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By Zara Flores
Donna Friess, a local historian and author, was recently recognized as an honoree in the 2019 Book Excellence Awards for her love letter to San Juan Capistrano, Capistrano Trails: Ride for the Brand.
Friess’ book was among nearly 300 others that were considered finalists for the Book Excellence Award, an international competition that provides authors and publishers with resources and help in topics such as publishing, marketing, writing, publicity and social media.
“I wrote Capistrano Trails as my valentine to San Juan Capistrano and to the horses,” Friess said. “When reviewers and readers describe the book as a ‘magnificent work,’ I am just so pleased, as I truly wrote it with love.”
Published in August 2018, Capistrano Trails reads like a time-traveling journey, jumping between different writing styles and topics. This history lesson is accompanied by warm, cherished and lighthearted memories from residents of the town as they share little pieces of what makes their community so special.
Writing the book was not about money or fame for Friess, a professor emeritus who has a Ph.D. in Human Behavior and Master’s in Speech Communication. Instead, she said, it was about encapsulating San Juan Capistrano and its equestrian history, especially now in the booming modern urbanism.
“It’s insightful, and I did it for love,” she said, of the book.
In 2017, while studying to become a docent, Friess read Capistrano Nights: Tales of a California Mission Town, inspiring her to put together her 250-page history of “The Horse Capital of Orange County.”
The idea of Capistrano Trails was to explore the history of San Juan Capistrano, dating back to the 1880s and how much it has evolved while still maintaining its equestrian roots and pride.
Once she started, she couldn’t help but keep going. Not one to take a break, it took her only 19 months from when she got the idea for the book to actually complete it.
She compiled stories from residents all over San Juan Capistrano and Rancho Mission Viejo, and her book shifts between narration and first-person accounts of stories from the past 70 years.
“I found a way to write history without repeating what everyone else had done, and the stories in here had never been written down anywhere else!” Friess exclaimed.
Capistrano Trails is available at Amazon.com in Kindle format, as well as black-and-white print and hard-back color print. Proceeds from the book will go to support local charitable causes.