janet fisher~writer

Following strong women through history

Going Home Again

Who says you can’t go home again? Well, some of us do return, and my friend A. Lynn Ash writes about that in her new book Eugeneana.

Born in Eugene, Oregon, Lynn grew up there in a home over the grocery store pictured on the book cover. Then she left.

Eugeneana is a story of the hometown she came back to.

I wonder how many people take the words to heart that they can’t go home again. Do they look with longing on a past they fear can never illuminate the future? An opening theme that cannot repeat in the coda?

Lynn dared to test that when she returned to her hometown.

The book will definitely speak to people of Eugene, those who share the city’s history, as well as newcomers who want to know more.

But I think the book will also speak to those who’ve contemplated going back to other hometowns. Maybe they haven’t tried–yet. Maybe they did and it didn’t work out. Or it worked out fine and they want to link arms with Lynn and share her triumph.

I’m guessing Lynn would say you can’t go home and find it as you left it. But life’s repetition isn’t so much a circle as a spiral, each round offering a different perspective.

In a collection of vignettes, she’ll draw you into her story, but more. She’ll draw you into Eugene’s story in this memoir of her hometown, a story more poignant because she dared the return.

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My Trek to Newport

I headed north to beautiful Newport, Oregon, Sunday for my afternoon speaking engagement with the Willamette Writers Coast Branch, taking the coast route where the journey is part of the pleasure.

After a quick stop at the Heceta Head beach for a sack lunch, enjoying this view, I continued northward over what must be one of the most spectacular stretches of Highway 101.

The road winds around precipitous folds of towering mountains, threading through dim mossy woods with brief glimpses of light and water, then opening out onto raw windswept slopes to reveal the endless sweep of rippling gray-blue fringed with the ever-surging white crests.

Birds speckle strands and jutting rocks. Mists stir. Gulls soar, their white feathers catching the light to glisten against a somber sky. Time loses importance. You need to savor the wonder like a taste of rich chocolate feeding the soul.

Spits of rain followed me into Newport but didn’t dim my enthusiasm. The event went quite well. The audience–mostly writers–welcomed me with appreciation for my personal story when I described my long road to publication, which finally culminated in my two Oregon Trail stories, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds.

One man who’d been sitting against the back wall came over after my talk and told me how much he enjoyed hearing my words. He’d been afraid it was going to be a boring how-to workshop and instead found the presentation truly inspiring. This is the kind of response that keeps a writer going.

Afterward I checked in at the Sylvia Beach Hotel, which the writers group graciously arranged for me, a charming old hotel right above the beach whose theme is writers.

Each room is named for a well-known writer. They have a quiet library upstairs and books scattered throughout.

On the chance I took a notion to do a little writing they provided a typewriter in my room. That’s my laptop in its case to the right of the old Underwood–bookends in keyboarding history.

The weather had turned drizzly and cold, so I dressed down from my skirt and pumps into jeans and walking shoes with a warmer top.

When I stepped back outside to head for dinner, wind had picked up a bit. Raindrops appeared small. But there were so many of them, and they didn’t exactly drop. They swept straight at me. My umbrella quivered and flapped so hard I thought it might lift off à la Mary Poppins, but somehow it stayed in front of me and without turning inside out. The only change in the rain came when I passed openings between buildings where gusts hit harder.

By the time I reached a cafe the incessant spray had soaked the front of my pant legs. Thankfully the cafe was warm and I enjoyed fish and chips with fresh local rockfish and a side of coleslaw.

Back at the hotel I thought to ask for a hair dryer, which dried my jeans nicely.

I had a room with a view–and a real plant. It was the Lincoln Steffens Room. Though I must confess I’m not familiar with Mr. Steffens’ work, I loved the room. I spent quite a while in that chair in the corner watching the waves play against the sand as the skies dimmed and outdoor lights came on.

I hoped for better weather in the morning.

Skies looked brighter the next day. The hotel offered a delicious breakfast of pecan pancakes with a variety of fruits and fresh-baked goodies in a dining room with wraparound windows overlooking the water.

After a pleasant visit at my table with Freda and Lorayne of Corvallis and a young man from Germany, I wandered downhill for a lovely walk on the beach.

The hotel looms above the sea on its lofty site atop the cliff. A vigorous climb up those stairs.

Sun broke through at last and the old hotel looked cheerful in the morning light.

After exploring the town I headed south again, stopping along the way for one last glimpse of Heceta Head and its lighthouse. A delightful trek. My thanks to Sue Lick and Lori Tobias of the Willamette Writers Coast Branch for arranging my visit.

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Next Stop Newport

For my next book event I’ll be heading up the north coast again to speak to the Coast Chapter of Willamette Writers in Newport, Oregon. It’s always nice to visit one of the most beautiful areas in the world.

Photo by Robin Loznak

The above photo was taken a little bit south of Newport as the lowering sun sheens the water below one of Oregon’s historic lighthouses.

My speaking engagement with the Coast Chapter was originally scheduled for last February. In fact, I packed up and headed out that Sunday morning, excited about the trip. I hadn’t gotten far when a spit of snow began to spatter my windshield. I wasn’t too concerned. We don’t get much snow in February and the coast is even less likely to have snow.

That day proved to be an exception. It kept snowing harder. I told myself it wasn’t sticking and I’d get into the temperate coastal zone soon. But it got worse the farther west I drove. Snow did begin sticking. It was not getting better toward the west. I wasn’t set up for snow and finally decided I’d better turn around while I still had hopes of returning home safely.

Happily, we rescheduled. I’ll be there for their September meeting this coming Sunday, the 17th, from 2 to 4 pm at the Newport Public Library, 35 NW Nye Street. And we don’t expect snow.

I’m going to talk about my long road to publication of my two Oregon Trail stories, 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award Finalist The Shifting Winds, and the one that started it all, A Place of Her Own, with a few words on what’s waiting in the wings. A slideshow will offer a backdrop of photos related to the two books. After some Q&A I’ll have books available to sell and sign. Because I’ll be talking to fellow writers I hope I can offer some ideas and encouragement that might help others on their writing journeys.

I’m also a member of Willamette Writers, which has branches throughout Oregon. When I lived in Portland I met with the Portland chapter and now meet with the Mid-Valley chapter in Eugene.

Thanks to Robin, I have one more photo to share, another of those glorious sunsets on the Oregon coast. Looking forward to my upcoming visit. If you’re in the area, please think about stopping by the Newport library for some book talk in a beautiful place.

Photo by Robin Loznak

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Sounds and Scents of History

Photo by Robin Loznak

Big booms ricocheted across the smoky air this weekend as Elkton, Oregon, celebrated the annual Fort Umpqua Days event near the reconstructed Hudson’s Bay Company fort along the Umpqua River, and Robin caught one of the cannon blasts with his camera. Historians tell us the Native Americans used to keep the brush down with fires every fall, so maybe that smoky air is historic too.

Folks enjoyed another successful event despite some heat and smoke. Locals and visitors gathered over the Labor Day weekend to explore the area’s historic past and have a good time, while vendors offered food and wine, crafts and books and more for sale. In the evening Cathy Byle directed the pageant of historic vignettes–a little longer on fun than fact.

A Hudson’s Bay Company man by the name of Mark stopped by my booth Sunday where I was selling my books that focus on this period of history. He bought a copy of The Shifting Winds, which has scenes set at Fort Vancouver, the HBC headquarters north of the Columbia River–where Vancouver, Washington, stands today.

Fort Umpqua was the southernmost outpost of the HBC in those days. Both forts have been reconstructed with great attention to accuracy of detail. So you can visit and get a real sense of the history, stepping right back in time.

Folks like Mark enjoy dressing the part, and it’s not unusual to see a few mountain men wandering through.

Smoke from surrounding fires clouded the skies the first day and actually kept us a little cooler than expected. But Sunday afternoon a much thicker haze moved in, along with a sweltering heat. By the time I got home it was in the upper 90s and I couldn’t even see the higher mountains across the river.

The smoky fall days may be historic, but I’ll be glad when a good rain comes to clear the air.

I snapped the above photo off my back deck when I got home Sunday. The photo at right shows the missing mountains on a clear day–just so you know they’re there.

 

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Busy Fort Umpqua Days

Photo by Robin Loznak

Here I am in my Fort Umpqua Days booth this Labor Day weekend to sell my books, A Place of Her Own and Nancy Pearl Book Award Finalist The Shifting Winds.

Despite warnings of record heat during the annual Elkton, Oregon, celebration this year, the morning started out cool and comfortable. The crowds came after a slow start. Maybe folks noticed the overcast skies and dared venture forth. It soon looked like a normal gathering for this event. Many people stopped by to talk about books and history, and sales were brisk.

This is the weekend we celebrate local history with our own Hudson’s Bay Company fort that’s been reconstructed with attention to historic accuracy. There’s food and pie raffles and reenactments and a bass tournament–and vendors like me, but mostly crafts.

I’m not sure whether the skies today were a bit cloudy or just smoky, but the sun didn’t break through, holding back the heat. Not until well into the afternoon did we experience some mugginess. Smoke got worse–enough to feel it in the eyes and throat. No doubt the air was moving up from the south where several fires rage south of Roseburg.

Forecasts for Sunday appear to be lower than before. As for the smoke, I guess that depends on which way the wind blows.

The celebration continues Sunday, so if you’re in the neighborhood you might want to check it out. It’s at the ECEC (the butterfly place) just west of Elkton.

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Fair Week Continues

Fair week in Douglas County, Oregon, brings out the people and critters and crafts every August. Today we head into the third of four days, expecting a cooler time than the stifling first two.

Here author friend Dianne Kaye Carter and I take up our post to sell and sign our books at the Author Table in the foyer of the air-conditioned Conference Hall/Community Hall, first building on your left as you come in the main gate. We’ll be there again this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon, Friday and Saturday, August 11 and 12 from 3 to 7 pm. Dianne is presenting her suspense noel, Misled, and I’m presenting my Oregon Trail stories, A Place of Her Own and 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award Finalist The Shifting Winds.

Our local AAW writers group will be at the Author Table earlier on these days from morning until 3 o’clock.

Meanwhile, outside, the fair goes on with the usual prize animals that have been a part of county and state fairs for generations.

Oblivious to the history these sleepy pigs snooze on an unusually warm evening for Oregon, dreaming of home or juicy corn or whatever else pigs might dream about.

Then there are the bunnies. These incredibly soft, furry critters must wear their warm coats despite the heat, so they need plenty of water.

This fuzzy one glances up from its drink when he sees me with my camera. It gives me that look. “What is that thing in front of your face and why are you staring at me? I don’t know why I must be here. Do you? Can you imagine wearing a suit like mine on a hot August day? Yet I must stay here and be cute and spectacular just so I can maybe win a ribbon. Is that it?”

Of course we know bunnies don’t talk out loud. I remember as a kid when my mother got tired of our noise and we all had to do bunny talk, which meant wiggling our mouths and noses without making a sound. We got very good at it.

This guy is very good at it too.

And more bunnies a few cages down.

These are more silky than fluffy. Fingers just want to touch them, but resist.

Whatever farm animals you like, you’ll probably find them, from chickens to horses to cows to sheep and goats and more you may not have imagined.

In addition to the animals entered for prizes in the fair, there are the beautiful crafts.

I especially like the quilts. Below are a few fine examples.A closeup at right shows the intricate stitching of this prize winner by Shirley Pyle of Roseburg.

Of course the fair would not be a fair without the rides. Ah, the rides at day’s end when the lights turn bright against the dark night sky. And so we end a busy day with a walk on the runway and the traditional ferris wheel dominating this world of wonder.

Two more days. If you live anywhere close by, come on down. The forecast calls for much pleasanter weather today and tomorrow with temperatures dropping into the 80s with a mix of sun and clouds, then balmy evenings.

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Seattle Conference Highlights

I’m just back from a great Seattle writers conference. This annual conference of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association brings together writers and agents and editors to forward the hopes and dreams of writers throughout the country.

I found my agent Rita Rosenkranz at the PNWA conference in 2012. And here we are at this year’s event at the Friday night Autograph Party where authors sold and signed our books. Rita stood by me during the party, which was great. She’s a wonderful agent–she was there from New York–and I feel very fortunate to have her represent me.

Thanks to author Evelyn Hornbarger of Nebraska for taking the photo.

Please note the little black and gold ribbon on my nametag (see enlarged thumbnail), which reads “Nancy Pearl Book Award FINALIST.” This recognition brought me to the conference, which I hadn’t planned to attend this year. But when PNWA President Pam Binder called to tell me I was a finalist for the award, I decided to take the long drive north so I could traipse around the conference wearing this delightful ribbon.

Both of my books were nicely displayed in a prominent location, with the main focus on the finalist, The Shifting Winds, my historical novel, story of a reluctant young pioneer woman who’s torn between two men, one British, one American, who vie for her as their nations vie for the rich land of Oregon.

Something different at the Autograph Party this year: Instead of sitting behind a table to sell and sign books, we stood and mingled while we were entertained by singer, songwriter, actress (and now author) Donn T. She’s a cool performer.

The conference culminated in the Saturday night awards banquet where the finalists all received kudos and award certificates. Nancy Pearl finalists received beautiful certificates like the one below.

PNWA has a contest for unpublished work in many categories. I’ve been a finalist in that contest a couple of times and have learned that this looks great on a query and is well respected in the industry even if you don’t win or place.

The Nancy Pearl Book Award is for published books and received the highest recognition at the conference. The 2017 award is for books published in 2016. A winner is selected in each of two categories, with only three finalists in one category this year and four in the other. So I knew I was a winner already, just being a finalist.

I was told several times how much the judges loved my book, The Shifting Winds. While I did not win the award, a highlight of the entire conference for me was when all seven Nancy Pearl award finalists were asked to stand and told what a monumental achievement this was and I looked out at the many faces in the huge room and saw my agent waving at me. Standing a little bit taller, I  smiled and waved back.

A moment to remember.

Several finalists joined the celebration at my table. From left to right: Evalina Mason, Nancy Pearl finalist for her book The Seekers; me of course; Janet Oakley, literary contest third place winner in the historical fiction category for Thatch’s War; and Debu Majumdar, Nancy Pearl finalist for Sacred River. Winners all!

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Panel at 2017 Historical Novel Society Conference Portland, Oregon

Four authors of historical fiction with Pacific Northwest settings got together to offer a panel at the 2017 Historical Novel Society Conference held this year in Portland, Oregon. From left to right: me, Kirby Larson, Libbie Hawker, and Janet Oakley. We called it “Historical Fiction through a Pacific Northwest Lens,” which seemed appropriate since the UK-based Historical Novel Society was coming to Portland. They meet in the UK every other year with North American sites in the opposite years.

The idea for our panel started with Janet Oakley and her writer friend in Washington State Carole Dagg. I had met Janet at a couple of PNWA conferences in Seattle, and she invited me to be part of a panel. The three of us put together a proposal which was accepted. We cheered our good fortune. Then Carole learned she’d be unable to attend so Janet found not one replacement but two. And Kirby Larson and Libbie Hawker joined us Janets.

For our session we had a lively discussion about what led us to write about this region and some of the challenges, like writing realistic history without offending 21st-century readers. We also discussed the pleasures of researching and the thrill of discovering actual documents from the times of our stories, about finding the untold stories, about the people who populated this land before the Europeans, and about other facets of history on America’s far northwestern frontier.

As we said in our proposal, “The region holds a unique position as the continent’s last frontier. When nearly every coastline in the world had been mapped, America’s northwest remained a mystery to explorers, a blank wilderness. That untamed edge resonates in the land’s character.”

Libbie served as moderator, and she kept us on our toes with some unexpected questions among the ones planned. We had a good Q & A afterward with an enthusiastic audience. A fun time.

Thanks to Stephanie West Allen for taking the picture.

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NEWS!! Shifting Winds a Finalist in PNWA Nancy Pearl Book Awards

Yay! My historical novel The Shifting Winds has just been named as a finalist in the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Awards, sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association.

This award is offered by PNWA for books published in the last year.

Winners will be announced at the July conference in Seattle. Finalists will enjoy excellent visibility throughout that conference.

I’m thrilled to receive such recognition for my book in this highly contested award.

Oregon’s turbulent past comes alive in the story through the eyes of protagonist Jennie Haviland and two men, one British, one American, who vie for Jennie as their nations vie for the rich disputed land of the Oregon country.

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Poster for Eugene Library Gig

The Eugene Public Library provided a poster for my upcoming book talk and slide show there this Sunday, June 10, at 2 pm as part of their summer reading program.

Looking forward to this event at the beautiful library facility at 100 West 10th Avenue in downtown Eugene, Oregon. For more information you can check out my June 2nd post here.

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