Some authors write books on their own, start to finish. Many books, however, take a village to put together.
Two such books involving a network in Santa Barbara have come out recently: Montecito and Santa Barbara: History Never Ends by David F. Myrick (Montecito Museum, 2018) and You’re Doing What? Older Women’s Tales of Achievement and Adventure, collected and edited by Marjorie Penn Lasky (Regent Press, 2018).
History matters, but only if you know about it.
Myrick, a longtime historian, wrote two local history books about extraordinary buildings and mansions and the personalities behind them. His third book was coming together when death interrupted in 2011. Near the end, he asked Dana Newquist, a friend for 25 years, to help get the book published.
Myrick grew up in Montecito, lived in San Francisco for many years working for Southern Pacific Railroad, and then moved back. He wrote 28 books, several about railroads and three volumes of Montecito and Santa Barbara (1988, 1991 and 2018) on Santa Barbara history emphasizing Montecito.
His books covered the area from a rural village in the 19th century to wealthy estate neighborhoods in the 20th midcentury. Many owners were wealthy philanthropists, although after 1940 Montecito became more of a conventional community with a wide range of residents.
Newquist moved here 46 years ago, opened Montecito Video and joined community organizations. During the past seven years, he hooked up with other residents and writers to pull together the book. Among them are Judy Guitteau Pearce, Rick Clossen, Mindy Denson, Kelly Mahan Herrick, Barbara Doran and James Buckley. Networking added other publishing participants such as Erin Graffy, Anna Lafferty, Neal Graffy, Michael Redmon and Jim Terzian.
History Never Ends includes a section on local residents who have run, maintained and grown the community, such as gardeners, house cleaners, cooks, agriculturalists and small-business people. This is where Pearce, a fourth-generation Montecito resident, stepped in.
On a side note, as high school students, Pearce sold me my last and favorite horse named Flicka, “granddaughter” of the main horse character in the classic 1943 novel My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara. In the 1950s and ’60s, many Santa Barbara families had horses and often were active in the local riding club.
Pearce describes those days: “We had many ‘backyard’ horses in my day. Lots of kids (and adults) had them and could ride on all the big empty estates, just open space. If you read about Jean Collins Hayward, you will learn how the Montecito Trails Foundation was started in 1964 and why there are so many trails now.”
That love led her to write the “Equestrian” column for the Santa Barbara News-Press in the 1980s. She later wrote for the Montecito Journal and Montecito Magazine when she and Myrick became friends.
Pearce’s part of History Never Ends is writing about Montecito personalities.
“The Bank of Montecito offered to help finance our book and specifically asked that we not do celebrities,” she said. “I got to pick who to write about, so I chose the real Montecito celebrities like the Borgatellos [founders of MarBorg Industries] and Roy Jensen.”
She grew up next to the old Miramar, attended Santa Barbara Catholic High School and has lived much of her life in Montecito. Her family came to Santa Barbara in 1894 from Illinois. Her great-grandfather became a gardener at the Santa Barbara Cemetery. Her grandmother, who helped raise her, moved here in 1903. The family helped operate Montecito in several ways, including another popular personality — her mother, Dorothy King Coe, known as the “Montecito Cake Lady.”
Myrick’s collection of historical resources is incredible and fills more than 400 big cardboard bins, which served to start the Montecito Historical Archives and the Montecito Museum and is temporarily stored at El Montecito Presbyterian Church. The board, on which Pearce serves, is looking for a permanent museum location.
Myrick’s efforts continue to provide historical material for more history about Montecito and Santa Barbara.
When finishing college, visions of my future were narrow and hardly came close to what really happened. I suspect that many women’s life experiences have gone beyond anticipation and have become more incredible as they get older.
You’re Doing What? Older Women’s Tales of Achievement & Adventure by Lasky is a collection of such stories. More than 60 women have written about happenings in their lives that pushed them into exciting and meaningful experiences. They often moved beyond common barriers such as men’s opinions or accomplished what is associated with younger people. These women found ways to reach goals, some they planned for decades. The results are unique stories with a strong sense of themselves while smashing stereotypes of older women.
Networking paid off with this book. When looking for appropriate writers, Lasky contacted her friend Barbara Lindemann, former SBCC history professor and chair of the History Department. She recommended her writing friend Sharon Dirlam, who worked for the Los Angeles Times and the Santa Barbara News-Press. Dirlam’s story “Peace Corps, Russian Far East, 1996-98” was accepted by Lasky.
“I traveled extensively when I was a Los Angeles Times staff writer in the travel section,” she said. “John and I lived in Beijing for a year and later in Paris and Prague for several months each. But two years in the Russia Far East was the travel experience that has stayed foremost in my mind.”
She and her husband, a retired journalist for the Los Angeles Times, joined the Peace Corps to teach English to teachers of English. It was not the Russia we read about in the news, but one that created an exceptional experience and left them with a group of friends with whom they have stayed in touch.
Dirlam helped edit You’re Doing What? and recommended a story by her accomplished sister, Elise Dirlam Ching, a Qigong (similar to tai chi) leader. Her latest book sums up Ching’s goals, The Creative Art of Living, Dying and Renewal.
Dirlam commented on the book’s contents: “The essays that were most appealing to me were about unexpected or exciting changes or adventures that older women of today are experiencing. The stories that just followed along through life’s bumpy course weren’t as compelling. In the short space allotted, one story is better than a list of headlines.”
Not all manuscripts were chosen, she says. “A few submissions were too pedantic, or too modest in the telling. The ones that ended up in the book are insightful, heartwarming, brave, funny, active and inspiring.”
The book’s stories show how life can continue to be adventurous and far from boring.
— Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.