Jan 062010

In this novel, the genteel ways of the old South are woven together with its coarser threads of infamy—slavery.  Historically accurate, Corrigans’ Pool reveals a tale of love and hate and courage … and the desperate need for a young woman to find her inner strength to survive.

Bitter with thoughts of the darkly handsome stranger who promised to marry her and then left town without a word, Ella Corrigan hastily weds a neighboring planter—a man whose cold indifference is merely a disguise for cunning insanity. His cruelty to his slaves horrifies her and, although her family has owned slaves for generations, she questions the concept of human bondage for the first … while desperately longing for her cherished Greenpoole plantation and Corrigan’s Pool … a beautiful phenomenon of nature that the slaves call “Conjuring Pool” for reasons they cannot explain when asked.

The South is embroiled in a bitter Civil War by the time Ella Corrigan discovers that Corrigans’ Pool is much more than the exquisitely beautiful pond she had thought it to be all her life. But by the time she learns its dangerous secret she is deeply entangled in a secret of her own … one that has made her a virtual prisoner, hopelessly trapped in a world dreadfully different from her previous existence as mistress of her gentle father’s plantation home along the Savannah River.

As Union troops burn their way across Georgia and swarm onto Ella’s property and then into Savannah, she must make a harrowing journey downriver where danger lurks around every shadowy bend. Can she save herself and those who depend on her? What will she do when the past that she has long blamed for her misery steps unexpectedly out of the darkness to face her? – FROM THE AUTHOR SITE

AUTHOR GUEST POST…Memoirs of a Texas Dance Hall Queen
Once upon a time, on a lush prairie 60 miles inland, as a crow flies, from Corpus Christi Bay on the Texas Gulf of Mexico, there was and still is a quaint and lovely little town called Beeville … which was surrounded by dozens of other quaint and lovely little towns and hamlets—all of which sheltered a vast and exuberant population of Country Music enthusiasts who, by the very nature of their fun-loving souls, loved to dance.

Sadly their favorite dance hall on Highway 59 on the outskirts of Beeville had closed down and was now just a huge empty building … surrounded by a vast parking lot, where patches of weeds, wild sunflowers, and the scraggly beginnings of Mesquite bushes had broken through sparse crusts of gravel and caliche topping. Those among the music lovers who were not willing to drive far and wide to distant dance halls scattered over South Texas, now sat home Saturday nights, lamenting about “the good old days.”

Oh how they missed stepping out of the gloomy darkness of a Texas night into the gaiety of that cosmic saloon … to be bathed in the hypnotic promise of twinkling neon beer signs. Thirty or more of these flashing works of artistry had hung with perfect symmetry along each wall of the old dance hall, its soaring thirty foot ceiling adding to the Texas feel of wide open spaces.  Other neons lit the two elegant Old West style bars that graced each side of the vast room. Would those glorious kaleidoscopes of colors— like effervescent tattoos swirling effortlessly over a scene of historic ambiance —ever again dapple the faces of young and old as they glided across the smooth oak floor?

Gloomy indeed, were these Country Music enthusiasts. So much so that often, on an all-too-quiet eve, when the wind died down and a hush fell over the land, the nostalgic sighs of these bereft folks could be heard across several counties. Eerie, were those sounds—like the moans of lost and lonely souls in hopeless search of “boot-scootin’ release.

As luck would have it, in the summer of 1989, a few years after the hall had closed its doors, a real estate agent was chauffeuring my husband, Sam, and me down Highway 59, in search for investment property.

“Hey, why don’t you two buy that place?” The agent pointed to the deserted dance hall and then pulled into the weedy parking lot, the tires crunching discarded beer cans and exploding overripe diapers that had been fermenting under the hot Texas sun. “Darned shame … some people haven’t got more manners than to dump their garbage on anything that hasn’t got a fence around it,” he said, swerving to miss the jagged neck of a Jose Cuervo bottle. “This used to be the hottest dance hall in the area—live music every weekend … huge crowds.” He pulled up in front of the building and shifted into park.

Sam and I laughed. “We don’t know a thing about running a dance hall,” I said, and that was an understatement.

Other than loving to dance, we both had come from backgrounds far different from anything that had to do with the business of dance halls. Sam had been a Federal Agent until retirement and then became a Chief of Police. I had worked for elected County Officials, including the local Sheriff’s Department—all the while harboring a childhood dream of someday becoming a published author of historical novels.

A few years prior to sitting in the dance hall parking lot with Sam and the real estate agent, I had finished Corrigans’ Pool, my very first novel … then lost the entire manuscript a month later, research and all, in a fire at my home.  Numbed by the loss, I felt I would not be able to write again, even if I tried. Only recently had I managed to push my heartbreak aside and start Corrigans’ Pool over from scratch, and I was now bound and determined not to let anything interfere with finishing it.

Here, I am reminded of a line in the Robert Burns 1785 poem, To A Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest, with the Plough, in which he wrote “The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew…”  For reasons I still cannot explain, I forced myself to ignore the sordid parking lot and lifted my sunglasses off my nose for a better look at the huge building with its soaring Western facade—just like in an old wild west movie, only much larger. I glanced at Sam to see what he was doing. He was grinning at me, the strange look in his dark eyes matching mine exactly.

Two months later—bolstered by the tenacity of our innocence in such things—we had resurfaced the parking lot, cleaned and scrubbed and dusted and painted and generally spruced up the vast innards of our new investment property, which included dusting and repairing the thirty or more neons. Money flowed from our checking account like quicksilver slips through a sieve.

Writing Corrigans’ Pool was again being delayed, and I had mixed feelings, wanting desperately to get back to it and, at the same time, eager to set out on this new adventure Sam and I had created for ourselves. There wasn’t anything, major or minor, that didn’t need fixing or replacing or disinfecting—beer boxes, ice machines, fifty tons of air conditioning … right down to replacing the rusty old urinal in the men’s room, which was a twelve foot long community trough-like receptacle with overhead water sprinklers that had hung lopsided on a cedar plank wall, the wall speckled with splats of tobacco juice and hardened chewing gum.  Inside the tiny privacy cubicles off to the side, the two sit-down toilets lay shattered, their once white porcelain peeking through patches of disgusting colors that offended the eyes and irritated the nose. However, Sam and I only shrugged and smiled feebly at each other, as we rolled up our sleeves and pants legs and then wiggled our ultra-clean hands into elbow-length rubber gloves.  It was then he began to call me his “little dance hall queen.”  I didn’t think the reference a bit funny, but it soon became his private term of endearment for me.  I was a “queen” all right—my throne the tailgate of our recently purchased pickup truck, my scepter the commode plunger in my hand, as I dashed outside to my throne to get a breath of fresh air!

Due to leakage from the old urinal and busted toilets, the entire floor had to be replaced and I picked out lovely terra cotta tiles to add to the rooms shining new Texas ambiance. Sam shook his head when I purchased several pieces of western art copies from Hobby Lobby and hung the paintings along one wall, where they could be seen and appreciated by the tobacco-chewing gentlemen approaching the gorgeous new stainless steel urinal.

The ladies’ room, with its seven stalls was not as scruffy as the men’s room, in that it only needed five or six holes patched where some angry female Amazon had apparently rammed her fist through the sheet rock a few times. The powder room got the terra cotta tiles, paint, pretty new mirrors, and all the wall-machinery a lady might need in an emergency.

Our friends and relatives were stunned by our unlikely purchase.  The notion that we had waited until middle age to go through our “wild hair” stage was troublesome to our grown children, as well.  Even so, we refused to listen to our grim-faced detractors. “Grab a mop and bucket or run along home, my darlings,” we said, smiling sweetly.  “Why? Why?” they kept asking. But Sam and I, either fortified by the stubborn independence that comes with age or aggravated by our newly aching bones and muscles, were in no mood to explain ourselves, even if we had known why.  The only thing we knew for certain was that we would hire a manager to run the place as soon as the renovations were finished.

Here is where “the best laid plans of mice and men …” once again comes into play:  One month before the Texas Grand—that’s what we named it—was to open its doors to the eager crowd of dance-starved Country Music lovers, we still had not found a manager! The realization that we would have to run the place ourselves set in with a weird mixture of terror and excitement.

We made a plan:  We’d hire Rock bands on Thursdays and have top Country Bands from all over Texas on Friday and Saturday nights.  We’d rent the hall to various clubs and organizations and wedding parties on weekdays.  We’d donate its use to non-profit groups who gave their proceeds to the poor, etc.  With the help of friends in the music business, I learned how to book the top bands a year in advance and then took the bands’ advice on where to place the most effective advertisements—posters, radio, T.V. and all area newspapers.

Run the place, we did, mostly by trial and error—greeting our surprised customers at the door each night like host and hostess of a grand social event!  After a few nights of live music so loud that it vibrated everything and everyone n the building, our nights and days became reversed and severe symptoms akin to jet lag turned this unlikely pair of dance hall entrepreneurs into walking zombies.  After that first long weekend of Thursday “Rock” night, followed by the Friday and Saturday Country music nights, we emerged exhausted into the glare of early morning sunlight, went home and converted our sunny bedroom into a cubicle as dark as a bat’s cave.  We had never so much appreciated the simple act of sleeping!

At this late date in our lives, we were becoming skilled at several new lines of work, wearing many hats all in the space of a single day, as we worked alongside our new waitresses and bartenders—some of whom were young pilots, Sailors, and Navy women from the local Naval Air Station.  Along with the area Country music lovers, the Navy and Marine Corp soon became steady patrons.  Long after the last dance was danced and the lead singer in the band had wished everybody a safe drive home, Sam and I donned our “cleanup crew” hats.  We went through rubber gloves and cleaning supplies like we had once gone through carrot sticks and fat-free dips during our leisurely nights of T.V. or reading or—in my case—writing.  Those days were gone.

To make a long story short, we operated the Texas Grand for seven years before we sold it to a younger couple.  We still look back with smiles, grateful for “the time of our lives” in which we met and befriended persons from all walks of life that we otherwise would have never had the good fortune to know.  After a while, many of these wonderful folks—rodeo cowboys and ranch hands, military men and women, farmers and ranchers, clerks and housewives, and even an Indian chief began to look for us if we weren’t at the door to greet then when they arrived, waving to us or coming over to where we were, to give us a big hug, sometimes a kiss on the cheek.  Our Texas dance hall adventure may not have made us rich, but we came away wealthy, just the same.

When I at last sat down to write again, my destroyed historical novel, Corrigans’ Pool, began to rise steadily from the ashes of the old—better, I believe, than the first.  While writing, I paused many times to think of our Texas Grand days and the strangers who had walked through the door simply as customers but soon became valued friends. As I wrote my novel, the realization hit me that the seven year interlude as a small-time Texas dance hall “queen” had given me fresh insight, and I wouldn’t trade those seven years for any profession in the world, no matter how influential or profitable. Blessings come in many disguises–and the more hats one wears through life, the better one is at recognizing those blessings. I haven’t stopped writing since.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR…Dot Ryan, author of the Civil War era historical novel, Corrigans’ Pool, makes her home with her husband, Sam, in “The Sparkling City by the Sea,” Corpus Christi, Texas near their sons and daughters and grandchildren.  Dot is busy writing her second and third works of historical fiction, one of which is the upcoming sequel to Corrigans’ Pool. To learn more about Dot, visit her website at www.dotryanbooks.com.

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