Everyone has a story to tell; local author reaches writing milestone

100 AND COUNTING — Alice Anderson of Bridgton recently reached 100 published books, and is still going strong. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Alice Anderson believes everyone has a story tell, they just don’t know it.

For the past 20 years, the local author has listened and put down in words a wide variety of happenings and good deeds.

At the age of 72, she recently eclipsed a milestone.

“100 books in 13 different genres,” she proudly declared. “Writing keeps me sharp. I thoroughly enjoy interviewing and meeting people.”

At a small desk near the front window of her local apartment is Alice’s writing station. Sticky notes cling to the edge of the desk and computer monitor.

“I take two down and put four up,” she said. Sheets of paper are neatly stacked, representing either the two or three “projects” in the works.

As an author and ghostwriter, the chase to 100 started in 1998. She has penned novels, biographies, professional books in a client’s field of expertise, company histories and personal accounts.

“I always thought I’d retire when I had written 50 books, but I don’t seem to be able to say no to helping people make their authoring dreams come true!” wrote Alice on her author’s page.

Her background is in journalism, business and coaching. She earned a degree in Communication at Columbia University and went on to earn my doctorate in 1999, and then secured certification as a life coach.

“I specialize in helping people write their own books. I am also an ordained nondenominational minister. I have a genuine interest in people, a positive attitude, effervescent enthusiasm, and a strong commitment to seeing a project through to completion,” her author page says. “Why do I do all this? First, because I love it! Second. because I enjoy helping people achieve their dreams. Third, I still have a few dreams of my own that I haven’t achieved yet!”

The words just flow

At a young age, Alice seemed to have a flair for writing. While her dad had an inventive mind, her creative side came in the form of words.

“When I was 10 years old, there was steel box up on the shelf in my closet. I didn’t know what was in it. I didn’t have a key to it. One day, I asked my father if he could open it so I could see what was inside. It had a few knick-knacks that he had invented,” she recalled.

Her dad gave Alice the box as a safe place to store her stories. She outgrew that box, and today keeps clients’ manuscripts in a fireproof safe.

“I don’t know where my passion for writing came from. When I was 8 or 9, I started writing little snippets,” she said. “I started to really think about writing when I was a senior in high school.”

Without her knowledge, Alice’s teacher submitted a piece for a writing contest. She earned honorable mention.

“I started to think about writing,” she said.

A seed had been planted.

Writing as a career was on the back burner, at first. First, Alice was a schoolteacher. She taught kindergarten and first grade for five years.

Like most people, Alice had some interesting moments that will likely be part of her autobiography, one day.

“While living in Stockbridge, Mass., I was on playground duty when Norman Rockwell walked through the yard. I had this bright, cherry red coat on. The wind was whipping the leaves around. My hair was blowing all over the place. And, I saw Norman Rockwell coming toward me. He looked at me and I thought he was going to say something about my hair. Instead, he said, ‘Nice coat,’ and kept walking. He lived around the corner from the school. I still remember that moment,” she recalled.

Alice was then recruited by a missionary organization headquartered in Kansas City. She trained to speak before crowds, and for five years, Alice traveled throughout the United States and Canada.

The career path shifted once more.

“I was looking for a way to earn a living while still being able to stay at home because I was caring for my mother, who was fading,” Alice said.

Writing finally came to the forefront.

While Alice was briefly married, she and her husband came up with the idea of publishing a magazine focusing on women.

“We came up with the idea about the same time. His daughter kept calling asking questions like, ‘How do I know if I have the right doctor or dentist?’ He thought it would be good to have a magazine that could answer those types of questions. I said, ‘bingo, let’s do it.’ For five years, we did it,” Alice said. “We had Margaret Chase Smith on the cover. We went after big name people doing good things for others and found out they were just like the rest of us.”

Those magazine profiles led Alice to her first book in 1998. It featured over 20 prominent Maine women, including Anna Gould of Camp Sunshine.

“I got the chance to meet some pretty awesome people. Their stories of reaching out to help other people were what we were trying to promote,” she said. “We looked for people who saw a need and did something about it. Basically, we were promoting volunteerism.”

Alice, however, had no idea about how to publish a book. Fate helped her find some answers. Sitting in a chair with a fire going and her mother reading, Alice had a cup of coffee in her hand. When she looked into the cup, she saw a ladybug swimming upside down.

“I was so upset that I went on the Internet and typed in, ‘Cure for ladybugs.’ One entry was to take a block of wood and hit it with a hammer. The next entry was about a woman in California publishing books — Ladybug Press,” she recalled. “I felt it wouldn’t hurt to send her an e-mail. I didn’t hear from her for two weeks. I thought maybe it wasn’t a good idea, but then she wrote back with a contract. I signed it. I made a whopping $150 for that first book.”

Once Alice started, she never stopped. Her approach was quite diverse. She liked writing the histories of successful companies. So, she interviewed company presidents and crafted books either focusing exclusively on that business or compiling several profiles under one cover. She has written about companies in Maine and New Hampshire, and even had governors in office at the time of publication write short statements in the books.

“My favorite genre is writing company histories. How did you get started? One place that I had a wonderful time writing about was Palmer Springs. Initially, I thought it was spring water. The first book has pictures of 50 or 60 wagons lined up, going across a dusty road, and they (Palmer Springs) made all of the springs. They’re still in business. Every two or three years, I call them to see if they need to write a revised edition. They tell me, “No, we’re still doing the same things that we did in 18-something or other. It’s amazing,” she said.

Alice also dipped into the ghostwriting world. She has worked with clients across the globe to tell their stories, in print.

“It’s usually word of mouth that potential clients get in touch with me. I won’t write anything that is ‘smutty.’ I am an ordained minister. I’ll tell them, ‘I left Pages two through four blank because you are the one that is going to write those pages. I will not,’” Alice said

One woman, who had dated a number of people through an online site, was livid that Alice refused to include vulgar language and sexually-explicit situations.

“She thought that I didn’t think she was a nice person. I told her that everything I had heard from her over the phone had been good. The book was about her dating experience, every detail. I told her I couldn’t do it and she would have to fill in those blanks,” she said. “I just wanted that one over. I don’t care if my name is on a book or not. In fact, I had one client that got into some real vulgar language that I made him sign a disclaimer so my name would never be associated with the book. I think I hurt his feelings, but I don’t talk that way, I don’t write that way, and he is writing for a bigger audience — thinking they were all like him. We got through it. I don’t show people that book.”

Alice gains insight into what a client wants to include in a story either through handwritten notes, e-mails or phone conversations. She pieces information together and develops a story.

“I take their notes, write it, they review it and either add or subtract from it. “Nothing is set until it is approved in writing,” she said. “There are times that they will give me two or three paragraphs, and after some conversations on the phone regarding what they want, I turn out a whole book for them.”

Alice has tackled a wide range of stories to tell.

There was a woman in Sweden (the country) that was falsely accused and put in prison.

“She was taken away from her children and husband. She had a story that could break your heart. A friend of hers that lives in the States told her she had seen a book that I wrote and maybe I could write a book for her. That’s how I got my foreign connection,” she said. “She eventually found a lawyer who really went digging for the truth. The title was, ‘Today is the day I go home.’ Every day since the first day she went to prison she told herself, ‘Today is the day I go home.’ It took a couple of years. It was a real tearjerker. She didn’t tell her husband I was working on the story.”

Alice guarantees that she will work on a book until it is the way the client wants it. “One condition. No four-letter words. I can usually talk it out with a client and we work through it. I can’t let ego get in the way. It’s their story. I’m getting paid. They own me for that time I spend on the book,” she said. “92% of time, exactly what they wanted. It’s a great feeling.”

A man from New Hampshire read a book Alice wrote and liked her style.

“I have an idea for a book,” he said.

“What’s it about?” Alice asked.

The man had been stopped in traffic for a funeral procession. As he sat there for 30 minutes and watched the limos and cars go by, he wondered, “How many cars would be in my procession when I die?”

“We talked about the story. He didn’t give me anything else. I had an idea. We met halfway and talked some more. I was able to develop a story based on his question about ‘how we live.’ He changed just two sentences,” Alice said.

She also included original sketches with each chapter. The client liked that touch.

Alice also helped a friend express his thoughts about caring for a loved one battling Alzheimer’s.

“As you can see, there is always something to write about,” she said.

In most years, Alice will write seven books. Now that she has hit the magical 100 mark, the natural question would be, how much longer will she write?

“I’ve had a fun time working. It’s been an interesting career. I’m never bored. I never lack for something to do,” she said. “I’ll probably die sitting here and writing. No. No. Just as I knew when it was time to start writing, I’ll know when it is time to stop.”

Now is not the time.

Books 101 and 102 are in the works.

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