Category: On travel


Dining well in Las Vegas, part 1

By Midge Raymond,

When in Las Vegas recently for a conference, we were delighted to have found Vege-Way, an amazing vegan fast-food restaurant that made it easy to stop for food both in and out of town.

Located well off the Strip, Vege-Way is nonetheless well worth a visit; there’s also a drive-thru for those in a hurry. 

The food at Vege-Way ranges from fast food fare (burgers, fries, milkshakes) to more healthful options like chick’n wraps and salads. Check out the full menu here … best of all, it’s entirely plant-based.

We tried the chick’n burger (which comes in blackened or ranch style — we went for the recommended ranch style), which was okay — the patty was a little mushy, and the ranch dressing was a bit bland.

We also sampled the regular vegan burger, which was delicious, in a junk-food sort of way (which is, in our view, high praise). We also got the curly fries, which are spicy, salty, and fried to absolute perfection.

On our next visit, we tried the chick’n wrap, which was gigantic and incredibly flavorful; it was a mix of chick’n and rice in a wonderful, tangy sauce, along with diced cucumbers and tomatoes and romaine lettuce. We’d also recommend the chocolate shake, which was a bit more icy than creamy but a treat nevertheless.

We loved seeing how crowded and busy Vege-Way was; there was a steady stream of customers, both eating in and going through the drive-thru. Inside the restaurant are vegan brochures and stickers; we also appreciated this touch on the entrance door, letting customers know they’re entering an animal-product-free zone.

Don’t miss Vege-Way on your next visit to (or past) Las Vegas … we can only hope to see more of these on future road trips!

  Category: On travel, Vegan
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An interview with CROWS OF BEARA author Julie Christine Johnson

By Midge Raymond,

We are thrilled to announce the publication of Julie Christine Johnson’s novel The Crows of Beara, which was a finalist for the 2014 Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature. In this Q&A Julie talks about her inspiration for the novel, her first book, and what’s new in her writing life. 

 

Q: What inspired you to write The Crows of Beara?

A: I first traveled to Ireland in 2002 to hike the Beara Way. The peninsula, and the experience, turned my soul inside out. Never have I been more homesick for a place I couldn’t actually call home. Many hikes in Ireland later and I knew I’d be writing about it someday.

When I began sketching out characters and ideas for a novel in January 2014, I knew it would be set in Ireland and have an Irish legend or some element of magical realism woven through it. I just didn’t know where in Ireland or which legend.

I happened upon the poetry of Leanne O’Sullivan, who was raised on the Beara Peninsula and teaches poetry at University College Cork. Her collections, An Chailleach Bheara, which tells the story of the legend of the Hag of Beara, and The Mining Road, which was inspired by the late 18th century copper mining industry and the miners who toiled there, brought me, almost overnight, to my novel.

I knew before I began that my central character, Annie, would be an addict trying to put her life back together. Once I had my themes of environment vs. economic growth, an Irish legend based on the strength and resiliency of women, and of the Irish culture, and the healing power of art, the words poured out of me. I wrote the first draft in ten weeks.

Q: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? How did that lead to where you are today?

A: I read Louise Fitzhugh’s classic Harriet the Spy when I was six years old and that was it: I knew I’d be a writer someday. That someday took another thirty-five years to come around. I took my first writing workshop in October 2010 and the floodgates opened. After all the years of dreaming about writing, I finally found the courage to set my words free.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for your plots and characters?  Are you inspired initially by the plot or do the characters come to you first?

A: I believe that story comes from character. Characters are why we read, why we are changed by what we read. Plot is a means to move them through their lives, to tell their story.

Each of my novels and short stories has a different genesis. In Another Life came from an image of Lia and Raoul that rose in my mind during a stay in Languedoc; researching the history of the region opened the door to their story.

I wanted to set my second novel, The Crows of Beara, in Ireland, but when I began sketching out characters, that’s all I knew. The characters led me to themes of addiction and the healing power of art. A chance encounter with a book of poetry gave me the exact location in Ireland, and that led me to construct a plot around copper mining and animal conservation, with a thread of magical realism woven through. Last summer I studied with that poet—Leanne O’Sullivan—in the very spot where my novel is set (Beara Peninsula). A dream come true!

Two characters led the way into my third novel, UPSIDE-DOWN GIRL: an American woman dealing with child loss and a little girl in New Zealand who is living on the edge of society. The plot is how those two souls come together.

Q: What is your writing process like? Do you write an outline and do you write every day?

A: When I began my first novel, In Another Life, I had a beginning, a handful of characters, but I had no middle or end; I wrote scenes out of order. About two-thirds into a first draft, I had 140,000 words and no sense of where I was going or how it would ever end. I stopped in my tracks, started from the beginning, cleaning up as I went along, putting things in order.

I’m still a pantser at heart. I don’t start with an outline, I don’t edit as I draft, I let it all pour out. But I began The Crows of Beara, as I do all my novels since the first, with character sketches. Characters bring me to my themes, my story and eventually, the plt.

Once I’ve got a solid first draft in hand, I use Michael Hague’s brilliant Six Stage Plot structure to discover and refine my character arcs. And I keep a process notebook for each novel, working out plot holes, asking myself questions, tracking key details. I draft in Scrivener, but I have to solve problems and plug plot holes in longhand.

I do write every day, but I have several projects going on at once. What I work on any given day is a matter of balancing writing with non-writing life, my energy level, scheduled commitments, and deadlines!

Q: Do you have a particular method or approach to research and writing?  Generally how long does the process take per book?

A: There’s usually an idea whispering away at me—an image, snippet of overheard conversation, something I read in the paper, a place I’ve visited. Holding that idea loosely in my mind, I begin to work on character sketches and follow where those lead. Whom am I writing about and how do they relate to the idea I can’t seem to let go of? I’ll research enough to get a sense of the place, issues, and time as it relates to the plot, but research for me is an ongoing process as the story develops. I try not to set things out too far in advance, preferring to layer in details as I discover where the story is taking me.

The amount of time has varied wildly. It took me eighteen months to finish a first draft of In Another Life; ten weeks for The Crows of Beara; nine months for UPSIDE-DOWN GIRL. I revised and edited the first two novels while writing the third!

Q: What is the hardest or the least favorite part of the writing process for you?

A: The hardest part is coming to the end of the first draft. It’s a very emotional experience for me. The characters and story are so raw, so open and beautiful in their natural state. Although I can’t wait to shape and mold the story in subsequent revisions, there is something pure and deeply personal about the first draft that I hate to let go.

Q: What are some of your favorite books or authors to read? Which books or authors have influenced your writing?

A: Hilary Mantel, Kate Mosse, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, Mary Doria Russell, Elizabeth Gilbert, Lily King, Dani Shapiro, Tim Winton, Cormac McCarthy, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Jess Walter. I tend to binge on authors. Last year it was Elena Ferrante and Francesca Marciano. This year I’ve joined an online group reading a Virginia Woolf work each month. I’m not a writer of historical fiction per se, so my influences cross a broad spectrum of styles. Many of my favorite historical novels are written by authors whose work spans categories and genres. Hilary Mantel blows my mind. In Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, set in 16th-century England, she opens up her world, sets a tone, and gets on with it. The “historical fiction” aspect of her work never dominates the characters and their stories. David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars showed me how creating a sense of place can be poetic, and how to connect readers viscerally with an era through the emotional power of character. Mary Doria Russell. Shoot. There’s nothing she can’t do. Ditto Margaret Atwood!

Reading is not only my escape, I consider it an essential part of my job description as a writer. I have at least two books going at any one time, a novel, a volume of poetry, and some sort of writing guide as inspiration and motivation.

Q: What one piece of advice would you share with aspiring authors?

A: It takes a village to publish a book. No matter which path to publishing you take, traditional or independent, you cannot do it alone. Find mentors—writers at different stages of their careers—and listen, watch, learn. Ask questions, be humble, and don’t wait—reach out now. Writers’ blogs, Facebook groups, Twitter chats are all great resources for connecting with writers and finding your tribe. Reach out in both directions—up and back. Always be willing to help someone right behind you.

And always, always be working on your next story. Don’t sit hitting refresh on your e-mail when you begin sending out queries or your novel is on submission with editors. The process can take months, a couple of years, even. Always be writing the next book. The first thing my now-agent asked me after reading and expressing enthusiasm for In Another Life was, “What else do you have?” I sent her a draft of my second novel and I had an offer of representation by the end of the week.

The Crows of Beara is “a captivating tale of our yearning to belong and the importance of following this ancient call” (award-winning author Kathryn Craft), and “like Ireland itself, The Crows of Beara pulls at something deep inside the reader and won’t let go” (USA Today bestselling author Kelli Estes).

Learn more about Julie and The Crows of Beara here

Happy World Penguin Day!

By Midge Raymond,

One thing I’m celebrating on World Penguin Day is having met my seventh species of penguin: the little penguin. Ever since meeting four species of penguins in Antarctica, I’ve become a little obsessed: Next I went to Argentina to volunteer with the University of Washington’s Penguin Sentinels, counting the Magellanic penguins of Punto Tombo. On more recent visit to the Galápagos Islands, I was able to see the elusive and endangered Galápagos penguin. And last year, one of the best things about visiting Australia as part of the My Last Continent tour was meeting my seventh species.

The little penguin is also called the “fairy penguin” in Australia, and in New Zealand it’s known as the “blue penguin” or “white-flippered penguin.”

All names fit this little bird, as it is no more than a foot tall, and its feathers are a lovely bluish-gray and white. These penguins appear in several places in Australia, one of them being Manly, where you can see signs like this on the sidewalks, alongside indicators for bikes and pedestrians:

little-penguin

The little penguins forage at sea all day and come ashore when darkness falls. One of the best places to see them is the (terribly touristy) Penguin Parade on Phillip Island, which is a two-hour journey from Melbourne and completely worth it, especially if you can ignore the other tourists (some of whom are respectful, far too many of whom are noisy, take photos (which aren’t allowed), and otherwise flaunt the rules of the park and disturb the birds).

Once it gets dark, no photos or videos are allowed, but on a daylight walk we glimpsed this little penguin, near the natural and man-made burrows created to provide nesting opportunities for them.

Years ago, the little penguins’ numbers here on Phillip Island decreased dramatically when a bridge was built and humans began inhabiting and vacationing on the island, bringing foxes, dogs, and other predators, including traffic; even now, many penguins are run over by cars. Foxes have now been eliminated, and while the birds’ numbers are still down in Australia, we can hope the conservation efforts pay off. One effort is the building of nests for them; below, you can just barely see a little penguin inside one of these man-made burrows.

The little penguins are adorable to watch. After the sun sets, they come in from the water in “rafts” — groups from five to ten penguins to dozens — because there is safety in numbers, and they shake off the water and waddle up the sand to the scrubby brush where they have their nests. Perhaps because they’re so small, they always look as though they’re walking in a huge hurry, as if being chased. (If you do visit Phillip Island, sit tight and wait until the crowds disperse and until the rangers tell you at least three times that it’s time to go. This is when it gets quiet and peaceful, and you can hear nothing but the sounds of the penguins scuttling to their nests and calling to their mates.)

Another place to see the little penguins is much closer to Melbourne is the breakwater at St. Kilda, where the penguins come to shore every night after sunset. Guides are there to enforce similar rules (no photography, no approaching the penguins), and it’s about a half-hour away from downtown Melbourne by bus or light rail.

To celebrate World Penguin Day, here are a few links where you can learn more and support conservation efforts for penguins around the world:

UW Penguin Sentinels

Oceanites

The Penguin Counters

Wishing you a very happy World Penguin Day!

Announcing the short story collection Forgetting English

By John Yunker,

“Raymond’s prose often lights up the poetry-circuits of the brain…”   — The Seattle Times

I’m pleased to announce that Ashland Creek Press has published the third edition of Midge’s Raymond’s award-winning short story collection, Forgetting English.

In this new, expanded edition of her prize-winning collection, which includes a reading group guide, Midge Raymond stretches the boundaries of place as she explores the indelible imprint of home upon the self and the ways in which new frontiers both defy and confirm who we are.

The characters who inhabit these stories travel for business or for pleasure, sometimes out of duty and sometimes in search of freedom, and each encounters the unexpected. From a biologist navigating the stark, icy moonscape of Antarctica to a businesswoman seeking refuge in the lonely islands of the South Pacific, the characters in these stories abandon their native landscapes—only to find that, once separated from the ordinary, they must confront new interpretations of whom they really are, and who they’re meant to be.

Forgetting English won the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Here’s what two reviewers had to say:

“Raymond has quiet, unrelenting control over the writing; each story is compelling and thrives because each detail and line of dialogue reveals just a little more about the characters and the evocative settings.” —The Rumpus

“All of her stories are heartbreakingly honest … I wouldn’t be surprised if she started getting compared to Alice Munro or Jhumpa Lahiri.” — Seattle Books Examiner

Learn more.

 

 

The amazing Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

By Midge Raymond,

When we were in Australia this fall, we were thrilled to encounter this pair of Sulphur-crested cockatoos while walking around in Manly.

cockatoos

We were especially happy to see these birds in the wild after having previously met them only in fiction in Love and Ordinary Creatures, Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s gorgeous novel about a Sulphur-crested cockatoo named Caruso. In Gwyn’s novel, Caruso had been captured from the wild and sold as a pet (fortunately, this is no longer legal; the novel is set in the early 1990s when this was still happening to exotic birds); having the opportunity in Australia to watch them in their natural habitat, foraging for food, staying close to their mates, and cawing loudly wherever they go, was wonderful.

cockatoo

It also reminded us what an important book Love and Ordinary Creatures is, for giving voice to a species of animal that is so often misunderstood. Gwyn captures this helplessness, longing, and angst so well in this novel, a love story that transcends species.

Love and Ordinary Creatures was inspired by Gwyn’s own journey to Australia with her husband more than fifteen years ago.

We were eating lunch in a delicatessen when 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.

Learn more about Love and Ordinary Creatures here, and check out the novel’s book club kit for more insights.

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