Write Next Door: Local authors find creative inspiration close to home

Ellyn Gaich, a bookseller for BookSmart in Morgan Hill, browses through one of many books written by local authors.

In the world of writing, paths often overlap. People start careers in other professions then stumble into writing, either from a hardship, a hobby or an inner calling that surfaces later in life.
Some of the local authors who reside in the Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Hollister areas fall into one of these categories, making their personal journeys as authors just as interesting as their books.
Writing was never an aspiration for Gilroy native and Morgan Hill resident Ron Erskine. While working as a home builder in 2002, he was upset by a letter about construction published in the Morgan Hill Times. So he wrote a response and submitted it to the newspaper.
The editor was impressed with his writing skills and offered him the opportunity to write a column. He jumped at the chance and began writing “Getting Out,” which is still published in the Morgan Hill Times, Gilroy Dispatch and Hollister Free Lance.
Then in 2003, Erskine and his 18-year old son hiked the 221-mile John Muir Trail. The experience inspired him to write an e-book and “Measureless Mountain Days: A Father and Son on the John Muir Trail” was born. The book won the 2014 Outdoor Writers Association of California’s Outdoor Book of the Year award and Erskine was named Writer of the Year by the organization.
Despite the recognition by his peers, Erskine doesn’t consider himself a true writer—he merely has a certain way of expressing the words that are sleeping inside him.
“It’s the fire that burns in me about the outdoors that ends up on the page,” he said.
First-time author Bev Stenehjem was unemployed in 2011 when her friends suggested she fill the time by writing about her hobby—wine. She and her husband had recently moved to Gilroy, so she contacted the Gilroy Dispatch about writing a wine column. After reviewing her writing samples, the editor gave her the opportunity to write a column every other week.
Stenehjem, who considers herself a “wine enthusiast” rather than an expert, said she had the idea to write a book after visiting local wineries and meeting other people who love wine, too. After two years of research, she wrote “Wineries of Santa Clara Valley.”
Believing that good can be found around every corner, Stenehjem said if she hadn’t lost her job she would not be a writer today.
“I threw caution to the wind and never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be an author,” she said.
Elizabeth Barratt’s journey as a writer began in 1979 when the fall of Tehran, Iran, forced her family to evacuate the U.S. Embassy and move to California.
“My husband was assigned to the US Embassy at that time,” she said. “I had to leave the country with my two kids and one flight bag.”
Back here in the states, the former Gilroy resident enrolled in a journalism course at Monterey Peninsula College and was assigned to either get something published or write a term paper.
She wrote an article based on the journal she kept in Iran and submitted it to the Monterey Herald. The paper bought and published the article, an experience Barratt called “validating.”
“I realized that all the literature studies I’d been doing for so many years in college had taught me how to write,” she said.
Barratt, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Spanish literature, published her first book, “Carmel Valley,” a collaboration with the Carmel Valley Historical Society, in 2009.
Her second book, “A Country Doctor in the Valley of Heart’s Delight,”about her great-grandfather, Gilroy pioneer and former mayor Hereland R. Chesbro, was published in 2011. Always fascinated by the history, Barratt has plans to write two more books.
Several local authors will gather at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Gilroy Museum to sign their books and discuss the writing process. Some will also be on hand later in the day at BookSmart in Morgan Hill to help celebrate California Bookstore Day. The annual event, which last year expanded into Independent Bookstore Day, helps reinforce the value of printed books, proving their worth as salable commodities for authors like Erskine, Stenehjem, Barratt and so many others in the area.
“It’s the second year we’ve participated,” said Lauren Welch, a BookSmart bookseller. “We’ll have contests and games, because we love to celebrate books.”

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