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When you write a book
The people who left
by Chelsea Green
LYN MILLNER, professor and founder of the Florida Gulf Coast University journalism program has been working for several years on her recently published book, The Allure of Immortality: An American Cult, A Florida Swamp, and a Renegade Prophet. The book tells the story of Cyrus Teed, controversial leader of the Koreshans, and his cults daily lives from 1839-2012 in Southwest Florida in what is now Koreshan State Park.
Millner will be leading a workshop, Turning Facts Into Story, at the Sanibel Public Library, Sunday morning, November 8 as part of FGCUs Sanibel Writers Conference. She will also be answering questions about her new book and thoughts about her career as a writer.
Tom DeMarchi, Director of the Writers Conference and Professor of Language & Literature at FGCU, speaks highly about Lyn. Lyn Millner has had deep ties to the Sanibel Island Writers Conference since its inception a decade ago. Shes been a presenter, a volunteer, a donor, and an invaluable resource of wisdom and guidance when it comes to programming and promoting. Shes also one of the finest writers and teachers Ive ever met, so it was a no-brainer to invite her to run a workshop at this years conference. Were incredibly fortunate that shes available and interested in presenting.
The Writers Conference allows writers and students the opportunity to meet and mingle with well-known authors, editors and publishers. Millner mentions that, The students and people are all so mindful, nice, genuine, and passionate about writing. There are sophomores talking openly to writers who are giants in the writing world. She continues, Im looking forward to mingling with the diverse group of bookworms and passionate writers at the conference. Tom has done a great job at making the Sanibel Conference an event where everyone makes friends comfortably by socializing and talking about books and reading.
Millner mentions what inspired and encouraged her to start, continue, and finish writing the history of the Koresan State Park, Just like anyone I went to the park for the first time and I thought, this was interesting, Im going to write a magazine story about this, because at the time I was writing for a lot of magazines. With a lot of research, I wrote the story, but due to a change of editors at the Arkansas Oxford American magazine, which was the magazine I was writing for at the time, they never took the story.
She continues, At that time, I was already so into the history, facts and culture that the Koreshans followed daily. Writing 2,000 words for a story on the Koreshans wasnt enough. I knew there was too much writing and research for magazine story writing. There were so many hidden secrets and untold stories through photographs, abandoned equipment, and journals that needed to be seen and told in a book. Reading previously published work I noticed that many facts about the Koreshans were inaccurate. I thought the Koreshans needed to have their entire story told.
I would write daily, she says. I would write in the morning, daytime, before I went to bed, and even while brushing my teeth. I would wake up every day about 5-6 am, write for two hours, than do my daily routine. She continues, When you write a book you cant be picky about your work environment. I have written in the dark, the bedroom, a café, brushing my teeth, and on an airplane.
I hope my readers learn interesting facts from reading the book, and that they get inspired by Cyrus Teed, the man who started the Koreshans cult. I also hope my readers would stop and reconsider the lifestyle of the Koreshans, she explains. The people who left Chicago to come here left houses, family, jobs, personal chefs, and everything they owned to follow this guy to a mosquito-infested forest in Florida with no air conditioning, to build this town.
Millner admits, The crazy thing is that the more I would read their letters and search deeper at libraries the more I was open-minded to understand that they werent crazy. These people played music, read the newspapers. They werent these out of touch wackos. They were much more like normal, everyday human beings. She then adds, Cyrus Teed was the only lunatic. But somehow these people gave up everything to follow him, and it didnt seem enough for me to think they were crazy. I wanted to do more research and write a book because people who have written about them would call them crazy. These people were very real to me so I wanted to know why they gave up everything for this guy. We see people today that give things up but it doesnt mean we should dismiss them as human beings.
Accuracy is very imperative to me. Every fact and dialogue in Millners new book is verified, coming from found letters, journals or news reports.
She says, My favorite part in writing this book was the discoveries I made by researching and connecting to archivist and librarians. One discovery included Cyrus Teeds death. When he died his followers placed his corpse in a tub for five days, waiting for him to come back to life. I wanted to know why they believed that. In my research I had found letters that described what the body looked like, what people were doing and that kids were even forced to see the body. I found in a letter that the cult had even taken photos of Cyrus Teed. The letters were verification that it actually happened. And then I found the pictures they took in 1908. My first reaction to looking at the pictures of his dead body was how disgusted the photos made me feel, and then my second reaction was that these people really believed in him in that he was coming back to life.
Millner has some advice for young and future writers, My advice is to just write. Dont let anything or anyone stop you from writing. Take advantage and write for any publication, take writing classes, and start getting involved.
The 2015 Florida Gulf Cost University Sanibel Writers Conference, November 5-8, features lectures, presentations, workshops, panels, performances, and cocktail parties at BIG ARTS and the Sanibel Island Public Library. For more information, call 590-7421.