Archive for the ‘The Writing Process’ Category

About “George by George!”

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

My cousin Ruth’s book is out!  I am so pleased for her and proud, too.  She did what so many of us “threaten” to do – documented a branch of her family by writing and publishing a hard-cover book, complete with reproductions of documents, photographs, and letters by and about her beloved grandfather, George Maloney.  But it wasn’t just a two-and-a-half year project.  Her documentation is rounded out by information gathered on her trips to the UK over the course of a lifetime and by her contuing contacts with family members there.

Ruth retired several years ago from her long-time job with Farmers Insurance and has devoted a huge portion of her time to this project ever since.  I think it’s a “limited edition” with enough copies printed for family members and perhaps a few more.  She was her own publisher but she did hire an editor to assist with the final putting-together part.

Ruth Espy Maloney is my second cousin on the Espy side.  Her father and my mother were grandchildren of R.H. Espy.  George Maloney was Ruth’s mother’s father – the “grampa” on the other side of her family.  She grew up right next door to him and can credit many of her interests, skills, and character traits directly to him.  I know this because I had the pleasure of reading the book about Grampa George earlier this year and the privilege of writing a foreword for the book.  And I’ve known Ruth all her life.

Shortly before Grampa George died at age 86, he began writing the story of his life.  He called it “George by George” and when Ruth completed her book based on that autobiographical material, she thought it was a most fitting title.  It evokes a long-ago time – the time when my own grandfathers and their friends used the expression, “By George!” to underscore or emphasize a thought or an idea.  “A mild expletive” the dictionary says, that can be traced back to the 16th century, “comparable to words like golly and gosh.”

I don’t know about the “expletive” part – but I do know that Ruth has set the bar high for the rest of us family members who have the idea that we’d like to write about a relative or forebear.  Ruth, you did a great job, by George!

Previews and Insider Information

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Yesterday morning I spent being whisked from one delightful setting to another that I’d love to tell you about – and will! – but not yet.  Six beauty spots right here on the Peninsula.  Each to be featured on the upcoming Music in the Gardens tour on July 21st.

But it’s not quite time for the Big Reveal.  Maybe in a week or two.  Right now, gardeners are doing a lot of fluffing up and last-minute grooming, musicians and visual artists are learning where they will be ‘stationed’ for the day, and refreshments are being planned.  I felt like I was on a backstage tour as preparations for the opening night gala were being fine-tuned.

Delight in the Dunes

I was chauffeured, escorted, and introduced to the gardens by Nancy Allen and Darlene Houser, the two extraordinary organizers of this annual event – a fundraiser for the Water Music Festival.  Proceeds each year are earmarked for the Ocean Beach School District’s music program.  My teeny-tiny part in all of this is to do a bit of writing for what the Music in the Gardens website describes as a keepsake brochure.

I don’t think I’m telling too much to say that each of the six gardens could be the subject of an entire book, not just a short description in a brochure.  And each could be classified within its own separate genre – an art garden, an instructional garden, a children’s garden, even a garden that I would classify as a mercantile garden.  But, lest I reveal too much too soon, I’ll not extend this little ramble.

Work in Progress

Speaking of which, the gardens varied in size from what Nancy described as a “grandma garden” (which would be just about a manageable size for some of us less sprightly gardeners) to an acreage among the dunes with trails to walk and vistas to behold. Every garden…  different!  Every one magical!  Every one with secrets to reveal.

And here we are back to secrets!  Stay tuned (as they say in the music world.)  Meanwhile, you can pre-order your tickets online through the Water Music Festival website at https://watermusicfestival.com/event/music-in-the-gardens/.

When Perfection Isn’t Good Enough

Friday, May 4th, 2018

The Ilwaco Cranberry Exchange

Eleven of the photographs submitted to Arcadia for “Washington’s Cranberry Coast” are not acceptable for one reason or another and need to be replaced.  In the great scheme of things, eleven out of 198 isn’t too bad, I guess.  We are scrambling to find suitable substitutes.  Another deadline!  Yikes!

There are two that are going to be difficult.  The emails between the Title Manager (my Go-To-Contact-and-The-Buck-Stops-Here person) have been flying back and forth. Today I’m sending the original 1913 brochure (from which one of the photos came) back to South Carolina for ‘Production Team’ to take a look at.  Maybe, just maybe, they can find a way to use that one.  It’s the only known image of the Ilwaco Cranberry Exchange building.

The other is apparently hopeless.  Sadly, it effects the ending of the book and I’m wracking my brain on how to salvage the concept with another photograph.  The rejected image is also from the early 1900s and is a picture of two women holding the sign for Cranberry Station – one of the railroad stops on the old IR&N.  It’s the perfect photo to make my ending statement and, as far as I know, there is no other like it.  The trouble, according to Arcadia, is “low resolution” and the image will apparently pixilate when reproduced to the size needed.  Total bummer.

Cranberry Station Sign

So, I’m on the search for a period photograph (early 1900s) from Washington Coast that has the word “cranberry” in it and, if possible, shows a bit of context in the background.  And I have exactly a week to find it and re-write the text accordingly.  Oh, yes.  And it will have to pass muster at the other end of things.  Perhaps the Cranberry Gods read my blog and will get in touch with me…

Thanks a lot, Maggie!

Monday, April 30th, 2018

Everyone needs a good friend like Maggie.  I mean that sincerely.  Maggie is my best ever cheerleader when it comes to writing.  And she is my best tell-it-like-it-is critic.  Besides all that, she knows of what she speaks.

Maggie is an author and an editor.  She’s been in the book business for thirty (or maybe forty) years.  She’s worked in publishing houses in New York and she is ‘connected’ (as they say) with agents and editors and movers and shakers of all descriptions.  So, when she asked to read my “Willard Book” as I’ve come to calling it, I was delighted, if a bit intimidated.

The book is on hold.  I thought it was finished five years ago – at least finished enough to send it to WSU Press as a possible companion book to Dear Medora.  Not interested came the reply.  I’d like to say it’s because they have a new editor now, but in my heart of hearts I know that the book is not ‘there yet.’  As is often the way, though, other things have taken precedence and I never seem to get back to Willard.  Not seriously.

945

Willard at Work, 1

When I do look at it, I get caught up in its… morass, for lack of another word.  It’s full of family and secrets and stories that only I know.  But my voice isn’t clear; Willard’s is clearer.  It’s not the book I have in my head and it doesn’t do the book in my heart justice.  I know that.  So, even though it was with some fear and trepidation, I entrusted this rejected version to Maggie and, amazingly, she read every word.  Yesterday she came over to talk about it.

Like the good cheerleader that she is, she began by saying, “You are a good writer, Sydney.”  The next sentence, though, is the one that counted.  “You’re better than this.”  And she tapped the pages of notes she had written.  Chapter-by-chapter notes taken as she (probably) slogged through my manuscript.  I loved her approach, of course, but the main part that I heard was – re-think and re-write.  And I knew she was right on the mark.  She said the words that I have been refusing to formulate for five years or more.

It didn’t even occur to me to respond, “Easy for you to say.”  Because if anyone knows how hard it is to come at a book from a different angle, it’s Maggie.  She’s paid her dues many times over and she knows of what she speaks.  But… she didn’t leave it at that.  She had some ideas for me.  Different approaches I might take.   None that resonated right then… but I woke up this morning with something stirring.  Some thoughts taking shape.  Some work waiting to be done.

Thanks a lot, Maggie!  And I do mean it sincerely!  I hope you’ll keep cheering for me and saying it like it is.  There aren’t many friends who can or will.  You are the Maggiest!

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.

Yum!

“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.

“Yep.”

“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?