“Before the shades of forgetfulness close upon me I shall try to finish these
memoirs. In linking the episodes with words perhaps I may find some meaning in my eighty years.” - Sam Harris
So begins the life memories of local Monterey author Sam Harris
in his book Memoirs of an Artist. Joining over forty other local writers at Carmel's first annual gathering of local scribes at the Barnyard Shopping Village, Sam proudly displayed his book, the cover a self portrait in the prime of his life when he let his feet find his fortune and journeyed to Italy. There he met his wife to be, her image gracing the overleaf as his story begins. Sam toured Italy and the romantic hollows of Paris, married his European love, and brought her home. The connection they made over plates of home cooked pasta has lasted half a century, and she is with him still today. His effort now, to somehow fix in time the chapters of his life, and long love, is presented in a handsome volume illustrated by his own hand, and replete with wonderful images of paintings he created while in France and Italy, with an artistry to rival the impressionists at their very best!
For any writer the act of putting pen to paper, or working through the lonesome hours of the night on their latest manuscript, is truly a labor of love. Thousands of manuscripts never reach that profoundly satisfying moment when the author's words and experiences are placed “between the dignity of two covers.” Yet writers carry on, the world over, spinning out their literary webs in the hope of catching a few readers in the long years that will stretch out after they have finished their own journey. There is something about the experience of reading a book that is as close as you can come to reading another person's mind. For you are literally wading through the same stream of consciousness that flowed in their brain when the words were written, word by word, line by line, memory after memory, thought blooming into imagination, until you have the summation of a lifetime in one volume, such as the memoirs of Sam Harris, or just whimsical celebration of story telling in its essence as a children’s tale, or the darker, yet gripping narration of a good mystery novel.
Dan Green and Erin Clark of KSBW News were on hand to keynote the event, and Ms. Clark did a brief interview with Author Belle Yang to highlight her book Forget
Sorrow, An Ancestral Tale. Yang has published seven books and was featured in a PBS documentary on her life, passion, and art. Born in Taiwan, she immigrated to the U.S. at the age of seven and recounted how she re-experienced the Chinese culture by visiting there again and tasting, of all things, Chinese tofu. “If you eat tofu made in China you become Chinese,” she quipped. Her book was inspired by stories told by her grandfather through the period of the war and revolution, and as late as the Tienanmen Square incident that brought so much political tension to the nation.
The festival was a benefit for the local library, and was well attended as readers and book collectors wandered from table to table in the flower festooned courtyards of the Barnyard Village. I stopped and chatted with several authors and will share some of their stories here, each an effort to relate some unique perspective on their corner of life, or to simply entertain and inform, as these virtues are at the heart of all writing. It is said that everyone has at least one novel in them, but few have the skill, patience, and diligence to actually bring their tale to life in words and see the project through to publication. Many of the books on display were self-published, joining thousands of other writers each year who decide that they no longer need the permission of an editor at Houghton & Mifflen to present their stories to a potential reading audience. In fact, with new technologies in digital printing available, the greatest number of new titles released each year are now self-published books. Feel that novel waiting to be born? Learn how you can join the next gathering of local authors by publishing your book!
Here's a sampling of what I found in the Barnyard!
As one might expect when the locals come out of their
writer’s nooks into the light of the sun, there were stories like Cannery Row, The history of Steinbeck's Ocean View Avenue, by Michael Kenneth Hemp, (this one complete with
an annotated map that dovetailed with photos of the “Row” to help you ferret out all the local lore). The Central Coast Writers had two volumes of their Monterey Shorts, both compendiums of short stories penned by local writers, and there was a beautifully presented volume of photography entitled Pacific Light, by
Douglas Steakley. Flipping thru it, any local would resonate with the images of places like Pfeiffer Beach at sunset. His Photographer's Guide to Big Sur also offered up scenes from the very best places to open the aperture of your camera and soul at the same time, taking in the amazing natural beauty we fortunate locals have just minutes away.
Randall A. Reinstedt had a lavish display of stories focused on the paranormal with books like Ghosts and Mystery Along Old Monterey's Path of History. There were easily
twenty titles on his table, with ghostly lore from shipwrecks to sea monsters, all drawn from the regions colorful past. John McLeary's Monterey Peninsula People highlighted the lives of local residents, and
Susan Cantrell had a unique book she titled StarWords featuring inspirational conversations with famous denizens of the region “who have shared their secrets to successful and fulfilling lives,” with a forward, of course, by Clint Eastwood. The Carmel Valley Historical Society and
Elizabeth Barratt offered another glimpse of the early days of the valley, with some wonderful old annotated photography in Images of America: Carmel Valley.
But the writers did
not simply focus on the people and places of the region itself. As I moved from table to table I found creative and educational children's tales, lost civilizations, mystery novels, action
thrillers, travelogues, memoirs, and even a colorful Cultural Encyclopedia of the 1960s and '70s called Hippie Dictionary, serving up a lexicon of all the slang that generation created as it tuned in, turned on and dropped out. Here's some highlights of some of the authors I had time to chat with.
Award Winning Children’s Tales
Monterey peninsula is home to some of the nation’s most creative and successful children’s book writers. Linda Kurtz Kingsley
is a retired teacher with a unique idea for her children's book. In Signs of Jays she weaved in the teaching of sign language to her entertaining stories, a trend that I found popular with a number of other writers in this field. It's not simply a satisfying rhyme or artful illustration that makes a children's book successful, but also some clever teaching that is worked into the mix.
Author Dayle Ann Dodds
slipped in a math lesson on fractions as guests checked into a quaint old inn in her tale Full House – “Now two rooms of six had guests for the night. To fill up the inn would be pure delight!” At the end, to reinforce the lesson, a great pie is baked with six slices for the classic illustration of fractions that many of us remember from our early school days. Ms. Dodd has had a long successful career as a writer, with over 22 children's books and numerous awards for her highly creative work. Some of her laurels include the School Library Journal Best Books award, American Booksellers “Pick of the List,” and Parenting Magazine’s Award of Excellence. She held down both the #1 and #2 spot on San Francisco Chronicle’s Children’s Best Seller List for her books Wheel Away and Sing, Sophie, and her work has also been prominently reviewed by the NY Times.
Jeryl Abelmann and Miriam Kronish teamed up to spin out another award winning children's tale called Quickly: The Magic Spatula, recipient of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award, a Gold Medal from the Independent Publisher's Association for inspiring writing, illustration and publishing, and another honor from the Bay Area Independent Publisher's Association for “Best Children's Book of 2009.” The tale centers on the magic spatula, discovered in an old dusty box by two children, as the focal point of memories of mom, the kitchen, and family. For who doesn't remember their mother's cooking with that warm feeling of nostalgia and longing? Just the smell of home cooked apple pie carries all the memories and magic of nurturing, security, comfort, and family love. We all go though life trying to imitate mom's cooking or find it in the local restaurants we visit, and don't we wish we had the magic spatula that would make it all come to life again in our own kitchens! The author Jeryl Abelmann proudly presented the storied utensil, framed under glass, as it now continues to serve up its magic to an eager audience of thousands of new young readers.
Author Cheryl Block
collaborated with illustrator Gene Takeshita to create a series of books she calls Webs to Whales Nature Tales. A guide for the Monterey Aquarium for 10 years, she includes a CD in every book with interactive software for kids to use while reading the book. The material is a fictional story with a moral message, but the CD includes lots of science activities, games, pictures, and informative information. And it can even read aloud to the children as they interact.
And who could resist a well turned line like: “THREE woolly wombats all in a row, passed
by the wood where the gum trees grow...” Author Carol Diggory Shields served up that line in the opening pages of her illustrated children's tale Wombat Walkabout, a
classic bedtime story of the adventures of a few furry Wombats from the land down under. It was accompanied by an enchanting book of what she called “bathroom poetry” titled Somebody Used My Toothbrush.
But the ladies in this section of the village focused on more than children’s tales.
Another success story was the amazing photography and narration of Elizabeth Murry in her book Monet's Passion – Ideas, Inspiration and Insights from the Painter's Gardens. Lavishly
illustrated with photographs and overlays showing the layers of landscaping on architecture, the book has sold 250,000 copies over 20 years in print. Cultivating Sacred Space: Gardening for the
Soul, was another good seller, with over 87,000 readers!
Yet I was equally drawn to her book compiled over what she called “five exciting
trips” to the Amazon, (the jungle, not the book vendor!), where she had the honor and distinction to create a story that became the first published book in the language of a lost tribe!
Recounted from stories told by village elders and illustrated by members of the tribe, the book became a trilingual project, as the story repeats the narrative in English, Spanish, and the native
language of the Aujujai. Serving as a kind of Rosetta Stone, the book allows readers of the Amazon region to glimpse the daily lives, traditions and culture of the tribe.
We’re just getting started!
Many of the writers I talked to let their feet follow their imagination, and in our next installment we will tune in to follow the literary journeys of a few old salts and enterprising souls as they dig up some lost civilizations, or follow in the footsteps of famous historical figures like Lawrence of Arabia!
Speaking of lost tribes, another adventuresome author, Alex Kerekes, told the story of
how he stumbled into the midst of a lost civilization while touring Nayarit on the central coast of Mexico with his father. It was a classic reunion of father and son in the later years of the father's life when so many siblings rediscover their parents as both companions and caregivers in those last years. But the discovery of long lost artifacts from the Tecoxquine Indian civilization was an added thrill. He reached down to pick up a stone and found it to be a relic of the lost tribe! The simple stone that fit so perfectly into his hand had once been held by an Indian maid to grind flour over a thousand years ago. And just underfoot were shards of pottery and other artifacts that carried the perennial wisdom and power of symbols that revealed the universal connection of all human beings, transcending cultural barriers and time with their meaning and significance. Curious? The book, Finding Lost Civilizations, can be read free on the web at www.storiesbyalex.com .
Another wandering soul was author Howard D. Rowland who was Taking On the Middle East as a younger man in the early 1960s. Rowland set out to become his own self styled “Lawrence of Arabia,” touring the Levant coastal regions of Lebanon and Syria and revisiting some of the places Lawrence first brought to the attention of Western readers. Like Lawrence, he even taught himself Arabic so he could experience the culture first hand. His substantial volume is a study of the culture as lived on the street level, replete with anecdotes of characters he met during his sojourn in the Middle East. He recounted how he ended up romping across the desert in an old truck one evening with a moribund sailor who was determined to “Go Get a camel drunk” before the sun rose the next day. Thankfully, he had second thoughts and when they came to a stop he slipped away to safer climes. His message is one many Americans might well take to heart, that you can't understand a culture, or a people, until you first know them. The old maxim “walk a mile in my shoes” holds wisdom that does not come easy to many Americans after 9/11 when it comes to the Islamic cultures.
Ever heard of a gallimaufry? Think hodge-podge, ragout, hash, medley, or any assortment of odds and ends that author
Kerry Michael Wood throws together as his memoirs under the title Past Imperfect, Present Progressive. This member of the “Silent Generation” has found his voice as a writer
and recounts stories of living through the depression, WWII, weaving in poetry born of his experiences as a four year old, his recollections as a career high-school teacher, and (as he puts it),
“moments of melancholy punctuating a lifetime of exuberant playfulness.” Find the simple meaning and poignancy in things like English grammar, Scrabble spelling bees, and the humdrum life
in the lowest ranks of the U.S. Army, and you will have life in the palm of your hand. For after all, we all lead our very own gallimaufry lives, and the simple ordinariness of his story is
what makes it compelling reading.
Closer to home here in the Monterey area, artist Bob Munson spent his own time under the trees and presented a unique coloring book for children based
on his book Big Sur, Land of the Sun and the Moon, which was originally published as a silk screened limited edition of just 110 copies in 1961. The images recounted the early days of life in
Big Sur as seen “from a one-room cabin tucked away under a tall grove of Redwood trees in Partington Canyon.” When his daughter asked him to buy her a coloring book he put his own
artistic talent to work and created one, drawing on images of the life she could experience around her each day in Big Sur. The book characterized the life style, creatures and environs of this
magnificent park and invited children to breathe their own imagination into the sketches with each stroke of their coloring crayons.
While the men in this group recounted tales of their lives and adventures in faraway places, I
encountered another group of women who were trailblazing other frontiers. Ixchel Leigh
has a name as fresh and unusual as her play on words, for she claims to dapple in “Escentials & Parfumerie.” Her book Vibrational Medicine promises to help us find our passion and set our life aglow with aromatherapy that borders on the realm of the magical. Her pursuit of beauty, in all its forms, took shape in a career as a high fashion model with Pierre Cardin in Paris, and work as both a fashion designer and interior designer. But her passion for indigenous cultures and ancient traditions led her through a discovery of the healing powers of plants and herbs, and especially the power of scent in her pursuit of “Aromatic Alchemy.”
Women's liberation may have transformed the world we live in, but not without consequences for many women who now lead lives in the “fast lane,” with all the stress that comes with their new found liberation. But two artful ladies have something else in mind when they issue their own Feminine Manifesta. Best friends since high school,
Lily Hills and Karen Hudson
have produced a handsome volume with a message they hope will transform the world. It calls on women to get back in touch with their feminine side to “lighten up, reduce stress, increase their joy factor, and bring the very best of who they are to the world.” The rising water in that lake will lift all boats, or so they profess. We all are familiar with the T-Shirt motto “When Momma Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy.” Hills and Hudson aim to find a way to make momma, and every other woman, happy, and through this new-found joy, to “lead the way to the more peaceful, equitable and caring world we so want and need for both women and men.” Amen. Every man alive would wish them every success!
On another front, this time very personal, I met
Molly Shoemaker Shaechtele who was fighting cancer, not once but for the fourth time in her life! Her book Tickle Me Pink is described as “a collection of light-hearted and positive poems about the cancer journey,” and it is surely this positive attitude that has enabled her struggle for survival, life and hope.
And would you believe that The last Indian On The Trail Of Tears,
was also at the festival in living color? Wanda Sue Parrott, also known as “Prairie Flower,” (her Indian name), presented a thin volume of poetic revelation inspired by spirit
guides. Co-founder of the first White Buffalo Native American Poet Laureate Contest in the Spring of 2010, she was named honorary Chief of the White Buffalo Tribe in 1968 and is now affiliated with
the Central Coast Writers Club. You can learn more about Great Spirit Publishing here: www.spiritstreams.webs.com
“couldn't get used to retirement” and claims that after a whirlwind life, and no less than five marriages, she finally discovered herself behind the keyboard as a mystery novel writer! Her story Murder In The Mailroom recounts a a gruesome tale involving neo-nazis. Pair it with the highly acclaimed novel East Garrison,
which was an Indie Excellence winner for a first novel by G.M. Weger, and you'll have plenty to keep you awake into the wee hours on those cold Monterey Peninsula nights. Weger's tale is set
in old Fort Ord, where something stalks the abandoned east garrison area of the base as it harries the lives of the main characters.
Ex Maestro of the world famous Ventana Winery,
Douglas Meador, has found a new calling. His book Face the Tiger is a harrowing story drawing on his earlier life experience as a fighter pilot with 325 missions over North Vietnam during the war. But this story, being fiction, portrays three old war buddies reminiscing on their experiences when they get called to action once again to avenge a 30 year old murder.
Jonathan Showe presented his Cuba Rising, an inside look at the heart of this defiant little island from its colonial roots though the flirtation with the Mafia, Castro's
revolution, the long Cold War, and the gutsy people that will soon reemerge from behind the isolation imposed on them and rejoin the 21st century by forging new relationships with China, Central
America, and a more lenient and enlightened United States.
There were many other authors that I just did not have the time to meet, and frankly, I was one of them! With seven novels in genres
like mystery, historical fiction, science fiction, and time travel (combining those last two), I suppose I can now count myself among the creative group of enterprising writers who have made their
home here on the beautiful peninsula. For more about my books you can visit my personal publishing site here, and I hope you have time and
interest to look up a few of the titles discussed here in Amazon!
Thanks for reading. In the end that's what the whole process is all about. Writer is to reader as yin is to yang. The two
arise mutually in a timeless dance, as each one needs the other, dreams of the other, and they share long nights together like lovers, finding something new about this wonderful experience of begin
- John Schettler Back to Top