Missouri Warrior Writers Project, Part 1 of 3: A-fishing We Will Go

Deborah Marshall
Guest article by Deborah Marshall

The summer of 2009 I was working for a national outdoors retailer and went trout fishing on the North Fork of the White River, approximately thirty miles west of West Plains, Missouri. I stayed at the River of Life Farm resort. I learned from owners Myron and Ann McKee their son Jeremy was a wounded soldier and that some soldiers had come to the resort.

As a former newspaper reporter, the wheels started turning in my head. All kinds of wonderful things are available for soldiers when they came back to the states as long as they lived on the East Coast. I was aware of nothing going on in the Midwest.

“I’m willing to open up my place for any wounded warriors at no charge,” Myron said.

First contact
We contacted the Warriors Transition Unit at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, one of approximately three dozen such units throughout the United States. Soldiers who no longer require hospitalization and are not well enough to return to the field or their communities stay in the units for about thirty days. Most have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They don’t have much to do in the units except wait for their next appointments, usually at Veterans Administration medical centers in St. Louis or Columbia.

The Unit Commander at Fort Wood, Major Mark Wilkinson, was enthusiastic about the idea and arranged for a van to take eighteen male and female soldiers to the resort just three weeks after we contacted him. They spent four days river floating, walking hiking trails, and fishing. A colleague and I from my work taught them how to tie flies and fly-fish.

I received permission from Major Wilkinson to interview the soldiers individually. I asked about their experiences, how they were wounded, what happened to them since they returned to the States. Each one I spoke with expressed the same feeling:  “I want to write my story but I don’t have a clue how to do it.”

I know writing can be healing
Researchers have proven that writing can be healing. I know from my own semi-disability—my spine is fused from L2 down—how much healing there is in writing and how it helped me set my head straight about things I was unable to do any more.

Soldiers told me of the stigma they felt with PTSD, that when they go home for short visits people look at them as some sort of freak. Talking with someone who understands or writing about it helps in the recovery process.

When I returned home after the four days, I saw a television news interview with Brigadier General Loree K. Sutton, M.D., the highest ranking psychiatrist in the U.S. Army and director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE). She said due to the high numbers of individuals returning with brain injuries and psychological health diagnoses, it was virtually impossible for the Armed Forces to keep up with the demand on services, “therefore, we call on the communities surrounding veterans to help us find ways to deliver services to them.”

I’m thinking writing therapy. Writers could do that. We are a natural resource because we lead workshops, we’ve been teachers, and many of us are interviewers. I went back to Fort Leonard Wood and visited with Major Wilkinson again.

Next week, Part 2: In search of grant funding.

Deborah Marshall is founder of Missouri Warrior Writers Project. She is president of the Missouri Writers' Guild and a former newspaper reporter and editor who now writes historical fiction, creative nonfiction, and short stories. Her work has been published in medical journals, magazines, and anthologies. 

Photo courtesy Deborah Marshall.

Share your comments of helping veterans write their stories, or tell about a program with which you are familiar. If you are a veteran, have you been in a writing program? If so, what were the results?

Larry McGee: Writing a Memoir is a Special Gift You Can Give Your Family

Larry McGee
Guest article by Larry McGee

I have a close friend who has been struggling with dementia. Not the kind that most of us past 70 experience, but the kind a doctor diagnoses. I hadn’t visited him in some time and decided to spend an afternoon with him.

We go back many years. We were in the same business and often, accompanied by our wives, traveled to national conventions in conjunction with our jobs. We had many stories to relate, and all of them were enjoyable. We shared pictures and memories of more than 30 years. When my wife died unexpectedly, my buddy was at my side and helped me through that difficult time. 

The need to hang on to memories
Now that he needs help, I feel helpless to assist. His dementia has increased to the point that he doesn’t understand that he needs help. I know that he recognizes me, but he can’t speak to me or call me by name. He will shake my hand and occasionally wink at me in a manner that I know he is trying to communicate. The most difficult thing about his illness is that there is no cure.

As I think about my friend, I see the need to hang on to him, if not in person, at least in good memories. His life as we all knew it is gone, and there will be no more fond memories to be made, and he can’t share with us anymore the memories that he holds dear about his life. They are gone, forever locked inside of him. That’s why a person needs to write a memoir. His children will want to know what dad held dear in his life, and they can’t ask him now.

A memory book for my wife
I felt this same need when my wife passed away. She of course had shared with me what events were important to her as we shared 37 years together. So after her death, I wrote for her a memory book complete with pictures and addressed a section to each of our grandchildren. I was sure that without such a memoir, grandma might be forgotten as they grew to adulthood. I don’t know if they occasionally read it today, but I am sure they will when they want to share with someone else who their grandmother was.

I haven’t written my memoir yet, but I intend to. Visiting my dear friend drives home the necessity to complete mine before I, too, find it impossible to do. The memoir doesn’t have to be lengthy and doesn’t have to include tidbits from childhood. It should however, be in your own words so that your loved ones can understand better who you were in real life. Even though we may live with loved ones for years, we seldom share with them our innermost thoughts. Surprisingly, many children have a different understanding of who their parents are than what the parents were hoping to exhibit.

Book, video, or audio
Some people feel incapable of writing a memoir. It doesn’t have to be a book and doesn’t have to be written. In this modern day of communication, the manner in which it is compiled is endless. Video and audio recordings would be even better to leave loved ones. Dictating to someone else to write would be OK, but loved ones want to read or hear a memoir in the first person.

What should I include? My advice is to include what you want your children and grandchildren to remember about you. Who you were growing up and what you became as a result of that upbringing. Share with your loved ones, not only thoughts, but pictures, videos, cards and letters that you accumulated over the years. There is no end to the imagination that you can put into your memoir. Happy creating!

Columnist Larry McGee writes "Fibber's Closet" for the Miami County Republic, Paola, Kansas. This article was first published in the newspaper November 9, 2011. Photo and article reprinted with permission.

Share comments on what you are doing to preserve memories for your children and grandchildren.

Home Grown Books: You Can Start a Holiday Tradition

Left to right: Schyrlet Cameron,
Carolyn Craig, Kathy Brown

Sitting in your favorite chair—comfy, soothing, quiet—reading an engrossing book. Intoxicating aroma of hot coffee from a new mug surrounds your space, coffee brewed with fresh-ground Arabica beans.

Wait a minute. That’s not you? Wossamotta U? (Hats off to Rocky and Bullwinkle.)

It could be you if you ordered your book, mug, and coffee beans from Home Grown Books and KeenBean Coffee Roasters, Mount Vernon, Missouri. Treat yourself or start a holiday gift tradition while giving a boost to self-published authors who live in the Ozarks.

“This is a perfect fit for our authors and just one of the ways we help them promote their self-published books,” says Home Grown Books co-founder Schyrlet (as in Charlotte) Cameron.

In the beginning
Home Grown Books was started by Cameron, her sister Kathy Brown, and Carolyn Craig as a result of their own experiences. The women vacationed together several times and when they returned home told stories of their trips, embellished for more fun. Friends and family encouraged them to write a novel and publish it. The trio went with the popular vampire theme.

“It had to be humorous, not scary like other vampire books,” says Cameron. “The women had to be strong and get the best of the vampires instead of being victims. We figured the big traditional publishing houses wouldn’t be interested, so we self-published.”

They used the pseudonym CC Brown as the author of their paranormal thriller, Dark Side. The book was awarded Best of Show at the 2011 Northern Oklahoma Literary Arts Book Festival and chosen the Number One Summer Read by the Springfield News-Leader in 2011. It is available at Amazon.com  and BarnesandNoble.com. It is also in Barnes & Noble stores in Springfield, St. Louis, Kansas City, Tulsa, and San Antonio. The authors held book signings in each of those cities.

“Too many new authors don’t understand that publishers, agents, distributors, and readers are not going to break down doors to get their books,” says Cameron. Authors also don’t understand how to promote their books. That’s where Home Grown Books comes in using the bookstore-within-a-coffee-shop business model.

Their first two stores
Tracy and Darrell Bradshaw, owners of KeenBean Coffee Roasters, agreed to rent bookshelf space. The Bradshaws are supportive of the arts, showcasing and selling works of local artists and crafters in their sixties-style coffee shop. Carolyn Craig built bookshelves which she and others installed. First on the shelves were Dark Side and books of Betty Craker Henderson who writes novels for young adults.

“The exposure is good for me,” says Henderson. “I get more sales from this method than with book signings.”

It’s a win-win for everyone.

“We really like supporting local authors,” says Tracy Bradshaw. “We get customers and customers get an extra treat.”

Four months after opening and with fifteen authors on board, Home Grown Books expanded to Maggie Mae’s Tea Room in Miller, Missouri. Owner Marsha Hill was already displaying books by several authors and liked the idea of adding shelf space.

“It’s a wonderful way to show appreciation for our local authors,” says Hill.

Today, Home Grown Books has thirty authors and is looking for another location.

How the process works
An author of fiction or nonfiction, whether self-published or traditional, provides five to ten books and pays Home Grown Books ten dollars per month to help cover the shelf rental fees. Reading areas are available in the stores. Visitors find a book they like and pay for it at checkout. Stores record sales and turn over the money monthly to Home Grown Books, which forwards the money to authors. Authors receive 100% of their book’s cover price.

Sales are not guaranteed and not every member sells a book every month. To increase the likelihood of sales, Home Grown Books helps authors find speaking engagements, book signings, newspaper and broadcast interviews, buys newspaper advertising, has an online bookstore, and is developing video trailers for authors.

“At the present time this is a fun volunteer project for us,” says Cameron. “Perhaps down the road we can work out a way for us to make money. For now, we’re happy helping Ozarks authors become successful who otherwise might not receive recognition and payment.”

What’s next? Perhaps a how-to book detailing the Home Grown Books model of book promotion and sales.

In the meantime, visit Home Grown Books and order your fresh-ground Arabica coffee beans, mug, and book and start your tradition for the holidays. Shipped anywhere in the world. You provide the comfortable chair.

View a TV interview about the project and visit the Home Grown Books blog

Schyrlet Cameron has thirty-four years of experience as an elementary and middle school teacher. She has authored or co-authored thirteen teacher resource books. Carolyn Craig has twenty-six years of experience as an elementary and middle school teacher and has co-authored nine teacher resource books. Kathy Brown is a licensed preschool educator, has thirty years of experience in early childhood education, and owns and operates a preschool day care.

Photo courtesy Schyrlet Cameron.

Tell us about your experiences in a promotional group for local authors in your area.

Ira Wagler: Growing Up Amish

Ira Wagler
Book Review: Growing Up Amish
A Memoir by Ira Wagler
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2011
Paperback, 288 pages

No cars. No electricity. No telephones.

Horse-drawn buggies for transportation and to power farming implements.

Long-flowing, home-sewn dresses and head coverings with chin strings for the women and girls. Homemade trousers with no belt loops and no zipper for the men and boys; pants held up by suspenders. Beards but no mustaches for the married men.

And the bishop’s word is law.

This was the Old Order Amish community of Aylmer, Ontario into which Ira Wagler was born in 1961. He was one of eleven children, four of whom—including him—would leave the church. Two brothers and a sister left while the family was in Aylmer. Such leavings were an embarrassment to parents, reflecting on their abilities and methods of raising children. To escape the embarrassment and to keep the family Amish, his parents moved the family to an Amish community in Bloomfield, Iowa.

A note under his pillow
In Growing Up Amish, Wagler writes clearly, simply, and convincingly of the struggles he faced with the rules and restrictions of Amish life. Those who did not question what they were told were called drones. Those with a “speck of spirit” longed for worldly things.

“Think about it. You are in a box—a comfortable box, but a pretty confining one. You wonder what’s outside. You peek out a bit now and then, and peer around. But deep down, you know that if you step outside that box, you are speeding directly down the highway to hell and could arrive at any instant. Boom, just like that.”

He stepped outside the box at age seventeen when he left home, early in the morning before sunrise, leaving a note under his pillow. Young Amish often left like that. He worked farms and construction in Kansas, Montana, Indiana, the Dakotas, Florida, and Ontario; took up smoking cigarettes, hard drinking, and running around with “English” women. He was excommunicated from the Order and later reinstated after confessing his sins—specifically, one at a time—before a board of elders.

“I’d done a lot of bad stuff, possibly even committed the unpardonable sin. Blasphemed the Holy Spirit, that horrendous act about which Amish preachers often thundered at great length and warned against. None had ever, as far as I could remember, defined that unpardonable sin. What it meant to blaspheme the Spirit. But it probably applied to me and the things I’d done. Who could tell?”

Trying to fit in
Wagler returned home and left again numerous times. During one home period he attempted to settle permanently into the Amish life. He and a brother-in-law bought out the farming business of Wagler’s father and he became engaged to a woman he knew for many years. But, with little interest in farming operations and his restless spirit tearing at him, he broke off the engagement and turned over the farm to his partner.

“Behind me lay a long and bitter trail, littered with the remains of so many broken dreams, some of which were my own, but mostly those of others.”

At age twenty-six he left the idealistic and sheltered life of the Amish church for good. He remains a Christian.

“Even though they no longer claim me as one of their own, I deeply respect the people connected to me by blood or background—the Amish. Their culture and their faith. With all their flaws. And all their strengths. They will always be a part of me.”

His heartwarming, bestselling memoir of trying to define himself apart from his upbringing is a rollercoaster of emotions: pure, personal, honest, dark, humorous, picturesque, joyful, sad, frustrating, enlightening, depressing, and courageous.

He has no regrets for the road he chose.

Wagler is an attorney and is general manager of a pole building supply company in Pennsylvania. He blogs at www.irawagler.com. Read an interview with him at www.janetober.com.

Photo by Evonda Braswell.

Your review of a memoir or how-to book could appear here. See Guidelines for Guest Posts and Book Reviews. Submissions selected are subject to editing. 

Introductory Offer: Now is the Time

Yours may be among the many families traditionally planning to gather for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You look forward to relationships strengthened, memories renewed, new stories told.

This is an excellent time to take the first steps to permanently capture your memories; to start writing your memoir, life story, or family history while loved ones are around to enjoy and share. Unpredictable events arise all too quickly.

Put off no longer. Now is the time.

I’m offering to first-time clients a special package at a reduced price to introduce you to my services. This special offer may be used by you, a family member or other loved one, or a friend you recommend.

Why I'm doing this
So you may: 
  • See the benefits of starting now to write your memoir, life story, or family history.
  •  Have a clearer understanding of my services as a personal historian. 
  •  Recommend me to others. 
  •  Consider continuing with a larger project.

The offer 
  1. Free 30-minute consultation to learn your desires and focus of your story. 
  2. Four recorded interviews up to 45 minutes each. These can be by telephone once a week or several times a week. 
  3. A polished manuscript up to 30 pages double-spaced, emailed to you or sent by postal mail. 
  4. Does not include photos or images, genealogical searches, book formatting, book production, or CD. 
  5. Total fee of $495 plus postage. Family members may wish to participate in the cost. One-third is due when we agree to do your project, one-third upon finishing the interviews, and one-third when you receive your manuscript. 
  6. If you decide to continue with a larger project, all of your fee will be applied to the larger project when started within one year.
  7. Your satisfaction is guaranteed.
Get started now
Send me an email or telephone 417-883-4532 for your free consultation. There is no charge or obligation and I would be happy to respond to your questions. Today would be fine.