Friday, September 20, 2013

Historical Creative Non-Fiction ~ A Long Journey Pulls into the Station for Author-Waitress Betsy Thorpe

by Deborah Wilbrink

The Day the Whistles Cried: The Great Cornfield Meet at Dutchman's Curve is the true story of America's worst train wreck, a 200-page work of creative nonfiction. Even the title reflects the six years of research that Thorpe invested. “A cornfield meet is railroad slang for train wreck! This mother of all train wrecks took place in the cornfields along White’s Creek, and may have been the foundation for the phrase.” Two passenger trains collided on a curve just outside of Nashville in 1918, killing 101 people.

Tracking down descendants of the “One Hundred and One Victims” to interview and spending long hours in archives, Thorpe gathered a ton of primary material. With a background in folklore, Thorpe had set that career aside years ago to honor her late husband’s commitment to music, wherever it led them. She set those skills to work in research and writing on her hours off from a shift at Shoney’s. Boiling down over 5000 pages of research notes into 200 pages of riveting reading was her biggest challenge. Most rewarding? “Seeing people’s names in a list of who died in a 1918 newspaper; then watching them come to life before my eyes, as I discovered what they did for a living, why they were on the train, their families. It’s the story of a time gone by, told through these real lives, not just a train wreck. On the trains rode two men out for a day of fishing; domestic workers; a potential governor of Tennessee; illiterate laborers headed for DuPont, among many others. As their stories unfold, so does the story of those turbulent and changing times. “Victims” no longer, these people have their lives vindicated at last.” The book, illustrated with photos of the day, will be “Published by Westview,” a Nashville publisher.

Fans of Titanic and those interested in disaster stories, history, Southern culture, and railroads can find the book for sale in January of 2014. Plans for publishing are set, with Thorpe using KickStart, a funding website which will launch her project with special rewards for small investors, beginning in September. The busy waitress-turned-author is ready to read excerpts from the manuscript and stoke the flames of excitement now. Thorpe is an adroit marketer, arranging events this month: a tea at Belle Meade Plantation, last sight for many on the train; a press conference on the steps of the former Union Station, now a hotel; and a tour of the train wreck site, now on a greenway, led by the author. For those invested in long-term projects, and “keeping the day job,” Thorpe is a model author. Keep up with her travels as a first-time author at her Facebook page, TrainWreck.

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