Quiet surrounds me. A canopy of a clear blue Colorado sky covers this warm spring day. I’m in a small ranching community in southeastern Colorado–the home of my childhood.
Since my mom died five years ago, I visit here monthly to check things out. I forgot to bring my Ireland/England travel journal and hard drive that has my pictures, so I’m going to take a break from the travelogue and update you on my current writing project.
I’m writing the authorized biography of Marshall Flippo, the most famous square dance caller in the world. He’s 90 years old and visiting Asilomar, CA this week, the site of his favorite square dance weekend and week that he did for years.
How did this project start? My husband and I remember its inception differently, so I’ll tell you my version.
We were at a square dance festival last year in the early spring–it was Saturday night after a jam-packed two days of dancing. A group of friends enjoyed a leisure time late in the evening and Flippo (that’s what we call him) came up.
Someone said, “Someone needs to write his biography.”
My husband, Lin, leaned my way and stated, “You’re the writer in the group. Why don’t you do it?”
Nothing more was said that night, but the reoccurring thought surfaced regularly. I was coming to the ranch about this time last year alone, so I brought up the idea to Lin and shared my serious consideration of taking on this task. I suggested we both pray about it and when I returned, we would share what had come up.
Again the idea intrigued me–in the last four years, I had self-published four books and three cookbooks, but the topics had been personal for me. I wrote two memoirs, a historical fiction from a story I had heard my childhood and a non-fiction about our family ranch. Could I write about someone else?
When I returned home, Lin and I both agreed it would be a worthwhile project. So Flippo was fulfilling his last contract at the New Mexico Square and Round Dance Festival in mid-May in Albuquerque, so I called him in mid-April to query if he was interested.
His first comment was, “No one would want to read a book about me, but I do have a topic of a book that would sell–all the stories of traveling callers, but it would be X-rated.”
Seriously, Flippo said he would give me his answer at the festival in May. Friday evening during a break, he was surrounded by several local callers and dancers. I didn’t have to bring it up–he did.
“Larada wants to write my biography. Who would want to read it?” He queried. They all raised a hand, and I think it shocked him.
In traditional Flippo flirtatious manner, he said, “OK, come over to my hotel room tonight at 1:30 am and we’ll talk about.” Laughter exploded and then he said, “Yes.”
During the summer, I started gathering resources. I talked to several close caller friends of Flippo’s to start gathering their stories and information about him. In October, I went to Tucson, AZ for a Women Writing the West. Flippo lives in Tucson, so we planned to meet together on Thursday night.
He called and wanted to change nights because the Houston Texans were playing in the World Series and he wanted to watch the baseball game, so we moved it to Friday night. Before interviewing him, I didn’t realize Flippo had a strong connection to baseball–he was so good, that’s what he did in the Navy.
Lin and I met him for dinner, and Lin started him talking immediately. I was going to wait until we moved to his home so I could record it, but he was off and running, so I grabbed my notebook and started writing. He picked a the Texan Steakhouse which had TV multiple screens on every wall, so he could watch the baseball game as we talked.
After dinner, we went to Flippo’s house, turned on the TV and muted it, and he continued our first interview, watching the game. He sent me home with three scrapbooks/photo albums and three photo albums as resources.
Since then we have talked weekly for an hour, and I have recorded each interview. What a delightful experience this has been. The hardest part is transcribing the recordings; we talk for one hour, and that one hour takes three to four hours transcribe.
Flippo’s last calling event was a New Year’s Eve square dance in Green Valley, AZ. Several caller friends encouraged Lin and I to go, so we did. Twenty-five professional callers and friends from all over the United State supported Flippo on this monumental evening of his career. He announced from the stage that I was writing his biography, and the chair-woman of CALLERLAB (the international organization for callers) said to me, “How are you going to edit out the X-rated stuff?”
During the night I watched several of the professional callers’ eyes riveted on their hero on the stage–expressions of respect, love and admiration for their mentor and teacher covered their faces. I also witnessed traces of a deep sadness at the loss of such a great caller and friend. He ended his final dance with the song, “I’m Leaving Here a Better Man.” I’m sure he selected that carefully.
I’ve spent the last six months doing the work: weekly interviews, research online and reading books. Flippo stands pivotal in the history of square dancing, and I have had confirmation from many callers and square dance historians that this book needed to be written–I’m glad the muses chose me!
I’m collecting data to see if a hard back book is a viable option. Here’s your opportunity to pre-order the book, go here Pre-Order Flippo Book
Visit my web site for information about my other books: Larada’s Web site
Visit my Etsy shop for specials and some great Mother’s Day gift ideas: Larada’s Etsy Shop