janet fisher~writer

Following strong women through history

Historic Words and Fibers

History resonates in every Fort Umpqua Days celebration as people come from many places to share a glance back to the early days of Elkton, Oregon. The reconstructed British Hudson’s Bay Company fort provides a centerpiece for the gathering. This year a number of reenactors came to give the fort even more authenticity.

Reenactor Karen “Many Voices” Haas spinning

In the above photo reenactor Karen Haas, who describes herself as a weaver of words and fibers, spins yarn on a drop spindle while wearing period dress, such as you might have seen in the days of the original Fort Umpqua.

This is the period of my two published books, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds. But the drop spindle is a device so ancient that I describe a character using one in an upcoming book that goes back roughly 3,500 years. I was glad to watch Karen spin with a drop spindle so I could see how she made it spin. This will help me describe how my ancient character spins with hers. More than one of my characters can be called weavers of story and thread. I think they share an affinity with Karen “Many Voices” Haas.

I had a chance to visit with Karen Sunday afternoon when she stopped at my booth where I was selling my books. After I closed up shop I went down to the fort with my daughter Carisa to see some of the reenactors, and there was Karen outside a Hudson’s Bay Company tent (it must have been an HBC tent because they were waving an HBC flag). And she was spinning. We recognized each other and it took me a moment to realize what exactly she was doing. But there it was. She was working a drop spindle. Every once in a while she would put the spindle against her billowy skirt and stroke her hand across it to keep it turning. Then she would reach up again and make sure the yarn was coming out in an even thread. An amazing process. So ancient. So elegant in its simplicity, yet no doubt requiring considerable skill and practice.

With that we wrapped up another Fort Umpqua Days enjoying a delightful glimpse into our past. Thanks to Karen for showing us one significant thread of that story.

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Back to the Fort

It’s time for Fort Umpqua Days again. It happens every Labor Day weekend in Elkton, Oregon. So step into the past there on Saturday and Sunday, August 31 and September 1, and have some fun. There will be music, food, crafts, books (I’ll be there with mine), and of course the reconstructed fort.

Cannon at Fort Umpqua. Photo by Robin Loznak.

Hold your ears. Mountain men will be there with their black powder rifles. And others from bygone days. Even cannons maybe. Folks at the reconstructed fort will offer some rich history of the area with the realism of places restored to their former charm. If you check out this restoration of the fort’s store (below) you may find someone with a story about the Hudson’s Bay Company that built the original fort during the heyday of the fur trade in Oregon back in the 19th century. They might tell you that this was the company’s southernmost outpost. And they might explain how the trade worked and what some of those items on the shelves are, and the pelts on the wall.

Store in the Fort

It all happens just west of Elkton at ECEC at 15850 Hwy 38 and down the hill at the fort. I’ll be in one of the vendor booths near the butterfly pavilion with my books that fit right into that past, stories of pioneers and the fur trade in the mid-19th century, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds. I hope you’ll stop by.

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Books on the Bay

Story.

That’s what it was all about. And lovers of story came out Saturday for my reading and signing at Izzy’s bookstore in Winchester Bay, Oregon.

Talking about books at Windy Bay and More ~ Photo by Robin Loznak

You couldn’t find a more delightful setting than a room circled with soft chairs and couches, walls lined with books, except for one wall of windows overlooking the spectacular beauty of the bay where water rippled in the sunlight and boats rocked on the gentle tide. Behind conversation the soft cries of gulls echoed on the wind, and an occasional bird swept past our view.

Our congenial, partially rotating group munched on cookies and sipped coffee while we talked about books and ideas. I read short passages from three of mine, the two that are already out, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds, and one I’ve just completed, which isn’t out yet, its working title, Beyond the Waning Moon. All three fit into my theme of following strong women through history, the first two in the mid-19th century pioneer period in the American West, the new one moving way back to ancient Minoan Crete, opening in 1470 BC. Both eras found women facing significant challenges that demanded their remarkable strength.

Signing a book for a new reader ~ Photo by Robin Loznak

My thanks to Izzy for inviting me for her first author reading. It was an absolute pleasure. I wish her well in this new venture of hers. Once known as Conrad Books, the store under Izzy’s new ownership will now be known as Windy Bay Books and More. Her enthusiasm resonates throughout the place.

If you missed the event, you can still visit the store, a great stop in this lovely seaside town. And you can find my books on the shelves there–if she hasn’t sold them already. If she has, we’ll get more.

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Kool Coastal Nights

Winchester Bay Sunset

The beauties of Oregon’s remarkable coast become the focus next weekend when I venture to Conrad Books in Winchester Bay on Saturday, August 24, from 3 to 5, for a signing party and reading of my books.

It’s time for the town’s celebration of Kool Coastal Nights, and Izzy Pescadero, new proprietor of Conrad Books, asked me come share the fun. Conrad Books is a great little bookstore with a big heart and fantastic view overlooking the bay, just west of Griff’s seafood restaurant.

It’s at 156 Bay Front Loop about five miles south of downtown Reedsport, off Highway 101.

Under Izzy’s new management it’s a friendly place with new and used books, even vintage, soft couches, music, art, poetry. And the coffee’s always on.

I’ll be reading short segments from my Oregon Trail stories, A Place of Her Own and Nancy Pearl Book Award Finalist The Shifting Winds, and possibly a little preview of my upcoming book of adventure and romance in the exotic pre-Greek world of ancient Crete. And of course I’ll have books there to sign and sell.

If you’re nearby or looking for a destination of fun and spectacular beauty, please come join us. Listen to a snippet of story while watching the sun drift low over the bay and share laughs in the good company of book lovers.

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Leaping off the Page

My fiction turned real a few days ago when I was working on a bull-leaping scene for my book of ancient Crete, trying to give the work more dazzle with yet one more edit. The Cretans did leap bulls with long, sharp horns back in 1470 BC, and they painted frescoes to illustrate it, like the one shown here.

Bull Leap Fresco at Knossos Ruins in Crete

I wanted to portray the scene so a reader could live it with me. I was digging through the big dictionary checking on a word for that very scene. Imagine my surprise when a similar bull with very long horns charged onto my property.

Unwelcome visitor arrives                                                                       Photo by Robin Loznak

Now, there’s a little inspiration for dazzle. My agent, Rita Rosenkranz, had been pushing me to give more polish to this first book in my series about the Minoans of ancient Crete, and she finally convinced me to hire a professional editor. I contracted with editor Judith Lindbergh to review the first 126 pages. And review she did. She was thorough and incisive. It was a little overwhelming. No, strike “a little.” Edit that out. It was overwhelming.

But I was plowing through, sort of like that visiting bull plowed through fences. New inspiration struck. I became excited, obsessive.

All progress stopped when I looked out my window and saw this fellow coming down my road, wagging his impressive horns.

Bull approaches Trevor

Trevor Cooley, who helps his dad, Ed, run cattle on my place, had a problem on his hands. The bull had already burst into the fields below to challenge Ed’s bulls and steers. Here, right outside my door,  the critter tossed his head at Trevor with an aggressive display. That electric wire gate looked mighty thin as Trevor phoned for help. I grabbed the camera, keeping the front door open and assuring Trevor he could run inside if need be.

The bull kept coming.

Too close for comfort

Trevor flung a little gravel at him and the critter turned away to trot down the grassy slope, tangling himself in electric fencing as he went. But he soon broke through and made his way down into the brushy gully.

By evening someone had located his owner. The man walked right up to him–almost. I was impressed. The owner couldn’t quite catch him and couldn’t drive him into the corral. After many tries he gave it up. The next morning the bull was gone. Last I heard it was on the far side of the mountain at the neighbor’s property.

But the bull did leave me with a touch of reality for the story.

My protagonist leaps a horned bull like that, one that even has a similar dapple-brown coat like the bull shown in the fresco. She has help. Grapplers hold the bull by the horns while two young men kneel in front of him, hands together. She jumps on their hands for the lift she needs to soar up and grab the ridge on the animal’s head between the deadly horns. Then she performs a front flip, her feet going over her head and down on his back–the critical crossing. One more flip and she lands on her feet on the ground behind him, into the arms of her catcher.

Of course, it being a story, the thing can’t go that smoothly. It needs tension. It needs dazzle.

Watching that bull, I was glad my protagonist did the leap, not me.

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Fun at the Fair

Authors and artists gathered at the annual Authors and Artists Fair in Eugene yesterday to share their creative work in the spirit of the holidays, and I was delighted to be among them to welcome a fine crowd of shoppers.

My Author Table at the Fair – Photo by Lynn Ash

My writer friend Lynn Ash stopped by and snapped a photo of me. Then I wandered over and took a picture of her at her table.

Lynn at Her Author Table

I was also delighted to see writer friends Valerie Brooks and Melissa Hart, who were there with their books. Valerie was the first person I remember meeting on my initial visit to the Mid-Valley Willamette Writers in Eugene, and she was always so welcoming. I met Melissa when she was a speaker at one of the meetings and appreciated how encouraging she was for my work. During the afternoon shift yesterday she joined the ring of tables where I was located, setting up right next to me. So good to see these friends again.

I was especially happy to meet Melissa’s daughter, who I’d met previously only on the written page in Melissa’s wonderful book, Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family. I recall being so captivated by that book I didn’t want to put it down. I don’t mean that I couldn’t put it down during the reading, although that was true enough. But when I finished the last page I just wanted to hold onto it. I thumbed back through for a while, then just held it a little longer, basking in the pleasure of the heartwarming story. It was so good to be able to chat with Melissa’s daughter, Maia, who’s almost twelve now.

During the day we were entertained with some music and dance in that holiday spirit. The dancers circled the room with this choreographed number and brought many a smile and a little tapping in place for the rest of us.

Dancers Offer Holiday Spirit

All in all a lovely event. Many strangers shared their stories with me as we talked about my books of Oregon Trail days, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds, and some familiar folks came by who I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Always a pleasure.

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Authors & Artists Fair Eugene

You’ll find me at the Authors and Artists Fair in Eugene tomorrow, Saturday, December 8 from 10 to 5, selling my books, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds. Details on the poster. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by. Should be a great event with some great gift items and all for a good cause.

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Milestones in Rewriting

Back in February of this year I announced in a blog post that I had done a major rewrite on Book One of my trilogy set in early Greece. Having put so much effort into recasting the story, I felt certain I had it ready this time. After all, I had been improving it for 20 years.

Revised Trilogy

I proceeded to update Book Two and Book Three to reflect those changes and wrote a blog post in early April on the whole trilogy, putting a bow on it.

I thought it was done.

With that accomplished I headed out in late April on my trip to Europe to research settings for the full series, having drafted six books so far.

The emphasis on my trip was the second trilogy, since I thought the first was essentially complete. Of course I was open to any tweaking my new explorations might dictate.

My impulses first drew me back to the center of it all, the fabulous ruins of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete. I hoped I wouldn’t see anything that would require significant changes, but I opened my senses to the wonders around me.

Charging Bull Fresco, Knossos

Room in the Palace/Temple of Knossos

On my return home I was happy to report that in the first trilogy my descriptions held up. Except for a couple of additions I wanted to make in Books Two and Three, that trilogy was virtually ready to go.

Then reality hit. I received a harsh critique on Book One. Because of that critique and because this first book is the foundation of the entire series, my agent asked me to focus only on this one now and to give it another thorough revision with feedback from new readers. Another comprehensive rewrite!

I backed up and approached it one more time. I plunged into new research, including discussion with experts on the setting and technology. I gave it substantial new polishing, new scenes, clipping and reshaping of old scenes. I received new critiques by beta readers who never saw it before, did more adding and clipping to address their concerns, and more thorough polishing to see that everything works together.

Last February I thought I couldn’t make it better. Now I know I could because I have.

Remains of Stepped Portico, Knossos

Besides all that clipping and adding and reshaping, whispers of memory infused the pages from my recent visit to the site. I could see it more clearly through the eyes of my characters because I had just seen it through my own eyes.

Yesterday I sent off the new rewrite of Book One with hope that this time is the charm. Fingers crossed. I can say for certain it’s another milestone in the process.

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Oakland Lives Its History

The people of Oakland, Oregon, sauntered back in time this weekend to live their rich history during Living History Days, and I joined them with my books that delve into these early times.

Betty Tamm, Owner, Triple Oak Wine Vault

Triple Oak Wine Vault

Betty Tamm kindly invited me to set up my book signing table in her Triple Oak Wine Vault in downtown Oakland, a unique Tasting Room located in a renovated 1892 bank building. In the photo above she’s displaying the art of spinning, which many in our past have done.

Sign on Front Door

Not every tasting room has a bank vault for wine storage, complete with safety deposit boxes. And despite the sign on the front door you would not have found me back in the deep vault sipping wine. I believe the whole establishment counts as the vault.

I actually had a lovely table in the front of the room to set up my books.

My Oakland Living History Days Book Signing Table

Nancy Anderson and Diane Brown brought historic treasures–exquisite quilts, vintage clothing, old news stories, and more–to be displayed in the Tasting Room, so they joined me at my table and we shared some delightful conversation and a bit of delicious, decadent food.

Me, Nancy and Diane

Things seemed to be going quite well. A good crowd meandered through to taste some wine and check out our handiwork, many of them in costume in this town where history resonates through the streets and in every downtown building. So I gave little thought to the gentleman in hat and boots, a gun on his hip, until he stepped to the door with sudden alarm.

Trouble?

What are you doing out here, rebel boy?

Who knew the North and South would be at it again? But there it was on the historic streets of Oakland, yet one more battle brewing between the union and the confederates.

Johnny Reb is looking for a fight. Tension mounts.

The battle’s on. Blasts rake the ears. Smoke fills the air.

A yankee goes down.

After it’s done, it’s time for fun.

All in all, the weekend event was, as I promised, a rip-roaring good time.

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UV Magazine Spread

UV Magazine, Lifestyle Magazine of the Umpqua Valley, did a story for their Fall 2018 edition on the local Roseburg writers group I belong to, An Association of Writers, and I was delighted to be featured with my books. UPDATE: The online version is up now.

UV Magazine Two-page Spread with Cover Overlay. Story and Cover Photos by Robin Loznak

The magazine is a beautifully produced publication that highlights people and activities in the Umpqua River region. A few days after Contributing Writer Sarah Smith asked to interview me and said they would send out a photographer, I learned that my favorite photographer, my son-in-law Robin Loznak, does freelance work for them. I mentioned that to Sarah, who passed the word to Account Executive Nicole Stratton, and the photo assignment went to Robin. A handy gig, since he and my daughter live on the family farm, just down the hill from me.

It just happened that the issue’s cover also features an autumn photo by Robin.

For the photo shoot on the article Robin and I went up to the top of the property and looked down over the big field above my house toward the setting sun. I used this sweeping view in one of the scenes in A Place of Her Own, the story of my great-great-grandmother Martha Maupin, who founded this Sesquicentennial Farm 150 years ago. I haven’t done the paperwork yet to receive that designation officially, but the farm qualifies. It has been a Century Farm since April 1968, the Martha A. Maupin Century Farm, one of the few in Oregon named for a woman.

Besides the fine overlook from the farm’s upper ridge, there was this perfect weathered stump for displaying my two published books.

The UV story talks about the importance of writers groups to authors who otherwise work in isolation. The mutual support helps keep an author going and the feedback helps in polishing the work. Sarah, who wrote the article, relayed my story of how eight people from my Roseburg writers group surprised me by coming to the launch party for my second book, The Shifting Winds. They had quite a drive up the Umpqua River to the little town of Elkton where I held the party. What a pleasure it was to see them walk in that day! The photo below shows them filling a table along with my friend from Elkton High School Bill Isaac.

From left to right: Arvilla and Don Newsom, Kari Clark, Heather Villa, Bill Isaac (longtime friend who’s not in the writers group but just happened to sit at this distinguished table), me standing, Wilma Mican, Emily Blakely, Dianne Carter, and Marlene Daley.

That’s friendly support! So glad UV Magazine chose to do the article about this fine group and so glad I joined them. Thanks to UV for the focus.

The magazine can be found at businesses in the Umpqua Valley, hotels, restaurants, doctor’s offices, hospital and elsewhere. And you can find them online. This brand-new edition should be up soon.

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