Meet the Monterey Cypress: Ashland Tree of the Year 2004

By John Yunker,

During a break in the rain today we snuck outside and captured a few photos of Ashland’s Tree of the Year from 2004, the Monterey Cypress:

This tree has been around since the early 1900s and it appears close to outgrowing its yard.

Here is a closer view of the trunk:

You can see the full list of Ashland’s honorary trees here.

And here’s more information on the Monterey Cypress.

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Happy Earth Day!

By Midge Raymond,

In honor of Earth Day, we wanted to celebrate — so we went to the Oregon Caves National Monument — literally, into the earth. It turned out to be the perfect way to celebrate the treasure that is our planet.

Located in the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains, the caves were discovered in 1874 by a man named Elijah Davidson, whose dog ran into the cave in pursuit of a bear. Being very devoted to his favorite dog, Davidson followed him into the cave … without enough matches to find his way out again.

We got a sense of what it must’ve been like for him in there: It’s a steady, chilly 44 degrees inside the caves year-round, and it’s slippery, wet, slimy, and incredibly eerie (and that’s with a flashlight, so I can’t even imagine the ghostly effects of firelight). The park ranger turned off the lights a couple of times so we could stand in utter darkness, the silence complete except for the sounds of dripping or running water. It was surreal to be in the middle of a mountain, nearly 300 feet from the ground above us. The water running through the cave, by the way, eventually finds its way to the Pacific Ocean — a salmon-friendly, unobstructed link to the ocean.

We took a ton of photos, so I’ll share a few (the ones that aren’t blurry or don’t have water droplets obstructing the lens). Here’s a photo of “moon milk” — love the heart shape:

And I love this photo of what looks like some prehistoric creature — somehow quite appropriate for when you’re this deep in a cave:

And, finally, here’s a photo from the room called Angel Falls, where plant debris containing fulvic acid has been deposited onto the cave walls by the water flow — and when backlit turns this gorgeous luminescent blue:

And this is only the briefest of tours — learn more at the Oregon Caves web site — better yet, visit if you can.

Oh, and there was a happy ending for the cave’s founder: Davidson and his beloved dog both made it out safely — and the monument was established in 1909.



  Category: On nature
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Ask the editor: How to create authentic characters

By Midge Raymond,

Q: How do you write a first-person character whose voice doesn’t sound like the writer’s own? At some point does the character just take on his/her own life and you, the author, disappear? — J.W., Seattle

A: Many writers choose to write in a first-person POV because this voice comes naturally — it’s similar to writing in a journal or writing a blog entry. But, as J.W.’s question points out, when it comes to fiction writing, an author needs to make the sure the character can live and breathe on his or her own.

First of all, it’s not the end of the world if your character sounds a lot like you — as long as this character is real, engaging, and true to life. An author may want to avoid characters that resemble themselves for a couple reasons — for example, if you plan to write more than one book or story, you’ll want to diversify; also, you may want to distance yourself and your own life from your characters (a brief note to fiction writers: everyone will think it’s you, anyway, so don’t worry about this too much).

Here are a few exercises to help you bring your characters to life…

  • Take one scene and write it from several different POVs: first person (the “I” voice), second person (the “you”) voice, and third person (the “he/she” voice). This helps you get out of your own head and more fully into your character’s. You might also find that you prefer one of these POVs even more than the one you began with.
  • Consider some of your character’s opinions, and note where they’re similar to your own — is this necessary, or just convenient? That is, if you and your main character are both married, if you both hate beets, and if you both have German shepherds, perhaps you need to think outside the box a little. Every characteristic of your fictional characters should exist for a reason related to the story, not because it’s simple or easy to assign certain traits.
  • Finally, fill in the blanks below — and because this isn’t by any means a comprehensive list, add a few more categories of your own (favorite band, favorite ice cream, shoe size, etc.). This exercise will help you get to know your character as someone separate from yourself.
  • Name:
  • Nickname:
  • Age:
  • Gender:
  • Education:
  • Occupation:
  • Passion, if not same:
  • Finances:
  • Sexual orientation/status:
  • Sexual history:
  • Friends & enemies:
  • Family:
  • Hobbies:
  • Possessions:
  • Politics & religion:
  • Books & music:
  • Food:
  • Flaws:
  • Most noticeable feature / idiosyncrasy:

And I’d love to hear from you with some of the ways that you develop living, breathing characters — let me know! Happy writing.


The definition of irony

By Midge Raymond,

So, we recently returned from a lovely trip down the coast of California. One of the highlights for me was discovering a lovely vegan wine from Girasole Vineyards of Mendocino.

Here’s the ironic part: While the wine is vegan, the descriptions on the back don’t exactly reflect this. The chardonnay, for example, is said to pair well “with salmon or chicken in a light cream sauce.”

And this I quote directly from back of the pinot noir bottle: “..pairs well with everything from salmon to pork to grilled vegetables. VEGAN.”

And the sangiovese apparently goes very nicely with “pork tenderloin.”

I realize that it may not sound as sexy to write that a wine pairs nicely with tofu or tempeh — but, seriously, if a vineyard really wants to appeal to vegans, “pork tenderloin” isn’t exactly the way to go.

However, what matters here is that it’s a vegan wine, and a yummy one. And I can report the chardonnay does pair well with veggies –it’s crisp and light and delicious, and definitely a wine I’d have again. I’m sure it’s lovely with tofu, too.


  Category: On animals
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Ask the Editor: Should I pay a reading fee?

By Midge Raymond,

Q: I’ve noticed that some publications now charge reading fees, and I’ve heard a lot of writers say this isn’t ethical. When, if at all, is it okay to pay a reading fee? — M.K., Los Angeles

A: The short answer is: Almost never. The vast majority of reputable literary magazines do not (and should not) charge reading fees.

However, there are a few exceptions. One is if you enter a contest — most contests run by literary magazines charge reading fees, and this is perfectly reasonable because they offer cash awards to winners and often finalists as well (they may also offer a stipend to the contest judge). Many independent and university presses charge reading fees for their contests, for the same reasons.

A normal fee for a short story, poetry, or essay contest is $10-15. Some lit mags are charging $20 or more — for example, Gulf Coast charges $23 per entry for its annual prizes, which includes a subscription; The Iowa Review charges $20, and $30 will get you a subscription as well. These are both great magazines (and it’s always worth supporting them by subscribing), but these fees are quite a lot for most writers, unfortunately, and they’ll add up very quickly if you hope to enter a lot of contests. Small presses will usually ask for a fee of $25 per manuscript for a contest — I’ve seen higher, but this still seems to be the norm. You shouldn’t pay a fee for a regular submission, whether you’re sending an essay to a magazine or a novel to a small press.

Another exception is the “administration fee” that many magazines (among them The Missouri Review and Ploughshares) charge for using their online submissions systems — it’s usually around $3, which is roughly what it would cost you in printing and postage to mail in a hard copy anyway, and it’ll save you some time and maybe even few trees. While the majority of magazines still accept online submissions without charging this fee, it’s not an unreasonable one — and these magazines do not charge for regular mail submissions.

So the general rule is — fees are expected for contests; fees should not be paid for regular submissions, even if the magazines pay their authors (legitimate magazines that pay authors do not charge regular reading fees). If you encounter a publication that charges fees for regular submissions, do a quick Google search on that publication, and what you find will probably help you decide that it’s just not worth it.