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.
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.
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.
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.
Promotional Pricing: Free 12/02/2014 to 12/05/2014 Pricing: $1.99 (after 12/05/2014)
A Cup of Christmas is a lovely mixture of award winning authors. My story, “Home in Time for Christmas” is a story about Cassie and Jim Mink from my Fairfield, Idaho, collection. Cassie wants to return to Seattle to spend Christmas with her widowed mother while Jim wants his family to experience their first Christmas in Idaho. Other stories include Christmases remembered through the years and family traditions. Just how did Daddy shoot the Christmas tree? Romance, an urban fantasy, a mysterious ethereal boy, an elderly man with a new lease on life, a dog wedding, Santa in love, a Texas beauty pageant, Rich’s Department Store remembered, a Vietnam Christmas, and a fairy tale about wanting your heart’s desire . . . the list goes on.
All proceeds from the sale of A Cup of Christmas will be donated to the children’s literacy charity, First Book. First Book addresses one of the fundamentals affecting literacy with children – access to books. To date, they have distributed over 120 million new books to children in both the United States and Canada. (www.firstbook.com)
Contributing authors to A Cup of Christmas include: Kimberly Brock, Jackie Bouchard, Karen E. Martin, R. Leonia Shea, Jane-Ann Heitmueller, Renea Winchester, Audrey Frank, Tori Bailey, Cynthia Graubart, Morgen Bailey, DJ Thomason, Beth Crews Rommel, Jackie Rod, Georgia Lee, Rosemary Dixon, Jamie Salisbury, Kerry Alan Denney, Lane Sebesta, Ramsay Brown, Doug Dahlgren, Penny White, Amie Ray Davis, Bonnie Dodge, Michael W. Paul, Deborah Myers Lewis, Tara Joyner Haussler, Rena Blain, Helen Ross, Howard Johnson, Karen Brown and Barbara Barth.
DON’T MISS OUT. MARK YOUR CALENDARS TO GRAB YOUR FREE COPY NOW!
Today we stopped by Morningside Elementary in Twin Falls and presented the Principal, Steven Hoy, a copy of our book, Billie Neville Takes a Leap. Billie attended Morningside in 1974, the year Evel Knievel attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon. Thank you, Morningside Elementary for letting us wander your halls. You have a great school.
We had so much fun putting this book together. Take a tomboy with no friends with a dream to be a daredevil and you have little Billie Neville. Add a skycycle and the Snake River Canyon and there’s bound to be lots of action.
Hurry and get your copy now just in time to celebrate the 4oth anniversary of Evel Knievel’s failed jump of the Snake River Canyon.
Check out my new children’s book, “Billie Neville Takes a Leap.”
Ten-year-old Billie Neville wants to be a daredevil, just like her hero Evel Knievel. She also wants a best friend. Riding “the best bike in the whole world” Billie’s desperate to enter a bike jumping contest with three boys named The Meanies and show them her cool bike skills. When Evel comes to town to jump the Snake River Canyon, Billie learns she has to be a friend to make friends and that not all heroes have to soar over canyons.
Ten-year-old Billie wants to be a daredevil, just like her hero Evel Knievel. She also wants a best friend. Riding “the best bike in the whole world,” Billie’s desperate to enter a bike jumping contest with three boys named The Meanies and show them her cool bike skills. When Evel comes to town to jump the Snake River Canyon, Billie learns she has to be a friend to make friends and that not all heroes have to soar over canyons.
Pat, Dixie and I have spent countless hours compiling this anthology, which features fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and essays by twenty-seven Idaho writers. In some ways the process has been a labor of love, in others, well, lets just say we understand why it takes a publisher so long to bring a book to the public. We love this anthology and hope you will too. Stories about the old Idaho State Penitentiary, Lincoln Elementary School in Twin Falls, and Stricker Ranch are only some of the tales you will encounter in this collection. For more information about the book and where to buy it, go to http://hauntingsfromtheplain.wordpress.com Then lock the door, turn on all the lights, and enjoy these haunted tales.
Busy, busy, busy. That’s what I’ve been the last few months, editing and laying out the latest book offered by The Other Bunch Press. Hauntings from the Snake River Plain is almost ready to go to print. As soon as we have a release date, we’ll let you know. A lost cave, a possessed canyon and a visit from mysterious strangers are only some of the stories you’ll find in this anthology by Idaho writers. Lock the door, turn on the lights, and get ready to enjoy these haunted tales.
If you know anything about me, you know that Alice Hoffman is one on my favorite authors. Now, before you turn your nose and dismiss me like a clerk in a bookstore did recently, let me tell you why.
I stumbled across Hoffman’s books years ago at a writer’s conference. Hoffman wasn’t there, and she wasn’t well known among the audience of genre writers. But an author whose work I admired commented on Hoffman’s books, and when I got home, I looked up Hoffman. I went to the library and read about her in the journals of literary criticism. I read all her published novels. Then I read them again. I took out pen and paper and rewrote some of her paragraphs to get a sense of her rhythm, voice, and style.
When I tried to tell my son the English professor why I liked Hoffman’s work, I could only falter and say, “When I read her books I feel like she is sitting across the kitchen table from me, and that we are drinking coffee and telling each other our truest secrets.” Not that her work was brilliant or sent me to the dictionary, or even avant-garde. Not that her writing was political, or historical or made me want to move to New York City or Massachusetts. But that her writing made me deal with my emotions, and do it honestly.
Wow. I wish someone would say that about my work.
This observation comes today because I just finished Hoffman’s latest novel, The Red Garden. Now, I have read every book Hoffman has published including the books for young adults, and at first this book didn’t speak to me. It is not a novel, but a collection of short stories that act as a novel. And if you read them fast, you miss the message each story contains. There isn’t much of a plot. Some of the characters lack motivation. But if you read them slowly and listen to the voice of the author and try to keep in mind the connection of the characters, you get to the underlying gist of the stories, an eerie sort of longing and contemplation about life and death. A Tree of Life that bears Look-No-Further fruit. I can usually finish a Hoffman book in one sitting. With this book, I had to slow down and let the simple, common, haunting words hit their mark. After reading “The Principles of Devotion,” I had to set the book aside for the rest of the day. It is one of the shorter stories in the book, but did it ever punch me in the gut. A dying sister, a loyal dog, small and unfulfilled wishes. Wow. I was so paralyzed by her words I had to stop reading.
This is not meant as a review of the book. I do not believe in critics’ reviews because each reader brings something different to a book or to a movie. Who’s to say which interpretation or experience is the better? What I’m trying to convey is how this author evoked my emotions. Did the book make me laugh? Yes, a couple of times. Did the book make me cry? Yes, once. Did the book make me feel? Absolutely, all the way to the end.
The same thing happens when I listen to the music of country and pop artist Taylor Swift. If I were fifteen and falling in love for the first time, I might be drawn to Taylor because she has spunk, energy, and charisma. But I’m nearer sixty and I’ll tell you what draws me to Taylor — her talent and ability to tell stories honestly.
I was first drawn to Taylor because I was writing about my 16-year-old protagonist Abbie Buchanan and wanted to capture the raw emotion of a teenager. When I would write about Abbie, I would put on Swift’s music from Fearless and let Abbie’s emotions bubble. In my Hoffman tradition, once I discovered Taylor, I devoured everything she released. For Christmas, I asked for and received her first album, Taylor Swift. I was expecting a so-so album since it contained songs Taylor wrote in her early teens. But these songs are as powerful as those in Speak Now and Fearless. I love Taylor’s songs and find myself waking up with them in my head. Like Hoffman, the stories Taylor tells stir my emotions. They make me remember I’m human, the elements of life–the breathing, the loving, the hating, the messing up, the forgiving and accepting.
And then there is me, inspired by these talented artists who dare to tell it like it is without any apologies, who inspire me to face each new day with enthusiasm and deepened insight.
To that I say, Wow. Absolutely, Wow. And a very gracious Thank You.
I was probably ten years old when I first read Jane Eyre. I followed that quickly with Wuthering Heights, and even wrote a paper on the light and dark elements in Wuthering Heights when I was in college. These books remain my all time favorites, my go to books when I want to be transported. I still read them today, even though they were written over 150 years ago. I could go on and on about these wonderful classics, but I won’t. Instead, I’d like to share a video link my friend, Robin Lee Hatcher, posted on Facebook today. She did not make the video, she was just passing it on because it’s too good not to share. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NKXNThJ610
I’m starting the new year out right. On January 30, I’ll be reading from “Voices from the Snake River Plain” in Boise at The Cabin. I’m excited to be part of the Idaho Writer’s Guild and participate in their first event for 2010. If you are in the Boise area on January 30, stop by The Cabin between 1 – 3 and join us while we talk about books, writing, and publishing. Hope to see you there!
Here is the Idaho Writer’s Guild news release.
The publishing world is changing daily, it seems, and there’s a lot of interest in the area of non-traditional forms of publishing. As “Writers Working for Writers,” the Idaho Writer’s Guild is proudly launching a new series called “Random Readings” on Saturday, January 30th from 1-3 pm at The Cabin, in Boise. Featured writers will share their experiences, from writing to publishing.
Here’s what you can look forward to: authors will read from their books, with commentary. Afterwards, there will be time for asking questions and sharing thoughts about the nuts and bolts of a variety of publishing processes. Not-to-be-missed refreshments will be served.
Southern Idaho residents Bonnie Dodge, Dixie Thomas Reale and Patricia Santos Marcantonio wrote and published “Voices from the Snake River Plain.” A collection of short stories, poems and essays, the book has been described as “a small treasure….we learn there is beauty in the landscape around us and people with stories to tell.” Some of the tales by these award-winning writers include a jackalope, an old Mexican ghost story, haunting landscapes and a road trip with Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey.
Val Robertson was the former president of The Couer du Bois Chapter of Romance Writers of America, and the founding and current president of the Popular Fiction Association of Idaho, which produces the Murder in the Grove mystery conference. She is also the organizer of the Boise Speculative Fiction writer’s support group. Her debut novel is entitled “Blade’s Edge.”
Also from Boise, Ken McConnell is both traditionally published and self-published. A Software Test Technician, Ken wrote and published “Starstrikers” in 2008. His first novel is “a military space novel that takes place between two galactic civilizations.” He also wrote “Null Pointer,” a mystery novel about a programmer sleuth.
“Random Readings” will take place in the Jean Wilson Reading Room, on the basement level at The Cabin, 801 S. Capitol Blvd, Boise. Admission is free. For further information contact Diane Graham at email@example.com.
The Road out of Hell is not a book I would have normally picked to read. It is the story of Sanford Clark and the Wineville Murders that took place in California in the late 1920s. It is a hard book to read, and I read it reluctantly because it was the January selection for my local book club. To make matters worse, I was host for the January meeting, so I knew if I was going to contribute anything worthwhile to the discussion, I would have to read the book.
After a couple of failed starts, I dug in and did the work. I’m glad I did because the publisher of the book had arranged a Skype meeting between my book club and the author. For almost an hour we were able to ask Anthony Flacco questions about the story and the story process. It was like having Mr. Flacco in my living room talking about books and writing, and it was so much fun.
Being the mother of a son, it would have been easy for me to say, “I’m not going to read this book.” But something positive came out of the process. I hope more publishers and authors take advantage of connecting with readers through Skype or other cyberspace technology. It was truly one of the best book discussions we have had, and we’ve read a lot of books.
On November 6, Pat, Dixie and I enjoyed reading excerpts from Voices from the Snake River Plain to a standing-room-only crowd in Twin Falls, Idaho. A heartfelt thanks goes out to everyone who helped celebrate the launch of our new book. If you missed the event, copies are still available at the Magic Valley Arts Council, 132 Main Avenue South, Twin Falls, Idaho. They are also available at the Log Cabin Literary Center, 801 S. Capitol Boulevard in Boise, Idaho.
Judi Baxter, who owned and operated Judi’s Bookstore in Twin Falls from 1978 to 1992 wrote this review for BookChat. Check it out. Thanks, Judi, for the positive review. Thanks also to the Times-News for letting us reprint the article here.
Three ‘writers with stories to tell’
It is always thrilling to hold a treasured book in my hands – rediscovering a childhood favorite, inhaling the scent of an old, leather-bound tome, perusing glorious pictures from a beloved illustrator or gently opening a much-anticipated title for the first time.
The thrill was certainly there when I received a copy of “Voices From The Snake River Plain,” the collection of essays, short stories and poetry from three talented local writers, Bonnie Dodge, Dixie Thomas Reale and Patricia Santos Marcantonio.
The lawn mowing, leaf raking and sidewalk sweeping went by the wayside as I sat on my deck and immersed myself in their worlds. I laughed, sighed, held my breath for a few moments and even cried while reading of families and friends, journeys and jealousies.
Marcantonio’s “The Hitch,” an engaging short story about a camping trip gone bad, left me giggling and nodding my head in agreement: Been there, done that! Forget the spectacular Stanley Basin scenery, mountain air and sparkling Salmon River; a lost trailer hitch leads to pointed fingers, heated words and thoughts of divorce. But her wise old character, Earl, quickly snaps everything back into focus: “Earl pulled up his welding mask. ‘You folks should have a good time once this is fixed. You can hike the trails, cook over a campfire, fish a bit. See the stars together. That’s the only way to see the stars, with someone you love so you know you aren’t dreaming.'” Beautiful!
In the chapter “Remembrances,” Reale captured my heart with “Mush.” Anyone who grew up having to eat oatmeal-the-texture-of-wallpaper-paste for breakfast every morning will immediately identify with the feisty, stubborn little girl. Her mother said she would eat it. Period. She was determined not to. Period. It became a royal battle of wills and more than a little ingenuity on young Dixie’s part: feeding it to the dog, tossing it out the window, dribbling large spoonfuls around her bowl. Since she didn’t have to eat the slopped part, that maneuver became her answer:
“I decorated the room. The entire bowl was drizzled and splattered one spoonful at a time across the mahogany tabletop, the wall, the bench and onto the floor. There was so much of it that gray puddles ran into one another making small lakes. Once Mama saw the mess she scraped it back into the dish and slung it in front of me. Now it was cold and slimy, had a faint flavor of English wood oil, and smelled a bit like floor polish. ‘You will eat this,’ she said.”
At this point, I was chuckling, but it was nothing compared with the laugher that erupted when I came to her final solution. What a creative little girl!
After reading Dodge’s “Surviving the Storm,” set a few days after the attack on the World Trade Center, I barely moved for many long minutes, reflecting on her words, recalling the overwhelming feelings of those haunting days as our nation sat in stultified silence and pain.
The women debate their plans to attend a bookfest in Boise and a trip to Idaho City for their annual mini-retreat, struggling with their own fears and doubts about leaving home and families so soon. “It’s what they want,” writes Dodge. “They want to terrorize us into inaction. I think we should go.” And so they do.
They spend hours exploring the former mining town, picking wildflowers, spontaneously attending a Catholic Mass, sharing homemade peach cobbler at Trudy’s Diner.
Dodge writes: “Heading for the car, we stop when we see an area of the cemetery marked with weathered boards, each etched with only one word: Unknown. Like rubber bands, we’re snapped back into reality as we think of the many new graves in New York City, some of which will soon be marked: Unknown. We exchange glances and, unembarrassed by our tears, embrace, holding onto each other longer than usual.
“We pass tissues like candy. Our hearts hurt. We have no words, no stories to define our nation’s massive devastation. As we travel the road that will take us back to our families, smiles chase away sadness and the desperate need to be home … Even in this troubled time, when our nation is stunned and nothing much is moving, we are. Because we’re still writers with stories to tell.”
And our lives are richer because these three writers have gathered and shared those stories with us.
Just because I haven’t posted a blog since May, it may look like I’m doing nothing. But the truth is that I’ve been busy with summer, gardens, grandsons, and laying out a book for The Other Bunch.
The garden is producing generously every day with more broccoli and cabbage than I can eat. The grandsons spent the month of July with us swimming, riding ATVs, and looking for ghosts. It was an honor to watch Kennedy at age 5 jump off the diving board during swim lessons. Dante, who turns 8 next week, adopted our orphaned cat Lucy Smith and hunted up grasshoppers and caterpillars for his bug box, while big brother Dmitri helped make banana bars, birthday cake ice cream, and Twinkie cupcakes. All boys are now back in Hillsboro with their parents who are glad to have them home and underfoot again. And yes, I miss them, but now that the house is empty, I’ve been busy laying out our new book, “Voices from the Snake River Plain”. This is a collection of essays, short stories, and poems written by Dixie Thomas Reale, Patricia Santos Marcantonio, and me. With any luck and a lot of patience, the book will be available soon. Just so you know, when it looks like I’m doing nothing, I’m busy living life and enjoying every minute of it.
It’s rare that I like a movie better than a book. Often, if I really love a book, I never bother to see the movie because I don’t want to be disappointed. In the case of The Reader, I didn’t really love the book, and probably wouldn’t have read it if it hadn’t been for my book club. But I did read the book, and then watched the movie.
Personally, I believe the movie would have been hard to follow without first having read the book. But unlike the book, which left me lukewarm, Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Hanna Schmitz has stayed with me. I find her popping into my thoughts at the oddest times, and I have to stop and catch my breath. As an artist, Winslet brought Hanna to life in a way the book didn’t, and it’s clear to see why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded her an Oscar for her work in this movie.
There is something to say about good books and good actors. They make us think, and they make us feel. They help us see with different eyes and amplify our life experiences.