5 tips for non-fiction, photographic histories



There are plenty of paths to success when on deadline. Some prefer to wait until the last minute, as pressure makes them produce. Others prefer the slow boil, working at a snail’s pace until it all comes to a head, but only one of these techniques helps when it comes to historical non-fiction, particularly the sort that require finding a lot of photographs and documents from a certain era. If you have to work with others, particularly organizations, start early. You never know what will happen, photos can be misplaced, just plain gone, and the documents you thought would help may prove lifeless.

With my Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History book, forthcoming from Arcadia Publishing, I lit a fire under my chair the week I got back the contract. As the Museum book marks my third Images of America challenge, I thought I would share five tips to making the process an easy one.

1. Be confident you can get the materials and photographs you need before submitting a proposal. This way you’ll go into the work without a forehead vein popping out. Keep a bibliography document open at all times so you can add your sources without a drop of stress sweat.
2. Start writing. Write early and write more than you need. I tap out a longer chapter first, then take a weed whacker to it. Stray bits of information can always be saved for the photo captions, where I believe the meat of the research resides. Copy and paste those bits to a separate document for later use. I create individual documents first, then marry them to a master doc at the end.
3. Pay attention to the important deadlines. With Images of America, there are usually a few of them. Try to get there early. You’ll feel good about yourself.
4. Spend the clock talking to the people who know a great deal about the subject. Buy them dinner if they seem up for it, or just smile warmly, but make sure they’re included. This way they’ll remember you over the coming months when they unearth something that would be cool in the book. Answer their emails, send them emails, just talk to them.
5. Be a photo wizard. You don’t need a wand, just a lot of pics. Gather more than you need, maybe a hundred more, or maybe just bunches more. It gives you a chance to weed out the so-so pics for the strong ones. In the newspaper business, editors prefer faces to be as big as a quarter, or failing that a dime, but any historic photograph that gets your heart hammering is a good photograph.


COMING IN 2018: The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

Imagine the world before the Internet, before modern medicine and modern science as we know it today; pre-cars, pre-phones, pre-fast food, and you’ve got the world that saw one of the first natural history museums on the California coast. The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History has been a part of the Monterey Peninsula since 1883, nearly as long as Monterey County has been in existence.

An old postcard depicting the Museum of old. My desk is on the second-floor window corner facing the camera, with a view of the bay!

I’ve been lucky enough to work for the Museum since 2014 and am happy to announce I’ll be depicting the history of this amazing place through writing and more than 150 historic photographs. In the short period of time I’ve been here, as the awesome story of this place soaked in, I’ve realized just how lucky I am to be a part of this local institution. History has always been a thing with me, no matter if it’s the history of 1940s and 1980s pulp novels or the history of Tusayan and Williams, Arizona. I daydream about what it would be like to live and thrive in an era where things moved a little slower, but were harder at the same time – for nearly everyone. I can’t think of any writer/bibliophile who hasn’t dreamed about living in a small cabin near a stream or rocky shoreline.

History is a learning curve without a shelf life. It’s a way for us to see what’s happened, good and bad, and carry it with us as we move forward. At the museum, history is preserved with just such a mission in mind. Taxidermy, geology, plants, Native peoples; they’re all there.

“The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History”, will be published in 2018 by Arcadia Publishing in their Images of America series. It’s an exciting project, which I expect to have completed by October, and I’m very thankful to be the one who gets to write it. From the first Museum building to the arrival of Sandy the Whale, this book is long overdue.



REVIEW: Steampunk boils beautifully in The Gaslight Girl by Hargrove Perth

Steampunk is a subgenre to behold in the science fiction and fantasy world. It’s the stuff of clockwork wonder and corseted amazement and, for many; it’s something readers can’t get enough of. Many, however, don’t quite get it. Exactly what is steampunk?
The best way to describe the steampunk life is to imagine a futuristic world with fantastic mechanical creatures, airships and weaponry, but rather than advance technology, picture it made with iron and copper, gears and cranks, and powered with steam. Picture men and women of the future, but in a setting more closely comparable to old London, of the time when Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper skulked around.

Author Hargrove Perth has steampunk down. In her fast-paced novella, The Gaslight Girl, she’s taken a story familiar to all of us and injected hot steam in its veins. The Cinderella story, full of despair and ugly-on-the-inside stepsisters, forms the bare bones in this the story of young Halloran Frost. Cinderella she is not, for this girl is armed, corseted, and chock full of attitude, not to mention the heir of her father’s gas company and his dark secrets. The Gaslight Girl has all the gears, mechanical creatures, airships and steam-fueled spirit that have enamored readers to the genre across the world.

Perth’s novella is part one of the Decisive Devices series, with more excitement sure to come. This exciting ride is surely not over yet.

For those with a taste for authors such as Gail Carriger and Kevin J. Anderson, not to mention the classics by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, you’ll want to get to know Halloran Frost and Perth’s Decisive Devices novella.

Learn more about Hargrove Perth here.

Order The Gaslight Girl here.

Review: Abandon All Hope grabs you by the throat

Abandon-2Abandon All Hope: Gate 1: Book 1, by Lizzi Cruz and Royce Steele, is a grabber with blue collar hands.

The book features an assortment of nine fast-paced rural horrors, similar in spirit to the early tales of Stephen King, but with a dash of Joe R. Lansdale thrown in for good measure, not to mention a few modern themes.

Hosted by the quirky, fiendishly funny Nefaris Rouge (think the Crypt Keeper), Abandon thrusts readers into a gripping, dark adventure chock full of screams and gore. Be prepared for anything in this short, dynamic read. The first in a planned nine-part saga (there are a lot of gates when it comes to horror, or levels, or whatever Dante-esque terrors ones prefer to call it), book one is a captivating start to what looks like a promising new horror series. I particularly enjoyed the short story “Mutha Bugga” for its simple exposition, memorable (and idiotic) main character, and that damn blue chair. It took a while for the heebie-jeebies to clear my mind after reading that particular short.

This is a book that aims to shock and aims to please fans of old school fright.

Cruz and Steele do a damn good job of it.

Buy the book here!

Whitehurst’s Top Reads of 2016

From tripping out with Tarzan and the Ant Men, to starting Marie Kondo’s book on tidying up, it’s been a year of diversity and perhaps a bit of quirky inclusion. My print book collection grew in 2016, which came as a surprise due to my Kindle attachment issues, and the number of books started and not finished (sorry, Kondo) grew as well. This means 2017 will be the year of finishing things I started. Fingers crossed.  I did, however, manage to finish 14 books. Below are the top five books I couldn’t stop thinking about after reading the last page.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

There’s a little book shop off Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey, California, that reminds me of this book whenever I walk by the place. With a splash of fantasy, a squirt of Da Vinci Code, and a bit too much techy talk, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore features a mysterious society, the depths of Google, and the wonder of musty old books stacked high to the ceiling. Set in San Francisco, but with a trip to the Big Apple thrown in, former techie Clay gets an adventure of a lifetime when he leaves his web design gig for a job at a dusty old book shop found next to a skanky strip club. I looked forward to this book every time I sat down to read. You might too.

Find the book here.

Mentats of Dune by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert

The second book in their “Schools of Dune” trilogy continues the spicy space opera adventure begun by Brian’s father, Frank Herbert. While the writing style in the new Dune books (and there are a lot of them) differs from Frank’s style, I look forward to each and every one. So much so I read them in doses, so not to run out of material. Anderson and Herbert have penned a number of standalone novels and trilogy novels that fill out the intensely vibrant cosmos found in the Dune universe. With the conclusion of the Schools of Dune trilogy, their work in the universe will end. At least for now. I, for one, am already looking forward to their return. Mentats of Dune features the story of Vorian Atreides, who works to make peace with his family’s sworn enemies in House Harkonnen. Characters from the other trilogy novels also make appearances, such as the villainous Erasmus and zealous Manford Torondo, as do the Fremen of Arrakis, not to mention sandworms. It wouldn’t be awesome without a sandworm or two of course. If you like Dune as I do, then get into these books.

Find the book here.

Inferno by Dan Brown

Just in time, since I missed the movie in theaters and still had a few weeks in 2016, I snatched the latest Robert Langdon (number four in the series, number three in the movie series) from my book shelf and set to work before the movie hit the digital rental service. It wasn’t hard to devour this one. Like Da Vinci Code (number two in the series, number one in the movie series), I had a hard time putting this book down. Langdon is back in killer nerdy, confused form in this one, only getting the clues but not the bullets and action smacking the walls around him. He’s knee deep in Dante lore, in Florence, in Venice, in death masks, and in plagues. This equated to a page turner in my book. I ended by Googling when Brown planned to pen the next in the series (number five in the series, maybe number four in the movie series, depending whether or not Howard gets around to doing The Lost Symbol), so that means it was good.

Find the book here.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling

I wasn’t sure I was ready for a new Harry Potter story (popularly called HP, right?), especially not one that would read weird. I was sure it would too, being that it was a play and not a novel at all, but after finding the rhythm of the story, I totally fell in love with it. I was back in the world of magic and Muggles in a flash. Being that I was already an adult when the series began, reading the Cursed Child made me feel like a younger adult. The story itself, with time travel and Harry’s kids, kept me enthralled until the end, definitely a worthy addition to the HP canon. I have to add, however, that I would love to see this made into a film. The fanboy in me, though I understand Rowling’s motivations and wishes, prays she will pen another novel in the series, because I would flip out.

Find the book here.

The Irish Bride Series: The Innocents Book 1 by Jaime Lorie Goza

Say hello to Grace, a young and innocent Irish lass (not to mention a new face to add to the grand tradition of Irish literature), whose life is rough, but also quirky and amiable at times. While not one who devours everything Irish, being Irish myself has led me to more than my fair share of books set in the Emerald Isle. This book fits into that collection quite well.  This book served as a fun distraction for reading time and makes for a good addition to anyone’s shelves, whether or not they’ve touched that goofy Blarney Stone thing.

Find the book here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Innocents by Jaime Lorie Goza

goza-1Irish literature holds a special place in my heart. It’s likely my own Irish heritage plays a part in that love, being that I have an undisclosed helping in my DNA. But it’s not just that. Everyone loves reading about the simple things, the struggles born of poverty, and the quaintness of rural life – narratives not restricted to those with Irish eyes of course. But Irish literature has all this, and Jaime Lorie Goza, the author of The Irish Bride Series, nails it in her prose.

If you want the Irish experience, to bask in the warmth of simpler (and a tad bit crazier) times, you can’t go wrong with this series.

She dives right in with “The Innocents,” book one of the series, by introducing us to Grace, a young Irish lass on the verge of learning that which we readers know full well – that being Irish is full of mental and physical anguish. It’s tough and it hurts, but whimsical and quite charming at times. There’s magic in every breath we take and every move we make, as someone once said. That magic can be found in the first of Goza’s memorable series when we delve into the story of Grace, Jacob, and her very Irish family.

Those who love all things Eire will find much to love in this fictional tale, just as they’ve loved others in the genre, from Claire Fullerton’s “Dancing to an Irish Reel” to, yes, Frank McCourt’s seminal “Angela’s Ashes.”

Check out the book here!

See Goza’s website here.