Now available: My new book, Witnesses of Hope, Faith, Love and Healing, at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle editions.

Share your memories of Park Central Square, Springfield, Missouri, for my new book. Details.

Marilyn and Me and U.S. Route 65

When I was growing up in Marshall, Missouri, U.S. Route 65 ran through the middle of town, sharing the main street, Odell Avenue. My friends and I stood at the corner of Odell and Yerby, our swimsuits wrapped inside towels, waving at passing motorists for a ride to the city swimming pool.

I traveled the highway thirty miles south to the state fairgrounds in Sedalia after I learned to drive; the highway was hilly and curvy and in many places the safest speed was less than forty miles per hour. The highway also took me thirty-five miles north to Carrollton and my first full time radio job as an announcer.

Where it goes
Route 65 just about splits the numerical population of the United States in half, running 1,500 miles from New Orleans to Fort Frances, Canada. Its history, mysteries, and idiosyncrasies are documented in a 2014 book, A History of Highway 65 from the Middle of the Road, by Marilyn K. Smith. Why from the Middle of the Road

“The first section of highway 65 was completed in 1930 in Missouri between Fair Grove and Springfield over what was Route 3," she told me. "That’s not quite in the middle between New Orleans and Canada, but close enough that it made sense for my book.” As well, she says, much of her book is on the highway’s Missouri history between Sedalia and Branson, and Fair Grove is about in the middle.

Marilyn grew up on a farm adjacent to the old Buffalo-to-Springfield road, which became Route 3 and then Route 65. Springfield business developer John T. Woodruff was influential in getting Route 65 through Springfield, as he was with the east-west Route 66, creating what he called “the crossroads of America.”

Marilyn recounts several ghost stories in her book. “Fred O’Dell, a teacher at Elm Spring School, was driving home one night in his horse and wagon and drove past Elm Spring Cemetery. He saw something white in the cemetery rise up and back down, then rise and up and back down. It scared him so that he unhitched the wagon, got onto the horse and rode it very fast home. When he got home, he thought, ‘Now that was silly.’ He went back the next day and discovered what he saw was a piece of paper that had been picked up by the wind.”

She says others have sworn seeing a headless horseman in the woods behind where she and her husband live today, on thirty acres across the road from where Elm Spring School was located.

A personal journey
Over the course of thirty years researching and writing her book, Marilyn interviewed dozens of elderly persons who have since passed away. “Hearing stories of them and their parents or grandparents traveling on the road when it was dirt or gravel, when it was Route 3 with potholes, curves, and hills that took forever to get somewhere, was the most fun I had in writing the book.” Floods often made the highway impassable in some locations, especially in the Lower Mississippi Valley where flood waters could be thirty feet deep.

In searching photos for the book she discovered a personal connection with one. “I’m secretary of the historical society at Fair Grove. We were donated a photo of a WWI Home Guard Unit bivouacked at Fair Grove posing in front of Springfield City Hall. Persons named in the photo included my grandfather Casper Thomas and two great-uncles, Ottie Hainline and George Graham.”

Marilyn wrote of the Home Guards: "Groups such as the Fair Grove one were guarding the home front in case of fire, flood, tornado or other disaster. . . . The Home Guard’s purpose was to fulfill the duties formally taken care of by the National Guard, while they were away fighting World War I."

A portion of highway 65 from Fair Grove north is named Thomas Road because construction took the farms owned by Marilyn’s grandparents, Casper and Belva Thomas, and her great-grandparents, Joseph and Addie Thomas.

Marilyn K. Smith is author of The Window Pane Inn and Other Short Stories and has been published extensively in newspapers and magazines, including The Ozarks Mountaineer, Springfield! Magazine, and 30 years as a weekly columnist for the Buffalo Reflex. She is contributing editor of Journal of the Ozarks. Her books may be purchased at Somewhere in Time gift shop in Fair Grove or directly from her at msmith_writer1@att.net

Photo courtesy Marilyn K. Smith.

Paperback-Press Is Publishing Niche for Independent Authors

Sharon Kizziah-Holmes
Publishing took a giant leap in the 1990s when computers and digital printing made it possible for nearly anyone to be a published author. The leap was immensely influential on independent authors of memoirs and personal histories, challenged perhaps more than any other group to secure the attention of traditional publishers. Digital printing enabled memoir authors to explode onto the publishing world.

Today, hundreds of companies offer print-on-demand services, causing author reliance on costly traditional publishing houses and subsidy publishers to disappear. The flip side of those services is that navigating the maze of prices, options, customer service, and quality—which vary widely among companies—can be intimidating and discouraging.

Help is available from entrepreneurs like Sharon Kizziah-Holmes and her husband Dennis, founders and owners of Paperback-Press Publishing Company, Springfield, Missouri. “We are an indie author assist publisher, which means we help independent authors pull everything together to get a professionally published book,” Sharon says.

How it works
Paperback-Press is similar to small-press publishing, providing emerging authors with personal attention and enabling them find their audiences. It formats a manuscript for paperback and electronic book, designs the cover, and makes the book available on Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com. Bookstores order the book on the Internet. All payments from booksellers and royalties go to authors and authors keep all rights. Authors are not required to purchase a minimum number of books.

Paperback-Press uses CreateSpace, an Amazon.com company, to produce books. Although an author may go directly to CreateSpace to do what Paperback-Press does, some authors find the process daunting. For a few hundred dollars, Paperback-Press will do the job for them.

“We can usually get a book out in less than six months for between $500 and $1,000 including all our fees except proofreading,” Sharon says. “We want authors to have affordable access and not be taken advantage of.”

Proofreading can be as low as a penny per word. “We have three editors who proofread,” Sharon says. “We don’t accept everything; it has to be something good. If an author wants to publish without proofreading we will do a project, but the book won’t carry our logo.”

One project involved a woman who wrote three novels. “Her stories were great. She didn’t know the mechanics of writing very well, so we helped her with that,” Sharon says.

Experience from the trenches
Sharon founded Affordable Creative Editing Service (ACES) with Kathleen Garnsey. ACES prepares manuscripts for submission to agents and publishers. Sharon and Kathleen teach writing classes and critique and edit fiction books of all genres. Sharon is author of three novels, a collection of short stories, and a children’s book. Kathleen is author of four novels.

Sharon helped authors self-publish for many years before she and Dennis started Paperback-Press in 2012. The company has published thirty-seven titles of fiction and nonfiction, including children’s books, biographies, and memoirs. Among the memoirs are a psychic’s journey to God, a correctional officer’s poetry and prison experiences, and a farm boy’s account of serving on a U.S. Navy ship in WWII. Fiction includes romance, mystery, inspirational, fantasy, and science fiction. For children’s books, Paperback-Press connects authors and illustrators. The company also records audio books, karaoke singles, and live bands.

Besides helping independent authors, Sharon and Dennis help traditionally published authors who have gotten their book rights back to bring their manuscripts up to date and then self-publish.

Although publishing is their passion, Sharon and Dennis are retired road musicians who own and operate a barbershop, aptly named The Barber Shop. Their son Aaron barbers with them.

What have been the benefits and drawbacks of your experience with an independent author assist publisher? If you used Paperback-Press, tell about that.

Sharon Kizziah-Holmes may be reached at Paperback-Press.com.

Photo courtesy Sharon Kizziah-Holmes.

My First High School Class Reunion, Part 3 of 3: Through the Years We Persevered

Crest of Marshall Public Schools
The 2014 reunion dinner of my 1957 Marshall, Missouri high school class closed on a wistful level. Sandra Hilton Bucksath read a poem by classmate Ben Swinger who could not attend. He wrote it in 2002, five years ahead of the fiftieth reunion. I enjoyed the poem’s humor and insight and called him for permission to publish it. He did not title his poem; that’s my doing, so fuss at me. 

Through the Years We Persevered
By Ben Swinger

Every ten years, as summertime nears,
An announcement arrives in the mail.
A reunion is planned; it’ll be really grand;
Make plans to attend without fail.

I’ll never forget the first time we met
We tried so hard to impress.
We drove fancy cars, smoked big cigars,
And wore our most elegant dress.

It was quite an affair, the whole class was there,
It was held in a fancy hotel.
We wined, and we dined, and we acted refined,
And every one thought it was swell.

The men all conversed about who had been first
To achieve great fortune and fame.
Meanwhile, their spouses described their fine houses
And how beautiful their children became.

The homecoming queen, who once had been lean,
Now weighed in at one-ninety six.
The jocks who were there had lost all their hair,
And the cheerleaders could no longer do kicks.

No one had heard about the class nerd
Who’d guided a spacecraft to the moon,
Or poor little Jane, who’d always been plain,
She married a shipping tycoon.

The boy we’d decreed “most apt to succeed”
Was serving ten years in the pen.
While the one voted “least” now was a priest.
Just shows you can be wrong now and then.

They awarded a prize to one of the guys
Who seemed to have aged the least.
Another was given to the grad who had driven
The farthest to attend the feast.

They took a class picture, a curious mixture
Of beehives, crew cuts and wide ties.
Tall, short or skinny, the style was the mini.
You never saw so many thighs.

At our next get together, no one cared whether
They impressed their classmates or not.
The mood was informal, a whole lot more normal,
By this time we’d all gone to pot.

It was held out-of-doors, the lake shores,
We ate hamburger, coleslaw and beans.
Then most of us lay around in the shade,
In our comfortable T-shirts and jeans.

By the fortieth year, it was abundantly clear,
We were definitely over the hill.
Those who weren’t dead had to crawl out of bed,
And be home in time for their pill.

And now I can’t wait, they’ve set the date.
Our fiftieth is coming, I’m told.
It should be a ball, they’ve rented a hall
At the Shady Rest Home for the old.

Repairs have been made on my hearing aid,
My pacemaker’s been turned up on high,
My wheelchair is oiled, and my teeth have been boiled,
And I’ve bought a new wig and glass eye.

I’m feeling quite hearty, and I’m ready to party;
I’m gonna dance until dawn’s early light.
It’ll be lots of fun, I just hope that there’s one
Other person who can make it that night.

What was special about your last high school reunion?

Image courtesy Marshall Public Schools. 

 "The owl is a time-honored emblem of knowledge and wisdom." Part of opening ceremony of Future Farmers of America.

My First High School Class Reunion, Part 2 of 3: Things Not Quite Remembered

My 1957 high school class reunion in 2014
Sandra Hilton Bucksath and Wayne O’Neal, organizers of my fifty-seventh high school class reunion, were at the dinner site in Marshall, Missouri, when my wife Eryleene and I arrived the morning of the reunion. I hugged Sandra and shook hands with Wayne.

After introductions and chitchat, I saw on the sign-in table a framed list of names of deceased classmates. My eyes moistened as I read the names—not only because the individuals were gone, but because I was unable to put faces to some of the names.
 

Creative nonfiction
At the gathering that night, I recognized only a few classmates, since I hadn’t seen them in nearly six decades. I spotted Dick Bueker, whose father was superintendent of schools when we were students. Marshall High School was renamed Bueker Middle School in 1976, when a new high school opened west of town adjacent to rerouted U.S. Route 65.

“Wayne Groner,” I said, as I touched Dick’s arm. He gave a disbelieving look.

“You are not.”

“Yes, I am.”

“You are not. You’re a ghost.”

I didn’t have a ghost-comeback line, so I launched into one of my favorite stories. “When we were kids, we played in the basement of Sandra Hilton’s house. You, Sandra, Carol Nichols, and I rummaged through boxes and hangers of grown-up clothes and put on mystery plays. We made up stories and took turns being victims and villains. One of our props was an old bedroom dresser with an attached mirror.”

A flat look. “Sandra said you mentioned that. I don’t remember.”

Neither had Sandra when I told her the story that morning.

Another story opportunity came when I interrupted a group that included Janice Esser Reinhart. After handshakes and introductions, I said confidently to Janice: “Your father owned a jewelry store. Each year he gave a high school senior a new watch for citizenship and I received one.”

Janice smiled politely. “A lot of people thought that was my father’s jewelry store, but it was my uncle’s. My father owned several liquor stores in and around Marshall.”

“I did not know that,” I said, in a feeble attempt to imitate Johnny Carson. 

The artist 
Among those at our dinner table were Gay Griffitt Rooks and her husband, Wayne. I told them Eryleene and I spent several hours earlier in the day visiting places of my childhood, including my first school, Benton Elementary. My family lived two blocks away, near the corner of Benton and Jackson. I tried to spot the house for Eryleene but couldn’t identify it.

“I know exactly which one,” Wayne said. “Five eighty-five South Jackson, second house from the corner. Brothers Donnie and Ronnie Wade lived several houses away on the other corner.” Donnie was a classmate at Benton school.

“How could you possibly know my house?” I asked.

“My family moved in after yours.”

“What makes you think I lived there?”

“You drew pictures all over the walls of your room.”

I was still incredulous of his magical feat. “What kind of pictures, and how do you know I drew them?”

“Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, mostly. You signed your name.”

That I was dumbfounded is an understatement. I had no remembrance of the drawings. Evidently, since it was a cheap rental, my parents had no contrition that I marked on the walls.

An alias, a debater, and a girlfriend
A couple of tables from ours sat a classmate I recognized. I didn’t remember his name and didn’t speak to him before he left. After dinner, I went to his table and met Ken Randolph, also a classmate.

“Who was the guy who left?”

“Don Gibson,” Ken said. “He preferred the name Don Taylor. He wanted to write western novels using the name Taylor.” Ah, then I remembered. He wore western clothes to school and sometimes a yellow scarf around his neck. For his senior picture, he wore a Kentucky Colonel black bow tie. I don't know whether he became a writer.

Throughout the evening I looked for Hal Lowenstein. “He sent in a reservation, but it looks like he didn’t make it,” Sandra Hilton told me. Hal and I were high school debate partners and when we were younger played in his house across from the school.

As things wrapped up, I recognized Carol Clark Evan, my first girlfriend. We hugged and I introduced Eryleene. I didn’t date Carol until after Irv Williams did; he was at the reunion, his first time back. Small talk with Carol didn't reveal anything embarrassing about our relationship, which was quite ordinary and innocent. After dinner, Eryleene wanted to know more. Predictable. I didn’t share much, except Carol was a knockout in a swimsuit.

Coming up in Part 3: A poem by Ben Swinger, class of 1957.

What were surprises at your high school class reunion after many years? Leave your comments below, especially if you attended your twenty-fifth reunion or later.

Photo: Tammy Kerksiek, Lee's Studio, Marshall, Missouri

My First High School Class Reunion, Part 1 of 3: Procrastination

Me, at today's Marshall Municipal Swimming Pool
I attended my first high school class reunion in 2014. So, what's the big deal? I graduated in 1957. You can do the math to figure how old I am.

In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated for a second term. I didn’t follow politics. The voting age was twenty-one and I wouldn’t be eligible for another three years. Gasoline was twenty-four cents a gallon, a first-class postage stamp was three cents, and a new car was around $2,000. The Bridge on the River Kwai received an Academy Award for best movie. Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, Paul Anka, and Buddy Holly were among my favorite music stars. Television shows I liked included You Bet Your Life, Tales of Wells Fargo, and The Danny Thomas Show.

Why go back now?
My school was Marshall High School in Marshall, Missouri, where I was born and raised. Can’t say precisely why I waited fifty-seven years to attend a class reunion. Maybe I felt my life was too ordinary to share, that I wouldn’t appear as successful as the other graduates, or my physical condition and clothing would not rise to a standard I imagined of my classmates. Whatever my thinking, I didn’t put the invitations onto my to-do lists.

Several things motivated me to attend the 2014 reunion. One was the invitation. “This will be our last reunion,” wrote Sandra Hilton Bucksath, one of the organizers. “So, please make your best effort to attend. We want to get together one more time to enjoy each other’s company.” What could I lose? My classmates were likely to be as overweight and gray-haired as I was, if they had hair and I don’t have much.

I was intrigued by the location of the reunion dinner, the Martin Conference Center at the Nicholas-Beazley Aviation Museum at Marshall Municipal Airport. Marshall Flying School was established at the airport in 1925 and became the largest civilian flight school in the world. My father was a civilian pilot. I vaguely recall he flew in and out of the Marshall airport. Perhaps the museum had a record of his flight certificate, although I don’t know whether he received his license in Marshall.

My wife made me do it 
Finally, and probably the biggest motivator, my wife Eryleene embarrassed me into attending. “You have to go,” she said. “You won’t forgive yourself if you don’t. You’ve told me stories about your classmates and you should see them again.” Then she played the you-may-never-have-another-chance-to-go-home card. “Your mother and her parents are buried in Marshall and this could be the last time you visit their graves.” Eryleene had been to Marshall a few times in our marriage as we visited family and for the funeral of my mother and grandmother.

“Visiting the graves would be good. And I could show you places of my childhood memories." I knew some of those memory places might not be there.

“And we can take pictures,” she replied.

Locations flashed through my brain: elementary schools I attended, houses I lived in, places I worked, the church I attended.

Thumbin' to the swimmin' pool
One place that came to mind was the municipal swimming pool where my younger brother Gene and I had season passes just about every summer. “Cheap entertainment,” our mother often said. It was natural and common for us and our friends to hitch rides to the pool with strangers. We stood at the corner of Odell and Yerby, a residential area approximately one and one-half miles west of the pool, carrying swim trunks wrapped in towels. We held out our thumbs to passing cars; sometimes we waived the wrapped trunks. It didn’t take long before we had a ride. After swimming, we asked drivers leaving the pool parking lot if they were going to Odell and Yerby, and again we quickly got a ride. It wasn’t only the boys; girls hitched rides, too.

“Totally crazy,” Eryleene sometimes said when she heard me tell that story. “Smart parents don’t let their children do that today.”

Back in 1957, though, in a small rural town where the biggest crimes were sneaking into a movie theater or running stop signs—Marshall had no traffic lights—we felt safe hitching rides from a street corner.

Coming up in Part 2: Conversations at the reunion dinner.

Photo: Eryleene Groner

Write Memoirs from Your Soul: Nan Merrick Phifer

Memoirs of the Soul cover
Memoirs of the Soul: A Writing Guide
Revised and Expanded Edition
Nan Merrick Phifer
Ingot Press, 2011
264 pages, with index, exercises, and suggested readings

Textbook author and workshop presenter Nan Merrick Phifer goes beyond standard memoir-writing guidelines and directs readers to a “voyage of the soul.” Public records, photographs, certificates, and other documents are physical evidence of your existence, she writes, but unless you reveal your feelings and thoughts, “few people will ever truly know you.”

Although she covers the basics of writing prompts, rough drafts, revising, negative criticism, procrastination, and so on, she goes much deeper, taking you into the world of yourself and showing how to capture your “love, grief, satisfaction, longing, … values, motives, beliefs, and hopes.” In other words, your soul.

Phifer's clear and direct writing, inspiring exercises, and nourishing testimonies from workshop participants will strengthen your leap of faith, guide your writing adventure, and give your memoir an emotional boost.

Call up your emotions
Phifer suggests you do not begin chronologically, although you may end up there. She recommends listing people who have been important to you, places of significant events in your life, things you would be sorry to lose, and your important experiences. Start by replacing the word important with intense and list times:
  • Your heart pounded.
  • Your stomach tightened.
  • Your skin tingled.
  • You held your breath.
  • You wept with joy, grief, or sympathy.
  • You want to relive.
  • You want to erase.
Smells, lights, sounds, and tastes often can stimulate memories, she writes.

Listening to your draft will help you find weak and strong points. She suggests you read your draft aloud or ask a friend to read it to you.

She divides the book into four parts. Part I, Beginnings, covers how to start and takes you through childhood and adolescence. Part II, Rising Action, helps you write about events that shaped your life including religion, struggles, marriage, birth, and death. Part III, Climaxes and Revelations, deals with love as a gift, dreams and visions, and spiritual well-being. Part IV, The Rewards, is for reflection, review, rewriting.

Make a book
Phifer distinguishes between memoirs and autobiographies. Memoirs focus on hours and minutes when you are most alive, moments of joy or crisis that define you, while autobiographies are broad overviews.

“You may be satisfied to have explored your inner life by means of writing and feel no inclination to leave a written record.” If you want to produce a book from your writing experiences, Phifer takes you through a simplified process. Parts of your book include:
  • Title page
  • Introduction
  • Author photograph
  • Chapters
  • Conclusion
  • Date
She shows how to make deletions and changes, replace general nouns with specific nouns, change passive voice to active voice, replace verbs of “being,” rearrange sections of writing, and proofread for a polished finish. A copy shop or printer can handle actual production of your book.

Pfifer states many writers find writing is more fulfilling than producing a book. “The writing itself may have been a spiritual experience,” not necessarily religious, but “the essential and activating principle at the center of your being, your intangible essence.”

How do you find your spiritual center and write about it? Have you read a good book that helped you and want to review it here? See Guidelines for Guest Posts and  Book Reviews.

Nan Phifer taught at secondary and college levels. She was a National Teaching Fellow under Title III of the Higher Education Act, and granted a Certificate of Award in Recognition of Distinguished Achievement in Adult Basic Education Programs. Now retired from college teaching, she presents workshops to writers' groups, libraries, religious and contemplative organizations, continuing education programs, and retreat and renewal organizations. She may be reached at www.memoirworkshops.com.

Photo courtesy www.memoirworkshops.com

Write Your Life Story: Three Books You Never Knew You Needed

Yes, this is another one of those posts that recommends books to help you write your memoir, biography, or family history.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “I don't need another how-to book. Aren’t there gazillions of those and aren’t they all alike?”

 Yes and almost yes.

“Well then there now—thank you very much George Gobel—what makes your list so blasted different?”

I’ll respond with what my list is not. It is not a list of books on how to write your life story.

“So you fooled me with your headline when you said it was about writing my life story?”

About writing your life story, not how-to.

“Okay, I’ll stay with you a little longer. This better be good.”

Give your words life
Good is a good start. It is an adjective, as in “a good product: fine, superior,” and thirty-five other synonyms listed in the first entry of the word in the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 2012). I say the first entry, because the Writer’s Thesaurus has eighteen entries for the word good as an adjective, two as a noun, and four as phrases. Each entry has dozens of synonyms, with an antonym or two thrown in, for a total of more than 500 (I counted them) synonyms and antonyms.

At a hefty 1,050 pages, this book has more than 15,000 main entries, 300,000 synonyms, and 10,000 antonyms. Compiler Christine A. Lindberg says subtle differences can guide you to the best alternative. Complementing the entries are word notes throughout by more than 200 contributing authors.

Give your characters expression
Your life story has characters who enter and exit, speak and stay silent; they act and react, and so do you as the storyteller. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012) guides you through thousands of verbal and nonverbal emotions. Included are physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, expressed and suppressed feelings.

Authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi say their book will help you brainstorm new ideas about emotions and make your writing fresh and engaging. Although written for novelists, the book is exceptional (opposite of normal and usual) for writing your life story.

Give yourself the look of a professional
Computers have made it too easy to check spelling and grammar. A couple of clicks of your computer’s mouse and all the mistakes are underscored in red and with suggested corrections. Yeah, sure. It is up to you, or someone you hire, to proofread and edit your manuscript. Whether you are writing your life story for family and friends or to be published for all the world, you do not want to appear ignorant of grammar and punctuation.

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, Eleventh Edition (Jossey-Bass, 2014) is an easy-to-use guide that will give you the skills and knowledge you need to look like you know what you are doing. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, who vs. whom, periods, commas, hyphens, dashes, capitalization, and writing numbers are just a few of the dozens of topics. The book is based on the work of Jane Straus (1954-2011), educator, best-selling author, and founder of GrammarBook.com.

“I’m convinced. Now what?”
Buy these books, dog-ear them, mark all over them, and recommend them. You will treasure them for a lifetime.

Tell us the best books on writing your life story you recommend and how they helped you.

Images courtesy Amazon.com.