year 2020 archives
Portland Oregon writer Joanna Rose is the author of the award-winning novel Little Miss Strange (winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Assn Fiction Prize and Oregon Book Award finalist). A prolific writer, Joanna’s work has appeared in ZYZZYVA, Windfall Journal, Artisan Journal, High Desert Journal, Oregon Humanities, Northern Lights Cloudbank, Bellingham Review, VoiceCatcher, and Calyx to name only a few. Her essay “The Thing with Feathers” was cited as Notable in 2015 Best American Essays. She is a winner of The Attic Institute’s Winter Writing Contest in non-fiction for her essay, “Commemorative Plates”, and is an Attic Institute Atheneum Fellow in Poetry and Fiction. Please welcome Joanna Rose.
- Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?
I decided to be a writer in 3rd grade. I was a reader. I wrote my first book during arithmetic class. (I got in big trouble from bringing home a C in arithmetic!)
- What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?
I try to write first thing in the morning, and that’s when I work on first draft material, either a new scene or a new poem, or just morning pages. Then later in the day I get back to revision, or to continue whatever project I’m working on. My work schedule is hectic and all over the clock, so it’s hard to keep to a regular writing time. But the discipline part is never a problem. The discipline is in getting my ‘other’ work done instead of writing.
- How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?
There isn’t really any such thing as a draft for me. In an initial draft I may work on the story up to a point and maybe even think I’ve found an ending, but then I go back into it, wander around in the middle. I guess I feel like a piece is done once it’s published.
- What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?
The best thing was meeting Tom Spanbauer and falling in with the Dangerous Writers. I learned to love the intricacies of language and story from Tom, and we learned to talk about our work in constructive, non-judgmental terms. I met a group of like-minded people. I felt connected in a way I never had. I found myself part of a community with shared values, those values being a belief in our own work, and in each other’s work.
- What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?
The best part is revision. The part that I struggle with is first draft because I love the wandering around in story, and I get lost. But I don’t hate it. I love it all. I just struggle with it.
- What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?
I like to read ANYTHING! I have to read, always. It’s more important than food for me. I am inspired by other writers, and I am always tasking notes and copying down beautiful sentences.
I have so many favorite authors!!! Anne Tyler, William Gibson, Lewis Carroll, Joy Williams. Lewis Nordan. These are the writers I turn to often. One of my new favorites is Beth Kephart; her small essays are so quietly stunning.
I also read a lot of poetry. Norman Dubie. Brigitte Pegeen Kelly. Robert Hass. David Biespiel. Charles Simic. Paulann Petersen. These are poets I turn to often.
I read British crime fiction compulsively. It’s more about cool language, all the different Brit ways of speech. And it’s less gory that American crime fiction. Of American crime writers, I love Walter Mosley and James Lee Burke. One thing I love about mysteries is that the plot has to hold up.
This question is a mad rabbit hole for me!
- What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?
The worst advice I ever got was “Don’t quit your day job.” We all have to pay the bills but I finally turned to teaching and working with Writers in the Schools so I could spend my days working with language and writers. Life is short. A day job has to feed your soul.
“The best advice: You should write a book.” Every writer needs to hear that.
- Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?
The poets I read are the most influential. I learn how to rely on concrete images and believe in my own metaphors. But I would also say Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass are amazing feats of language and character, and they’re so clever – the logic games!
- Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?
I used to always light a candle, but I tend to write in different places in my house. I start at my desk, and then when my husband leaves for work I move to the kitchen table, or outside. So I am always walking away and leaving a candle burning. I quit doing that. I like to write in coffee shops too. You can’t really bring your own candle!
- If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
A dog trainer. I have always had dogs, and my dogs are notoriously badly behaved. But I worked with two of my guys in agility training and I loved that. It was pure joy for them and me. Powerful communication. I love reading dog training guides.
- What quote or personal saying do you live by?
Success is moving from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. (Wm Churchill)
12. What’s next up for you, writing-wise?
A short story collection and a collection of personal essays. Pieces I’ve been working on while working on A Small Crowd of Strangers. I also have a poetry collection that I want to get back to. I really don’t know what will rise to the surface once the publication activity settles down. I recently quit my job and expect to have more time to focus on the next project.
13. If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?
Hitchhike through the middle east in the 60s. But I got a dog so I had to restrict my hitchhiking adventures to the continent.
14. What advice would you give beginning writers?
The best advice would be to pay attention to what you love in the world. Get in the habit of paying attention. And keep a small notebook with you always and write down odd thoughts and pieces of language that come your way throughout the day. And eavesdrop! People are amazing!
15. Something we don’t know about you?
I am not from anywhere. I have no family roots.
And: what would you like us to know about A Small Crowd of Strangers:
It’s not a memoir. But it is my story. It’s not ‘autobiographical fiction’ in any way, but there are bits and pieces of my life in it, both setting and ideas. That’s the best part of being a writer: putting language to what I love.
You can learn more about Joanna at http://www.joannarose.xyz/
I met Lori several years ago at a Willamette Writers Coast chapter meeting in Newport. Lori is a journalist of more than 25 years, including time at the Rocky Mountain News as a columnist and features writer and as a staff writer for The Oregonian. Her memoir Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast chronicles her years covering the Oregon Coast for the Portland-based daily. She currently freelances for a number of publications and is a columnist for Oregon Arts Watch. Her novel Wander was published by Red Hen Press in 2016, and the 2017 winner of the Nancy Pearl Book Award in literary fiction. Wander was also a finalist in the International Book Awards. Lori lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and her rescue pups Luna and Monkey. Say hello to Lori, a great friend and writer.
1) Why did you become a Writer?
Because I loved to read and writing came kind of naturally – note I didn’t say good writing, just writing, but I loved doing it.
How did you get started?
Letters to my brother in ‘Nam; journals.
2) What is your writing routine?
I don’t really have one. I’m either writing to make a living or writing for a particular fiction/creative non-fiction project.
How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?
I’m rarely blocked but when I am I try to make myself stay in the chair.
3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?
4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career?
Publishing my first novel, Wander and then Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast.
Rejection is never easy. Early on in my career, I had an editor tell me a piece was “pedestrian.”
5) What part of your job do you love the most?
The freedom to call my hours my own.
Hate or dislike the most?
Low pay; pissy editors.
6) What do you like to read?
Currently in a memoir mode, but I like any good literary fiction.
Do you read while working on a novel?
It changes from time to time, but Richard Ford is on there. Lynn Schooler and Laurence Gonzales for non-fiction. I’ll pick up anything by Ann Patchett. Likewise, Jennifer Egan. Excited to read Sue Miller’s new one, Monogamy. Any memoir by Alexandra Fuller.
7) What was the best advice you received as a writer?
Give up your day job so you can focus on writing fiction.
8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?
Not sure. Just always knew voice was very important to me as a reader and knew that was what I wanted to strive for.
9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?
After “Wander,” was published and I was dealing with stage fright, the starfish became a talisman for me. It has to do with a line in Amy Cuddy’s “Presence.”
10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
A wanna-be painter. If we’re being practical, a psychologist.
11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?
“Write hard, die free,” Howard Weaver. I don’t know if I live by any of these, but they have resonated: “When life becomes a bore, risk it.” James Dickey. “Part of the price of getting where you want to be is leaving where you are.” Ashleigh Brilliant. “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin
12) What was your first job as a journalist?
Broadcast: KCSY radio in Soldotna, Alaska; Print: Rose City Sentinel, Norwich, CT
13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?
There are some things I’d have done better, but I am happy where I am and I think that’s what counts. I do wish I had been more patient, kinder, willing to listen.
14) What advice would you give beginning writers?
Don’t do it unless it is an act of love. Don’t do it if you can’t stand a ton of rejection. Don’t do it because you think it will make you rich.
15) Something we don’t know about you?
I’ve always felt like an outsider. I’m not really very social. I am happiest inside my own head.
What would you like us to know about Storm Beat?
I feel really blessed to have had this gig and the opportunity to write about it. And I don’t think it could have landed in a better place than Oregon State University press.
You can find out more about Lori at https://www.loritobias.com
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.