Friday, May 8, 2015

Paul Travers, Author

Born, raised and educated in Baltimore, Maryland, Paul Joseph Travers received a B.A. degree from the University of Maryland in English and an M.A. degree from Pepperdine University in Business Management. He served in the United States Marine Corps as an amphibious armor officer and later worked for the Maryland Park Service as a park ranger/historian.

Travers is the author of The Cowgirl and The Colts: A Story of the 1st Female NFL Mascot the captivating story of Carolyn Clark and her pony Dixie. The daughter of legendary jockey Willie Clark, Carolyn rode into the pages of football history as the first female mascot in professional football.

Travers hobbies include the 3 R's, (w)riting, running and rudimenting (drumming). In addition to writing, he also lectures on American history and conducts writing workshops for young writers. His current work-in-progress is a historical novel about a young missionary nun who travels to the deep South in the early 1940's to battle racial prejudice and religious bigotry.

Welcome Paul Travers!
Thank you for your military service.

You watched Carolyn Clark and Dixie during the football games.  What memory stands out the most?
Just watching Carolyn talk to Dixie and getting her ready to gallop around the cinder track at Memorial Stadium just as the Colts were ready to score.  Seconds before putting her foot in the stirrup, she would whisper in Dixie’s ear and then gently stroke the side of her neck.  Carolyn and Dixie were positioned near the corner of the end zone below the grandstand where I was sitting with the Police Boys’ Club.  Along with her parents, they were the closest people that I could see, so naturally my attention was usually focused on them.  It was infatuation with a young cowgirl just a few years older than me and a sense of envy in that she was on the field with my childhood heroes, the Baltimore Colts.  For more info regarding this question, please see the Baltimore Sun article (The cowgirl, the old Colts and a pony named Dixie).  

How old was Carolyn when she rode as the mascot?  How many years was she the mascot?
Carolyn started as the mascot in 1959 at the age of ten and continued until 1964 for a total of six years.  After that year, she resigned the position at age fifteen to focus on her promising equestrian career.  By the time of her death, she was an accomplished horsewoman who had been riding since the age of two.  A few years before her death, she started her jumping career with the hope of eventually becoming the first female jockey to ride in a Triple Crown race.

Did you know Carolyn and have the opportunity to interview her?
This is the sad footnote to the story.  In October 1965, Carolyn, her mother, and an apprentice jockey, were involved in a serious automobile accident while returning from a horse show in New Jersey.  The driver fell asleep and the vehicle hit a bridge abutment, instantly killing Carolyn, who had just turned sixteen, and the jockey.  Carolyn’s mom Dorothy survived the accident after sustaining serious head injuries.  The accident eventually led to the break-up of the marriage between Willie and Dorothy.  As Willie often told me, “After the accident, I hit the bottle, my marriage hit the skids, and I hit the road for Charles Town.”  Charles Town, West Virginia, was the place where Willie finished his career (at one time the oldest active jockey in the US) and resided for the rest of his life.  

Tell us about Dixie.  What breed of pony?
Dixie was a registered Welsh mare pony under the name of Crayfield Starlight.  In reality, the name Dixie was a stage or show name in keeping with the other ponies that preceded her.

Did you get to meet her father, jockey Willie Clark?  What was he like?
I first met Willie in December 2002 after I got the idea to write about Carolyn and Dixie.  I re-read the Sports Illustrated article about Willie in my file and was very doubtful about my chances of interviewing him.  According to the article, he couldn’t talk about Carolyn because her death was still a very raw emotional issue.  On a lark, I phoned the PR department at Charles Town Racetrack to see if he was still around.  Before I could finish introducing myself, I was connected to the track kitchen and in a matter of seconds, much to my surprise, was speaking to Willie.  He was hesitant at first as expected, but after I explained who I was and what I was doing, he agreed to meet with me at the track kitchen.  At our first meeting, Willie showed me some pictures of Carolyn and tears rolled down his face.  Seeing a rather distraught Willie, the other horse people in the kitchen immediately rushed over to see this obvious stranger, more like intruder dressed in a sport coat and turtleneck, who was upsetting Willie.  As everyone gathered around the table, Willie passed around the pictures and told them about Carolyn. 

To my amazement, no one knew even knew that Willie had a daughter, much less a daughter who was an accomplished horsewoman and once upon a beloved member of the Baltimore Colts.  In my heart, I always felt that first meeting was the spiritual and emotional “healing” moment for Willie that had eluded him after the death of Carolyn.  He had finally found some inner peace.  

After that initial meeting, I would drive up to Charles Town and meet with Willie about every three or four months.  And before sat down to talk about Carolyn, I would take him shopping or to doctor’s appointments.  It was the least I could do for a man who was sharing with me the most painful and tragic chapter in his life.  Slowly, I would get bits and pieces of Carolyn’s life that were the basis for the book.  This friendship lasted until Willie’s passing.  At the time of his death on November 25, 2006, we were finishing the last of his stories about Carolyn, some of which were never fully completed.  In January 2007, I called the retirement home where Willie lived to tell him the good news about finding a publisher.  Needless to say, I was shocked and saddened to learn that my friend Willie had died right after Thanksgiving.  I had two regrets.  One, I didn’t get all the details about some of Carolyn’s adventures.  Willie had promised to save some names and places until the very end.  The other, and perhaps the biggest disappointment, is that I never saw the day when I could show Willie the book jacket with the picture of Carolyn and Dixie on the front.  To see the look on Willie’s face would have been a magical moment. 

In the end, Willie was a unique, one-of-a kind character who “did it his way.”  Under that persona that was as tough as old saddle leather, there was a gentle and caring man with a heart of gold who never really came to grips with the death of his daughter until the very end of his life.  I am grateful for having been a part of that process.  I believe the Sports Illustrated article will explain more about life and times of Willie Clark

Who is your favorite author?
I am a voracious reader who devours non-fiction, especially memoirs and road trip books.  I usually tell people that what I am currently reading is by my favorite current author.  But to select a few, I have always enjoyed the works of travel writers such as Jonathan Raban and Ted Conover.  Recently, I have become acquainted with the books of Kent Nerburn who writes about Native American culture with a focus on spiritual themes and values.  What a delight!  I was hooked from the first page.  For a Christmas gift, I was given a copy of “If You Build It…” by Dwier Brown, the actor who played Ray Kinsella’s dad in the movie Field of Dreams, which is one of my all-time favorite flicks.  Not only is it a fascinating the behind-the scenes look at the making of the movie, but it’s a collection of narratives from everyday people that the author encountered when he was recognized in public as John Kinsella, the baseball ghost come to life.     

What are you currently writing?
I am currently writing a memoir of my Appalachian Trail hike in 2009 from the standpoint of a spiritual journey.  For me the hike was a profound physical, emotional, and spiritual experienced that greatly impacted my life.  In essence, it was a pilgrimage much like the El Camino de Santiago in Spain.  The hike was named “Herm’s Hike,” a fundraiser in honor of my father who was a late stage Alzheimer’s patient at that time.  One thing for sure, I found out it’s much easier to write about other people, places, and things than about your own most heartfelt thoughts and feelings.  It’s a slow, but very rewarding, process. I’m moving ahead one sentence at a time.   

Do you have any advice for novice writers?
Good readers make good writers.  If you have a favorite author, go back and re-read some their works with a critical eye to see how they make the words work for you.  As for becoming a better writer, it’s really no secret.  Just keep writing, writing and writing.  Don’t worry too much about content in the beginning.  What you really want to do is amass a tremendous collection of words.  Always capture your immediate thoughts down on paper whenever you’re inspired, whether it be on a napkin, sales receipt, or whatever you have at hand.  Most importantly, enjoy the agony and ecstasy of the creative experience.  It’s a wonderful drug that will your expand your horizons.

List 10 things your fans may not know…
As a literary compromise, I’ll give you five about me and five about Carolyn and Dixie. About me in no particular order:
#1 -I love to read lyrics as poetry, especially from the American Songbook and singer-songwriters from the mid-60s to early 70s.  For instance, the Beatles and bands from the British Invasion wrote some great lyrics with some fantastic poetic hooks.  Same goes with folksingers of the era with people like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, to name a few of my many favorites.  I hear and feel the intoxicating mountain music of southern Appalachia in their works.  Oh, it’s so sweet and pure.      

#2 - I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2009 as a grass roots fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association, collecting over $7,000.

#3 – I work at a ballpark tour guide at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  Come visit me at the ballpark.  Don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this walk in the park.  

#4 – I love to hike and bike.  Getting on my bike, always make me feel like I’m ten years old again. 

#5 - In college, I used to ride with the women’s horse club when I was fancying a filly of the two-legged variety.  I quickly learned that I had a lot to learn about four-legged and two-legged fillies.

Bonus Fact – I served in the United States Marine Corps.  Semper Fi, indeed!

About Carolyn and Dixie in no particular order:
#1 - Carolyn and Dixie were nominated (sadly, not selected) for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2008.  I will always be grateful to Grand Dames of the Old and New West who wrote liner notes for the book and lovingly embraced Carolyn as one of their own.  What a tremendous group of accomplished ladies and cowgirls.  A special shout-out goes to cowgirl Sherri Mell who welcomed Carolyn into this elite circle of horsewoman.  Also, a very special thank you to John Ziemann, president of the Baltimore Marching Ravens and one-time band member and president of the Baltimore Colts marching band who was instrumental in researching the life and times of Carolyn Clark.           

#2 - All the events in the book are based on actual events in Carolyn’s life.  The book was written as historical fiction because some of the essential details were forever lost with the death of Willie Clark.

#3 - Carolyn wanted to be the first female jockey to ride in a Triple Crown race.  She did lead horses onto the track at Pimilco Race Course for the Preakness Day Powder Puff Derby for five-year olds.  

#4 – After Carolyn’s death, Dixie lived out her remaining days at a neighboring farm owned by a U.S. Senator.

#5 - The Baltimore’s Colts cowgirl outfit, worn by Carolyn, was donated to the Sports Legends Museum in Baltimore, where it awaits restoration.  The whereabouts of the silver belt buckle, which she was awarded after the Baltimore Colts won the 1959 NFL championship, remains unknown.

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