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
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.