Revisiting Stories Grandma Never Told

Stories Grandma Never Told_justified text.pmdOnce upon a time there was a journalist with long curly hair, big glasses, and a penchant for blazers with padded shoulders who traveled around California interviewing Portuguese women. She carried a steno pad, a micro-cassette recorder, and a heavy Minolta Camera with extra lenses and a detachable flash. She used Tri-X black and white film. The women wondered why she might find them interesting, but they welcomed her into their kitchens, living rooms and shops. The result was a book, Stories Grandma Never Told, published by Heyday Books in 1998.

The day the book came out was the day this young journalist felt like a real author. It was released at the annual Dia de Portugal festival held at the San Jose Historical Museum. As Portuguese music played, young queens in white paraded, and crowds feasted on Azorean pastries and linguica, she sold book after book after book. Women bought them for their mothers, sisters and daughters. People featured in the book came to have their pictures taken with the famous author. Her whole family was there. It was heaven.

That was my third book but the first one that was my idea, my words, my pictures, me on the page. I had gotten the idea while writing The Iberian Americans, an overview of Portuguese, Spanish and Basque immigrants. Very little had been written about Portuguese women. I could see how I was a direct product of my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and beyond. I had never asked for their stories, but now I dove in, starting with everything “Portuguese” listed in the telephone book. It was a long process, and I had a hard time finding a publisher. I was about to give up when Malcolm Margolin at Heyday offered me a contract.

Sue interviewing MarieBalshorThe book came out 21 years ago. Heyday did a great job producing and promoting it, but they decided after eight years and three printings to let it go. I republished it under my own Blue Hydrangea imprint. Decades later, it’s still selling better than my other books. To increase distribution, I am republishing it this month with Ingram, the company that supplies most bookstores. This means that if you request this book at any bookstore, they should be able to order it for you. Amazon.com will not be the only place to get it.

To bring “Grandma” up to date, I have been looking up the women I interviewed. A lot has changed. Many of the older women I interviewed have died. I’m grateful that I was able to capture their stories. Otherwise, they’d be gone. Some of them documented their lives for their children and grandchildren, but others never thought it was important and the kids didn’t ask, just as I didn’t until I started working on my book.

Finding people is a lot easier these days. I didn’t have Google or Facebook back in the 1990s. I collected my interviewees by word of mouth—“you should interview so-and-so”—by showing up at events, and by many hours taking notes by hand in various libraries.

So many of these women became friends. They felt like family. We exchanged letters, Christmas cards, and phone calls. We met every year at the Dia de Portugal, where they’d wear their Azorean costumes with full skirts and white blouses as they peddled food or marched in the parade. It’s hard to lose them. I already knew about many of them, including my Aunt Nellie, Aunt Edna, my mother, and my college mentor Dolores Spurgeon. I mourned the loss of my buddy Marie Gambrel. Now I know that Virginia Silveira, Edith Mattos Walter, Bea Costa, Pauline Correia Stonehill, Doris Machado Van Scoy, Maree Simas Schlenker are also gone.

But I also know that former student Krista Harper is now a college professor, that Katherine Vaz got married and lives in New York, and that former Sacramento news anchor Cristina Mendonsa now broadcasts across the United States. It has been a long time, but many of the younger women are still celebrating their heritage the way they used to.

Books on Portuguese Americans occupy a lot more shelf space than they used to as a younger generation of immigrants go all-out to tell their stories. Portuguese Heritage Publications of California and the University of Massachusetts Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture have both put out numerous books about the Portuguese. But Stories Grandma Never Told was one of the first.

I’m proud of that young curly-headed woman who pushed through her natural shyness to make the phone calls, take the trips, and ask the questions that resulted in Stories Grandma Never Told and of the stubborn older woman I am today who refuses to let those stories disappear.

The new Ingram edition, with a return to my favorite cover, will be out on my birthday, March 9. You can still buy Stories Grandma Never Told in print or as an ebook at Amazon.com, too. That version will soon be updated, too.

God bless my Portuguese ladies.

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Up Beaver Creek has been published

Up_Beaver_Creek_Cover_for_Kindle (1)My new novel is available now at Amazon.com. It’s not fully fledged yet. My official launch party is not until July 8. But you can buy it now. (I’ll excuse you for a minute if you want to go do that.) No, it’s not in the bookstores yet. Or the library. I don’t have copies to sell you. They’ve been shipped but haven’t arrived. But all that will happen within the next month.

I’ll be honest. I have published this through my own Blue Hydrangea Productions company via Amazon’s CreateSpace. I didn’t want to publish my own books anymore. It’s a lot of work. But the book needed to come out. Plenty of famous authors have self-published (Stephen King, Mark Twain, Margaret Atwood, e.e. cummings). Besides, people need to read about the imaginary tsunami before the real one happens.

Tsunami? Yes, in Up Beaver Creek, the long-awaited tidal wave hits the Oregon coast. Read the book to see what happens and hope your neighbors are as well prepared as P.D.’s are.

This book is fiction. The people are invented, but the setting is real. As everyone living on the Oregon coast knows, the big earthquake and tsunami are coming.

Up Beaver Creek is P.D.’s story. She’ll never tell you what the initials stand for. Nor does she want to be called Cissy, her old nickname before her husband Tom died, before she launched herself at 42 into a new life with a new name, a new look, and a new determination to realize her dream of being a professional musician. Am I writing about myself? No. I’m a widow and a musician, but I am not P.D. I wish I were that bad-ass. I would never do the things that P.D. does.

“P.D.” is a state of mind, a tougher, wiser, upbeat attitude that makes the former Cissy work out at the gym, cuss, and try things she would have been afraid to do before. She will not whine or give up.

For a long time, I called the book “Being P.D.,” but the general reaction was “huh?” So I changed the title.

My book launch party is scheduled for Sunday, July 8 at 2 p.m. at the Newport Public Library. There will be readings, discussion, books to buy, and a big cake. I might even give some books away. So come join us.

I welcome opportunities to read and talk about this book and all of my books. For a full list, visit my book page at suelick.com. We can discuss starting over as a widow, living on your own, what to do and not to do when the tsunami hits, how to get books published, and other topics. If you would like a guest post for your blog, I’m interested.

For information about any of this, email me at suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com, click on my web page at suelick.com, or visit my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/suelick. You can also find lots of information at my Amazon author page.

As always, I welcome your comments here.

Psst! Wanna read a novel that’s not out yet?

I’m doing something that really scares me. I’m inviting people to be “beta readers” for my unpublished novel, Up Beaver Creek.

The experts say that’s the thing to do before you independently publish. So I’m sending out copies and asking people for their honest answers to questions about the book, things like: Do you like the title? Can you identify with the main character? Do you get confused or bored? Have I got the setting right? Do the events that happen sound real? This story takes place on the Oregon coast, and I live in fear that my fellow Oregonians will tell me I’ve got it all wrong.

The thing is, I feel done with the book. I put it through the critique group wringer, rewrote it several times, pitched it all over hell and gone, and I’m more than ready to have it out in the world. With today’s technology and Amazon’s Createspace, I could make that a reality this week. But the experts say I need to get feedback and do a final rewrite first. What if I don’t want to know? Too bad.

Writing is a crazy business. If I were a plumber, I wouldn’t invite people to come look at my work and tell me whether or not they like how I did it. Unless the pipes burst or the sink overflowed, I’d pack up my tools, collect my money, and never look back.

Being a newspaper reporter was a little that way, too. You write it, turn it in, and move on. Once in a while, someone might object or you might get special praise for a particularly good story, but in general, I just moved on to the next assignment.

But in this book biz, your work is forever being analyzed, reviewed and criticized. You revise, revise, and revise again. Before you publish, you do your best to make sure it’s as close to perfect as possible. I’m not just talking about typos, although every single one is an embarrassment. No, I mean the whole story overall. Does it make sense? Will the reader finish thinking, “Huh?” “That was lame,” or “Wow, that was good”? We want the latter, of course.

Your family and friends will usually tell you it’s wonderful, even if it isn’t. Hence, the beta readers. The name comes from the high-tech world where programmers release a beta version of a new program to outside people who will test it. The alpha version could be compared to the first draft, which the programmers test in-house.

I could still use a few more readers. It’s a novel, a light-hearted one which should be fun to read. The questions are not difficult. Beta readers will receive a finished copy of the paperback and their names will be listed in the acknowledgements. If you’re interested, click on bit.ly/2qM9zJt for the enrollment form. To read an excerpt from the book, click on https://suelick.com/new-novel-up-beaver-creek.

This is a lot like letting people see me without makeup. Or maybe more like inviting strangers to comment on my face. No way! But a book is just words. They can be changed.

Thank you for being here. I welcome your comments.