Jeff Jardine: Modesto area writers share their stories despite personal struggles

11/11/2013 6:13 PM

11/11/2013 8:19 PM

From the emails, voicemails and other reliable sources:

BOOKMARKS – Frequently, I give first-time authors a shoutout in this column. The vast majority of them self-publish, meaning they bear the printing costs and need to sell enough books to break even.

Behind every book, no matter the topic or genre, is a story. Last week, we received an email from Connie Holley of Riverbank. Her husband, Curtis, retired as an electrician with the city of Modesto in 1992. Now 80, he recently published his first and only novel, a romance/suspense story titled “Juniper Mountain Society.”

The short version: The book is set in the Lake Don Pedro area (which the Holleys frequent). The primary character, along with his new bride, is shot while vacationing there. He’s told his wife didn’t make it, and is introduced to the Juniper Mountain Society, a secret organization that helps people find justice and subsequently uncovers information about her – including the rumor she is still alive.

“He’d written the book in the 1990s,” Holley told me. “But he didn’t do anything about it.”

Not, she said, until he learned he has Alzheimer’s disease.

“He decided to get his book published,” she said. “I told him, ‘You have to do the work.’ I was really impressed.”

He researched publishing options and went with CreateSpace, a free website.

His condition, mild a year or so ago, is now considered moderate. Surgery (on his carotid artery) hasn’t helped, she said.

“He has his good days and his bad days,” she said.

The day his book was published – that was a good day. It is available on and other websites, $2.99 for the Kindle version and $8.09 in paperback.

BOOKMARKS, PART II – Six local authors will autograph books from 9a.m. to noon Saturday at the McHenry Mansion gift shop on 16th Street, between I and J streets downtown.

Among them will be George John Curtis, author of “Tennessee Tears.” Born in Memphis in 1949, Curtis was adopted as a 2-year-old by a family in Detroit. His adoptive father was abusive. Curtis contracted polio as a young child. The family moved to Modesto in the 1950s. He attended local schools, known throughout his time at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School and Grace Davis High School by his adopted name, Brian George Bubnes.

He changed his name, reclaiming his original identity, after learning he was among the 5,000 or so victimized in a baby-selling ring known as the Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal. Curtis spent 42 years looking for his biological family. When Mike Wallace did a “60 Minutes” piece on the scandal, Curtis discovered that he was among the victims in a scandal considered by many to be the worst in American history. A woman named Georgia Tann ran the adoption agency, which had a hugely high mortality rate among infants. Curtis was among the children adopted out for profit by Tann.

Pregnant girls, Curtis said, would go to her expecting the babies to go to good homes. The young mothers would be told in some cases that the babies were stillborn, and be asked in their grief to sign death certificates that actually were surrender documents. Tann, with the help of a local judge who would rule mothers unfit and take their children, would then sell them to couples for a fee, Curtis said. They had help from politicians, government employees, doctors, nurses and attorneys complicit in a conspiracy that lasted more than 25 years.

The Bee featured Curtis in a 1992 story after he learned his true identity. A year later, “Stolen Babies,” a made-for-TV movie starring Mary Tyler Moore and Lea Thompson, detailed the scandal. Curtis published “Tennessee Tears” in 1994 and has sold more than 5,000 copies. It’s available ($19.95) at or through online booksellers.

The lineup of local writers at Saturday’s signing session will include Michelle McKenzie, author of the children’s books “Beavers’ Big Problem” and “Beavers’ Big Discovery”; Claudia Hagen, who wrote “The Mystic High Adventures of Fannie Flame & Crew – A Memoir” and “The Night a Fortress Fell to Fairfield”; Claudia Newcorn, who wrote a fantasy trilogy titled “Crossover,” “Dark Fire” and “Firestar”; Jennie Chadwick, author of The Peach Tree Kids children’s series that includes “Jaws of Dragons” and “Circus Fleas”; and Oleta Kay Sprague Ham, author of “Migrant Mother – The Untold Story – A Family Memoir.”

SIMPLE MAJORITY – In my Nov.3 column, I wrote about the crusade of Hawaii resident Janna Hoehn, who is attempting to collect a photo to match every one of the Californians killed in the Vietnam War. More than 58,000 names appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., including 56 from Stanislaus County. Hoehn provided a list of the 32 photos she still needed.

Since the column ran, she has acquired 17 of them, meaning she’s 15 shy of total representation for the county. See the accompanying list, which includes contact information for Hoehn should you have access to any of those photos or know someone who does. Portraits taken in uniform are preferred, but high school graduation photos work as well.

MY BAD – In my Sunday column about World War II veterans Ted and Philida Brodalski of Atwater, I wrote that Ted had retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1965. He attained that rank in the California State Military Reserve, not the Air Force.

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