Marjory Coleman Straughan 1937 – 2018

Posted On: June 26th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

I never met Margie, but before her death I came to know a little bit about her childhood days.

She and her husband lived in Texas, but in 2015 she learned that several of us here in western Boone County Missouri were trying to capture the recollections (and photos) of students, teachers, and one room schoolhouses in the post-WWII era. Many of us had attended one room schools in the final days of their existence. The schoolhouses all closed in 1957 and that way of educating, that had been the norm for a hundred years, vanished. We wanted to preserve a record of it.

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Posted On: May 31st, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

Nearly forty years ago, an octagonal city took shape in northeastern Saudi Arabia. It was called KKMC, King Khalid Military City. It is still there, an active enterprise, inhabited by diverse people living and going about a multitude of tasks. But I am thinking of the days before the owners arrived, the days when I was there, along with several hundred other Americans, when it was being constructed. The years 1976 to 1986.

During those years we lived comfortably, our families were with us; our housing compound included a dining facility, a movie theater, tennis courts, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, and an elementary school for our kids. We drove company cars. We had a small airfield where company planes would fly us to the big cities of Riyadh or Dhahran.

But we worked many long hours. Construction continued virtually every day, often day and night. The project dominated our thinking and our lives. Managers and their families would arrive, work for two years or four years or six, and then depart. But the project continued.

And while we were there, the sense of community we experienced was unsurpassed – for the newest newcomer to the most seasoned veteran. We never locked our house doors or took the keys out of our cars. We all knew each, helped each other, enjoyed each other’s company.

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Days of Change

Posted On: May 4th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

A recent article by a friend of mine in the April 2018 issue of the Missouri Historical Review called “Chronicles of Discontent, Tribunes for Change” brought the late 1960’s vividly back to my mind. I was a senior at the University of Missouri in 1969, and a reader of the local underground press. The Missouri Historical Review article explores the influence those publications had on the politics and protests of those turbulent days.

And that influence was far greater than you might expect.  Publications such as Columbia Free Press and the Free Press Underground were the grass-roots voice of cultural change, and regardless of how heated their rhetoric became at times, they remained both credible and highly influential on those of us who were 22 year old University students at the time.

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Foundations of 19th Century English Literature

Posted On: March 18th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

In England in the 1790’s, for the first time in history, novels written strictly to entertain, were being printed on moveable type presses in large quantities for sale to the general public. The most popular genre among this flood of books being sold were the Gothic Romances. These tales, usually written by women, influenced a whole generation of English readers – and influenced the next generation of English writers, including Jane Austen. Her first completed novel (although not the first one published) was a combination of homage and parody of the Gothic Romances she had loved to read as a girl. Jane Austen went on to establish forever the form of the realistic novel which dominated the literature of the 19th century, but the roots of her work were firmly set in the Gothic Romances of the 18th century.

Click here to download a PDF of a presentation on The Foundations of 19th Century Literature I gave at the Missouri University Life-Long Learning Institute on March 23, 2018.

Immortality, sort of

Posted On: February 28th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

It’s impossible to forget the smoky voice and sultry beauty of the late Joan Greenwood. Beautiful and talented, she had a solid career from the 1940’s to the 1980’s, both on the stage in the movies. She is probably best remembered for her role as Lady Bellaston in the 1963 movie Tom Jones, but I believe an obscure 1947 British film called October Man was her best performance. Read More »

An island in the Baltic

Posted On: January 20th, 2018 | Posted By: miketrial

I’ll admit I enjoy Ingmar Bergman’s sentimental reminiscence Wild Strawberries better than many of his later, darker, films, but Persona is probably his best film from that era: a perfect movie for a mid-winter evening, mildly surrealistic, nostalgic, with that silken patina of Nordic melancholy. Summer on Faroe island, the breeze blowing the window sheers, the rocky beach, the grey sky, grey Baltic water, rainy days…wonderful. The film really shouldn’t really be called black and white since the wonderful nuances of silken grey were among its most powerful elements – the work of Sven Nyqvist, the finest cameraman of the 20th century.

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The ‘horrids’

Posted On: December 31st, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

She was paid more for her manuscript than any other writer of her century. The book was a bestseller, reprinted multiple times. It was translated into French, Italian, Russian and German. It received rave reviews with one reviewer (Sir Walter Scott, no less) calling it “The most interesting book in the English language.” Yet I’d never heard of Ann Radcliffe’s ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ until recently when I was reading Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’ and a footnote mentioned that all the titles of the novels Isabella Thorpe recommends to Catherine Morland in chapter six were real works of 18th century fiction.

And they were among Jane Austen’s favorite reading.

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Reconsidering Anna

Posted On: November 26th, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

In this day and age who’s going to read an 860 page book with 7 major characters and over 150 minor ones?

Not me.

I have wanted to read Anna Karenina for a long time, but I am intimidated by the book’s length. So, like a lot of people, I watched a movie of it instead. Several movies actually, but the one I like best is the 2012, Anna Karenina, directed by Joe Wright with screenplay by Tom Stoppard. This version is a fantasy extravaganza that somehow still manages to capture all the glory and pathos of Imperial Russia, Levin’s adventures, Oblonsky’s dreary life, and the doomed love affair of Anna and Count Vronsky.

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Twenty minutes before nine o’clock

Posted On: November 8th, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

She created the definitive image of the mysterious gothic lady in the spooky house.

Her striking features and commanding stage presence made her perfect for the role of Miss Havisham in the 1946 movie Great Expectations. She was a British actress named Martita Hunt.

Hunt was born of British parents in Argentina in 1899 and lived there until she was 21 years old when the family moved back to Britain. That move must have been a wrenching experience for the young Martita – to leave behind forever a place and people where you have grown up. I believe that when the ship sailed out of Buenos Aires harbor in 1920 carrying Martita and her family to England, it left the real Martita behind. Read More »

Friends in Madagascar

Posted On: October 24th, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

Our friend Tamara has now been in Madagascar with the Peace Corps for nearly a year. Her many experiences with a totally unfamiliar culture are exciting, nerve wracking, funny, and sometimes a little sad. The people and the countryside are beautiful. And, yes, there are wild lemurs there.

In her host’s home there is electricity (one overhead lightbulb) but no running water. The only water available is brought by buckets and boiled for kitchen use, plus a bucketful a day for washing in an outdoor shower.

Ironically, there is plenty of water in Madagascar, it’s just not clean water.  Read More »

Dark Fire

Posted On: October 19th, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

I love a spooky ruined mansion.

And we don’t have to seek out Mr. Rochester’s Thornfield or travel through Borgo Pass to find one.  There is one in Missouri, perched high on a crag in the Ozarks.  It was built in 1900 by a well-to-do Kansas city man named Snyder.

I visited it one day, and it’s atmosphere of isolation and loss (it was destroyed in a fire) is quite…spooky.

The true story of Robert Snyder acquiring 5000 acres, building a stone mansion on a crag in the remotest part of the Ozarks, is fascinating. Mr. Snyder dies in an accident before it is complete, his sons fight with each other then fall on hard times, the incomplete mansion stands there for years. Locals say it is haunted. Then a mysterious fire destroys it. My story ‘Dark Fire’ in my 2017 anthology Edge of Reality explains these tragic events. Read More »


Posted On: October 19th, 2017 | Posted By: miketrial

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a multi-part series of educational presentations titled Women, War and Change.

One session was devoted to Olive Gilbreath, born in 1883 in La Plata, Missouri, population 1500.  Her father was well-to-do, so Olive received a good education, but could not find satisfaction as a teacher in the Midwest.  Instead she set off, by herself, to be a journalist covering the Russian revolution of 1917. She rode a train across Siberia in the company of Russian soldiers.  In Petrograd she saw first-hand the growing revolution and the final days of the glittering aristocratic life of Imperial Russia. Read More »