Thanks For All the Fish!

We made it to the end of the month, you and me! I blogged every day in June and successfully completed the Freelance Success 2014 30-Day Blogathon. Thank you for reading, or at least hanging in there. (I only got one “unsubscribe” during the month.)Leslie Lang, Writer, Memoir, Biography, Content Marketing, Hawaii

My goal was to take some of the things out of my head and get them onto my website. I wrote some articles about how much I love the genre of memoir and biography, and a little about some of my work in this area:

And about my other specialization, content marketing, including what that is and some examples of work I’ve done:

And I wrote about books and the power of words:

and a little about Hawai‘i, too:

I will now give you a bit of a break and will stop pelting daily emails at you — though this did get my blogging muscles back in order, I must say, and I will probably be blogging here more often than I had been.

Therefore: “So long!” but only for now, and Thanks for all the fish! (If you don’t know the reference, you should probably read the book.)

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Hitting ‘Send’ on Book Manuscript

Leslie Lang, Writer, Talk Story Press, Publishing, Memoir, Family History, BookTonight I am uploading a family history/memoir manuscript I just completed for a client. We’re publishing it at Amazon’s CreateSpace, which is such a wonderful option for a book like this. He and his wife wanted to put together his mother’s ancestors’ story, an interesting one of a young couple leaving their familiar Hiroshima, Japan to come and work on the former sugar plantations of Hawai‘i.

The back cover explains that this family’s journey “took them from harsh conditions on a small farm in 19th-century Hiroshima to what became a modest but comfortable long-time family home in Hawai‘i. In earlier years, it’s a story of hard work and sacrifice, and in more recent ones, of appreciation and family connection. Always, it’s a story of perseverance in order to build a better future for the ones to come.”

As always (it almost sounds trite, how often I say this, but it isn’t), I loved getting to know this family a bit and learning what makes them tick. This young couple who left Japan in their 20s came to Hawai‘i, worked very hard and sacrificed some more, and built a good foundation for a lot of descendants who are very nice people. The power of family is strong.

These descendants are now, more than 100 years later, about to have a huge family reunion, and will have this book for those who want to know more about how their family came to be. There’s information in this book that I’d wager most of them – or maybe even all of them – don’t know. We dug pretty deep to find some of it.

Family members who want one or more copies of the book will be able to order it directly from Amazon.com. And this means my clients won’t have to buy boxes of books, keep them in their garage and hope they sell. Instead the books will be printed on demand and distributed by Amazon.com, which doesn’t charge you upfront for the service but merely keeps a small portion of each purchase (and it’s very reasonable).

Such satisfying work!

 

 

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Time Travel Incident?

Leslie Lang, Writer, Ghostwriter, Memoirs, Content MarketingDon’t you want time travel to be real? I do. How interesting would that be?!

This article, All The Evidence that Time Travel is Happening All Around Us, is really fun. It opens with a clip from a 1928 Charlie Chaplin movie that shows an extra walking down the street who seems to be talking on a cell phone, which someone only noticed in 2010. There’s a clip from a 1938 movie that shows something similar, too.

My thought: Who would these people who had cell phones, long before cell phones existed, have been talking to?

There are some other good stories on that page. Some are ridiculous and others are fun to lightly contemplate. I’m not a nutter, don’t worry. But I love thinking about it.

And in the meantime, until someone clears it all up for me, I will continue to enjoy good time travel books.

I am, for instance, a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series of books. A friend and I were talking about these books today. If you aren’t familiar with the series, it starts when a 20th-century English woman leans against an ancient Scottish stone circle, and passes out. When she awakens, she sees what she thinks are period actors around her — but it turns out she’s traveled two hundred years into the past. Gabaldon is a great storyteller and the books are also wonderful novels of historical fiction. Very fun to read (or listen to. The Audiobooks in that series have a great reader).

My daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed reading aloud Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time before bedtime; I remember this book fondly from my own childhood. Now we are working through its sequels (we’re listening to A Swiftly Tilting Planet in the car right now). Those are great time travel books for kids.

And there’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, that was fun to read, and I haven’t read H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine in decades — better reread that — and I also enjoyed Stephen King’s book 11/22/63. That book is very different from his other books: it’s heavily researched historical fiction. He sure knows how to tell a story.

Flavorwire has an interesting article called A Brief History of Time Travel Literature:

A Brief History of Time Travel Literature

Yesterday, Stephen King’s newest work, 11/22/63, a novel about a man who travels back in time via a storeroom to stop the JFK assassination, hit shelves. Inspired by this newest addition to the time travel literature genre, we got to thinking about a few of our favorite time travel stories, and particularly about all of the different ways those fictional mortals manage to thrust themselves back and forth in space-time. From our vantage, there are a few types of time travel that we see used over and over again: mechanical (time machines and the like), portal-based (stepping through some sort of floating hole in the space-time continuum), fantastical (ghosts or other unbelievable phenomena), magical/item-based (some sort of artifact that holds the power of time travel), and the simply unexplained (because why does it matter? Get to the cool future stuff already). There are hundreds of novels and short stories about or involving time travel, so these are a few of our favorites, plucked both from the beginnings of the genre and from contemporary literature….

Click here to read the rest.

This CNN article is called Time Travel: Can It Really Be Done? and is science-y. Did you know that “time runs a little bit faster on the roof, where gravity is imperceptibly weaker, than in the basement, for example”?

This article from Huffington Post is a fun read, too–it’s one columnist’s take on The Top 10 Time-Travel Books. I’m taking notes.

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‘Writing the Hawaii Memoir’ is Published

Awhile back I was asked to contribute to an upcoming book called “Writing the Hawaii Memoir,” by Darien Gee, and today I received a copy of the book in the mail.

I love the cover, designed to make it look like a Hawaiian composition book. Isn’t it great?  Leslie Lang, Writer, Ghostwriter, Memoir, Biography, Family History, Editor, Hawaii

The subtitle is “Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story,” and Darien did a great job putting it together.

From Watermark Publishing:

“Your life is so interesting—You should write a book!”

Sound familiar? Thinking of writing your memoir or family history but don’t know where to start? In this invaluable how-to book with tips from more than 20 Hawaii writers and 25-plus writing exercises, you’ll learn how to:

– Brainstorm different themes and ideas
– Build a “bento box” and explore other ways to organize your memoir
– Overcome writer’s block and other challenges
– Deal with issues of libel, “talking stink” and copyright infringement
– Choose the best way to publish your book
– Stay encouraged and motivatedLeslie Lang, writer, biographer, memoir, ghostwriter, Hawaii, editor

Contributing writers include: Billy Bergin, Pamela Varma Brown, Bob Buss, Lee Cataluna, Ben Cayetano, Stuart Homes Coleman, Craig Howes, Patricia Jennings, Frances Kakugawa, Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, Beth-Ann Kozlovich, Leslie Lang, Gail Miyasaki, Warren Nishimoto, Mark Panek, Laurie Rubin, Phil Slott, Christine Thomas, David Ulrich, Chris Vandercook and Cedric Yamanaka.

Darien is great. She’s the nationally bestselling author of six novels, three written under the pen name Mia King. Her books are translated into fourteen languages and the Doubleday, Literary Guild, Rhapsody and Book of the Month Club book clubs all chose them. She also writes about writing and creativity in her column, “Writer’s Corner,” which appears every week in North Hawaii News, and she teaches writing classes in private seminars and community college programs. She lives on this island and though we haven’t yet met in person, we’ve been acquainted and “chatted” for years now. 

The book looks great and I am eager to read it. I can tell that it’s not fluff — this will be a truly useful book for anyone delving into writing about their life. Darien is an excellent writer and she knows her stuff.

Here’s one of my contributions to the book:

“Include details, and go deeper. How did the thing you’re remembering look, feel, sound, smell or taste? What did it always remind you of? How did your great-aunt always describe it? Looking back, did it fall into some sort of pattern or theme of your life? What is important about it?” – LESLIE LANG

If you’re interested, you can order the book here.

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Mary Karr: ‘For Our People to Do Anything to Generate Income That Won’t Land You in Prison, It’s a Win’

What an interesting read, this Paris Review interview with Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club: A Memoir. It’s not a new article; I just stumbled upon it. An excerpt from the interview:

INTERVIEWER

Did you tell your family you were going to write about them?Leslie Lang, Author, Writer, Hawaii

KARR

I’d warned my mother and sister in advance that I wanted to cover the period of Mother’s psychotic break and her divorce from Daddy. She’d inherited a sum of cash that was vast by our standards, and she bought a bar and married the bartender—her sixth husband. She was an outlaw, and really didn’t give a rat’s ass what the neighbors thought. She drank hard and packed a pistol. When I tested the waters about doing a memoir of the period, she told me, Hell, go for it. She and my sister probably figured nobody’d read the book but me and whomever I was sleeping with. Also, my mother was a portrait painter. She understood point of view. My sister, who’s a very sophisticated reader, signed off too. For our people to do anything to generate income that won’t land you in prison, it’s a win.

The memoir came out in 1995 and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year. It sold half a million copies, and was highly acclaimed, ending up as an annual “best book” at the New York Times, The New Yorker, People, and Time. Entertainment Weekly rated it number four in the top one hundred books of the last twenty-five years.

Slate ran an article by Karr called, The Liars’ Club, How I told my friends I was writing about my childhood – and what they said in return.

Another interview excerpt:

KARR

People who didn’t live pre-Internet can’t grasp how devoid of ideas life in my hometown was. The only bookstores sold Bibles the size of coffee tables and dashboard Virgin Marys that glowed in the dark. I stopped in the middle of the SAT to memorize a poem, because I thought, This is a great work of art and I’ll never see it again.

INTERVIEWER

Was this a practice test?

KARR

No, it was the SAT itself—maybe the literature test. I just put my pencil down and started memorizing. Later I came across the poem in a library. It was “Storm Windows,” by Howard Nemerov. I wrote him a fan letter, to which he replied on Washington University stationery—it was like the Holy Grail, a note from a living poet. When I was twenty I met him at a reading he gave in the Twin Cities, and he said, You’re that little girl from Texas!

Great read. Like the memoir itself.

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Investigating a Life – But Whose?

Wallage Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Angle of Repose is on my list of favorites. Wow. Stegner once said, “It’s perfectly clear that if every writer is born to write one story, that’s my story,” and I get it. I’ve got one of those in my head, and maybe that’s why I recognize and am so drawn to his.

Leslie Lang, Memoir, Biography, Writer, GhostwriterIt’s a novel in which a retired and wheelchair-bound historian sets out to write a biographical account of the lives of his extraordinary grandparents, who went West a hundred years before and carved out a life for themselves on the frontier.

Angle of Repose is a 1971 novel by Wallace Stegner about a wheelchair-using historian, Lyman Ward, who has lost connection with his son and living family and decides to write about his frontier-era grandparents. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972. The novel is directly based on the letters of Mary Hallock Foote, later published as A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West

Lyman Ward narrates a century after the fact. Lyman interprets the story at times and leaves gaps that he points out at other times. Some of the disappointments of his life, including his divorce, color his interpretation of his grandparents’ story. Toward the end of the novel, he gives up on his original ambition of writing a complete biography of his grandmother.

Stegner’s use of Mary Hallock Foote‘s historical letters gives the novel’s locations—Grass ValleyLeadvilleNew AlmadenIdaho, and Mexico—an authentic feel; the letters also add vividness to the Wards’ struggles with the environment, shady businessmen, and politicians. Lyman’s position in the contemporary culture of the late sixties provides another historical dimension to the story. Foils for this plot line include Lyman’s adult son, a Berkeley-trained sociologist who sees little value in history, and a neighbor’s daughter who helps transcribe Lyman’s tape-recorded notes while she is home on summer break from UC Berkeley, where she has been active in the “hippie” counterculture movement. – Wikipedia

So it’s a novel, albeit one using primary historical sources, about a biography. It’s a little complicated to describe, but it works.

This article, which I just came across, calls it “an investigation into a life. But whose life?”

Ostensibly, it explores the life of Lyman’s grandmother, illustrator and writer Susan Ward, reconstructing it from sources including her letters and notebooks as well as her published writings and drawings. And a very interesting life it is, too: from an elegant, cultured existence in Brooklyn Heights, surrounded by sophisticated people and domestic luxuries, she moves west with her engineer husband Oliver to places that, in the 1870s, were still works in progress as outposts of American “civilization.” As jobs come and go and hopes rise and fall, they move around, from California to Colorado, from Idaho to Mexico, each time in a new way re-establishing themselves as at home.

In all his guises (as narrator, as Lyman, as Susan), Stegner writes wonderfully about the landscapes of their travels. (So too, perhaps, does Mary Hallock Foote, the real 19th-century woman on whom Susan Ward is based and some of whose letters are incorporated verbatim into the novel — I say “perhaps” because her materials are not identified so I don’t know what words are hers.) The descriptions are never conspicuously stylish or artful. They are just wonderfully specific and tactile:

“They came out onto a plateau and passed through aspens still leafless, with drifts deep among the trunks, then through a scattering of alpine firs that grew runty and gnarled and gave way to brown grass that showed the faintest tint of green on the southward slopes and disappeared under deep snowbanks on the northward ones. The whole high upland glittered with light.” Read the rest

Three thumbs up. Here’s what others say about it if you are interested in learning more. I’m hoping to talk you into reading it. One likes to share one’s favorite things.

Publisher Comments:

Angle of Repose tells the story of Lyman Ward, a retired professor of history and author of books about the Western frontier, who returns to his ancestral home of Grass Valley, California, in the Sierra Nevada. Wheelchair-bound with a crippling bone disease and dependent on others for his every need, Ward is nonetheless embarking on a search of monumental proportions — to rediscover his grandmother, now long dead, who made her own journey to Grass Valley nearly a hundred years earlier. Like other great quests in literature, Lyman Ward’s investigation leads him deep into the dark shadows of his own life.

Reviews:

“Brilliant….Two stories, past and present, merge to produce what important fiction must: a sense of the enhancement of life.” Los Angeles Times

“Masterful….Reading it is an experience to be treasured.” The Boston Globe

“Cause for celebration….A superb novel with an amplitude of scale and richenss of detail altogether uncommon in contemporary fiction.” The Atlantic Monthly

“A fine novel, engrossing and mature…for when all is said individual lives are very much like bits of detritus, rolling down from the high places of stress and emotion until they reach that place where the tumpling and falling stops and they find their angle of repose. To chronicle this movement as well as this novel does is high art — and first-rate writing.” San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

 

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Were They Blogging On Cave Walls?

Remember those free AOL disks that used to be everywhere? They came unsolicited in the mail, and it seems like they were packaged with every magazine you bought (remember buying magazines?).

Things have changed a lot in this online world. Today I’m thinking about how ubiquitous blogs are these days, when they really haven’t even been around that long. Before blogs, there were digital online communities (now they seem kind of primitive to me) like the moderated discussion groups at Usenet, GEnie, the early CompuServe, email lists and bulletin boards.

I can remember getting on those boards and lists and thinking the whole thing was so cool, but also pretty limited. Back then, I would have loved knowing where we were headed with this Internet business. Those were the dial-up days. Before that, people drew their messages on cave walls. Leslie Lang, Writer, Ghostwriter, Blogger

I wonder what’s still to come.

Justin Hall is said to have been one of the first bloggers. He started writing online in 1994 while a student at Swarthmore College and he’s still going.

We didn’t even have the rather ungainly word “weblog” until 1997, when Jorn Barger coined the word for web + log.

In 1999, Peter Merholz jokingly turned the word “weblog” into the phrase “we blog” in the sidebar of his, well, blog, and gave us the word “blog.”

Shortly after that, Evan Williams started using “blog” as both a noun and a verb, and he concocted the term “blogger” (he was helping to create the blogging software Blogger at the time).

That’s about when blogging really took off as a result of blogging “tools” coming on the scene. Open Diary started in October 1998 and had thousands of online diaries. That was the first blog community where readers could comment on other writers’ entries.

Also in 1998, the Charlotte Observer live-blogged Hurricane Bonnie, and that’s thought to be the first known instance of a blog on a traditional news site.

LiveJournal started in March 1999. Blogger.com started in August 1999 and brought blogging to the mainstream (Google bought it in February 2003).

Popular American political blogs started appearing in 2001, how-to manuals started appearing for bloggers, and established journalism schools started researching blogging and noting the differences between it and journalism.

Leslie Lang, Writer, Ghostwriter, Blogger
Steve Case, CEO of AOL back then, recently responded to a Quora question about how much money AOL spent in the 1990s sending out all those disks. “A lot,” he said, among other comments. Another Quora reader calculated it at $300 million.

Movable Type, which spawned TypePad, started in September 2001.

Since 2002, blogs have gained increasing notice and coverage for their role in breaking, shaping and spinning news stories.

WordPress started in 2003.

In 2004, blogs have become increasingly mainstream. Political candidates were using them, the Columbia Journalism Review began covering them regularly, and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary declared “blog” the word of the year.

In 2006, I set up a blog for Richard Ha, and I continue to help edit and write posts. We have blogged close to three times a week ever since – eight years now! – and we’re still going strong.

Since then I also spent a couple years with a business partner running the now-defunct blogs Honolulu On The Cheap and Big Island On The Cheap, blogged here at my own website, and blogged for clients at various sites including at Fodors.com and Ancestry.com (alas, no byline at Ancestry, but I write some of the posts at that link).

This month, I’m participating, along with a lot of other writers, in a 30-day blogathon. I really enjoy blogging. There’s a nice rhythm to posting to the same blog over time, and it’s a comfortable way to bring your message – one that resonates with and is important to you – to your readers. The writing is often a little less formal, while still being professional. Readers can respond to what you post, and sometimes there’s some back and forth. It’s a very satisfying style of communicating.

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Writing & Reading Memoir

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I am excited each morning to carry a good cup of coffee into my office, sit down at my desk and start working. I really enjoy being a freelance writer/ghostwriter of memoir and biography, and working with others to tell their tales so they aren’t lost.

Currently I am helping two people write memoirs, and writing a biography for a third client about his mom and her family’s history. Memoir writer Leslie LangIt’s a huge responsibility to take someone’s stories and make sure you are wrangling them down onto paper just right, while also correctly grasping the significance. I’m tired at the end of my work day, though it often may look as though I merely sit the whole time. I’m hard at work while sitting!

I really love it, though. Everyone I work with has such an extraordinarily different story, and it’s all fascinating. This work is a great match for me. Hearing people’s stories, figuring out how to tell them, and writing them well – I couldn’t enjoy it more.

Here are some resources if you’d like to read some more about the genre of memoir.

1. Do you know the website BrainPickings.org? If you don’t, you should, because what a great site. Here’s a good entry point:

The 13 Best Biographies, Memoirs, and History Books of 2013   From Alan Turing to Susan Sontag, by way of a lost cat, a fierce Victorian lady-journalist, and some very odd creative habits.

by Maria Popova

It’s that time of year again, the time for those highly subjective, grossly non-exhaustive, yet inevitable and invariably fun best-of reading lists. To kick off the season, here are my thirteen favorite biographies, memoirs, and history books of 2013. (Catch up on last year’s best history books.)…

2. My writing colleague Pat McNees,who is amazing, put together this great online resource called Memoir, biography and corporate history. Its subtitle says, Memoir or personal history, biography or autobiography, oral history or interview, corporate or organizational history — resources on various forms of life writing a/​k/​a life story writing. It is a truly amazing collection of linked reference materials you have to see to appreciate.

3. This New York Times review of Ben Yagoda’s book Memoir: A History, is fun to read. “He ambles past Holocaust memoirs, child abuse memoirs, sexual abuse memoirs, and incest, drug addiction, celebrity, spirituality, eating and parenting memoirs; pauses to contemplate the odd species of “investigative” memoir (written by or for someone who must supplement memory with research); notes with surprise the fake Holocaust memoir; and stops in amazement before the strangest hybrid of them all, O. J. Simpson’s “If I Did It,” a memoir in the conditional mood.”

4. This person, a serious fan of the memoir, has put together a Pinterest page showing memoirs: I’ve read a memoir a week starting in October 2011,” she writes. “Many of them are listed here, plus other memoirs/biographies that I continue to read.”

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Memoir: Isabella Bird in the Sandwich Islands

When Isabella Bird was 19 years old, in Yorkshire, England in 1850, she had an operation to remove a tumor from her spine and the operation was “only partially successful.” I’m not sure what that means, but it’s written that afterwards she suffered from insomnia and depression and her doctor recommended, as so many did in those days, that she travel. I wish I had a doctor like that. Though I’m sure Kaiser wouldn’t cover it.

Her father must have been a remarkable man, because four years after that operation, when she was 23 years old, he gave her 100 pounds and told her she was free to go wherever she wanted. Wow! Let’s recap: She was a woman in somewhat poor health in Victorian England who took off and traveled the world, apparently fearlessly.

Isabella Bird, Leslie Lang, Hawaii Writer

She traveled first to North America, and stayed for several months in eastern Canada and the U.S., writing letters home to her sister the whole time. Upon her return to England, she referred to those letters to write her first book, a work of travel writing and memoir called The Englishwoman in America. (The full text is online at that link.)

When her father died in 1858, she and her sister and mother moved to Edinburgh, which was her home for the rest of her life. She continued to travel, returning to North America three times and going once to the Mediterranean. Then, in 1872, she boarded a ship in San Francisco that was headed for New Zealand.

She decided to get off in Hawai‘i and she remained here in the islands for six months. I don’t think any visitor ever had a fuller six months in Hawai‘i than Isabella Bird. She learned to ride a horse astride, instead of sidesaddle like a proper English lady, and journeyed to the top of Mauna Loa. She did not travel like an invalid, that’s for sure. Travel seemed to agree with her.

Later, she wrote about her pleasure in “visiting remote regions which are known to few even of the residents, living among the natives, and otherwise seeing Hawaiian life in all its phases.” She recorded her great stay in Six Months in the Sandwich Islands, published in 1875 (original title, The Hawaiian Archipelago: Six months among the palm groves, coral reefs & volcanoes of the Sandwich Islands). Full text here.

Though her books are often categorized as travel writing, they are also memoirs. “A memoir,” says Gore Vidal, “is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked. In a memoir it isn’t the end of the world if your memory tricks you and your dates are off by a week or a month as long as you honestly try to tell the truth” (Palimpsest: A Memoir, 1995). Bird was a keen observer and we are the better for being able to read her memoirs, and get glimpses of the worlds she stepped into.

People live more happily than any that I have seen elsewhere.  It is very cheerful to live among people whose faces are not soured by the east wind, or wrinkled by the worrying effort to “keep up appearances,” which deceive nobody. – Isabella Bird, The Hawaiian Archipelago

My daughter and I went to look at Rainbow Falls yesterday, a beautiful waterfall in the Wailuku River that has a lot of Hawaiian traditions associated with it, and I always think of Isabella Bird there. She would be astounded to see it now. While the falls probably look about the same, here’s how we got there: we drove our small SUV  up Waianuenue Avenue, and then turned onto a well-paved, wide street that leads to the falls and then turned into its clear, open parking lot, which is large enough to easily accommodate the numerous tour buses that roll in and out of there every day. There are bathrooms there, too.

Here’s how Isabella Bird got to Rainbow Falls, which was then known as Anuenue Falls (did you know that Waianuenue Avenue is named for its wai anuenue [rainbow waters]?), in 1872. They were on horseback (my emphasis): “Miss Karpe, my travelling companion, is a lady of great energy, and adept in the art of travelling. Undismayed by three days of sea-sickness, and the prospect of the tremendous journey to the volcano to-morrow, she extemporised a ride to the Anuenue Falls on the Wailuku this afternoon, and I weakly accompanied her, a burly policeman being our guide. The track is only a scramble among rocks and holes, concealed by grass and ferns, and we had to cross a stream, full of great holes, several times. The Fall itself is very pretty, 110 feet in one descent, with a cavernous shrine behind the water, filled with ferns. There were large ferns all round the Fall, and a jungle of luxuriant tropical shrubs of many kinds.”

She traveled extensively after her stay in the Sandwich Islands, though she settled down in Edinburgh for awhile after her sister died of typhoid in 1880 and married her sister’s doctor. He died just five years after they married and then she took off traveling again, and writing memoirs of all her great adventures.

It is a strange life up here on the mountain side, but I like it, and never yearn after civilization. – Isabella Bird, The Hawaiian Archipelago

Her works (this list is from Wikipedia):

Her adventures included traveling alone on horseback from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, riding alone through a blizzard with her eyes frozen shut, spending several months snowed in a cabin with two young men, and being wooed by a lonely outlaw (these stories are all from her A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, 1879).

In Amritsar, India, she established a hospital named for her sister, the Henrietta Bird Hospital, and in Srinigar, the John Bishop Memorial Hospital, named for her late husband. In northern India, she met up with someone and traveled with him to Persia, crossing the desert in mid-winter and arriving in Tehran, it’s said, half-dead. From there, she led her own caravan through northern Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey. She did many, many other interesting things in her lifetime; these are only a few.

She was the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society (1892). When she died in 1904, at 72, she was in Edinburgh packing her trunks for a trip back to China.

“There is also a dog, but he does not understand English.” – Isabella Bird, The Hawaiian Archipelago

I am so glad she was compelled to write as she traveled and explored, and then to publish. It’s as though she’s speaking to us from the past and telling us all about how it was for her then.

It’s worth mentioning, too, that many of the books above are available to read on Google Books for free, because they are out of copyright now. And many of them are free on Kindle – I feel a binge coming on, and I’m off to do some downloading. If only there were more reading hours in the day!

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