloane Crosley, who entitled her first essay collection I Was Told There’d Be Cake, yet as far as I can tell, she didn’t even use that line anywhere in the book.

4. Any big plans for release date? Any rituals, etc?
This is my fifth book and I have never made a point to stop and celebrate any of them on their release dates. In fact, a few friends have offered to host a release party when Another Bad Dog Book is officially out (Oct. 4), but I feel squeamish, almost superstitious, about this. I love parties, and lord knows I never miss an opportunity to promote my books. But I have this feeling that if I acknowledge my success with a celebration, the Cosmos might think I’m getting too full of myself, and make a point to bring me down a notch. Of course, now that I’ve reread what I’ve just written, I can see how warped my thinking is—so bring on the party!

5. You wrote a book called Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive. Why? 
I’ve taught writing workshops for about fifteen years and know that, for most writers, getting feedback is the difference between writing and not writing; and it’s often the difference between writing and writing well. Yet, too often writers shy away from showing drafts of their work because they’ve been hurt or set back thanks to what I call toxic feedback. In addition, writers often avoid feedback for fear someone will try and railroad their creative process. This book shows both writers and feedback providers how to make the most of the feedback interaction in order to help you write more, write better, and be happier (because who isn’t happier when writing more and writing better). 

6. Tell us about your three-volume “This Day” book series, including the most recent release, Water Cooler Diaries: Women across America Share Their Day at Work. Where did the idea come from?
The idea for the book series came to me when I was having a bad day, and
started wondering if any other woman could possibly be feeling this low. But of course you can only wallow in self pity for so long, so then I thought, hey, what are other women doing and thinking and feeling right now, at this very same moment. And so a book series was born out of a bad mood, curiosity, and a need for connection. For each book, about five-hundred women across America and from all walks of life contributed a “day diary” to the project. Moms, celebrities, soldiers, nursing home residents, madams, nuns—the selected day diaries in the book are remarkably candid and intimate, showing how women really spend their time, and what’s really on their minds.

7. Other than writing, teaching, mentoring, public speaking what is your claim to fame? My daughters, ages 12 and 14 are perfect in every way, and I am their mother so I take full credit. Also, I’m a nice person.

8. What is life like for Joni now?
Timothy Olyphant-in a cowboy hat
I’m focused on shamelessly self promoting my book (hear that any reviewers out there, or book groups, or women’s organizations, or bookstores...) I run the Writer’s Center of White River Junction, Vermont, and have some conferences and retreats lined up. I love going to my daughters’ field hockey games (reliving my own glory years)! I’m working on staying positive and productive. Life deals some hard blows—to witness this first hand I just have to go a half mile down my road in either direction to see the devastation to families and businesses caused by the recent flooding in Vermont. So the fact that my house isn’t layered with mud makes me all the more aware of my current good fortune, and the need to give back.

9. What turns you on?
People who try. Good conversationalists. And Timothy Olyphant in a cowboy hat.
10. What’s next?
Professionally speaking, another book, I hope, preferably written under contract, which would be a first. I’m shooting for 2013. In terms of what’s next today—a much needed shower (I went jogging about an hour ago); critiquing some manuscripts for my workshops on Thursday, finishing a freelance project, picking up my daughters after practice, and two hours of Netflix if I can stay awake long enough. 

Another Bad-Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior is scheduled for release October 4, 2011.  Ask for it at your local bookstore, or order through Amazon by clicking on the book title above.