I don’t find your life uninteresting…I would like to hear it as it sounded while it was passing.

~ Wallace Stegner

Reckoned by the Light of Stars, is my debut novel. The story is set in Santa Barbara County, California, in the year 1922.

I’ve always collected stories casually dropped by old timers, informative historical articles and artifacts that include even the smallest of totems; and the volumes written by credentialed historians, my  research has been incredibly focused: Life in Santa Barbara County, California, in and around the 1920s.

As I explored online resources I was surprised to discover troves of homely, everyday artifacts that added a depth of perspective I couldn’t have attained otherwise. This breadth of material helped me to imbue the characters and setting with the  intimacy that accompanies our most common of items. In the everyday I found the locus of context, a portal to identity.

Whether a schoolbook, a map, a note on the back of a photo, things we use that are so close as to be almost invisible, so ubiquitous as to be hardly noticed, place and character are revealed as unique in all the universe.

A View Into the Past

From the distance of 100 years, hindsight shines the bright light of truth on the past, one the current moment can never achieve. It’s easier to see truth, and lies posing as truth. With clarity of distance, genius and hubris – and their consequences – are undeniable. When viewed with humility and honesty, the past can also point the way to a better future.

Censorship, to include the banning of books, is a topic of interest in both time periods. But today we have unprecedented transparency and online access to information they did not. How will we use it?

When, 100 years from now, the future looks back at us, what will they see?

Each blog post will feature historical information I’ve found online while researching my novel, and a link to the material. While the novel is centered in Santa Barbara County, California, in 1922, national and global influences feature prominently, as well.

The Resources/Links page on my website includes a list of some of the items I used while writing the novel, as well as a few general repositories that I hope you will explore, too. Let me know what you find!

Highway of Dreams

Pictorial Mileage Road Book – Every Mile a Picture

The book, Pictorial Mileage Road Book – Every Mile a Picture, was published by the Motogram Company, of Richmond, California, in 1915. The book details a number popular routes in California’s new highway system. In 1915, roads were still primitive, rough and mostly unpaved–challenging for even the newest cars.

In a modern twist à la Google Street View, The Motogram Company publication included a photograph taken at every mile on every route they traveled throughout California (Santa Barbara, page 231.)

A few years earlier, sometime around 1910, a cadre of real estate developers, investors, bankers, and other hangers-on, launched a vigorous advertising campaign heralding Southern California as a carefree Land of Sunshine. They bought huge tracts of property and established new communities all across the southland. They formed coalitions, associations, men’s and women’s clubs. Hiding political lobbying beneath an altruistic cover crop, they planted seeds of encouragement to entice Americans to move further west, all the way to Southern California.

There were not many takers in those days, as few people could afford such a dream. Getting to Southern California was another issue. Cars were expensive to purchase and maintain and roads were unreliable. Horses still powered most modes of transportation.

By 1920, the crop was coming in. Transplants from the Midwest and East Coast were most plentiful, these non-hyphenate Americans who were the very target of the decade-long campaign, after all. In 1910, the population of Santa Barbara County, California, all 3789 square miles of it, was about 28,000; by 1920, the population of the county 41,000 residents, and growing.

 

 

Everyday Historical Artifacts

Writing my debut novel, Reckoned by the Light of Stars, required untold hours of research, of getting into bed with the past, if you will. Rather than seeing history through the eyes of those who have filtered research through their own lens to hand down an interpretation, then filtering that information even further myself, technology has allowed that I, as much as possible, could step into the past with the people who lived it, thanks to online resources, especially materials kept in the public domain.

It has proven such a worthwhile endeavor to discover for myself, through maps and children’s books, house plans and garden manuals, magazine and newspaper articles of the 1920s, to learn for myself what daily life was like in that era, it seems imperative I share with others what I have found.

Items preserved in the public domain belong to all the people, without restriction. This throws wide gates that were previously offered only through formal educational channels and privilege, or to those who traveled to various repositories.

Access seems more important than ever in an era that sees increasing pressure to censor or ban books and information from public schools and institutions; from those who would present true events in a less-than-true manner; or those who wish to dismiss the past altogether and just “move on.”

History can tell its own irrefutable story through period artifacts found in various online holdings, especially those items in the public domain. My hope is to inform and inspire readers to access this wealth of knowledge, to advocate for expansion, and to explore that which belongs to all, without restriction.

More About the Public Domain

For more information about the public domain, visit Cornell University:

Copyright Term and the Public Domain

 

 

Santa Barbara County of the 1920s

Santa Barbara County, California, is widely known as a uniquely beautiful area, a place where rugged coastal mountains ease down and gentle out toward the sea. It is a place of rolling hills and pristine beaches, of oak trees and sycamore and enormous swaths of springtime wildflowers. Here, the land is so fertile and the climate so agreeable that sundry crops – wine grapes and cannabis, lettuce, artichokes, strawberries, raspberries, flowers, and more – easily thrive. Ranchers raise cattle by the thousands. Enormous orchards produce oranges, lemons, and avocados that help feed the nation. The Pacific is generous with its gifts, and offshore, the chain of Channel Islands are known as the Galapagos of North America.

Here, in our cities and towns, some of the world’s wealthiest and most famous people reside. Tourists flock to the area throughout the year.

Much of the popularity and mystique of Santa Barbara County is attributed to stories set along El Camino Real, the Royal Road. Since the early 1900s, the mission trail is claimed to mark the historic route of Spanish padres from San Diego through Monterey, though truth tells a different story.

I grew up in a middle-class family in Solvang, the pretty Danish town in the center of the Santa Ynez Valley. I raised my own child in Santa Maria and Orcutt, a city and a small town located in the northernmost part of the county. And, for decades, I’ve lived downtown in the City of Santa Barbara. 

There is the Santa Barbara County I knew as a child, and the one that has slowly revealed itself over my lifetime. 

As a writer, I research truth in pursuit of the fictional story. Through my lifelong love of Santa Barbara County and my determined exploration of its past, I have found history’s complexity revealed in shadow and schism, as well as light and beauty. 

This blog is an invitation to discover the clues left by History itself, artifacts – easily uncovered in our present age – that inform truth, and in so doing, reveals the full beauty of Santa Barbara County, California.