Ethel Van Tassel caught the creative writing bug a bit late. At 97, she is the elder stateswoman among the four dozen writers published in this year's local anthology, "In Mt. Diablo's Shadow, Volume II."
The retired Liberty High School Latin and history teacher said it's her second time seeing her name over a fictional piece. Although Van Tassel has completed an autobiographical novel and a dozen short stories, she's yet to be published outside the local anthology.
"I'm afraid that's the only publication I have of my work. At my age there won't be any sequels," she joked.
Van Tassel's short memoir about an adventure with a cat in a French restaurant, "Mon Ami Francais," is one of 48 pieces from local writers in the second edition of "In Mt. Diablo's Shadow," said Brentwood Poet Laureate Kati Short. The book arrived in October, and there are 100 of 300 copies left at local businesses. The volume sells for $17. The Brentwood Library also has two copies available.
Local writers are encouraged to offer prose and poetry for review starting in the fall. The anthology is the joint project of Short, Brentwood Writes and the city of Brentwood. This year, the city agreed to fund additional copies because last year's first edition sold out so quickly, Short said. Proceeds from the sale of the anthology go toward the next year's costs, which should make it a self-sustaining project in years to come.
Van Tassel is just the sort of writer Short hopes to reach with the call for submissions. There are many local, published writers included in the anthology. There are also a number of writers new to the experience.
"We're trying to reach writers, some of whom have never been published before," Short said. East County has a plethora of venues for performing and visual arts, but few for writers. "Where does a writer go to show off? This is a gallery for writers," Short said of the collection, which is half prose-half poetry.
She added that the newcomers represent "teachers and students and housewives -- people who are just trying to hone their skills."
There is no fee for submission, but writers must meet a few guidelines. Short hopes to publish every piece, but this year turned away two stories that failed to meet the specifications, she said.
Van Tassel said the publication is the culmination of her four years with the Brentwood arm of East County Writers Group. (There is also a Pittsburg faction.) She joined the writing collaborative four years ago and has been writing prose ever since.
Van Tassel taught Latin and history at Liberty High School starting in the mid 1950s and later worked at the high school district's adult education department helping students outside the high school work toward graduation. She had written education articles, but never made up a story. Now she is beginning the rewrite of a sweeping, semi-autobiographical novel that starts during the Civil War.
"I had never written any fiction," Van Tassel said. "I have been learning a great deal."
"In Mt. Diablo's Shadow, Volume II" is available at Gursky Ranch, 1921 Apricot Way; The Gallery on Second, 741 Second St.; Postal Annex, 3130 Balfour Road; and Stories Bookshop, 629 First St., Brentwood. For more information, call Kati Short at 925-634-6655.