Posts Tagged ‘the writing process’

Trying for a Twofer

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Jane Huntley and P.J. McGowan — Jane’s Greats

I am buried in cranberries!  Not quite literally, but close.   As I approach the end of my deadline on this book for Arcadia, I am finding that I have no time for much else.  My life is all about Furford pickers and barrel equivalents and slurry spraying and frost control.  (And did you know that night before last it got cold enough here on the Peninsula that cranberry farmers were alerted at three in the morning to man the pumps?)

So… when I realized mid-stroke (on my keyboard) about ten o’clock last night that I hadn’t written my daily blog, I was a bit surprised but… oh well.  I extricated myself from my cranberry world and went to bed.  I am considering today’s musings as a two-for-one deal.  And, depending on how things go, it might be ‘all she wrote’ (again, maybe literally) for three or four more days.  Tuesday is Delivery Day – “God willin’ an’ the creek don’t rise,” as my friend George Talbott used to say.

Adelaide Stuart Taylor and Family – Phil’s Great-Great and more

On Wednesday, though, I had a BC (Beyond Cranberries) morning.  It was our final Community Historian gathering and, as is often the way of it when your plate is already full, I was in charge.  Fortunately, I had done the arranging well ahead of the cranberry crunch, I didn’t have to do much but to show up and moderate a panel of THE most interesting people ever.  Phil Allen, Charlotte Killien, Jane Snyder, and David Williams had all agreed, way last February, to come and talk about their ancestors.

Amelia Aubichon Petit – Charlotte’s Great Great

“Our Greats and Our Grands” is what we called the presentation.  The common thread, of course, is that all of these interesting folks are fifth or sixth generation Peninsula residents – either full or part-time.  Their forebears go back to the beginning of settlement on the Peninsula and, in the case of Charlotte and Phil, back beyond that by a good long way.  Among the four of them, (actually, the five of us if I count myself) there were relationships and connections from generations ago.  And, even more interesting, there were family connections with several of our audience members!

Mary Ann Grouille and Isaac Whealdon – David’s Great Greats

It was generational networking right there at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum.   I loved it!  And judging by the comments afterwards and the suggestions that we do a similar Grands-and-Greats next year, I’d say the community historians loved it, too.  I couldn’t help but wonder, though, how many of those ancestors we talked about had known one another back in the once-upon-a days, and if they’d, perchance, been listening in on our morning discussion.  If they were, I’m sure they were delighted with their descendants and with the family memories they shared

No Icing Needed!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Well… it’s all over but the shouting and we didn’t make the cut.  Not that we expected to, exactly.  Back in February, the Observer and I submitted my “Stories from the Heart” series for consideration for the Pulitzer Prize under the “Local News” category.  We didn’t really think there was a chance.  Not even a remote one.

On the other hand, we were proud of the series.  We knew that it had captured the attention of the ‘world beyond’ – the Seattle Times, the New York Times Magazine. Even the BBC!  Big stuff for our little corner of the world.  And that, after all, was the original intent – to cast some light into the shadows here on the Peninsula.  To raise awareness.  To prompt some discussion and, perhaps, some change.

Stories from the Heart

So… we spent a few hours filling out the application form.  We agreed not to talk about it.  It would make a nice surprise if, indeed, we won.  And otherwise… not much use in saying anything.  Not even to the people that had been urging us to go for it.  After all, winning would only be icing on the cake.

Ours was one of 2,400 submissions.  There were only 21 winners – one for each category.  I’m not sure how winners were informed.  The rest of us find out by default – if our names didn’t show up on any of the lists or in any of the news articles that came out yesterday then we didn’t win and we hadn’t been finalists.   I found was told in an email from Matt – subject line “It was worth a shot.”  Indeed!   We didn’t need the icing.

Whoops! Sorry, Diane!

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Captain Fletcher’s View

A promise is a promise.  That’s what I grew up believing.  “Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep,” I was told.  “Don’t make promise lightly,” I was admonished.  No one said anything about an overactive forgetter or warned me about that aging mind thing.  “Don’t make excuses.”   Period.

So, instead, this is an apology to the amazing Diane Buttrell, Organizer Extraordinaire, to whom I made a promise – to write up the Oysterville School Lectures for the paper.  The final one in the series is scheduled for April 26th – time enough to get an announcement in next week’s paper but too late for the day-after-tomorrow edition.  Diane likes to have the information ‘out there’ a week ahead.  Gives people a little advanced notice.  Time to plan.  I hope she doesn’t fire me.

Oysterville Schoolhouse

The speaker will be Brian Fletcher, a Port Captain with the Tidewater Company.  What is a Port Captain?” you may ask.  “And, by the way, what is the Tidewater Company?”  Those are some of the questions Captain Fletcher will be answering a week from Thursday at the Schoolhouse.  I hope you mark your calendar.  Thursday, April 26th, 10 o’clock!  It will be the final talk in the Spring Series that has featured the Columbia River.  See you then!

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.

California Calling!

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018


Doncha just love those unexpected phone calls or FaceBook messages?  The ones that come from friends that you’ve actually been thinking about but haven’t talked to in ages?  I received two of those yesterday – one was actually a FaceBook message from a friend I haven’t seen for forty-five years – maybe more!  And the other was from a friend who hooks up with me periodically – usually when one of us is working on a project involving old photographs of the Peninsula.

Allegra, 2014

I think of both of these ‘callers’ as California-based, but it’s probably not true in the case of Allegra.  She was a Kindergartener in my K-3 class in the mid-seventies – a never-to-be-forgotten, big-as-a-minute philosopher and wise woman, even at age five.  Over the years I’ve wondered periodically what happened to her and last week ‘found’ her on FaceBook.  Yesterday she answered my ‘Friend’ request and we are beginning to get reacquainted!  I couldn’t be more thrilled.

From what I can tell in her Facebook photos, she is still petite, dark-eyed, dark-haired, and beautiful.  Her smile turned out to be just as I imagined.  (As I recall, when we were last together, her two upper front teeth were missing… but I might be mis-remembering.)  She seems to live in the Northeast, perhaps near the other Washington, so my stuck-in-the-70s thoughts of her in California were one of those frozen in time things.  No matter!  I look forward to catching up.  From the look of things, she turned out perfectly!

Keith Cox

That connection was in the morning.  Last evening it was actually a phone call and it did come from California.  Keith, the Willapa Bay oyster industry’s filmmaker extraordinaire!  Haven’t heard from him in a year or more so we had some catching up to do, too.  It turned out that he was offering copies of any historic cranberry photos he might have – in case I need them for my current book project!  Say what?  How did he know? Turns out he’d had a conversation with Melinda (of Cranberry Museum fame) and then checked out my recent blog.

Sydney and Keith, 2017

Keith may live a thousand miles away but, somehow, he remains connected with Pacific County in unexpected ways!  Cranberry photographs??  Of course, Keith would have some!  I felt a bit chagrinned, in fact, that I hadn’t thought of him first.  Or at least second.

We commiserated about the status of publishing in the twenty-first century.  He talked to me about a couple of books he is beginning to put together in his mind – but probably not going with a conventional publication method.  Whatever Keith does and however he does it, it will be spectacular!

I have to say that yesterday was a struggle writing-wise – just one of those days.  But I definitely have a who-cares and this-too-shall-pass attitude about that part.  Hearing from my “California Connections” made all the difference!

The Wonderful Advice of Irene Martin!

Friday, March 9th, 2018

Irene Martin

I already thought my admiration for fisher/author/historian/priest Irene Martin knew no bounds.  Last Wednesday when she spoke at the Community Historian class, she soared higher than ever in my esteem.  I’ll try to explain why, but I doubt that I’ll even come close.

First, you need to know that Irene had been scheduled since last fall to talk to the class on March 7th about Fishing on the Columbia.  I’m not sure what aspect she had in mind, but whatever it was would be informative, of that I was sure.  However, three and a half weeks before her speaking date, the Martins had a house fire.  Everything (almost) was lost or severely damaged by smoke and water.  Did Irene want to cancel her speaking date, Betsy had asked.  “No, but I might talk on a different topic,” she said.

And so, she did!  She talked about how we preserve history and what she learned from the fire.  It couldn’t have been more appropriate for Community Historians.   That’s what we are all about – preserving and disseminating local history.  Her experience and her advice resonated with every single one of us.

First and foremost: Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms.  “Promise!” she said.  And she told how her husband had replaced theirs just six hours before the fire broke out.  “Had he not, I would not be here today.”

She told about doing an inventory of everything in the house some time ago – with a granddaughter.  “I told her I needed help.  Plus, I think I bribed her… Money always works with teenagers.”  In any event, they spent several weeks talking about every single thing in the house and the stories that went with them.  “If someone doesn’t know the stories, those stories and that bit of history will die with you,” she said.  “Share your stories.  Over and over again.”

“And,” she asked, “are all your old family pictures labeled?  Are the names on the backs?  Saving the pictures without the names doesn’t do any good at all a generation or so later.”  It was a second promise she extracted from us: “Go home, and after you replace those smoke alarm batteries, label your pictures.”

And there were many more practical suggestions from her recent first-hand experience.  I’m glad to say that I’ve been on a similar wave-length for some time, preservation-wise.  Photos labeled, check!  Inventory complete, check!  Stories shared, check!  With regard to that last one, I sometimes fear that I’m repeating myself, especially with the stories in my blog.  After hearing Irene, I think that might be okay.  For posterity, you know!

Meeting Myself Coming and Going

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Shoalwater Storytellers Poster, 1981

For someone interested in local history (that would be me), one of the strangest research experiences is to run into information about oneself (me again.)  It’s happened to me twice in the last few years – both times in totally unexpected ways and both times having to do with the Shoalwater Storytellers.

For those who weren’t around in the 1980s, just a tad of background information.  In the very early 80s, Lawrence Lessard (then the director of the Peninsula Players) and I established a small story-telling performance group.  There were six of us – Patty and Noel Thomas, Bob and Senta Cook, Lawrence and myself.  We did readers theater productions of local history.  “The Stage to Oysterville,” “The Hanging of Lum You,” “The Ghost of Mrs. Crouch” were among our repertoire

Cranberry Festival Brochre 1982

By the mid-eighties, everyone else dropped out, I shanghaied Nyel, and he and I continued the presentations.  Three or four years ago we turned over sets, scripts, and costume pieces to David Immel and Kitt Fleming.  Hooray!  We had retired from yet another fun but time-consuming responsibility!  Done!  It had been a good 30+ year run and we have moved on.

But then… I was doing some research at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum for a Sou’wester article on place names and I ran across a photograph taken in front of one of the Charter Offices at the Port of Ilwaco.  And there we were – Lawrence and I – costumed and caught in mid stride.  I think we were portraying “The Burning of the Bruce” – the story about the Bruce Boys’ arrival in Shoalwater Bay in 1852.  Great Stuff!  But… archived with historic information about the Port?  Wow!

1982 Cranberry Festival Brochure, inside

Yesterday, it happened again.  This time, I’m beginning a new book for the Cranberry Growers Association.  Although I wrote one of my ABCs books, C is for Cranberries” on the same subject years ago, any connection there might have been between Washington’s cranberry industry and Shoalwater Storytellers never occurred to me.  But, as I was going through a scrapbook provided by one of the growers, there we were again!  Right there in dead center of a 1982 brochure about the Cranberry Fair was a listing for the Shoalwater Storytellers!

Wow!  I’ve never made any bones about my age, but finding myself listed in the archives is beginning to make me feel like a bit of a relic!  In a good way.

High Praise for “Dear Medora”!

Sunday, February 18th, 2018

Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman

If you’ve seen me within the last few days, you’ve probably noted that something has happened to my head.  It is way larger than it should be and I’m probably smiling like an idiot.  In fact, I probably look a lot like a female version of Alfred E. Neuman.  And, I’m absolutely non-apologetic about it… but I do feel the urge to explain.

Last week at our Community Historian class, the speaker was Barb Kubick. A well-respected historian.  Her topic had to do with the meaning of history and historical research.  She has spoken to the group in years past but, for whatever reason, I’ve never been among those present.  I loved what she had to say and approached her afterwards to tell her so.

Imagine my surprise when she called out to me by name!  And did my mouth drop open when she praised me for my book Dear Medora?  “I loved it,” she said.  “But I especially liked the way you changed nothing – even the words in diaries and letters that put your family in an unflattering light.  You included everything.  We can see the warts and all!”

I must have looked as amazed as I felt.  “Not everyone does that, you know,” she went on.  “But we can’t understand our history if well-intentioned people clean it up along the way.”  I don’t think she actually said that Dear Medora was exemplary, but I could feel myself puffing right up anyway.

Not that it ever occurred to me to change Medora’s words or those of my Grandmother or any of the other people whose lives I tapped into.  Why would I?  They all were there!  And they wrote more eloquently than anything I could paraphrase.

What Barb Kubik didn’t realize, of course, was that with those few words, she lifted a burden that I’ve carried with me for almost eleven years.  Shortly after Dear Medora was published, the prestigious Oregon Historical Quarterly (published since 1900 by the Oregon Historical Society) ran a rather damning review of the book.  The review was written by a well-know historian and professor at an Oregon institution of higher learning.  He said, basically, that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that Medora had died differently from how it was presented in the book.

He based his “knowledge” on a discussion with my Uncle Willard Espy, Medora’s brother who was four when she died.  Willard’s memory about incidents in his early childhood were undoubtedly as good as those of most people.  However, there were some things he mixed up or misremembered.  One involved the circumstances of his older brother’s broken leg.  Another involved the speculations about Medora’s somewhat mysterious death.

Oregon Historical Quarterly, Summer 2008

Had the professor bothered to read the book, he could easily have seen from the letters and news clippings that what Willard told him was wrong – a fuzzy childhood memory from a painful family time that was seldom spoken of.  Or he could have called me and I might have told him that throughout the twenty-year process of researching the book, I shared and discussed every bit of information with my mother and Willard.  About Medora’s death, Willard was very surprised but, curiously, my mother was not, even though she was eleven months younger than he.

Thanks, Barb Kubik!  I know I am smiling like an idiot.  But I feel like a million bucks!

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!