Interview with Arline Chandler, author: The Heart of Branson: The Entertaining Families of America’s Live Music Show Capital
by Christian Lamitschka for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show
Lamitschka: Music has many new fans throughout Europe who may be hearing about you for the first time. How would you describe?
Chandler: I am a writer who has been interviewing performers in Branson since 1983. Over the years, I’ve written numerous articles and features on many aspects of the entertainment industry in Branson. I was there when there were only five shows, all family owned and mostly family on the stages. I watched Branson boom when nationally and internationally-known entertainers came to town and opened their own theaters. They joined the families already entertaining people in that midwestern region of the United States. In the 1990s, Branson, a tiny hometown that only neighboring states recognized, became a household name across America and also in many countries abroad.
Lamitschka: How was the last year like for you? What were your highlights?
Chandler: The highlight of 2010 was the release of my book, The Heart of Branson: The Entertaining Families of America’s Live Music Show Capital, published by History Press, Charleston, South Carolina.
Lamitschka: Is The Heart of Branson your latest book, and how’s it doing?
Chandler: Yes, The Heart of Branson is my latest book. The book, a history of Branson’s entertainment, is dear to my own heart because I had the opportunity to tell the stories of families who started the entertainment scene—and also to tell about the families who sustain Branson today. There is no other place that provides such wholesome and quality entertainment. Families are truly the heart of Branson—both from the stages and in the audiences.
Lamitschka: How did you choose the title for the book? Is there a story behind the name?
Chandler: I wanted the title of The Heart of Branson to reflect that the entertainment industry was started by families who had a passion for music or other kinds of entertainment and wanted to share their talent with other families. My publisher and I worked together to come up with the sub-title—one that would emphasize the stories inside.
Lamitschka: How did you research your book?
Chandler: The Heart of Branson actually has over 25 years of research. Through those years, I sat in audiences of every show in town, went backstage to interview the performers, got to know some of them in their homes and over meals, and watched many of the youngsters grow, mature, and hone their talents into the professionals I see today on their stages.
Since 1990, I’ve had a professional relationship with Silver Dollar City, its owners, managers, and publicists. I’ve spent countless hours exploring every inch of their theme park and delving into its history. For The Heart of Branson, I went back to the City’s beginnings—Marvel Cave. From the park’s archives, I studied a manuscript written by a self-taught naturalist, S. Fred Prince, who apparently wandered into the Ozarks about the time a Canadian, William Lynch, purchased the cave. Mr. Lynch hired S. Fred Prince to survey the cave. Over the next 37 years, Mr. Prince explored, mapped, and drew illustrations of every nook and cranny of what started as Marble Cave and is now Marvel Cave. For as long as two years at a time, he lived in the cave’s depths. Mr. Lynch opened Marble Cave for tours in 1893. The first tourist arraction in Branson. Next came the publishing of The Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright and more people came to that isolated part of the Ozark Mountains to see the setting of the book. Fishermen came to cast their lines into the White River that ran alongside Branson. A band of brothers who called themselves the Baldknobbers decided the fishermen would pay for musical entertainment in the evenings. Music shows sprang up—pioneers such as the Presleys, the Plummers, the Braschlers, and the Foggy River Boys. But all the while, families remained at the core of the entertainment. When I actually started writing the book in early 2010, I did further research, interviewing the owners of both Silver Dollar City and Shepherd of the Hills, as well as descendents of some of the first workers at Marble Cave. I also talked to some of the new families in town: the Duttons, the Hughes Brothers, the Brett Family, and SIX. I spent time with Dan Lennon at the Branson/ Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, learning about the Lennons moving as a family to Branson and performing at the Welk Center. I drew from many past interviews with Shoji Tabuchi, Jim Stafford, the Haygoods, Terry Sanders, Jim Barber, Mel Tillis, Andy Williams, and Glenn Eshelman, creator and owner of the new Sight & Sound Theatre.
Lamitschka: Please tell us about the influences on your book.
Chandler: I have to say that all the interviews with different entertainers and families in Branson over the past 25 years are my greatest influence. I wanted the stories of Branson to be documented, stories of those early people who worked at what was first called Marble Cave, and later changed to Marvel Cave. I wanted others to see the thread that has continued over the past fifty years—a thread of faith and hard work and belief in dreams. Also, in looking backward for 50 years, I see how different people came into the Ozarks at just the right time to make a contribution—to build what is evident today in Branson. I personally believe that God has had His hand on Branson since the beginning, and His hand is on this entertainment town today. I admire that families have held fast to wholesome entertainment—music, comedy, and theater that anyone can take any age to see and know that no one will be offended. I also admire that the entertainment in Branson matches the quality of performances anywhere in the world. Theaters have kept up with sound, lighting, staging, and overall quality of stage shows.
Lamitschka: Where is your book available?
Chandler: The Heart of Branson is available on my web site: www.arlinechandler.blogspot.com, or by contacting me at email@example.com. It is also on the shelves of T. Charleston Bookstore in the Grand Village Shopping Center in Branson, Missouri, at amazon.com, and through my publisher, www.historypress.net.
Lamitschka: What do you feel is special about this book that makes people want to read it?
Chandler: The Heart of Branson gives visitors an inside look into the families that put their souls into entertaining others. The book is a great momento for visitors, revealing how generations have poured themselves into businesses that they truly love.
Lamitschka: What other books have you written?
Chandler: I have written two books concerning RVers (people who travel in recreation vehicles) who seek jobs or volunteer positions as they travel. The first book, RoadWork: The Ultimate RVing Adventure is sold out. The second, RoadWork II: The RVers Ultimate Income Resource Guide remains available at my web site: www.arlinechandler.blogspot.com and at Workamper Bookstore, www.workamper.com. I have written When Heads & Hearts Collide, a personal account of caring for my aging parents, and Truly Zula: Daughter of the Ozarks, a memoir on my late aunt, Zula Turney, also available on my web site. My work also appears in anthologies, Well-Versed and My Teacher Is My Hero.
Lamitschka: What kind of stories do you like to write the most?
Chandler: I love to write about people. Everyone has a story, and I like to hear each one.
Lamitschka: What will be your next book?
Chandler: I’m not sure. I’m working on a young adult novel set in the Ozarks, as well as some children’s picture books. I like to write stories set in the Ozark Mountains. And I like to write and read historical fiction.
Lamitschka: What is your favorite story among all the stories you have written? What’s the story behind the story?
Chandler: That question is like asking me to choose between my children. One of my favorite stories was written several years ago, the true story of a mother whose fifteen-year-old son was traagically killed in a all-terrain vehicle accident. She prayed and prayed for an Easter miracle—that her son would wake up from his coma. He did not. His organs were donated and another teenager received her son’s heart on Easter morning. She received a miracle, but not as she had hoped. That story has stayed with me over the years.
I wrote the first ever published story about Christina Tabuchi when she was only about six years old. Her parents, Shoji and Dorothy Tabuchi, framed that story. Over the years, I loved writing abouut the Haygood Family, following their progress in show business from the stages of Silver Dollar City to their own theater on Branson’s famous Highway 76. Once I spent a day in their home, observing them at practice, at play time, during their lunch prepared by their dad, and also while the boys did their chores. Catherine was a tiny tot and Aaron still ate lunch in his high chair. Now all of them are professional performers, holding sway over audiences from Branson to China.
Lamitschka: How much creative control do you have over your writing?
Chandler: Creativity? I would say I have a lot of control. However, when writing for a magazine or a publishing company, I have word restrictions, as well as styles that they require. I am freelance, so I would say that for the most part, I have creative control over my writing.
Lamitschka: There’s a lot of work that goes into a book. What did it take to write The Heart of Branson?
Chandler: I’ve already stated that 25 years went into the making of this book. Interviews, conversations, visits, watching shows, keeping files on performers. But aside from the research, writing the book took a commitment of time; hours and hours of sitting in front of my computer, fitting the stories of various performers and events into a set word limit. I had to choose which stories to leave in—and which ones I could bear to cut. With Branson’s entertainers, I find every bit about them interesting, so it’s hard for me to omit any information. Some of my stories go back to when the Presley grandsons were young. Now they have teenagers themselves performing onstage.I wanted to include more of those personal stories about many families. After the writing, there was the editing. Again, I spent hours and hours reading and rereading every word, checking spellings and dates. My husband prrofread, as well. For at least, three months, I did little else except write and edit.
Lamitschka: Do you have any interesting stories about how fans have been affected by your books?
Chandler: Yes, I have wonderful comments about what my various books have meant to different people. When I recently received a comment from a stranger via e-mail, saying that my book, When Heard & Hearts Collide, had been like a bible to her as she traversed caring for her aging parents, I called that a silver box—something I consider an unexpected compliment of kindness. My reviews on The Heart of Branson have been heart warming. One stated; Leaving you wanting more;and causing the urge to drive there and partake of what millions of visitors already understand. A family oriented Hamlet where you can see/enjoy a multitude of multifaceted events, places, shows, and lakes. The list goes on and on!
Lamitschka: What was your big break that got you into the writing business?
Chandler: My first article about an artist, Glynda Turley, was published in a regional magazine, The Ozarks Mountaineer. I still write for that publication. Over the years, I’ve written for numerous magazines. Starting out in 1987 with Workamper News, writing stories about people who work or volunter as they travel in their recreation vehicles, I still contribute to that publication.
Lamitschka: Before you became a writer, were your friends and family supportive or was it a struggle?
Chandler: Not especially supportive. Most people do not understand the work that goes into writing. My late mother used to think of it no more than jotting down a grocery list. My first husband was not particularly supportive of my effort either. However, my husband today supports me totally. He willingly proofs everything I write, and is always encouraging. My daughter, Debbie Robus, who also is a writer, is a constant support, as well.
Lamitschka: What inspired you to become a writer?
Chandler: I have always loved putting words on paper. Once in high school, I sent away for one of those aptitude tests to see if I qualified to take a course in writing. They replied that I should pursue something else.
I did, becoming a music and kindergarten teacher. While teaching public school kindergarten, my dad and my mother-in-law each retired. They were miserable. I determined that was not going to happen to me. I would write and always have something that I could do wherever I was. I applied for and completed a course in writing for children. Very intense, it took two years to finish. By that time, I decided to leave my teaching position and pursue writing and travel. About the same time, my parents’ health plummeted, so my travel—and my writing—were drastically curtailed during the years I cared for them. Yet, writing was my window on the world. I remember sitting in a hospital room beside my dad’s bed and transcribing an interview I had had with a blueberry farmer in the Ozarks. Besides his voice, I could hear the birds twittering in the trees of his apple orchard. Writing often kept me sane during some very difficult years of caregiving.
Lamitschka: What drives you?
Chandler: The next story. Getting down on paper my thoughts and ideas. Telling someone’s story for others to be inspired or encouraged.
Lamitschka: What does it take to be a writeer?
Chandler: Writing. And reading. They are two sides of the same coin. Writing daily, observing, writing down thoughts, ideas, names, character traits, situations, emotions. Just writing.
Lamitschka: What’s unique about you that will differentiate you from other writers?
Chandler: I have friends who tell me they immediately recognize my writing. I don’t know what it is that they recognize. I would hope that it’s my passion for the story, my showing, rather than telling about people, places, and events. I hope, too, that my faith in Jesus Christ shows through my writing. Writers talk a lot about developing a voice. I hope I have that unique voice.
Lamitschka: What has been your greatest challenge in the writing business?
Chandler: Time. Staying focused on a task.
Lamitschka: What moments in your career stand out in your memory as highlights and achievements which you are proud of?
Chandler: The first time I held a published book in my hands; winning my first award at a writers conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In fact, every time I win an award, it’s a thrilling feeling.
Lamitschka: Any thoughts of retirement ahead?
Lamitschka: Who is your biggest critic, yourself or others?
Lamitschka: When you get time off, how do you like to relax?
Chandler: Travel, read, watch movies, attend stage shows and theatre. Visit America’s National Parks.
Lamitschka: Is there anything in your life that you would change if you could?
Chandler: Two many to name. Basically, no. But I would have spent more time with my children; not worried so much about stuff that does not matter today. I would have finished my college degree sooner, and I would have completed a masters degree. Actually, one thing I regret. President John F. Kennedy came to my hometown and dedicated Greers Ferry Dam—the last public dedication that he did before he was killed. And I did not attend. I have regretted that ever since. History was made, and I did not participate.
Lamitschka: What hopes and desires do you have?
Chandler: I hope to write many more books and stories and visit many more places in our beautiful United States. I hope to read more books and practice more piano.
Lamitschka: Many European fans travel to the United States to attend several of the music festivals for the opportunity to see so many of their favorite artists, bands and celebrities. Will you be participating and how will the fans be able to find you?
Chandler: I hope to be somewhere—in Branson—signing The Heart of Branson.
Lamitschka: When you travel, do you have time to play tourist?
Chandler: Yes. Although my writing goes with me wherever I go, I do go to the places that other tourists visit. My husband and I travel across our country in our motorhome, experiencing different towns and cities, as well as state and national parks.
Lamitschka: Many music fans today get their information online. Do you have your own website and what will fans find there?
Chandler: My web site is: www.arlinechandler.blogspot.com. Fans will find excerpts from my books and book covers. On my web site, I have a section, All About Branson, and I write features about different happenings and people. I also write a weekly blog that tells about my travels and other experiences, many of them in Branson. www.rvlife.com/1256-arline. One of my most visited blogs is about the Duttons.
Lamitschka: What’s the best compliment a fan has ever given you?
Chandler: That they felt as though they were in a place I described.
Lamitschka: What message would you like to send your European fans?
Chandler: I would love to share the history of Branson entertainment with you in The Heart of Branson.
Lamitschka: Describe what a perfect day is like for you.
Chandler: I have several perfect days. A full day at my desk, writing with no places that I have to be is one perfect day. Another is a day in my motorhome, parked in a scenic place, my laptop open for work at my desk/dining table. Especially, when I can end those days with dinner and a movie with my husband. Another perfect day is a float trip down the White River or the Buffalo River in the Arkansas Ozarks. A day when time means nothing, the river is lazy, and the tall bluffs alongside the rivers are studded with emerald green tree foliage.
Christian Lamitschka ( Ch.Lamitschka@t-online.de )