Sign up for Cathy’s monthly newsletter featuring more in-depth information about Santa Barbara County, California.
I was born in mid-century Los Angeles to everyday storytellers living in a storied land. By the time I was nine years old our family moved to Santa Barbara County, California, only 100 miles north but a world away. Here, my love of the landscape, local characters, and true historic tales bordering on myth, were fashioned into the home of my heart.
Whether in class, reading at home by the fireplace, or looking out the window from my perch in the backseat of our Ford Galaxy, I felt the imprint of history just beneath the present. I could almost see the Chumash, Santa Barbara’s First People, paddling their tomol through the treacherous Santa Barbara Channel. I imagined the Spanish padres and their militia stalking the coastline. I heard the ghostly echoes of Mexican rodeos in the valleys. I could see, in my imagination, a stagecoach rumble beneath oak trees, or the Chinese at work on a railroad tunnel. I imagined Portuguese farmers plowing their fields with little more than a horse and deep-seated faith, and the Italians who plied the sea for anchovy and sardine. Stories from the smallest of communities, those of Japanese and Chinese and Black residents, were harder to come by, as they were seldom acknowledged or valued by the dominant culture.
I treasure stories of the past that reside in old houses and barns that list, hollow and abandoned at the base of green hills. I feel the presence of botanists, horticulturists, and home gardeners who planted trees and shrubs that that have grown, now regal with age, that continue to flower and cool and beautify. I gather power from the wide flat fields in narrow coastal valleys that seem to go on forever, where flowers and sugar beets and beans were grown in profusion by families, armies of them, who bent at their labor and loved the land.
Along with stories, I gather small artifacts, found at swap meets, thrift stores, estate sales. I haunt museums and libraries. I treasure messages written on the backs of old postcards and photos, or in handwritten notes secreted between the pages of a book, or even in small, sweet stitches knitted into baby clothes. I feel it in the smooth handle of an old garden hoe, the still-sharp antique saw, an old hammer or plane. Old paintings, cups and dishes, and all the tools and toys of a life glow of connection and reveal their lasting and common thread through time.
I covet stories of my own family who dared to emigrate to the United States, the mechanics and librarians and shop owners, the maintenance workers, bookkeepers, and secretaries. In each I find stories so rich and edifying I keep them close, calling on them often.
While encountering my own lessons in the here-and-now, I learned about alcoholism and recovery before the age of 25, about divorce and single motherhood not long after that, about hardship and trauma and about how to dig deep in life. Deep enough to find purpose and meaning. Deep enough to connect with that which is greater than myself. I learn from those who came before.
With time and perseverance, life began to right itself. During the day, I worked as an executive assistant at a large non-profit agency. Nights and weekends, I wrote on a borrowed a laptop. I took a free writing class through adult education and joined a critique group. I learned to use free Apache Open Office software. I received a camera as a gift, and took up photography using Gimp, GNU, the free online Image Manipulation Program, to edit my photos. I became devoted to Robert McKee, teacher and author of Story. I read his books and watched all his free videos. In 2008, I started a blog about Santa Barbara County, California. I shared source material and historical research, relying on relics of daily life that belong now to the public domain.
From the tumble of stories collected over a lifetime, my love of writing and research, a historical mystery began to take shape, one set in Santa Barbara of the 1920s.
I have completed my novel, Reckoned by the Light of Stars, and am seeking representation in hopes of publication. I have started a new blog on this website, focused on historical Santa Barbara County, and the larger world of the 1920s, one that in many ways mirrors our own time as truth is put into the hands of the people, where it has always belonged.
Best of all, I have been able to travel through time without leaving home.