Archive for the ‘The Writing Process’ Category

The Hardest Part…

Thursday, September 28th, 2023

Bethenia Owens-Adair — Teacher or Doctor?

I really am having so much fun researching these “Saints or Sinners” stories!  And, every once in a while, a reader tells me how much they are enjoying them and that makes it even better.  And then just today, when I called Pete Heckes with a question about the name of the slough near the Moby Dick — it’s “Paul’s Slough” — he straightened me out on few errors in my story about Peter Jordan — you know, the guy who was so badly hurt when he and a buddy overloaded the cannon they had in Oysterville in the olden days.  Blew it to smithereens. And very nearly themselves along with it.

Well, we got to talking, and when all was said and done, I never used the Paul’s Slough information as I intended and I turned in my story without it.  Oh well.  If I ever find a publisher for these gems, I hope I remember to fine tune a few things!

But finding the details of the stories isn’t the hardest part.  It’s finding the illustrations — preferably photographs of the characters I’m writing about.  When you get back to stories before 1900, it gets harder.  Today, I was looking for a picture of a man who died in 1877.  “Fat chance!” thought I!  After all, he’d come west in the 1830s and just how many photographers do you think might have been doing studio portraits around here over the next 40 years?

John Edmunds or John Pickernell?

However — wonder of wonders! — I found one!  Or at least it purports to be the very man I was looking for — on the Find a Grave site which, besides photographs, contains a storehouse of wonderful information.  Is it all true?  I think as true as any information that comes to us over the years.  The people I’ve met who gather information for Find a Grave seem diligent to a fault.

And while I’m at it, if you are a “Saints or Sinners” reader and have additional information for me, don’t be shy.  If I use the information and find that publisher, I promise I’ll give you full credit!

“Full Disclosure” …as they say.

Sunday, August 27th, 2023

After dinner last night, I put my feet up “for just a minute” fully intending to write my blog before bedtime.  End of story, almost.  I did surface long enough to turn off the lights (most of them) and go to bed, never giving a single thought to the blog title I had written earlier in the day.  It was a great title (I thought) and would immediately trigger whatever pearls of wisdom I had decided to share with my stalwart readers.

This morning, when I finally got back to my computer, there were those provocative words, “Full Disclosure.”  Unfortunately they didn’t provoke a single thought.  Damn!  But that’s the way it is these days now that I’m on the shady side of 87!  I don’t like to think that “I am losing it.”  Rather, I look at these little memory lapses as flashes of brilliance that were so amazing, they burned themselves out before I could fully grasp them.

And, if truth were told, I think I’ve always had those momentary blank spots — probably we all have them.  The difference now is undoubtedly one of frequency and duration.  Or maybe it’s that I’m now overly fond of some of my brilliant thoughts and losing the ability to share them is more annoying than it used to be.  Who knows?

I remember saying to Nyel (back in plummier days) when he was trying to remember something “important” to tell me just before bedtime — “If you think of it, don’t wake me up.  Tell me in the morning…”  I can’t remember now whether he did or didn’t.  I guess whatever it was, wasn’t all that crucial.  A lot like whatever I was going to “fully disclose.”

If she ever asks you, just say “Yes!”

Monday, August 14th, 2023

Dayle Olson, Interviewer Extraordinaire

I am sitting here all puffed up and rosy after hearing myself on the KMUN program “River Writers” being interviewed by Dayle Olson.  She is without a doubt THE best interviewer I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.  I say that because our half hour together (which was taped some time ago) was not only fun, but somehow made me sound pretty darned good.  I hope you can catch it somehow.  I think it’s the only time I’ve ever suggested that anyone listen to me!  I give full marks to moderator Dayle Olson who seemed to ask just the right questions in just the right order and had the perfect commentary to carry us along!

“Dear Medora”

We talked about how I began writing, about my “favorite” book, Dear Medora c. 2007, WSU Press), about what I’m working on now and my  plans for the near future.   I was even given an opportunity to read one of my “Saints or Sinners?” stories, now running weekly in the Chinook Observer.

We taped the show about a month ago and, in addition to my writing experiences, Dayle asked me about the upcoming (September 6th!) History Forum that I am helping to organize.  I was so very pleased to have an opportunity to talk about our plans — some of which are still evolving. Basically, it will be a First-Wednesday-of-the-Month (Sept. thru May) gathering of people interested in the history of Pacific County and SW Washington.

Oysterville Schoolhouse

We will devote each gathering to a general topic — “How We Got Here?” in September — have a few speakers to get us started, and then open it up for comments, questions, new information etc.  There will be no charge (except a donation basket toward upkeep of the historic schoolhouse) and we’ll fine-tune as we go.  I do hope some of the many folks who have responded to my blog over the years with history questions or information of their own will attend.

And, I hope you can find my half hour with Dayle Olson on the KMUN River Writer’s program!  Perhaps Dayle will weigh in and tell us all how to find it now that it is archived and available for re-listening.

From a book that never came to be…

Tuesday, June 13th, 2023

Willard Espy, circa 1940

I ran across a fat folder of typewritten pages — some apparently in order, some definitely missing, and all with crossed out sentences and margin notes in my Uncle Willard’s handwriting.  I believe that they are part of one (or more) drafts about his growing up years in Oysterville during the teens and twenties of the last century.  His working title: “Past Perfect.”

I’ve read other versions and probably this one, too, and am always saddened that he never finished the book.  More than that, I miss listening to him and my mother and their brother Ed, reminiscing around our library fire.  I wish I could take my own readers back to the 1940s and ’50s with me so we could listen together.  But for now, I’ll quote a few paragraphs from these old, delightful pages and hope you’ll catch some of the magic, too.

Mona at 7 or 8 — 1911

Because my sister Suzita is dead, it is significant to me that at eight she spat into pop’s boot, and was condignly spanked.  Because my sister Mona is dead, it is part of me that at the age of three she slept with her hands over her ears “to keep the dreams out.”  I like Suzita for wearying of her chores:  “Please, God,” she prayed, “send me four legs and a wing.”  I like her for empathizing with the Almighty, whose white robes she considered impractical; “Dear Santa,” she wrote, “please send God a pair of coveralls for Christmas.”

But how am I to find significance in the anecdotes shared by my brother Ed, my sister Dale, and myself, all still very much alive  Ed, before he could walk, crawled daily to the pigpen, where he would press is face against the chicken wire and grunt.  What communication am I to infer from that?

Edwin Espy, 1915

When the Espys took a steamer from Astoria to San Francisco in 1915 to attend the World’s Fair, Ed, then six, watched the exciting bustle on the lower deck, and asked wistfully, “Can’t we pay extra and go steerage?”…

There must be a moral, too, in the absoluteness of Ed’s childhood honesty.  Sent to count the cows, he returned with a total of twenty-four and a half.  “Why not twenty-five?” asked pop.  “Daisy was behind a huckleberry bush,” replied Ed.

Dale, two years eleven months

Dale was a curly-haired, great-eyed, towhead whose hair grew darker as she approached adolescence. As the youngest, and a girl at that, she was subject to sore trials.  Her curls were ordinarily covered by a woolen cap and since all three of us wore overalls or coveralls except on dress-up occasions, there were times when her femininity did not instantly appear.  When a visitor exclaimed, “Three fine little boys!” Dale objected:  “I am not a little boy,” she said; “I am a little girl.”

In fact she was the only little girl in town, and none of the thirteen little boys would demean himself by playing with her in public.  One of our principle diversions was to try to hide where Dale could not find us; in our effort to escape her we even created a private club room in the dead heart of an enormous gorse bush.  But she always managed to hunt us down.

I wonder if present day five and six-year-olds will have as wonderful memories of these days fifty years hence.

Willard, Edwin, Dale in 1916





Wow! Really? Karl Marlantes??

Sunday, March 26th, 2023

Karl Marlantes,

If you read Deep River, you know who Karl Marlantes is.  If you didn’t,  stop reading this and get back to it AFTER you’ve read (preferably) Deep River (2019) which is about our area or, perhaps, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (2010) which is the recipient of many awards and was on the NYT Best Seller List for 17 weeks.

Today I had the very great pleasure of meeting the author and of actually sharing the Speaker’s Podium with him at the Pacific County Historical Society’s Annual Meeting.  What an honor and pleasure!

Actually… “sharing” probably gives the wrong impression.  The publicity said “Featuring” Karl Marlantes and Sydney Stevens.  And there wasn’t actually a podium.   Just a stool — which was too high for me to hoist my tush onto!   And we didn’t “share” either.  I went first (standing) —  sorta like a warm-up band; Karl went second, sitting comfortably (or so it seemed) and felt like the main attraction, at least to me.

I loved Deep River and felt (unabashedly) like a groupie when I went up and introduced myself to him before the luncheon.  And then, during his talk about his writing process when he referenced several of the points I had made in my own talk earlier… I, of course, fell in love!

Seriously, the whole afternoon was a pleasure!  It was an SRO crowd but, amazingly, I knew a goodly number of the folks there.  I felt that my stories were well received and that they dovetailed well with Mr. Marlantes remarks — never mind that we had never met or conferred.

Next Year….Oysterville Schoolhouse?

“And next year,” says PCHS Prez Steve Rogers, “the  Annual Meeting” will be in Oysterville!”  Stay tuned.

On Being Politically Correct… Or Not

Thursday, March 23rd, 2023

Gathering Oysters In “The Olden Days”

I guess it’s a given these days that historical research is automatically on a collision course with political correctness.  As I see it, though, you can’t have it both ways.  If you are trying for historical accuracy, I don’t see any way to be PC in “reporting” what you find out.  Even though my present project is mostly focussed on re-telling some of the wonderful stories about our past, I’m pretty sure I’ll run up against a sticky wicket or two.


And then I wonder if I will get any blowback from those who would sooner erase our history than face up to the facts of how we were — of what we said or of how we behaved.  I don’t really expect that all my readers will enjoy my stories with historical perspective in mind or will rejoice that change is gradually taking place.

I thought about that a lot today as I was writing about “Old Cripple Johnson” — a beloved Oysterville character of my mother’s childhood.  His given name was George and he was crippled and there were extenuating circumstances.  Will modern readers “get” that he was beloved by the entire community and the feeling was reciprocal?

Clamming In The Days When Commercial Diggers Averaged 500 lbs. per tide

Perhaps it will help that I’m telling stories often through the eyes of people who witnessed the experience.  In my mind, using their words (no matter how non-PC they have become) gives us in the here-and-now an opportunity to understand a different point of view — one developed within a context almost completely unexperienced by most of us.

Still… I think about all that as I look for 150-year-old “facts”  to corroborate the stories I am telling or re-telling.  There is no doubt that sensibilities were different in the 1800s than they are today.  Can I honor the past without offending the present?  I hope so.

I love the old stories just as I love these old photographs.  I do so hope my readers will love them, too.  And I hope they’ll give me some feedback along the way.  (You’ll see a story each week in the Observer. So far there have been three.)






What a great title, Jim Tweedie!

Thursday, March 2nd, 2023

You know, there are some things about this aging process that don’t bear thinking about.  Like the wonky ways of one’s memory.

Some years ago, Jim Tweedie asked me if I’d be willing to read a draft of his first book and, perhaps, write a foreword for it.  I remember both the reading and the writing very well — that I did those things, I mean.  But, when I ran across a pile of “new” books the other day with Jim’s (apparently) unopened book among them — Long Beach Short Stories: Possibly Untrue Tales from the Pacific Northwest — I had no memory of ever having read it.  None.

The cover looked vaguely familiar and I had a glimmer that Jim had handed it to me at a Vespers service a year or more before Covid shut us down.  Tucked between the first few pages was a note — also seemingly pristine and unread.  It was dated January 20, 2017 and began, “It suddenly occurred to me that I had not sent you a copy of my book — so here it is.”  The date made me wonder if my Vespers memory was right…

And there, right after the Table of Contents was a Foreword by Sydney Stevens dated “Oysterville, 2016.”  So… part of my memory is correct and I began to relax a little.  But as I started reading… not so much.  So far, I’ve read nine of the fourteen stories and, though it’s scary to admit, I don’t recognize a single one of them.  Not a plot.  Not a character.  Nada.

I took a break and re-read my Foreword.  In it, among other things I wrote, “I found his stories to be beguiling, enchanting, and challenging in ways I did not expect.”  That’s still absolutely true.  But where did the memory of them go after I read them?  And how did the Foreword disappear the same way?

James “Jim” A. Tweedie

I can’t decide if I owe Jim an apology for waiting so long to read his finished book and for completely forgetting its contents over the past seven years.   Or do I owe him a thank-you for writing a book that has obviously delighted me at least twice?

I’m going with the latter.  Thank you, Jim!  (And did I tell you, I love the title?)


So now that January is almost over…

Friday, January 27th, 2023

“If January is the month of change, February is the month of lasting change. January is for dreamers… February is for doers.” — Marc Parent. “ …

I’m not sure who Marc Parent is, or more to the point, which Marc Parent I have quoted here.  There are several Marc Parents listed on Google and I’m inclined to go with “Marc Parent, author of Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk.  But, whoever the Mr. Parent is who said the “February is for doers,” he gets my vote of approval.

February is my birth month and I think being “a doer” is as apt a description of me as most others might be.  I like to get things done.  The old teacher adage, “Plan your work and work your plan” are the words I’d like to live by.

And I have lots of plans for February, you betcha!  First and foremost is to continue making progress on my new book — at least enough to see if it has merit or not.  Second, to begin exploring a new series for the Chinook Observer.  And third, to get that pesky income tax stuff ready for my accountant.

Each of those sounds like a project of many months in itself.  But, as I remind myself now and again — I’m retired.  There’s really nothing I HAVE to do so there’s not much reason not to accomplish what I WANT to do.

And then there’s the chimney…



In my eyes as the beholder? Fun! Fun! Fun!

Friday, January 13th, 2023

Yesterday, at last, I dove into my new book — or at least I’m hoping that it will come together in book form eventually, as planned.  The subject?  People! Working title:  “Saints or Sinners?”

Some of my subjects I’ve known (and some of those all too well) and many I’ve become acquainted with only through reputation.  Some were (or are) movers and shakers in their day; some might have been the opposite.  All were personalities of the first order and their stories should make for entertaining reading.  They definitely make for engrossing writing!

And those are about the only hints I’m willing to give just yet.  Because, like so many grand schemes and ideas, this one could easily go bust.  I will say this, though:  I’m not confining my subjects to the denizens of Oysterville or even to the Peninsula — not yet.    Never mind if they’ve been written about before — gathering bits and pieces of information, putting stories in  new contexts, adding tales that were never told in print form — that’s the challenge.  And, if you have a favorite local character — historic or otherwise — that you think would make a good subject, send me an email and let’s “talk.”

Bottom line, of course, is how successful I am at researching the facts, corroborating the stories and, if possible, finding appropriate pictures.  Oh, yes!  And then writing something at once compelling and entertaining.  We’ll see…

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-