Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Olive Picking Party


Recently, Don and I attended an olive picking party on Olive Hill in Lake County, California.  People came from as far as Washington state, as wide as Marin County, and as close as Clearlake, to participate in this wondrous event. This is the third year we have participated in this event, where anyone's payment is a bottle of olive oil pressed from the olives.  

If you ever plan on going to an olive picking party, you need to know there are two main methods to pick olives. The first is to position a large tarp below an olive tree, rake the olives from the trees so that they fall onto the tarp, roll the tarp, and then pour the large tube of olives into a bucket.  The second way is to pick the olives by hand and put them in a bucket with straps similar to a baby pouch so that your back is not compromised as the bucket fills with olives.  

Raking olives from the trees was faster, perhaps more efficient, but the sound of the rake against branches was abrasive and distracting.  Hand picking the olives and dropping them into the bucket was contemplative and easy on both the tree branches and human arms.  Hand picking invited conversation, raking required solitude.  Neither method of olive picking was better or worse, and which one you chose was a matter of personal taste. 

Don and I chose to hand pick the olives.  The conversation was good, our hands softened from the natural oil of the olives, and after a few hours we were pleasantly exhausted from the activity.  Later in the day, as we shared lunch with other olive pickers, I was reminded of the importance of community and the strength of helping out without expecting anything in return.  

On the writing front, I completed draft six of my novel and am now working on my synopsis.  Once I have my synopsis polished, I will work on my query letter.  Finally, I will start the query process again.  

I am also working on a short story or two, which I would like to submit to magazines.  Maybe I'll even write a spooky story about what really happens at an olive picking party.  

Happy writing all! 


Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Family Search Continues

After finding my grandfather's mother with an incorrect last name, and then finding her father, I was sure I could find any ancestor.  However, when it comes to my grandmother Hazel's father's ancestral line, I have come upon a dead end. Grandma's father was Charles E. Williams born 1892 in Gessie, Indiana.  When he was four years old, he was adopted out to William Spicer and his wife.  Census records show my great-grandfather was classified as a boarder and a roomer, yet his obituary reads that the Spicers treated him as one of their own. 

The story Grandma grew up with is that her grandparents were killed, which is why her own father was adopted out, but his adoption agreement tells a different story.  Charles' father signed the adoption papers, which said that he had the right to visit Charles and to remove him from the Spicer residence if he was mistreated. The adoption papers are signed by Samuel Williams and guardian Thomas J. (or I.)Hines before a Justice of the Peace, but nowhere in the document is Charles' mother mentioned, which means one of two things: (1) his mother had died or, (2) his mother was alive but not in the picture.  If it is the latter, then I can't help but to think a scandal might be involved. 
 
While I have Charles' life well documented from the time he was born in 1892 to when he died in 1924, I have been unable to find information on his parents, other than their names on Charles' marriage and death certificates.  Their names were Samuel Williams and Sarah (Hinds or Hines) Williams; census records show he was born in Indiana, she in Illinois.

I continue to search for my second great-grandparents, to find out what life for them in the mid 1800's might have been like prior to when Charles was born.  I figure if I can find my grandfather's mother and her parents, I can find anybody. I have found out researching family history is a lot of work, but it can also bring many surprises. 

As for my writing, I am still revising my novel and working on a few short stories, as well as editing the newsletter for my writing club, Redwood Writers.  My novel comes first, but I would like to write some short stories about the lives of my ancestors. I've considered calling these stories creative memoir, because the stories are based on fact but with some era spices added in.  

Keep writing and reading, because both are essential to The Write Life. 



Sunday, July 1, 2012

Passion and Butt-In-Chair

I have been thinking about passion and what it means to me when it comes to my writing.  My passion is putting words down onto paper, whether it be some massive report at work or a short story to submit to a magazine.  For the lats two months (June and July 2012), I have been editing the Redwood Writer, the newsletter for Redwood Writers. Volunteering as editor for the newsletter has been a real stretch for me as a writer. I am learning how to work with an amazing team to produce a newsletter in a professional organization.  I am using my creativity in ways I never thought possible. 

I am also revising my novel and writing one short story, but I have not been using the BIC (butt in chair" technique as often as I should. I have no excuse for this, not even writer's block.  In fact, the only writer's block I believe in is the one I invent for myself by finding other things to do instead of write: surf the internet, talk on the phone, write on my blog, read, doing laundry, or any other number of things.  Pushing my writing on the back burner is almost like putting my passion on low heat. It's almost like I've made an unconscious agreement to turn that passion up when I get around to it.  

For me, finding that passion again means I need to once again create a writing schedule and stick to it.  I need to raise my own expectations and make my writing a priority and find the life in my creativity.  All it takes is an hour in the evening or on my lunch break or 1,000-2,000 words each day.  BIC is a great motivator to getting stuff done. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Next Step

Last month, I attended the Next Step writer's conference, which was hosted by Redwood Writers, our local branch of The California Writing Club. The day was filled with excellent presentations, plenty of schmoozing, and learning about the business side of writing. I left the day feeling invigorated and ready to take some important next steps in my own life. 

One step was volunteering as editor for The Redwood Writer. While the prior editor did an excellent job on the newsletter, I envisioned a new look with a table of contents, columns, submission guidelines, and an editor's section.  After much work with a wonderful team, we finished our first edition for June 2012 and published it on May 25, 2012. So far, I have gotten many emails of kudos and encouragement. 

Another step was to start revising my novel to give my characters more color and life, as well as to rid the plot of too many coincidences. I have been working on the revision for the last couple of weeks now, and I find this process more difficult because I have to make sure the "new breath" is woven throughout the book and is consistent to the end.  Once I am finished, I will start the query process again. 

I am looking forward to more taking many more small steps with regards to my writing. Once I complete my family research, I would like to put the information together into a booklet for my family. Part of the research will involve writing biographies of key characters in our history, and perhaps some fictional tales derived from known facts and what life might have been like for some of my ancestors. 

As for now, I continue to put words onto paper. I am engrossed in How to Write and Sell Historical Fiction, an audio book by my friend Persia Woolley. This book is not just for historical fiction writers, but for anybody who writes fiction. I am about a quarter of the way through already, and I highly recommend this book to anyone.  

What is your next step when it comes to your writing? Whatever it is, just remember to take as many steps as you need to reach your goals.  

Happy writing all!  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's Research!

In researching my family tree, I have come up with some new and amazing information on my grandfather's mother, Johanna. When Grandpa was three, his mother died. Grandpa and his three siblings were placed into foster care. Grandpa had the memory of his mother, but not much information.  In fact, family members had incorrect information on her maiden name, date and place of birth, and her death date.  When an aunt gave me the correct surname information, I searched census, birth, and death records, as well as old newspaper articles.  I could find nothing.  It was almost like Johanna had faded into a forgotten past. 

Just when I thought I had hit a dead end, I found a website via Rootsweb to a state-by-state death index.  I clicked on Minnesota, put in Johanna's maiden name, and clicked the search button.  Surprise! The first hit was for Johanna, naming the newspaper holding her death notice, along with the newspaper date, page, and column.  Her death notice gave enough information for me to learn who her parents were, as well as a little about her life.  

Her story is this.  Johanna and Charles lived with her father for awhile after her mother's death in 1918, then they moved on to St. Paul.  While they were living in St. Paul, Charles went to a wilderness area near Deer River and got a home ready for his family.  Soon after, Johanna and the children joined Charles at their new home.  She was there less than two weeks when she got diphtheria and died.  

I know from Grandpa's stories that the years following his mother's death were difficult. Our family history has been well documented with Grandpa's accounts of losing his mother, growing up with a cruel foster father, and lessons learned from life circumstances that had had no control over.  My grandfather often said the adversity he experienced while growing up taught him how not to treat people.  

Researching my past has helped me to find a new connection with my family, especially with those who are long gone.  My goal is to write some short stories on family members as I uncover details of their lives.  Often times the best characters are based on real people and real situations.  

I am preparing to send out some more query letters and also working on my second novel.  

Happy writing to all. 



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

History and Family Records-Part 2

My obsession started in December 2011 while I was on vacation. I decided to compile my grandmother's writings.  The more I read the stories of my grandmother's past, the deeper my passion grew to learn more about my ancestry.  After all, Grandma had already started the research on the Bauman and Williams family lines, compiling notes, copies of census records, and vital documents.  In her research binders were newspaper articles on her parents' marriage and her father's illness and death.  She even went as far to hunt down her parents' marriage certificate, as well as an agreement of adoption for her father when he was a boy.  I could not help but be inspired by how my mother's ancestors survived the trials and tribulations of their time.

After learning more about my mother's side of the family, I started on a quest to discover details about my father's side of the family.  I browsed genealogy sites, conducted general web searches for family trees, and came across some amazing people who helped me find out more. I found a very distant cousin, who put me in touch with Kenneth Haughton, a family descendant who has written an entire book on our family ancestry.  In my genealogy library, I now have a 1200 page book on CD on my family ancestry. Since, I have corresponded with two distant relatives who have sent me family information.

I am still researching and coming up with information on my family tree five generations back.  This evening I found the marriage certificate at ancestry.com of my great-great grandparents.  I mean, what could be better than that?

While there are many triumphs in my family research, there are also false leads.  For example, my mother's great-great grandfather descended from Germany.  In fact my grandfather's father came from there in about 1885 or thereabouts.  I thought I had found the immigration passenger list with him and his young wife.  After tracking down a family history my grandmother (my mother's mother) had tucked away, I realized I had been tricked by the names being the same. Later on, I found more information on his arrival to the United States.

My adventures in family research have led me to wonder what their lives were like back then. Most people didn't have luxuries, and if they did they were not the same kinds of things we have today. Two hundred years ago you might have found wealthy people with a fancy house, fancy clothes, and maybe nice outhouses and a shower house.  

As I continue my research, I look forward to writing some stories about my ancestor's lives..The nice thing about fiction is that you can write about real people, put them in circumstances of their day, and build some great stories.  There is no reason to know the exact details of a person's life, facts and imagination are enough to come up with a good story.

Meanwhile, I have my query letter out to agents and have heard back on a few.  Most are standard rejections, but a few agents have provided compliments on my writing. I will keep querying, writing, and researching family history.

Happy writing!

To Go Oxford....or Not

Do you use the Oxford comma or do you omit it? Some grammar sages say to either keep it or omit it, unless omitting the Oxford comma will...