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.


Read Local (A proposal)

On Nov 12, 2018, I held a meeting to start a Read Local movement in our area.  About a dozen folks attended. I’ve annotated this post, and edited the ideas at bottom, to reflect discussion at the meeting. My original post is in black text, post-meeting edits in red.


Dear writers of Santa Barbara County (and thereabouts),

Last year I moved to Carpinteria and discovered that my neighbors include a great variety of interesting and talented writers. Too few people know this. I’d like to change that.

Many of you feel similarly and quite a few have already organized your own groups to build community among local writers. Let’s get your efforts more widely known, then grow them by developing a Read Local movement.

Purpose: To increase the visibility and value of local writers by sharing our art and entertainment within our communities.

Important: This group does not exist to promote or sell individual writers, but instead to connect writers with their neighbors; to make people aware of, proud of all our local talent. (Indirectly, of course, this can help individuals…) Well, some of our group do want promotional events. Some don’t. I think the solution is to have each kind of activity, but keep them separate.

Mantra(s): Whatever we wind up doing, it needs to be open and friendly, supportive and fun, honest and transparent, sustainable and consistent. Also, we share the workload or we don’t do it.

Models: We wouldn’t be the first such group. For example…

Next Steps:  We’ll next be meeting in small groups to finalize group mission, purpose, priorities, and scope, then plan and launch the activities that interest the most people. Everything about this proposal is still on the table, open to change. If you missed the first meeting we can catch you up!

If you want to stay informed about our Read Local, make sure I have your email. (If you leave a comment on this blog I will automatically get your email.)

Possible Activities: There are so many ways to take Read Local. Below is a starter set of ideas with simplest at top. (If you have other ideas, we want to hear them!) As you go down the list, the ideas take more resources (people, time, money). (I’ve included my guesstimates on resources.)

To make Read Local sustainable, we need to start small then grow only when enough people commit to tackling new efforts.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Finalize name, regional scope, and purpose/mission for this group. 

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One time, revisit every couple years.

How many people to be sustainable?: I volunteer to lead the effort but welcome help, input and buy-in from as many as possible.

Set-up efforts and costs: 1-3 meetings, 90 minutes each.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Create a Read Local brand, logo, book sticker. 

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One time to create. Sticker printing will recur.

How many people to be sustainable?: 1-2. 

Set-up efforts and costs: $2k-ish.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Find out what writers’ groups and kindred efforts already exist. List them. Learn their history, experience, words of wisdom. Over time, help to network them and broadcast them.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing curation of the information.

How many people to be sustainable?: 1-3

Set-up efforts and costs: Canvas local groups, compile the results.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Maintain a Mailchimp database of emails to stay in contact with local writers and those interested in us. Write and send emails sometimes. Make sure recipients are only getting the emails they want to get (ex only send promotional emails to people who want them). Update email addresses as needed.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-3

Set-up efforts and costs: Learn Mailchimp. Input existing emails. Put emails in groups according to interests (ex, writer? reader? wants to hear about author promotions?)

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Live readings modeled after Out Loud Santa Barbara. Solicit then select submissions to feature 10 varied writers per reading, arrange venue and publicity.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Occasional. Every 2 months, opposite Out Loud schedule?

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-3

Set-up efforts and costs: Purchase (then store and schlep) sound system, advertise for submissions, read and select (fairly! transparently!) submissions, publicize event.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Add bells and whistles to the live readings. Record the readings then post them? Let the performers sell books for cash-only? … Eventually add credit-card sales? Involve local TV?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Occasional.

How many people to be sustainable?: 3-5 + treasurer

Set-up efforts and costs: Depends. For recording: equipment? For sales: bookkeeping, bank account, credit card reader and app.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Write and email a newsletter. Include free excerpts of local writing. (Can recycle this content for web page or columns, see below…) Solicit contributions, monitor them to uphold group purpose.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: occasional — monthly? quarterly? annually?

 How many people to be sustainable?: 2-3 with contributions from many

Set-up efforts and costs: time to do writing and maintain consistent, engaging presence

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Provide free excerpts and short pieces of our writing, as well as blurbs about our writers. On a website/blog? In a newsletter? Maybe in a column in the Coastal View News?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: regular, on-going, once a week or once a month.

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4 with contributions from many

Set-up efforts and costs: time to gather writing and distribute it.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Publish an anthology of our writing. In print and as an ebook.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One time or very occasional.

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4 with contributions from many

Set-up efforts and costs: time to gather writing, format, edit. Cost of publishing (depending on length, about $5/paperback via Amazon’s print on demand services.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Create and maintain internet presence Web page/blog? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus? This would include upcoming events, author info, free excerpts. Would likely have one set of content then link or copy to the other social media. Would have to monitor to uphold group purpose.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4

Set-up efforts and costs: time to do writing and maintain consistent, engaging presence

 ===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Build, steward, and contribute to Little Free Library stands.  There are about 2 dozen stands in south SB County. If we want to add our books we should be good custodians of the system. Investigate coordinating with the littlefreelibrary organization? Maybe Carp Arts Center would fund and host a stand that features local authors? Maybe the books by Read Local authors could have a Read Local sticker?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4 with book donations from many authors.

Set-up efforts and costs: $… $$??

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Fun freebie events such as geocache treasure hunts with giveaway books as prizes; special themed events (ex a family reunion contest plus a showcase of local memoirs).

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One-time.

How many people to be sustainable?: Each event needs 2 people.

Set-up efforts and costs: Wildly varied. Will always need publicity and freebies and venues.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Pop-up bookstore. How might we include ebook sales?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Occasional

How many people to be sustainable?: 3-4 + treasurer. Credit card sales require bookkeeping and bank account.

Set-up efforts and costs: Venue, publicity, signage. Solicit books and materials for sale. Permits and permissions. Book and equipment schlepping, set-up, take-down.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Annual Writers’ Fair like the spring 2017 event in Carpinteria. Add credit-card sales (which requires bookkeeping and bank account).

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Once a year but takes effort for at least half the year.

How many people to be sustainable?: 4-6 + treasurer

Set-up efforts and costs: venue, publicity (digital and hard copy), tables and chairs, sound system, planning, schlepping, credit card sales?

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Become a non-profit or not-for-profit. Set up a leadership group? Appoint a treasurer? Open a bank account? Go after grants and other funding opportunities for our events and their marketing?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing.

How many people to be sustainable?: 3-5?

Set-up efforts and costs: Considerable? Lengthy?

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Have a table at local farmers’ markets. Sell books of local authors. Provide handouts that include excerpts, newsletter copies, links. Transparent bookkeeping. Establish a rule: If you want us to sell your books at a table, you need to volunteer to man the table and for every X hours that you volunteer, you get to sell your books Y days…

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One or more days per week?!

How many people to be sustainable?: 6-8 + treasurer.

Set-up efforts and costs: Schlep and store table, books, signs, printed materials. Handle money. Requires bookkeeping and bank account.