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.

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.

COMMENT

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 unabridged 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. I had recently contracted with developmental 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.

COMMENT

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.

COMMENT

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Fort Umpqua Post Script

So, what if history got it wrong?

After last week’s rollicking Fort Umpqua Days celebration, I take a long look at our sturdy reconstructed fort on the Umpqua River in Elkton, Oregon, and I recall a question from one of the customers who came by my book-selling booth during the event.

“Is Fort Umpqua in your books?”

I had to say no, but it might have been–if I could have reconciled sources.

Fort Umpqua Gate

Muddied waters

My issue arose from the date Fort Umpqua fell. History has an answer, but it seems a little murky to me.

For starters I’d like to quote Stephen Dow Beckham in his Land of the Umpqua, a fine presentation of local history published in 1986. On this subject of Fort Umpqua’s demise he writes on page 58:

The fort burned on November 15, 1851, while the commander or chief trader, Johnson E. King was at Fort Vancouver. King had just brought in his annual load of furs and was ready to leave with fresh supplies for the Umpqua when word of the disaster came by letter. The company kept up three more years of trade in southwestern Oregon, presumably working out of an outbuilding at the site; then it terminated operations. [My bold.]

Beckham sources his statement with a letter in the HBC archives written December 20, 1851, by a John Ballenden to Archibald Barclay. Ballenden was an HBC officer briefly posted at Fort Vancouver to help wrap up Company affairs there after the boundary settlement that gave the United States the land. Barclay was an HBC Secretary in London.

But what if history got this wrong?

Ft.Ump.gardens-2 (2)My experience in researching these early periods has shown me that history can be difficult to pin down. Even contemporary accounts don’t always agree.

That word presumably in the above quote gives me pause. Did assumptions lead to wrong conclusions?

A couple of things have come together to make me question this.

What did Martha know?

I have access to an account that disagrees with accepted history. It comes from Florence McNabb, the granddaughter of Martha Maupin, whose story I tell in A Place of Her Own. Florence wrote a 75-page manuscript of Maupin family history which I used extensively in writing Martha’s story. But I didn’t use one of Florence’s vignettes because it disagreed with history. To give a timeframe for this, Martha and Garrett moved from Lane County to Douglas County in December 1864 and rented a cabin on the Henderer place near Elkton until sometime after Garrett’s death in 1866, well after the supposed demise of Fort Umpqua.

Yet Florence writes:

It was while they were still on the Henderer place that there was an Indian scare and all of the families were told to come to the Umpqua Fort. The fort was built on the banks of the river in the summer of 1836 and was the early trading post of the Hudson Bay Co. It was well built with logs standing on end to form a stockade with several log cabins inside. 434-fort-umpqua-interiorOriginally the land owned by the Hudson Bay Co. comprised 640 acres and several dozens of stock. . . .

On this occasion the families remained in the stockade and the well-armed men went to their respective homes to tend to their livestock. The Indians never did attack but they could be seen early in the mornings and again in the evenings. . . .

After about a week, shut up with children and short tempered mothers, they decided to return to their own homes, coming back to the fort to spend the night. . . . One lady remarked that she would rather fight Indians than to spend another night with that bunch.

“This was told to me by my mother,” Florence wrote, “who had heard it from Martha Maupin.” Yes, Martha.

Now, that could have made an interesting scene in my book, but I didn’t want to go against history.

British habits

ShiftingWinds_EcoverA new thought began to stir, arising out of my own recent research into the history of Fort Vancouver, the British Hudson’s Bay Company headquarters of the Fort Umpqua outpost. Prior to my presentation at Fort Vancouver this summer of my new book The Shifting Winds I went back into the two huge volumes that describe research the preservation team did in order to reconstruct an authentic replica of this British headquarters.

Ft.Vanc.Report (2)I was amazed at the continual construction going on during the years the British maintained Fort Vancouver. The first Fort Vancouver was built in 1824-1825 on the hill above the Columbia river bottom. When the British changed their minds about that location in 1829, they just picked it up and moved it a few miles closer to the river. When that new fortress proved to be too small they just moved the walls over, added to them, and doubled the size.

When the first home of the commander began to crumble due to decaying roof and walls, they tore it down and built a new one in a better spot within the walls.

Fort Vancouver Big HouseThis is the commander’s house, the Big House—no small cabin to be thrown up in a few afternoons.

613.Ft.Vanc.McLoughlin Sitting RoomAnd the interior was exquisite.

Ft.Vanc.stockadeOther buildings were routinely torn down and replaced. And those picket walls kept moving—a little bit here, a little bit there.

alan-cropIt seems the British Hudson’s Bay Company men would rebuild at the drop of a tall beaver hat.

Why not Fort Umpqua?

So if tiny Fort Umpqua burned down and the Hudson’s Bay Company still had business to conduct on the site, why wouldn’t they follow custom and rebuild that? Ballenden’s letter to Barclay, the author Beckham’s source above, was written a month after the fire and would not reflect Company decisions afterward. My family’s story (told by Martha herself, no less, although received secondhand) suggests a fort still stood when they sought refuge sometime between 1864 and 1866.

Accepted history also tells us that the historic 1861 flood took away the burnt remains of Fort Umpqua, leaving nothing. Is this fact or conjecture? Is it possible that a more substantial fort stood against those flood waters, one that the Hudson’s Bay Company had rebuilt and maintained after the 1851 fire? Up north, when the British finally left their Fort Vancouver headquarters to the Americans, the walls and buildings disintegrated in this wet, rainy land without continual maintenance. We have photos and reports to substantiate that. Was this the more likely end to Fort Umpqua also, as new American owners no longer needed this former British outpost?

Unraveling the story threads

Book cover - A Place of Her OwnSmall tidbits of information—notes in letters and journals—often guided the team that reconstructed the elaborate Fort Vancouver headquarters. If I had believed in Florence’s tidbit, I could have brought the Fort Umpqua outpost into my story and had one more tense scene for Martha. And I could have smiled and told my customer, “Yes, yes, it’s in this one.”

Just saying.

Beckham, Stephen Dow. Land of the Umpqua: A History of Douglas County, Oregon. Roseburg, OR: Douglas County Commissioners, 1986.
McNabb, Florence Maupin. The Maupin Family. Undated, unpublished manuscript.

COMMENT

Author Gala Reading

The annual Mid-Valley Willamette Writers Author Celebration happens next week when several members are selected to read from their published works. I’m excited to be one of the readers again. At this year’s event I’ll be reading from my new historical novel, The Shifting Winds.

Pulling up some pleasant memories, here’s the group that read in 2014 at the first of these gala events. That time I read from A Place of Her Own, which had just been released.

WW ReadersWhat a fun evening! It was so exciting to be sharing my very first published book. A great time for us all. I developed some lasting friendships from that gathering. We were at Tsunami Books in Eugene, the regular meeting place for the Mid-Valley Willamette Writers, and the gala will be at the same place this year.

Author Gala Poster 2016Here’s the poster for the event, at left.

It’s the first Thursday of the month, the usual meeting night for the group, June 2, from 7 to 9 pm.

We’ll have fewer readers this time, including Valerie Brooks, Bill Cameron, Julie Dawn, Sarina Dorie, and me.

As noted on the poster it’s open to the public. The suggested donation is one new or gently used children’s book or a small cash donation in support of the group’s Books for Kids program. Tsunami Books is at 2585 Willamette Street in Eugene.

I’ll be reading the opening scene from The Shifting Winds and introducing one of the real historic characters from my book, Joe Meek, mountain man extraordinaire.

joe mural smallerHere he is at right, portrayed in his immortal role at the gathering of settlers at Champoeg in May 1843, just 173 years ago this month.

American settlers were hoping to get an agreement that would give them the protection of law in this isolated frontier.

When the vote seemed uncertain, the bold mountaineer called out in his booming voice, “Who’s fer a divide?” And the voters lined up to be counted.

This large mural is displayed in the Oregon State Capitol building. That’s Joe in the red shirt toward the front, rifle in hand, calling for the divide.

He was a storyteller at heart, which I guess all of us authors must be too. I look forward to hearing readings from the stories of my fellow Mid-Valley Willamette Writers authors and look forward to sharing my own.

COMMENT

Stories of Story

I spoke at the Roseburg Rotary Club meeting last night. They invited me to talk about my new book The Shifting Winds, and when I began putting together my speech for this I struggled a bit. What could I say in 20 minutes to give the essence of this full-length novel and still entertain an audience? So I asked myself, what is special about this particular book? Well, for one thing, the historical setting stands out. This story steps back in time to places here in the Pacific Northwest–like Fort Vancouver, a historic site you can visit today. And I had stories about that.

Ft.Vanc.Big House Front (3)The Big House, at left, was the home of the commanding officer at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver, the western headquarters of the British fur trading empire during the nineteenth century. Much of the fort has been reconstructed on the original site in what is now Vancouver, Washington, with meticulous attention to authenticity.

As I mulled over ways to present this information, the thought came to me that people want to hear stories, so my speech told stories about my story. The Shifting Winds is a historical novel of the 1840s Oregon Territory with a lot of real historical drama set in real places. While it’s often hard to find a historic site unaltered by modernization, the reconstructed Fort Vancouver can take you right back into these early times. Ft.Vanc.Douglas Sitting Room

You can walk into the chief factor’s house where characters from my story walked and see the furnished rooms as they would have appeared in the 1840s.

You can stroll across the grounds where my characters strolled and see the Indian Trade Store and hear the blacksmith’s hammer striking hot metal on the anvil.

So in my speech I told about visiting the fort for research that inspired the book. Then I told about my dream of holding an event at the fort for this newly published book–and how it happened that this dream will come true in July. My stories.

Another way to tell about a book is to read from it. So I did that too. I’ve heard it said that we’re hardwired for stories. It’s how we communicate and our stories tend to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We expect resolution.

But of course if you want people to read your book, you don’t want to spoil their reading by giving away the end. So you stop short, leaving them guessing. The cliff hanger. This jolts their innate sense of story.

Willamette Falls (2)One of the excerpts I shared in the speech showed my characters trekking up the portage trail around the Willamette Falls, shown at left. Modernization may have dimmed the glory of these falls in what is now Oregon City, but the power of the water cannot be denied. The thrum rolls through you when you stand nearby, and you can see why the settlers rushed to claim it.

That except follows the protagonist as she tells her suitor good-bye at the head of the falls, then decides to take a walk alone in the woods above town. There’s a reason she’s been warned against going into the woods by herself, and when she comes face to face with danger I choose to leave the vignette hanging. The audience reacted with a burst of groans and uneasy laughter as I had hoped. The tension strikes because we need the satisfying conclusion as part of our sense of story. Resolution.

So throughout the evening we shared story. Even before the meeting when I met my friend Laura Lusa who’d arranged for me to speak, she and I sat down together and shared our stories. “How are you doing?” I ask. She answers with her story. I respond with mine. Unfinished stories. How will they turn out? Will there be resolution?

During Q & A I found myself answering questions with snippets of story. And after my speech people came up to talk to me. They told me their stories–about their pioneer families, their interests in history–and I came to know them a little bit better.

Stories. It’s how we communicate. And perhaps that’s why we so need the complete stories in books. When our own stories lack completion, we answer part of our need by reading a well-crafted book with a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying end. Resolution.

COMMENT

Headed for Tsunami Sunday

We’re headed for Tsunami on Sunday for my Eugene launch of The Shifting Winds.

Tsunami BooksThe store’s banner, caught in the late afternoon light, speaks of a storm of waves rushing fast against a vivid sky. And I guess that’s the hope for every book. May it create its own waves, bringing readers into a world of adventure and romance, or wherever the author’s imagination seeks to carry them.

I took this photo last night before my Willamette Writers meeting. The mid-valley chapter holds its regular monthly meetings here. Our speaker at the end of her talk asked the audience why we write, and many answers were offered, but then she told the story of the 1001 nights of Scheherazade and suggested we write so people ask, “What’s next?” That was Scheherazade’s key to saving her own life and the lives of 1001 other virgins in the interim.

I enjoyed a private smile of my own, recalling that after I read a scene from The Shifting Winds at my launch party in Elkton, I opened it up to Q & A. And one of the questions was, “What happens next?” We laughed, but that’s the key, isn’t it? Getting the reader to ask, “What’s next?” That’s what keeps them reading–not just this book, but another and another. And the waves keep coming and keep storytelling alive.

So I’ll be at Tsunami Books at 2585 Willamette Street from 3 to 5 on Sunday afternoon, April 10. I’ll do a reading, probably around 3:30, open it up to Q & A, and sign some books. We’ll have light refreshments, including some Elkton wines from near my home, and have time to chat. The weather forecast looks good, promising some blue sky again, if not as warm as yesterday.

The event is open to the public. If you’re in the neighborhood I hope you’ll come by and enjoy getting caught on the waves of story.

COMMENT