Posts Tagged ‘the writing process’

The Hardest Changes of All

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

On our return to old stomping grounds (mine) in California last week, I found the physical changes to the landscape disorienting and somewhat distressing.  I was pretty sure, though, that given enough time I could get used to the new freeways and buildings, the new housing developments and shopping malls and the huge influx of people that are responsible for all of the above.  Growth and change, as difficult as they are to accept as we age are, after all, inevitable.

But while we were gone, I learned of another change that I don’t find quite so easy about accepting.  Two days ago, the New York Times Book Section ran an article that began:  The American Library Association is dropping Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a prestigious children’s literature award in order to distance the honor from what it described as culturally insensitive portrayals in her books… The decision was made out of a desire to reconcile the award with the organization’s values of “inclusiveness, integrity and respect,” representatives of the association said in a statement on Monday. The award is given out by its children’s division.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

OMG!!  The award recognizes authors and illustrators whose books have created a lasting contribution to children’s literature.  It has been distributed to just 23 people over more than six decades. Wilder, herself, received the first award in 1954, three years before her death in 1957.  It was initially distributed every five years, but its frequency has steadily increased. Since 2016, it has been given annually.

The Library Association’s decision to rename the award is based on their belief that the “Little House Stories” set in the complicated context of westward expansion, are anti-Native and anti-black.  Not so argues book reviewer Dedra McDonald Birzer: “Wilder’s works lead readers of all ages to ponder important truths about American history.”

Birzer’s article, “Librarians without Chests: A Response to the ALSC’s Denigration 0f Laura Ingalls Wilder” can be found at https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/06/laura-ingalls-wilder-alsc-award-removal/ and is worth reading.  She concludes her article with this paragraph:

The rejection of the author and the rejection of her semi-autobiographical novels produce the same result: In favor of safe spaces and trigger-free zones, this country’s professional librarians seek to destroy the literary heroine that millions of American girls (and boys) identified with and aspired to emulate. In doing so, they seek to destroy us all and re-make us in their own image, based on their core values of inclusivity and responsiveness, rounded out by respect (properly placed, of course) and their version of integrity. Join me in being naughty on the inside (one of my favorite aspects of young Laura’s character) by refusing to accept the Association of Library Services to Children’s version of Laura Ingalls Wilder. We know better.

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.

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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!

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

Allegra

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!