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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

This Halloween offering is for those followers of the the Beast of Bray Road legend and encounters, who enjoy puzzling over the decades-old paper trail of ink-blotted arcana fished out of battered files.  I recently found two such items hidden in a drawer in a folder I’d marked, “Old Beast.” They actually fell out of the folder and right in my lap–an old makeshift bookmark and a page torn from the small notebook I used in my early reporting days.

I was about to throw them in the circular file but then I noticed the words, “Bray Road Werewolf” at the top of the bookmark. Beneath it was what I believe were my first written words about witness Lori Endrizzi and her mother, Pat ; “Lady claims daughter saw a werewolf on Bray Road 2 years ago.” I had added “Hospital Road,” because the sighting was near Bray’s intersection with that shortcut to Walworth County’s hospital complex. (Some names are redacted.)

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There were other brief comments from someone inviting me to cover a meeting on alleged mis-used animal traps, along with a mention of the county  animal shelter where I later met with Jon Fredrickson, the county’s then animal control officer. The bigger piece of paper includes more notes on that meeting, and a great Fredrickson quote, “The county’s getting stranger.” And best of all are my notes on his description of a wolf or coyote springing up when startled so that it only seemed to be walking upright. And I can’t leave out the mention of the large, clawed animal trail on Potter’s Road.

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For those who are not fans of very old paper trails, I give you (metaphorically), my growing collection of creature socks, all from friends, that also give me joy. Happy Halloween to ALL my friends, I just thank you all for being here.

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“There’s no plainer way to say it: I write about monsters.

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Illustration by Lucia Calfapietra for Read It Forward.com 2019

As in wolves that walk on their hind legs, Bigfoot, and man-bats—the spooky stuff that pounding hearts and cold midnight sweats are made of. Upon learning what I do, most people assume I’m 6-foot-3 and spend my time clomping around forests with a rifle and a rucksack, hunting for phantom animals. They’re always disappointed to learn I’m closer in size to a Hobbit than I am to Paul Bunyan and that I carry a camera rather than a machete. (I do clomp around in forests every chance I get.)

Some expect me to resemble a woodsy goth. “You look like you could be somebody’s mom,” I’ve heard young fans moan. I am indeed the mom of two somebodies, and happy for it. But the fact that I seem so ordinary may be why every interview I’ve ever had starts with something like, “So how did a rather short art teacher/journalist from Wisconsin turn into a werewolf investigator and author?”

Truth? It’s not just about the monsters. It never has been just about the monsters, as much as I adore their rippling, furry muscles and their fangs all-a-glisten with viscous drool. No, there’s something more intrinsic, something monster-like that we’re all on watch for in this world because we know it exists even if we won’t admit it. Stories and folk tales are full of this mystery factor, and they can serve to make us aware there’s a monster in everyone’s life. But sometimes the monster just stands and introduces itself.

It surprised me as much as anyone when, in 1992, I wrote a newspaper article on an alleged werewolf-like creature seen by eyewitnesses outside a small town in Wisconsin, and the story blew up worldwide. The universe then turned its astonished, glowing eyes my way, and the “hunt” ended up taking over much of my life. Somehow the creature just never seemed as strange to me as it did to most other people, and I credit a few special childhood books that I believe helped make it so.

One of these books made me decide at age 3 that I wanted to be an artist and writer, but again, it wasn’t for the love of bears, ghosties, or wolves jeering at little pigs in fragile houses.

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This book’s protagonists were two feisty kittens named Hush and Brush, who invented every color ever seen by men or angels and went off to paint the world. I remember begging my mother to read it over and over because this story, Margaret Wise Brown’s 1949 The Color Kittens, showed me both the power of words and the miracle of color. It was as close to a religious experience as most 3-year-olds can have. And I’m not even a cat person.

Despite that fact, it was another cat tale that would give my world its second wakeup call. At Herbert V. Schenck Elementary School in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1957, I was 6 years old, lying on my kindergarten nap-mat waiting for the teacher to read us something dull. Then she announced the day’s story: The Cat in the Hat, by a man with the funny name of Dr. Seuss.

Cat? Hat? I perked up, and by the time she’d finished the first couple pages I was entranced in a state of joyful shock—not only at the rhymes but at the audacious rhythm, the unsentimental artwork, and the ludicrous Cat, who seemed more sinister than saccharine. Most riveting was the scary premise of the story: Mother leaves two children alone, extremely weird character enters the home, wreaks havoc, calls in two even stranger characters that go wild on the place, and then somehow the whole mess is cleaned up and the mother never finds out. Only the goldfish knows.

The teacher had read us many books, but this one felt completely new. I didn’t realize at the time, of course, that this was exactly what Dr. Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel, had been going for when he was asked to create a children’s book that would make young kids want to read. But it worked on me. I felt the power. The Cat was a creepily benign monster, and I understood that intuitively, as young children do.

There have been other books that opened unexpected worlds. One of my favorites, by Katherine Gibson Isobel Read, was simply called Fairy Tales. Its cover illustration showed a small group of children sitting at the feet of a storytelling elf, watched over by an enigmatic and beautiful fairy. The back cover completed the scene with a high hill topped by the requisite castle and towers. I looked at this illustration so long and often that I wore the binding off the book.

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My drawing of a rather stately fairy and elf quartet done in 3rd grade, age 9.

I didn’t believe fairies were real, but I wished very hard that they were. My sister and I invented a make-believe fairy universe of beings that lived in the clouds by day and danced in streetlights at night. They had magnificent wardrobes of gowns and tiaras, and left their tiny, polished teeth in a nearby quarry where we would spend hours hunting for small quartz pebbles. This world was strangely devoid of monsters, though there are many adult folk traditions that see fairies in an ominous light.

Together these books fused art, words, and unknown creatures into a corner of my youthful mind that always made me think, What if? Their message was a promise that though strange things may happen, and that these things may bring disorder to our lives—and though there may, indeed, be monsters—we’re strong enough to face the unknown beasts, clean up the messes, and leave some beauty in the world.

It was for the love of those books that I dared to write about werewolves, and still do.

See this and other essays at Read It Forward.Com!

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I’d really rather stay on the viewer’s end of the binoculars when folks are discussing cryptid or unknown creatures, but this article “Do You Have a Werewolf Problem?” by the Trib’s Chris Borelli places me firmly on the “focus–zoom in–speculate” side of field equipment and monster tales. It’s a fun piece of writing (although I’m pretty sure I said the 60# deer left NO drag marks, and how is just turned 68 “nearly 70?”) but overall it’s a good representation of the last 27 years or so, and I’m very grateful to Chris, Chad Lewis, and Loren Coleman for their kind remarks and analyses. Stacey Wescott also created some inspired visuals that help tell my unexpected tale.

I would also be remiss if I failed to thank an alligator that recently kickstarted the whole thing by showing up in the Humboldt Park lagoon, sending Borelli in search of explanations.

The alligator also had impeccable timing as my new book, I Know What I Saw, was just released July 16 and I’m speaking and signing books in Chicago at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square July 25, 2019 at 7 pm. And no, I was not the one who put the alligator in the water. But as I’ve learned from this occupation–and preoccupation–of mine, strangeness is everywhere, and once in a while it does you a kind turn or two.

Here is the link to chomp onLindaTribStone: https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-ent-linda-godfrey-cryptozoologist-0725-20190724-fcoddjwfwzg7fne6ljmldutaae-story.html

 

 

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I Know What I Saw is now out to be seen! 

This week, starting 7-20-2019 also see Inside Edition.com‘s  rerun of their original vintage episode of the Beast of Bray Road, plus a more current interview they did with me a few weeks ago to update the old beast. Next week, watch for a full feature story in the Chicago Tribune in the online section and then the print version on that Thursday.

Also new indie film out this fall, RETURN TO WILDCAT MOUNTAIN; Wisconsin’s Black Panther Nexus.  (click to see trailer and watch for release news, or see Facebook @whitelhasa’s Return to Wildcat Mountain page.) 

 

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Thunderbirds, mothmen and other unknown flying things are some of the most puzzling of cryptids. They appear in the sky or a nearby meadow, amaze lucky witnesses, and then fly away without any hint as to their intent. Sometimes they seem to portend doom, as in the famous case of Point Pleasant, W. VA’s Mothman, which many think was a harbinger of the tragic Silver Bridge collapse.

 

In other cases, such as the northwestern Wisconsin daylight sighting by John Bolduan that begins my “American Monsters” book, witnesses are left feeling perplexed yet privileged to have witnessed such a spectacle. Bolduan watched in awe as the tall, silvery-feathered bird took to the air and displayed a 22-foot wingspan.

 

There’s another example of that flighty ambiguity in my next book due out this fall, titled “Monsters Among Us, an Exploration of Otherworldly Bigfoots, Wolfmen, Portals, Phantoms and Odd Phenomena.” In this incident, a central Wisconsin woman witnessed a gigantic, large bird standing on a bridge near Black River Falls. She was told by a Native American elder that she had seen a Thunderbird.

 

Why am I bringing these examples up now? I’ve often wished that I had some way to help  interpret these incidents, but had never found much contemporary material aside from well-known Thunderbird lore. I was thrilled recently, then, to stumble across a gleam of illumination in my summer reading pile, in a book about one man’s solo canoe adventure down the Mississippi River. The beautifully written work, Nick Lichter’s The Road of Souls, Reflections on the Mississippi, also describes many of the places long considered sacred or otherwise important by our indigenous people.

 

One of these places is Rock Island, Illinois (specifically, the area known as Rock Island Arsenal across the river from Bettendorf, Iowa). Lichter cites the translated autobiography Life of Black Hawk to explain that this island was once considered a hunting, fishing and horticultural paradise by Blackhawk’s people, the Sac or Sauk. I’ll quote just the last half of Chief Blackhawk’s own statement from  Lichter’s book:

 

“In my early life, I spent many happy days on this island. A good spirit had care of it, who lived in a cave in the rocks immediately under the place where the fort now stands, and has often been seen by our people. He was white, with large wings like a swan’s, but ten times larger. We were particular not to make much noise in that part of the island which he inhabited, for fear of disturbing him. But the noise of the fort has driven him away, and no doubt a bad spirit has taken his place!”

 

Lichter adds, “The swan’s cave was long ago dynamited out of existence.”

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(Image shared from http://cdn26.us1.fansshare.com/photo/mississippiriver/shannon-mississippi-river-watershed-wikimedia-commons-delta-333095664.jpg)

Might the big birds seen up and down the Mississippi since Chief Blackhawk’s day be embodiments of that wandering spirit bird? Blackhawk doesn’t directly call the spirit bird a swan; he merely says it is white, has wings like a swan and is ten times its size. That’s very reminiscent of what Bolduan described. And Webb Lake, where it appeared, is only about five or six miles from the Mississippi in Burnett County, Wisconsin. Moreover, the other encounter I mentioned on the bridge in central Wisconsin was near Black River Falls, a tributary of the Mississippi.

 

This is just my own fanciful thought, but maybe that great, spirit bird is still winging over the Mississippi, setting down now and again as it searches for another place of peace– another earthly paradise to watch over. I believe it’s as good an explanation of these huge creatures as any.

My final thought is a question inspired by Blackhawk’s words when he suggested a “bad spirit” might have taken the great bird’s place… I can’t help but wonder what shape that bad spirit might have taken…

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I love communicating with other authors, aspiring or established. Along with artists and Lhasa apsos they are my favorite people. But I recently received an email from a would-be author, of the kind that makes me say, “Oh, fudge,” and then go eat about a pound of said substance. The email was from a distant relative’s acquaintance who heard I’d had a few books traditionally published and wanted me to tell him how he could get his book traditionally published, too. I wish I knew!

 Well, actually I do know. Do a mountain of work and research to make sure your book is well-written, compelling and has an audience, and then do a lot more hard work and research to find agents or publishers who are looking for that type of book, and then do even more hard work and research to learn how to properly sell it to them. And don’t expect it to happen by next Tuesday. If it happens at all. 

I learned all this the hard way, and it entails far more than I could cram into one e-mail. Besides, I’m not necessarily worthy! Just having books published doesn’t make me anyone’s career expert or a fairy godmother even if I do like magic wands and pixie dust. And I’m still learning, meself.

 But luckily for him, me and everyone else, in the past three or four years many first-rate agents, writers, and publishers on the blogosphere and social media sites have created a cyber-university wherein anyone can earn a virtual doctorate in Book Authorology by absorbing all the amazing FREE advice and insights a humanoid brain can hold, plus so much more it will slop right out onto your Live to Write t-shirt! I cannot post loudly enough about what a valuable development this is for every aspiring writer. I surely wish it had been there ten years ago when I was beginning my own adventures with books. Its vastness, however, can be daunting. 

To get started, I told the emailer, mine the gemmy topics listed in the sidebar of top blog dog Nathan Bransford. Go deep. Then there are the perennially fresh and useful insights of agent Rachelle Gardner. I also subscribe to blogs like those of Victoria Mixon, Guide to Literary Agents and the crazy-useful Querytracker which puts powerful search-and-record tools at your callused fingertips. The esteemed pros at literary agencies such as Dystel and Goderich, including my own incredible agent, Jim McCarthy, also often take turns sharing their wisdom. All of these sites include favorite industry links that you may combine exponentially to create your own How to Succeed in Publishing and Subsume the Universe Manual.

What makes all of this even more helpful is the opportunity to get personal. Most

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 sites have comment sections and/or community forums filled with posts from other intelligent folks. Also, search for and follow members of the huge writing community on Twitter and then interact in real time for true Jedi enlightenment. So many people are already doing this that I can’t believe everyone doesn’t know about the depth of the Web-Lit explosion, but the emails I receive – and I’m not even an agent or editor — from unaware beginners tell me they either have no clue or have failed to take full advantage. (Another came in while I was writing this!)

 I knew that this wasn’t what the nice and understandably hopeful e-mailer wanted to hear. What he – perhaps unconsciously — wanted me to say was, “Sure, even though I don’t know chickpeas about you or your book, let me set you right up!” It makes me feel bad that I haven’t the power to get anyone else’s book published, and that in turns makes me eat more fudge. And sooner or later I’ll end up on a reality show for obese writers called Pride and Fudge-udice, or The Biggest Wordsmith.

 So that I may avoid such a fate, I encouraged this potentially best-selling author to delve into all the wonderful things mentioned above, and then come back with specific questions I still might not be able to answer. I haven’t heard back, so either he is unhappy OR he has become one with the online writing world and is even now empowering his own path to publication. I do hope he chose the latter.

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I just finished my 11th (to be) published non-fiction book, and the good news is that I didn’t have to make an index for it.

The bad news is that I didn’t have to make an index for it.

My Strange Wisconsin index

My Strange Wisconsin index

My dirty little secret: I like making indexes. The old way. With a pencil and index cards. I know there are software programs for this, but I agree with the Chicago Manual of Style when it states that a computer-made index “cannot in any way substitute for a real index prepared with the aid of human intelligence.” (Thankfully, degrees of human intelligence are evidently not an issue.)

The crux of it is that indexing requires a sifting process to decide exactly what is pertinent to the subject at hand, and that process is at least partly subjective . If a book is about strange creatures, “phantom pigs” is probably a pertinent entry, but its exact  location in the obscure Welsh hamlet of Pentrefoelas may not be considered index-worthy. At least I didn’t think so when I prepared the index for Hunting the American Werewolf. A software program set for  proper nouns might have beeped to differ.

Besides, I find the process relaxing. You get the galley in the mail and look at how the pages have shaken out and how the designer has arranged things. That’s always enlightening. Then starting at page one, you write the words you choose on the indexcards, alphabetizing each. And don’t forget the page numbers.  Several packs of cards will be required for most books targeted above kindergarten level. And that Chicago Manual of Style will be invaluable for the picky parts.

Along the way you pick out any lingering typos that can still be fixed without disrupting design flow. A favorite beverage and snack is mandatory. The only tedious part is the data entry after you reach The End, but you could also enter as you go.

I’ve done this for five books — the others provided professional indexers at their cost — and this last one is part of a series with detailed chapter entries up front. But an index is normally a lovely and necessary thing to any researcher (or purchasing librarian — I’ve been one), and in my opinion no NF book should suffer the indignity of an indexless rear end.

I will add that I would never sign a contract for a book that required ME to pony up for a professional indexer. It would be like paying someone else to pet my dog or do my crossword puzzles. Genre NF advances are meager enough as it is.

And in the end, literally, a non-fiction tome without an index is just, er, book-naked.

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