A Story, Thirteen Years in the Making
Two weeks ago, I travelled down to the Columbia River Gorge to revisit a relic. The Hotel St. Martin was opened in 1900 as a place for visitors to stay while enjoying the waters of the St. Martin’s Springs Resort. Guests haven’t slept in the hotel, however, in more than ten years. Its lobby is now used as a reception area. Two new hotels now provide modern accommodations. The resort had a change of ownership in recent years and is now called Carson Hot Springs Golf & Spa Resort.
Although the tubs are original, the 1930s bathhouse has received some updates and the resort now boasts large indoor soaking pools and a golf course. It no longer has the backwoods, rustic feel that it had when I stayed there thirteen years ago.
Back then, there were two lodging options—the old hotel or a long row of quaint 1920s cabins with their own bathrooms, which have since been razed. I chose the hotel because I was alone and because it was cheaper.
I wasn’t a writer back then. I was a government maintenance worker. I drove a truck. I was blue collar though and through. I was also a full-time single mother and I had my hands full just trying to manage life. I didn’t have time for artistic endeavors, and I was broke—which is why, when my sister took my daughter on a trip to Disneyland, I made the five-hour drive down to Carson for a spa getaway. It was the only place I could afford. I got a night’s lodging, a soak, a wrap, and a massage for about a hundred bucks. I also got some extra special pampering in the middle of the night from the resident ghost.
Yes, I said ghost. Maybe you don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m a believer now. When I saw the yellowing article on the wall that mentioned that the third floor had been blocked off because of all the paranormal occurrences there, I didn’t think much of it. Oh, maybe I’d hear some chains rattling in the attic. That’s what ghosts do, right?
But the experience I had was different. I didn’t see her, I didn’t hear her, but she was there.
I left the next day and I didn’t give much thought to what happened. I didn’t even write about it in my journal, but it stayed with me.
A year ago, I started looking into it. I was curious. I began researching the resort. I finished that research two weekends ago.
A couple named Isadore and Margaret St. Martin, who were both children of French Canadian fur traders and Native women, discovered the hot springs. Aha! This was the very group of people who had fascinated me while I was studying local history during my undergrad, eight years ago. It was my interest in these people that got me back to writing!
The St. Martins acquired the property by land grant in the 1870s and raised nine children there before opening the resort many years later. Isadore was murdered on the property in 1910 in a dispute over claims about the water’s healing properties.
The more I learned about Margaret and Isadore, the more excited I became. Illness, death, drama, and conflict ensued throughout their lives. Sad, but fabulous material for a writer and history geek. In fact, I found so much information, that I could compose a sweeping, epic novel of the family from 1840 to 1940. Honestly, though, I’m not ready to tackle that project. I’m trying to get my debut novel’s manuscript in order so I can start sending it out. I also have two others that I’ve been noodling, for which I can’t wait to start researching.
But I knew I had to do something with this. I also wanted to add a modern element to the story and incorporate what I’d experienced. I wanted to tell the story of those remarkable people who contributed so greatly to the development of Skamania County, only a handful of decades after Lewis and Clark navigated the waters nearby. I also wanted to show how things had changed. Most of all—and this is the reason for most of my writing—I wanted to answer the unanswerable questions: Was there a ghost at the Hotel St. Martin, and if so, why?
I spent all of last weekend writing the story. My reason for writing this story at this time was to submit it to a writing contest (April 30 deadline), featuring women in the West.
I was thinking I had a 6,000-word limit. I decided that if I could get the story that I wanted to tell down in 6,000 words (a huge stretch), I would call it good, and not feel obligated to write a novella or a novel. When I finished laying down the first draft, I had 5,831 words. Yes!
Then I looked at the contest site again and realized the word limit was 5,000 words. Dammit. I cut out every single word that wasn’t pulling its weight. I took out sections that weren’t moving the story forward. Finally, I got below 5,000. Phew!
I began revising, working hard to keep it under 5,000. Went through it a few times. This week, I’m workshoppping it in a class I’m taking. Then I’ll revise again, and polish it up.
I like the story so much and can’t wait for people to read it. I hope I’m telling the story Margaret would want me to tell.