Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

Rule #1: Always check between the covers!

Monday, October 11th, 2021


We all know the adage, “You can’t tell a book by its cover.”  We know that to mean, literally, that a book might have the dullest cover ever and be a true cliff-hanger.  But, more likely we apply the adage metaphorically.  Like, even though that woman looks as cold and aloof as an Ice Maiden, she is totally warm and approachable, belying her looks.

But… the other day Karla Nelson of Time Enough Books called me with an entirely new take on that old saying.  “Sydney,” she said, “I didn’t know you were writing ghost stories about the indigenous people of West Virginia!  And under a pseudonym, too!”

“Huh?” was my totally uncomprehending response.


Apparently, a customer had taken a copy of Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula off the shelf to have a look and, when she opened it, found that the title page said:  “Early Native Americans in West Virginia – The Fort Ancient Culture” by Darla Spencer – History Press © 2016.   There followed 158 pages of illustrated text material, presumably interesting information about the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric native settlements in West Virginia between about AD 1000 and AD 1650 to 1700.  The bibliography, acknowledgements, and foreword are scholarly and impressive.  This is definitely not a book of ghost stories about the Long Beach Peninsula!

In the end (and after checking carefully), the customer bought both of my ghost books, correct innards intact.  Karla removed the “West Virginia edition” from the shelf and gave it to me so I could take a look.  I still can’t imagine how such a mistake happened.  With the number of titles that History Press has in print (4260  according to their website today), it stands to reason that their printing and binding facilities are fully automated.  How could

So how do the innards of one book end up with a cover from a completely different book?  And how many of those mismatches were produced?  Are they “out there” somewhere confounding people from WV to WA?  And if any of them do sell and they are not returned, who gets the royalty for the sale?  I really think Darla and I should split the entire net profit –none of this eight percent (about 50 cents per book) nonsense.  I really don’t think History Press earned their 92% this time around.  Do you?

October: Not Exactly As Planned

Friday, October 8th, 2021

Scavenger Hunt

I wonder when we’ll be able to plan ahead with surety — as in arranging to attend something or help sponsor something or…  Not for a while longer, would be my guess.

A few months back, when events for October were being scheduled, it looked like it might be a busy month for me.  Two offers to do book-signings at the Cranberrian Fair — one at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum and one at the Cranberry Museum.  Both for this weekend and, of course, both cancelled when the Fair was cancelled.

I was also scheduled to do a book talk and signing at the Ocean Park Timberland Library on October 16th.  It was to be in connection with a proposed annual month-long celebration of literacy called Peninsula Loves to Read.  Sponsored by both the Ilwaco and Ocean Park Libraries, they were planning to hold special events throughout October around the theme: “The Peninsula Loves to Read MYSTERIES!”  I was SO looking forward to talking about both of my ghost books, but…  CANCELLED!  Damn!

Now Available in Hardcover

Fingers crossed for next year on all counts!  And, of course, my disappointments are small potatoes in comparison to some of the really big and important celebrations and ceremonies that have been called off in the interest of health and safety.

Meanwhile, under the heading of “Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons,”  I spent the morning distributing “Free Scavenger Hunts” to the vendors who sell my books.  It’s the second or third rendition by History Press — the first tries having had some serious flaws from my point of view.  The new ones definitely meet with my approval, though I’m not sure how they will be received by readers.

Cover: Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula

The 8×11 sheets of paper display seven buildings, each located somewhere on the Peninsula with a bit of information about the ghost connections of each.  The idea (according to History Press, anyway) is that readers of Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula and Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula can find additional clues as to the where and the who of particular ghosts.  I’m not sure why they are billed as “Scavenger Hunts” — I guess what you find at each location is a photo op if not an actual ghost!

No purchase is necessary to pick one up, so if you already have the books or think you can locate the specific sites and already “know” who haunts them, go for it!  You will find the Scavenger Hunts at BOLD, the Cranberry Museum, Time Enough Books, Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, and Oysterville Sea Farms.   And let me know what you think — a fun activity?  Or not?


Before Nyel got the news… Casey was there.

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

YAY! A new publication by Casey!

I went to get the mail about the time Nyel started dinner — twelve gorgeous clams brought to us by friends.  Gorgeous clams, cleaned and each in one piece.  Easy to believe they were dug that very morning.  They were beautiful.

The package, carefully rolled a bit to fit in our postbox, was from Stevenson, Washington.  I knew before I opened it that it was a new book of poetry from Casey.   I’ve been bugging him about publishing again — as I’m sure many folks have.  And I’ve been vaguely aware that he’s been doing so, by  ones and twos in poetry journals and publications that poetry neophytes like myself know little about.   A nest blew down is a collection of thirty-six of Casey’s poems and, of course, I choose to think that if I hadn’t been bugging him over the past few years it wouldn’t have happened.

I read them aloud as Nyel cooked.  Some were hard to think about.  No.  Make that all of them were.  They sounded like Casey — but Casey in later-than-midlife.  The time when looking ahead gets easier in some ways than looking back.  “Although austere in tone…” began the blurb on the back cover, written by Paulanne Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita.  Hmmm.  I’m not sure that’s the descriptor I’d choose.  But, then, I’m not sure I have the right one, either.

And then, as the time to eat grew closer, I read Nyel’s name!  It was about halfway down the page in a poem titled “The guy who couldn’t see color.”  There is only one Nyel (at least for me).  And only one Casey who came to St. Vincent’s and managed to get into the ICU to see Nyel when the anesthesiologist halted his hip surgery because he was not doing well.  “Nyel might not walk again” begins the third stanza of Casey’s poem.

It’s really hard to eat clams through tears.  It’s really hard when you have to put hugging and visiting on hold.  It’s really hard to find a word that’s the opposite of austere to describe Casey’s work.  Especially when it comes to the poem that mentions Nyel.

Just call me Sydney-the-Unwilling…

Friday, September 17th, 2021

Vilma Silva as Julius Caesar, Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2017

Maybe it’s an age thing — as in getting set in my ways.  Or maybe the world has just begun changing faster than I can keep up.  Whatever the reason, I’m definitely losing my “willing suspension of disbelief”  — you know,  that “intentional avoidance of critical thinking or logic in examining something unreal or impossible in reality, such as a work of speculative fiction, in order to believe it for the sake of enjoyment.”

I first ran into my wall of unwillingness several years ago at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.  I don’t remember the specifics — it was one of Shakespeare’s history plays, maybe Henry IV Part I or II — and one of the commanders in battle was portrayed by a woman.  Fair enough.  But the character was also portrayed AS a woman with pronouns changed to fit the circumstances.  What was not changed was that she had a wife at home.  All okay in my book except that these were really-o, truly-o historical characters and in real life the commander was a man, not a woman.

Uwe Kockisch as Guido Brunetti

My actor son Charlie was with us on that trip and we discussed the situation at length.  He gave me the “insider’s take” on the possible reasoning of the director etc.  I could not (Charlie might say would not) change my mind.

I’ve been thinking of my “unwillingness” lately in a somewhat different context.  Nyel and I recently learned that author Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti and his Venetian cohorts have become stars of a popular television series.  We were elated!  Next to Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Leon’s Brunetti is our favorite detective.

We’ve watched two episodes so far and are debating whether to see more.  The series is set in Venice (as are the books) but with a German cast speaking German and with English subtitles.  That was my first hurdle.  Try as I might to tune out the German, I do hear the words I recognize (thankfully, in this case, not that many) which is jarring in the extreme.  Plus none (read not one) of the characters is as Donna Leon so carefully developed them — at least not as far as Nyel and I are concerned.

Alfred Molina as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache in the new “Three Pines” series

As with Louise Penny’s books, each of the Leon characters have become very real to us.  Leon has portrayed them minutely and consistently in twenty-three books.  We’ve watched them change and grow over time.  The television series are NOT those characters although they are co-opting their names and their situations.  We can but hope that “Three Pines” which begins in December, also on Amazon Prime, will be more faithful to the images in our heads.

I feel a bit like a child who loves Winnie-the-Pooh might feel if the beloved old bear suddenly became a reindeer and was speaking Swedish.  My world with regard to Brunetti is off-kilter and I am definitely Sydney-the-Unwilling.

Not quite here and not quite now.

Tuesday, September 7th, 2021

Mudlark ©1993 by Sheila Simonson

From page 42 of Mudlark by Sheila Simonson:
It’s happening all along the dunes, Mrs. Dodge.  Perfectly good houses — not shacks by any means — being torn down and replaced with big monstrosities like something out of Sunset Magazine.  Pretty soon we’ll look like Los Angeles.  The new houses block the view for the people on the crest, too… I don’t know why anyone would need a house that big to retire to.”
“I ventured the possibility the owners weren’t thinking of retirement.”
She snorted.  “Thinking of renting the places out by the wee more likely.  It used to be quiet around here, no traffic, no crime.  Now we’ve got murder and arson and idiots driving sixty miles an our up and down that road to town.”

The book, a murder mystery, was published in 1993, the third in a series by a Vancouver, WA, author who did a number of signings at the Bookvendor when we owned it.  I have the next two in the series but not the first two — go figure — and I don’t think I’ve ever read the three I have.  I began this one the other night when I was suddenly out of reading material and it called to me from a bookshelf in the bedroom.  I’m enjoying it and was struck by some of the prescient observations that the author made all those years ago — observations that I’ve heard made about the “here and now” in almost the same words.

Meadowlark ©1996 by Sheila Simonson

And no wonder!  On the very first page of Mudlark, Mrs. Simonson writes:
A Note on Geography:  The Shoalwater Peninsula is my gift to the state of Washington.  In Larkspur, I inserted a fictional county on the northern California border.  Nobody objected, so I have felt free in this book to edit Washington, too.
Residents of the Long Beach Peninsula will recognize some features of their own corner of the state.  However, I made the long needle of land subbier, with a little hook of expensive real estate at the northern end where the peninsula terminates in the Leadbetter Point wildlife sanctuary. I substituted all six towns and replaced them with two purely imaginary ones — Kayport and Shoalwater.  The demography of my fictional peninsula, including ethnic composition is deliberately different from that of the Long Beach area.  The Nekana are an imaginary tribe.  Shoalwater Bay is the old name of Willapa Bay.
None of the people or communities in this book is real though the issues facing Shoalwater towns bear a resemblance to problems common to beach communities from the Canadian border to Brookings, Oregon, on the California border.

According to what I can learn on Google, there are five books in the Lark Dodge Series.  I have an order into the library for the first two…  The jury’s out as to whether I’ll wait to read the rest of them in order…

What’s the feminine eqivalent of geezer?

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

The third word into the Introduction was “geezer” and I was pretty sure I was going to like the book.  There’s something nostalgic — maybe even warm and fuzzy about that word — that makes me think of Clint Eastwood in “The Mule” or of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in “The Bucket List.”  But on the third page in Chapter One came the loooong and boring description of the mining camp near Lewiston, Washington Territory, in 1861.

My inclination to read on became a general survey.  I flipped pages to see if things would improve and when I came across the cannibalism and other horrors ahead, I took the book back to the library.  (In case that’s your particular cup of tea, the book is Snowbound Stagecoach by Lenora Whiteman.)  But I was left pondering the appeal of the word “geezer” and other sobriquets for old men.  “Coot,” “codger,”  “curmudgeon,”  “fogey,” “old-timer,” and “mossback” came immediately to mind — all with sort of affectionate overtones like “gramps.”

Clint Eastwood in The Mule

Interestingly, though, I couldn’t come up with equivalents for women.  When I asked Google, these were some of the choices: battle-axe, crone, biddy, dowager, matron, fishwife, shrike, harridan, widow, and hag.  YIKES!  No warm fuzzies there.  Nothing that conjured up Stephanie Plum’s Grandma Mazur character or any of “The Golden Girls” or even “Miss Daisy” as portrayed by Jessica Tandy.

Why is that I wonder…  Why can’t old women be called by admiring terms equivalent to those for our aged counterparts?  Or is this old broad missing something obvious?

It’s a whole other language, doncha know?

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

For the first time in some years, I am so immersed in a book series that I don’t even like to surface to write something of my own.  The author, Elly Griffiths, is British and the series, the Ruth Galloway Novels, is set in Norfolk County, England, in an area that reminds me of the saltmarshes and tide flats of Willapa Bay. Protagonist, Dr. Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist — an “old bones expert.”

The books fall into the “mystery” category which doesn’t do them justice by half.  Right now I’m in the midst of The Lantern Men — the 12th in the (so far) 14-book series — and like all of the others it contains a good deal of folklore, scientific information, modern-day relationships and complicated family arrangements.  The mysteries are almost secondary — almost!

One of the pleasures of these books is the language — British English, sometimes explained and sometimes not.  And, I’m not always sure I agree with the explanations, anyway.  In this book, for instance, an American friend explains that “biscuits” are called “cake” in the United States.  Really?  I thought English biscuits were more synonymous with our “cookies” or “crackers.”  And who knew that “pudding” at the end of an English meal really means “dessert”?  Or that children “paddle” in the shallow water at the beach — so much more colorful than “wade.”

Author Elly Griffiths, 2018

Besides all that, who among us wouldn’t love a protagonist who describes herself as weighing a bit over “twelve stone” (168 pounds),  who eats with enjoyment and laments her plain-Jane wardrobe, yet has more than her share of sex appeal and charisma — and besides all that she is very intelligent, sensible. and conflicted like every really interesting person I know!  She seems so real and so approachable that I sometimes want to climb right into the book and go for a walk with her!

I’m not too concerned about overtaking Elly Griffiths’ Dr. Ruth Galloway series, though I’m sure it will happen within a week or so.  I am pleased to say that she has written at least one stand-alone novel as well as another crime series, “The Brighton Mysteries,” under her Elly Griffiths pseudonym.  In addition, there are several novels under her real name, Domenica de Rosa.  (When her first crime novel came along her agent told her she needed a crime novelist’s name – and so Elly Griffiths was born.)  By the time I finish all of those, perhaps Number Fifteen in the Dr. Ruth Galloway series will be at our local library!  Or maybe I’ll get back to writing something, myself.



The Very Best Part of A Book Talk

Sunday, July 18th, 2021

Sydney talks about Madam X at the Senior Center

Yesterday I gave a Book Talk about Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula at the Senior Center in Klipsan.  It was the third event in as many weekends and I didn’t have high expectations for attendance or sales.  However, what I didn’t factor in was how much fun I would have talking with the people who were there!

I met several women who read my blog every single day!  They asked after the chickens, were pleased to meet Farmer Nyel (who was helping Vicki sell books for me) and one expressed a desire to meet Tucker.  “I want to find out if he is related to the Glass family.  They were best friends to my husband and me.”  I know that Tucker is related to the Glass family but I don’t know if it’s the right Glass family.  Even so, I found myself saying, “Why don’t you come by the house sometime and we’ll walk over and I’ll introduce you.”  I hope she does.  She and I were “of an age” as they say, and had it not been for people waiting in line for my autograph, we probably could have spent the rest of the afternoon becoming best friends!

A Small but Mighty Interesting Audience

Actually, there were several encounters like that and I did think to myself, “Well, after all… it’s the Senior Center and I’m bound to meet a few soulmates here.  I should come more often…”  But, it wasn’t just ‘Senior Serendipity’.  Along came a good looking “young” (50s?) man named Paul who said that we are “sort of related.”  And, indeed we are!  My first cousins were brought up by his mother’s inlaws (got that?) in Minnesota in the 1930s.  Paul was visiting the Peninsula and had just happened upon the book signing and… here he was!

Sydney with Wallace and Charles, Ft. Canby, WA, 1938

As it turned out,  when  Nyel and I returned home a half hour or so later,  we saw Paul taking pictures up the street.  I hailed him, invited him in, and we spent a pleasant half hour looking at family pictures and sharing information about my cousins Wallace and Charles Pearson whose mother Suzita was my mother’s older sister.  As Sue was dying of pneumonia on December 27, 1932, she asked her mother (my grandmother) to send the boys to Lake City, Minnesota to the Pearsons, her husband’s people.  At that time her father (my grandfather)  was in a sanitorium recovering from a horrendous automobile accident and my grandmother, always frail and losing her sight, could not have coped with two young boys.  Even by pooling our information, there is much that Paul and I don’t know.  Time to get Cuzzin Ralph looking on once again!

And… even so, I sold a fair number of books.  But the best part of all (as usual) was meeting and talking with everyone!  Even my Facebook friend, Terry Eager. came all the way from Chinook to meet me in person and say “hello.”  Wow!  What a fun afternoon!


See you Saturday-the-17th in Klipsan Beach!

Monday, July 12th, 2021

Yesterday at BOLD

I do believe I was born to party and that’s what my book signing at BOLD felt like yesterday!  So many friends came to hear me talk and to buy books!  Friends from long ago.  Friends from afar.  Friends from the neighborhood.  Friends from FaceBook. Even “friends” who only know me through my books!  So so so fun!

And when I got home I saw a few laments on FaceBook — people who couldn’t get there yesterday or who hadn’t made it to Adelaide’s the week before.  If you were among those who missed the “party” I just want you to know you’ll soon have another opportunity.  I’ll be talking and signing at the Senior Center in Klipsan Beach from 1:00 to 3:00 on Saturday, July 17th.  And, no, you don’t need to be a “senior” to come!  It’s open to all and they have plenty of chairs and I’m told I’ll be provided with a mic… just in case my old “teacher’s voice” isn’t up to the challenge.


So mark your calendar and come on over!  It will probably be the last signing I do until the ghostly month of October.  Meanwhile, of course, the book will remain on sale at these local outlets:  the gift shops at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and at the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse; Time Enough Books, Ilwaco; Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco; The Cranberry Museum, Long Beach; BOLD, Long Beach; and Adelaide’s in Ocean Park.

If you live elsewhere and can’t get to the beach, I urge you to check with your local bookstores. (If you tell them it’s a hot item and that they can order from History Press, they may begin stocking it themselves. They probably should also stock my first ghost book, too — Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula.  Several stories in the first are continued in the second and it helps to know the backstory!) Amazon also carries them and has plenty in stock I am told, although I’ve seen several of their websites that say they are “temporarily out” of Historic Haunts — which apparently is not true.  Go figure!

“Me? At an art gallery?” I asked BOLDly!

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021

Mrs. Crouch and I will see you here — Sunday, July 11, 2:00-4:00

I don’t think I’m a groupie exactly.  Certainly not in the musical sense.  Not really.  I cheer and clap for musician friends and, of course, we host House Concerts.  I used to hang out at the Purple Onion and the hungry i  in the City and the Blind Lemon in Berkeley — but only when friends or friends of friends were playing.  And, would you believe I’ve never been to a “concert”  — not a real one with thousands of people in attendance.  Not ever.

On the other hand, maybe I am a groupie when it comes to the visual arts.   Not only have I always had friends among “those arty fellas” as old Bob Meadows called the artists who occasionally set up their easels in front of the church or up near the Monterey Cypress trees here in town.   I usually remember cities I’ve visited by their art museums or galleries or special exhibitions.  I’m not sure why.

Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula

So, when I was contacted by BOLD in July of 2020 and asked if I’d be willing to have them sell my books, I was thrilled.  Not that my books are “art,” mind you, but there they are, rubbing elbows with the best of the best visual art on the Peninsula!  Wow!  And, they seem to be holding their own.

So when my second ghost book came out — Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula — and we decided on a Book Talk and Signing for Sunday, July 11th, from 2:00 to 4:00 — I knew for sure that I had arrived!  I felt exactly like I was having a one-woman show at a gallery (and, in a way, I am.)

I hope you come!  It’s not every day that an art gallery hosts a book writer!!!  Come and enjoy this stellar occasion with me.  Have a cup of coffee.  Ooooh and aaaah over the artwork.  And hold hands with a ghost or two!