1. What first inspired you to start writing about cemeteries, and what keeps you interested in the topic?
I started writing my first cemetery book, Cemetery Walk, in 2003. I had been leading a workshop for girls for a number of years and, frankly, I was burnt out (loss of grant funding, volunteers, etc.). The workshop had been based on a short non-fiction book I wrote.
I'm the type of person who feels lost without a project or two going on. I decided that it was time to fulfill my life-long dream to write and publish a book. The topic that kept coming back to me was my interest in cemeteries. I'd been interested in them since I was a kid. They'd always fascinated me. So I dug in, so to speak, and haven't looked back. I love doing research, and there's so much to learn about them.
2. How do cemeteries connect to our appreciation of history--and of beauty?
Every gravestone contains a story. It's the story of the person buried there (or not buried there, on occasion). Of course, many of us know the stories of the famous people who have passed before us, but what about the millions and billions of others? I love discovering a long-forgotten person's story.
Aside from my site and books, I'm also a producer on a video web series we're working on called Tomb Trippin'. I'm based in Moline, Illinois, and the other producers, Dan Rosenfeld and Julie Pop, are out near L.A. Our goal with the show is to showcase little-known people with great stories that have been forgotten. We're really excited about it. My Facebook group members are also supportive and can't wait to see it. We're already working on things, and we plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign next year.
As for the idea of beauty of cemeteries, I think they are some of the most beautiful places you can visit. A number of people consider them "outdoor museums," and that is so true. In the U.S. alone, you can see gravestones that date back to the 1700s (and earlier if you look hard enough). You can walk right up to them and touch them if you want to (but please be careful!). How many indoor museums allow that without alarms going off? In old and new cemeteries you see a variety of artistic styles. Slate stone carvings in New England are often thinly chiseled yet have stood the test of time and elements. There are gorgeous marble monuments and sturdy granite ones. My favorites are from the Victorian Era and are carved with various symbols.
3. What will visitors find when they stop by your website, TheCemeteryClub.com?
When people visit my site, they'll learn about how important our cemeteries are. There's information on cemetery symbolism and other areas of research, news, an extensive links library, book reviews (for old and new books) and, of course, my shop. I sell my books through my site and have links to the ones I don't personally have in stock. Aside from my books, I sell tote bags, T-shirts and one-of-a-kind, handmade cemetery-related gifts.
4. Would you tell us a little more about some of your books about cemeteries? Which of your titles have been most popular over the years--and what are some of your most recent titles?
Cemetery Walk is a book filled with interviews with people who are connected to cemeteries in some way or whose work is inspired by them. It's also part memoir, as it has a lot of personal stuff in it. I self-published it through a small company because I wanted to do the book on my own terms (it took two years to research and write). Right after it was sent off for the first printing, I talked with an agent who told me she would have taken it! Due to my contract with the small company, I wouldn't be able to do so for a couple years. Such is life. It's okay because the experience taught me a lot.
I've also published my book Images of America: Chippiannock Cemetery through Arcadia Publishing. Chippiannock is a cemetery near me in Rock Island, Illinois. It's absolutely gorgeous and one of my favorite places. We plan to feature it in Tomb Trippin'.
My most popular book is Translating Tombstones, which is a handy guide on gravestone symbolism. I originally put it together for myself, but people in my Facebook group said they wanted copies, too, so I decided I'd publish it. This time I published through Lulu.com. I have a few other books and some issues of the magazine I used to do (Epitaphs Magazine). The magazine was great but overwhelming. Aside from contributions from writers or photographers, I did the whole thing on my own. I even did the design/layout for a while. I stopped producing it in 2008, but people still tell me they miss it.
5. Who is a taphophile, and what is a Pocket Cemetery (and why might it be the perfect gift for such a person)?
A taphophile is someone with a great interest in cemeteries. A cemetery lover. It's a name a lot of us have adopted. It's like we're in a special club! Being a taphophile means you get it--that you understand how amazing cemeteries are and want to share that with others.
What is a Pocket Cemetery? I'm glad you asked! LOL... A Pocket Cemetery is a miniature cemetery that I make by hand. They can be up to 4 or 5 inches long. I hand-paint the boxes and include miniature gravestones. Each one is unique. I can make them to order or with themes. One I've done (that's still available, BTW) was inspired by Van Gogh's Starry Night and other works. Inside there's a painting of his grave and his brother's. I recently sold a Day of the Dead one and one with a little skeleton hand reaching out of the grave. Taphophiles can have a macabre sense of humor while still respecting the dead.
I also make Cemeteries in a Jar. Same basic concept at the Pocket Cemeteries just in a little jar. My newest items include even smaller necklace pendants that have a cemetery in a jar. I have so much fun making them. More people need to buy them so I can keep making new ones! Otherwise I'll fill up my house with them!
You can see a number of these items on my site right now. And if someone mentions your blog, I'll give them 20% off their order of anything I have in stock! They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Thanks so much, Mandy!