Archive for the ‘The Writing Process’ Category

It’s hard to keep up!

Monday, November 28th, 2022

Charlie and Sydney at Stanford Commencement, June 16, 1957

Sometimes (maybe oftener and oftener) I am totally confused by what I read.  The source doesn’t seem to matter.  This morning  it was a sentence in the New York Times.  It went like this:
Nine-year-olds lost the equivalent of two decades of progress in math and reading, according to an authoritative national test. Fourth and eighth graders also recorded sweeping declines, particularly in math, with eighth-grade scores falling in 49 of 50 states…

Amazing!  Imagine nine-year-olds losing 20 years of math and reading learning!  It boggles my mind!  And just how are they testing kids on their achievement in basic subjects these days, anyway?  I’d like to see the test that could determine what an individual knew more than a decade previous to their conception!  Huh???  Say what???

So… giving the reporter the  benefit of the  doubt, I’ve tried to parse out the meaning.  The sentence I quoted was in an article by Sarah Mervosh and began: Remote learning erased students’ progress in math and reading.  Perhaps Ms. Mervosh meant that the test scores had slipped when compared to test scores of two decades ago.  That would make a little more sense.  Maybe.  But that’s not what was written.

NYT Newsroom In “The Olden Days”

It all led me on a fanciful flight of journalistic wonder — as in how many decades has the NYT lost in the communication skills of their writers due to the effects of remote investigating and reporting.  Perhaps more than we can imagine.

But then, I tend to be tough on writing standards — my old 1957 BA in Journalism from Stanford still shakes a finger now and then at what I read.  And that criteria DOES go back few decades to be sure!


Is it that post-

Me too, Stephanie! Me too!

Thursday, October 20th, 2022

Isaac Alonzo Clark (1828-1906) – Co-Founder of Oysterville

My friend Stephanie wrote yesterday, “All of Sydney Stevens’ blogs are interesting, but I particularly like the ones about Oysterville history.”  I appreciated that comment for several reasons but mostly because I’ve been thinking about gathering together some of the stories about “Oysterville Characters” to take a look at our history through the eyes of those who created it.

My first thought was of the earliest codgers and crones I know about — those who were around in the Pioneer Days when my Great Grandfather, R. H. Espy, was still around.  Then,  I began to think ahead, generation by generation.

Papa and Aunt Dora when they were young – 1896

My Great Aunt Dora, R. H.’s oldest child, had some great tales of the characters who were around during her childhood in the 1870s and ’80s.  Come to think of it, so did her brother, my own beloved Papa.  As I have remarked before, though, his stories were more about the “saints” while Aunt Dora favored telling about the “sinners.”  They all expose aspects of Oysterville’s history that should be told and retold (in my opinion) so the human side of things doesn’t get sanitized or changed as our culture and sensibilities morph ever-onward.

When it comes to my mother’s generation, it gets harder.  These are people I knew and, no matter their foibles or forcefulness, I’m not sure how objective my stories of them would be.  Ditto when it comes to Oystervillians of my own generation.  Can I tell their stories capturing their unique force and influence on our little village.  Can my words ever express the joy one feels at hearing a certain neighbor’s laughter from afar or the “here we go again” feeling when another neighbor sets his jaw and “starts in” on an old sore point?

Helen Thompson (Heckes), c. 1927

But… does that really matter?   Is the point to be objective or to capture the uniqueness of some truly special, maybe even quirky, individuals as I have known them?    So far, I’m still pondering — at least regarding some of the more recent “characters” of our village.    And, no.  I’m not interested in changing the names or circumstances.  That removes some of the most important history.  And like Stephanie, that’s the part I like best.

So, where’ll YOU be Saturday from 2 to 4?

Thursday, June 23rd, 2022

The Ghostly Tales of The Long Beach Peninsula

I’m hoping your answer to my title question is “At the Peninsula Senior Center in Klipsan Beach” for my Insights For Elders talk on “Putting the story back in history!”  I’ll not only have a fun story or two of my own to tell you, but an activity (easy-peasy, I promise) to get you going on your own stories for posterity.

Besides that, afterwards I’ll be selling books — my three ghost story books, including the recently released one from Arcadia Publications’ Spooky America series called  The Ghostly Tales of the Long Beach Peninsula.  It’s written for kids and adapted from my first book in this genre — Ghost Stories of The Long Beach Peninsula.

I actually had a couple of middle-schooler “consultants” whose advice I tried hard to follow:  “Make the stories scarier!” they said.  “Make them Spookier!   Creepier!”  And so I did.  They really are for kids of all ages — a perfect gift from the beach for a grandchild or grandparent or anyone else, for that matter.  Bring your checkbooks (or cash) — I’m not equipped to take credit cards.  (And did you know that my ghost stories are really history-in-disguise? — But I’ll be talking  more about that on Saturday, too.)

More importantly than going home with a book in your hand, however, I hope you will take some ideas for sharing stories of your own.  After all, our experiences, no matter how “ordinary” they seem to us, are the stuff of the future’s history!  Let’s not allow it to be lost!



And what would he say now, 100 years later?

Friday, May 6th, 2022

E.B. White

E.B. White wrote a lot of books.  Books for children.  Books for adults.  Books for writers wanting to improve their skills.  My favorite — and probably yours, too — is Charlotte’s Web.

By all accounts, White was a shy man and writing didn’t always come easily to him.  According to one report, from September 1922 to June 1923, (he was 23/24) he was a cub reporter for The Seattle Times. On one occasion, when White was stuck writing a story, a Times editor said, “Just say the words.” He was fired from the Times and later wrote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before a stint in Alaska on a fireboat.

In 1924, after a few years “out west” White returned to New York City. When The New Yorker was founded in 1925, White submitted manuscripts to it and received offers to become a staff writer.  However, it took months to convince him to come to a meeting at the office and additional weeks to convince him to work on the premises. Eventually, he agreed to work in the office on Thursdays.

His contemporary, James Thurber, said of him:  Most of us, out of a politeness made up of faint curiosity and profound resignation, go out to meet the smiling stranger with a gesture of surrender and a fixed grin, but White has always taken to the fire escape. He has avoided the Man in the Reception Room as he has avoided the interviewer, the photographer, the microphone, the rostrum, the literary tea, and the Stork Club. His life is his own. He is the only writer of prominence I know of who could walk through the Algonquin lobby or between the tables at Jack and Charlie’s and be recognized only by his friends.

Although I will never forget Wilbur or Fern or Templeton, I did lose sight of the fact that Mr. White had spent time in the Northwest.  It was running across the following poem that prompted today’s blog:

Our Own History

Long ago
Things were slow
Down by Elliott Bay.
Cougar tracks
One room shacks
‘Neath the forest lay.
Minus fears
thought they’d start a town:
Lumber mills
Homes on hills
Street cars up and down.
Things went right
Over night
Sprang a heap big city,
Trade was good
Fish and wood
Added to the kitty.
Here we are
Gates ajar
Ships upon the way;
Mighty well
Just to dwell
Down by Elliott Bay.
    E.B. White, 1922

Cat’s Fur To Make Kittens’ Britches

Monday, May 2nd, 2022

I don’t know what got me onto thinking about cat idioms today.  Perhaps it was Marta telling us last night that she had been cat sitting “two darling kitties who know me well but are so aloof!  They will NOT be won over by cuddling, though I’ve been sitting with them and trying for at least five years!”

Or maybe it was Charlie saying that FINALLY Lupe has been a bit playful with Rosencrantz, her newish little brother who wants so much to be friends but, until yesterday, has been rebuffed at every attempt.  Yes, I’ve had cats and kittens on my mind!

So, when I woke up to the gentle pitter-patter of raindrops, it’s probably no wonder I thought, “at least it’s not coming down cats and dogs…”  And then I was off and running.  I thought about our back forty and how there is finally “room enough to swing a cat.”  And I began to think about other cat expressions — “letting the cat out of the bag” and “Cat got your tongue?” and, of course, “It’s the cat’s meow.”

There are a gazillion of them.  How about “that’s the cat’s pajamas!” and “purring with pleasure” or “looking like something the cat dragged in.”  Then there is something that happens a lot when  you’re trying to organize a bunch of toddlers — you know: it’s a lot like “herding cats.”

And, for heaven’s sake, don’t act too nervous or you’ll be compared to “a cat on a hot tin roof” — (not the play by Tennessee Williams, though).  There’s the old “cat and mouse game” and, of course, “while the cat’s away, the mice will play!”

There are probably many more that I don’t know or have forgotten.  But, never mind.  Even one or two of them beats the initialisms that we have all fallen into of late — DYNA?

Coming Soon! May 2nd, to be exact!

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

This is “almost-but-not-quite” the final version of the cover. (What do you think has changed?)

According to the Arcadia Publishing website, my newest book with them makes its debut on May 2nd, two weeks from this coming Monday.  WOOT! WOOT!  Look for it beginning that day on the shelves at your local book stores!

The book is called The Ghostly Tales of the Long Beach Peninsula and is part of Arcadia’s new “Spooky America” series for middle-school readers.   These particular tales were adapted from stories in my 2014 book in Arcadia’s Haunted America series — a bit less explanatory background and history, perhaps, and just a tad bit scarier than the originals.  “That’s what middle-schoolers want,” the editor told me.

I had no doubt that such was the case, but just to be sure, I checked with Gabi and Dani Wachsmuth, two of Tucker and Carol’s grandchildren.  “Yes!  Spookier!  Creepier!” they concurred.  Being the stickler that I am for telling stories the way I heard them and without gratuitous embellishment, made the writing a bit of a challenge.  I’m sure my young consultants will let me know how I did!

There once was a Pacific House in Oysterville (shown here in 1870) but, as far as is known, there was never an “Oysterville House.”

Meanwhile, I see on the Arcadia Publishing website that this is what they are saying about the book:  Ghost stories from the Long Beach Peninsula have never been so creepy, fun, and full of mystery! The haunted history of Pacific County comes to life—even when the main players are dead. Visit the Oysterville House to catch a glimpse of the wandering spirits who still call it home. Or step foot into Sprague’s Hole, but be careful or you’ll end up trapped for eternity, too. Dive into this spooky chapter book for suspenseful tales of bumps in the night, paranormal investigations, and the unexplained; just be sure to keep the light on.

I wrote the editor and asked if they might tone down that “come-on” a bit.  Just what is the “Oysterville House” that readers are being invited to visit??  (I surely hope it’s not mine or anyone else’s here in our little village.)  And suggesting that they “step foot” into Sprague’s Hole (which fortunately doesn’t exist anymore) seems a bit beyond responsible.  The editor’s response was that the blurb has actually been “out there” for quite a while and, besides, readers are being “invited” into the story — not into the actual places in the book.  Yes, I get that.  But will the readers??  SIGH!

Oz, O’ville, & bad juju you betcha-Day 23

Sunday, April 3rd, 2022


Tom Crellin House, 1869

From Oz — All Good News!  Nyel is responding well to oral meds and, if the gods continue smiling he will be coming home this week.

From Oysterville __ LRH came clear  out into the yard this morning, moving slowly (but aren’t we all?) and not too interested in food, but definitely on the mend if this trend continues.

From Arcadia Press in South Carolina — Finally! a PDF of my Spooky Stories book which, I am told has already gone to press.  This is the first I have seen of the book since I handed in my ten stories adapted from Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula last January.  Despite my requests for a proof, this  is  the first glimpse I have seen of the book which appears to be a “done deal.”  Of all the 30+ books I’ve had published over the past 40 years with at least six publishers, this is indeed a first.  I have asked that they literally stop the presses and kill the publication.  I’m not sure they will.

What upsets me the most are the illustrations, none of which I had input into.  Since the  stories are about real places and real people here on the Peninsula — some historic and some contemporary — and since I have photographs to go with almost all of them, it seems unconscionable that they are using “all images from Shutterstock” as they claim they do on the copyright page of the book.

My discussion with the editor was unproductive.  She said she’d never worked with an author who wanted to see a proof before it went to press… I seem to be one of a kind — but not in a good way.  The conversation was left unresolved.  I’m not sure she is going to stop the presses — or even try.  She’s probably not sure I’m going to seek legal counsel — or even try

Meanwhile I spent my afternoon reading through the entire 112 pages.  Here is my rough tally:61 pages (mostly all words, no drawings or photos) “OK”
41 pages – mostly photos; some drawings — totally unacceptable (as in why would the Solano, a four-masted American schooner, for which  photos exist, be shown as a three-masted-something-or-other in one picture and a non-sailing freighter in another????)
10 pages that I simply do not understand.

As usual — stay tuned on all counts!  At least it’s never dull around here…

Wow! A Drinking Day to Remember!

Sunday, February 20th, 2022

A Plate for Nyel

The drinking began at two this afternoon at our neighbors’ house — tea at the Wachsmuths’!  Granddaughters Gabi and Danielle, their parents Charlie and Amy and, of course, Oma and Opa were there.  Petit fours and Marion’s walnut cake plus tea or coffee, decaf or regular, and all on Carol’s grandmother’s Haviland China!  What a spectacular treat!  And did I take a picture?  Of course not.  I was much too busy eating, drinking, talking, listening.  So much fun!  I love tea parties.

Mac Funk

Carol sent a plate of goodies home for Nyel but he had scarcely time to look at it before Mac Funk and Alex Rivera arrived — just in time for the cocktail hour.  Mac, like Nyel, had ice water; Alec and  I had Bloody Marys.  Mac is the reporter who was alerted to our area by my 2019 “Stories From The Heart” series in the Chinook Observer and whose subsequent story about our local immigrant population and their problems made it to the New York Times Magazine.  Alex is a filmmaker whose work on documentaries about ICE and immigration problems was instrumental in getting Gladys reunited with Rosas here on the Peninsula. (Check them both out on Google.)

Alex Rivera

We talked and laughed and worried and wondered nonstop for two hours and then they were off to a dinner engagement in Long Beach.  I felt so honored that they came by to visit.  These are men who work hard and long and who, ultimately, make a huge difference in the lives of so many people.  I am full of admiration for both of them and  humbled by the immensity of the differences they make.  And even more humbled that they came clear to Oysterville for a visit!




Thursday, February 17th, 2022

Willard and Louise c. 1980

Now why I ask you
Do won and won make too
And why I ask some more
Do too and too make for
And why I further state
Do for and for make ate?
Won too for ate they go
But why I do not know.
–Willard Espy

Downsizing in this household is endlessly fun!  Today it was an envelope of “ditties” sent by Willard’s wife Louise when she, in her turn, was downsizing!

Every little once in a while…

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

I’m sure it happens to other people, but maybe not in quite the same way as it happens to writers.  Every once in a while, I run across something that I wish I had said or, more to the point, written.  Not often, and usually nothing of great moment.  In fact, frequently it’s something a bit off-beat or humorous.  Take today, for instance…

I was sorting through boxes (and boxes!) of newspaper clippings, getting rid of duplicates and trying to categorize them by broad subject matter — a mind-numbing sort of task that in no way lends itself to more than cursory skimming.  But when I ran across something about oysters that my uncle had saved from the University Week, a University of Washington publication, I took a better look.  The article, “Oh those oysters!” by Sandra Hines was a review of a book called Heaven On The Half Shell by David G. Gordon, Nancy Blanton, and Terry Y. Nosho.  Both article and book were written in 2001.  As I skimmed, this bulleted paragraph jumped out at me:

The Sorting Game

Oyster biology:  By some standards, an oyster leads a dream life.  It doesn’t have to hunt for food, but simply waits for the tide to bring the next serving.  Breakfast in bed never ends.  Snug in a subtidal channel or secure on a soggy mudflat, an oyster can feed at its leisure, filtering up eight gallons of food-rich salt water per hour.”

“Breakfast in bed never ends.”  I LOVE that!  I immediately flashed on my own book, O is for Oysters written in 1998 and had a momentary flash of writer’s envy.  The entire paragraph, but most especially that one sentence, would have fit right in with the bits of humor I used to intersperse the sometimes rather dry (go figure!) oyster facts.

And if I couldn’t have come up with such a gem on my own, I’d have given full credit as I did with several of the following:

Said one oyster to another
In tones of pure delight,
“I will meet you in the kitchen,
And we’ll both get stewed tonight.”
C.J. Espy (Uncle Cecil)

Q.  What do you get when you X-ray an oyster?
A.  Basic black and pearls.

Oh me, Oh my, What shall I do”
Asked the oyster of its mother.
Yesterday I was just a girl but
Since I slept, I am her brother.

There’s no sense in your complaining
I haven’t the time to bother;
You’re not the only changeling here
Since I have just become your father.
Florence M. Pratt

And my all-time favorite:
I do not roister with an oyster
I like my bed dry.
An oyster moister.
Willard R. Espy (Wede)