Willy Vlautin’s novels and a knock on my door.

Willy Vlautin, Oregon novelist and musician, has published four novels, all of them dealing with characters in bad situations, especially economically. 41Fs+IngloL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_-2They are not members of the elite class, or even (most of them) the middle class. These are trailer park citizens or homeless people or people living in run-down motels, just squeaking by, or not even. Reading of the trials, challenges, hard times, but also the good will and love of these characters has given me a new appreciation for people enduring life as a constant battle.

Last week a young man came to my door who reminded me of a Vlautin character. Sixteen years old, his transportation a skateboard, the boy wore dirty jeans and a scruffy tee shirt. He introduced himself, told his story, answered my questions. He wanted to earn $15 to pay off the remainder of the restitution he owed for stealing food from the local big box store. Very well spoken,he was not hesitant or reluctant in relating the facts of his life. He leanand his mom live in a welfare motel. Mom has a broken back; can’t work. But he was earning the money to finish paying off his debt to society. He’s too young for a “real” job; instead he knocks on doors, tells his story and folks respond with work for him. He attends continuation school and wants to be a welder. He gave me his name and the name of his probation officer and told me to call and check his story.

Noting our weed-choked yard, he said he’d pull weeds to earn the money. Okay, I thought. Why not? I gathered a trash bag, garden gloves, a trowel and a weed puller tool and presented these to the young man. He asked for a bottle of water which I provided. I left him to his work. About a half hour later he knocked on the door and showed me the half full bag of weeds. He had to leave to meet the PO with his payment. I paid his fee and told the young man, if he liked, he could return and we’d have more work for him in a week or two.northline

The next day I called the probation officer and he verified the information the young man gave me.

 The boy reminded me of the main character in “Lean on Pete”. Thank you, Willy Vlautin for making me aware how harsh the world can be for so many. Your work inspired me to help out the young man. What more could a writer ask?

It’s been a long time since I’ve been as moved by a novel as I was by both The Free and  Lean on Pete. Northline and Motel Life, are also well worth reading. Vlautin’s a genius at creating characters who live on the edge of disaster and often plunge into it. They make bad choices and suffer from them. But they keep going, with resilience and hope.  Vlauntin’s people haunt me. I guess that’s why I recognized one when he came to my door.



Protesting to Save our Bay

Saturday I joined a group of protesters downtown in our little Oregon coastal town, displaying our discontent with proposed Jordon Cove project, a facility to bring in fracked gas, mostly from Canada, liquify it, load it on huge LNG ships and export it from DSC_4856here. The facility would be sited on a sand spit in a tsunami zone, and has numerous safety issues (earthquake danger, pollution dangers to humans, fire dangers). This site is 2.8 miles from my home; experts recommend these facilities not be built near populated areas. The proposers of the project, Veresen, assure us we are unreasonable to worry about these concerns. Other issues such pollution of the bay by the release of toxins from dredging needed to accommodate the huge LNG ships, toxins catastrophic to marine life, the destruction of the habitats and the lives of numerous bay species, air port safety, are again ignored or dismissed as of no concern by the proponents of this bad idea.

Part of the project involves building a 243 mile pipeline from our town to the California border to bring in the gas, another bad idea for the land, streams, forests in danger of being desecrated by this pipeline. If that isn’t enough, eminent domain may be used to force landowners to give up their land for this scheme to make rich folks richer.

DSC_4910Endangering ground water by fracking for natural gas, then piping it hundred of miles to become liquified and sold to foreign entities to enrich a few is WRONG. DSC_4863Thanks to all those who came out Saturday to demonstrate our commitment to preserving what’s best about our town: the beauty of the sea, sky, air, and bay that surrounds us.  Hurray for the people willing to fight against those who would take those away and leave us with a polluting monstrosity.

Enough of my upset. Go online to Citizens against LNG for the facts.

Thanks to Writers of Kern and Port Orford (again)

I enjoyed a recent wonderful trip to Bakersfield. Even the San Francisco airport was an adventure. Thanks to the Writers of Kern for an enjoyable visit and the opportunity to talk about my favorite stuff: Reading and Writing.Thanks especially to Annis Cassells for all she did to makie it possible for me to be part of the event.

Annis Cassells and friend at the Writers of Kern Writing Conference, 2014.

Annis Cassells and friend at the Writers of Kern Writing Conference, 2014.


Also, what more can the folks of Port Orford do to show their hospitality?  Had a joyful hour discussing books and writing at the Port Orford Poets Round-up. Many talented, creative poets and prose writers shared their delightful works, too. Heaps of praise and thanks to Toby Porter, Gary Carter, and all others who contributed to this weekend celebration of words and those who manipulate and configure them to create their art and expand our literary world.

More photos to be added, as soon as technical difficulties are resolved.

For Love of the Library

After reading Ann Patcett’s new book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, I was envious of the ease and strength of her writing, and of her half ownership of the bookstore, Parnassus, in  her hometown of Nashville. Then I thought deeper and decided, no, I don’t

Coos Bay Library

Coos Bay Library

want to own a bookstore. It’s a business. I’m not a business person, I’m a book lover who is trying to avoid buying any more books. It’s a goal, probably not very realistic, but I have no more room for books in my tiny house. It is our local library that I value and patronize. I can browse, linger, enjoy the books, magazines, the newspapers, and examine, choose, and check out lots of media. But for me, it’s all about the books.

The Coos Bay Library is welcoming; it’s a clean, well-lighted place in the best sense. The new books and media are on display as soon as I enter, inviting my perusal. The staff is DSC_4535friendly and helpful. I stop in once a week or more. I donate my old New Yorkers, placing them in a rack for anyone to take and for others to donate their magazines. Nice system.

I first fell in love with a library on a 4th grade school field trip. The nuns loaded us on a bus and we went to the El Monte Public Library, located in the civic center building. The library’s high ceilings, tile floor, somewhat dim lighting and pervading quiet were so different from my home and the classroom, I was entranced before I even got to the main attraction. The bounty of books pushed me over the top to bliss.

Before we entered the building, one of the wily nuns told us that the librarian did not like Catholics so we needed to be on our best behavior to impress her with the virtues of our faith and perhaps to save her soul. The librarian seemed friendly, not at all a soul in need of saving, and she read to us. I still remember Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the Kipling tale that the lady shared with us. We listened, not stirring or making a peep. I hope she was impressed by our behavior, and that she grew to love Catholics because of us.Even I was well behaved and obeyed the rules. I did not want to be excluded from this lovely palace of quiet and books.

From then on, wherever I lived, I found the library and used it.

I wanted to be a librarian, but I wanted to be a writer more. So I majored in English, not library science, and ended up teaching high school English for a hundred years, an occupation that kept me awash in books.

Because I am inept with technology, kindles, nooks, and e-books hold no interest for me. I want pages and ink, not a screen. I want to prowl library rooms full of books for my comfort DSC_4536and sustenance. The print world is on its way out, the pundits tell us. If so, maybe someday I’ll be part of an eccentric, fringe group scurrying about scavenging books from thrift stores and dung heaps.

Until then, I will haunt libraries.

Potpourri: dancing and books

New Release.

Book cover Disconfort of happyiness 001 (640x635)Congratulations to son Jeff on the writing and publication of the first of his series of non-fiction books: The Discomfort of Happiness: Mastering the Art of Vitality. Jeff has mastered the art of writing inspirational, educational material to help improve one’s life. He also learned all the skills necessary to publish same. We wish him well in his new endeavor as writer/educator.

Andre Dubus III has an outstanding new work of fiction:  Dirty Love. In these four novellas, Dubus exhibits his muscular, detailed prose, as he probes the lives of Mark, the controlling husband dirty love book 001 (427x640)who confronts his wife’s infidelity; Marla, the young wife who faces the reality of marriage vs. one’s dreams of it; Robert, an unfaithful husband who deeply wrongs his pregnant wife; and Devon, a teenager brought low by her misused sexuality, but perhaps redeemed by an Iraq vet. The characters are deeply flawed, wonderfully human, and Dubus captures the suffering and hope that reside in the most ordinary of lives.

Recommended Memoirs:

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart: Russian immigrant, growing up in the US, after various false moves, becomes writer, makes good. Told with great honesty and humor.

At Home in the World  by Joyce Maynard: 18 year old girl survives a year with J.D. Salinger.

Another topic: Square dancing has called us back to its charms after a long hiatus. This often happens as one ages and various body parts take a temporary, we hope, time out. My husband recovered his mobility after correction of a bone spur, and we’re back. If you’ve never tried this most American of dances, you’re in for a treat. The hardest part is convincing the gentlemen they will enjoy it. They will, because it is moving to music in patterns, which the dancer has learned and is comfortable with. You don’t need to be musical; anyone who can feel the beat can do it.

I met my husband square dancing, so you see its importance in our lives. The lessons are free at first, then very low cost, done by your local square dance clubs. They always need new members to help them dance. The challenge of the dance is you need 8 people to form a square–4 men, 4 women, though talented dancers can dance either part.  During the dance, you vary your position in many ways, performing the moves at the caller’s cues. You dance all around the square, but usually wind up where you started from. Nice symbolism.

So now Sunday afternoons we attend workshops to help us remember what we once knew well, moving around a square to music. Saturday nights, too, there’s often a square dance nearby for both entertainment and exercise.

Makes us feel younger. Good stuff.

Thank you, Port Orford

Last Saturday we drove sixty miles down the coast to scenic Port Orford. Library Director Tobe Porter had kindly invited me to read from my novel, Spy on Clinton Street, and talk about writing. The DSC_4424day began stormy and gray, but the afternoon blossomed with puffy clouds and sun, making for a lovely day.,

I had seen the new library at Port Orford but not entered it until that day. It was entirely funded by the people of this tiny town, population 1,128, who are greatly to be admired for their commitment to creating this essential community asset. It’s lovely, filled with light and books, warm and welcoming.

As I approached, I noticed my name as a visiting author featured on building’s information board. The cliche is true: it was a thrill to see my name in lights. After the talk, I DSC_4408asked my CFO and travel assistant, my husband, to photograph the library sign and the even larger one on the Rogue Credit Union on Hwy 101, brazening my name. Thanks to Tobe and whoever else responsible for this ego-enhancing publicity.

Twenty folks turned up the reading and lively discussion of the reading and writing symbiosis and other topics, including the writer’s implied contract with the reader. We enjoyed snacks and sold copies DSC_4420of Spy on Clinton Street.

Thanks to Tobe, Gary Carter, Sy Martinez and the other generous attendees for furnishing the perfect venue, delicious refreshments, and their time and attention, the ingredients of an ideal author event.

Tobe, Gary and others are busy planning the 8th annual Port Orford Poet’s Roundup, 3 days of poetry, fiction and non-fiction readings and activities scheduled for March 28, 29 & 30. What ambitious and imaginative folks to invite poets and writers of all ages and from all over the state and beyond to convene and revel in their love for words and language in their unique seaside town.

Hats off to Port Orford, its beautiful library, and its people who love reading and show it.

Unmerry, but not unhappy

The big celebrations are over for another year. It was going to be a quiet holiday, anyway, with no guests. Those who invited us to dinner uninvited us, because of their illness. But that was okay, because we got sick, too. At least half of us did. He said he caught it while shopping for food for our holiday dinner. Whenever it was, it hit the eve of the holiday, when he asked me to go and buy cold pills and orange juice. Those are his remedies, and they are slowly working.

So it’s quiet recovery time now. Reading, resting in the comfy chair,then in bed to read some more, seem to be the activities of choice this sunny on the Oregon coast.

Happy New Year.

The time for revels and recovery now is ending: it’s back to work. To writing, the main work.

I never stop the parallel activity: reading, my refuge and my salvation. When I give my coming talks to persuade people to buy my book, that it’s worth taking the journey to Clinton Street, my theme shall be the importance, the necessity of reading–especially of reading novels. Good novels, well-written works, invite us to explore the yearnings and workings of our humanity in its many guises.

I don’t understand how one can be a writer and not read.  Siamese twins who cannot be separated, reading and writing are mutually dependent. Reading begets writing: most DSC_4399writers begin as readers who decide they, too, can create a fictional world for others to explore. Writers need readers; readers need writers. Each activity nourishes what I can only call my soul. Since reading came first, it’s perhaps the favorite child, can both sooth and disturb, and most importantly, make me think new thoughts, or sometimes echo my own, so I find a comrade, a like-mind.

Recent memorable reads: Men We Reaped: A memoir by Jesmyn Ward. The author shares her loss of five young men in four years, friends and relatives, felled by drugs, accidents, and suicide. She comes to see that they shared the disadvantages of growing up poor with little hope of a better life, which breeds drug addiction and fragile family ties. She bravely tells her own story, similar to that of the young men, with the exception that she received a good education, was able to leave home and to write this story that haunts her and us.

The Pure Gold Baby – Margaret Drabble – A single mother in London, an anthropologist, raises her special needs daughter whose sunny nature belies her handicap. A coming to terms with one’s choices and seeing the full extent of a mother’s responsibility.

Movies: “Dallas Buyer Club” – Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are outstanding in an amazing urban survival story.

American Hustle – One of the year’s best. Comedy with a serious side. They don’t get much better than this.

Let us Wish for a Good Year For Us All!