Posts Tagged ‘the writing process’

Sending Prayers and Crossing Fingers

Friday, September 14th, 2018

Washington’s Cranberry Coast

Please note that due to inclement weather, order processing will be delayed.
Once Hurricane Florence has passed, we will begin processing orders in the order in which they were received.

This announcement has been the banner headline on the Arcadia Publishing website for several days now.  Their offices are located in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina which, as far as I can tell. Is on the coast directly in the Path of Hurricane Florence.

Yesterday, I had occasion to check on the ETA of posters coming from Arcadia – posters regarding the launch of my new book, Washington’s Cranberry Coast.  Responses from both my editor and the marketing specialist were reassuring but said, “our offices are currently closed due to Hurricane Florence, but we hope to be back open by Monday!”

From Mount Pleasant FaceBook Page

Concurrently, yesterday’s headline in Charleston’s Post and Courier newspaper announced: “Charleston’s barrier island residents say ‘meh’ to Hurricane Florence evacuation order.”  The article went on to quote a Mount Pleasant resident who said, “We’re staying…Everyone I know is staying.”

It’s hard to know what to believe.  I’m quite sure that we are all being inundated with mega-doses of media hype even as we see the real-time photographs of the hurricane from within(!) as well as from every other possible vantage point.  It is confusing and the tendency is to blow it all off (so to speak) but of course, we can’t.  We have friends and relatives throughout North and South Carolina who, though well inland, will surely be affected by the storm.

From Mount Pleasant FaceBook Page

So, why is Arcadia saying it’ll be business as usual on Monday?  Wishful thinking?  Or are they confident that their offices will remain unscathed and that they can send out books and posters and whatever else their authors and customers are counting on?  Hard to tell.

We are sending our prayers, keeping our fingers crossed, and (probably selfishly) hoping for the earliest possible return to normalcy on the East Coast.  My big book signings – four of them! – are scheduled for Saturday, October 13th and Sunday, October 14th in conjunction with the Cranberrian Fair.  We have a month to get the word out and maybe, just maybe, the books are already boxed up and on their way!  Meanwhile, our thoughts are with everyone in Hurricane Florence’s path.

And, on the other side of the questions…

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

I’ve been interviewing people these last few weeks for my Observer series “Our Greats and Grands.”  I don’t think I’m very good at the job though Lord knows I’ve done scores, maybe hundreds, of interviews in my time.  I thoroughly enjoy the whole process – getting to know my subject(s), finding out what’s important to them, hearing about their area(s) of expertise.  And, I love the writing part – trying to capture a little of the emotional content behind the facts.  Telling someone’s story from their point of view.  Recording the history for posterity.

But… as I say, I’m not especially good at it.  I think the fault lies in my limited listening skills.  Or maybe, nowadays, my limited remembering skills.  I find that I get involved in the conversation and that’s not always conducive to documenting the facts.  My friend Cate uses a teeny tiny tape recorder in addition to taking notes – a good idea but way too time consuming to go back and, essentially, “reconduct” the interview in order to double-check facts.  So, I begin every interview by forewarning my subjects that I’ll be getting in touch with them – not only for fact-checking, but also for the additional questions that are sure to pop up as I begin writing.

This morning, though, the shoe was on the other foot.  I was the one being interviewed.  A reporter from Cannon Beach was doing the questioning.  Fortunately, she had one of those lovely little tape recorders.    Even more fortunately, she brought a friend with her who turned out to be my cousin.  Small world!! I’m pretty sure I got my facts straight but I’m also sure I didn’t stay on track very well.  It was way too much fun!

Oh!  And the article?  You’ll have to wait until the next issue of Our Coast which comes out next Spring.  Until then… I think I’ll look into a little tape recorder.  It makes the interviewing process seem so easy!

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.