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An interview with Sandra Hurt, author of our Priestess of Pompeii: The Initiate’s Journey.

Sandy’s book was released last fall and is featured in the “Winds of Change” division of Hawthorne Publishing. It is the result of twenty-five years of Sandy’s intensive research into learning about ancient Pompeii and the writing of a story of an historical figure there, a priestess who occupied the Villa of the Mysteries.

Q. You’re at work on the second book in this historical novel series. How was the first book received?

Sandy: I was surprised and overwhelmed at the initial deluge of orders from Amazon. We hadn’t been able because of Covid to have the opening at Eiteljorg Museum in Downtown Indianapolis where we’d planned to celebrate the book. But publicity, news, got around and there were many initial orders.

Q. What kind of publicity? Have there been reviews?

Sandy: I was pleased with the review in Italian media, the April “Primo Magazine” as one example. The reviewer said “Priestess of Pompeii is that rare novel, both entertaining and educational. A Page turner to be relished.” I should show a little modesty—you can see others on the webpage “Sandra Hurt author of Priestess of Pompeii.”

Q. So now you are several chapters into Volume II, the continuing story of Ariana Estacidia, a strong but vulnerable woman with a disability (epilepsy ) who aspires to, and becomes, a revered priestess of Dionysius.

Sandy: I thought the book would be one volume—then realized that the full story must be told in two books.

Q. What’s different about writing the sequel?

Sandy:  It’s in some ways easier. I know the full story, the steps she must take along the way, the outcome. But there are other things to worry about: giving the Book I reader memory jogs about characters and happenings,  and bringing the new reader up to date, feeding pieces of information he/she needs to know from Book I.  I always think “the muse is already ahead of me.” And telling the story becomes relentless. I was in bed the other night and a new plot line began to come to me. Eventually I had to get up and write it out, put it into the book.

Q. How did the real happenings in Pompeii in Julius Caesar’s time, that’s before the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius, affect you, or complicate the writing?

Sandy:  It happened a lot. I always had to see if Ariana was doing something, eating some food, she couldn’t have eaten at that time. For instance, I wanted her to read the poet Vergil, to put that into the narrative, but he was too young for this time-period. He wouldn’t have had his career flourishing yet.

Q. And of course it is too early in this book for the infamous volcanic destruction of this major city of Roman life and commerce.

Sandy: Yes, Ariana would have been gone by the time the eruption occurred, 44 A.D.

But there are small references in the book to the looming Mount Vesuvius beyond the city for Pompeii lore enthusiasts, and to the earthquakes which shake the ground in Ariana’s time.

Q. Faulkner had a clothesline strung in his dining room, on which he placed little pieces of paper which were his consecutive chapters, noting the plots in each chapter. How are you structuring the outline of the book into progressive chapters in the sequel?

Sandy: Really the situation I’d set up in the first book, which is an initiate’s journey, determine the plot’s progress. Research showed the development of young girls and boys and households, the structure of the male business society which dominated Rome and Pompeii at the time and to which the Estacidia family belonged, so those were wayposts for my chapters and story.

Q. The story is well known of the conceiving of the story of this book: visiting Pompeii you went off the tour route and discovered the Villa of the Mysteries, excavated decades ago. You saw on the wall a mosaic of a beautiful woman, a priestess, who seemed to call to you and take you back in time. You determined to recreate her life, about which nothing was known except her name. But how then, after research, put all of the many hundreds of possible steps in this woman’s life into a readable book, with chapters moving a story ahead?

Sandy: There was so much information. I couldn’t quite structure what I’d learned and imagined about Ariana’s probable life into a straight-forward story. Finally a friend sat me down and said, “Tell me about her life.” Make it simple. Then I could structure a story.

Q. We have read the poignant story in Book I of the death of Ariana’s betrothed, the young man she dearly loved, Titus. How did that narrative event come to you, and how important was it for the plot?

Sandy:  He drowns—a terribly upsetting incident in the young woman’s life.  It changes everything for her. Now instead of being the wife and head of a wealthy Roman’s household and mother of children, she is freed to follow her destiny, an unusual one in Roman society. Titus’s death deepened her life. She is a voracious learner and now must improve her education, expand her potential if she wishes to be a priestess. It is a key event in this story.

Q. When do you expect to complete Book II?

I’m progressing, taking the book through peer input at the Indiana Writers Center as I did for Book I, but basically being guided now by my own insights and what the characters are doing and telling me. It’s a two-year process.

You can buy Priestess of Pompeii by clicking back to our website.

Posted in Book Publishing, Winds of Change |

A Different Kind of Movie with a Little Inspiration. . .

Nancy Baxter, Senior Editor at Hawthorne

Emma Stone at the premiere of ‘Maniac’ in 2018.

In the last blog I complained about the dismal relativism in the arts recently. It was fine for Disney to produce a gorgeously produced and star-filled movie about how a villain got to be a villain and how we can follow her nefarious career with full understanding now. For many, most today, that would be a satisfactory underlying theme: villainy explained is nefariousness justified.

My granddaughter suggested we see a movie from 2006: “Stranger than Fiction,” to get another view of how the arts can steer us on a moral course, if, indeed it is supposed to do that.

“Stranger than Fiction” stars Will Ferrell as an Internal Revenue agent plugged into a job without much hope for the future or interaction with other people. One morning he begins to hear a voice in his head narrating his life, as if he is a character in a book.

Will Ferrell: The Campaign – Australian Red Carpet Premiere at Fox Studios in Sydney 2012.

As this voice continues narrating what he is doing, he seeks help from a literature professor, Dustin Hoffman, who tells him he is hearing a famous author who is writing a book—and he is also hearing it in his head. She is trying to finish her latest book which will end when she kills him off. Seeking this author, played by Emma Stone in a different kind of roll from that of the Disney film, he begins to find out there are more things to life than his robotic job at the Internal Revenue headquarters. He meets an individualistic young woman and they fall in love.

As his life expands and he notices all the opportunities for getting to know and understand others, he is able by the end of the movie to reverse the ominous ending—that he will die in a traffic accident—and moves into a new sense of life and “marries the girl.”

The theme is of course Socrates’s saying at his trial: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It is a slightly different variant of the famous “Groundhog Day.” “Shape up,” “Improve your life,” “Strive to be the best person you possibly can be,” seems to me to be a decent message from the arts. I’d like to see more of it again.

Nancy Niblack Baxter is the author of twelve books largely on Indiana history. Click back to the website to order them or obtain them from Amazon.

Posted in Movies |

A Tale of Two Movies

A Tale of Two Movies

Nancy Baxter, Senior Editor Hawthorne Publishing

Young members of our family recommended a new movie for streaming from home: Cruella.

It’s the story of how the villain in “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” animated film from 1961 got to be so bad. Cruella DeVil kidnapped baby dalmatians and held them captive: how could anybody be so bad?

Perhaps in today’s world there was an unrealized desire on the part of the American public to explore the psychological background of a villainess who would abuse puppies that way: what could make her hate black and white dogs? Who knew?

Disney this year did not go specifically for that particular psychological quandary, but instead focused on the larger question: what made Cruella so evil? 

We rented (or was it bought) the movie and it wasn’t cheap. I suppose I didn’t really register that instead of the cute animation of the black and white puppies and a dopey kidnap truck careening around, what we would get would be live action. Disney now does live action.

VENICE, ITALY – AUGUST 27: Actress Emma Stone attends the Opening Ceremony and ‘Birdman’ premiere during the 71st Venice Film Festival on August 27, 2014 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

It was, indeed, the gorgeously produced saga of how Cruella as a child had been deprived of her mother by a fashion designer who, at an elegant evening party, called out the dogs on her as the mother stood by a high cliff. She fell off and was killed; the little girl then named Estella was forced to live on the London streets with two boys who became her buddies.

The plot goes on from there, revealing the design talent of that waif Estella, who grows up to be a PA in the fashion industry –and the depravity of the woman known as the Baroness, played by Emma Stone. Determined to avenge the death of her mother off the cliff, Estella determines to find out the details of the Baroness’s life and to punish her. 

In a series of cleverly manipulated machinations, Estella gets the best of the Barnoness and discovers this elegant fashion designer is, surprisingly, her own birth mother. The dear mother who was pushed off the cliff was an assistant of the fashion icon. Estella, now Cruella, will devote her life to punishing the Baroness and living a life of evil.

So that’s it. So that’s it??

The overwhelming beauty of the presentation, the fashion costumes, the events to promote them with fireworks flowing across starry skies, champagne sparkling at parties in elegant settings—all bewitch us as we watch. But when the fireworks die down and the heroine drifts off to plot her evil designs, we are left with an emptiness. What are we supposed to register here? What kind of lesson is there, if lesson there is? What comment on the human condition? That everything is a rat race with superficial splendor and elegant riches as the goal and—we should trample over everyone to get them no matter how depraved we have to be? And punish everybody who gets in our way? That’s it?

I had the apprehension, and taught my college English classes, that great literature made comments on the human condition, perhaps gave insights into how to live a little better, realize the one-ness with the human race or even spread a modicum of good. I shouldn’t expect Disney, I guess to be Sophocles, Chekov, Tennessee Williams or even Gilbert and Sullivan. And times have changed.

And these are fantasies, presenting themselves with the vestiges of the cartoons which fostered them still clinging around their garments. They are supposed to be broad-brushed and not believable. 

OK, but I miss Dumbo. I’d rather risk a little stupid stereotyping to get the great, sustained artistic message that it’s painful to watch the mocking of those who are different from us. 

Or better yet, take a look at the next film I’d like to explore: an earlier Emma Stone movie Stranger than Fiction.

Nancy Baxter is the Senior Editor at Hawthorne Publishing and the author of twelve books. Click back to purchase her books on the website or get them on

Posted in Movies |

Part II Golden Graduates of Winchester High School: The Alumni Association receives a Hawthorne Publishing award as a Leading Light in Indiana History Through Writing

The prior blog detailed the history of the small town of Winchester’s high school alumni association book, Golden Graduates of Winchester High School. We described the town’s history, outstanding religious and educational tradition, and the unified, nurturing culture which produced a group of American leaders from the nineteenth century on to this day.

Now more about some of those grads and the rest of the Winchester story, the first half. More will be told in the forthcoming second volume of Golden Grads, now in process.

  • Eric T. Huddleston, known as the “Dean of New England Architecture” for his decades-long work as Department Chairman of Architecture at the University of New Hampshire. He also had his own architectural firm, serving as the architect, and often construction manager, for more than 100 outstanding university, governmental, and corporate buildings in New England during the first half of the 20th A graduate of Cornell University. 1906 WHS graduate.
  • Chester Burleigh Watt, one of the most accomplished astronomers of the 20th Century, working for more than 50 years at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. where he performed lunar and deep-space discoveries that made a significant contribution to NASA’s early days of space exploration. 1908 WHS graduate.
  • Pierre F. Goodrich, son of James P. Goodrich, who became an attorney and president, chairman of the board, or director of more than a dozen Midwest companies, and whose financial bequests, at death, led to the establishment of the largest private education foundation in the country and the largest gifts in the history of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. A graduate of Wabash College and Harvard Law School. 1912 WHS graduate.
  • John Thornburg, who was a founding partner of the largest law firm in Indiana (Barnes & Thornburg, LLP) and one of the largest law firms in the United States. 1928 WHS graduate.
  • John Diggs Beals, who became Vice President of American Express and President of Wells Fargo Bank in the 1960s. A graduate of Colgate University and Harvard Graduate Business School. 1932 WHS graduate.
  • John Jaqua, a senior partner with the distinguished international law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, who became managing partner of its London office. Jaqua became the lead advisor to the Thatcher Administration giving rise in the mid-1980s to London becoming the financial capital of the world. A graduate of Cornell University and Yale Law School. Editor in Chief, Yale Law Journal, 1942. President, Yale Law School’s Alumni Association, 1973-1975. A Major, U.S. Marine Corp. 1936 WHS graduate.
  • Florence Life Hesser, former Director of George Washington University’s Reading Center, literacy advisor to two “First Ladies” (wives of U.S. Presidents), and who helped found successful schools of education in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. 1942 WHS graduate.
  • Davey Marlin-Jones, one of the most prolific directors in the history of professional American theatre, producing or directing 900 theatrical productions during his life including personally working with such noteworthy playwrights as Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. 1950 WHS graduate.

These are just a handful of the remarkable graduates of Winchester High School profiled in volume one or who will be featured in the upcoming volume two. Also, the volumes have or will share the stories of several outstanding students of Winchester High School who graduated after 1950.

How did this happen? What kind of education did these graduates receive during their formative years that would have enabled them to leave this small, somewhat provincial community and make their marks in the larger world of government, academia, business, law, medicine, the arts and sciences?

These stories convey what it was like to grow up in a community that shared a certain value and belief system that enabled them to succeed well beyond Winchester. A quote from the noted Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, offers insight:

The little world of childhood with its familiar surroundings is a model of the greater world. The more intensively the family has stamped its character upon the child, the more it will tend to feel and see its earlier miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life. Naturally this is not a conscious, intellectual process.

Carl Jung, The Theory of Psychoanalysis

In many of the brief biographies contained in Golden Graduates of Winchester High School, it is evident that several factors were at play. They include the role of religion in these individuals’ lives. In 1900, the Winchester Quaker Quarterly Meeting House (comprised of 27 small Society of Friends churches in and around Winchester) made up the largest number of Quakers in the world (4,000 adults and an equal or larger number of children). Other protestant denominations, such as Methodist, Presbyterian, and Disciples of Christ, played a critical role in teaching values, respect for authority, and understanding biblical principles.

Another factor was the opportunity for students to assume leadership positions in the school and community by serving, for example, in student government, on sports teams, on the school newspaper, and other school related activities. Because classes were small, less than 40 during most years, students could be in many clubs and extracurricular activities, such as science and debate clubs, sports teams, and school orchestras, at the same time. There, they learned leadership and cooperation skills. These lessons would later become invaluable as they entered the adult world of government, business, academia, law, and medicine.

There were also the roles that intact and extended families played in setting norms and providing guidance to young people. The majority of students of Winchester High School grew up in a two parent household, often with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins nearby to provide nurturing, instruction, and often emotional and financial support. Even today, the community’s encouragement and support of its youth in education is evident. For example, at the most recent awards ceremony at Winchester Community High School, a total of $1.5 million in college scholarships was given out to a graduating class of only 85 students.

In terms of intellectual endeavors, the community valued learning. It began when Quaker families taught children in their homes and churches prior to construction of 131 one-room school-houses, an amazing number, being built in Randolph County between around 1840 to 1900. In 1842, the Randolph County Seminary was built and operated in Winchester. At the time “seminary” simply meant “secondary” as in “secondary school”; it had no religious connotation. Students from six area counties and three states studied at this high school.

In 1846, the Union Literacy Institute, one of the first, if not the first, racially integrated schools in the Midwest was built a few miles southeast of Winchester. There children of freed African-American slaves, American-Indian, and white families were educated together. This included students Amanda Way, later known as the “Mother” of the Indiana suffrage movement and the first woman from Indiana to run for the U.S. Congress and Hiram Rhodes Revels, who later was the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Senate.

This one-room school house located in rural northern Randolph County is one of just a handful of one-room school houses that remain standing in the county. In the late 1800s, there were as many as 131 such one-room school houses that dotted the Randolph County countryside providing basic, first through eighth grade, education. (Photograph, Courtesy, Greg Sommer, 2018)

Later, in 1894, Winchester was only the second town or city in Indiana to adopt kindergarten as part of its public-school education offered to all children of the town. (Logansport, Indiana, was the first). In 1947, Winchester was the first small town in the country to sponsor a “Great Books Chapter” as part the Great Books program and foundation that originated at the University of Chicago. On at least a monthly basis adults came together in the local high school gymnasium to discuss classic texts of literature, history, law, economics, religion, and moral and political philosophy. Quaker Theologian E. Elton Trueblood of Earlham College and Wabash College history professor Jack Charles would travel to Winchester to serve as discussion leaders. Parade and Pathfinder magazines along with The Indianapolis Star published feature stories about the Winchester Great Books chapter. Such intellectual interest in learning carried over to the children and grandchildren of these adult learners.


   “It has been said that if one knows the character of the school of today he can foretell exactly what the citizens in twelve years will be.”


   “Any democracy can be no higher than its people, and its people no higher than their standards, and their standards are measured by their education.”


                                                Lee Driver, Superintendent

                                                Randolph County, Indiana, Schools, 1920           



Leotis (Lee) Lincoln Driver, 1867 to 1960, served as Principal of Winchester High School from 1900 to 1907 and Superintendent of Randolph County Schools from 1907 to 1920. He became one of the most nationally recognized educators of the first half of the 20th Century. From Winchester, he left in 1920 to become head of rural school education for the State of Pennsylvania where he led the consolidation of more than 5,000 schools from 1920 to 1937. (Rendering is from Past & Present: The History of Randolph County 1914)

Consolidation of rural schools also enhanced opportunities for learning. The movement was led by Lee L. Driver, a former math and physics teacher who served as Winchester High School’s Principal from 1900 to 1907 and Superintendent of Randolph County Schools from 1907 to 1920. Under Driver’s direction, Randolph County became known as the finest rural school system in the country. Driver spearheaded the consolidation of more than 120 one-room schoolhouses in Randolph County. Eighteen new schools (14 high schools and four elementaries) were constructed from 1900 to 1920 in Winchester or surrounding towns and villages. In these new schools, students had opportunities to have access to science laboratories, industrial arts and agricultural workshops, gymnasiums, playgrounds, and stages, sometimes even theatres, for school theatrical, orchestra, and debate performances.[1]

As a result of the success of the Randolph County schools, hundreds of school administrators, university professors, representatives from teacher associations, and government officials came to Winchester from 1911 to the early 1920s. They traveled to witness this remarkable transformation of rural school education. Not only did they come from dozens of other towns and rural areas within Indiana, but from New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, Alabama, Massachusetts, California, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Even school officials in Canada, Mexico, and China scheduled trips to see how Randolph County had developed such an excellent education system.[2]

Frances E. Willard Elementary School, Winchester, Indiana. One of 18 new school houses built during the time that Lee Driver served as either Principal of Winchester High School or Superintendent of Randolph County Schools. Circa 1907. The school was named after Frances E. Willard, an American educator, temperance reformer, and woman suffragist. (Courtesy, Randolph County Historical Society, Inc.)

Mr. [Calvin N.] Kendall [New Jersey State Commissioner of Education] asked [federal] government authorities for information concerning ‘the best rural schools in the country,’ and was referred to the schools of Randolph County.

-Editorial, Indianapolis News, October 23, 1915

Albert E. Winship, editor of The Journal of Education published in Boston, Massachusetts, was considered the dean of educational journalists at the time. He spoke three separate times at the Randolph County Teachers’ Annual Institute in 1911, 1912, and 1913. After his repeated contact with Randolph County schools, he wrote in 1913 that the county “leads the world in several features of educational progress.”[3]

Repeated praise for Randolph County’s schools came from Philander Claxton who served as the United States Commissioner of Education under three U.S. Presidents from 1911 to 1921. In the fall of 1919, Jasper L. McBrien, Director of Rural Schools Development for the U.S. Bureau of Education, praised Randolph County’s schools as the epitome of kindergarten through 12th grade education. Likewise, Ellwood Patterson Cubberley, Dean of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education from 1917 to 1933, applauded Randolph County schools in his writings. Glowing articles appeared in other Indiana publications as well as national newspapers such as the Christian Science Monitor.

As a result of this state and national attention, Lee Driver became a superstar in education circles. In a matter of several years, Driver addressed 992 different organizations (just shy of 1,000) in 30 states about Randolph County’s educational advances. He spoke at workshops, state, and national educational conferences, and at universities such as Columbia University in New York City, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Wisconsin, Iowa State, Purdue University, and Indiana University.[4]

The individuals profiled in Golden Graduates of Winchester High School became the beneficiaries of this community’s excellent schools. But in a meaningful way, so did the state of Indiana, the nation, and the world!



[1] The information about Randolph County’s recognition and Lee L. Driver’s role in making Randolph County the premiere rural school system in the nation comes from the excellent dissertation written by Gregory P. Hinshaw, entitled “The Best Rural Schools in the Country: Lee L. Driver and the Consolidated Schools of Randolph County, Indiana, 1907 -1920”. This dissertation was written and accepted for Dr. Hinshaw’s doctoral studies at Ball State University.

[2] At the 1915 Panama Exposition in San Francisco, an exhibit about the progress that Indiana had made in advancing rural education was focused solely on the success story of Randolph County. That same year, The Indianapolis News published an article claiming that Randolph County had the “best rural schools in the country.”

[3] Winship especially noted how it offered amenities—such as libraries, laboratories, gymnasiums, outdoor recreational facilities–that had been previously unavailable before the consolidation efforts.

[4] Driver also began receiving requests from educators around the world—such as from Germany, England and Canada. These educators wrote, asking him to send literature and advice on how they, too, might restructure rural education to better the outcomes for their own students.

Posted in Book Awards, Indiana History |