2006.11.18: November 18, 2006: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Writing - Tonga: Crime: Marraige: The Flint Journal: Deborah Gardner's murder is impetus for Tonga RPCV Jan Worth's first novel and second marriage

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Peace Corps Tonga : Peace Corps Tonga: New Stories: 2006.11.18: November 18, 2006: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Writing - Tonga: Crime: Marraige: The Flint Journal: Deborah Gardner's murder is impetus for Tonga RPCV Jan Worth's first novel and second marriage

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Deborah Gardner's murder is impetus for Tonga RPCV Jan Worth's first novel and second marriage

Deborah Gardner's murder is impetus for Tonga RPCV Jan Worth's first novel and second marriage

For years, the grizzly murder of a female Peace Corps volunteer in 1976 haunted Jan Worth of Flint, who served with the organization in Tonga in the South Pacific archipelago at the time. Worth came to grips with the tragedy by writing a novel loosely based on the real-life events. The task took more than a decade. Though she made up the characters in the novel, the main events are true, said Worth, who was 26 at the time of the murder. "I never wanted to tell a factual story. I wanted to be able to embroider it." Peace Corps volunteer, Dennis Priven, confessed to the murder and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He returned to America a free man, where he worked in a government job for years. Another positive outcome from the experience occurred when she married Ted Nelson, a man she'd known in Tonga, in July 2005. (She'd been divorced after 15 years of marriage.) Worth and Nelson reconnected through Weiss, who had interviewed both of them for his book. They e-mailed for months, spoke on the phone and eventually met in Flint. He lives part time in San Pedro, Calif., where he runs a trophy business. "Twenty-five years later, we got together," she said. "It clicked. That'll be the second novel."

Deborah Gardner's murder is impetus for Tonga RPCV Jan Worth's first novel and second marriage

30-year-old murder is impetus for area writer's first novel

THE FLINT JOURNAL FIRST EDITION

Saturday, November 18, 2006

By Carol Azizian
cazizian@flintjournal.com 810.766.6245

For years, the grizzly murder of a female Peace Corps volunteer in 1976 haunted Jan Worth of Flint, who served with the organization in Tonga in the South Pacific archipelago at the time.

Worth came to grips with the tragedy by writing a novel loosely based on the real-life events.

The task took more than a decade. "Night Blind" was released by iUniverse, a print-on-demand publisher. It is one of 70-some titles (of about 20,000) given the "Publisher's Choice" designation. As a result, the book will be sold for eight weeks beginning Tuesday at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Flint Township.

Though she made up the characters in the novel, the main events are true, said Worth, who was 26 at the time of the murder. "I never wanted to tell a factual story. I wanted to be able to embroider it."

A nonfiction account by Phillip Weiss, titled "American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps," was published in 2004.

Weiss and Worth became friends while writing separate books on the murder of Deborah Gardner, who was stabbed 22 times.

Another Peace Corps volunteer, Dennis Priven, confessed to the murder and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He returned to America a free man, where he worked in a government job for years.

Worth said she was "driven to join the Peace Corps. I had quite a hunger for new experiences."

During her two-year stint, she worked as a public relations officer for the Ministry of Labour, Commerce and Industries. She learned the language and even some of the native dances.

"It's a very communal culture," she said. "I had my own little hut, but I lived on the property of a Tongan family. They had nine kids. They were at my hut continually to make sure I was okay. I'd ask them for good stories, and they'd teach me proverbs (such as) 'quiet is the cat eating the chicken.'"

While it was challenging to sell her novel, Worth is no newcomer to the world of literature. She has written two books of poetry. Some of her poems and essays have been published in anthologies and regional literary magazines. She's been teaching writing at the University of Michigan-Flint since 1993.

Worth grew up in Canton, Ohio, "enjoying grade school at Gibbs Elementary and reveling in the life of our parsonage right across the street," she wrote on her Web site. "I loved that neighborhood - small neat houses with roses and morning glories all abloom in summer, a place where people took walks at dusk and where you could hear a kid practicing his trumpet from an upstairs bedroom."

Her family moved around but she always retained childhood memories to translate into poetry and essays.

In 1971, Worth graduated from Kent State University - where she learned about violence firsthand when Ohio National Guard troops killed four students and injured others protesting the American invasion of Cambodia. She was in class when it happened.

"I've only been back there once since, and it brought back really bad memories," she said.

After graduating with a degree in journalism, Worth moved to California and in 1976 joined the Peace Corps.

When she returned to the States, she earned a master of social work degree at the University of Michigan and moved to Flint to work for the Family Service Agency of Genesee County.

From 1987-96, she was coordinator of the Adult Resource and Women's Center at UM-Flint and earned a master of fine arts degree before becoming a full-time English instructor there in 1998.

Worth said she felt compelled to tell the Peace Corps story her way. But finding a publisher became almost a full-time preoccupation. For six months in 2000, she had a New York agent who submitted the manuscript to publishers. It didn't sell.

The novel was a finalist in the 2003 Tupelo Press prose competition. She tried another round of agents a year ago.

Still no sale. Worth finally decided to send it to iUniverse and paid $3,000 to publish the novel. So far, she's sold 150 copies. More will be printed as copies are requested.

"I used to be an elitist about self-publishing," said Worth, who was a newspaper reporter in the 1970s. "But I don't see why it should be a dirty, sleazy thing."

Another positive outcome from the experience occurred when she married Ted Nelson, a man she'd known in Tonga, in July 2005. (She'd been divorced after 15 years of marriage.)

Worth and Nelson reconnected through Weiss, who had interviewed both of them for his book. They e-mailed for months, spoke on the phone and eventually met in Flint. He lives part time in San Pedro, Calif., where he runs a trophy business.

"Twenty-five years later, we got together," she said. "It clicked. That'll be the second novel."

A book launch, reading and signing are planned for 3-5 p.m. Sunday at Pages Bookstore, 132 W. Second St. "Night Blind" is available online at www.Amazon.com and www.bn.com.




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: November, 2006; Peace Corps Tonga; Directory of Tonga RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Tonga RPCVs; Writing - Tonga; Crime; Marriage





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Story Source: The Flint Journal

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