Portuguese grandma book lives on and on

Stories_Grandma_Neve_Cover_for_KindleStories Grandma Never Told was conceived one day more than 25 years ago when I was hiding out in my parents’ vacation trailer making random notes in the wake of publishing my first book, The Iberian Americans. That book was an overview of the experiences of immigrants from Portugal, Spain and the Basque Country. My roots lead back to all of those places.

What about the Portuguese women, I asked myself. What has been passed down from my great grandmother to my grandmother to my mother to me that makes me who I am? The eyes, the nose, the body, yes, but what else? Who were these women? The few books about Portuguese immigrants that I had found focused on the men, as if the women didn’t come at all. There were stories to be shared.

The result was my next published book, Stories Grandma Never Told: Portuguese Women in California. The title is slightly misleading because the book does not include my grandmother’s stories. I never heard them. Instead, I looked up “Portuguese” in the phone book (pre-Google) and started interviewing women: family, friends, people who were active in the Portuguese community and the people they insisted I speak to. I had never been exposed to much of the Portuguese culture. A few words, a few foods, but not much more. My parents’ generation insisted on being as American as possible. Forget the old country. But I got involved, I learned, and I wrote.

It took almost a decade to get this book published. We had already moved to Oregon when I finally got the letter (pre-email!) from Malcolm Margolin of Heyday Books offering to publish Stories Grandma Never Told. It was released at The Dia de Portugal celebration in San Jose in June 1998. That was one of the best days of my life. My family was there, and the books sold like crazy.

Eighteen years later, the book is still selling, but not in the same way. After nine years doing a fantastic job with my book through three printings, the people at Heyday decided it wasn’t selling enough to be worth doing another printing. But it was still selling, and I wasn’t ready to let it go, so I started my own publishing company, Blue Hydrangea Productions, hooked up with a local printshop, Lazerquick in Newport, and produced my own edition with a gorgeous new cover photo of my grandmother, Anne Avina, on her wedding day.Stories Grandma Never Told_justified text.pmd

That first Blue Hydrangea edition kept selling. I went through three printings, and I’m still getting orders. I’m out of envelopes and almost out of books, but Stories Grandma Never Told lives on. I am releasing a new edition this month through Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand program. You can order it online right now. Again, we have a new cover. This one features my great grandmother, Anna Souza. Why go through Amazon this time? Cost and efficiency. It costs me nothing, saving me a big printing bill and allowing me to charge less for the book. I can also offer it as a Kindle ebook for the first time ever. Plus, since most of my orders come from Amazon, they won’t have to get the books from me, meaning readers can get copies more quickly. I will still get paid and should make more money than before.

Why self-publish? These days, it’s a big question in publishing. It’s so hard to get accepted by traditional publishers, although I have done it several times and expect to do it again. Some self-published books are poorly written and badly edited, but many respected authors are taking control of their own careers by publishing their own books. We have the technology now sitting on our desks. Why depend on someone else?

“Grandma” was originally edited and formatted by the best at Heyday Books. I’m just keeping their work going. Why? Because the readers still want the book, and they don’t care how it came to be. I marvel at this, that I wrote something people want to buy and share with their mothers, daughters and friends. How could I let it die?

Grandma Souza, who died in 1954, would be shocked to find her face on the front of a book. She never learned to read in either Portuguese or English. But here she is, digitized in 2016 and being written about in a “blog.” As she might have said, “Ay, Jesus.”

 

 

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Tucson Festival a Writer’s Dream

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Books, books, book. Miles and miles of books. That was the Tucson Festival of Books, held at the University of Arizona campus March 12 and 13. Sun so bright we grabbed hand lotion and free visors at a dermatology booth. I never saw so many booths dedicated to books and authors. It was like a state fair that was all books instead of cows, quilts, corn dogs, and food processors. Oh, there were booths for community organizations and lots of food you could eat in a big tent where a woman with boots and a cowboy hat and frilly dress sang Patsy Cline songs and yodeled. But it was mostly books. Readings here, talks there, services for authors and books to buy everywhere. Nothing I’ve seen in Oregon is that big.

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Workshop leaders David Gessner, Luis Alberto Urrea, Bryn Chancellor, Joshua Mohr, and Lynn Cullen

I was in Arizona last week because an essay I entered in a contest won me a place in the master’s workshop attached to the festival. Two full days of lectures, workshops and readings, of bonding with my little nonfiction group and our leader, author David Gessner. It was held in a place on campus called the Poetry Center. A poetry center? Yes. A whole library full of poetry books and books about poetry and poets, a breezeway where we ate the most delicious sandwiches at lunchtime, a comfortable auditorium where we heard readings and talks, and classrooms where we hashed over each others’ manuscripts.

The University of Arizona Poetry Center, housed in the Helen S. Schaefer Building, includes a rare book room, a children’s program called Poetry Joeys, a collection of recordings made by visiting poets, and a Poet’s Cottage where visiting writers can stay. The center hosts readings and lectures, poetry discussions, workshops, and more. When I walked into that place, I thought, “If I could work here, I would gladly live in Tucson.” I’m not moving, but wow. I found a place where everybody speaks my language.

Most people I meet don’t “get” poetry. If it doesn’t rhyme, it isn’t poetry, right? Read poetry for fun? Are you crazy? You’re a poet? What does that mean? Bookstores and libraries rarely allot more than a shelf or two to poetry, but there is so much more.

Why is my MFA in creative nonfiction if I’m so fond of poetry? I wrote poetry first, but a girl has to make a living. I think essays and poetry live on the same spectrum of storytelling. Some essays are poetic and some poems feel like little essays. They’re all magic to me.

IMG_20160316_121740352It wasn’t all words this trip. I was blessed to be able to stay at the home of my late husband’s cousin Adrienne and her husband John, both delightful people I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time. They volunteer at the symphony store in the lobby at the Tucson Music Hall. The night I arrived, they took me with them. I helped sell CDs and music-related items such as earrings shaped like treble clefs and mugs, bags, scarfs, etc. We also got to hear the music, which included the Tucson Symphony and guest artists The Mambo Kings. Fun! The day after the workshop, Adrienne and I toured the marvelous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which was loaded with cactus, critters and kids on spring break. And in the warm evenings, we dined in the patio and had great talks.

Then it was time to come home. It was 80 degrees in Tucson. When the captain on the plane announced that it was 43 degrees in Portland, Oregon, people groaned. The Oregonians laughed. Back to hoodies and raincoats with new books to read while the rain pours down outside.

Help, my books are loose and taking over!


Books, books, everywhere books. History books. Writing books. Creative nonfiction. Novels. Poetry. Books I wrote. Books my friends wrote. Books I wish I wrote. When they’re all stuffed in the shelves, it’s not so bad, but I had a little disaster last week. My water heater gave out. I woke up Tuesday morning to find water all over my laundry room, leaking across the concrete floor and under the dog crate, the recycle bin, the cabinet and the refrigerator. I waited most of the day for a plumber, who declared the water heater dead and replaced it with a new one.
I thought: okay, end of story. I didn’t realize until Wednesday night when I happened to walk barefoot in the den that the carpet was wet and squishy. You see, the laundry room and den used to be the garage. A former owner converted it into living space. Right now I’m kind of wishing he hadn’t done that. The water had leaked under the wall from the laundry room into the den, mostly along the wall lined with book shelves. Four five-shelf units, each six feet tall, 30 inches wide and full of books. Stuffed is a better word. And those are just the ones I’ve read.
In order to get to the carpet, I had to move the bookshelves. In order to move the bookshelves, I had to unload them. Unshelved, the books expanded like rice in boiling water. So now I have books in every room of my house, including the bathrooms. I have no place to sit in the living room except the dog’s chair or the floor. The soggy den is completely off limits, full of wet carpets and big dryers.
I spent Thursday moving books and blotting the carpet with towels. Washed and dried said towels five times then realized this didn’t help the padding underneath at all. Called the insurance company. Waited all day Friday for return calls. Their crew came out Saturday. First thing they did was declare the bookshelves dead. Made of pressboard, they were soaked on the bottom. Pieces of soggy pressboard fell off as two hefty guys carried them to the front yard and left them to await a trip to the dump. The insurance company will reimburse me for new bookshelves of comparable value. But it’s going to be a while before the room can be occupied again.
Meanwhile, I’m drowning in books. A quick estimate tells me at least 500 books are left homeless. That doesn’t count the ones that live in other shelves or boxes or drawers. Every time I’ve moved, my friends and relatives have complained about the books. “Jeez, how many books do you need?” they ask.
In the house where I grew up, there weren’t many books. One little shelf in the living room held a couple Bibles, cookbooks, knitting books, and a set of encyclopedias acquired one at a time at the grocery store back in the 1960s. It’s not that we didn’t read. We read constantly, but we got our books at the library. On the rare occasion when a book was purchased or received as a gift, we passed one copy around the family. Now I probably buy three or four books a month, and I keep all the ones I like, so they add up quickly. I have been meaning to go back and reread the books on the shelves to see if I still want them, but never had time. Now I’m forced to cull my collection.
I’m looking at these homeless books on my couch, my floor, my washing machine, every flat surface, and thinking maybe I should give all of them away. How often do I actually look at them? They’re weighing me down. Is this a home or a library?
I have quite a few e-books on my Kindle. With e-readers, there’s no need for bookshelves. I can store hundreds of books on something that fits in my purse. And if something happens to my Kindle, Amazon.com will magically transfer all my books to my new e-reading device. But it’s not the same. You can’t smell an e-book, can’t autograph it, can’t read it in the bathtub. And I don’t think my e-books will be around decades from now like many of the books on my shelves.
Meanwhile, I have books all over my house. The Lick library. If you want to borrow one or two or a dozen, come on over. My rates are incredibly cheap, and I’ll even give you a homemade chocolate chip cookie as a bonus.
What do you think? How many books do you own? How many books does a person need?