First Draft of Thanks For The Hospitality But We Gotta Go

The rough draft of the upcoming book, Thanks for the Hospitality But We Gotta Go, is complete and is now cooling its heels in its own little electronic cell for a while. Don't worry, it doesn't have a long sentence to serve. In the meantime, I have some design, layout, and cover issues to resolve. A bit of downtime and mental distance between a first draft and final draft of a manuscript is a tactic employed by many writers to allow them to come back in the editing phase and see areas that need improvement, to make the necessary corrections, tie up loose ends, resolve gaps in the narrative, and ask themselves the all-important question, "Are there any resources I have missed?” That’s where I am in the process of completing this new book. While the manuscript enjoys some "alone time," I want to share a couple of things with readers about how the book is structured and a few of the decisions I have made that affect its final appearance.

As many of you know, Nodaway County's Crowbar Motel had many guests over the years, famous, infamous, and famously infamous. I have written about several of them in past books: The Human Squirrel Cage: Nodaway County’s Rotary Jail, Hezekiah Rasco: Man of Sorrow – Child of Woe, and in the book, Justice In Nodaway County: 1872-1931, which I coauthored with Don Nothstine, the author of Died Innocent. I will be exploring a few of the more famous and infamous in future essays. There are enough to keep me busy for a long while.

A few of the rotary jail’s prisoners were content to stay in their jailhouse home through the disposition of their cases. Other county guests checked out early, or at least tried to do so. It is because of these last two groups, the escapees and the escapee-wannabes, that this project was born. First, just to let readers know, I have tried to gather as much information as possible on the technical aspects of each of the fifty escapes and the nineteen attempted escapes and, where possible, the crimes with which the instigators were charged. Backstory is important. To help give as complete a picture as possible, I have also tried to find out the final dispositions of their cases, as well. For the oldest cases, the information was, to say the least, elusive, and in some instances impossible to locate. Suffice to say, at the time of their incarceration, some of the individuals were awaiting trial and others had completed the trial process and were either serving county time or awaiting transport to a state facility.

Newspapers articles were vital in this process, as they provided details on the main facts, as well as leads on where to find additional resource material. Newspapers are the front-line historians of the nation’s citizenry and have a massive responsibility for recording the details of major, minor, and sometimes minuscule events, although much still evades them or simply never makes the final editing. There is only so much print space. There are details that reveal themselves through individual conversations, letters written to family or friends in far-away locations, and, after its invention, in telephone conversations between citizens near and far. Unfortunately, those communications, even when written, are lost to time. Interviews with individuals related to the cases are another way to recapture details, but with very few exceptions, the individuals identified in this book have long since deceased.

It was a difficult decision to make, whether or not to include the names of the prisoners, even if their names appeared in the original news stories. That actually became the deciding factor for use. If the names were already known in the public record, they have been used in the book. In those instances where they were not part of the public record, they have been omitted. In some cases, they were not included in the original record because the reporter simply did not have that specific detail at the time the paper went to press. It may have become known later, but if it did not materialize in my research process and could not be confirmed, it didn’t make it into this publication either. Every attempt has been made to verify dates and times associated with each of the events.

During the writing of this book there were stories of the escapes and the attempts that made me chuckle, even though I know they were not humorous for the sheriff, his deputies, the Maryville constabulary, the township constables, state police, or federal officers at the time. What is evidenced in these stories, however, is the immutable fact that as determined as law enforcement was then to keep their prisoners in custody, those same men and women were equally determined to avoid detention in the county pokey. The ingenuity the individuals, blessed with opposable thumbs, exhibited in effecting their escapes, or even in making the attempt, is a reminder to us all that the human brain should never be underestimated. It is a natural and highly-effective problem-solving tool.

I hope readers will enjoy the upcoming book, due to break out soon. In the meantime, if you wish to learn more about my other nonfiction and fiction books, you will find them on my author page on Amazon, or by clicking on one of the tabs at the top of this webpage.

What's In Your Library?

An updated video of my book titles. 

The Human Squirrel Cage is Now Open

The research and writing of this book has, literally, taken years. There were times when I almost felt like I was being help captive by the Human Squirrel Cage. The publication deadline has been extended twice, in large part because many new pieces of information came to light and reading and careful consideration. In fact, up to the last few hours I was gathering information. I am glad to say:


The final book is 424 pages and over 90,000 words. A good-size chunk of text is included in the Acknowledgement section at the beginning, thanking everyone who has helped along the way, directly or indirectly, either by verifying information, providing leads and new information and leads to yet more people who might have information, and a huge thanks to those who have submitted pictures. On that last point, I want to especially thank: 
Joan Houston Schneider

Joan's decision to go and visit the jail just prior to its demolition resulted in a lot of fine photographs, all of which she graciously granted me permission to use in this book. I hope I did them justice. I wish I could have fit them all in to these pages, but I think I selected the best of the best for readers to enjoy and they will provide a good overview of the jail.

I wanted to include the pictures of the sheriffs themselves, as I have collected a great number of them, but I am going to hold those for the book signing and for inclusion in the future book that will, Lord willing, include brief biographies on each of them. 

What would a jail be without escapes? The Human Squirrel Cage had fifty, as well as nineteen attempts. The companion book to this one, Thanks For The Hospitality But We Gotta Go, will be following shortly and will provide additional details on those. I hope you will keep a sharp look out, as I'm not sure on what date it will break out. I'll post ordering information on this site, as well as my Facebook page

In the meantime, I hope you'll take time to read through this new book. I would appreciate your comments/reviews on Amazon. I've tried to keep it modestly priced. I hope to post a link here and on Facebook for the official book signing date and location and I hope that those of you purchasing advance copies will bring them to the signing. For those anxiously awaiting local copies, I should have them in the next few weeks. Happy reading.

Articles about the book: 

Nodaway News Leader

Mugshot Needed

So, the Human Squirrel Cage: Nodaway County's Rotary Jail is missing only one thing, a mugshot of the front of the present jail. I will try to add that tomorrow, run one final spellcheck, recheck the layout, and upload the book for publication. It's around 425 pages long, including several new pictures that weren't in the original proof copy.

In a day or two, or three, it will be available on Amazon for order. I won't have local copies for a few weeks yet. The author is always the last to get them.

In the meantime, I'll be working on the companion book, Thanks For The Hospitality . . . But We Gotta Go. It's partially written already, so hopefully it won't take as long to complete. There for a while I thought it might break out ahead of the squirrel cage book, but no.

Proof Is On Its Way

I was beginning to think that the jailhouse book was a figment of my imagination. Some of you may have been wondering the same thing. But, the proof copy is finally on its way for the final read through before I press that "publish" button.

As with prior books, getting the images to stay where I put them in the manuscript was a challenge, but I think I have it this time. I know there are probably typos lurking in the proof copy, but I will get them weeded out and the final draft uploaded. I will let you know when it becomes available on Amazon.

As for its companion book, Thanks for the Hospitality . . . But We Gotta Go, well, I did manage to chisel out a couple of new chapters today. Much of it was written before I pulled it from the midst of the Human Squirrel Cage manuscript. I'm not sure just how many chapters there will be, but I am fairly certain that it will be less than the 415 pages included in the first book. I just need to add in the information from those last few escapes I stumbled across.

At one point I was thinking the companion book would break out before the jailhouse book, but it was a fleeting concern. I hope to announce to you in a few weeks that it is finished and available online.

I hope you will enjoy both of them. They have been years in the making.

Sneaking Up On The Elusive Jailhouse Book

As I pen this post in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday morning, I am happy to announce that I have only sixty-seven more pages to read before I finish the rough draft of the Human Squirrel Cage: Nodaway County's Rotary Jail. It's been a very long journey to reach this point.

After I finish reading those pages, I will go through and check the citations one more time, run a spelling and grammar check, and then upload the book to KDP. The question is, do I start work on the companion book while I wait for the proof copy to arrive, or do I take a little break?

I have to admit that I'm aching to dive back into the stories of the many jailhouse escapes. Granted, it won't take as long to write that books as it has this one. I believe I have captured all fifty of the known escapes and I'm eager to tell you about the details, although a few of those incidents are sketchy.

It's sure to prove fascinating just in 'characters' alone. Thinking about some of the shenanigans that went on at the jailhouse, like the Moot Court (or Kangaroo Court) run by the inmates, complete with a judge, a sheriff, a prosecutor, and some interesting rules, it's no wonder the inmates could found creative ways to gain their release.

Then there was the poetry. I found one. It will be featured on the back cover of the second book.

When these two books are finished, it will be time to restart the biographies of the county's sheriffs. I've been collecting information as I go along, but there is still a lot of information out there that I simply haven't had time to get to, yet. It's an ongoing project, one that I hope will pick up pace as I begin work on it again.

So, watch for the book release announcements. I haven't yet finalized plans for book signing dates, times, or locations for these two books. I'll have to get back to you on that.

Another Jailbreak?

I have to admit it. I missed it on the first research go-round. We have an even fifty, now. Five jails, fifty escapes, over 174 years. Those are nice numbers. Let's stick with those.

I am a realist however, and as I finish reviewing things in preparation of the book related to those escapes, I am keeping a keen eye out for any others I may have overlooked. I'll come back and post an update if I find any.

Pay-To-Stay Programs for Rural County Jails

As I input the finishing edits and add in the photos for the Human Squirrel Cage book, there is a growing challenge for counties around the country, specifically with their pay-to-stay programs, some of which were initiated decades ago. Pay-to-stay requires those incarcerated in county jails to foot the bill for their own confinement. It is akin to locking yourself in a low-rent (although not low-quality in most cases) motel. Ironically, jails are sometimes referred to as the "Crowbar Motel." The cost per day, depending on the county and the amenities provided, can range anywhere from $25 to $155+ y. Yeah. That last one is not a typo. Opting-in for a private jail stay to avoid the overcrowding and reduce the risk to your life, or checking into a hoosegow in a urban jail, will set you back as much per day as a nice vacation hotel room or a cabin in the mountains might. The only catch is, inmates don't get to check out whenever they want to keep the cost of their board bill down. Only the 'hotel manager' (judge) can shorten your stay and the concierge (the sheriff) has to unlock your door from the outside.

The controversy over pay-to-stay programs - several lawsuits have been filed - is over their constitutionality when an inmates is arrested for failure to pay. Inmates leaving county facilities owing large debts many of whom have no hope of paying that debt, may be arrested for violating their probation. Making regular payments toward one's board bill is a condition of probation in many counties. Once rearrested and locked up, their debt begins to multiply, locking them into an endless cycle. Pay-to-stay programs are, in theory and in practice, a good way for counties to recover some of the funds needed to keep their jails clean, safe, and well maintained, but the recovery rate of funds slows as the average economic status of the defendants, many of whom are declared indigent and in need of a public defender, declines.

Returning a defendant to jail for non-payment of debt is believed to violate the United States Supreme Court's previous decision (1835, I think) making debtors prisons illegal. That's a rather over-simplified summary, but you get the gist of the under-girding argument. Being poor isn't a crime.

The only other option to incarceration may be . . . night court! I wonder how much the savings counties would realize by offering  misdemeanor and non-violent defendants the right to a super-speedy trial. In our county's past, defendants didn't languish in the county pokey too long. They were arraigned within hours, plead guilty or not guilty, and either made bail or were remanded. Of course, bail, court costs, and fines were cheaper then, too. Perhaps electronic alternatives are the answer.

Today, we have Smartwatches and the ability to monitor a person's whereabouts without locking them behind bars. This might be a less expensive option that bail bondsmen or counties could offer. Of course, there's computers, tracking software, and some costs associated with such a program. Everything costs something. Nothing is free. The upside is, no jail time for defendants waiting trial. What would be the chances of getting a night judge, a set of public defenders, and a nighttime prosecutor to take on the evening and swing shifts? Would it be more than housing multiple prisoners, feeding, clothing, and providing them medical care? In the past, in our county, the court was in session on Saturdays. It's a thought.

So, what is the answer? I don't know. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts. In the meantime, avoid jail, or have a job before you go in so you can apply for work release and keep earning, and paying your bill, as you go so once you're out everything is paid, and you are free indeed.

Printed The Rough Draft For Editing

I wrote the concluding paragraphs to the final chapter of The Human Squirrel Cage today. It felt pretty good. Tonight, I printed out a very rough draft. The final copy will be 350-360 pages or so, I think. A lot will depend on how much space the photographs use. The photos I don't use in the book will be printed and put on display at the book signings, whenever those happen. I will post the dates, times, and locations once they're set up. Lord willing, the first one will be in mid to late April, but I'm not promising anything. I have tried, three times, to finish this book and I have mentioned an anticipated date each time only to see it slip from my fingers. Lord willing, it will be in April. Let's leave it at that.

Before the book can be uploaded for publication, there's a lot of tweaking to do. The photos, as I mentioned, need to be inserted, and there are a couple of questions to be answered. The final six chapters have to be reread and fleshed out. The whole book needs a serious look-see and in order to view it more objectively I'll have to set it aside for a day or so. I hope to begin that process soon.

It's been several years since I began working on this project consistently. I have been collecting data for it even before I began drafting the outline, and climbing over hurdles, some large and some small. There were times when I didn't think I would find what I needed, and then, voila, pull a thread and new information becomes known. I've had a lot of input along the way from a lot of sources. I've rewritten the acknowledgement page three times. I hope I didn't miss anyone. The notes for the book are over 470 pages, not including two spreadsheets, a host of unincorporated PDF files, and some last-minute articles that have yet to be abstracted for the notebook. I'll try to finalize the notes as I work through the editing phase. I'm actually looking forward to that. I didn't print the notes out this time, as I did with the information on the Rasco book. It was simply too massive. And it has been quite a chore to whittle down those notes into a manageable narrative.

The next nonfiction book will be a shorter companion book to The Human Squirrel Cage. It deals with the escapes and attempted escapes from the jails of Nodaway County.That book will be titled Thanks For The Hospitality . . . But We've Gotta Go. That title seemed to fit the subject matter. Sort of something you might say when checking out of the Crowbar Motel without paying your bill in full.

Nodaway County has had five jails over the last 174 years. Did you know that? The one we have now isn't exactly a spring chicken anymore. It will celebrate it's thirty-second birthday in 2019. Dave McClain, who was the sheriff of Nodaway County at that time, and who is now the sheriff of Holt County, was one of only two sheriffs to be in office when an old jail was razed and a second one erected. He shares that honor with James Anderson, who took office in 1882. He was the first sheriff to live in the residence of the Human Squirrel Cage. He also has the distinction of being the sheriff in office when the only gun battle known to take place at the jail occurred. He and his brother were trying to keep a mob of "fifty masked men" from taking Omaha Charley from his cell in the rotary cellblock.

There are some other firsts related to the Human Squirrel Cage, but you'll have to read the book to learn about those. I don't want to spoil things. There are also some myths that have been debunked.

That's all for now. It's time to click play on an audiobook and start working on some other things. I usually work until my eyelids are too heavy to keep open. Perhaps I can finish a couple more tasks before the sun rises. Lord willing, of course.

A Million Little Details

A million gazillion little details. That's what the Human Squirrel Cage jail seems to contain at present - and I'm sure not all of those details in my notes are going to make it into the final manuscript. There may be some additional essays posted here on the blog, with facts I just couldn't work in somehow. We'll see.

As I go through the rough manuscript now for the second time, rewriting and editing as I go, I came across some details I had forgotten. I'm glad I put them in the first draft. I hope there will be pictures, too. The word processing software I'm using isn't cooperating on pictures. It keeps wanting to throw them around the pages, stripping them out of the location where I originally placed them. It's irritating. Fortunately, the next book, Thanks For The Hospitality . . . But We Gotta Go, won't have as many pictures. It's all about escapes and attempted escapes. and there were only a couple of pictures available related to those. I wish a photographer had been standing around the jail in those moments. Fortunately, the reporters that wrote the original articles did a very good job of asking for details. I appreciate their observation skills.

The Human Squirrel Cage: Nodaway County's Rotary Jail focuses a lot on the rotary jail, in part because of its unique design but also because it was the last one to still be in use as a jail after 102 years, even though it didn't twirl anymore. The book actually contains the history of all four of the county jails in Nodaway County, and makes mention of one or two others, especially the jailhouse at Graham. With the present one still in use, its final history will have to be written later. For now, writing a book that covers 173 years (and counting) of history, even on a single subject, is quite an undertaking. I hope you will enjoy it.

Publication is the key to setting me free from this book so that I can focus on the next one.  There were so many interesting people in our county jails over the last seven-plus decades, like the famous St. Clair County judges, that I have to restrain myself from stopping mid-chapter on the Human Squirrel Cage to work on the next one. We even had a jailhouse poet. Did you know that? You'll read about him in this first book. All those who escaped, and attempted to escape, will be captured in the next one. Wait for it.

The painting pictured above hangs in the Nodaway County Historical Society Museum at 110 N. Walnut, Maryville, MO. It was painted by a local artist from a photograph of the 2nd courthouse, center, and the third county jail, right. In the original photo, c.1881are pictured Sheriff Toel, and several others, two of whom I believe were Charles and Albert Talbott, on the day of their sentencing for the murder of their father, Dr. Perry H. Talbott near Arkoe, MO in September of 1880. Books about or based upon that murder are linked below and available through the Nodaway County Museum or through the  Nodaway News Leader.

The Murder of Dr. Talbott by Janet Hawley
Died Innocent by Don Nothstine

It's Alive!

The e-book version of the 2018 NaNoWriMo novel, The End Of Things At Dark Island, is now live on Amazon. The print version should be available for order within a day or two. The print version is now available.

I hope you enjoy the story. It's the first in a multi-book American Castle Mystery series.

In writing this story, I acquired some new knowledge, about the Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence River and Millionaire's Row, a little about yachts, docks, and castles, and a smidgen of information about our English cousins across the ocean. Okay. I made up a lot of stuff, too. But that's the fun in writing novels. I renamed a couple of things, moved some secret passages, added a door I needed for the characters to enter and exit through, but it all worked out in the end.

I don't know, yet, which American Castle will be featured in the second book in the series, or just how much trouble Howard and Effie will find themselves in when they arrive there, but their adversary in Book 1 is still on the prowl, so it's likely he'll sneak into Book 2. I hope you will follow my author page on Amazon, my author profile on Goodreads, or follow this blog to get an alert when the next novel is released.

In the meantime, enjoy The End Of Things At Dark Island!

It's only the beginning.

Countdown to Public Launch

Sometimes the final chapter of a book, at least for an author, can be a fleeting thing to grasp. When I began making the edits of The End Of Things At Dark Island, I came across a few 'story potholes' that needed to be patched, and some wider chasms that had to be completely eliminated. A sentence here, a scene there, a new paragraph or two, and those chasms have been pulled together.

I also found that I was overfeeding a couple of the characters, giving them breakfast twice one morning, once before they reached Grand Central Station and the other fifteen minutes after they were on the train and moving. I sent them to the dining car! If it had been simply for a cup of tea and a scone (one of them is British) and coffee and a donut (for the American chap), it would have been fine. But, that's not what I did. So, I eliminated their second morning meal (I don't want them to lose their trim figures) and wrote in a late lunch instead. It all worked out.

I also realized that when you're including a character from another country, you need to learn a bit of the cultural slang to legitimize their dialog. I hope I have accomplished that. Effie, Riley, and Gordon will be utterly mortified if I have failed.

Another blunder I discovered, I had mentioned earlier in the story that these same two characters had sleeper berths booked on the train. It wasn't true! Oh, good grief. It was only a seven-hour train ride. Had they been going across the country, I would have booked them that way. I should have consulted a travel agent, I suppose. I changed their booking myself from sleeper berths to a private compartment. After all, they are being pursued by a shadowy figure with a limp and a walking cane. They have to have somewhere to hide until they reach their destination. We don't want him getting to them too quickly.

As I worked on the bulk of the novel, trying to trim the unnecessary weight, it actually grew in size.  So now, instead of a 50,000-word cozy mystery it's a cozy mystery of over 65,000 words, and around 225 pages. It still qualifies as a cozy mystery, despite the weight gain. The story is set in a small location, there are a limited number of characters, there is a crime to be solved, I have thrown in a few red herrings for flavor, and hopefully I have added the correct measure of intrigue to keep those pages turning. I have also added a dash more description here and there to amplify the mental imagery.

I am working on the final twenty-five pages now. I don't anticipate it will grow much from this point on because the antagonist is about to be exposed and the pieces, hopefully, will all fall together. I do need to go back and add a couple of accomplices somewhere, but that's a minor detail, really just the matter of an extra paragraph or two.

The public launch of The End Of Things At Dark Island is still planned for this month. Look for it on Amazon. While you're there, check out a few of my other novels and nonfiction books. Happy reading!