Mysteries revealed!

I had a blast participating in a discussion as the Toledo Lucas County Public Library celebrates the 90th anniversary of the release of the first Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.

Tune in to discover the secret behind the first ghostwriter for the series! (Hint: I wrote a biography about her, found here: https://bookshop.org/books/missing-millie-benson-the-secret-case-of-the-nancy-drew-ghostwriter-and-journalist/9780821421840

Ode to Nancy Drew and Millie Benson…90 years later

We are destined to be forgotten within three generations, so the experts say. Our oral histories, our stories will no longer be told and will be lost over time, according to Aaron Holt of the National Archives and Records Administration.

So, all the more fascinating it is that a young, independent, and brave fictional female character remains as relevant 90 years after she dashed off in her little roadster to solve the first of many mysteries.

Yep, Nancy Drew is alive and well all these years later, and still ranks as one of the top fictional female sleuths in surveys.

But who wrote the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories?

The answer is much like one of the mysteries, filled with plot twists and turns.

Most young readers grew up believing that Carolyn Keene wrote the mysteries.

There was no Carolyn Keene.

Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym that was created by Edward Stratemeyer. Stratemeyer created the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series, and hired ghostwriters to flesh out the characters and the outlines he provided.

There is only one woman who could rightfully proclaim that she was the original ghostwriter.

Her name was Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson, known simply as Millie Benson later in life.

Toledo Times photo of Mildred Wirt, at her desk surrounded by her works on August 10, 1949. (Nancy Drew). BLADE ARCHIVE FILE PHOTO/

Millie began writing for Edward Stratemeyer in 1926, right on the heels of becoming the first person to receive a Master of Arts degree from the University of Iowa School of Journalism. Stratemeyer appreciated her work on Ruth Fielding and Her Great Scenario, which he had hired Millie to write. In October of 1929, Stratemeyer sent Millie the outline for a new series, featuring a young female sleuth. The first book in the series was titled The Secret of the Old Clock.

Stratemeyer’s response to Millie’s work was typical of how an editor would respond to a new writer, offering both what he liked, and what he didn’t care for. He wrote, “I thought the first half of the story was a bit slow and that the characters were not sufficiently introduced.” He also offered, “but as soon as Nancy gets to New Moon Lake the story picks up very well indeed and the last eight chapters are particularly strong.”

The biggest issue though, was the vision that Stratemeyer had of the main character. “He didn’t think that I created the character of Nancy in the way that he anticipated,” Millie said.

The publisher however was more than enthused with Millie’s presentation of the character, the strong, smart, independent, and irreverent Nancy Drew. And so it was that Millie’s version of Nancy Drew remained, and continues to inspire young readers still, 90 years later.

Millie went on to write 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. Millie wrote over one hundred novels for children, most under short deadlines. And, Millie wrote many of them while nursing her first husband, Asa Wirt, who suffered a series of strokes, and caring for their young daughter, Peggy.

Millie’s story reads much like a Nancy Drew Mystery Story, fraught with challenges, conflict, loss, and shady characters trying to undermine her efforts. Millie was as plucky as her character, independent to a fault, and strong in her convictions.

Here is hoping that Millie’s light will shine just as long as Nancy Drew’s does.

To purchase your copy of Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Ghostwriter and Journalist, click here:

https://bookshop.org/books/missing-millie-benson-the-secret-case-of-the-nancy-drew-ghostwriter-and-journalist/9780821421840

For further information, visit www.julierubini.com

Why Do We Do the Things We Do?

Why do we do the things we do? Why do we respond to situations or events in our lives the way that we do? How is it that the smallest things can make us angry as heck, but the really big issues don’t even phase us? Or why does something we do not have any control over bring out our controlling tendencies?

Human behavior is a fascinating topic. It’s even more fascinating when one examines why teenagers do what they do. And even better yet when one gets to research and write about why teens do what they do for teens.

I got that chance when Nomad Press, an educational publisher, chose me to explore and share this topic through their Inquire and Investigate series for young adults.
Here’s how it happened and what I learned through the process.

Andi Diehn, the editor extraordinaire of Nomad, reached out to me to contribute to their series on cool career avenues for girls. Man, I wish I could have written one of those books, as I’m all about girl power. Unfortunately, the deadline for that work directly conflicted with that of another of my books, so I had to turn down the offer. But I told Andi to keep me in mind for other opportunities. In the interim, Andi came to know a bit about my personal journey.

When Andi called to offer the chance to write Psychology: Why We Smile, Strive and Sing, she suggested that she thought I would be perfect based on my experiences. Andi thought that my positive choices through what most consider the worst tragedy, the death of a child, served as a great foundation to draw upon in researching and writing the book.

I’m grateful for the vote of confidence.

The truth of the matter is that I’ve often wondered how it is possible that I made the choices I did then, and now. How is it that I managed to literally pick myself up from off the floor on that horrible day and chose to not only survive but to truly live? What physical, emotional and genetic factors came into play? How did my environment and upbringing factor into my choices? (And for this I must thank my five siblings for helping to shape my survivalist nature!)

If you wonder the same, why you do the things you do, Psychology: Why We Smile, Strive and Sing breaks down the science behind our choices. Whether you are a teen, or parent one, my book offers insights into why this is such an amazing time in emotional and physical development, lending to choices.

So what did I learn through the process?

I learned that we as human beings all carry our experiences, our triumphs and our tragedies with us every day. We make decisions and judgements based on the influence of how we were raised, our current environment, and our support system, or lack thereof.

I learned that we as human beings have the capacity to either bury ourselves in our grief and sorrows, or to apply our energies in positive ways to experience post-traumatic growth.

I learned that for such a complicated topic it is great to have experts to lean on, such as Dr. Patrick McCormick, Neurosurgeon, Toledo, Rae Yenderusiak, LPCC-S, Toledo, Dr. Katie McLaughlin, Clinical Psychologist and Professor at Harvard University, and Dr. Nancy Segal, Psychologist and Director of the Twin Studies Center.

And, I learned that if you always have wondered about something, read about it.

Psychology: Why We Smile, Strive, and Sing

Psychology: Why We Smile, Strive and Sing releases on August 15, 2020. To pre-order a copy, visit https://bookshop.org/books/psychology-why-we-smile-strive-and-sing/9781619309111

Chosen

It was an honor and pleasure to be interviewed by Debbie Gonzalez for her podcast. Debbie inspired me through her inciting questions about love, loss, and celebrating life. More so, she suggests that I was chosen for my path, an incredible thought. Here’s to all who have guided and supported me on my journey. You were chosen as well.

Check out her debcast here: http://www.debbiegonzales.com/the-debcast-epsiodes/2019/12/29/ep34-never-deny-an-opportunity-at-first-glance-with-julie-rubini

Connecting at Christmas

I’m supposed to be tending to my work in progress…my newest writing project about a group of incredible, strong women who overcame challenges and adversity.

My kind of story.

But I’ve just finished setting up the special little tree that we’ve created in honor of our little reader gone too soon, and my heart is still hurting, and between flashes of memories of Claire, my brain is thinking about watching the movie about Mr. Rogers yesterday with two friends who have also buried their children, and I just can’t write about anything else at the moment.

The movie was profound, and I teared up a number of times, as the journey between Fred Rogers and Tom Junod, the investigative journalist who was sent to do just a 400-word piece for a story on heroes in Esquire magazine back in 1998, struck multiple chords. There was a scene from a dream sequence where Tom was bedside with his dying mother. She told him that she knew he hung onto anger toward his father who abandoned them when his mother became ill. His mother told Tom to let it go. She didn’t need his anger. There was a scene where Mr. Rogers asked Tom to close his eyes and remain silent for a moment, just thinking about the people in his life who had loved him into being the person he was. Tears rolled down both Tom’s cheeks and mine, as I did the same in the theater.

After the movie finished, the credits rolled, the theater emptied, the lights went up, and a young employee waited patiently to sweep up the remnants of our popcorn, my friends and I reflected on the movie, and checked in with each other to make sure we were okay, given our shared experience of loss.

Mr. Rogers I knew that the movie was based on a story, so as I do after watching a film based on real-life, I researched and found the original article that Mr. Junod penned. What started as a small article became 10,000 words and served as the cover story for the magazine. As honoring and humbling as that would be for any writer, I can only imagine what a transformative experience it was for the journalist. The movie did a great job in sharing Mr. Junod’s growth through the process of coming to know Mr. Rogers. Despite the investigative journalist’s misgivings, believing that there was the public persona of Mr. Rogers, and then there was the man off-camera, Mr. Junod ultimately discovered they were one in the same.

Mr. Rogers was a faith-filled man. He read the bible, attended church, and he prayed for many people by name every day. Mr. Rogers prayed for people he met, he read about, complete strangers. The simplest prayer that Mr. Rogers would share was, “Thank you God.” When he prayed with someone, he created an unforgettable connection with that individual.

Mr. Junod wrote of Mr. Roger’s desire and ability to connect with people in the article. “Once upon a time, a man named Fred Rogers decided that he wanted to live in heaven. Heaven is the place where good people go when they die, but this man, Fred Rogers, didn’t want to go to heaven; he wanted to live in heaven, here, now, in this world, and so one day, when he was talking about all the people he had loved in this life, he looked at me and said, “The connections we make in the course of a life—maybe that’s what heaven is, Tom. We make so many connections here on earth. Look at us—I’ve just met you, but I’m investing in who you are and who you will be, and I can’t help it.”

So, that brings me back to where this all started. I was blessed to have a child we named Claire who brought light into my world and continues to shine it down on me. Through my loss I’ve connected with others as we make our way through our own grief journeys. I have incredibly deep ties with my husband and two children, extended family and dear friends.

Like Mr. Junod, I’ve struggled with anger and tend to run away or blow up when I become overwhelmed. And also like the journalist, I’ve been transformed by the connections I’ve made in life, by those who have loved me into being who I am.

I’m my own work in progress. I’m strong, I’ve faced adversity and challenges.

We all do. And we are all changed by those experiences and those who come into our lives to help us through them. Maybe we are living in heaven, here and now. I feel that way.

And for that, in the immortal words of Mr. Rogers, I pray, “Thank you God.”

Wishes

This radio interview with my friend Denise Brennan-Nelson came up in my Facebook feed as a memory from four years ago. In case you missed it the first time, it’s a great reflection of my journey as a bereaved mom, founder of Claire’s Day and children’s book author. We talk about wishes and what gets in the way. Enjoy! https://soundcloud.com/podcastdetroit/the-nooner-show-episode-2?fbclid=IwAR1t8JxlapTBbcEwdzk67hLJoKMQ64TQIG0MvugWARx_pYw3KZvHl7-wnTw

Back in the saddle again

One of my favorite movies, Sleepless in Seattle, features the Gene Autry tune, Back in the Saddle Again, as the widower Tom Hanks decides it’s time to start dating.

The phrase reflects one’s desire to get back into doing something you had before, whether from injury or self-imposed time-out.

In my case, both apply.

My last post reflected my overwhelmed state of mind. I wrote it on the heels of our 18th annual Claire’s Day and several months filled with various writerly and literacy advocate commitments.

I was burnt out and felt a need to recharge.

Well, it’s interesting how life just kind of helps you figure things out.

In my case, it all began over the Fourth of July weekend. My right foot began to bother me. It started to nag at me, a dull, continuous pain. Then it began screaming after walking the golf course in bad shoes.

The timing couldn’t have been worse.

My husband, Brad, had presented me with the gift of playing in the Marathon Classic pro-am the Wednesday following the holiday weekend.

Understand that for me, playing in a pro-am was one of ten things I wrote down that I wanted to accomplish years ago during a team-building exercise during my sales management days. It was on my bucket list before there ever was such a thing. It represented my desire to get my golf game to the point that I could hold my own on the course.

The LPGA Marathon Classic supports charities that benefit children. Last year a portion of the proceeds from the tournament were given to Claire’s Day. As our way of showing our gratitude, Brad purchased two slots in the pro-am at the tournament host course, Highland Meadows.

But I had this throbbing foot. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to play, to fulfill this dream I’ve had for years. I called a friend of mine, a retired podiatrist. We both kind of figured that it was a stress fracture, brought on by bad shoes and over-exercising. His advice? “Get a golf cart if you can, wear the most supportive golf shoes you have, and have fun.”

I didn’t sleep well the night before the tournament. I felt like a kid going to Cedar Point amusement park the next day. I finally got up around 4:30 a.m., made myself some coffee, and sat out on the deck with my confused four-year-old Labrador, Luna. As I sipped my coffee and iced my foot, a sense of calm came over me. I knew that it was all going to be okay. I knew I was going to play well. And I felt so grateful to have the opportunity.

The experience was surreal, from the moment I met our pro, Mirim Lee, from South Korea, and our playing partners. When I got up to the first tee, I took a deep breath, settled into my stance, and struck the ball perfectly. The team used my drive, as they did often that day. And, as I was lead putter, I sank a number of putts, saving the team from having to do so. We ended up at a respectful 13 under.

Later that afternoon I got the official diagnosis, a boot, and the prognosis of 6-8 weeks of heeling from my new podiatrist.

So, I’ve spent the last 7 weeks icing, elevating, and hobbling along in my boot. I’ve been humbled by being pushed around in a wheelchair at our zoo and museum during a family visit. I’ve not been able to golf, walk my dog or bike.

Brad calls me his “Energizer Bunny.”

My batteries didn’t die. They were cruelly pulled from me.

For those of you who know me, it’s been hell.

But, for those of you who know me well, you know that I didn’t just sit.

I reflected. I meditated. I healed. And, I must admit, I binge-watched This is Us.

I wrote.

Through this process, I’ve discovered a subject that is so perfectly reflective of my experience that I can’t wait to share it with you.

But that will come in time.

For now, I’m celebrating being back in the saddle again.

 

Seeking True Center

 

In the Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh reflects on her life and her roles as a wife, bereaved mother, mother to five other children, and writer.

I’ve read this treasure numerous times, gleaning something applicable to my life at the moment each visit.

Mrs. Morrow Lindbergh shared her meditations from a little cabin by the sea in Captiva, as she temporarily stepped away from the responsibilities of her life.

Simply put, she retreated. She reflected. She wrote.

I’m doing the same, and I need to for my own health and well-being.

I told my daughter Kyle on a visit in March that I was feeling anxious about the numerous appearances, events, and presentations that filled my calendar early-April through May. I admitted that many of these activities are out of my natural comfort zone.

She responded, “You’d never know that.”

Revelation: at my core, I’m still that shy, not-so-confident girl from a small town.

Life has forced me out of my shell, just like the little hermit crab who resided in the channelled whelk shell Mrs. Morrow Lindbergh discovered.

As my girlfriend Gayle offered, “we’d never know that because you do all that you do so well. But I get it…and since it’s not within your innate nature, it takes all the more energy from you.”

There’s more to the story too. Let’s just say that sometimes being an author of nonfiction for young readers can be challenging.

I find myself questioning who I am, and who I should be as a writer.

As Mrs. Morrow Lindbergh offers, this is a time in life when I should be “shedding shells,” shells of pride, self-ambition, one’s mask, one’s armor. It is a time, particularly as a woman, to find our “true center.”

I ask for your support as I reflect, retreat in my inner shell, and continue to discover purpose as a writer.

My heart is filled with hope that as I pull back and within, as I escape to my own waterside haven, that the universe reveals where my “true center” is.

Meeting new “peeps”

This weekend I had the opportunity to be surrounded by amazing creators of children’s books. Now, I know what you’re thinking. As the co-founder of Claire’s Day, a children’s book festival, this would not be unusual for me. In my role as an author, this isn’t necessarily a new experience either, as I’ve been fortunate to attend many Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators meetings and conferences.

But, this was different.

This was a writing workshop specifically for nonfiction children’s book authors, editors and agents.

Ahhh…finally. My peeps.

I felt like the nonfiction kid-lit shelves at my local bookstore literally came to life in front of my eyes as I met my fellow attendees. Writers I only knew through common on-line writing groups or social media were there, live and in person. I met scientists, educators, and biographers, all passionate about sharing their discoveries in creative and exciting works with children of all ages.

These writers have created works on everything from the history of dogs, to the significance of road kill. It was a thrill to meet peers who have written biographies I’ve read as mentor texts, admiring their style and structure.

I fan-girled over Candace Fleming, whose works range from stories about giant squids, to revealing, incredible biographies of Amelia Earhart and Buffalo Bill. I learned about the importance of “vital idea” of story and exciting page turns from Candace.

Jennifer Swanson, the creative genius behind the workshop, shared her excitement over establishing a nonprofit that provides author school visits to children who might not ever have the chance for this incredible experience otherwise. Jen participated in Claire’s Day last year, and it has been an honor offering her support and advice in this endeavor.

It was awesome meeting editors who are passionate about nonfiction, who are actively acquiring the manuscripts we are all creating.

Most of all, it was so refreshing to talk about research, back matter, interviewing subjects, challenges in getting experts to “vet” our manuscripts, agents who specialize in nonfiction, and all things related to the beauty and opportunities in this genre as an author.

I walked away from the experience feeling as though I have a whole new support group of writers who really “get” what I’m doing, because they are walking the same path. They speak my language.

My new peeps. Nice to meet you.

Awestruck

Have you ever found yourself in the presence of someone you admire so much that suddenly you find it difficult to speak intelligently? Or speak at all?

Such was the case for me when I first met Christine Brennan, USA Today sports columnist, commentator, author, speaker, mentor and voice for justice in the world of sports.

In other words, superwoman in the world of sports journalism.

Christine, or Chris, as she’s known to friends, graciously agreed to not only appear and sign copies of her memoir, Best Seat in the House, at one of our first Claire’s Days, but offered to help honor children who were being given our C.A.R.E. Awards. Claire’s Awards for Reading Excellence are given to children chosen as the most improved readers in their classes.

The children may not have realized who Christine is, but all the adults in the audience did.

I watched in awe as Christine, along with several of her nieces, graciously recognized the young readers. You would have thought that she was handing an Olympic gold to one of her favorite figure skaters. She made the children feel that special.

She made Brad and I feel pretty special too. It was a feeling that stuck with me for a long time.

As I was given the opportunity to propose subjects to write about for the Biographies for Young Readers published by Ohio University Press, the admiration I have for Christine encouraged me to approach her.

I happened to still have her cell phone number, and she apparently hadn’t disposed of mine either.

When I called, I was expecting to get her voicemail. I was certain she wouldn’t either recognize the number or would have “broomed me” to tend to any breaking news in the world of sports.

Instead, she answered right away.

“Hey Julie, how are you? What’s up?”

There was no time to hesitate. I managed to gather my wits and outline the book project in the brief time she had to chat.

Without hesitation, she replied, “Absolutely. Oh, my goodness, I’m so honored.”

That conversation started an amazing journey of research, writing, and revising, ultimately leading up to the release in early April of Eye to Eye: Sports Journalist Christine Brennan.

It was such a joy getting to know Christine better, to sneak a glimpse behind the curtain of the world of sports journalism, to come to understand how significant and important she is to so many.

Including me.

I’m even more in awe of Christine Brennan now than I was before I started this journey.

But, thanks to Chris, I’m a little braver when approaching subjects to tell their stories.