The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made, Book-wise!

Nov 29, 2023 | 2 comments

As much as it pains me to admit it, I am still trying to recover from the biggest mistake I ever made.  Book-wise that is.  This was a mistake in judgment pure and simple.  My intentions were good but… we already know about that road to hell.  It all began in the 1990s when I was teaching several week-long Elderhostel classes each summer on the history of Oysterville.  My students — all adults who were probably, on average, ten years older than I was then, loved the classes and were interested in EVERYthing about Oysterville, oysters, and anything else related to our Peninsula.  They were eager for information but didn’t have the time to do deep research or get a full-sized book on any of the subjects they were curious about.  They just wanted some “down-and-dirty” basic information.

So… I conceived the idea of doing an ABC series — ABCs, in this case, standing for basic information, not for a cutesy children’s nursery book.  I began with C is for Cranberries, The A-B-Cs of Cranberries on the Long Beach Peninsula.  It was illustrated by my friend Gordon Schoewe and chock-full of factual information about the local cranberry industry — with as much quirky information thrown in as I could muster. (L … is for laws:  Two pieces of legislation have been written specifically for cranberries  FEDERAL-  Cranberries are considered an obligate wetlands plant and are, therefore, given congressional exemption for production on wetlands.  STATE – Growers on the Long Beach Peninsula may take sand from the beach to be used for sanding the bogs, a process which must be done when creating a new bog and every three or four years thereafter.)

I followed that up with I is for Indians, The A-B-Cs of the Chinook People in the lower Columbia River region. illustrated by Pat Fagerland.  Both she and I worked with the Chinook tribe to make sure we “got it right” and I’m pleased to say that the book is carried at the Chinook Tribal Office and Museum in Bay Center.  (C… is for Chinook: Chinook [chi – nook’] n.  Contrary to current usage, the ch in Chinook is given the hard ch pronunciation as in chin.  Only when used to mean a type of wind is the ch given the soft sound.)

P is for Papa Train, The A-B-Cs of the Long Beach Peninsula’s Narrow Gauge Railroad 1889-1930.) was illustrated by Scott Fagerland, then a 6th grader at Hilltop School in Ilwaco and is given credit on the back cover as an athlete, a musician and an artist. (G… is for gandy dancer — a laborer in a railroad section gang.)

O is for Oysterville, The A-B-Cs of Shoalwater Bay’s Oldest Community.  (H is for… hotels.  During Court Week there was dances twice a week.  Court didn’t last over a week at the outside.  Both hotels would be full and anybody who had rooms to spare would have a chance to rent them ot, too.  People who was workimg in oysters would stay at the hotels, the year around.  In them days, why people who come to the beach on holidays, they would usually bring their tent and stay for three months at Ocean Park and LongBeach. A 1947 reminiscence by Dewitt Stoner Oysterville Resident 1884-1955.)

And maybe my favorite is K is for Kidnapping the County Seat, the A-B-Cs of Early Government in Pacific County, WA illustrated by Pat Fagerland with historical research by Larry Weathers.  (B is for… before.  Beginnings: Oregon Territory, 1848; Pacific County, 1851; Washington Territory – 1853; Washington State – 1889.)

No matter how much explaining I have done over the last twenty-five years, booksellers continue to place these books in the young children’s section.  Parents and grandparents take one look and realize that they would not be of interest to a three- or four-year-old, but it seldom occurs to them that adults — especially visitors or those new to the area — might find them highly informative and a quick way to get a historic overview of our area.

I will be selling them at the Book Fair on Saturday along with others of my 17 books that are currently in print.  Hope to see you then!


  1. Tristan Miller

    I’m not really sure what you see as the mistake here—I hope it wasn’t the idea for the alphabetically titled series itself, which sounds wonderful. Could the booksellers’ tendency to mis-shelve the books be down more to the cover designs than the titles? The four covers you’ve reproduced here use fonts patterned after hand-printed lettering, which (deservedly or not) have become closely associated with comic books and children’s literature. Perhaps the books would get better placement if the covers were redesigned with somewhat stodgier typefaces?

    • sydney

      I believe it’s the title that flummoxes the booksellers, though I don’t really know. My husband and I owned a bookstore for years and they sold well there but we marketed them in ways that made it clear what their purpose was. They are very local books, so I was certainly able to have face-to-face contact with the book sellers but, for whatever reason, they have not sold well. On the other hand, when I give book talks and present those books as “down and dirty” information or “fact for dummies” they fly off he table! Go figure.
      I’m sure you are right about re-designing the covers, but at this point I’m just ridding myself of inventory. At almost 88, I’m not interested in continuing to schlepp books around… I’d rather continue to write and let the publishers handle that part!


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