Writing: My Journey

May 19, 2018 the SLO (San Luis Obispo) Sisters in Crime invited me to give the Welcome for their first annual conference. I was honored and it forced me to ask the conference’s thematic question “Why I Wrote,” which led me on a journey to remember how I finally got to where I wanted to be – a writer writing an author published. Slightly modified I’m sharing it on my blog for readers to get to know me a bit better as I continue to post past published articles hoping the reader will enjoy.

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President’s Weekend February 14-17, 2019 it is an honor to be accepted again as a volunteer for the San Francisco Writers Conference. This year I am especially honored to support the inaugural efforts by Director Laurie McLean and her team — although they have many years of guiding this amazing writers conference. https://www.sfwriters.org.

Why We Write?

When I was very young my best friends were my paper dolls who humored me as I created stories about their lives. In grammar school, I won a poetry contest and seeds were planted to someday become a writer. In Junior High, my graduating peers gave me a newspaper bannered with a fake news headline stating I would thrive as a journalist. In high school, I lived two lives – junior journalist behind the “pen” on the school newspaper and social butterfly performer cheerleading for Garces Memorial High School’s sporting events. At Bakersfield College, I contributed and assisted the professor who edited the college’s Literary Magazine.

I chose to transfer to Northwestern Journalism School because it was the best, but I had to settle on UCLA after my mother offered the only career discouragement I can remember her giving me, “Judy, you don’t pay attention to the details.” At UCLA, I was diverted from a a straight pathway to reporting for the LA Times or San Francisco Chronicle. I became a generalist testing our a variety of specialties in English and History. I enjoyed changing gears and lacked confidence to focus on communications classes and creative writing

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Cayucos Senior Center Monthly Potluck: Mom was such an inspiration, including her decision to move to Cayucos at age-80 then volunteer to coordinate the volunteers and operations at the Center. She was honored as SLO Volunteer of the Year and other amazing awards. 

After graduation, I became a career gypsy. I didn’t realize my bouncing from one entirely different career to another was hands-on research – prep for a future writing career. I was an English teacher, marketing and public relations VP for a land development corporation, radio talk show host, television executive, and an auto-racing promotions director for Bakersfield’s NASCAR track – and in between tested out many learning positions on nonprofit boards.  

I also learned to pay more attention to the details, but still didn’t realize how important my mother’s advice was until I realized a good editor could make or break a newspaper career – the career I finally chased after 2001 when we moved to the Central Coast.

I’ve been blessed to write for SLO County’s Tribune, The Sun Bulletin and Simply Clear Marketing & Media’s newspapers and magazines. I was even publisher of The Bay News for a time because I’d “…never done that job before” until it merged with SLO City News to create Tolosa Press.

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My favorite stories have always been discovering something few knew about people – telling their story – in fact, that’s how I stumbled into co-authoring the first and currently only biography about the namesake of Bakersfield, Colonel Baker’s Field, An American Pioneer Story with Sandra Mittelsteadt. No one had written this amazing pioneer’s life story although his great-great grandson, Chris Brewer, had done all the research and was willing to share it with two determined women get tell his story for the residents of Kern County and Visalia – and even Des Moines, Iowa. Brewer was willing to share many first source photographs that added to the historical quality and design of the book along with the exceptional artwork created by my daughter Jody Salamacha Hollier. Brewer was also a small press publisher (Bear State Books), a professional California historian and author of many California books.  

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From Chris Brewer’s vast collection of photography and first source research materials we were able to use in Colonel Baker’s Field: An American Pioneer Story — with a little restoration by Jody. Below is one of several B&W photos Jody “colorized.” 

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It is no secret I tend to do things back-ass-ward. I’m should have gone to Cal Poly since my career philosophy has always been “learn by doing.” I didn’t want to write a traditional biography or history book, I wanted it to read like a novel so on top of researching the content available, we had to learn to tell a story infused with creative license acceptable to a California historian and a great-great grandson sharing his research.

Publishing was easy, but writing what ultimately became a creative nonfiction narrative took four years, many trips to Bakersfield and Exeter for interviews, and untold calls and emails with my co-author and two editors — Plus the fun part – getting lost in the 1869 research. We had many false starts and I would still be revising if my co-author hadn’t taken it away from me. But sage advice at a Central Coast Writers Conference by Editor Jordan Rosenfeld was key to our success. She not so gently told us during a conference workshop we were telling the story not showing it. Aha! Her book Make A Scene gave us the tools to complete and publish our book.

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Signing our book at Russo’s Book Store in Bakersfield was always a great marketing opportunity for Sandy Mittelsteadt and I.

But then we had to market it. Today we’re lucky enough to be in our 2nd printing. We listened to many who purchased the first edition and told us the book needed to be in the schools. Before we ordered the 2nd print, we worked with community sponsorship to fund 1200 additional books for Kern County/Bakersfield middle school classrooms.

What are the tricks to marketing a book? Frankly the only marketing benchmark we found effective was to find the right audience to tell your story and the audience will buy the book – one or 10 books at a time.

So why do we write? Each year while directing the Central Coast Writers Conference someone would announce, “We write because we have to.”

I don’t believe that anymore. We write because we make a determined choice to write – a good story percolating in our brains, a commentary on the world’s condition, a biography of someone who needs to be remembered – sharing our own insights in our memoir for our children, our students or maybe posterity.

 When do we write? No matter how busy we are with our daily lives, we carve out the time to write when we are passionate about what we want to say – or we have a deadline!  

And how do we become passionate enough to force us to carve out the time to tell the story or offer a commentary? Staying close to those who will teach us more about our craft is critical. Being in the presents of other writers, attending workshops and reading the works of other writers to broaden our perspectives will provide the examples we need to encourage us to focus on our own writing. Better yet learn and write then share what we have learned with our peers and share our drafts with a critique group that will give us honest feedback and motivation to continue our work.

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Catherine Kornreich, Brian Schwartz, Debbie Black and I at the Central Coast Writers Conference. We are the Critikis minus Susan Vasquez who was world traveling doing her research!

Let me leave you with a few of my favorite quotes that inspire me…

Already published before we worked on Colonel Baker’s Field: An American Pioneer Story, my co-author Sandra Mittelsteadt’s answer to those who say they always wanted to write, but…She will say, ”The only difference between you and me is I wrote the first word.”

A Central Coast friend and fellow writer Anna Unkovich said, “I believe that we’re in our most blessed, joyful, and peaceful inner place when we’re in a state of creativity.”

 A favorite movie quote is from chick-flick Up Close and Personal. Michele Pfeifer’s character — reporter Tally Atwater says, “What we in the news business can never forget is that we are only as good as the stories we tell.”

 I think the quote that is spurring me onto whatever new pathway in my writing career I seem to be chasing comes from Jane Goodall, ‘You’re never going to win an argument appealing to a person’s head. You have to change their heart.”

In today’s world, there is certainly reason to change hearts. As writers, I believe we can do that.  But if writing is simply a personal endeavor that helps you get through the day or might show the next generation a “slice of life in 2019” that’s perfectly okay. Gloria Steinman’s philosophy is probably universal for most people who love to write. She says, “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”

And as my favorite interview ever!!! author Bertha Tyler taught me to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank” because that’s what Dean always said to her. Bertha is a restauranteur — the Chat ‘n Chew of Morro Bay, co-owner with husband Dean of the Morro Bay Aquarium and the most positive person I know — and first time author at age-92.

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Big Big SLO’s Music Man Paul Irving

Paul Irving is the founder, CEO, Marketing Director, and Director of Distribution of BigBigSLO Music Entertainment of San Luis Obispo, but he was a musician first. Paul Irving lives his passion every day. In fact, he’s built a career working and playing in arenas that best suit his talents — live music promotion and performance.

“I’ve seen live music cut through anything that divides us,” he said. “Music is helping us connect during these divisive times because people are willing to leave politics and religion at the door to enjoy it together.”33942-10150666807302680-1334999824-n

After college Irving was well on his way to corporate success, but at 21 he decided it wasn’t the life he wanted. A friend who lured him to the Central Coast discovered he’d played trumpet since age-four and recruited him for the 1980s-90s band, Rock Steady Posse. The group’s local popularity and Irving’s self-taught Guerrilla marketing talents launched them on a western states tour so he quit his day-job with Greg Hind at GH Sports. After five years, touring wasn’t the life he wanted either. He preferred to stay, perform and promote locally.

“All my life I’ve been the one to set up the parties,” he said. “I enjoy getting people together. In ‘93 three drummers and me on trumpet played the Odd Fellows Hall in Morro Bay. People loved the Afro-Funk style. Mosaic was born and hot until 1997 when we broke up.” Band members Dylan Johnson and Jacob Odell went off to study and play their music in New York and Boston while Andrew Wise and Irving stayed home and wrote over 50 pieces knowing someday there would be a time again for their music. Meanwhile, Irving fulfilled another passion — developing the Sailing Center of Morro Bay giving rides and teaching sailing.

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A decade later Irving encouraged Johnson to return to San Luis and in 2007 six of the seven members of Mosaic birthed the Zongo All-Stars with a ready-made danceable Afro-Latin sound and a savvy, connected band manager in Irving to find them gigs. Somewhere in the mix Irving married long-time girlfriend, Jessica, and realized he needed a career that would sustain his family. Irving’s Bayside Life has offered clients life insurance and fixed annuities for 18 years.

“Insurance didn’t fulfill my soul,” he said, “but I love both lives.” Mornings he attends to insurance clients at his office  overlooking the back bay he loves. “Mostpeople are looking for quality of life. I’ve achieved it. Afternoons it’s time to play.”

When Vina Robles recruited him to lead their “street team” promotions, Irving developed a time-efficient product to promote multiple area-wide live music happenings. The 2018 BigBigSLO Music Sourcebook features 174 live music venues and 210 local bands. BigBigSLO.com also produces a monthly BigBigSLO Live Music Monthly Pocket Planner. Irving is personally out and about to 50 to 60 venues distributing 10,000 pocket-sized planners all cooperatively supported by the musicians and live music venues.

And In his spare time, he produces live music events like Baywood’s JUNEFEST, the Zongo Yachting Cup , and annually in late August, the family-friendly BAYWOOD BAYFEST at the Back Bay Inn featuring the Zongo All-Stars among many local favorites.

Then there is Monday evenings after the Baywood Farmer’s Market when families gather with their lawn chairs at the Blue Heron Restaurant from May through October and go indoors from November through April at La Palapa Restaurant. What began as three friends enjoying a happy hour beer near the Baywood pier has morphed into BEER AT THE PIER CONCERTS. “Ted Emrick, a prominent glass artist in Baywood and Curt Miller, the drummer of the Mother Corn Shuckers and owner of the Morro Bay’s “In the Groove” and I were regulars at the Baywood Café informally enjoying a cold one after work. Jointly we sparked the idea of making it a regular thing with music,” said Irving. Baywood Café agreed to host the informal acoustic jams featuring groups like Tuan Chau’s Cuesta Ridge, Zongo All-Stars, Green2White and more. “When Daylight Savings Time kicked in the first year I thought we’d take a break for the winter months but the community wanted to continue and LaPalapa stepped up to host it.”

Irving continued, “Blue Heron Chef Shaun Behrens remarked, “This has grown into a big thing” and talked his investor group to support his vision with a garden stage, dancing and sitting lawn, fire-pit lounge, multiple patios for take-out or fine dining inside or outside, and two bars all right on the bay. Recently Terry Lawless of U2 who lives in the area played live just because he loves to play. We book a variety of musical styles of local top talent.” BigBigSLO.com contains a full schedule.

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“I learned early how to balance what paid the bills with what I’m passionate about – family, music and sailing,” he said. Paul Irving believes he is living the Central Coast dream – and his children Edie, 16, and Cooper, 14, both at Morro Bay High School are continuing a family legacy in music and entertainment. Irving mused, “Working with my insurance clients, every day I’m tuned into mortality. It’s become an urgency not to waste any time while I’m here so I seek quality of life for my familyand strive to benefit my community.”