My first visit to The Summer Land

They say we have different kinds of memory and we each have our specialties. I don’t recall what the kinds of memory are, but the concept fits my experience: I’ll recognize your face before your name; I only have to see a word once to spell it forever; and every time you ask me whether I live on Second Avenue or Second Street, I’ll need to look it up.

Also, I can’t quote a lyric to save anybody’s life. (Fortunately, the stakes are never that high.)

Back when I had to take required classes, history classes lifted a rock and revealed my worst squirmings of memory. History stuff. Past names and dates and factoids. (Eventually I discovered that I remember past stuff just fine when the topic interests me, say, uprisings in Ireland or famous earthquakes. But that’s another digression entirely.)

Anyway. After I made Carpinteria my new home town, I immediately sampled most of its locations and events, stores and restaurants, parks and (of course!) beaches. However, it took me more than a year to visit the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History, because. You know. History.

I was only steps inside the museum when I turned sheepish about my delay. The first exhibit informed me that there used to be natural gas just below the surface, hereabouts. Kids would pound holes in the ground and set the gas on fire to light ballgames after sunset.

Which gave me a rush and a chill. That’s the opening of a novel.

Another few steps into the museum, I learned about the oddball bedfellows who had launched the town next door. Summerland was founded as a colony for spiritualists, and may have been named for the Summer Land, which – according to some spiritualists – is the place we initially go after death. No sooner had the spiritualist colony formed, however, than gas and oil got discovered and speculators swarmed in. What a combination! Note to self, there’s the setting.

(It was a single individual who welcomed both spiritualists and oil speculators to Summerland. Henry Lafayette Williams. A man with a complex world view. More on him, soon.)

When I left the museum, I set my discoveries aside, with all the other shards of ideas that might someday build themselves into something. The image of that gaslit ground did keep poking at me, though.

Some people say that coincidences aren’t.

Not long after, as serendipity would have it, I went for a walk in a sweatshirt from the elementary school my kids had attended, some 25 years and 800 miles away. The sweatshirt caused a woman to stop and chat. She used to teach at that school and now took classes at a place called Pacifica Graduate Institute. I recognized the name because writer friends had recently recommended dream tending there.

I began attending workshops on dream tending, which led me to take a tour of Pacifica’s research archives, OPUS. Among OPUS collections are the books of Henry Barnes, a 19th century judge who became interested in the spiritualism movement after the sudden untimely death of his wife. It turns out that in the 1800s, many intellectuals and professionals were spiritualists.

The rush-and-chill returned. Same novel. Barnes collection plus gaslit ground.

And the next thing I knew, I was spending hours in the back rooms of the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History and the OPUS Archives, marvelling at 19th century life, locally, and spiritualist ponderings, globally. So many fascinating aspects to the local history and the global movement. In posts to come, I’m looking forward to sharing some of what I learned.

As serendipity or impatience would have it, I didn’t do on-site reading of the archive materials, I took phone photos to read later. The pandemic gave me plenty of time to catch up on that reading, and to write most of the rough draft of the novel that first snagged my attention at the museum.

I’ve written ten other novels, and the writing experience has been different each time. “Writing” this novel, I wasn’t quite taking dictation, but the characters kept making all the big decisions, even when I initially disagreed.

I’m proud and excited about the result, The Summer Land, an historical drama from a supernatural time. I hope you’ll give it a try! I’ll be trickling copies out, on line and in stores, over the next couple months. Right now you can check it out on Amazon.