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Lost Near Atlanta

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This story won third place Idaho Magazine‘s 2016 writing contest. I spent many summers exploring the old mining town of Atlanta, Idaho. I hope you enjoy this tale.

 

Lost Near Atlanta

“It’s great here,” Pam said as she stoked the campfire.

Surrounded by the Boise National Forest, we settled in for the night after a productive research day in Boise and Idaho City. As soon as the Old Idaho Penitentiary out on Old Penitentiary Road opened, Pam and I were there ready to take pictures and notes. I was particularly interested in some of the women incarcerated in the women’s prison and Pam, being a criminal reporter at her day job, was more intrigued with the gallows. We could have stayed there all day, imagining the people who walked behind those bars, and talking to the tour guides, but we were on a tight schedule. We had only three days to see the State Pen and the mining ghost towns of Idaho City, Rocky Bar, and Atlanta.

As usual we had underestimated how much time we would need to see everything. Discussing our trip over the phone, it seemed doable. We would meet in Mountain home. Pam knew the manager of AJs Restaurant and Lounge who said I could leave my car in his parking lot. That way we wouldn’t have to take two cars. Better yet, it would be safe there and we wouldn’t have to worry. Now, there we were, at the end of our first day, pitching a tent in the forest, anxious to see Atlanta and Rocky Bar the next day. We had heard the legend of Peg Leg Annie and we were eager to check it out.

Pam and I are writers and we both have a passion for Idaho history, which isn’t surprising given the fact that we met at an Idaho history conference in Boise five years ago. Pam is writing a murder mystery set in Idaho City and I’m working on a novel. We were hoping this trip would give us all the details we needed to finish our projects.

Since neither one of us are mountain women, I borrowed a popup tent from my brother. “It’s easy,” he said as he showed me how to assemble the tent. And it had looked easy enough when we played with the tent in his driveway. But there, in the forest, I had no idea how to put the thing together. “Maybe we should have stayed in that rustic hotel in Idaho City,” I said to Pam. “A shower would be nice.”

“Yeah,” she said. “But that would defeat the purpose. The character in my novel escapes into the forest. I won’t learn about cooking over a campfire sitting on a bed staring at a TV.”

“That’s true,” I said. “And it’s nice here, being outdoors and away from city traffic.” The campground was deserted. Even the camp host had left for the season.

We were nearing the end of a beautiful October day. The sun-warmed forest was fragrant with pine and sage. I inhaled deeply, enjoying the outdoor smells. It took us a while to set up camp, but once we did, we were glad we’d made the effort.

Sitting around the campfire sipping wine, we discussed all we had learned that day. Pam was particularly intrigued with the story about Lyda Southard, Idaho’s notorious female serial killer, also known as Lady Bluebeard.

“Flypaper,” Pam said. “She boiled flypaper to make her poison.”

I nodded and tried to listen. But I was more interested in the story one of the guards told us about Peg Leg Annie. A rumored prostitute who worked in the mining camps, Annie spent her days living in Atlanta and Rocky Bar. One day in May she and her friend Dutch Em tried to walk from Atlanta to Rocky bar. A freak snowstorm cost Em her life and Annie her legs. My brain was spinning with all the stories I could tell. What was it like to be a prostitute in a mining camp? Better yet, what was it like to be a woman in a mining camp? The possibilities were endless.

As the fire crackled we plotted. “What if I have the murderer hide in the basement of that old church in Idaho City?” Pam said.

“What if Annie had a daughter who hated living in the mining camps and all she wanted to do was escape?”

Pam and I watched the fire and talked until our eyes could no longer focus. “Night,” Pam yawned. “I’m going to bed.”

“Be there soon.” I stared into the fire, wanting to sit there all night and dream. But tomorrow was another busy day, so I needed to get some sleep. Afraid the wind would fan the fire during the night, I snuffed it out and crawled into my sleeping bag. When I turned off the flashlight, Pam was already snoring.

I woke to the sound of wind howling through the forest. Good thing I put out that fire, I thought as I snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag. Good thing I have a brother who likes to hunt in subzero temperatures.

“Wake up.” Pam was shaking me. It was still early, barely morning. “You’re not going to believe this.”

I poked my head outside the tent. “Whoa. What happened?”

We were smack in the middle of a snowdrift. The howling wind I heard during the night had filled our campsite with at least ten inches of snow.

“Holy cow,” Pam said. “We’re snowed in.”

Shivering, I pulled on my jeans and sweater and went outside to start a fire. Like that was going to happen. All the wood was covered with snow and what wasn’t buried in a snow bank was too wet to burn. No fire for coffee, no fire to warm our bodies. To make matters worse, everything looked flat like a white sheet. We couldn’t see the road.

“Guess that takes care of Atlanta and Rocky Bar,” Pam said.

“Guess that takes care of a lot of things,” I said. “I think we have bigger problems than research in old mining camps. Her beige Honda was good on roads, but now it was buried in snow. Gloveless, we didn’t have a shovel so we had to use our hands to move the snow away from the car. It was pointless. The more we shoveled, the more snow fell from the cottony sky.

“I’ll call for help.” Pam tired her cell. “No service,” she said looking at the snow still falling.

Exhausted, we stood beside the car in our wet clothes. “What are we going to do?”

“Well,” I said. “It would be stupid to try and walk out.”

“We can’t stay here.”

We broke into a nervous laugh. We’d been looking for an adventure. We sure got one.

“Maybe it’ll stop soon.” My teeth chattered.

“I’m going to sit in the car and run the heater until I get warm,” Pam said. Lucky for us we’d filled the car with gas in Idaho City. Just to be safe. Who knew where the nearest gas station was. I’d heard there wasn’t one in Atlanta. But that didn’t seem to matter now. We’d be lucky to get back to Idaho City, let alone Atlanta. Our research trip had morphed into a trip of survival.

We sat in the car until we could feel our fingers and toes again. By then the snow had stopped, and it was almost noon.

“I think we should walk out,” Pam said.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Do you want to end up like Peg Leg Annie?”

“No.” Pam stared out into the forest. “But I don’t want to die here either.”

We weren’t dressed for winter weather. We had no heavy coats, no snowshoes, no boots or gloves. What we had was a sense of panic as we started out, hoping we were walking in the right direction.

“I can’t even see the road,” I mumbled as I plowed through the snow, breaking a trail. Keen on adventure, I’d gotten myself into some pretty fine pickles, but this was the worst. I looked up at the sky afraid it would snow again. How did this happen? Beam me up Scotty and get me out of here.

We walked for an hour or more. “Look,” Pam said. “Here’s the road that goes back to Idaho City. If we follow it someone will find us.”

What little food we brought was all but gone. We had to keep going. We trudged through the snow until Pam slid off the road and tumbled down the embankment toward the river. “Help,” she cried.

I rushed forward and planted my feet the best I could on the slippery ground. “Give me your hand. I’ll pull you out.”

I yanked and almost fell in myself, but I didn’t let go. When she was safe, we sat on the side of the road our sides heaving. “I think I hurt my leg,” Pam said. “That was fun.”

“Barrels,” I said. “Now what do we do?” The sun was setting. We were wet. It wouldn’t be long before our clothes froze to our bodies.

“We need to keep moving,” I said, afraid if we stopped we’d never move again.

Pam winced. “I don’t think I can walk that far. Our only chance is if you go for help. I can wait here.”

“No you can’t.” I yanked on her arm until she was standing. “We’re in this disaster together.”

We both smelled it before we heard it. “Oh, no,” Pam said. “Is that a bear?”

“They don’t have bears out here, and even if they did, bears hibernate in winter.”

“Well,” Pam said. “It isn’t winter yet. He probably was surprised by the storm just like we were.”

“Run,” I said. “Here he comes!”

We turned to flee but running in the fluffy snow proved impossible. And Pam could only hobble on her bum leg.

“Roll up in a ball and play dead,” Pam instructed.

We both hit the ground and grabbed our knees tight.

Yelp. Yelp. Yelp.

I turned my head to peek. Hallelujah. It wasn’t a bear but a scraggly dog the size of a pony, barking and running toward us.

“Holy cow,” Pam said. “Never saw a dog that big.”

The dog ran to our side, pushing us with his nose. We had no other choice but to follow. “Maybe he lives around here,” Pam said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe somewhere warm.”

He led us to a small mound, a shelter covered with snow. He wouldn’t leave us alone until he had nudged us inside. Once we were settled, he lay down and went to sleep.

“Thanks, buddy.” I snuggled beside him. He was so warm, so comfortable, even if he smelled like a wet dog. Exhausted and spent, we fell asleep next to the giant dog. When we woke it was morning and the dog was gone. The sun was shining. The snow was starting to melt. Looked like our luck was changing.

“What now?” Pam said.

“I guess we keep walking. How’s the leg?”

“Not bad. I think I can make it.” Pam limped.

“Good because I’m not leaving you behind.”

It helped to walk, each step warming our muscles. “Listen,” Pam said. “I hear something.”

“Doesn’t sound like a snowmobile,” I said, which had been my secret hope. That someone eager for winter would break out their sled to play in the snow. This was better. A snowplow clearing the road.

“Hey, you!” We jumped up and down calling, “Here! Here!”

“Wow,” the driver of the yellow machine said. “Where’d you come from?”

We pointed behind us. “We were camped back there when the storm hit. My car is buried in snow,” Pam said.

“Hop in,” he said. “Let’s see if we can get you out.”

“Thanks.” We scrambled into the cab of the plow, glad to be out of the cold.

Back at camp, the driver used a rope to pull Pam’s car out of the drift. When he was finished, we quickly packed up the tent and our chairs, and loaded the car. He waited to make sure we could get out.

“Thanks so much for your help,” I said. “I don’t think we could have stood another night in this weather.”

“Consider yourself lucky,” he said. “I don’t know how you survived this one.”

“There was a big dog,” Pam said. “A Newfoundland, I think. He kept us warm. When we woke, he was gone.” She looked into the forest. “You didn’t see him did you?”

The driver chuckled. “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen him around once or twice.”

“Does he live nearby?” I asked.

“No. He roams the forest between here and Rocky Bar. That’s Annie Morrow’s dog.”

I looked at Pam. Was he kidding? If Peg Leg Annie had a dog, he’d be long gone, just like her.

“Seriously,” I said. “Where did he go? We tried to find him, but he didn’t leave any tracks.”

“Seriously,” he smiled. “That’s the dog Annie and Dutch Em had with them when they tried to walk from Atlanta to Rocky Bar that wicked day in May.”

“In that freak snowstorm,” I said.

“Right,” he said. “That dog stayed with Annie and kept her warm.”

“No way,” Pam said.

“That was over a hundred years ago,” I said. “That dog would be dead now.”

The man winked at me. “He may be a ghost, but I’m not going to tell him. Not with the job I have. He’s saved my butt a time or two.” He hopped into his snowplow, waved, and drove off toward Atlanta.

We didn’t go into Atlanta that day, or Rocky Bar either, but we did return home with some great stories to tell. And a promise that we’d make the trip again sometime. But never in October and never in May.

15 things you may not know about Patricia Marcantonio

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I met Patricia Marcantonio in a creative writing class more than twenty years ago. Sharing a love for reading and writing, we became writing buddies and remain so today. Any time I have a question about writing or publishing I can call Patricia and brainstorm my way back to productivity. With the release of her latest novel, Felicity Carrol and the Perilous Pursuit: A Felicity Carrol Mystery, I’m pleased to introduce Patricia Marcantonio and share with you some of her writing secrets.

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I became a writer because I loved telling stories. I was a voracious reader and I started making up my own stories when I was a kid. I would tell them to my parents. I was a full on nerd and loved writing assignments in school while the other kids moaned. I started writing my own stuff seriously when I got out of college. I wanted to be a novelist but there was no degree in that so I became a journalist to earn a living while writing books.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I work out in the morning and write in the afternoon until evening Monday through Friday. If my husband is watching football or going bowling, I’ll write then as well. If I don’t write I get cranky so I write to keep happy.

 3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

So many that I feel I have memorized the book. Maybe three to four drafts until I think it’s good, I print out the manuscript, let it rest for a while, and read it out loud. After that I go back and make changes and rewrite again. I’ll also make extra passes on the lookout for what I call lazy words, for phrases I’ve repeated, and to charge up the story with active verbs. Then I go through again. I get to a point where I say this is the best I can get it. Sometimes I’ll go back after a few months and see if I need to make changes.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best thing is getting published and having people love your work enough to want to put it out into the world and pay you. The worst? When people don’t get what I’m trying to do with a particular book or story. Then I think I have failed at getting them to share my vision. Rejections are a bummer, too.

 5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I just love coming up with stories and it doesn’t matter what the genre. I’ve had a children’s book, a drama courtroom novel, and now a mystery published. I also write screenplays and plays. So I consider myself a storyteller rather than a genre writer. I’d love to tackle a sci-fi, fantasy, or magical realism novel. Maybe that’s a weakness not to stay in one genre. I don’t know. What I dislike? It’s a hell of a lot of work and I don’t think people appreciate how much of your heart, soul, liver, and spleen you put into those pages.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I don’t read nonfiction at all unless I’m doing research for a book. I have very eclectic tastes. I love to read sci-fi, fantasy, drama, women’s fiction, mysteries. Favorite authors are Kate Atkinson, Alice Hoffman, Taylor Sheridan, Neil Gaiman, Dennis Lehane, Margaret Atwood, Joseph Heller, and Charlotte Bronte, to name a very few. When I’m writing I do read but not in the genre I’m writing. So if I’m writing a mystery, I’ll read a fantasy. It’s a nice break.

 7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

The best advice was to keep writing and know your theme because that’s the heartstring of your story. My own advice to myself is to keep learning about writing so I will read articles and go to conferences to hear speakers. I don’t know everything and I’m also striving to get better. The worst advice? I can’t remember and that’s probably good.

 8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

By reading other writers I admire and hearing their voices and figuring out how the hell they did that. I’ve also noticed my writing voice does change with the type of book I’m writing.

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

No but I’m open to one.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I got accepted to law school but didn’t go. I think I would be a lawyer if I wasn’t a writer. Lawyers tend to make more money than writers.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

Sit in that damn chair and write. Do it because you love it.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

Another mystery and horror screenplay, plus I’m rewriting a middle grade book. I like to mix it up.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

Go to film school and make movies.

 14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Read good writing, keep telling stories, and don’t expect to get rich. Writing is part of what I am. If you don’t feel that strongly about writing, maybe find something else to do. I say that because it is tough and demands a lot of time and energy and love.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I love Star Trek.

And: what would you like us to know about your latest release?

Amidst the heraldry of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, a string of brutal murders rocks Britain’s upper crust―and could threaten the realm itself.

The mystery features a brilliant resourceful young woman finding her place in the world. She’s a fun character set in the middle of Victorian England.

To learn more about Patricia visit her at https://patriciasantosmarcantonio.com

 

15 things you may not know about Stevan Allred

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Writer, teacher, and editor, Stevan Allred’s debut novel, The Alehouse at the End of the World, was published by Forest Avenue Press in November 2018. Since then, the book has exploded, recently hitting #4 on Powell’s bestseller list. Allred claims he has survived circumcision, a tonsillectomy, a religious upbringing, the 60’s, the War on Poverty, the break-up of The Beatles, any number of bad haircuts, years of psychotherapy, the Reagan Revolution, the War on Drugs, the Roaring 90’s, plantar fasciitus, the Lewinsky Affair, the internet bubble, the Florida recount of 2000, the Bush oughts, the War on Terror, teen-aged children, a divorce, hay fever, the real estate bubble, male pattern baldness, and heartburn. He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A prolific writer, Allred’s work has appeared in numerous literary publications. He’s witty, talented, and hard-working. Here are some things you may not know about him.

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I got my first creative writing assignment in 5th grade, from Mrs. Bumgardner. Mrs. Bumgardner was one of those special teachers who changes your life, and even though I didn’t have the perspective to know that at the time, what I did know was that I adored Mrs. Bumgardner. She had me stand up and read my piece to the whole class, and she laughed at what I had written. Really laughed, not just being polite. I knew right then and there that making Mrs. Bumgardner laugh was exactly what I wanted to do in life, and writing was the way I could do it.

I take note, these decades later, that performance is involved in this story. I had to stand and deliver, and I got a nice response. To this day reading my work aloud to an audience, even an audience of one, is one of things I enjoy most in life.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I write early in the morning. I like the quiet. I like being up before dawn. I know that showing up is the one key thing that leads to any writing happening at all, so I show up.

That said, I allow myself some down time when I’ve finished a big project, and I don’t beat myself up if it takes some time before I’m ready to write again.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

As many as it takes. I have written short stories that took two, or three, or four drafts to complete, and some that took eight or ten. I did three major drafts of my novel, The Alehouse at the End of the World.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

Best thing: having my first book, A Simplified Map of the Real World, published by Forest Avenue Press has to count as one of the best things, and now, with The Alehouse at the End of the World, I am the press’s first “repeat offender”.

Worst thing: I learned a long time ago not to dwell in regret. Don’t keep a list of the worst things–let the worst things go.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

The hours I spend writing before the sun comes up are some of the best hours of my life. I try to find something to like about every single aspect of the job, and when I am vexed by some part of it, I remind myself how lucky I am to be living a life in which writing is important. I was raised to be modest and to not call attention to myself, so the publicity and marketing side of being a writer makes me a little uncomfortable at times, but that’s a small price to pay for having two books out.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I read constantly, and I have many favorite authors. I’m a huge fan of Michael Chabon. I’ve just read a really strong memoir, Stranger in the Pen, by Mohamed Asem–this is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what it’s like to be treated as “other” in today’s hyper-politicized world. I love Alice Munro, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Anthony Doerr, Annie Proulx. I just finished An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones–terrific novel. Right now I’m two thirds through Cai Emmons’ Weather Woman, and really digging it.

There are some writers whose voice is so particular and so strong that I avoid reading them when I’m working on a piece. Cormac McCarthy would be an example, as would Tom Spanbauer. I love their work, but it gets into my head and I start sounding like them.

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

I have a friend who’s a professional photographer. He told me one time (long ago, when cameras still used film) that the biggest difference between him and me as photographers was that he shot a lot more film. Writing is like that. You just keep doing it and doing it and gradually you get better. It takes most of us a long time to get to be good enough, years and years.

Worst advice: give up. This bad advice came from myself. Many years ago I got really discouraged about my writing, so I very quietly quit for two months. I didn’t tell anyone–I just stopped doing it. I thought I might be happier if I just stopped calling myself a writer–after all, I had nothing to show for it except a couple of short stories published in some very obscure journals. When friends and family asked me how my writing was going I felt embarrassed–who was I to call myself a writer? But after two months I was even more unhappy, so I started writing again. I called time on a novel I had worked on for five years, setting it aside, and I turned my attention to writing short stories. The stories I wrote then became A Simplified Map of the Real World.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

Close readings of writers I admire. I still read, as I always have, for entertainment and edification. But when I read now I always have a second track going in my head, one where I’m noticing how a writer is going about her business. Cai Emmons, for example, whom I’m reading now, has given us a superhero story in Weather Woman, but she treats her character’s story in completely realistic terms. She’s not ironic in any way, so her central metaphor, one of female empowerment, comes shining through with the seriousness it deserves. And Cai is a first class word nerd, something which I, as a fellow word nerd, really admire. I now know that “strigine”, for example, means ‘owl-like’. I can’t wait to use that one in a Scrabble game.

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

I have rituals and habits. I sit at a desk. I have an old-fashioned desk calendar, and I change the date and the day of the week before I start. I have a prayer I say before I write. I light candles.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Less neurotic.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

Live and let live.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I have extensive notes for another novel. I hope to begin soon.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

Spend more time with my mother. She died suddenly 25 years ago. I still miss her.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Be kind to yourself. Learn to live with your own bad writing. It is far easier to improve a bad sentence than it is to write a good one in the first place.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I love wearing a tie, and I have a couple of hundred. Lately I’ve grown very fond of Crocs. I like my ties and my Crocs to color coordinate.

And: what would you like us to know about your latest release:

The Alehouse at the End of the World is widely available in bookstores and online. The audiobook, with me as the reader, came out December 18, and it’s a lot of fun.

Here’s what Publishers Weekly said about The Alehouse at the End of the World:

The fisherman is a simple man: he loves the sea and he loves his Cariña, from whom he’s been separated by time and shipwreck. Upon receipt of her final letter to him before her death, he embarks on a mythic hero’s journey to the Isle of the Dead, where he encounters shapeshifting birds, demi-deities, a legendary beast, and a snarky, narcissistic crow who fashions himself the king of the dead. What began as a quest to reunite with his lost love quickly becomes a battle for the survival of a spirit world, in whatever form that might take, and an examination of the divine. Sparked with risqué humor, the nearly Sisyphian questing of the fisherman devolves into a series of increasingly absurd and astonishing scenarios, all underscored with a strong thematic element of hope. Scholars of myth and lore, and readers prepared to be swept away on someone else’s trip (perhaps of the hallucinogenic variety), will be enthralled.

 

 

North Coast Squid

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I’m happy to announce that my essay “Ebb and Flow” has been published in Volume 6 of  North Coast Squid: A Journal of Local Writing, published by the Hoffman Center for the Arts, Manzanita, Oregon.

You can find a copy of the literary magazine here:

Manzanita: Cloud & Leaf Bookstore, Manzanita News & Espresso
Nehalem: Beehive
Wheeler: The Roost
Tillamook: Tillamook Country Pioneer Museum
Cannon Beach: Cannon Beach Books
Seaside: Beach Books
Astoria: Lucy’s Books
Pacific City: The Rowboat Gallery

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Forty years ago today

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It was a day like no other, one she would remember for the rest of her life. Maxine Foster clicked off the television, her eyes blurry with tears and loaded every single Elvis Presley album she owned on the Zenith record player and pushed the lever.

“Well, it’s one for the money,
Two for the show,
Three to get ready,
Now go, cat, go.”

Holding her sides, she crumbled to the floor and cried inconsolably. It couldn’t be true. No, he couldn’t be dead.

 

Find out more about Maxine in Waiting available here.

 

15 things you may not know about Renee Macalino Rutledge

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If you’re looking for a good summer read, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Renee Macalino Rutledge’s debut novel, The Hour of Daydreams. This book is a reimagined Filipino folktale where myth and realism inhabit the same house. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to know more about the author. Maybe you will, too.

Renee was born in Manila, Philippines, and raised in California from the age of four.  She received her bachelor of arts in English from UC Berkeley and master of fine arts in English and Creative Writing from Mills College. Her articles on arts and culture, parenting, and lifestyle have appeared in ColorLines, Haute Living Magazine, Oakland and Alameda Magazine, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, The East Bay Monthly, The Children’s Advocate, Parents’ Press, Red Tricycle, and others. Her reporting on minority issues facing Filipinos was nominated for a New American Media Award and New California Media Award by the editors of Filipinas Magazine. Her fiction and creative nonfiction can be found in Red Earth Review, 580 Split, Mutha Magazine, Women Writers, Women’s Books, The Ford City Anthology, and Literary Hub.

 

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

Like many writers, I’ve enjoyed reading and writing since I was a child. “How will you use your writing?” was always a question I was asked. When I decided to become an English major in college, the assumption was that I’d be a teacher. The truth is, good writing is an asset in many fields, from business to journalism to nonprofit work. I’d written for all of those industries before (and while) buckling down to write The Hour of Daydreams, my first book.

 2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

Last week, I wrote for an average of 20 minutes a day. The week before that, I wrote once, for a single block of about 2 hours at a very late hour. My writing routine feels rather skimpy and pathetic at the moment. But I try to be forgiving to myself, because I’ve spent a lot of my designated writing time doing things like completing this interview. I’m still invested in my first book, and helping it to succeed and find readers. But those rather skimpy writing sessions are starting to pay off—I’m thinking about my new book more and more.

 3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

I wrote four drafts of The Hour of Daydreams.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

It’s more like an accumulation of best things, and of bad, rather than a single thing from either category standing out above the rest. Of course, signing with Forest Avenue Press was a high, but working closely with publisher Laura Stanfill has been too, as has feeling the support from my community, hearing from readers, seeing the book in the bookstore, overcoming my fear of public speaking to do readings and interviews. There are also many darker turns, from worrying about sales/exposure to wishing I had more time to write to getting radio silence after a personal pitch to insecurity about how good I am. But I try not to spend much time in the darker moments. There’s too much to be appreciative of. My trick to “detoxing mentally” is to spend a day in nature. If you don’t have time for that, take a walk around your neighborhood, feel the beat of your footsteps against the pavement, your heartbeat, your breath. If you are a parent, humor is your best friend. Kids are so darn funny and endearing—not to mention that they are creativity in motion.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I’m a nonfiction book editor and I love reading books for a living. I hate that I can’t write my own books for a living.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

Love to read at all times. Many favorite authors, including Toni Morrison, Marguerite Duras, Italo Calvino, Haruki Murakami, Lysley Tenorio, Mario Vargas Llosa, Rene Denfeld, and Vanessa Hua.

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

“Write the story you believe,” from Yiyun Li and referring specifically to The Hour of Daydreams in its infancy stage. Any advice that claims there’s something specific you have to do religiously is the worst, and really it’s up to each of us to find our own rhythm, pace, and discipline.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

Time, reading, and practice have been my most faithful mentors.

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

I once invoked the ghost of Gabriel Garcia Marquez to help me stay motivated, keep the fire, write like a beast. I like to think he heard me.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

A scientist or naturalist. Maybe an accountant or psychologist. Or an archaeologist or historian. Or perhaps a social worker or career counselor or zoologist. Or a realtor or librarian or ESL teacher. I’d still like to be all of these things plus many more.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

“The creative adult is the child who has survived.” -Ursula LeGuin

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I’m working on a parenting essay on creativity, and a short story about a Filipino American child’s relationship with her grandmother and an older neighbor in the California suburbs, and novel research. The next novel is getting clearer in my mind the more I research. I’m learning so much about the world and the time. I’m really excited to start writing when the moment is right.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

Go to college again—relearn everything. Get my MFA again—make the most of that writing time. Life is a never-ending learning process.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Write like only you can.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I’ve have strange pregnancy experiences while abroad. Got bitten by a monkey in the face in Costa Rica during my first pregnancy; was in the Gracia neighborhood of Spain when I was surprised by the knowledge of my second pregnancy. No more babies for me. But I’ve been dreaming of my grandchildren since I was in my twenties.

And, what would you like us to know about your latest release?

The Hour of Daydreams is now available online and in bookstores. Thanks for reading!

BONNIE DODGE VISITS THE BOOK DINER TO DISCUSS THE WEIRD BLESSING OF BEING A WRITER

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Today I’m talking writing with Sharon Zink at The Book Diner. Check it out.

This week’s Book Diner interviewee is the wonderful Bonnie Dodge. Bonnie is a veteran writer, with a stack of books under her belt. I first became aware of her work since I am friends with her author son, Trevor Dodge, who I interviewed recently. Literary talent clearly is part of the Dodge family gene and Bonnie has such amazing insights from her long experience as an author that I found myself pretty much agreeing with everything she said! Her books also sound right up my alley, so I can’t wait to start reading them all! Enjoy!

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My Oregon Love Song

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My fingers are puckered, my feet are webbed, and like most of my neighbors, I’d love to see the sun. But the weatherman just confirmed another week of rain. Oh, yay.

Coming from a town lucky enough to see ten inches of rain a year, here in Newport we’ve already endured forty-three inches of rain, and it isn’t even May. It’s hard to get and stay motivated when the days are gray, misty, and wet. Walks along the beach are anything but romantic and puttering in the yard only creates bigger messes. Maybe that’s why there is always so much going on indoors.

For instance, in the last thirty days I got to hang out with some pretty amazing writers. In March, Susan DeFreitas talked about environmental degradation and her debut novel Hot Season. Her landscape descriptions blew me away. I can still smell the river and feel the breeze on my skin. A couple weeks later Karen Karbo, author of a best-selling “kick-ass women’s series”, talked about writing personal essays and I learned how to put passion back into my work. And just last week Garth Stein came to town to discuss writing his novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. The room was packed and for two hours we didn’t care that it was pouring outside, Stein was filling the room with enlightenment and inspiration.

The place I used to call home was so isolated I’d have to drive hundreds of miles to attend book signings and writing workshops. Now all I have to do is go to the library or the Performing Arts Center, just a few miles down the road.

Newport brims with talented people I would have never met if I had stayed in my Idaho cocoon. So thank you Oregon for giving me a stimulating and verdant place to live. Thank you for welcoming me home.

(Sorry the pictures are so blurry. My phone doesn’t play nice sometimes.)

 

SELF-SABOTAGE, MY WORD FOR 2017

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Words of encouragement are flooding social media this month. Words like hope, peace, love, respect, patience, and even no. As a writer, I’d like to offer another. Self-sabotage. That thing many writers do to avoid moving forward.

I’m not the queen of sabotage, but I know how to procrastinate. Take this book I’ve been working on for almost twenty years. Ten years ago I shopped this book around thinking it was finished. But clearly it wasn’t or I’d be collecting royalties instead of avoiding revisions.

Why isn’t it finished? It isn’t because I don’t know how to write or deliver a product. It isn’t that I don’t love the idea of this book, I do. The only reason I can offer is that I’ve gotten in the habit of avoiding this project. Every time I set out to finish this book something gets in the way. Here are some of the ways I’ve sabotaged the completion of this book.

1) I can’t work on this book until I finish xxx. Insert clean the house, take the dogs for a walk, or do the laundry.

Life is messy and has a way of getting in the way of writing. There will always be something else that needs attention. Pretending I can’t write until the dishwasher is loaded only prolongs the project. Instead of waiting until everything is done, I need to make working on this project a priority. First thing in the morning I need to sit down and revise a chapter. Before anything else. Waiting until I have a big chunk of time to work isn’t the answer and is just a lazy excuse.

2) I need to do more research.

After twenty years I should have more than enough information to finish this book. And if I don’t I can make it up. After all, it’s fiction, not non-fiction.

3) I don’t have the skills to write this story.

Recently I listened to Alice Hoffman discuss writing. She said a writer needs to write every day. Only by writing every day do you become a better writer. So stop waiting until you have the skill level you seek. Start writing and it will come.

4) It’s not perfect, so why bother.

Good writing is revisions, lots of them. Anne Lamott says write a messy first draft. Get the story down and then do the work of revisions. That’s where skill and magic happen, in the honing of words.

5) I need feedback on this chapter before I continue.

Maybe, but probably not. Even if you are lucky enough to have friends and family who offer to read your work and comment, this can be a big way to sabotage your writing. Reading is subjective and you will get good comments and bad comments. The time for constructive feedback is after the book is done. When you know the ending of your story, you’re better equipped to identify weak plot points and motivation. Too much advice while you’re being creative and writing can stop your story dead. Rely on your gut and trust the process.

6) I’m not smart enough to write this story.

If that is true, than put it away and work on something else. Just because you don’t feel adequate to complete this story doesn’t mean you can’t produce a sexier, better story. Learn to let go. Not everything you write is golden.

7) I need to turn off the internal editor.

Often the fear of failing, or even the fear of succeeding, can prevent me from finishing a project. Yes, criticism is scary. But it’s part of the process. Don’t let fear prevent you from achieving your goal. Writing can be scary, learn to work through the fear.

8) I can’t write until I get in the mood.

The longer you work as a writer the more it becomes a job and there are days you won’t want to go to work. Waiting for the mood to strike could mean days without writing, a sure way to shoot yourself in the foot. Many times I sit down to write, in a bad mood because I don’t want to write that day, and like magic my muse shows up and I produce some pretty amazing stuff. If you want to be a good writer, write even when you don’t want to. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

9) Illness gets in the way.

My goal for 2017 is to finish this book. I had a good start, with four chapters revised before I ended up in the hospital with a nasty gallbladder. See, I told my son, this book doesn’t want to be finished. And, yes, sometimes I feel like that. But the book isn’t the writer, I am the writer, and no one else is going to finish this book but me.

Self-sabotage diminishes passion and energy. It’s just an excuse to keep you from moving forward. If you’re in the habit of self-sabotaging yourself, try to identify why. Then work toward reaching your goal. You’re in control. Only you can do it.

15 Things You May Not Know About Jamie Duclos-Yourdon

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Oregon has so many talented writers. Take for instance Jamie Duclos-Yourdon. Jamie, a freelance editor and technical expert, received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. His short fiction has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Underneath the Juniper Tree, and Chicago Literati, and he has contributed essays and interviews to Booktrib. Froelich’s Ladder (Forest Avenue, August 2016) is his debut novel. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Here are some things you may not know about Jamie.

 1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

 When I was a kid, my mom said to squeeze her hand if I ever saw anything unusual. She hoped to prevent an embarrassing observation (we lived in New York, after all; everything was unusual), but I spent my time scanning my surroundings—and if I couldn’t spot the obviously unusual thing, I’d identify the smallest discrepancy.

 2) What is your writing routine?

I wake up at 4:30 every day and write for an hour. I usually manage 300+ words, which is slightly more than a page. It doesn’t feel like much, but if you keep at it every day—seven days a week, with no exceptions—the material builds up pretty quickly.

 3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

Oh, gosh … I probably go through four or five drafts before I’m ready to share a manuscript with a publisher or an agent, and those drafts have already been vetted by my writing group. If a publisher or agent is interested, then I’ll undertake another two or three drafts. The story is always evolving (and, hopefully, improving).

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career?

Having my first five books rejected. Through Book #6, I was still doing my best Nick Hornsby impression—which isn’t necessarily a knock on Nick Hornsby. It took me a long time to recognize my own voice and even longer to trust it.

 5) What part of your job do you love the most?

I love Q&As with an audience. Even if I’ve heard a question before—and more often than not I haven’t—the context is always different, the underlying assumption is different, my mood is different, everything is different. I learn something new every time.

 6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel?

I’m always reading, whether or not I’m working on new material. I mostly stick to fiction, with a few news sources to keep me informed. I’m really picky, in terms of the former (and the latter, I suppose), and I don’t like to reread novels or short stories; additionally, I don’t feel guilty putting down a book after 50 pages. So my reading process is like no, no, no, no, no, YES, no, YES, YES, no, no, no …

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer?

A professor of mine once said, “Learn what you write and when you write.” If you write flash fiction, cool, write flash fiction. If you write 150,000-word novels, then do that instead. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Same goes for whatever time of day suits your creative process: find it and stick to it.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

I took a fiction workshop with Aurelie Sheehan when I was twenty-four. She read one of my short stories and said, “Oh, you write about responsibility!” That observation had a profound effect on my writing.

 9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

I’ve had a storyteller on my desk since 2001—a ceramic figurine of a Pueblo Indian, mid-story, surrounded by her children. I’ll be devastated when I eventually, inevitably drop and break her.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I have absolutely no idea. Drunk?

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

Samuel Beckett said it best: Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

 12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I’m currently at work on my tenth novel, a Mesopotamian ghost story about death and grieving and talking crows and ancient Sumer.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

In January of 2002, an agent at ICM expressed interest in my first novel. I thought, “Yay, this is it! The big time!” and spent the next six months sitting on my ass. I’d love to get that time back.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Read everything. Write constantly. Be on the lookout for a mentor. Don’t assume debt for an MFA. Find community and earn your inclusion. Success isn’t zero-sum. Listen to what your readers have to say. There’s nothing wrong with adverbs. Writers make boring protagonists. Know what your characters want and what prevents them from getting it. Study screenwriting to learn three-act structure. What seems natural and obvious to you is completely foreign to the rest of the world. You are a writer. You are a writer. You are a writer.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I’ll be the Keynote Speaker at the 2017 South Coast Writers Conference February 17–18.

And: what’d you like us to know about your latest release:

Froelich nurses a decades-old family grudge from his permanent perch atop a giant ladder in this nineteenth century madcap adventure novel, Froelich’s Ladder. When he disappears suddenly, his nephew embarks on a rain-soaked adventure across the Pacific Northwest landscape to find him, accompanied by an ornery girl with a most unfortunate name. In their encounters with Confederate assassins, European expatriates, and a general store magnate, this fairytale twist on the American dream explores the conflicts between loyalty and ambition and our need for human connection, even at the highest rungs.

If you’re still scrambling to find the perfect Christmas present, consider Jamie’s new book from Forest Avenue Press.

Happy Holidays!

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454 Days Later

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I’ve been quiet and you probably think I fell into the ocean or got blown away by coastal storms. But no, I’m still here, learning all I can about my new home.

The reason I’ve been silent is that I’ve been busy. For a tiny dot on the map between Yachats and Lincoln City, Newport’s population is about the same as the town I left in Idaho. If you want a Costco or a Lowe’s you have to drive several miles, just like I did in Idaho. But unlike the town I left behind, there is so much more to do here I barely have time to read, let alone write.

Check out the latest issue of Oregon Coast Today and you will see there is always something going on. Add to that everything happening in The Valley between here and Portland and there is no time to be bored. Ever.

Take for instance last weekend. Since I don’t like to drive Portland traffic my son quietly obliged, taking me to Portland’s annual book festival Wordstock. I was so revitalized I’m still vibrating. My favorite author, Alice Hoffman, was in town and spoke about her new book Faithful. She even signed my copy and thanked me for stopping by. So many other talented writers attended, not to mention many Oregon presses including Ooligan Press, Tin House, and my favorite, Laura Stanfill from Forest Avenue Press. If that wasn’t great enough, admission to the event included admittance to the Portland Art Museum and the Andy Warhol exhibit. Now my son was vibrating, snapping pictures and studying one-of-a-kind art. Yes, it was raining. But in spite of the rain, it was a positive, energizing day.

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That evening my family took in The Drowsy Chaperone, a musical put on by my grandson Dante’s high school class. The students were top notch, high energy, and amazing. The day ended with dinner at The Ram and a glass of wine. Perfect.

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Many people told me I was crazy to move to Oregon. Several said I’d get depressed and miss the sun. And even though I miss my friends in Idaho, and sometimes I do miss the sun, mostly I love it here. Even when it’s raining.

Back Roading Beaver Creek to Toledo

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We’ve always been explorers, enjoying the back roads of Idaho and now Oregon. We’re not cityites who like to stare at window displays or order lattes. We like to travel back roads, sip home-brewed coffee, and enjoy the scenery.

Knowing we liked quiet places for our dogs to run, a neighbor told us to check out the road from Beaver Creek to Toledo. “It’s mostly gravel,” he said, “and it’s easy to get lost. There isn’t much traffic. Nice drive, though.”

Enjoying a challenge, we filled our coffee mugs, gathered our dogs, headed south on 101, and turned east toward Beaver Creek. We turned left where the road teed and stopped at the Beaver Creek Welcome Center, hoping they’d have a map of the area.

No maps, just a volunteer. “Follow that road,” he said. “Stay left.” He pondered a moment. “Turns to gravel. Think it’s twenty or thirty miles. Been a while since I drove it. If you get lost, you can always turn around and come back.”

We looked at each other. Turning back was rarely an option. Not when we wanted to see something new.

After considerable conversation, we waved a cheerful goodbye and followed the road. Within minutes we stopped at a small park with a picnic table and a large area for the dogs to run. While the dogs sniffed bushes, we picked blackberries and chomped on half-ripe apples from a nearby tree.

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“Yuk.” I spit out the bitter fruit.

“Just right,” my husband said happily.

We rounded up the dogs, got back in the truck, and continued on.

No cars tried to pass us. No trucks met us head-on. The only vehicle on the road, we traveled slowly enjoying the drive, heavy with vegetation on both sides of the road.

“Reminds me of the road to Fall Creek,” I said, commenting on the dense undergrowth. But instead of seeing obelisks of mullein and ponderosa pine, the shoulders of these roads were thick with evening primrose, foxglove, and purple loosestrife. I gawked out the window trying to identify the plants: Queen Anne’s Lace, mountain ash, ocean spray, and wild rose. Many more varieties than I would see traveling the gravel road from Fall Creek to Featherville, which held mostly fern and pine.

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“Look,” my husband said as two velveted buck dashed in front of us. He hit the brakes and we watched them dart into the trees. We knew they were watching us, waiting for us to leave. But try as we might, we couldn’t spy an eye or an antler.

Moving on, it wasn’t long before we hit gravel. The vegetation grew thicker, canopying the narrow road. Blackberry vines reached toward the truck, each branch heavy with green berries. We were driving into a jungle, secluded and uninhabited, with no signs to guide us.

“Wonder if we should turn around?” my husband said, recalling the words of the Beaver Creek volunteer. Unwilling to give up, we moved forward, deeper into the forest.

“Must be on the right road,” my husband said when we finally spotted a mile marker that looked lost on the gravel road.

“How many miles did he say?” I asked.

“Twenty or thirty.”

We’d been driving almost an hour, but I couldn’t judge mileage. We were moving slow, sometimes five miles an hour, up, then down, wind around a corner. Wind around another corner so dark with shade we couldn’t see the sun.

Climbing again, we broke out onto a sunny hilltop. The panorama of the valley was jaw-dropping, worth the worry of getting lost.

“I know where we are now,” my husband said. “Toledo is right over there.”

Leaving the forest behind, we headed down. Minutes later we were on familiar asphalt again.

“Not even twenty miles,” my husband said.

“Not bad at all,” I said. “Perfect way to spend an afternoon.”

And the very best part of the drive was that we didn’t once have to turn around.

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Goodbye, Nye Beach Writers Series. It was good to know you.

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For more than thirty years my vacation destination was the Oregon Coast. Leaving behind stressful jobs and busy schedules, my husband and I drove to the coast, almost every year, usually in late September or early October. We’d rent a vacation home overlooking the ocean and do nothing. Well, not really nothing. He’d golf and I’d either write or read. We’d take long walks on the beach, or just sit back and watch the sun set. We loved the quiet easy-going pace we found here and a chance to unwind and recharge before heading back to the real world in Idaho.

If you know anything about the Oregon Coast, you know there is always something happening here, either in Lincoln City or all the way down the coast to Florence. Even after all those trips, we never had time to do everything we wanted to do. Often we would leave saying next time I’m going to ….

One of the things I always wanted to do was attend one of the writer’s events back when they were still held in Yachats. But I could never fit it into our schedule.

When we moved to Oregon, one of the first things I did was attend a Writers on the Edge event at Nye Beach. It wasn’t long before I joined the board and became more involved in the organization.

A strong writing community is one of the reasons I moved to Newport. After thirty years, I still feel like I’m seeing the ocean for the first time. And every day I spend here, I learn to love Oregon more.

For our final event, Writers on the Edge will host Johnny Bargain on June 18 at 7 p.m. at the Visual Arts Center on Nye Beach. If you’re in the area, please stop by and help us celebrate a wonderful organization. And just in case you are interested, here are some things you may not know about our next author, Johnny Bargain.

11 things you may not know about JOHNNY BARGAIN

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

The stories from my past were circling in my head. I’d wanted to write a letter to my friend’s 18-year-old son who had been gunned down in the 1960s by the police as he rode his Harley Sportster in Rosebank, Staten Island. Three bullet holes punctured the boy’s back, for no good reason at all. I wanted Stitch to know he had not been forgotten even though 50 years have gone by. The memories weighed heavily and I couldn’t shake them.

Over time, I mentioned some of the incidents to Carla Perry, publisher at Dancing Moon Press and she suggested that I record them on a tape recorder since I didn’t have the patience, eyesight, or ability to write them out on paper and I don’t have a computer. She said the stories were tragic, appalling, poignant, eye opening, and funny, and that they provided a glimpse into the world of motorcycle clubs and gangs that was unlike anything she’d encountered before.

So I headed down to California for a three-day biker party and by day ten, I’d managed to record several stories. Carla transcribed the recordings when I returned, but she said more stories were needed to flesh out a full book. When I said I couldn’t remember more, she suggested I create a map of my Rosebank neighborhood — the bars, Dapper Dan’s motorcycle shop, the houses where I lived, the police station, the location of the murders, the location of infamous parties, the cemetery where Stitch was buried, and the various motorcycle club headquarters. Each time I drew a building or marked an X on the map, stories flooded out, clear as the day they’d happened. So, I headed south again for another biker party and came home with plenty of material.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I clear the space in my head by inhaling sweet weed, think of an incident from my past, turn on the tape recorder, and start talking.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

Carla Perry prepared three drafts for me. The first was to make sure the information was correctly transcribed and that I was okay with the short story titles. The second was to put the stories in order and correct name spellings. The third was the final draft. The cover designer, Sarah Gayle, also drew cartoonish maps to illustrate the locations where the stories took place, so those are interspersed throughout the book.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best thing was getting the stories out of my head so I don’t have to remember them anymore. I feel a sense of freedom knowing I’ve done what I hoped to do – reconnect with Stitch by writing this book dedicated to him. The worst thing is there are still more stories I’d like to get down on paper. Maybe there will be a volume 2.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I can’t write longhand anymore because my eyesight is not so good and I will never use a computer, so talking into the tape recorder worked great for me. Telling stories from my past is not a job. It’s something I’m compelled to do to make peace with my early life.

6) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

The best advice was when Carla Perry suggested I draw a map of my neighborhood. That was amazing. Every street corner, every bar and tavern, the cafes, the movie theater, the houses my friends lived in, every building, park, church, and school contained vivid stories from my life in Rosebank, Staten Island. It was like taping into full-color movies of what went on in the 1960s. I could remember conversations, the sounds, the smells. It was all there, hidden away in my memory.

7) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

I just speak it out so my writing style is just the same way I talk. Except it’s a little more cleaned up through the editing process.

8) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I’m a retired building engineer. I’m an artist of three-dimensional representations that hang from the ceilings and walls. I’m already 80 years old. I never planned to become a published author.

9) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

“If I don’t see you real soon, I’ll see you down the road someday.” (lyrics from “Car Outside” © Jimmy LaFave.)
“I’m surprised you’re alive.” – Fred, a member of Johnny’s Yoga class.

10) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

Maybe more stories. Volume 2 of “A Collection of Bummer Summers.”

11) What would you like us to know about your latest release?

The absolutely true stories of my life are in that book.

Robert Hill is a New Englander by birth, a west coaster by choice, and an Oregonian by osmosis. As a writer, he has worked in advertising, entertainment, educational software and not-for-profit fundraising. He is a recipient of an Oregon Literary Arts Walt Morey Fellowship and a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Fellowship.

Here are some things you may not know abut Robert.

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I initially became a writer because it was a way to connect with my mother who was a writer. Later, I became a writer because it was a profound way to connect with myself.

Early on I wrote great 2-page murder and mayhem stories for class assignments in which all my classmates (and myself) met with horrific ends on school field trips to haunted houses. I think I learned how to captivate an audience doing those. Later, I wrote clever (if I say so myself) verse in the vein of Ogden Nash and Dorothy Parker (yeah, dream on, Robert), some of which got printed in small, off-beat literary magazines that have since become bird cage liners. Professionally, I wrote advertising copy for over 20 years, first for general merchandise, then for movies (trailers, posters, home video package copy), plus a few “edutainment” software learning games, and then moved on to writing grants for non-profits. I didn’t sit down to write my first novel until I was 42, and that was the first fiction I’d written in more than 20 years. (Unless you count grant writing, which is 90% fiction. Ahem.)

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

My writing routine is to avoid writing as much as possible until I burst like a boil and have to get it out and onto the page. Once I sit down to it, I have to stick with whatever the arc is that I’m working on, be it a sentence or paragraph or chapter, and I cannot get up from it until I feel I’ve landed it. This can take a long time. I write out loud, often speaking the words as my fingers type them, but always reading everything back out loud many times, because I need to hear where the voice carries a word or clause, how two particular words rub up against one another, and especially, I have to hear the whole thing move towards the landing. It’s a kind of OCD, but until I hear these things the way my brain dictates they have to sound, I can’t get up from the keyboard.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

I’m constantly editing as I’m writing, so I don’t think in terms of drafts so much. Sometimes the editing is about shifting blocks of things around, moving moments from early on to later, things like that. More often than not I kill a few darlings (always a painful thing to do) in the revision process when I see that they do not serve the whole piece. After that, editing is more or less on the micro level – a word here, a clause there.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best thing was discovering that I had a particular voice, which I did not realize I had. In fact, I don’t think I ever really knew to have a voice until I was in Tom Spanbauer’s Dangerous Writers workshop and the emphasis was totally on voice. Tom and the other writers in the room saw what I could do, encouraged me to push it, and helped me realize something surprising in myself. I don’t think I’ve had a “worst” moment in my writing career. It’s writing. It’s putting words on a page, hopefully with emotion, that readers will enjoy. Neither my life nor anyone else’s is on the line, though. If no one wants to publish it, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not like going hungry, or having a terminal illness. There’s always another blank page and new words to start over with.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I love when something surprising comes out of me that I did not know was in me. I hate when something totally banal comes out; but then love comes back when I toss out the banal and start over and something wonderful takes its place.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I read mostly literary fiction. I belong to a book group that’s been meeting for close to 15 years. About half the group are writers; all are serious literature lovers. So we read as much for content as style and try to expand our horizons with international writers as often as possible. I say that, but give me an American novel about the dark side of the American Dream and I couldn’t be happier. I’m always reading. I read more than I write. Some favorite authors, in no particular order: John Cheever, Willa Cather, Elena Ferranti, Nelson Algren, Philip Roth, Dawn Powell, J. M. Coetzee, James Salter, Christopher Isherwood, George Saunders, Edith Wharton…

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

Best: shut up and write.

Worst: you should read x book which tells you how to write a best-selling novel.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

Probably John Cheever. He wrote poetry disguised as prose and I admire that.

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

No, none. No, none. No, none. (Unless having to say or do things three times could be considered a superstition.)

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I used to want to be an architect, and maybe somewhere deep in me I still do. Although, to be honest, I no longer think in those terms of “if I could do it over again, I’d do X or Y…” If I really wanted to do X or Y, I’d do X or Y. But I enjoy writing. I’m good at it. It’s brought lovely things to my life – people, experiences. I have no desire to fold back time and erase what I’ve come to love.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

“I’ll have a tall dark roast, no room, please.”

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I’m working on a novel about a middle aged man who discovers that the mother he thought had been executed for murder when he was a small child has been in jail all this time, and is now being paroled into his custody. The novel follows how they develop a relationship at such a late stage in life, how it affects the relationships he has with the aunt and grandfather who raised him, and about who he is as a man. It’s very much an exploration of self-identity. The working title is Unfinished.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

I’m tempted to say I would have started writing fiction sooner, but honestly, I wasn’t mature enough to write about relationships, death, complicated emotions when I was in my 20s, nor yet in my 30s. I guess I was a late bloomer. So it’s not really something I could change.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Write what you want to write because you love the craft of writing, not because you have dreams of fame and riches. You spend an awful lot of time alone in your head to create, so you better enjoy the process. Thinking about having to sell your work will only get in the way of creating your work, so stop it! Also, because it’s just you at that keyboard, you can say anything you want to say. No one has to ever read it if you don’t want it read. Push yourself to be honest, if that’s what you’re striving for. Don’t grind axes, nor sugar coat anything. And if you’re sitting down to write the story of your childhood/marriage/break-up/whatever, because you’ve told yourself the story so many times there will be no surprise in it for you if you write it as you’ve always thought it in your head. So do this instead: write it from another person’s point of view. Write the story you don’t know and you’ll discover something profound in the process.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I am on dialysis, and awaiting a kidney transplant. Any 0-positive donors out there…?

And: what would you like us to know about your latest release?

The Remnants is about people in a small town who’ve spent their lives trying to connect in whatever way they can, all the while knowing that theirs is the last generation and after they are gone, their town, their history, the memories of them, will be gone forever. It’s sad and funny, hopeful, spiritual, and full of my favorite kind of writing: the run-on sentence. To me, the story of mankind, as it is manifest in the novel, is one long run-on sentence, with the past, present and future alive in a single moment.

The Remnants (Forest Avenue, 2016) follows When All Is Said and Done (Graywolf, 2006)Robert’s debut novel, which was shortlisted for the Oregon Book Awards’ Ken Kesey Award for Fiction.

 

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A few things you may not know about Rob Yardumian

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Newport, Oregon, has an active literary community. This Saturday, May 21,  ROB YARDUMIAN will read at the Nye Beach Writers Series in the Nye Beach Visual Arts Center. at 7 p.m.

Rob is a fiction writer living in Portland, Oregon. The Sound of Songs Across the Water is his first novel, and Sing With Me, Brother, For We Have Sinned is the accompanying album of original music. His short fiction has appeared in The Southern Review, The Antioch Review, The New Orleans Review, and other literary magazines. He has an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers, and he is currently working on his second novel, Rider Keene.

Here are some things you may not know about Rob.

1) Why did you become a writer? How did you get started?

When I was in my twenties I worked at a record label in Los Angeles. I was asked by one of our graphic designers to contribute a couple of pages to an art project they were putting together. I wrote two one-page stories as my contributions. Although the book was never published, it kindled my interest in fiction, and I kept writing from there.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I write all day on Saturdays and Sundays, and a few hours on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Discipline is not a problem for me, as I’d rather be writing than just about anything else I could do on a weekend.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

I typically write two complete drafts, then ask my readers to review the book and give me feedback. I’ll do another draft or two after that.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career?

Getting an MFA helped me learn how to edit my own work. I’d say that’s a critical skill any serious writer must learn fairly early in the process.

5) What do you like to read? Favorite authors?

Jim Crace, Glen Duncan, Denis Johnson

6) What was the best advice you received as a writer?

“Get black on white.”

7) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

My second novel, Rider Keene, is in its third draft. I hope to begin shopping it this fall.

8) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Take notes on the books you read. Write down what you liked or didn’t like about them. What worked or didn’t work and why? What would have made it better? What kind of choices would that have required from the author? Why do you think he/she didn’t make that choice? What would you have done differently? Even if the book wasn’t a success, pick out one or two things about it that did work and explain why you liked them.

9) Something we don’t know about you?

My family has two boys, two dogs, and four cats. And next year we’re getting chickens.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Probably a criminal mastermind with houses on three continents and a stable of flashy cars. Or a doughnut maker. I like doughnuts.

For more information about Rob, go to http://robyardumian.com

 

Writing a Good Book

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Check out my post on Resources for Independent Authors. Today we are talking about making your manuscript better with self-editing. Lots of interesting information on Kathy Gaudry’s site for writers.

Getting to Know You

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Plants have always been my passion. You’re more likely to find me outside playing in the dirt instead of indoors sitting in front of the TV or holding a book. For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in plants. What is it? Does it have medicinal purposes? Can you eat it? Moving to the Oregon Coast, then, has been this gardener’s dream. Here, if you want something to grow, just toss it on the ground, forget about it and a week later it will be an established plant. In southern Idaho if you tossed a plant on the ground, it was destined to die.

As an Idaho Master Gardener I know a lot about plants. But here in Oregon I feel like I’ve dropped down the rabbit hole. My head bobs at every step as I try to identify plants I’ve never seen before. Like the large bush that attracts birds and borders my yard on the north. The plant is prolific; I see it everywhere. But it took a trip to the county extension office to learn that the plant is a wax myrtle. I didn’t know that the pretty yellow plant along the side of the road is scotch broom and that it’s invasive. I was familiar with perennial geraniums but didn’t know that Herb Robert was not the same as cranesbill geranium even though they look alike. Is it an azalea or a rhododendron? What makes them different?

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My yard is a wonderland of new discoveries. I knew I had a lot of blackberries bordering my lawn, but I didn’t know that I also had salmonberry, thimbleberry and evergreen huckleberries, not to mention the salal that grows like trees.

A walk through my neighborhood is truly a walk in the forest. Trilliums. Yellow skunk cabbage. English daisies and woodland strawberries that cover the ground instead of grass. Western buttercups and lewisia. Each forward step offers a mystery to be solved.

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Moving to Oregon has been a grand adventure and I’ve enjoyed getting to know all about the plants that grow in my yard and neighborhood. With the ocean just down the road, I’m eager to start learning the names of the interesting treasures I find on the beach.

 

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15 Things You May Not Know About Paula Marie Coomer

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Paula Marie Coomer began life in Louisville, Kentucky, and lived most of her childhood in the industrial Ohio River town of New Albany, Indiana. The daughter of over 200 years of south-central Kentuckians, she is a predictable mix of Cherokee, African, Scot, and a dash of English Puritan. Her fiction, poetry, and non-fiction have appeared in many journals, anthologies, and publications, including Spilt Infinitive, Perceptions, Gargoyle, and Knock, to name only a few.

Coomer has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, was writer-in-residence for Fishtrap, Oregon’s much-loved advocacy program for literature in the West, and has been a visiting scholar for the Idaho Commission for Libraries since 2002. She is a former long-time instructor of English for Washington State University, and was commissioned as an officer of the U.S Public Health Service, achieving the rank of lieutenant commander before she resigned her commission in 1995, ostensibly to be a writer.

I’ve known Paula for several years and am excited to host her here today. She’s a great friend, an awesome teacher, and is always eager to talk about writing. Here are fifteen things you may not know about Paula Marie Coomer.

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

My first memories have to do with my awareness of myself as an observer. I wrote my first book at the age of four. No one else could understand what I had written, but I could. I even sewed a sort of binding with needle and thread—which I got in trouble for.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

    1. If I’m doing research or composing a new draft, I’m usually in an isolated situation. Usually I go to the Inn in the Idaho mountains where I am in writer-in-residence (which is how I got to BE writer-in-residence). I hole myself up for as long as I can—usually at least 4 days. I’m fully focused. I do nothing besides eating (and very sparsely, at that) or getting up and moving occasionally.
    2. If I’m revising, I usually work in my studio at home half a day, beginning almost as soon as I get up. Then half a day on the other things I have to do—the paying job, author gigs, etc. At times during this phase I hire a housekeeper and an assistant to free up my time for the writing hours.
    3. If I’m doing edits, I spend mornings at a local coffee shop working. For some reason at the level of line edits, it helps to have background noise.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

That varies completely. My novel Dove Creek took 15 drafts. The 16th draft sold. Blue Moon Vegetarian took 3 drafts. Jagged Edge of the Sky took four. Single poems can take 10-20 drafts. Short stories can take a dozen drafts. I tend to write in layers, rather obviously.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

It broke my heart a little bit when I realized I was never going to be a New York writer, living in Greenwich Village, part of the U.S. “g-literati.” But that turned out to be the best possible thing, because I have a great independent publishing house at my back. They give me infinite freedom as an artist, and they like me enough to give me a job that allows me the time I need to keep writing. I have a decent following, and people love what I write. I’m so busy I can’t even imagine being any busier in my writing career. I really couldn’t ask for anything better.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I love the serendipity. The way, when I’m working on a story or a book, the pieces just come to me, show up in my life in the most random of ways. What I dislike the most is the effect it’s had on my body. Luckily now I have a standing desk, so I rotate between sitting and standing, but writing is really, really hard on the body. We were not designed to sit for long periods of time.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I mostly read according to whatever I’m researching for the next book. Right now my stack of reading material looks like the course requirements for an herbalism class or a course on mountaineering. I’m preparing to write a follow-up for the Blue Moon food book series focused on the healing nature of plants. This is also research for my next novel, which features a mountain woman who is a healer. Otherwise, I have a few living favorites—Lidia Yuknavitch and Lance Olsen are my literary heroes. I also do presentations at regional libraries so often I have a novel I’m reading for that. Otherwise, I try to read a few poetry books now and again. I don’t read any mainstream books or authors. Most of the books I read are written by women. I prefer the voices of women writers.

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

      1. Best: Don’t give up. If you keep writing, someone will publish you.
      2. Worst: Teaching gives you control of your time. It will give you time to write. The truth is that teaching sucks your life force and your creativity and gives you very little in return; however, to donate yourself to the world in this way is very noble and to some extent a necessary part of mastering your craft.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

Lance Olsen, Ray Federmann, Lidia Yuknavitch.

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

I have lots. First, I have feathers and rocks everywhere. A feather in your path is a blessing. The always present themselves to me at difficult times. Rocks possess certain energies. If I’m drawn to the energy of a certain rock, I always pick it up. I have certain types of gems and semi-precious stones that are meant to absorb bad energy. Occasionally I soak them in water and sea salt to cleanse them. I regularly smudge the house with sweetgrass, sage, or cedar.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

A visual artist.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

From the I-Ching: Perseverance furthers.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I have a new novel finished. It’s very, very experimental, and I have no idea if anyone will want to publish it. I have a collection of essays and one of short stories that both need final revision. Then I have the 2 final books in the Blue Moon series, Blue Moon Medicine Woman and Blue Moon Folkways in the Kitchen. What is that 5? Five books in process, a book of poems I’m slowly working on, and research for the next novel.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

I don’t really know. I don’t have much in the way of regrets.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Let writing change your life.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I spent two summers of my life picking fruit in California and Oregon, living out of the back of a pickup. It was the most horrible work but the people I worked with made it worthwhile. Stories I still haven’t told.

And: What would you like us to know about your latest release?

Jagged Edge of the Sky is the story of two women, one Australian and one American, who both go outside their marriages almost on the same day and with the same handsome, mixed-blood aboriginal man. The situation tears the Australian family apart; the American family keeps it secret. At once a women’s story, an immigrant story, and a family saga, the most important message the book delivers is about the despicable state of mental health services in our country.

 

 

Emily McIntyre writes about her dreams . . .

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Sawtooth City in the late 1800s. Photo courtesy Community Library Regional History Department

Since April is national poetry month, Emily McIntyre wants to share a poem with you. Emily grew up in the gritty mining camps of Saw Tooth City and Rocky Bar, Idaho Territory, in the 1870s. She lived in a log cabin and carried water from nearby Beaver Creek. She was a great companion to Lizzie and George Harmon until the nefarious Kerry Chapman Troupe came to entertain the miners in the spring of 1882.

Back East there is a better life,
No digging in the dirt,
Or staring in a miner’s pan
Until your eyelids hurt.
A place where parasols are made
Of Paris silk so fine,
A place where steamboats paddle by,
A place that I’d call mine.
Back East is where I wish to go—
I’d like to run away
From all these mountains, trees, and chores.
Back East is where I’d stay.
Somewhere there is another sky
That’s just this shade of blue,
Somewhere back East, away from here,
Where all your dreams come true.
Emily Ann McIntyre
Saw Tooth City
April 29, 1882

 

You can read all about Emily’s journey in Goldie’s Daughter.

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PERFECTLY IMPERFECT

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I’m happy to announce that Waiting will be part of an ebook boxed set with two other great books, Goddess of Suburbia, by Stephanie Kepke and The Paris Effect, by K.S.R Burns. Thank you to our wonderful publisher Booktrope for this opportunity, and to Michelle Fairbanks for the fantastic cover.

Here’s the scoop on this exciting new project:

The Perfectly Imperfect boxed book set consists of three novels about strong women in transition.

Suburbia meets scandal in Stephanie Kepke’s Goddess of Suburbia, a hopeful and honest portrayal of that moment in every woman’s life when it’s time to make a change, even if that means risking losing it all. When pillar of the community and PTA mom, Max, finds herself embroiled in an Internet scandal, she must learn to stop living her life on auto-pilot or forever remain a suburban lemming running toward the cliff of old age. This story is a must-read for women looking to reconnect with their passions and live authentically.

In Bonnie Dodge’s Waiting, three generations of Foster women, senior citizen Maxine, attention-seeker Grace, and aspiring artist Abbie, think they are nothing alike. But they all share a secret. They wait. For love, for attention, for life, for death. In their journeys between despair and happiness, they learn there are worse things than being alone. Like waiting for the wrong person’s love. With sensitivity and humor, Waiting carries readers into the hearts of three women who learn that happiness comes from within.

In K. S. R. Burns’s highly praised debut novel, The Paris Effect, a food-obsessed young woman sneaks away to Paris without telling anyone. Not even her husband. Once there, she’s robbed, stalked, arrested, and kidnapped (almost). Worse, she finds that her numerous issues have come right along with her. Grab a croissant and settle in for a decidedly non-touristy trip to the City of Light.

An amazing deal for three terrific stories in one ebook. For updates on our release date, launch parties, and more, like the Perfectly Imperfect Facebook page. Be sure to check the page often.

Lost in Atlanta Places 3rd in Contest

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My short story, Lost in Atlanta, placed third in the 2016 Idaho Magazine Adult Fiction contest. The story is about two women who get lost looking for information about Peg-Leg Annie.

FEISTY AFTER 45 The Best Blogs From Midlife Women

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My blog, Facing Another Birthday with Humor, is in this best-selling anthology just released from Mill Park Publishing. You can get your copy here.

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