Category: On reading


Halloween in Ashland

By Midge Raymond,

Halloween is my favorite time of year…I adore the chill in the air, the autumn leaves, and the lights and pumpkins that begin to adorn the homes around Ashland.

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Especially exciting this year is the release of the final book in The Lithia Trilogy, The Last Mile, which is hot off the presses. As many of you know, the fictional “Lithia” bears quite a strong resemblance to Ashland … and in this final installment of the series, our heroine is tasked with saving the town from all but certain destruction.

Kirkus Reviews writes that “Lithia hasn’t lost a bit of its quirky, high-altitude allure,” and Vickie Aldous of the Ashland Daily Tidings writes, “Readers familiar with Ashland will have fun identifying local landmarks.”

Read more about The Last Mile here … and visit Bloomsbury Books or Tree House Books to get your copy!

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Among other exciting upcoming Ashland Halloween events are…

Happy Halloween from our General Manager

Happy Halloween from our General Manager

A Q&A with Love & Ordinary Creatures author Gwyn Hyman Rubio

By Midge Raymond,

A Q&A with Love & Ordinary Creatures author Gwyn Hyman Rubio

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book?

A: Fifteen years ago, the idea for this book materialized while my husband and I were traveling in Australia. We were eating lunch in a delicatessen at Airlie Beach, waiting for the pontoon that would take us to the Great Barrier Reef. Suddenly, a young Australian woman with long, tanned legs and tousled blond hair pedaled up and stopped in front of the deli window. A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo was perched on the handlebars of her bike. Dismounting, she walked over to the parrot and learned toward him with puckered lips. Simultaneously, he lengthened his neck and raised his beak. Much to my amazement, they kissed—after which she came inside to pick up her order. While she was gone, the cockatoo kept his eyes on her. Not once did he look away. Not once did he try to fly off, even though his legs, I noticed, were untethered. A few minutes later, food in hand, the young woman left the deli, the cockatoo fluttering his wings and squawking with delight as she approached. “Now, that’s a bird in love,” I said to my husband when the two of them cycled off.

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Q: How did you deal with the the challenges of writing from a cockatoo’s point of view?

A: Caruso is a caged cockatoo, living in exile, which limits what he can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Therefore, I had to invent ways to enlarge his world so that the novel would not become too claustrophobic. One of these ways was to give Caruso memories of his life before he was captured. Years ago, my husband and I traveled in Australia and became acquainted with the raucous birds there.  Cockatoos thrive in the Australian bush, and I will never forget the day we watched huge clouds of them flying over us to land in the gum trees on the opposite bank of the Murray River. Having visited this beautiful, wild continent, I decided to make it Caruso’s birthplace. He would be able to recall his early years, thereby allowing me to use poetic license to write about birds and animals from areas of Australia and other places that he couldn’t possibly have seen. Furthermore, it prompted me to pick Ocracoke Island as the setting for the novel in that I would be able to compare and contrast the large island/continent of Australia with the tiny island of Ocracoke. Crab Cakes, the restaurant where Clarissa cooks, is directly behind their cozy cottage, which makes it possible, when she doesn’t take him to work with her, for Caruso to watch her through the sunroom windows as she cooks in the light-filled kitchen

In addition, I felt that including a second storyline would be a good idea because it would open Caruso’s universe even more. To that end, I created Theodore Pinter, who lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, and whose whole life has revolved around the woman he loved and lost, much as Caruso’s current life revolves around Clarissa. Using poetic license, I took liberties with much of the latest research that shows parrots have remarkable intellects, crave attention, tend to bond with one human in particular, experience and express jealousy, and have some understanding of language, in order to broaden Caruso’s life beyond his bars.

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Q: What sort of special research did you do to write Love & Ordinary Creatures?

A: I read many nonfiction books about birds before I ever put pen to paper. David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds, based on the ten-part program of the same name that aired on PBS, was one of them. I loved the book so much that I ordered the series and watched all ten parts, taking meticulous notes throughout. After reading books about birds in general, I began to focus my attention on parrots, then specifically on cockatoos. Beyond reading, I spoke to parrot owners and several times to an older couple who had bred cockatoos. From them I heard a funny story. One of their favorite cockatoos would torment their dog daily. Mimicking the woman’s voice, he would call the dog to supper from his perch on the screen porch, and then laugh gleefully when the dog would come running, only to find the door locked and no one there to let him in. Over and over, the cockatoo would do this until the dog was ragged and out of breath.

One day, I went to a trade show where breeders of parrots sold their birds, but the whole experience was so demoralizing that I swore I would never go to another one again. Many of the bird owners with whom I’ve spoken also feel this same way: They think that parrots are exotic creatures, difficult to domesticate, and hence should not be caged. So they rescue parrots from intolerable conditions and give them the attention, love, and self-discipline they crave in order to thrive in captivity. For, having never lived in the wild, they would not survive if set free.

Originally, my novel was to take place in the twenty-first century; however, as I researched my subject, I realized that this timeframe would not work. Restrictions on the importation of exotic birds were tightened in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Soon thereafter, catching birds with nets in the wild became illegal. I wanted Caruso to be conflicted, to suffer from loss and longing. In order for him to have memories of his life in Australia, it was imperative that he be caught as a young chick in the wild. Also I wanted him to reach sexual maturity during his years with Clarissa, which, I felt, would illuminate his confused feelings toward her. This meant that he had to be at least four or five years old. For these reasons, I changed the timeline of the book to take place in the early 1990s.

Q: What is your writing process like?

A: I like to write every day. My rule is: four pages or four hours, whatever comes first. Nevertheless, if the words are flowing easily and the characters are speaking clearly to me, I can work for nine or ten hours straight. I write the first draft of my novels on yellow-lined legal pads in pencil because the tactile sensation of pencil against paper slows me down and nurtures the creative process; however, I alternate between pencil and computer as I compose. I wear my creative hat when I’m writing in longhand, my critical hat when I’m typing on the computer. I try to complete four or five handwritten pages before I stop for the day. The day after, I type and edit these pages on the computer. Then, ready to be creative again, I pick up my pencil and pad. If I wear both hats, the creative and the critical, at once, I can become blocked, so I avoid this way of working. My first draft is written on a sofa upstairs in our bedroom; my second is typed at my desk in my study downstairs.

As I grow older, I’m less driven than I once was. Writing is a lonely, solitary profession, and before I die, I’d like to spend more time with real people than I do with my imaginary friends. I have written and shelved so many books that I find it harder and harder to spend years on a work of fiction, only to shelve it later. Writing is a tough profession, made tougher by the merger of independent houses into corporations that value only the bottom line and the opinions of the bean counters. Hopefully smaller, independent presses like Ashland Creek Press will become more and more visible over time and be able to fill the void (which the big corporate houses have created) with well-written, imaginative, risky books, valued not for their huge sales potential but for their literary quality.

Q: There is an underlying environmental message in your novel. Was this deliberate on your part? 

A: Everything in life is political. So the politics of any book—I feel—will surface naturally. I want my political views to grow organically from the characters in my novels and not to be imposed by me. Should readers empathize with my characters, they might be more open to ideas quite different from their own, or, at least, be more motivated to examine the pros and cons of their own ideas.

Q: Caruso is on a spiritual journey in the book. Can you elaborate on this? 

 A: I am a spiritual person, not a religious one, yet the instant I finished reading the classic The Dairy of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos, I knew how my novel would end. At his greatest moment of suffering, Caruso would turn to the Great Mother and ask Her to help him, and grace would be his. The miraculous power of love would give him the courage to bear his suffering and would save him.

Q: The Woodsman’s Daughter is a total departure from Icy Sparks. Now you’ve written Love & Ordinary Creatures, which, in many ways, is quite unlike your other two books. Why are your books so different from one another? Doesn’t this diversity of theme, tone, and subject confuse your readership’s expectations?  

A: I become bored very easily and hate to repeat myself. In some ways, this trait of mine does make it confusing for my readers, but the thought of writing a sequel to Icy Sparks, which many readers asked of me, was never an option. I had to let Icy go when the book came out and suffered from a bad case of empty-nest syndrome afterward. But as soon as I recovered, I was ready to move on to something else—something totally different—because I didn’t want to bring Icy back home and then have to let her go a second time.

Instead, I wrote The Woodsman’s Daughter, a historical novel, which is loosely based on my great-grandmother’s life. It’s a long—somewhat dark—book, and the process of writing it was both wonderful and grueling. After it was published, I decided to return to humor but wasn’t feeling very funny at the time. And so the novel that followed—written in a rush to meet a deadline—was a mess and not in the least bit humorous. Hating it, I shelved it, then took a long hiatus from writing, which I sorely needed.

Soon thereafter, I decided to write Love & Ordinary Creatures, which I’d been thinking about for years.  In tone and humor, it is much like Icy Sparks, but in other ways it is quite dissimilar. From the outset, I wanted to write the narrative from a cockatoo’s point of view and knew that this would be challenging.  Readers, I feared, might find the voice off-putting, and I wasn’t certain that I’d be able to sustain it, but, in order for me and the reader to get inside Caruso’s head, I felt that it was necessary for him to tell his story. I hadn’t worked long on the novel before Caruso took over completely and filled me with his words. Oh, he was both delightful and annoying, and I adored him, and I’ll probably suffer a slight depression, as I did with Icy, when I have to let him go.

Right now, I’m trying my hand at essays—a collection about food and art. My father was a writer who ate only to live. Neither food nor the creative process gave him much pleasure. He blocked after his first novel was published to critical and commercial success and didn’t write another word before his death nine years later. Did his inability to enjoy food somehow foreshadow the writer’s block that would engulf him later? Did his relationship with food have anything to do with his inability to derive pleasure from the creative process? Did genetics limit his capacity to enjoy life, or was this behavior learned from his parents? These are some of the ideas I’m exploring—ideas certainly not present in my other books.

To learn more about Gwyn and Love & Ordinary Creatures, visit the novel’s web page as well as Gwyn’s website

Words and Wine in Ashland

By Midge Raymond,

Not only do we have art and wine on the first Friday of every month in Ashland — now we have Words & Wine, on the third or fourth Friday, at Ashland’s Weisinger’s Winery.

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This month, Molly Best Tinsley read from her new book, Broken Angels, a sequel to her spy thriller Satan’s Chamber, written with Karetta Hubbard.

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Weisinger’s is a lovely spot for a gathering, and especially a literary one on a summer evening. Guests gathered on the patio with wine and nibbles as Molly read excerpts of Broken Angels and answered questions.

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For all of you who’d like to join Words & Wine, events are free and open to the public; food and wine are available for purchase. Here’s what’s coming up over the next few months: M.J. Daspit will read from Lucy Lied September 19; Mary Z. Maher and Alan Armstrong will present Oregon Shakespeare Festival Actors: Telling the Story on October 17; and Tim Wohlforth will read from Chameleon on November 21.

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Visit the Weisinger website for more information and to keep an eye on future readings.

 

A Q&A with The Green and the Red author Armand Chauvel

By Midge Raymond,

A Q&A with The Green and the Red author Armand Chauvel

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: I wanted to write a fictional story that would provide an overview of vegetarianism, but present it in an entertaining way. The idea of a romance between the chef of a small vegetarian restaurant and the marketing director of a pork manufacturer soon came to me. The clash between their worldviews could not fail to create sparks of some kind. Another reason is that I was tired of people asking me the same questions all the time without listening to my answers. Since writing is the best way to talk without being interrupted, I fired up my computer and got started.

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Q: What types of readers did you have in mind while writing it?

A: People who are already vegetarian or vegan will, I hope, enjoy reading about situations they’ve undoubtedly already experienced. Although I’m sure I missed a few, I tried to cover all the misconceptions and downright absurd ideas people often have about vegetarianism. But I really created this book with omnivores in mind. For reasons that are more cultural than practical, many people hesitate to give up meat or fish even when they’re aware of the problems linked to this way of eating. They’re the ones I would like to convince that vegetarianism and veganism represent an alternative that’s easy, delicious, sexy, and increasingly popular.

 Q: Why did you make Léa, the heroine, a vegetarian rather than a vegan?

A: Before creating the character, I spent some time considering what her level of involvement in the cause should be. She could have been vegan, but this would have prevented a certain opportunity for conflict. I wanted her to be midway between a real meat-lover like Mathieu, and someone more committed than she is: her assistant Pervenche, a vegan who also has a spiritual orientation and practices meditation. In addition to this purely dramaturgical reason, and although this situation is changing, I think it’s also easier to go vegetarian than vegan. After all, most vegans get started on their path as vegetarians. That said, my book promotes the idea that it’s all about progress, not perfection, and that each of us should change at our own pace and avoid judging others. Cutting back on one’s meat consumption is already a big step.

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Q: Is it true that you encountered obstacles in your efforts to get this book published in France?

A: Yes. In France there’s a unique way of thinking and a certain Parisian Cartesianism that prevent animal ethics and the environment from being seen as valid literary subjects. Yet what could be more dramatic and literary, more relevant to our times? But to be honest, I didn’t set out to write a work of literature—I just had a story that touched me personally and tried to put it into words. In France, novels are considered works of art and given a great deal of reverence, especially when they intellectualize a topic. This is not how I see things.

Q: Was anyone else involved in this publication?

 A: Of course—this book is the result of a group effort! First of all, my wife, Yara, to whom the book is dedicated, went vegetarian at the same time I did. She helped and supported me while I wrote this novel. And although he’s an omnivore, my dear friend Xavier Boutaud provided me with the resources to have it translated. Elisabeth Lyman did a remarkable job translating the story into English. Midge Raymond and John Yunker, the founders of Ashland Creek Press, the first publishing house we approached in the U.S., immediately liked the story and agreed to publish it. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to them all.

Q: Do you come from a vegetarian family? 

A: Not at all. I have nearly forty cousins and not a single one of them is vegetarian. I know what it’s like to eat just a few pieces of potato from the bottom of a serving dish at a family gathering, or to sneak off to the kitchen to fry up a veggie burger while the others have already moved on to dessert. Fortunately, things are already looking brighter in the next generation: one of my nieces is vegetarian, and my four-year-old son David is a committed vegetarian as well. Whenever he sees meat or fish at the market, he makes a face and shouts “Yuck!” which can sometimes be embarrassing. To be fair, he does the same thing with a lot of vegetables, which worries his mother and me.

Q: What were the main difficulties you encountered while writing this book?

A: The Green and the Red is a novel with two voices, one of them a woman’s, and this presented a few challenges for me. I needed to strike the right tone to show the differences in sensitivity between the two sexes. Writing about food is always a bit tricky too, especially since it’s a realm marked more by beliefs than knowledge. In any case, although it has now been proven that a plant-based diet is beneficial to human health, doctors and dieticians have still not reached any agreement on the subject.

Q: Is this a book with a message? What do you think of this type of literature?

A: There’s a preconceived notion out there that messages should be sent only through the mail (or by Western Union, as Samuel Goldwin said), and not conveyed through films, books or other creative or artistic works. Personally, I like it when a work transmits its creator’s stance on a moral problem, not in the form of lecturing or endless boring dialogues of course, but through the story and its structure. In any case, our world is in such a state of emergency when it comes to subjects such as democracy, the economy and climate change that it seems difficult, today, to write anything without taking a stand one way or another. And we shouldn’t underestimate literature’s power to effect social change; in helping raise awareness of the evils of slavery, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin played a key role in gaining support for the abolition movement.

Q: Do you think that love can transform someone’s way of eating?

A: What love can do, in my opinion, is reveal hidden potential. But if the seeds of change don’t exist in your loved one, there’s not much you can do. The good news is that you just need a bit of compassion to become vegetarian, and this is something widely found in the human race. The risk with love is that it can become tyrannical, demanding things from the other person that they’re not able to give, that aren’t compatible with their nature and that may even threaten their identity. Just like in the culinary arts, the recipe for lasting love requires a subtle balance. I hope that Mathieu and Léa, the protagonists of my book, will be able to find it.

Q: How did you come to know the food industry so well?

A: As a journalist in Paris, I began writing for a restaurant magazine a bit by chance. Since I didn’t know much about fine dining, every time I had to eat at a gourmet restaurant to write a review, a journalist friend would teasingly remind me not to drink from the fingerbowl. I still have a certain attachment to this sector, which can sometimes be a scene of fierce competition but is also characterized by a great deal of sharing and creativity. Although I’m not a gourmet myself, strictly speaking, I believe that cooking is a true art form and have tried to convey this in my book. Over the years, I got to know the food-industry as well as the restaurant business. I interviewed marketing directors at large companies, for example, which gave me a very clear idea of how they work and speak. This of course was a great advantage to me as I created the character of Mathieu and his colleagues at Nedelec Pork.

Join us at AWP in Seattle!

By Midge Raymond,

We look forward to seeing many of you at the AWP Conference & Bookfair — February 27 to March 1.

We’ll be hosting a booth for Ashland Creek Press, EcoLit Books, and Literary Provisions. Please join us (we’ll be in booth #1207 in the North Hall) to check out new books and fun stuff for writers.

And don’t miss these other events…

Thursday, February 27
Julian Hoffman, contributor to Among Animals and author of The Small Heart of Things: Being at Home in a Beckoning World, winner of the 2012 AWP Award Series for creative nonfiction, will be signing books from 11 a.m. to 12 noon. (ACP booth #1207)

Jean Ryan, author of the “captivating” (Publishers Weekly) short story collection Survival Skills and contributor to Among Animals, will be signing books at the booth from 1 to 2 p.m. (ACP booth #1207)

Friday, February 28
Mindy Mejia, author of the “beautiful” (Twin Cities Pioneer Press) novel The Dragon Keeper will be signing books from 9 to 11 a.m. (ACP booth #1207)

JoeAnn Hart, author of the eco-novel Float (“a stellar model of eco-literature”—Cape Ann Beacon) will be signing books from 4 to 5 p.m. (ACP booth #1207)

And at 4:30 p.m., I’ll be leading a panel on Book Marketing — From Finding Your Muse to Finding Your Readers: Book promotion in the twenty-first century, with Kelli Russell Agodon, Wendy Call, Janna Cawrse Esarey, and Susan Rich. Panelists from a variety of genres—poetry, fiction, narrative nonfiction, and memoir—will discuss the unique challenges and opportunities of transitioning from writer to published book author. Through specific experiences and using real-world examples, panelists will offer tips for finding one’s natural niche and audience, and how to reach out to readers authentically and generously. Topics include book promotion through conferences, book clubs, social media, awards, blogs, events, and salons. (Room 608, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6)

Saturday, March 1
On Saturday, the Bookfair is free and open to the public!

At 12 noon, join John Yunker for a panel on The Greening of Literature: Eco-Fiction and Poetry to Enlighten and Inspire, with authors JoeAnn Hart, Mindy Mejia, Ann Pancake, and Gretchen Primack. From mountaintop removal to ocean plastic to endangered species, ecological issues are increasingly on writers’ minds. Authors on this panel discuss how their ecologically themed fiction and poetry engages readers in powerful ways that nonfiction can’t. Panelists discuss writing in these emerging sub-genres as well as their readers’ responses and offer tips for writing about the environment in ways that are galvanizing and instructive without sacrificing creativity to polemics. (Aspen Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor)

And for anyone heading south after AWP, please join me and Gretchen Primack for an afternoon of eco-fiction and poetry at Portland’s Central Library on Sunday, March 2, at 2 p.m. — click here for details.