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.
Because I watched the movie, I read the book. Because I read the book, I read his mother’s book. Then I wished I hadn’t, and here’s why.
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs and The Long Journey Home by Margaret Robison are billed as memoirs. The subject matter is dicey: gays, lesbians, adultery, alcoholism, and mental illness. Something most of us don’t encounter on a daily basis like this family did. Stuff great stories are made of, right?
One night when there was nothing else to watch on TV I flipped to the movie Running with Scissors. Annette Bening, Joseph Fiennes, Alec Baldwin, Gwyneth Paltrow, 116 minutes of comedy and drama. What’s not to like? The all-star cast held my attention. The movie was interesting, but it was a movie, right? I wanted to read the book to see how much of the story was actually true.
So I read the book, and when I finished Running with Scissors, I wanted to know more about this mother Margaret Robinson, a poet, teacher and writer I’d never heard of. With a college degree, someone who can probably put words on paper better than I can.
So I read The Long Journey Home, and wished I hadn’t. There is no doubt that there is a lot of talent in this family. All of them write well. Best sellers. But having watched the movie and read both books, I’m still no closer to the truth. Who is lying? Who is exaggerating? Does it even matter?
In most cases no. But in my case, it did. I am a mother. I have a son. I wanted to know why a mother would publicly call her son a liar. Why a son would change his name. I hoped to find the answers in the pages of the books, but when I was finished, I was depressed. Really, really depressed. So depressed I was in a bad mood for days. A mother tries to tell her side of the story, but can’t remember the details. An alcoholic husband and father shouldering most of the blame, is dead. His story remains untold. And the son and his brother are brilliant writers. Amen.
This brings me to why we read in the first place. Some read to escape, others for adventure. I read to understand human nature, and when I finished The Long Journey Home, I felt cheated. I was no closer to understanding the human nature of this family than I was knowing why my dog Emily growls at my husband all the while eating from his hand.
And maybe that’s okay. Maybe I don’t need to understand. But I did learn something. There are better ways to spend my time, better books to read.
I have been a Pam Houston fan ever since I read Cowboys are My Weakness. Her stories resonate so true, it’s hard to know what is real or invented. In her essay on craft–“Corn Maze”–Pam explains her writing process.
By the way, Pam’s new book Contents May Have Shifted, will be published by W.W. Norton on February 6, 2012.
I’ve just finished writing the ending paragraph to my latest novel. My head is numb; my butt is numb and for a moment I’m elated. It feels SO GOOD to reach the end of this journey. I call a friend to celebrate because she knows how exhilarating it is to write The End. But the minute I hang up the phone my emotions plunge back to reality. This is just the first draft. The nuts and blots of the story are in place. Maybe. Now comes the arduous task of editing and revising.
Some of my writer friends can whip out a book in six months, some even three. But this book has been percolating for several years. I have a file folder three inches thick of scenes I’ve deleted, or research I want to include, or should I say wanted to include as the story morphed to an end. My characters names have changed; I’ve honed their actions and reactions. I know them better than I know my siblings. But still, this book really isn’t finished.
Thus is the task of a writer. Formulating an idea strong enough to carry a book, writing more than 100,000 words. Writing, rewriting and rewriting. I’m not complaining. I love my job. I am so grateful to have friends and family who support my writing and me. I can’t think of a better way to end this year by typing THE END, knowing 2012 is just around the corner, and that this is really just the beginning. Thank you all so much for your support. You have no idea how much you mean to me as I hole away to write my stories.
May Santa bring you everything you want, especially a prosperous New Year.
Tell people you’re a writer, and the first thing they ask is, “What have you published?” There are lots of ways to answer this question, but I really like award-winning author and blogger John Shore’s observations on the book publishing industry. Check out his recent Huffington Post blog, “Why You Want a Big Book Publisher to Reject Your Book.” Being a writer is not the same as being published and here are some of the reasons why.