Archive for the ‘The Writing Process’ Category

By the Numbers

Friday, April 13th, 2018

Arcadia Books

Most people are probably familiar with books put out by the Arcadia Publishing Company.  In fact, perhaps most people have even written one.  There seems to be one on every conceivable subject or place of interest that you can imagine – your favorite restaurant chain, your home town, your college or high school or daycare center.  You name it and there is an Arcadia book about it.

Says Wikipedia:  Arcadia Publishing is an American publisher of neighborhood, local, and regional history of the United States in pictorial form. Arcadia Publishing also runs the History Press, which publishes text-driven books on American history and folklore.  Just now I am involved in writing my sixth Arcadia book.  Two of mine have been of the “text driven” History Press variety.  This current project, like three others I’ve done, are of the “pictorial form” – that is a book covering a topic by showing photographic images with limited words, all in the form of captions.  I call them “books by the numbers.”

Author’s Guidelines

Right off the bat, the author is told that the book will be 128 pages long, will include 180-240 images and must contain between 8,000 and 18,000 words total. Furthermore, total word counts are designated for the dedication (encouraged), foreword (optional), for the general introduction (not optional), for the back-cover text (not optional), and for the bibliography and/or index (also optional). In addition, you must have a Table of Contents for which you must create and list three to ten chapters for your book. Chapters may only begin on odd-numbered pages.

As if all this is not daunting enough, there are further specifics.  The General Introduction may be two, three, or four pages.  A two-page introduction must contain 1000-1,2000 words, a three-pager between 1,600 and 1,900 words and a four-pager between 2,000 and 2,700 words.  And oh, by the way, if you choose to include a foreword, your general introduction will need to be two to four pages long.

Layout Planner

And, just to keep you on your toes, do bear in mind that pages can contain up to two images and two captions in various combinations and with particular word limits:  Two images/2 captions: 50-70 words; two images/one caption 100-140 words; one image/one caption 140-180 words; 1 image/chapter-start-age 50-70 words; one double-page image (limit three for the book) 100-140 words.  All images must be originals, scanned in gray scale at 300 dpi, and saved in tiff.  And, even so, they may not pass muster.

Yesterday, my editor wrote:
1.  How many images have you selected for use in your book?
2.   How many of the selected images have been scanned to Arcadia’s specifications?
3.   How many of the selected images have a completed caption?

Answers: 145-185; all but 12; 99. The only number looming larger than any of the above is 11.  As in 11 days left before my deadline (which was kindly extended when I was so ill.)  April 24 — the only number that matters right now!


Me? Neurotic? Well, maybe just a little…

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Sydney at Work

It’s a sad, sad situation when you spend all day in your bathrobe without benefit of being sick.  But that’s what I did yesterday.  I was on a roll – a cranberry roll, if you will – working diligently on my current book project and, before I knew it Nyel said lunch was ready.  By then there didn’t seem much point in switching gears, so I ate and just kept on keeping on until dinner time.

And here we are… Easter Sunday!  I am reminded of my sixteen-year-old Aunt Medora’s diary entry in 1915:  April 4th Easter Sunday and no new Spring clothes but I didn’t mind as I was in Oysterville… Still, I wonder if she ever had the luxury of schlepping around in her bathrobe all day.  Not on that long-ago Easter, for sure. We had a gay time getting the children ready for Sunday, but they were finally dressed and all looked very well, especially Mona.  She looked so dainty and dear.

1912 – The Espy Children (Dale, Willard, Edwin, Mona, Suzita, Medora)

Maybe if I had four or five little children to get ready for church, getting dressed would be a sure thing.  But… I have weeks to go before this book is print-ready and, as much as I love my soft warm bathrobe, I think I’d better give it up sooner rather than later.  I don’t want to turn into one of those neurotic writers who could only write under very specific and peculiar circumstances.

 James Joyce, for instance, wrote lying on his stomach in bed, clad in a white coat, and using a large blue pencil – perhaps because he was nearly blind by the time he was in his twenties.  Presumably, the white coat helped reflect light and the crayons were more visible than pen or pencil.

Jack London in his Office, 1916

Some of Truman Capote’s routines included not beginning or ending a piece of work on a Friday, changing hotel rooms if the room’s phone number included the number 13, and never leaving more than three cigarette butts in his ashtray, tucking the extra ones into his coat pocket.  And, of course, there are many tales of authors who assigned themselves word quotas. Jack London wrote 1,000 words a day every single day of his career.  William Golding, Arthur Conan Doyle and Norman Mailer each subscribed to the 3,000-words-a-day formula.

Now that I think of it, living in my warm, red bathrobe for a day or two isn’t sounding all that weird.  However… I’m sure I’ll get just as much accomplished in my old blue jeans and sweatshirt.  If not… all bets are off as to my sartorial decisions for the next few weeks.  Right now, my life is all about deadlines.

I’m almost ready to plant!

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

“Cranberry Gothic” from Legendary Locals of the Long Beach Peninsula

I’ve always taken to heart the phrase Just walk a mile in his moccasins (from the 1895 poem “Judge Softly” by Mary T. Lathrap.)  I don’t think any of us can completely understand someone else unless we have experienced what they have been through.  I try to hang onto that thought when I feel myself getting all judgmental about someone else’s actions.

Of course, taking on someone else’s role in life, even for a few days or hours, is not always possible.  I have found that the next best thing is trying to write a book from the other guy’s point of view.  Listening to the words, even seeing the pictures, isn’t quite enough.  But sometimes it’s the best you can do.  (I hasten to add that my reasons for writing books are many but they don’t include wanting to walk in someone else’s steps.  That’s just a bonus.)

Yesterday I spent many hours with my cranberry mentors preparing the land to plant a bog.  First, we located a likely spot – properly marshy – and cleared away the brush and took out the trees.  We used several methods – the old-fashioned way “by hand” and also with benefit of power tools.  We leveled, we dug ditches (using shovels and huge equipment, as well.) We put in sprinkling systems and dikes. We hauled sand from the beach, sometimes bucket by bucket, and layered it over our bog(s).  We explored a century of procedures and systems, of successes and failures.

Holman’s Bogs, Oysterville 1935

At the end of the day, I was exhausted!  Months of hard physical labor compressed into an afternoon of sorting photographs, talking pros and cons, and getting some first steps done for the “cranberry book” – working title: Washington’s Cranberry Coast.  I’m here to tell you that the next best way to walk in a cranberry farmer’s hip boots is to understand his work well enough to write a book about it.  I fell into bed, still shoveling sand in my mind and even woke up twice with leg cramps!  Probably over-exertion.

Yesterday’s “work” was all about sorting images – hundreds of photographs from dozens of sources.  The next few days will be writing about them – the true test of whether I fully understand what is entailed in getting a bog ready from scratch.  I hope that I’ll be ready to “plant and tend” by the end of the week.  I’m here to tell you, being a cranberry farmer is not a job for the faint of heart or the of weak of back.  That much I understand perfectly.

With a Head Full of Cranberries…

Monday, March 26th, 2018

In a moment of extreme weakness (apparently), I agreed to write a book about the cranberry industry in Washington state.  Sometimes, my heart simply takes over.  That’s the only way I can explain it.

From a logical standpoint, it was the correct decision to make.  Absolutely.  After all, I’ve written a book about our Long Beach cranberries.  Long ago (1998), C is for Cranberries was my first venture into self-publishing; it was the beginning of “Mrs. Stevens’ ABCs” – eventually nine books that were what I describe as quick “down and dirty” overviews of subjects near and dear to my heart.

Following the cranberry book were O is for Oysters, I is for Indians, O is for Oysterville, D is for Discovery, P is for Papa Train, P is for Peninsula, Q is for Quicksand, and K is for Kidnapping the County Seat. Each one holds special memories for me, maybe especially the cranberry book since it was the first.

My friend and soulmate, Gordon Schoewe, illustrated it for me in his own inimitable style.  A careful look will reveal his signature bunny rabbit, Ambrose, tucked in on the “X is for Xmas” page.  Kim Patten (previously known to me-the-schoolteacher only as” Eli’s dad” and also as a member of the School Board) spent lots of time educating me into the world of cranberry statistics – varieties and pests and yields and laws.  And, my colleague Patty Brewe’s husband Kyle read my final copy and had a gentle suggestion or two.  Precious memories all these years later!

This time, the cranberry book will be a collaborative effort.  I am so grateful that saying “yes” to the Pacific Coast Cranberry Research Foundation was not the end of my association with them until publication!  They are right beside me, all the way!  Not only my head but my emails are full of cranberries!  Melinda Crowley and Ardell McPhail and I are bound together in cranberry vines for the duration.

Arcadia Publishing is doing all the nitty-gritty-get-the-book-printed work.  Their demands are stringent and creative wiggle-room is limited, but they relieve us from worry about the publishing details.  We only have to be concerned with 8,000 to 18,000 words of text and 180 to 240 images, deliverable on specific dates.  No pressure!

A month from day before yesterday, the book will be done.  (Read “vill be done” with a heavy accent.)  But I’m sure I’ll continue to have a headful and heartful of cranberry memories for a long, long time afterwards!

Nyel’s Stone Soup!

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

As is usual when I get my tail in a knot, it was Nyel to the rescue today.   Also, as is usual, ‘rescue’ took the form of taking charge of the kitchen – not just of the cooking and cleaning up, but of the planning and shopping, as well.

Actually, for the shopping part, he didn’t even have to venture out of the house.  He shopped the refrigerator and I know for a fact it was pretty slim pickin’s.  Nevertheless, I was nose-to-grindstone on the first deadline for a new book commitment and I simply didn’t give food a thought.  I surfaced for some cheese and crackers and a few celery sticks at noon and smelled (rather than saw) dinner already in the making.


“Is it vegetable soup?” I asked.

“More like stone soup,” was the answer.

“Really?  Did you really use a stone?”  I was teasing… or so I thought.


“No.  Really.  What did you start with?”

“Really.  It was a stone.  Well, maybe more of a rock.  I found it in the crisper.”

Uh Oh.  “What are you talking about?”

“Truly.  It was a rock.  A big chunk of petrified Parmesan cheese.  I started with that and then kept adding whatever vegetables I could find – carrots, potatoes, corn niblets, tomatoes… You know.  All the usual ingredients…”

It was delicious!

The big box stores? You’re kidding… right?

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

from our bookmark

As a former independent bookstore owner, I have a very healthy skepticism about big box stores – in particular Amazon and CostCo.  Come to think of it, maybe they are beyond the big box category.  But, in large measure, they put our bookstore, the Bookvendor, out of business at the turn of this century.

We simply could not compete. They were selling books at a retail price that was far less than we paid to get those same books directly from publishers or from our distributor.  Our pockets just weren’t deep enough or full enough for us to sustain.

For a while afterwards, we had our own little boycott going.  If we bought a book, we bought it from an independent store that was, somehow, able to keep on keeping on.  Better yet, if we were interested in a new book, we tried to buy directly from the author knowing, as we did, that they often get a little higher percentage that way.

But, over time, we have relaxed our position somewhat.  I even have placed a ‘button’ on my website so that readers can buy directly from Amazon if that’s their choice.  For most of my own books, that reduces my cut to single digits rather than double digits per book.  I’m talking pennies here, folks.  Seriously.

So, the other day I ran up against yet another way that big box stores adversely affect authors.  This time, it’s not a matter of the bottom line.  It’s a matter of the ‘in the beginning was the word’ part.  Last week I agreed to write another book for a local organization – a book that had been suggested and encouraged by the nation’s leading publisher of regional and local photographic history books according to the publisher’s acquisitions editor.

At this end we decided that a good release date for the published book would be eight months hence, to coincide with a big, local annual festival.  A great time for a book launch we thought.  Maybe came the answer from the publisher.  Maybe they could make that publication date.  I would have to have the book completed by early April so that it would come out in mid-October.  Say what?

I get six weeks.  They get six months.  What is wrong with this picture, I asked.  The answer wasn’t what I expected but not exactly surprising, either:  The main issue with the timeframe is that the six months for production and printing is not really an accurate reflection on how much time we need to put the book together but rather the requirement on us from chain stores for advanced notification about upcoming books. They need that time to plan their inventory across all of the publishers with whom they work…  Even though we use a number of retailers and distributors to help get the books in front of a wide audience, having a major retailer refuse to carry a book can really impact it negatively…

So, there you are.  That old bottom line again.  Big Box Bottoms this time.  I repeat… who knew?

Appreciating Cate

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

Cate On Stage With Sister Starla

I imagine that almost everyone on the Peninsula recognizes the name ‘Cate Gable’ – for sure you do if you read the Chinook Observer.  Perhaps you have even been featured in her weekly column, “Coast Chronicles”.  Or one of your friends has.  Or, perhaps, she has written about a situation or event near and dear to your heart. Or… the opposite.

Sometimes, in a sort-of role reversal, I get to be the one who puts something in the paper about her.  Like this morning.  I just submitted a very short article about the upcoming Oysterville Schoolhouse Lecture Series – an announcement, really about Cate teaming up with Mary Garvey in a sort of reprisal of their last year’s presentation as singers of stories.

Cate’s Column

That event will occur on February 15th and it was as I was putting my thoughts together that I came face-to-face with the fact that Cate, once again, is putting herself in the background. When I asked her, for instance, what their program would look like, she said:

“We’ll sing, we’ll talk about the process of writing songs and, we’ll talk about our location and how this very place informs and inspires songwriting.  Also, I intend to talk about Mary as a contemporary Marine Shanty songwriter.  The fact that she is writing songs about current history is remarkable and unusual.  Many have been recorded and are being sung by others.  I have no doubt that they will continue to be sung long after we are dead in the tradition of folksongs everywhere.”

Is it just that she’s so used to putting others in the spotlight through her column that it’s automatically the way she thinks of things?  Take her poetry, for instance.  Even though she has been writing poetry for decades and has recently received her MFA in Creative Writing – magna cum laude! – from Pacific Lutheran she has arranged for several local poetry events featuring others with herself only tucked in around the edges.

New Graduate, 2016

And her teaching career –  years working in classrooms from Hawaii to mainland Indian reservations.  Or her own musical background and a lifetime of singing and composing.  Her talents and contributions go on and on but she seems to be fully committed to the hide-your-light-under-a-bushel way of life.  That and making all the rest of us look good!

Thanks, Cate!

It needed a comma. Period!

Friday, September 15th, 2017

I just love it that the serial comma has finally received the recognition it deserves.  At a cost of $10,000,000 mind you!  After fifty or sixty years of copy readers and editors removing those last-in-a-line commas of mine, all I can say is “nyaa nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa nyaa!”

In case you haven’t kept up – since time immemorial (at least by my standards) the Oxford Dictionary has said “yes” to the final comma in a series.  So… “The colors of the flag are red, white, and blue.”  Wrong says the Associated Press.  “The colors of the flag are red, white and blue.”  Most editors of U.S. publications follow the A.P. rule – no comma at the end of a series.  Even in the State of Maine, drafters of legal statutes are specifically instructed not to use the serial comma!

Some editors say “no” to the final comma unless it is needed for clarity.  The classic example goes something like “This book is dedicated to my parents, Dorothy Parker and God” which gives the author an unusual set of parents, indeed.  Add a comma after Parker for clarity.

Which brings us to The case of the Maine milk-truck drivers who, for want of a comma, won an appeal against their employer, Oakhurst Dairy, regarding overtime pay (O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy) has warmed the hearts of punctuation enthusiasts everywhere, from the great dairy state of Wisconsin to the cheese haven of Holland, according to the March 17, 2017 issue of The New Yorker magazine.

The magazine goes on to say: According to Maine state law, workers are not entitled to overtime pay for the following activities: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.”

The issue is that, without a comma after “shipment,” the “packing for shipment or distribution” is a single activity. Truck drivers do not pack food, either for shipment or for distribution; they drive trucks and deliver it. Therefore, these exemptions do not apply to drivers, and Oakhurst Dairy owes them some ten million dollars.

There were some other subtleties that the drivers had going for them such as the use of gerunds in conjunction with nouns causing difficulties with the rule of ‘parallel usage’.   Got that?  Bottom line: the truck drivers won!  And editors everywhere are on notice that the final comma in a series is not only proper… it may be worth ten million bucks!

Journal, Diary, Daybook, Blog

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

My First Blog, March 30, 2010

Every once in a while, I am made aware that my readers don’t know how to characterize what I write – especially when it comes to my daily “Oysterville Daybook” which appears on my website and, also, on Facebook. Usually it is ‘published’ (as in communicated to a third party) first thing each morning in time for people to read it online with their morning coffee.  But, readers may run across it anytime – sometimes months or even years after its original posting date.  My understanding is that each posting will be in “the cloud” (whatever that is) forever, available a finger-tap away.

“Oysterville Daybook” is a blog – defined by Merriam Webster as a website containing a writer’s experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites – and you are reading it right now.  I think of it as an online journal or diary.  In my “Oysterville Daybook” I try to convey my experiences and observations accurately, but at the end of the day, they are my opinions only – biased, to be sure, to the extent that it’s my world view that my blogs reflect.

Yesterday’s Blog, September 1, 2017

The term ‘weblog’ was coined in 1997 to describe a log written online, and  the term was soon shortened to “blog.” Numbers of blogs began to emerge in the late nineties coinciding with the advent of web publishing tools which made posting web content easy for non-techies like me. I began my “Oysterville Daybook” in March 2010.  I don’t know how many blogs were being posted then, but by 2011, there were 173 million blogs worldwide!

There are all sorts of blogs – political, business, military, school, sports, how-to and on and on.  I would characterize “Oysterville Daybook” as a ‘personal’ blog that deals with a variety of topics of interest to me.  It is named for the place from which it emanates (i.e. where I live) and from the name of one of my all-time favorite ‘memoirs’, The Daybooks of Edward Weston. I think some blog writers are paid for their work.  I am not paid – except in the kind and enthusiastic comments by my readers.

Today’s Blog in Progress – September 2, 2017

Of course, my blog is not the only thing I write.  I began it to draw attention to those other things – specifically to build readership for my books which are mostly about the history of Southwest Washington.  Little did I know that the “Oysterville Daybook” would take on a life of its own.  And little did I know that people would confuse my blog writing with the journalistic writing I occasionally do for our local paper.  Just yesterday, I was asked in angry tones why I hadn’t given “both sides of the story” in one of my blogs.  The short answer: “because it’s a blog.”  If you are confused by that answer, begin reading this particular blog again.  From the top!

Convoluted Connections

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Willard and Dale, 1914

I’ve been thinking of Willard lately.  Willard Richardson Espy, my mother’s “twin” – well, they were 11 months apart but for all of his 89 years, Willard would write mom on her November 13th birthday and remind her that they were now identical in age until December 10th when he would become a year older than she.

Willard was not only my uncle, but was also my Godfather.  When I once challenged him about having fulfilled his duties in that regard, he archly asked, “Are you not a moral, upstanding woman of good character?’  When I answered in the affirmative, he said firmly, “Then I have done my job.”  I never questioned him on the matter again, though I did occasionally wonder how he thought he had accomplished that triumph of my development, especially considering that we lived on opposite sides of the continent for all of my formative years.

Willard and Sydney – 1938 in Oysterville

As I approached middle age, though, and Willard edged closer to his golden years, we had opportunities to spend more time together.  I had moved to Oysterville and Willard was spending about half of each year in his little red cottage here.  He had always been my role model with regard to his career.  I, too, had visions of working for a newspaper and of spending my life writing and hobnobbing with the literati and the sophisticates of the world. And, once we began spending more time together, he also became my mentor, encouraging me to complete my book about his oldest sister, Medora, and offering to write the foreword, though he would not live to see its publication.

Red Cottage 1984

So, fast forward to my here and now at Emanuel Hospital, eighteen and a half years after Willard’s death.  I think of him almost daily here – not for reasons you might think.  I think of his all-consuming interest in words – in their derivations, their meanings their misinterpretations, in the way they look and all the weird and wonderful things about language – ours and others.  He was called “The Wordsmith” and, though those of us who are aficionados of Oysterville, love his book, Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village, out in the greater world he is known far better for his fifteen books on words.

Willard, 1981

Yesterday, the discussion between patient, cardiologist and surgeon concerned a blood clot that has formed in the left ventricle appendage.  That’s a new situation and before surgery to correct his mitral valve can take place, they are trying to dissolve that clot.  It isn’t yet “organized” we were told.  Which means, it seems, that the blood has gathered and has coagulated to a gelatinous-like consistency but has not yet clotted – not fully organized.  That’s a good thing, apparently.  Willard would have been so intrigued…