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The Vermont Book of Days :A Father/Daughter Project Takes Off
by Stephen Morris
Take the image of the struggling writer, toiling in solitude to create the next great American novel. Now, throw that image out the window, and replace it with a high energy father/daughter multimedia production team scrambling around the state to come up with a fresh, new story every day.
This project redefines "book." How can that be said of a 224 page, 8-1/2 x 11" hard cover book, printed as a limited edition of 2500 copies, with tons of color photos and a lively layout that is closer to Wired Magazine than Walter Hard's Vermont? It checks in at a retail price of just a nickel less than forty bucks. Perhaps most curiously, the book did not become a physical reality until long after "the Book" was a daily feature on local television and radio.
Michael Thurston is a rock 'n roller. A native Vermonter who hails from the Northeast Kingdom, he attended Lyndon State College, majoring in media communications. He founded the retail music business Exile on Main Street that has been a fixture in Barre's downtown for more than twenty years. From 1975 to 1991 he also produced and syndicated a national talk show called Off the Beaten Track that featured interviews with some of the biggest names from popular music, from Paul McCartney to Melissa Etheridge. Independent radio, however, is an endangered species, although luckily it retains a local foothold due the hardscrabble tenacity of Ken Squire and the WDEV. team.
The spark for The Vermont Book of Days came in 2002, a year that marked the 75th anniversary of the 1927 flood. Local author Pat Belding came to Thurston with a box of taped, audio interviews that she had made several years earlier with survivors of the flood. Her account was published as a book in 1998 under the title Through Hell and High Water in Barre, Vermont: 25 Eyewitness Accounts of the Flood of '27, and now she wanted the tapes preserved for posterity.
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Although not a historian, Thurston recognized the dramatic potential for the tapes being the foundation of a great long format radio documentary. Supported by Radio Vermont, the local group that includes WDEV i(the crown jewel), WSYB Rutland, WYKR Wells River, and WWWT Randolph, a show was broadcast several times during the anniversary year, and was named best news feature of the year by the Associated Press.
Thurston's love for radio was fully rekindled, but this time with an influence that was more strongly covered bridge than electric guitar. He "exiled" himself from Main St. (His wife Sandy now manages the business) and over the next eighteen months Thurston formulated his idea for a series of short, historical vignettes. Using a working title of "This Day in Vermont History" a physical book was not at the top of his project list. For the project to reach critical mass, Thurston knew, it would need to have products for all media–radio, television, Internet, and print.
He pitched the concept to all of Vermont's significant media outlets to varying degrees of success. The project received an influx of youthful energy when his daughter, Missie, a recent honors graduate from St. Michael's, signed on. Another significant alliance was established with the Vermont Historical Society who agreed, in essence, to exchange scholarship and research assistance for promotional considerations. Executive Director J. Kevin Graffagnino remembered a similar project by a college professor named John C. Wriston, Jr., whose family owned a summer home on Lake Carmi in Franklin.
Missie's first assignment was to track down Wriston. She found him, happily retired, in Delaware. He was amused, and perhaps slightly incredulous, to find people interested in research that he had put away more than a decade earlier.
The Thurstons discovered a treasure-chest of material and a willing partner. Wriston had abandoned his attempts to have his book, called "A Vermont Book of Days" published in traditional book form and had moved on to other projects, specifically historical research on post offices.
The missing piece remained a television outlet. Radio Vermont remained enthusiastic, but for a variety of demographic and geographic reason the commercial television stations had passed. Vermont Public Television hadn't said "no;" they hadn't said anything, and Thurston was getting the feeling that he was wearing out his welcome by continually inquiring about the status. With nothing to lose (other than a couple of years of work, thousands of dollars invested, and the respect of his daughter), Thurston called again just before Christmas in 2003. It was the nicest present of all when the producer on the other end of the line greeted him by saying:
"I'm so glad you called." The rest is, quite literally, history. Father and daughter, assisted by scholar/partners Wriston and the Vermont Historical Society, launched into action to distill Vermont's heritage into 365 daily doses. The first broadcasts of The Vermont Book of Days began August 29, the date in 2004 when the people of Lunenberg rededicate their library to mark its 100th anniversary. (You'd know that if you had the book.) Sadly, John Wriston passed away just as his scholarly work was beginning to see the light of day.
Almost immediately bookstores began to order the book, but, oops, there was no book. That would come a year later in time for Christmas, 2005 and now is widely available from booksellers statewide.
Although Vermont's calendar is limited to 365 days (with that occasional leap year) the state's stories are unlimited. As the father/daughter Thurstons cris-cross the state armed with video cameras, microphones, and notebooks, they find that each story begets another. With Missie taking the lead on the writing side and Dad holding sway on the broadcast end The Vermont Book of Days will be with us for months and years to come.
This review by Green Living Journal Editor & Publisher Stephen Morris appeared originally in The Vermont Sunday Magazine
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