Winning Nonfiction Entry from 2014 OWC Writing Contest

This is an excerpt from the winning nonfiction entry in the 2014 Oregon Writers Colony writing contest.

The Hope He Had

By Ryan Chin

Sometimes a walk with your dog is not always just a walk with your dog…

That’s what the detective told me when the case was closed.

It started when I took my dog to a river. Gnarled tree stumps carried from headwater streams shared the shoreline with plastic bottles, candy wrappers, and the occasional hypodermic needle. Cranes dotted the Willamette River’s banks, perched over the water like herons waiting for prey. The metal reverb of shipping containers echoed across the water. Ospreys and gulls traded calls. Vessels of all sizes sliced the surface of the river. Cormorants bobbed in their wakes, diving for long minutes in search of food. Cars raced east and west on the bridges, salmon charged upstream, and century-old sturgeon sifted through silt in the depths.

I roamed the river’s edge, pocketed pebbles, and wrestled large pieces of driftwood back to my van for my garden. My footprints were crisscrossed with the drag marks of my latest finds. Big Head, my yellow lab, pawed and chewed at the logs as we moved along, steady but unhurried, like the currents at our side.

I noticed the black briefcase first. Zippers open, sand sticking to the cloth areas. With warning thoughts about heroin needles, I searched the main compartment and pockets, never plunging my hand in blindly. No identification. Empty. Then I noticed the shoes, the shirts, and the pants nearby. I wondered if the contents had spilled out naturally, or if someone had dumped them looking for bounty. I knelt, reached for the nearest pants pocket and felt the unmistakable shape of a wad of money, rolled and bending slightly with each squeeze of my hand.

My gaze shot up and down the bank. Was there a body? Was someone watching me? Was I getting involved in something I should avoid? Not wanting to stand up with the wad of bills, I pretended to tie my shoes, slipped the money into my socks, and scurried away. Back in my van, I counted the money—ten one-hundred-dollar bills, cold and damp from the river.


New Releases: “Read. Reflect. Respond. Rest.”

Marilyn Catherine McDonaldMarilyn Catherine McDonald announces the release of her fifth novel, “Read.Reflect.Respond.Rest. 366 Daily Reflections on Random Selections from Scripture.” The print-on-demand book is now available through Amazon.

McDonald’s latest book is an almost four-year record of her daily reflections on random selections from the Bible that she describes as a “journey to the center of her being” through a daily spiritual exercise.

McDonald has been a professional writer since 1967. She received her undergraduate degree from Portland State University in 1975, and her Masters Degree in Communications from University of Portland in 1977.


Winning Fiction Entry from 2014 OWC Writing Contest

Ann Littlewood

This is an excerpt from the winning fiction entry in the 2014 Oregon Writers Colony writing contest.

The Owl on the Road to Medford

By Ann Littlewood

The young green heron, all beak and long fragile bones, fought every bite of herring I poked down its gullet. The bird shuddered from breast to beak tip trying to dislodge the last sliver. “Cut that out. You gotta eat,” I told it. We both started when the doorbell rang. Damn. I set the heron back in its cage and said, “If you barf all that up, I’ll rip your beak right off.” A lie and a waste of breath.

A couple at the door. The woman held—as ever—a cardboard box. Miller Genuine Draft, duct tape all over it. “Evening,” I said. “What you got there?” It was late and the Closed sign was up, but they’d buzzed the clinic doorbell anyway.

She said, “Sorry, Mister, but we found this bird in the road. The gas station guy said you’d take care of it. It was just sitting there where somebody would run over it.”

Probably another baby robin. We’d taken in a dozen already, also an armada of baby mallards, eight scrub jays squalling for Mom, and three bitty squirrels squirming in a heap. Springtime—when humans get their hands on wildlife too young to escape and haul them to the local wildlife rehab center.

The man said, “Innerstate 5. Southbound, at the roadside rest area. Some kind of chicken hawk.” To her—“Give it to him and let’s go.”

“I couldn’t just leave it there,” the woman said, and looked sideways at him with her eyes narrow.

His mouth twitched, sour. “We’re here, aren’t we?”

Late twenties, maybe, both of them, and raised poor. Everyone in Oregon wears sports shoes and jeans, but their front teeth gave them away. His were chipped, hers crowded. That, and their hair. His thick ponytail poked out under a faded Mariners cap, she had two inches of brown pushing yellow away. Broke for a good while.

And both of them tired and cranky. Way cranky.

No sense of danger, even though I was alone. Too road-weary and wrapped up in their own problems. Dollar bills in the donation jar weren’t worth a scuffle. Anyway, I’m big enough that no one bothers me, not without giving it some thought.

She followed the box as I took it and set it on the counter.

He stayed at the door. “Stinks in here.”

Of course it stinks. Bird shit and bait herring and feeder mice. The chlorine disinfectant is the worst. Get over it.

I tore off the tape and opened it up, careful of my eyes. You never know what’s going to bust out talons-first. But this bird sagged in a corner, one wing drooping. Eight inches of speckled brown feathers with tufts on top of its head. “It’s a screech owl.”

The woman made a little snort and muttered, “Chicken hawk, my ass.”

The guy crossed his arms over his chest—blurry dark tattoos. “What do you know? I’ve seen owls. They’re bigger.” Talking to her.

“Owls come in all sizes,” I said, trying to paper over hostility with information. Waste of breath. I reached in and wrapped a hand around the bird’s legs up close to its body. It snapped its beak, no fight in it. I laid it on its back on the counter, the woman leaning close and the man watching, too. The breast felt solid with muscle, not starved down. A recent disaster. With my free hand, I worked along the thin bones hidden under feathers, testing for the tiny crunching wiggle that means a break. Crepitation, it’s called. “Wings are good.” The legs were fine, too. One big yellow eye had a little blood in it. “Concussed. I’ll get it to the vet tomorrow. Probably hit by a car.” I straightened up. “Minding its own business and got clobbered out of nowhere.”

The guy said, “That happens every day. Every damn day.”

When I can, I tell people they did right by trying to help a wild creature. Sometimes it’s a pitch for a donation. Not this time, but still. “It’s stunned and can’t hunt. It would have died out there. Here, it’ll be safe and fed and have a chance. We’ll set it free if we can.”

That always eases people, and it did for her. The guy relaxed a little, too, but kept the impatience. “We gotta go. We got a lot of miles ahead.”

“Where to?” I asked, to be polite.

He said, “Medford, land of milk and honey. Or so I’m told.”

She snapped, “Land where one of us can get a job.”

I folded up the wings to carry the owl to the back room.

He said, “You got what you want, like always, so quit stalling and let’s go.”

“What I want is not have to fix your problems. You can’t ask me to raise—”

“Shit.” I didn’t intend to say it aloud. I wanted them gone.

“What?” She turned away from him and crowded me to see the bird.


I touched its lower belly. “Didn’t see it. This big pink spot with no feathers? Brood patch. She’s been sitting on eggs. Or chicks.”

She stepped back and frowned. Wide brown eyes looked a question at me.

I dodged it. “Good timing for her to show up. We’ve got a screech owl youngster in back. It can imprint on this one.” She followed me behind the counter into the back room without asking. Not allowed, but I let it go. After a few seconds, I heard him step after us.

I set the newcomer next to the half-grown chick in a plastic box. It sidled away. The couple stared at the two owls, wild animals catching people’s attention the way they do, while I fetched some cut-up mouse pieces and laid them in front of the birds. Maybe one or the other would eat on its own. Better by far than force-feeding.

The new owl leaned against the side, blotto.

The woman shifted, uneasy. “What about her babies?” She wasn’t going to let it go.

“The dad might handle it. The males help out.”

“He couldn’t do it alone.” The guy was dead certain. “No way.”

The woman’s hands clenched to fists. “We’ve gotta take her back where we found her.”

I shook my head. “She’s too out of it to survive.”

“But her babies will die.”

The guy said, “You can’t save every single one.” Not sarcastic, just saying it.

“You absolutely got that right.” She chewed on her lower lip, scowling.

He said, “It’s not right I have to choose.”


She ignored him and watched the owls. “I could find the exact spot where we picked her up.”

I wondered if I’d have to fight her for the bird.


Save the date! Cara Black at Annual Conference May 1-3

Cara BlackWe’re proud and excited to announce that Cara Black will be our workshop leader at the 2015 Annual Conference at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, May 1-3.

Cara Black, New York Times bestselling author of the Private Investigator Aimee Leduc Series, which is set in Paris, will present “Setting as Character.” Her latest book is Murder in Pigalle.

We’ll have more details about the conference as they become available. Registration will open in December. Stay tuned — this conference is sure to sell out!


New Releases: “Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon”

9781454908913_p0_v1_s260x420Author Susan Blackaby and illustrator Carolyn Conahan have a merry picture book collaboration hot off the press. “The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon” pairs Conahan’s artwork with a blast of geography, history, science, folklore, and—of course—snowboarding as two goofy cousins take a holiday romp around the state.

From Publishers Weekly: “In this addition to the Twelve Days of Christmas in America series, a boy named Damon visits his Oregonian cousin Liz, who gives him a crash course in all that the state has to offer. Opposite an Oregon-themed version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (from “12 crabbers crabbing” to “a meadowlark in a fir tree”), Damon’s letters home to his parents reveal how much he’s learning about Oregon.

“Blackaby packs an impressive amount of information into these missives, including a few holiday-appropriate tidbits (the cousins camp near the Donner und Blitzen River, “which comes from the German words for ‘thunder’ and ‘lightning,’ ” Damon recounts). Conahan’s spirited watercolors are full of humorous asides and details to examine, culminating in a cozy holiday campfire on the beach. …Ages 5–up.”

Mark your calendars and come to one of various events: 1:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at Annie Bloom’s Books: 10 a.m. Dec. 3 at Barnes & Noble Bridgeport (with SANTA), Noon on Dec. 6 at Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River and at 3 p.m. Dec. 6 at Klindt’s in The Dalles. Appearing Dec. 7 at the OHS Holiday Cheer book gala and 2 p.m. Dec. 13 at Green Bean Books in Portland.


2014 Writing Contest Winners Announced

C. Lill Ahrens, contest coordinator for the 2014 Oregon Writers Colony writing contests, has announced contest winners.


1st place

Ryan Chin, Portland, Oregon, “The Hope He Had”

Nonfiction final judge Jenn Weaver-Neist says about the story:

“From the very first page, “The Hope He Had” offers an inviting cargo of goods: mystery, rich rivers of description, and the author’s natural curiosity that eventually journeys into the American experience. The first-person observations are welcome threads from the fabric of the author’s everyday life, with his two young sons and Big Head the family dog playing complementary roles in his discoveries. Readers share in his reflections too, sifting through perspective and detail to arrive comfortably at the same conclusion: that this is a story about the genealogy of hope, our common ancestry — the tree that never dies.

2nd place

Rachael Pruitt, Eugene, Oregon, “Being Seen – 1972″

3rd place

Michael Coolen, Corvallis, Oregon, “What Is That Thing”

First Honorable Mention

Karen Keitz, Tillamook, Oregon, “Yellow”

Other Honorable Mentions (alphabetical by author)

Stacy Carleton, Portland, Oregon, “Making Room in an Occupied Heart”

Valerie Lake, Corvallis, Oregon, “Night of Lions”

Gail McNally, Beaverton, Oregon, “Fred’s Fall”

“Entries of Note” (alphabetical by author)

Art Edwards, Portland, Oregon, “The Bastard Who Cut My Hair”

Robert Freedman, Portland, Oregon, “Busted”

Donelle Knudsen, Richland, Washington, “Desert Rose or a Blooming Miracle”


1st place

Ann Littlewood, Portland, Oregon, “The Owl on the Road to Medford” (Read an excerpt)

Fiction final judge Stevan Allred says about the story:

The winning story gives us a young couple with two problems to solve. One is immediate—what to do about a live bird they’ve come across on the road–and one is existential—will their luck change if they move to Medford? It gives us a sardonic narrator who runs a wildlife rehab center, someone who’s seen it all, and doesn’t think much of the human race. It gives us the sophisticated structure of a peripheral narrator—the story is told by the sardonic narrator, but it’s about the couple. The author’s prose is crisp and confident. The characters are well-drawn and convincing, the setting a little exotic, and the story itself has something to say about the power of a little routine kindness to change the course of events. There’s no real miracle at its core, only the daily miracle of rising above our own cynicism to find a moment of redemption in our daily lives. But that is the human condition, and this story, “The Owl on the Road to Medford,” evokes this truth without any undue sentimentality, and for all of these qualities, I say ‘Huzzah’ to this author. Well done!

2nd place

Donna Farley, Surrey, British Columbia, “The Witnesses”

3rd place

Harry Demarest, Corvallis, Oregon, “One Big Coffin”

First Honorable Mention

Lois Rosen, Salem, Oregon, “The Jewish Colleen”

Other Honorable Mentions (alphabetical by author)

Patricia Barnhart, Lakeview, Oregon, “Spin Cycle”

Patsy Lally, Lake Oswego, Oregon, “The Day I Met My Mother”

Chet Skibinski, Lake Oswego, Oregon, “An Old Man With a Beard”

“Entries of Note” (alphabetical by author)

Gail Bartley, Bend, Oregon, “Mourning Becomes Her”

Harry Demarest, Corvallis, Oregon, “House in the Woods”

Jean Peterson, Nehalem, Oregon, “Dousing Dolly”

Beth Navarro, Corvallis, Oregon, “Road Trip”

Norma Seely, Manzanita, Oregon, “The Appraiser”


David D. Levine sells three novels to Tor

David-by-Janna-Silverstein-November-20121-140x140David D. Levine’s “Regency Interplanetary Airship Adventure” novel “Arabella of Mars” has sold to science fiction publisher Tor as part of a three-book deal. The first volume will be published
in late 2015 or early 2016, with two sequels to follow at yearly

Arabella Ashby is a Patrick O’Brian girl in a Jane Austen world ¬¬–
born and raised on Mars, she was hauled back home by her mother, where
she’s stifled by England’s gravity, climate, and attitudes toward
women. When she learns that her evil cousin plans to kill her brother
and inherit the family fortune, she joins the crew of an
interplanetary clipper ship in order to beat him to Mars. But
privateers, mutiny, and insurrection stand in her way. Will she arrive
in time?

Levine has published more than 50 short stories in major
markets. His stories have won the Hugo, have been nominated for the
Nebula, and have appeared in five Year’s Best anthologies, among many
other honors, and his collection “Space Magic”won the Endeavour Award
for the year’s best F/SF book by a Pacific Northwest writer.


Don Colburn’s poetry presented on stage

Don ColburnDon Colburn’s newest collection of poems, “Tomorrow Too: The Brenda Monologues,” will be performed on stage this weekend in Springfield and Corvallis.

Three actors directed by Leigh Matthews Bock will present all the poetic monologues in the book, telling the story of Brenda Arrieta Killian, who faced cancer while pregnant — a story Colburn reported in The Oregonian newspaper.

The performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 24 and 25, at the Wildish Theater in Springfield and at 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26 at the Majestic Theatre in Corvallis.