Introducing October Sky Designs – Journals by a Writer for Writers

I am working on a new project that excites me more than anything else I have ever created. The product line is an infant, but will be growing rapidly as time permits.

So far, I am working on a line of journals (or notebooks, depending on your naming convention preferences). I am personally sourcing the old (and in some cases, actual antique) hardcover books shown in the photographs, and using premium paper products to handcraft unique old-world style notebooks. I am throwing away my Moleskines. As a writer, I can tell you that I have spent a lifetime trying out various mass-produced notebooks. I started using the Moleskine line in my late 20’s, and that was as close as I ever got to satisfaction until now.

I absolutely recant the virtues I previously extolled upon the Moleskine line in print circa 2013. I have held my own creation in my own hands and now there is nothing else that will do. The Writer’s Pages line meets my exceedingly high expectations in every category that a writer would be concerned about when selecting a journal or notebook:  aesthetics, individuality, timelessness, products that inspire you to sit and think and to write/create/build/live/travel, with the inclusion of higher quality premium paper products (along with five envelopes for storage, in response to the Moleskine’s lonely little one in the back).

There are two lines today: Writer’s Pages, and Haunted Asylums journals.

My photos of two of the spec books:

Bird 1

Bird 3



More details can be found at my new site:


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The Old Charleston Jail

Llewellyn ran my article about the Old Charleston Jail yesterday. The full article can be viewed here:

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Why is the RMS Queen Mary Considered to be One of the Most Haunted Hotels in the World?

The Queen Mary has been called one of the most haunted places in the world, and perhaps there is a great deal of truth to that label. Brian Clune and Bob Davis wrote about the ghostly legends surrounding the ship in their 2014 book entitled Ghosts of the Queen Mary. The late Peter James (former resident ship psychic and probably most famous for the television show “Sightings”) thought that he had been in contact with about 600 spirits during the course of his employment on board the ship.  What are some of the most popular stories that are discussed in the Clune/Davis book that could explain some of the hauntings?

  • Allegedly, when the ship was being built in 1934, two men died and their corpses were later discovered close together, with a welding torch nearby. Peter James thought that the spirit called “John Henry” was one of these men.
  • A spirit of a ghost girl, thought to have broken her neck from a slide down the forward third-class banister.
  • During the war years, many people died onboard of heat stroke and exhaustion.
  • People have heard sounds of screaming and rushing water in the area of ship where the propellers used to be. Perhaps this is a residual effect from the Curacao accident of 1942, which killed 338 men.
  • There is a little girl spirit called “Jackie” that could be from the late 1940’s.
  • An officer ingested poison and died on the ship.
  • John Pedder was crushed in a watertight door (Number 13) in 1966 when he was working in the engine room.

Burials at Sea

I have another possible theory for all of these hauntings that I have not seen discussed in print or even heard anyone mention in passing thus far. Sometimes, passengers and crew members were buried at sea. I find this tradition to be particularly haunting for some reason.  It just seems so lonely and unsettled. You can never really know what happens to the body, and no one can ever visit a grave. But, there is a purity in it too. After all, if you are a transient (and aren’t we all if we are brutally honest about it), you are just passing through, wherever you are, and no matter if you have been in the same place for the last twenty years, you are still just a transient here on Earth.   Exhibits in the ship state that traditionally, a sailor would be sewn in his own hammock, but first, a stitch would be made through his nose first to make sure he was actually dead.  In modern times, the burials at sea would be completed by wrapping the body in about three yards of canvas, and the last stitch was omitted from the customary historic ritual.

I consulted a research paper (“Interment without Earth:  A Study of Sea Burials during the Age of Sail) by a student at Duke University by the name of Johnathan Pryor to learn more about the customs of sailors in handling the dead while at sea. Historically, there exists much superstition among sailors from every culture about having a corpse on the ship. There were important rituals that must be done in order to avoid invoking the anger of the dead. The body had to be washed, dressed and enshrouded, a service had to be held, and then the body would be committed to the deep.  Often, the body would be weighted by a cannon ball, shackles, or chains to make sure it would not surface. Taking into consideration that there do not seem to be any records of burials at sea while the Queen Mary was serving as a war ship during World War II (from about 1939 – 1946), it really makes you wonder just how many men were thrown over, and if there is something to all that superstition after all.

There is a very famous (and haunting) image on file with the National Archives that is of a burial at sea on board the USS Intrepid after an attack during World War II.


As part of researching for my second book, I stayed overnight on board the Queen Mary and attended a ghost hunt late Friday night, March 20, 2015. I submit to you a personal report of my haunted experience with the famous ship:

Evening Ghost Hunt with Matthew Schulz, Project Founder / Investigator – ParaXplorer Project

Matthew Schulz is the RMS Queen Mary Paranormal Investigation Tour Host. The evening began at 11:00 p.m. and lasted until well over 3:00 a.m. Our first stop was in the engine room and we were briefed on the legend of John Pedder (a worker who was crushed by a watertight door on July 10, 1966 on Voyage 483 West) and introduced to dowsing rods and some other tools. We were allowed to wonder for a good deal of time in the area alone, or with a small group, and I ventured off by myself to explore and take photos. The lights were kept on (I would imagine it is for insurance reasons), so it was a little difficult to “get in the mood,” so to speak. Nevertheless, the photo opportunities were incredible, and it was a good experience to be down there without a large crowd or to feel rushed through at all.

The famous door where John Pedder was crushed:


Engine room shot:


Matthew played some of the Class “A” EVPs that have been captured down here and what is so amazing to me is that you can hear what sounds like the same male voice responding to different people over the years. I checked back with Matthew, and he clarified that the EVPs appear to come from an older gentleman, possibly an officer, saying “Get out!,” and “It restarts me.” The EVP possibly attributable to John Pedder was a “Yes” response to the question “Are you here, John?”

Our next stop took us to the boiler room and to the green room, where there was an impressive set-up of experiments.  There were laser grids set-up for us to sit quietly and watch for shadows to break the light displays. There were also headsets in the green room that were connected to a recorder with a ten second delay to listen to any EVPS captured in real-time! While I did not personally experience anything while partaking in this part of the hunt, I did note how progressive and thoughtful this outfit was. I have yet to be anywhere where this type of technology is being used during public events.  Typically, they just walk us through with a flashlight and that’s it. Matthew had quite the set-up going on!

The last area on our hunt was the first class swimming pool and dressing room. We walked (or scaled) across a dark  catwalk to get there. I am struggling with how to write about my feeling and impression of this area without sounding like a melodramatic sap.  The best way that I can think of to convey how it felt was that it looked as though I had stumbled upon one of those old Hollywood synchronized swimming movies. The area is extremely dimly lit, and it is hard to make out the colors in the old tile, although they appeared to be a mint green and yellow. While the pool has been drained for structural reasons, and is in a state of disrepair, it is evident that the room used to be quite the beauty.


It feels otherworldly, to say the least, and almost electrically charged. The strangest thing that happened here was that our entire small group was gathered closely together by the stairs and were listening intently while our guide spoke to “Jackie,” the famous spirit believed to be a little girl. Suddenly, we heard what sounded like the disembodied giggle of a little girl over our heads! The Ghosts & Legends tour that uses special effects was actually closed down for maintenance on my March 20, 2015 visit. It seems unlikely that given the approximate 2:45 a.m. time, that there would have been an actual child outside the room somewhere making the noise. Additionally, everyone in the group was legitimately shocked to hear this sound. There was no one above us, and I don’t believe anyone in the group made this sound. I saw everyone’s face and no one looked like they were guilty or having a laugh at everyone else’s expense. Is it possible that we were experiencing one of those DVP’s (Direct Voice Phenomenon) that Peter James used to report and that Brian Clune and Bob Davis have written about?

Things got weirder when we moved the party to the dressing room. It could have been a combination of the pitch darkness, the late hour, how tired I was, and the fear effect, but as we all divided ourselves up and claimed individual changing stalls for our own, I started to get a little bit uneasy. The uneasiness grew to a feeling of outright uncomfortableness, and then spiked to absolute terror. I was alone in the pitch dark, but ultimately in close range to a group of people, including our group leader, who had been very nice and accommodating to me coming alone on his tour without a small group of my own. I have no idea why I started to panic. After all, we were in the dark earlier in the green room and in the boiler room. I really had to talk myself down in my head. I started getting control of my breathing, and I had to keep repeating to myself that I was okay.  There was a moment where I felt frozen, and I was afraid to turn around in my stall, because I had an image in my mind of a bad lady who had stringy long hair, black eye sockets, and rotting flesh. I rationalized that as long as I refused to acknowledge her existence, she couldn’t get me. This is a case of your mind running away from you, because there are no documents of anyone drowning in this pool, and Matthew had not been telling us scary stories in the dark. In fact, he had not even said anything about a woman haunting this area at all, our focus was completely on trying to make contact with Jackie, the child spirit. I was just standing alone in the dark, replaying every horror movie I had ever seen on a loop in my own head, like a crazy person. I felt my knees buckle, and I had to steady myself by bracing both arms against the walls.

Shortly after that, we all heard a loud knock, seemingly in response to a question, but that could have been anyone on the tour who was further down the hallway in the changing rooms. I got so exhausted and dizzy, I began to hallucinate. I thought I was seeing different mist type things at the end of the hallway moving about, but I would blink and shake my head and then there would be nothing but darkness again. I briefly considered curling up at the back of my stall and going to sleep. I wondered if they would find me, or if I would wake up by myself at 5:30 a.m. down in the bowels of the ship and have a heart attack down there when I realized I was all alone and lost. All of these events cycled through in the course of just a few minutes. Ultimately, I kept chewing on my tongue and reminding myself that I was a badass and I needed to get it together before somebody had to come and carry me out of there like a little baby. I finished the tour like a champ. When I returned home and began reading about the ship, I found out that many visitors have referred to this area as a vortex or a portal site.  In fact, consider these excerpts from the Clune/Davis book:

Page 68:  “There are many paranormal hot spots throughout the ship, but as we all know, the first-class poolroom is the center of all the activity that goes on in the ship and is located in the heart of the ship. The corridor of dressing rooms located in the poolroom is rumored to harbor a vortex where the spirits enter and exit, and many psychics believe that a vortex is always located in the heart of a building or location.”

 Page 112:  “This portal to the other side is purported to be located in the narrow aisle between the changing closets, three stalls back from the port side.  It is said that if you stand at this spot, you will feel the hair on the back of your neck and on your arms rise, your skin will crawl and eventually you will begin to get dizzy. People have claimed that when they are near this spot, they get the feeling of being watched, their adrenaline will start to pump uncontrollably and they will have a strong urge to flee the cramped changing room area.”

When I came across these passages, I found myself covered in goosebumps from head to toe. Reflecting back upon my ghost adventure while on board the RMS Queen Mary, I am only left to wonder if there is something to those vortex claims about the first class swimming pool after all.


Filed under Haunted Hotels

Is Lemp Mansion a Paranormal Tourist Trap?

My guest post that ran today over on Mysterious Heartland. Lemp Mansion will be featured in my upcoming title with Llewellyn Worldwide (Haunted Hotels), to be released in October 2016.




Filed under Haunted Hotels, Travel

On My Bookshelf: The Ghosts of Chicago, The Windy City’s Most Famous Haunts, by Adam Selzer

I picked up a copy of Adam Selzer’s The Ghosts of Chicago a few weeks ago when I was scouting locations for my upcoming project (Haunted Hotels).


He is absolutely hilarious, which is very hard to be in this genre. I knew I was going to love his book when on page 3 of his Introduction he talked about seeing Scooby-Doo as a kid and thinking “driving around in a van solving mysteries was the way to live.” Don’t we all still think that thought?!

Adam is a tour guide and historian, and I love his explanation for authenticating evidence (pointing out that the official records, newspapers, and even surviving relatives cannot always be relied upon). In addition to educating me, he kept me plenty entertained with his musings about what it is like to ride a bus in Chicago (Page 125: “I sometimes think I must have a sign on my back reading, Tell Me About Judgment Day”). I can so relate to that just about every single time I wind up in the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport.

Here is what Adam had to say about ghost evidence, the famously haunted Congress Hotel, and the rumors about the upcoming season of American Horror Story: Hotel.

I love how you explain to readers in your Introduction that there is no such thing as “good” ghost evidence, only “cool” ghost evidence. Page 11 contains a note to ghost hunters about gear and equipment. Can you elaborate on that a bit for us?

I think most of those gadgets are just toys, at best. More often than not they’re just devices for tricking yourself into thinking you saw a ghost. There’s almost always another possible explanation for photos, sightings, recordings, everything. Equipment readings, that much more. None of this stuff is going to hold up in court or convert the unbelievers – even with the best of the stuff, people just have to take your word for it that you didn’t fake it. That’s part of why I hate it when people ask me to analyze their photos. I don’t want to have to accuse them of faking things! But sometimes even the fact that something can be explained doesn’t mean it isn’t cool.

What do you think about the Congress Hotel today? The legends are fascinating to me. I wonder if it would be your nomination for the most historic haunted Chicago hotel, or if there is a less famous haunted hotel that you would recommend for travelers.

If the Congress isn’t haunted, no place is haunted. But as its fame as a haunted spot has grown in recent years, the amount of nonsense stories going around is skyrocketing. I think that every time someone calls and asks for the most haunted room, they just give them some random room number and then the people go online and say “room 441 is the haunted one!” This all comes out of nowhere. But it’s not like we NEED fake stories about the place; there’re plenty of stories about it already.

Chapter 3 educates us about The Eastland Disaster, which was a ship that tipped over in 1915 and killed anywhere from 844 – 1200 people. What are your thoughts about some of the residual experiences that you’ve had near the LaSalle Street Bridge?

Tough one – I’ve seen and heard some weird stuff around there, but it’s such a busy area that it’s particularly hard not to think it must have been something else. But here’s an interesting thing: the LaSalle bridge wasn’t there in 1915, but there WAS a pedestrian tunnel under the river at LaSalle. A lot of people are said to have died in it during the fire in 1871. The tunnel is bricked off now, but it’s still down there someplace.

The upcoming season of the popular television show – American Horror, has announced that their new theme for fall 2015 will be “Hotel.”  There has been some internet buzz that the inspiration for this theme was H.H. Holmes. If this is true, how do you imagine all the ways that the show will get this completely and totally wrong? 

Oh, geez, I hadn’t heard that…. Holmes’ building was briefly called “the World’s Fair Hotel,” but it wasn’t a hotel in the modern sense of the word. There was no front desk, no lobby, no check-in times, no nightly rates. It was more short term apartments. The third floor was added specifically for use as world’s fair flats, but I think the main idea was that it gave him a reason to raise money from investors. Most people in that building lived there for months at a time, I’m not sure much was EVER done on the third floor. It wasn’t structurally very sound.  People tend to get just about everything about Holmes wrong; the story we hear about him now is sort of taking all of the wildest theories tabloids could come up with at the time and assuming they were all true. And it got pretty nuts. He’d been out of the building for a year and a half when they started investigating, and there were a couple of weeks where they were just saying “We found some rope – was he hanging people? We found a board with a nail in it – was THAT how he did it?” It was out of control, really. The whole idea of him preying on Wold’s Fair victims came from one offhand line in a New York paper. It was just a wild theory of what he COULD have been doing.

What is your favorite place to take travelers to and why (both paranormal travelers and tourists in general visiting Chicago)?

The Congress is a fun one – even putting all the paranormal stuff aside there’s history in ever nook and cranny of that place. They’re not as apt to give me the run of the place as they used to be, though. As business has picked up (and the number of people asking about nonsense ghost stories has increased) they’ve gotten less accommodating. But I can still usually show people the ballrooms. I also like to show off places like the law library high up in the Daley center, the old swimming pool in the Intercontinental, and the old mansions down on Prairie Avenue.

What is the most over-rated sort of tourist trap of Chicago? Where do the locals like to eat?

Navy Pier. I’m never sure what the point of that place is; it’s just a little off-site place to keep the tourists. Locals don’t generally go to places like Hard Rock Cafe, Rainforest Cafe, etc.  Everyone gets their own favorite neighborhood spots after a while. I like a place called Pie-Eyed at Chicago and Milwaukee.

Do you consider yourself a paranormal enthusiast, ghost hunter, or a folklorist (or what term do you think is best if you even identify with a label?!)

I usually prefer “historian who specializes in places that are supposed to be haunted.” I’m always afraid to say “ghost hunter” because then people imagine me running around in old buildings shouting “Come at me, bro!” And I’m pretty skeptical about paranormal or supernatural explanations for things – these things usually turn out to be something else, and I know that very well, even though it doesn’t keep me from having fun on investigations. I’m fine with letting my imagination run away with me in the heat of the moment.

What were your biggest challenges in writing this book? Looking back, how was your experience with the publishing process, and what have you learned over the years about publishing and marketing?

Trying not to ramble, if I remember right! It’s been a while since that one, really. I haven’t even been with the tour company in the book in years now. But it was a fun one; it was my first sign of just how much easier nonfiction is to promote than fiction. I’ve learned that repeatedly. I mean, I had a book about silent film production in Chicago out through a university press last month. It got more press in one week than my last three novels combined.

Take us through your writing process for a non-fiction book. (Do you write by hand or always type? Do you keep a writing schedule? Do you have a certain number of drafts you complete before turning in final copy?)

Hand write? How old do you think I am? Haha. I type and type. I usually get up in the morning and go right to the coffee shop and write until I’m done. Then I work at my desk at home in the evenings. With nonfiction there’s a lot more research in the middle.

Tell us how to keep up with you and about your upcoming projects/happenings.

Your best bet is probably the Mysterious Chicago blog –

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Preston Castle Foundation Marks New Ownership with March 21, 2015 Deed Ceremony

Gather around, gather around. Open invitations have been issued to mark the transfer of ownership over at Preston Castle. PrestonCastleInvite-1

About thirteen years ago, the State of California leased the Preston Castle to the Preston Castle Foundation under a 55-year lease. As you might imagine, real rehabilitation strides can only be made with ownership. Now the property can go from preservation to rehabilitation. History or criminology buffs may know the building because it dates back to 1894, when it was the Preston School of Industry. The building pictured below (courtesy of Jerry Funderburgh, Vice President of the Preston Castle Foundation) was actually the administration building.


The Preston School of Industry was part of the rehabilitation movement to teach juvenile boys useful skills instead of resorting to incarceration alone, and it was in operation through 1960. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Paranormal buffs know the building from local legends and many television shows that have covered the unsolved murder of Anna Corbin, among other mysterious occurrences. I have always said that it would be on my list of locations if I ever get around to writing a sequel to Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums.

Castle Spirits is the in-house group that coordinates the many paranormal events that the Preston Castle Foundation schedules. In fact, they are hosting their very first paranormal conference the last weekend of May. Besides encouraging the paranormal events, the Foundation offers a wealth of programs for the entire community. They have wine tastings & tours, photographer’s day, flashlight tours, movie nights, and even a golf event planned soon! Such good news out of Ione, California.

To keep up with events over at The Castle, visit their site or “Like” them on Facebook:

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On My Bookshelf: Gravely Mistaken, by Janis Ann Parks

Do you know who the Resurrection Man was? I guess I had never really thought about the connection between grave-robbing and medical schools. Oh yeah, that was a real thing. Sack-em up gentlemen or Resurrectionists were men who had the job of digging up bodies and supplying cadavers for medical schools.

I bought my copy of Gravely Mistaken by Janis Ann Parks upon a suggestion by Amazon! I had no idea that she was an author from Augusta, Georgia when I first found her book. Body-snatching was in full effect over at the Medical College of Georgia in the 1800’s. Gravely Mistaken is a work of historical fiction, but Ms. Parks conducted extensive research (more on that below), into the life of Grandison Harris, the Resurrection Man. According to Parks, the Medical College of Georgia purchased Grandison Harris in 1852 for the specific purpose of “procuring subjects for anatomical study.” This is not a typo.

Parks weaves several story lines and characters throughout her book that make for an educational, sometimes morbid, and always entertaining book. My personal copy is full of highlights. One of my favorites, from Page 10, tells us what Burking Mania or Burkophobia was. Burking = to kill for the sake of obtaining a body. I had no idea. After finishing this book, I knew I had to get Janis on the line.

She indulged me. Enjoy!

What inspired you and sparked your desire to write this book?

I was working at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) and saw an article in “The Beeper” (our institutional newspaper at that time) about a slave named Grandison Harris, who was purchased in 1852 as a janitor, but whose real primary job was grave robbing to provide cadavers for the anatomy classes. I thought it was fascinating. Dissection was illegal at that time; so many medical schools had clandestine programs to provide specimens to teach their students. The fact that the MCG bought a dedicated individual who worked in a body snatching capacity for many years, concentrating his efforts in the African American cemetery, Cedar Grove, in downtown Augusta, where I have frequented, made it all the more interesting.  Also, in 1989, during a building project at the old Medical College on Telfair Street, human bones were unearthed. There was an investigation and subsequent archaeological study which revealed the extent of the grave robbing with an estimate of 600 individuals. The details of the findings led to a book called Bones in the Basement, which includes a series of scientific essays, and also information about Mr. Harris. In 1998, the bones were re-interred in a sealed vault in Cedar Grove Cemetery with a headstone inscription that reads “Known but to God.” After digesting all those details, I thought it might be possible to weave a good story together.

Tell us about the research process and the time you spent conducting background research for the book, and into the real life of Grandison Harris (the “Resurrection Man”), the medical treatments of the time, and the grave-robbing phenomenon that was going on to support the anatomy demonstrations going on over at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

I was aware of the Greenblatt Library on the campus of MCG and its special collections section. After retiring from work at MCG, I went there to do research. The library is a wealth of information, especially in the special collections where old equipment, artifacts and books are housed. It was there that I found old volumes of the Southern Medical and Surgical Journal, dating back to its inception in 1836. I found it fascinating to have such a complete look back at medical history.   There were case studies explaining different medical conditions and the current treatment of the day for each. I utilized information from those articles, created characters and put them into scenarios, but attempted to stay true to the details about how medicine was practiced in those years. Wearing the white gloves to preserve the volumes felt like a privilege and I had a profound sense of awe handling volumes that old. I found several articles about Grandison Harris which allowed me to put together some of the facts about his background. He learned to read, so he could follow the obituaries and with his acquired knowledge of anatomy, became so respected by medical students that he was considered by some to be a mentor.

I thought it was fascinating to read about the historical medical treatments in the 1800s. As a nurse, can you tell us if any of the old practices have stood the test of time?

Actually, the rationale for treatments back in the 1800s was realigning the body’s humors back into balance by bleeding and/or purging. Today we may use similar treatment for specific conditions, but for different rationale. As an example, bloodletting has gone by the wayside as a common treatment, but therapeutic phlebotomy (blood-drawing) can be used as treatment for high amounts of iron in the blood. Purging agents such as laxatives (still used and sold as over the counter meds), diuretics (drugs that pull fluid from the body and make the kidneys excrete are still used in the treatment of congestive heart failure) and emetics (drugs that induce vomiting are still used as a treatment for certain types of non-caustic poison ingestion). Plasters were used to create blisters and cause pain in an area of the body as a distraction to pain occurring in another. One of my main points, that I hope comes through, was considering the thought that we’re practicing cutting edge medicine in the current moment. What was thought to be best practice 150 years ago looks fairly archaic now and I wonder if 150 years in the future will give rise to seeing our current therapies, as archaic? When I sign books, a lot of times I’ll add the phrase, “It’s amazing we survived!”

The story line regarding John and Harris was very suspenseful and kept me turning those pages and squirming a bit! Is it based on any fact, or is this one of the examples of the “fiction” in historical fiction writing?

John and the other medical students were creations of my imagination to tell the story, while Grandison Harris was a real person.  I attempted to keep Grandison’s character true to things I read about him. When I started doing the research, I found a story in the Augusta Chronicle about one night when two medical students wanted to play a trick on the janitor.  While Grandison was in the saloon, getting whiskey to preserve the bodies, they took a body from his wagon, stashed it in an alley and one of the students got in the bag, thinking he’d scare the big slave when he came back. Of course as a writer, I thought, what a great story, but “what if, instead of that, this…” and that’s really how the story got its start. The “what if” and the medical students story became the inspiration of the main mystery plot in my imagination and the fiction in the historical fiction. And even though it is fiction, I added some brief anecdotal notes to further explain some subjects and a selected bibliography at the end of the book.

The stories about the mill workers in Augusta still resonate today as far as a worker’s struggle to make something out of themselves in the world. Obviously, conditions have much improved for workers, but what do you think about the struggle today for “getting ahead?”

I wanted to add the story of immigrant workers who came to this country looking for a new and better life, although they took an extreme risk to do so. With our current political officials focusing on immigration, it is still a relevant topic. Desperate people continue to seek better lives by escaping poverty, political and/or religious oppression by making perilous crossings of deserts or seas and we hear about it in the news. I wanted to depict a “coffin ship,” as it was called back in the day, crossing the Atlantic Ocean, where folks were crammed in and disease was rampant. There was a large Irish contingent in Augusta that worked in the textile mills. Child labor was also an issue. I did research on that subject at the Enterprise Mill, which has an interactive museum. It is located on the Augusta Canal, which is also featured in my book.

On page 150, there is a discussion between John and Doctor Dugas, and the senior physician makes a remark about not encouraging the mill worker too much to go to medical school. Later in the chapter, Aunt Erin makes a remark about “Maybe that’s it. We need to settle for better and not hold out for best.”

One of the great opportunities of a writer is being able to inject a bit of your own philosophy into subject matter. I wanted to give Tommy hope after his accident. (And perhaps set the stage for a sequel?) I gave Erin’s character a sense of gratitude for what she had accomplished, and the thought that perhaps she should accept rather than seek perfection. She had endured a great deal, emigrating from Ireland, losing her sister and being in charge of raising her sister’s children in the new country. My mother and her parents emigrated from Scotland in the 1930’s, so some of that research had a bit of a personal connection.

I have to ask you about a passage on page 178. There is a great passage about how nurses should be. Namely, that dumb nurses are ideal in critical cases, because a smart nurse will only question the doctor’s judgment. “As long as a nurse is obedient, the more ignorant she is, the better.”  You have to elaborate on this theme for us, because I am sure that this is still a dynamic that goes on between nurses and doctors in the present day!

Good pick-up. That was a bit of my own nurse cynicism. I was trained in the belief that the smartest of us rose to the ranks of ICU nurse, stethoscope around neck and head held somewhat higher than others. And we did sometimes have issues with some (not all) doctors, feeling taken for granted and disrespected.  After working in that environment for several years, it became apparent that being smart wasn’t the issue or the answer. It’s an extremely stressful (adrenalin pumping) kind of situation. I spent another ten years of my nursing career working in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, where adrenalin addiction was also treated as a problem. But, I wanted to depict a contrast with the above quote by showing the dynamic of mutual respect between the midwife and Dr. Eve in the Monsters chapter.

What were your biggest challenges in writing this book? Looking back, how was your experience with the publishing process, and what have you learned over the years about publishing and marketing?

Gravely Mistaken actually started out as a short story. I approached a local publisher who is no longer in business, but he suggested that I expand it. That’s when I got the idea to add medical vignettes about diseases, conditions and the practice of medicine at the time. I focused on Augusta and its local history, too, and dedicated the book to the city, which has been my home for over thirty years. After I expanded it, (and it took about a year), I searched for a publisher. It was at a time when the whole publishing industry was undergoing extreme change. I got a lot of nice rejection letters. I had an agent located in California for six months, but she couldn’t land a publisher, either. So I put the manuscript on a shelf for several years. Then came a time when it was either do something with it or get rid of it, so I decided to take a chance on myself with CreateSpace. Back in 2010, it was a more novel (no pun intended) idea to go with a print on demand firm, but it also felt quite green, by printing only the number of books that are ordered and making it available on Amazon in both paperback and electronic formats. I had a friend help me convert my file to PDF. I hired photographers who went with me to Cedar Grove Cemetery where we took pictures of some gravestones and then they formatted the cover. Marketing is a whole other subject. These days, we writers need to be chief, cook and bottle washer.

Take us through your writing process for a non-fiction book. (Do you write by hand or always type? Do you keep a writing schedule? Do you have a certain number of drafts you complete before turning in final copy?)

I’d call myself a “binge writer” and I always type. My fingers can just about keep up with my mind, most of the time. I was doing all my research, taking notes on a laptop in the library, and then writing on computer in my home office. There was a time when I had things spread out all over the floor for several weeks. I was eating, drinking and sleeping the story.  Afterward rehashing and making certain there are no loose ends is the most difficult part to me. There’s no certain number of drafts, because that number might be infinite. It seems as though there is always something that could be changed. But, there comes a time to put the words out into the world, let the universe have it and see what happens.

Tell us how to keep up with you and about your upcoming projects/happenings.

Gravely Mistaken is picking up local Augusta tourist momentum and I’m thrilled. It’s being promoted by the Augusta Ghost Trolley Tours (best of Augusta tourist attraction), run by Michael Wolff. The tours include a stop at the old Medical College and while there, focus is on the MCG history of Grandison Harris and his grave robbing. In the fall of the year, especially around Halloween, Mr. Wolff runs a special Gravely Mistaken tour which features after hours access to Cedar Grove Cemetery. The Book Tavern, our downtown independent book store, is owned by David Hutchinson and he has also been a big supporter and supplier of copies. It’s available at The Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau, thanks to Toni Seals-Johnson.  And there have even been occasional sightings of me in period costume around town. Read more about me (and see some photos) on my Amazon “More About the Author Page” and I also have a website:

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