The Best Book…Ever…

(c) Copyright 2017, Annalisa Hartlaub. All rights reserved.

I read the best book ever last week. The book in question is titled Dr. Sticksel & the Lucky Umbrella. It is written for elementary school readers by my daughter, Annalisa Hartlaub, who self-published it with a limited print run for a specific purpose. More on that in a moment.

Please let me explain who “Dr. Sticksel” is. He is Dr. Phil Sticksel, a highly regarded meteorologist who worked worldwide for Battelle Memorial Institute, a science and technology research organization based in the Columbus, Ohio. Battelle partnered with Longfellow Elementary Math and Science Magnet School in Westerville, Ohio, which Annalisa attended. A major element of that partnership involved Battelle providing past and present personnel to Longfellow to assist with its science program. My first contact with Dr. Sticksel was at a school function during Annalisa’s first-grade year at Longfellow. He told me by way of introduction that Annalisa was functioning at genius level and was destined for amazing things. He mentored her through elementary school and beyond. He was (to name but one instance) in attendance when Annalisa, at the time a sixteen-year-old high school student, presented a research paper at The Ohio State University School of Medicine. Dr. Sticksel, now well into his eighties, has experienced some decline in health in the last few years but still stays mentally active and has continued through me to keep up to date on Annalisa. He was thrilled to learn that she presented another research paper this past September at the 2017 IEEE VIS Conference in Phoenix. She was the only attendee to do so who did not have a degree. “One of MY students did that?!” Dr. Sticksel asked. Yes, Sir. One of your students.

Annalisa at age twenty will be closing her career at The Ohio State University in three weeks by earning a degree in neuroscience. She did, however, take the time to fulfill a long-held dream. With the assistance of a grant from OSU’s STEP program, Annalisa wrote Dr. Sticksel & the Lucky Umbrella, the book I mentioned at the beginning of this bit of logorrhea. Yes, I might be prejudiced, but it is wonderful. It tells the story of a meteorologist who, with his pet opossum, has a lucky umbrella that keeps the rain away. Every word is true, to one degree or another. Annalisa put it all together — text, artwork, and all — and had the books printed by the fine folks at bookbaby. When the books arrived we took Annalisa several miles north to Dr. Sticksel’s home and surprised him with several copies. He was stunned, overjoyed, and surprised. It is of equal importance to note that, after Annalisa slips a copy or two of Dr. Sticksel & the Lucky Umbrella to Mom and Dad, the remaining copies of the books are being donated to the Westerville Elementary school library system. Dr. Sticksel may be retired, but he will live on in the halls of the Westerville schools and in the hearts and minds of the students for years to come.

Annalisa’s father, of course, sees this new book as the springboard for sorts of potential projects. “What about a Dr. Sticksel series, like Rotten Ralph?! A cartoon show on Netflix! Action figures! A four cup cineplex movie! Greeting cards! Video games! Graphic novels!” Annalisa doesn’t want to hear it, at least not now. Perhaps she will in six months, at which point she’ll convince herself that a spinoff project is her idea. For now, however, she concurs with the observation I made as we drove away from Dr. Sticksel’s home. “You know,” I said, “I think you made him really, really happy.” Annalisa responded, “That’s all I wanted to do.” Amen to that. I can’t think of a better reason to write a book.

Photo (c) Copyright 2017, Lisa O. Hartlaub

So…authors…when the rubber hits the road, why do you write? Other than for filthy lucre, of course?  And readers…why do you read? I mean, really? What is it about reading that entertains you? Tell us, please. And Happy Thanksgiving, from my house to yours.

 

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Missing

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Designed by Why Not Associates. All rights reserved.

One of the questions frequently asked of a writer is where ideas are obtained. If you are writing, and find yourself lacking for ideas, I have a suggestion: google “missing persons” and then your local city, county, or even neighborhood.  You will find enough tragedy, heartbreak, and yes, mystery to write volume after volume.

I am haunted by a particular incident that took place less than two blocks from my home. I am blessed to live in Westerville, just outside of Columbus, near a lovely area known as Hoover Reservoir. It’s a body of water that stretches for a few miles and has hiking and jogging trails, fishing opportunities, and a decent sized waterfall. It is also the situs of a disappearance that has baffled our local law enforcement for almost twenty years. A gentleman named Robert Mohney left his home — and a half-eaten steak dinner — on the evening of July 28, 1996 and was never seen again. His automobile — a cherry red Pontiac Firebird — was found in a parking lot at Hoover Reservoir. One reflexively thinks suicide, but no note was found. No, there is the impression of a meal interrupted and a sudden…disruption, perhaps?  Mohney had been going through a divorce but it reportedly was not an unfriendly proceeding; this wasn’t someone, according to those who knew him, who was intent on leaving for the other side. Inquiries were made and the reservoir searched but the man, a good looking guy in his late 20s, was and is gone. Police acting on a tip in 2010 dug up a field in an area north of the city hoping to locate a body and perhaps bring some closure —whatever that is — to Mohney’s family. They came up empty, unfortunately. Mohney is now the subject of high school legend, one in which his spirit can be seen late at night, wandering the banks of the reservoir, seeking peace. What happened to him? How does someone disappear from a popular picnic and recreational area without anyone noticing something? There’s your novel; have at it.

If that doesn’t interest you, here’s another.  Over nine years ago  a second year medical student at The Ohio State University named Brian Shaffer disappeared one night from a very popular campus-area bar and restaurant after becoming separated from friends. Security cameras show him going into the establishment with those friends but never coming out. Law enforcement has spent hours reviewing video and accounting for everyone who entered and left the place. Everyone but one.  Cadaver dogs were subsequently led through the premises but came up empty. There have been rumors a-plenty as to what occurred — everything from sighting in Atlanta to a tie-in with what have become known as the “Smiley Face Murders” — and if you want to feel as if you’re about to slip loose of your moorings, google that term — but nothing concrete has been determined. Shaffer is…gone.

There are more. A number of young women living on the fringes of polite society in a rural area south of central Ohio have disappeared during the past year. I stopped believing in coincidence some time ago; something bad and evil is acting, with impunity, in that area. Further afield, a number of ladies employed in some of the more popular adult entertainment establishments on Bourbon Street in New Orleans go missing under strange circumstances each year. Check out the statistics for the number of people who go missing in your city, your state, your country. There are all sorts or stories, real or imagined, waiting to be told. Be warned: after reading a few of those accounts you will want to take every person you love and keep them close and safe in a locked room. But if you need a story idea, you’re just a few keystrokes away from one, or two, or several.

That’s all I have. Tell me…what’s been happening near you? Are they heavily publicized, or were you surprised by what you found?

 

 

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