Archive for the ‘The Writing Process’ Category

Everything Except What I Was Looking For

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

You’d think — if you were to think about it at all — that the elusive part of writing a ghost story would be pinning down the facts about the ghost, itself.   But, I’m here to tell you that when the ghost in question is roaming around in a historic building or causing consternation at a notable landmark, there are other specifics that sometimes need pinning down.

Like the nuts and bolts (or wires and poles?) of electricity.  Specifically, I’m looking for the details of electricity arriving in Ocean Park. Long ago, I read that Adelaide Taylor of the Taylor Hotel held a community fundraiser to bring street lights to Ocean Park — probably in 1936-ish — but, look though I might,  I can’t find the reference right now.

In a somewhat related way, I also know through family correspondence that electricity came to Oysterville, thanks to FDR’s rural electrification project, in 1936.  And, I know from an article in Pacific County Historical Society’s Sou’wester magazine, that our P.U.D. District # 2 was formed in 1937.  And, in that same article there is reference to the Willapa Electric Company which had served Raymond, South Bend and Willapa Valley communities since 1913!  Wow! 1913!  Twenty-three years before Oysterville got their first electric lightbulb!

Andrews’ Store, Oysterville c. 1920 — note telephone/electrical lines

Although… my mother remembered that her father had a generator of some sort in 1926 and when the family moved to Redlands for my grandfather’s health, that generator was given to Bert Andrews.  Helen Heckes told it this way in Marie Oesting’s Oysterville Cemetery Sketches:  “As I remember the story, I think Harry Espy put up the money for it, and Bert ran this little Delco electrical system.  We made an arrangement with him to get electricity and one drop light in the kitchen until 10 o’clock.  Then he shut everything off at 10.”  That’s when Bert and Minnie went to bed.  Lights out!

But when did the average household in Ocean Park have access to electricity?  Where did it come from?  Those are the questions I’m wrestling with as I work on a sequel to Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula.  There’s lots of great information out there, but pinning down just what I need is as difficult as getting a handle on those wily ghosts.  Shocking to think about, eh?

I shoulda paid more attention…

Monday, January 13th, 2020

H.A. Espy Windmill c. 1920

In my school days, I was much more interested in words than in numbers.  English and Creative Writing, yes.  Math and Science, not so much.  Maybe that’s why, in my teaching years, I was most comfortable with the primary grades.  Whole numbers and addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, I could handle.  Basic science, especially biology and the natural world, yes.  Physics… no way.  I could scarcely teach the principals of those seven simple machines.  You remember…  inclined plane, lever, wedge, wheel and axle, pulley, and screw.

So it is, that all these years later, I still don’t understand how the windmill in our front yard during my mother’s childhood pumped the water from the well up to the rain barrels on the roof.  I do understand how the water in those rain barrels supplied my grandmother with cold running water at the kitchen faucet — water she could use to fill the tank in her wood cook stove to heat for washing dishes, clothes, and family members.  Gravity feed I get.

H.A. Espy House, circa 1930 — note windmill and rain barrels

I imagine that the same up-to-the-rain-barrels and down-to-the-bathroom principles might have been applied so that the family could have had a flush toilet.  But they didn’t.  Not until FDR’s rural electrification project got as far as Oysterville in 1936.  That year the family installed an electric pump on the east porch and their first-ever flush toilet.  But, for many years, they kept the outhouse “just in case.”

I’m thinking about all of this because of my current book research,  I’m trying to understand why a house built in 1913 in Ocean Park included a “modern” half bath on the second floor.    Did Ocean Park get electricity earlier than Oysterville? Was there a windmill on the property?  Was there another way to manage the water flow?

I really should have paid better attention to those basic science lessons.  As it is, I think I’ll give our plumber friend Don Anderson a call.  Maybe he can explain some of those fundamental physics mysteries to me.

“Cuzzin Ralph, Meet Reverend Crouch”

Saturday, November 9th, 2019

I’m pretty sure my Cuzzin Ralph knows more about that scoundrel Reverend Josiah Crouch than anyone else in the current world.  Or in the last one, either.  Crouch, as you might remember was the husband of sweet Sarah Crouch back in 1892.  He was the minister for the church across the street and they lived in this house which, at that time, served as the parsonage.

When Sarah drowned under mysterious circumstances, Josiah left town in a hurry and showed up later practicing law in California.  All of that was known and documented well before the turn of the last century.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Crouch settled in to become the ghost of this house.  She’s not the least bit scary — just a little mischievous and unpredictable.

Ghost Stories by Candlelight, 11-8-2014

Over the years that I have known Mrs. C, I’ve told her story many times and in many forms — in talks at Vespers, in performance with the Shoalwater Storytellers, and in a starring role in my 2014 book, Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula.  It was when I was working on that book for History Press that I introduced the Crouches to Cuzzin Ralph and asked him if he would put his considerable research skills to work.

Ralph got right on it and provided a lot of corroboration for what we already knew, as well as some tantalizing new information.  But, there wasn’t quite enough to add to whai I already knew so I left the story as it was… for the time being.

But now, six years later, opportunities to gather information have increased exponentially as our traditional depositories for  information are digitizing their files and making them available online.  Birth records, marriage records, military records, newspaper accounts — you name it and it may well be a source for another puzzle piece in the story of our ghost.

And… Ralph is on it!  When I wrote him last week that I’m working on the sequel to Ghost Stories, I hardly had time to pose my questions before he began filling my computer screen with new information!  Great stuff!  The sequel to the Crouch story should almost write itself.  Although… I keep wondering if Mrs. Crouch will weigh in somehow.  I am ever alert for her take on the “what happened next” part of her story.

Meanwhile… my own part in this ghost story is more than clear.  I’ll not be away from my writing duties for the foreseeable future.


Another Thing I Can’t Explain

Saturday, October 26th, 2019

Author Willard Espy at Work, c.1940

This morning I woke up to a lovely, complimentary email from two of my favorite Kuzzen people.  I should  never have opened it, but little did I know.  They had sent me a story they are writing together and wanted my opinion.  “Be honest!” they said.  OMG!

There are all sorts of reasons that I didn’t want to open that long attachment.  First of all, I have no idea how to critique someone else’s writing.  I’ve never taken a creative writing class so I don’t even have a mental model of where to begin, what to look for, what to suggest.  I’ve never read an article or a book on how to write, though there are a gzillion of the out there.  For me, asking for my opinion boils down to a single question:  Do you like it?

Author Louisa Mae Alcott, late 1880s

But that’s not the real problem.  My very serious, gut-level reaction to such a request has nothing to do with critical reading and everything to do with what is going on with my own writing process at any given moment.  I long ago discovered that if I am deep into a writing project (which is the case right now) I cannot read much more than a grocery list or a recipe.  I just can’t do it.

I hasten to add, however, that I do a great deal of reading for background information — details about the times or places that I’m writing about.  But… I don’t consider that reading in the usual sense.  It comes under the category of “research” for me.  Not like reading a good story or book, whether fiction or not, for the sheer pleasure of it

So… right now, I’m in my working frame of mind and reading anything — even an adventure by my beloveds — is an impossibility.  I can’t really explain it.  I’ve don’t believe I’ve spoken about this particular affliction before — except to Nyel who keeps ordering books from the library for me, anyway.  Just in case.


The next best thing…

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019

Michael Frank

I think the next best thing to being successful yourself is to watch the upward trajectory of a friend.  I’m talking about careers and avocations here.  Specifically book writing.  And, even more specifically, the achievement of our long-time friend Michael Frank with his just published (October 8th) first novel, What Is Missing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Says The National Book Review: Frank’s psychologically astute, engrossing debut novel demonstrates his keen instinct for family dynamics that was evident in his fascinating memoir, The Mighty Franks, which focused on his bewitching, powerful screenwriter aunt. At the center of What Is Missing are a divorced father who is a famous fertility specialist, his long-limbed adolescent son, and a dazzling Italian American translator, recently widowed – each marked by disappointment, profoundly burdened by deeply held secrets, and yearning for family. From Florence to the New York’s Upper East Side, Frank’s compelling characters each contend with their inchoate sense of self and their abiding need for family. 

Michael Frank’s First Novel

And says Publisher’s Weekly:  Following the memoir The Mighty Franks, Frank’s memorable debut novel showcases father-son relationships and the primal drive to have children. Teenager Andrew Weissman meets Costanza, an Italian-American woman whose famous novelist husband died the previous year, while in Florence with his divorced father, Henry. Then Henry, an infertility specialist, meets Costanza in a museum, and the novel follows a quasi-Oedipal track with father and son attracted to the same captivating woman. Henry and Costanza’s romance takes center stage, as does their desire to conceive a child together, but Costanza and Andrew have a connection that makes Henry uneasy. Frank delves into how Henry’s hubris sabotages his relationships, shows Andrew feeling alienated by Henry, and explores how Costanza comes to grips with her complex marriage. The novel is filled with trenchant moments of sweetness and betrayal, as well a stunning reveal of the harrowing gauntlet infertile women go through to conceive. This is an intricate and dynamic examination of familial ties: both what strengthens them and what can tear them apart.

Michael Fraank’s 2017 Memoir

The list of reviews and commentary on Google fill two computer screens.  Totally impressive!  Not all are one hundred percent positive… but very nearly!  I don’t know that the book is exactly my dish of tea but I am eager to read it,  perhaps to review it, and to clap and cheer some more for Michael!  Stay tuned…  And if you read it before I do, let me know what you think.

Our little candle continues to glow!

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

Screenshot of NYTM online article by McKenzie Funk

This morning’s email was full of commentary and requests from friends and from strangers — even one from a journalist/immigrant activist in Spain about my 2017 series “Stories from the Heart” written for the Chinook Observer.  When Editor Matt Winters and I first talked about the possibilities, I remember saying, “Erin Glenn and I have an idea… Maybe we can light a little candle to illuminate what our own Hispanic community is enduring… Maybe we can help…  Maybe…”

Screenshot of NYTM article by McKenzie Funk

And so we lit that candle.  The fourteen stories appeared in the Observer each week from July 26 through October 25, 2017.  They attracted the attention of the big city newspapers in Seattle and of the international media, as well.  An Aljazeera news station in Mexico interviewed a wife and mother from Ocean Park who had been deported by Ice.  BBC did a spectacular film which featured local fisherman “Rosas” as well as Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright and others.  And an investigative reporter for the New York Times Magazine, McKenzie “Mac” Funk, came to the Peninsula several times to talk to victims, advocates, onlookers and law enforcement.  And to learn more about ICE and their methods.

Mac’s story, “How ICE Picks Its Targets in The Surveillance Age” has been long in the making.  Yesterday, he sent me the link to the online version:  The “hard copy” version will be published Sunday, October 6.

Mario – Screenshot from NYTM article by McKenzie Funk

The article is focused on what happened (and is still happening) right here on the Long Beach Peninsula — mostly at the Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta and in Ocean Park — but in all our other communities, as well.  The article is long and detailed and frightening.  My eyes filled more than once as I read, remembering when Erin Glenn and I first approached the families who agreed to be interviewed.  Their fear and their bravery and their hurt were palpable.  I’m so glad their stories are reaching an audience wider than we had ever imagined.  And, of course, I hope the ripple-effect continues until change is effected and we can all say, “We helped.”

By fools like me…

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019

Box Top at Adelaide’s

You’ve probably noticed — Poetry is having a huge resurgence right now.  According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the share of adults in the United States reading poetry grew 76 per cent between 2012 and 2017.  Last year, the numbers doubled again!

And, it seems, our Peninsula is right in the thick of things.  Tony Pfannenstiel and Steve Kovach, both of whom I’ve met only recently, are among the movers and shakers who are encouraging poetry appreciation by establishing Poetry Boxes here at the beach.  The first went in at Adelaide’s a few weeks ago and one went up at the Ocean Park Timberland Library last weekend.  Other locations that I know of are at Bay Avenue Gallery, at Abaracci Coffee Bar in Long Beach and at the Norcross-Renner’s out on Stackpole Road.  Wow!

Poetry Box at the Library

Too, Peninsula poets have been sharing their works — not only by postings in the boxes, but by gathering to read in various venues.  Even I have been asked to read my poetry!  Say what?  I was astounded — mostly because poetry is SO intimidating to me.  I think my poetry-shyness began in the ’50s when the big pastime of some of my more intellectual college mates was to go to City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and schmooze with the beat poets and wannabes.

As I recall, I got the idea during those sessions that nothing should rhyme, that the thoughts expressed had to be deep, and that a poem was successful only if it elicited hours of discussion interspersed with long silences.  It was all totally intimidating and, though there are some poems and poets I like very much and maybe even understand, I am loathe to hop in, myself.


So when Tony asked me to read at a wordfest to be held on Veteran’s Day at the Port of Nahcotta, I asked if I couldn’t read prose instead of poetry.  Even “prose” sounds pretty serious to me.  I’ll probably be reading some of my chicken blogs.  No long discussions or profound silences required.  Just some polite clucking, please.



When First I Heard Him Sing

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Yesterday, I received a mystery package in the mail.  It turned out to be a copy of the Timberline Review – “a voluntary literary journal operated by Willamette Writers.”  About the journal, poet Kim Stafford wrote, ““In the Timberline Review, each poem and story is a beacon calling to the best in us to read deeper, climb higher.”

As soon as the book was released from its wrappings, I knew the who and the why of it.  And there on the back cover among the names of the writers included in this particular issue was “Casey Killingsworth.”  He had told me last summer that he had submitted some of his poems to a few publications and he would “let me know.”  The back story goes way back—to 1993!

That’s the year Casey arrived as Oysterville’s new postmaster.  He quickly became an integral part of our community and found a permanent place in our hearts. During the years he was here, he met and married Cynthia, oversaw the restoration of the Oysterville Schoolhouse, always had a joke or story to tell his customers and, in our case (probably in many other cases) became an extended member of our family.  He even delivered mom’s mail when she was no longer able.

In 1996, his first book of poetry, a handbook for water, was published by Cranberry Press which was then located in Oysterville way out on Stackpole Road.  My uncle Willard wrote the introduction in which he said:  He has created here a remarkable community of poems and songs – at once joyous and sad, exhilarating and heart-breaking. 

By then, we had heard Casey sing some of his own compositions and so his poetry came as an affirmation, not a surprise.   Every time we get together – which is not often enough, now that he and Cynthia live ‘out of sight’ (though never out of mind) – I ask and cajole and probably whine.  “Are you writing?  Have you submitted anything?”

The mysterious package in the mail was my answer!  And, in response to my kudos and clapping, I received an email from him with a P.S. that said: I had a good year of having poems accepted. Here are a few and he included this link:  I hope you read them.  Then you, too, will hear him sing.

The Scribbling Aunts

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Mona, “the eldest daughter” on the left

My cousin Mona sent me some of her (as yet unpublished) children’s stories to read.  They arrived by email this morning and I am sorely tempted to drop everything and get to it but my own writing calls so I’ll probably leave Mona’s treasures for evening “dessert.”

Mona is my uncle Willard Espy’s daughter.  His “eldest daughter” she likes to say, pointing out that she arrived six minutes earlier than her twin, the late Freddie Espy Plimpton.  I wonder if Willard ever read any of Mona’s writing and, if so, what he said.  I’m sure he was encouraging.  He always was.  But getting helpful criticism from him?  Never!  At least not in my experience.

On the other hand, it was Willard who gave some of his great-aunts the sobriquet, “The Scribbling Aunts.”  I always took his reference to infer that they weren’t particularly good writers but when I read his descriptions of them in Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village, I decided that what I took to be a pejorative description was probably just Willard being Willard.

The “scribblers” were my great-grandfather Richardson’s sisters Mat Richardson White and Shae Richardson Stein and their cousin Mary Bamford.  Of them Willard said: it was the women who set the cultural and intellectual tone of the Richardson household. By today’s standards, women in the 1880s and 1890s were chattels.  If so, somebody forgot to tell grandpa’s sisters and his cousin…

A Bit after Mary Bamford’s Time

Mary Bamford, he wrote, wound up with the curious title of Poet Laureate of Oakland…  Of Mat he said:  After a disastrous first marriage, she had to write frantically for newspapers and magazines to keep herself and her children fed, clothed, and roofed… And of Aunt Shae: …the most inveterate scribbler of all…  Her outlets included Golden Days, The Portland Transcript, The San Francisco Examiner, The Interior, The Congregationalist and Boston Recorder and The Youth’s Companion then known as The Companion.

So, if Willard referred to his sainted older relatives as “scribblers,” I wonder how he might have referred to us younger ones who do a bit of writing, especially his eldest daughter Mona. After reading all of his comments on those illustrious women forebears, “scribbler” might actually be considered complimentary in the extreme.  I’ll have to ask Mona if she has any thoughts on the subject… after reading my dessert!

Down Memory Lane

Friday, February 1st, 2019

Mom looks at Dear Medora with Nyel, 2007

I remember, a few years back, when it was popular to say – perhaps after a family outing or a special event – that you were “making good memories.”  Perhaps people still use that expression and I’m just not hearing it.  Ten or twelve years ago I noticed it bigtime because it was when my mother was still living.  She had dementia and, although she ‘knew’ me until she died at age 97, she had no memories of much else.

I remember when my book Dear Medora was published in 2007, two years before mom died.  Medora was my mother’s older sister who had died unexpectedly at age seventeen when my mother was just three.  The book is full of photographs of the family and house and Oysterville from that period of time.  Mom had been helpful with my information-gathering in the beginning but, by the time the book came out, I knew it would mean very little to her.

Nevertheless, I took her the first copy.  I wasn’t surprised when she showed no interest at all.  The next time I visited her at ‘the home,’ though, I tried again and, on that occasion, she went through the book page by page, stopping at each picture of a family member.

“That’s Mama,” she would say.  “Is she dead?”

“Yes,” I would nod.

“That’s Papa. Is he dead?” and she’d turn the page.

“That’s Medora.  Is she dead?” she’d continue.

And on the next page, “That’s Mama, is she dead?”

And so it went through all 168 pages.  Since mom was last living member of her family, I had to answer with “no” after “no.”  At the end of the book, of course, there was no closure (so to speak) and Mom was doing fine.  I, on the other hand, was thoroughly depressed.  And, so much for “making memories!”

A page from 2008

Yesterday, in connection with another writing project, I went through some scrapbooks from 2008 and 2009.  They are loaded with photographs of events and activities from those years – things I had not thought about for eons – and every photo showed friends and family members, many of whom are “no longer with us,” as they say.  Gordon and Kaye and Charlie, Jim and Carol and Beeg and Dennis, and oh so many more.

As the memories came flooding back, I had the fleeting thought that when all the people are gone who have shared memories with you… what then?  Who remembers my mother when she was young?  Who is left that remembers the MG TC I had in 1956?  And who remembers riding Sugar or Spice, the Shetland ponies at Miss Elliott’s Camp Willapa in the forties?  And… just what is a memory if it can’t be shared with someone else?  Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I write down the stories.  It’s not quite the same, though.