Archive for the ‘The Writing Process’ Category

One of the most gratifying things…

Thursday, October 7th, 2021

Medora, 1914

On May 17, 1914, my fifteen-year-old aunt Medora Espy wrote to her parents in Oysterville from her boarding school in Portland, Oregon: Thursday the girls and I went to see “Tess  O’ the Storm Country” at the Peoples.  It was very good – a five reel film with Mary Pickford starring.  She is adorable.  I wept through the whole performance but it can’t be helped. 

The letter, along with many others to family and friends, as well as her diary entries until the very eve of her death on Tuesday, January 18, 1916, were the basis for my book, Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years, published in 2007 by WSU Press.  Yesterday, more than one hundred years after her short life ended, I received an email from an Assistant Professor in Film & Media History at the School of Film, Media and Theater at Georgia State University — a woman with the intriguing name, Doana Anselmo Sequeira.  She is embarked on a most interesting project —  a book on moviegoing girls in the 1910s.

Washington State University Press, 2007

She is interested in Medora — especially in Medora’s interest in films.   The original materials upon which I based the book . are located in Tacoma at the Washington State Historical Society’s Research Facility.  Ms. Sequeira writes that she has been perusing those documents and says:  [I] would like to include a photo of Medora in my forthcoming book and another article, both using her diaries and correspondence to illustrate how girls growing up in the US at that time engaged with the pictures. Would you allow me to include one Medora’s photos you’ve published in your website? 

Yes!  Of course!  I can’t say how pleased I am that someone “out there” has found Medora and values the implications her experiences and thoughts might have for the here and now!  Once again, I’m so glad my grandmother was a saver and that the family encouraged me in writing the book! Perhaps the years Medora lived in Oysterville will not be completely forgotten after all.

Due Diligence with Capital D’s

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

Cover Design by Mark Nero

The 12″x 12″x 5½” box arrived by priority mail day before yesterday.  It was heavy — $21.90 worth of heavy — and mailed from Seattle by Marilyn Nero.  Perhaps you remember her?  She and her husband Mark Nero ran the Cranberry Press which had an Oysterville address but was physically located in the 1990s in Ocean Park — in the  area where Anita’s Coastal Cafe has been in recent years.

The Cranberry Press was an elegant operation.  They did small, specialty press runs and my uncle Willard had them publish his book Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay (illustrated by Nancy Lloyd) in 1998, the year before he died.  The book design and typography were by Mark, himself.  His expertise in those areas are part of what made Cranberry Press special.

Original Cover Design on Printmaking Stone

Sometime in the early 2000’s, Mark and Marilyn moved — to Arizona, I think.   Some years later, Mark wrote and asked if Nyel and I would like to purchase (at wholesale) the remaining copies of the book.  Even though we no longer had the Bookvendor, we did buy the copies.  Several years after that Mark sent a package of still more of the books– this time no charge.  He said he was going out of business.

Last February (2020), I received another message concerning Skulduggery — this time from Marilyn Nero.  She said that Mark had passed away several years previously and she was closing up the studio.  Did I want “a collection of paperwork and original correspondence regarding the publication in 1998 of Willard Espy’s book, Skulduggery?”  She said she’d send it when the weather warmed up and that she was moving to Seattle…

Detail from Original Skulduggery Cover Art

I am so grateful for Marilyn’s diligence in returning these materials to me.  Willard’s original, typewritten manuscript, corrections and commentary on correspondece from both Louise and Willard, plus the cover design on lithographic limestone (I think) were included in the package.  Plus a few more copies of  the book.

I will be taking them up to the Washington Historical Society Research Center to be added to Willard’s section of the Espy Family Archive.  Maybe when the weather warms up a bit…

Not quite a “sea” of blue… perhaps a pond?

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

I don’t know about other authors, but the day I dread most in the book-writing process has arrived — the first edits by the copy editor for my “approval” — or not. Perhaps it works differently with a mainstream publisher but with History Press I have had a new copy editor with each book I’ve done for them.  I believe this is the eighth book and eighth copy editor.  Which means starting from square one each time.

For instance — hearing that the History Press policy frowns on “sidebars” and having to explain that I am known for sidebars, that it’s an important part of how I deliever ancillary historic information etc. etc. gets my dander up from the get-go.  Always in the past the copy editor has capitualated but I still must engage them in the discussion and hope that my reasoning is accepted.  Otherwise… Actually, I can’t wrap my mind around the “otherwise.”  A complete re-write?

Then there are the terminology issues — copy editors never like it that I capitalize Peninsula when referring to the North Beach (or Long Beach) Peninsula.  I do it, as does our venerated local newspaper, to differentiate it from the many other peninsulas along our watery coast.  That issue always reminds me of an ongoing discussion that Willard had with a NYT editor about the Long Beach Peninsula NOT being part of the Olympic Peninsula.  It took almost a year, as I recall, for him to win that argument.  “East Coasters can be very parochial in their attitudes,” he said.

References to “the weatherbeach” or  “weather beach” are often difficult for copy editors, too.  Although it’s a term that is not heard much nowadays, it was certainly in common usage historically.  And, these are books about history to be published by the History Press.  Go figure.

Not that I don’t make my fair share of errors well beyond typos and spellcheck glitches.  But usually, my word choice and my manner of presentation has been carefully thought out and I get prickly when copy editors change my pearls of thought.  Fortunately for me, this copy editor has said in his note accompanying his changes:   I was very careful during my review of the text to maintain the original voice and wording as much as possible, and my efforts are simply to present the material in a readable and entertaining way for the reader.  We can but hope.

April 2021 Calendar

My comments/adjustments/explanations are due back to him by April 8th.  Turnaround time is always tight — especially if you have a life.  Or a doctor’s appointment.  A week seems short for the consideration of possible changes to a 45,000 word manuscript.  His concerns are noted in blue.  I took a quick look — maybe not a sea of blue, but definitely more than a puddle.  Oh my!

On the other hand, the publishing date for Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula has been moved up from June 23rd to June 21st — unless that’s a typo.  You never know…

My new Observer series — coming soon!

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

In The Works

I’ve recently completed the first article in my new “Doctoring in Early Pacific County” series for the Chinook Observer.  Watch for it!

Like my last series about Pioneer Schools, the doctoring series has been prompted by some of our major concerns during the pandemic.  It seemed to me that as we began to break new ground with virtual schooling at all educational levels, it might be interesting to look at how far we’ve come (or perhaps not) education-wise in the last 170 years here on the Western Edge.  It was great fun to research and write about the one-room-schools, the valiant teachers who taught in them, and the obstacles that our forebears overcame to get an education.  I hope readers got as much enjoyment from reading the articles as I did in writing them.

Image from the Internet

The doctoring series is even more interesting in some ways, perhaps because there have been such strides in medicine during that same 170-year time period.  It’s hard to believe that many of the diagnostic tools such as X-rays and medicines such as penicillin didn’t come into use for generations after our pioneer ancestors were carving out their homes in this wilderness of early Pacific County.  And yet, they endured and recovered from many an illness or accident without benefit of “modern medicine” or hospitals or even doctors.

The Sou’wester

I’m so grateful that our forebears sometimes wrote of their “doctoring” experiences and that the Pacific County Historical Society’s quarterly magazine, the Sou’wester, has published these accounts over the years.  As you might expect, however, the most difficult part of my research, so far, is finding illustrations.  Schoolhouses were easy.  Sick rooms… not so much.



Suddenly, up came my name over and over.

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

My Byline but Not My Writing

Disconcerting and frustrating don’t begin to express it.  This morning I was searching Google for articles by Frank Turner in the old Ilwaco Tribune  and up popped a site called “Muck Rack” with excerpts from article after article by  “Sydney Stevens.”  The problem:  some were by me; some were not.   The ones that were by me seemed to come from the Chinook Observer.  Most were from series I have written during the past few years.  But several that I saw (and I have not yet done an extensive search) are purportedly by someone with the same name and written for a site called  I haven’t checked it out yet.

No, thank you.

But I have taken a look at this “Muck Rack” site.   The home page says: “The all-in-one PR software you’ve been waiting for — A centralized Public Relations Management (PRM) platform to help your team build media relationships, collaborate from anywhere, and measure success.”   And it offers a “Demo.” So I guess it’s some sort of advertisement or “opportunity,” though it doesn’t say so.  And I’m not sure how it targets me, in particular — maybe just because i’m doing the Google search.  Another cyberspace mystery — and not in a good way.

Presumably you can let the site owners know of problems but, try as I might, I could not access them through their little box which gives problem choices (none that fit) to check.  I checked several, anyway, but it appears that the process is an example only — doesn’t go anywhere, so there is no recourse.

Badgers??? Not written by me…

The more I think about it, the more I conclude that it’s a site that can help you find articles by a certain author if he/she has been published on the internet.  I wish the screen that popped up had shown articles by Frank Turner rather than by me and other people named Sydney Stevens.  I might have been interested in exploring further.

I can’t decide if the site presents a good opportunity or not.  If I follow-through enough to find out, I’ll probably be inundated with email messages etc.  from them.  (Ms. Skeptical) Or, be sucked to spending money for something that doesn’t work. (Ms. Frugal) If any readers have used it, I hope they let me know.  (Ms Hopeful)  Also, the name is a bit-off-putting.  Too similar to muckrake which to this author, does not have good connotations at all.  Boo!  Hiss!

A new perspective on history?

Tuesday, January 19th, 2021

How many facts?

“Ah well, I reflect as I brew the coffee, I might as well try to enjoy my errors since I make so many of them…”  Sylvia Ashton Warner again.  I wish it was one her bits of wisdom that I had absorbed long ago.  I’m hoping it’s one of those never-too-late things.

Probably, like everyone else, there are some mistakes that don’t bother me, no matter if it’s I or someone else who is making them.  But I have an especially hard time with factual errors involving history.  I hate it when I write something and am found to be wrong about a date or a name or a circumstance.  Once it’s “out there” it’s hard to take it back, hard to correct. no matter who was mistaken or when the error first appeared.

I’ve spent many an angst-filled hour, for instance, trying to correct the historic record regarding my great-grandfather Espy’s role in the founding of Oysterville.  I have his own words in a diary to corroborate his claim that an Indian named Old Klickeas told him where to find “more oysters than the Bruce Boys ever thought of.”   Not Nahcotti as so many have claimed.  It was Old Klickeas, not Nahcotti,  who met Espy and his friend Clark here on the bayshore.  Espy said so, himself, and even his grandson, my venerable Uncle Willard,  got it wrong.

How many errors?

But, try as I might, I cannot correct the record — I cannot expunge all of the references to Nahcotti being “the one.”  Once written, once published, once copied, once on the internet — multiplied a gazillion times, the error persists forever.  I hate that.  And yet, as new information is uncovered, the errors multiply.  It’s just the way it is.  Lost documents are found and clarify a date or a name or a place.  A first hand account — a diary or a letter, perhaps, can update or even change one’s perspective on history.  But changing the historic record is another matter. It is the most frustrating part of trying to write (or tell) about the past.  It’s why it’s probably best to claim to be a storyteller — not a historian.

However… “try to enjoy my errors?”  That’s probably an impossibly quantum leap for me.  Maybe I could just be more forgiving of myself.  And of others… especially of others.



Jumping Up & Down & Clapping & Cheering!

Tuesday, October 13th, 2020

Maggie, 1962

The very best thing EVER (besides good news for yourself) is good news for someone you care about and who deserves it more than you can possibly say.  And that would be what has just happened to our friend Maggie Stuckey!

First of all, you need to know that Maggie “has paid her dues.”  She left North Carolina in 1962  with a degree in English and has never looked back.  She headed for New York where she had a secretarial job waiting for her with a big publishing house.  Soon she was working as a copy editor, first for one publisher, then another.

“I lived in New York City (Upper West Side) for ten years; best time of my life,” she says.  “The economy was very strong; if you got tired of your job, you could quit and walk across the street and get another one the same day.”

In 1970, she moved to Los Angeles, “for what turned out be three very insignificant years,” she says.  “Then, in 1973 I fell in love and moved to Portland; today the boyfriend is gone, but I’m still here.”

About that time, she began writing — for other people as a ghost writer and for herself.  She’s written books about gardening and books about food.  Like us, you may even have her Soup Night on your kitchen shelf.

Last Spring, as we were all getting used to The Sheltering Times, Maggie came up with a new book idea.  She pitched it to her agent; her agent, Heather, contacted a few publishers and on October 3rd she wrote:  “This past week, things started popping. Two, then three, then four of the editors who received the proposal from my agent asked for a phone visit with me.  Four!  Wow…”

The upshot:  all were interested and so Maggie’s agent planned an auction for the publishing rights.  Maggie:  “Those calls happened last Tuesday and the day before, and that is undoubtedly the last of them. Because now we move on to the next phase.  Which is that Heather plans to check in with each of those four on Monday, to try to tease out just how serious is their interest. She has already made it clear that she intends to “close out” everything by the first of the week because she is planning an auction for Thursday or Friday.  An auction!  Holy s**t! I’ve never been in that position before…  Keep your fingers crossed for me.”

Smiling Maggie!

We did.  And yesterday she wrote:  “My new book is going to be published by a unit of Harper Collins. The financial terms are astonishing (the advance is almost three times more than the highest advance I ever received), and I really really like the publisher (the human being, not the company; well, I like the company too).  Pub date set for March 2022, delivery date March 2021 – both approximate.  In the final analysis, the 4-way auction dropped down to only two serious bidders, both Harper imprints. What an extraordinary experience for an author. I can’t stop smiling.”

Neither can we!



After nearly 40 years… vindication (of sorts)

Sunday, October 11th, 2020

On Territory Road Across from The ORF Meadow

Probably most everyone has had the experience of “knowing” an important truth but being unable to prove it.  But it’s not everyone who knows (but can’t prove) that they are right about something and who actually sees that “truth” become public knowledge.  Certainly not after almost 40 years!  And, certainly not about two separate situations in the same week.  But, that’s exactly what has happened to me.

First was the undeniable identity of the “Oysterville sign stealer” who was the one and only suspect by the Espy Company in a sign issue in the mid-eighties .  A large wooden “Property For Sale” sign in the Espy Meadow (now the ORF Meadow) kept being trashed — as in the four-by-four posts supporting it were sawed off in the night and the sign was gone.  It happened twice or maybe three times.  I have forgotten.

My folks were then living in this house and as members of the Espy family (and of the Espy Company) were “caretakers” of the family property that was gradually being sold.  They felt they knew who was responsible for the vandalism.  So did most people in Oysterville.  But you can’t prove gut feelings.  I so wish the folks were still alive to see the photos of the present-day sign thief — the very same person they suspected.

On the 1980 Publication of the Peninsula Primer

The second “vindication” came yesterday via the Chinook Observer’s FaceBook site.  In a series of photographs from past issues, up popped a December 1980 picture and article about Nancy Lloyd and me.  It concerned the publication of the Peninsula Primer which I wrote and Nancy illustrated all those years ago.

If I had remembered that article back in 2006 when I found that Nancy had listed the Primer as one of her earlier publications without mention of me and without mention that she was the illustrator (intimating that she had also written the book),.. I’d have saved myself a lot of angst.  And money.  Nancy, of course, did not remember that she only illustrated but hadn’t participated in writing the book. The copyright attorney I consulted said I might have a  “case” but only if Nancy and I had signed an agreement or a contract ahead of publication.

I don’t know if the clear description of our roles in that endeavor reported by the Observer in this little article would have sufficed.  But it surely would have gone a long way toward vindication — especially among some of our mutual friends who looked at me with decided skepticism when I mistakenly appealed to them for memories and support.  I soon dropped the subject.  But I never forgot.


A Footnote to Our Local History

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

Sealand-Nahcotta 1890s

Perhaps you read my article about Sealand in the July 23rd Chinook Observer.  If not, you should be able to read it by cutting and pasting this link:

It was the fifth story in my series, “Once Upon A Time in Early Pacific County” and it’s one I thoroughly enjoyed writing — perhaps because I had a bit of first-hand knowledge about Sealand “the town across the tracks.”  Although I was a generation too young to have known it personally, I grew up hearing my grandparents refer to it — always.  When it came to the town four miles south of Oysterville, they never spoke of Nahcotta.  Only of Sealand.

Dorothy at Graduation fron IHS, 1948

So, I can hardly express to you the pleasure I felt when I received a note the other day from my friend, Dorothy Trondsen Williams.  Dorothy grew up here on the Peninsula — in Ocean Park — and was the granddaughter of J.A.  Morehead who figured prominently in my Sealand article.  Some years ago, I had written about Dorothy’s growing up years in my series “North Beach Girls of the Teens and Twenties.”  I drew from some of her reminiscences for the recent Sealand story.

In her note to me she said:  I especially enjoyed the Sealand Morehead articles in the Observer recently and thought you might be interested in the fact that I recently obtained J.A. Morehead’s desk.  Daughter Barbara plans to laminate the stories and they will be stored in the desk in a cubby hole for future generations to enjoy.

I couldn’t be more pleased!



In retrospect…

Friday, September 4th, 2020

So, who to believe?  I’ve just finished reading The White Rose by Jan Westcott and am beginning The White Boar by Marian Palmer.  The first is the story of Edward IV of England and the second is about his successor, Richard III.  Both books were written in 1968 and are works of historical fiction.  Each presents opposing views of the kings and of the tumultous times which put them in power.  And, already, I feel biased.

My knowledge of that period of English history — the War of the Roses (1455-1485) — is a bit sketchy, at best, and comes mainly from Shakespeare’s four plays: Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III and Richard the III.  He wrote them in the early 1590s, about one hundred years after the actual events depicted.  My own impression has always been that Richard was the bad guy.  Reading The White Rose certainly did not disabuse me of that attitude.

Richard III

But now I find myself immersed in The White Boar which puts Richard III in a wholly different light.  Although I’ve just begun the book, I find him a sympathetic character, at least as a young man.  But, as I read further, I think it’s going to be difficult for me to fully become engaged in author Palmer’s viewpoint concerning Richard.

It occurs to me that it won’t be many years before the John Kennedy assassination will have happened 100 years in the past.  I wonder how playwrites and historical novelists will view that occurrence with all its conspiracy theories and conflicting  viewpoints.  Presumably, the contemporary documentation will be more available to writers than was such material about King Richard accessible to Shakespeare.

Trump Statue in Seattle, August 2016

And one hundred years from now, what will be written about our current president?  There should be no dearth of information — even plenty in his own words.  Unless, of course, we continue to purge our history as we seem to be doing in recent years.  Maybe all we’ll have left will be a few TV serials and twitter messages.  The mind boggles…