Friday, March 18, 2016

Interview with Don and Dianna Graveman, co-authors of LEGENDARY LOCALS OF ST. CHARLES (Part II)

Today we continue with Part II of my interview with Don and Dianna Graveman, co-authors of Legendary Locals of St. Charles, what is sure to be a classic book about the historic Missouri River town of St. Charles, Missouri. 

Published by Arcadia Publishing

I highly recommend Legendary Locals of St. Charles for anyone interested in American history, Missouri history, and famous American explorers and larger-than-life figures, such as Daniel Boone, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, Elijah P. Lovejoy, Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne, and many other legendary figures. One of my favorite chapters was Chapter Six: Military and Law Enforcement. The photos and the stories are inspiring.

The following questions and answers 7-12 complete my interview with the Gravemans. Their answers are in blue.

7. With so many legendary locals from St. Charles, you no doubt weren’t able to include them all. Did you have a criteria for which to include?

This was the biggest challenge. In the beginning, we had a “working list,” compiled from people who automatically came to mind or whose names others had suggested to us. The Legendary Locals imprint requires a featured local to have a photo along with the accompanying information. So we weren’t technically supposed to include people for whom we couldn’t obtain a clear photo. We got around this in some cases by including a photo of somebody’s former residence or a historical marker. An example is Jeremiah Millington, who served as the first postmaster when St. Charles was the state capital, practiced medicine, and managed his castor-oil business—all at the same time from his house on South Main Street. We also decided to include the names of some of the people for whom we couldn’t obtain photos in the introduction to each chapter. That way, we could still honor them.

As we explained in our book’s introduction, we focused on people who have lived, worked, or made their biggest contributions in the city of St. Charles, because it would have been impossible to include notables from the entire county in a book this size.

8. Did any of the information you found come as a surprise?

One surprise was the story behind the shrine to the Virgin Mary on I-70, as you mentioned at the beginning of Wednesday's blog post. Another involves the first surgery performed in the history of St. Joseph Hospital, at 305 Chauncey Street, by Dr. Benjamin Geret. A native of Bavaria, Dr. Geret used instruments he boiled on a stove and a table padded with blankets to perform the emergency gall bladder removal. Still another involves playwright Rupert Hughes, who is believed to have written his first play here. Hughes would later become uncle to the famous tycoon Howard Hughes.

9. There are so many amazing photos included in the book, it must be hard to select a favorite, but I have to ask: Do each of you have a favorite?

Dianna: I like the photo of Sophie Hupe, who became a midwife at 51. Previously, she had worked as a clerk, run a millinery shop, and partnered in the hotel business. For a woman born in 1848, that’s pretty amazing.

Don: My favorites are the pictures of Patt Holt and the Patt Holt Singers. Patt was my eighth-grade music teacher and had a big influence on me when I was young. My wife and I met in the singing group. Patt turned 80 this year, and a lot of young people benefited from her mentorship over the years.

We also wanted to include some notable locals who haven’t lived long enough to be true legends but who we think have made notable contributions to the community. We wanted there to be some surprises. So there is a good mix. We would like to acknowledge Grace Nichols, the first female mayor of St. Charles, who wrote the foreword for the book.

Sadly, three of the subjects (that we know of) passed away after our book was finished but before it was released: Mel Wetter (November 23, 2015),  Robert Fleming (February 2, 2016), and (Laura) Elizabeth Rauch (February 20, 2016). All three were legendary in our community for their many contributions to the city of St. Charles.

10. Please tell us about author talks or book signings you have scheduled over the next months.

As of this writing, we have a book launch scheduled at Main Street Books on Saturday, March 26, from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. We will sign books the following Saturday, April 2, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in St. Peters, and on Sunday, April 3, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Nature Center. A signing with the St. Charles County Historical Society is in the works.

11. Where can readers purchase a copy of Legendary Locals of St. Charles?

The book can be purchased at most bookstores and retailers in and around St. Charles, but we’d like to ask readers to support indie booksellers like Main Street Books, if possible. The book is also available at Arcadia Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, St. Charles County Historical Society, and the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Nature Center.

12. Last question: What project are you working on, and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Dianna completed two books last year—this one and another (on a work-for-hire contract) for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Researching and writing two books in a year while working full-time seemed like a lot, so we’re just catching up on our regular jobs right now.
We also both like to read and hike, and we’ve become political junkieswatching all of the debates and news from both parties. And with one grown child in St. Louis and two living on opposite sides of the country (Wyoming and Florida), we take advantage of any opportunity we can to see all of them.

Thanks again, Donna, for featuring us today! We really appreciate it.
Thank you, Don and Dianna, for sharing your wonderful story with us about your fascinating book. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Interview with Don and Dianna Graveman, co-authors of LEGENDARY LOCALS OF ST. CHARLES (Part 1)

Hi Dianna and Don,

Thanks so much for letting me interview you and for having a copy of Legendary Locals of St. Charles sent to me by Arcadia Publishing. With Legendary Locals of St. Charles, I think you two have hit another home run!

The vintage images in your book portray the story of St. Charles from its very beginning all the way to modern times. The photos capture images and tell the stories of early settlers, such as Louis Blanchette, St. Philippine Duchesne, and Lewis and Clark, as well as living legends, such as Grace Nichols, the first female mayor of the City of St. Charles; Mark Buehrle, Major League Baseball pitcher; Bobbi Smith, New York Times best-selling author; Art Holliday, award-winning journalist and newscaster, and many others.

Along with the visually stunning images, your book includes historical -- and some surprising -- information in the captions. As an example, your book answered a question I’ve had for a long time: Who was responsible for erecting the lovely shrine on Highway 70 near Mid Rivers Mall? (Answer: Ralph Borgmeyer, page 67)

Because Don and Dianna were so generous with their time and shared so much fascinating information in their answers, I’ve divided their interview into two parts.  

The six questions in Part I (below) include a glimpse into how Dianna and Don approached, researched, and organized this amazing project, along with some background on Don and Dianna, which I believe reveals their passion and dedication not only to this book, but also to the City of St. Charles.

1. In Legendary Locals of St. Charles you’ve created another historical gem. What prompted you to tackle the project of compiling and writing Legendary Locals of St. Charles?

Thanks, Donna, for featuring us on your blog.

Arcadia Publishing emailed us in late 2014 and asked if we’d consider taking on the project for the company’s new Legendary Locals imprint. In 2009 we did a book for Arcadia titled St. Charles: Les Petites Cรดtes, and it did pretty well,  so we guess that’s why they contacted us. We wish we could say it was that easy, but even though Arcadia had contacted us to do the project and not the other way around, they still required us to develop a thorough book proposal and obtain sample photographs before they issued a contract.

2. Will each of you share a little of your backgrounds and how they meshed to write your latest book?

Don: I have lived in St. Charles all my life except when I was away at college, and my family has lived here for five generations.

Dianna: I spent a good deal of time around the Main Street area as a child, even though my family lived in St. Louis. My grandmother lived here, and my uncle was a police officer here. Most of my dad’s family lived here.

Based on recollections from our early years, we are certain we crossed paths in St. Charles many times as children. We were often in the same place at approximately the same time. Members of our families knew each other. Ironically, when we finally met face-to-face as adults, it wasn’t in St. Charles—it was in New Athens, Illinois! As for the book, Don has always been interested in regional history, and Dianna has an editorial background, so blending our experiences and interests together to compile a book about the town in which we’ve spent most of our lives made sense.

3.  Legendary Locals of St. Charles includes wonderful photos over an extended period of time period from a variety of sources. How did you gain access to the historic photos, archives, and other sources?

Don: I sat on the board of directors at St. Charles County Historical Society for five years, so we already had contacts and friends there. That made it easier to obtain permission to use some photographs and get answers to questions that came up as we did research. (A percentage of our profits from this book benefit the historical society.)

Dianna: My flexible work hours enabled me to spend afternoons at the historical society or at the Kathryn Linnemann branch of the library doing research. I was also was able to interview some subjects in person, like Donna Hafer of the Mother-in-Law House, Ernie Dempsey at Pio’s Restaurant, and Cordelia Stumberg, civic leader and pianist, who played her beloved piano for me one afternoon at her home—a real treat.

By lucky accident, we received some interesting photos and information from Scott Grimwood at the SSM Health Archives. We’d contacted him for permission to use a photo of Sister Mary Elizabeth Becker, one of the founders of SSM Health St. Joseph HospitalSt. Charles. He not only arranged for us to receive permission for the photo from Franciscan Sisters of Mary, he sent early photos of the hospital and of a few early St. Charles doctors, along with some great historical tidbits from the archives.

4. Your meticulous research shines through in the informative captions, which go beyond a description of the photos to include historical tidbits. How did you balance photos and captions in the layout of your book?

That is kind of tricky because of our publisher’s format and guidelines for the imprint. Word counts for captions differ depending on whether you have one or two pictures on a page, whether the pictures are horizontal or vertical, etc. Sometimes we cut the captions short when we actually had more information to include, based on Arcadia’s guidelines. After we saw the proofs, we realized that in some cases we would have had room to lengthen our captions. So that was a little bit of a disappointment, but it’s really a learning process.

5.  Can you share a bit about how you decided on and organized the chapters, which range from Chapter 1: Settlers, Famous Visitors, and Early Residents -- to Chapter 6: Military and Law Enforcement (which I thoroughly enjoyed).

We based our chapter titles on the pattern we observed in other Legendary Locals books from around the country. Where we diverged a bit was with the chapters on Educational Leaders and Military and Law Enforcement. We really wanted to recognize some dedicated teachers we’ve known, and we both felt compelled to honor all of the law enforcement officers who died while serving in St. Charles, one of whom was Dianna’s uncle, Al Musterman.

One challenge with the organization within the chapters was that we wanted to arrange photographs chronologically. Since each chapter had to end on an even page with no blank pages, and since we had two pictures for some subjects and one for others, it didn’t work out that way.

6. This is your fifth book you’ve co-written. How long did it take from concept to completion, and how did you divide the workload?

Our contract provided about eight months for completion. We didn’t really think of it in terms of dividing a workload, so that’s a hard question to answer. Since we are married, we’re together most of the time, and we just worked on it when we could. At times, one of us was working on it more than the other.

Check back on Friday for Part II of my interview, in which Don and Dianna share some surprises, a few favorites, and their plans for events and signings, where readers can meet them in person.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Hocus, Pocus: What Happened to My Focus?

One issue I've struggled with in my writing is lack of focus. Truth be told, I start a lot of things but don't finish them.

Maybe it's because of the weather. Maybe it's because there is so much going on in my little world. Or maybe it's because there are so many external distractions--like all the hoo-hah with the Presidential elections. Which reminds me: How many more debates must we endure?

Whatever the reason, most days I feel like Louisa von Trapp singing her part in "So Long, Farewell," from the "The Sound of Music."

If my mind could sing, it would be replaying the lyrics, "I flit, I float, I fleetly flee, I fly."

Take today. I scrolled through some old file folders searching for short stories I've written over the years. During one search I found a folder with a title that wasn't familiar. I opened the file and read the beginnings of a YA novel I started (complete with chapter outline) two years ago. It was pretty good, but I had completely forgotten about it. Feeling frustrated, I plucked out a short story. Same thing. The story was off to a good start but never got finished.

I've decided that to overcome my lack of focus, I'm going to give myself a spring break. While the guys are out turkey hunting, I'm going to hunt down my old stories and beginnings of novels and try to clean them up. If I tackle one thing at a time, it just might work. It's either that or wave a magic pen over my laptop and say "Hocus, Pocus, bring back my focus."

How about you? Do you struggle with focus? Do you have any tips to bring back focus? Or do you have a magic pen I can borrow?

Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V - Interviews with Lonnie Whitaker and Dr. Barri Bumgarner

Here is the second installment of interviews with contributors who have stories in Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V , from Ozark Writers, I...