A hearty thank you goes out to the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, which has awarded Oregon Writers Colony a $5,000 grant! This money will help support OWC’s efforts to bring new services and events to our members. We have four more Literary Lounges coming up this year, and Stumptown Lit, our big festival for readers and writers, takes place Oct. 19 at the World Forestry Center. Plus, November is NaNoWriMo month at Colonyhouse! Stay tuned for details on flexible writing opportunities at our retreat house in November.
Jo Barney announces the publication of Uprush, a rewrite of a novel originally issued as an e-book. She said the new paperback edition has a new title, cover and text via Createspace.
In Uprush, four old friends meet at a beach house for their usual coming together to drink wine, complain about husbands, or the lack of them, compare upper arm flab–the usual stuff old friends do. Except this time one of them, Madge, a writer, asks the other three to help her commit suicide. She has a good reason. Her friends, once they learn it, agree to help her, despite misgivings and great sadness. Madge has a gift for them, no matter what happens: her take on their lives over the past forty-some years, her last novel, stories which will change their futures.
Barney also says her first book, Graffiti Grandma, has received starred reviews from Kirkus, “A gripping book with compelling characters who don’t want your pity,” and from Publishers Weekly.
Jen Marlowe, co-author of I am Troy Davis, and Kimberly Davis will present a special reading of the book combined with video clips connected to the case that has galvanized the fight to abolish the death penalty.
Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia on Sept. 21, 2011 despite compelling evidence of his innocence and worldwide pleas for clemency that included President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and 51 members of Congress. Marlowe wrote I Am Troy Davis with the close help of Davis’ sister, the late Martina Davis-Correia. Kimberly Davis is also Davis’ sister. His family has led a two-decade struggle to prove his innocence and abolish the death penalty. The book has been hailed as a revealing picture of the human impact of capital punishment. Davis, Marlowe and others will read from the book. The free event will be held at 7:30 p.m. April 10 at the First United Methodist Church, 1838 S.W. Jefferson St., Portland.
“The Assassin,” an excerpt from Robyn Parnell’s novel Looking Up has been published in WIPS: Works (of Fiction) in Progress. Robyn talks about the creative process in an interview in the same journal.
“I have what might be considered a mutation of the classic writer’s block, but my version ends up affecting me in a similar way: I get “blocked” not because I have no lack of ideas for new stories, but because I have so many, and choosing to focus on this one means setting the other ones aside…”
She says she completed Looking Up shortly after submitting the excerpt and recently received a request from a publisher who would like to review the novel.
By Patricia Barnhart
When I was a child in the late 1950s, the community I lived in was far removed from the world as it is today. It was true that polio was still rendering public swimming pools vacant and iron lungs occupied. But to its credit Paper Mate had just perfected the leak-free pen, “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry” was in the White House, and rock-n-roll, amidst a flurry of new and exciting words and beats, gave us kids a peek into what our parents considered sin. A little something for everybody.
The neighborhoods too were different. For one thing, they existed. Families lived in houses that were built, not from a standard book of blueprints, but from the ideas and financial abilities of those who would occupy them. There was no speculation, no flipping. Folks lovingly built or had built a structure, often unassuming, where they could raise a family, wash their Chevies on weekends, and as a matter of course, get to know the people next door. It was a handshake world back then. And it was in those times that I came of age. Even now I tend to see that summer through child-colored glasses, rather than the clear lenses of knowing that I put on for the first time that year.
There was, on our block, a house, cottage really, that had stood vacant for some time. The stigma of its previous tenant had rendered it suspect and therefore difficult to sell or even rent. The prevailing rumor was that the last occupant had been a witch. In whispered tones the speculation sprinted from eye of newt to a traditional familiar in the form of a sleek, black cat. I knew nothing of the former, but the latter, well, I had seen the feline companion of Jaydin, for that was her name, many times in the garden at the side of her cottage, twining itself around her legs and once leaping into her waiting arms. I did not know the woman; she belonged to the boys of the neighborhood. They adored her and left blossoms on her fence braces whenever they could. Wildflowers plucked from vacant lots or sometimes cosmos or snapdragons stolen from their mothers’ soil.
Jaydin had repaid the young men’s devotion with tales of enchantment and iced tea. If she removed the occasional wart or dispatched an especially nasty bully for her adoring followers, there really was no proof. It was the kind of fanciful tale that often exists on its own, with no basis in reality. Certainly, Wendell, reportedly one of the recipients of the white magic, never confirmed nor denied it. As for me, none of this was relevant. Growing up “girl” in the 50′s was enough of a challenge without adding the possible existence of witchery. I was occupied with carving out an identity for myself with parents who constantly said the sky was the limit, while living in a town where the prevailing expectations for women favored marriage, soap operas, and family. In that order.
My first glimpse of Ellen Gregory, the new occupant of the tainted cottage, was on a Sunday afternoon. A Bekins van had pulled up to the vacant house two down from ours. It was mid-June and the movers ferrying chairs and couches from curb to cottage had big loops of sweat stains under their arms. And right there, in amongst them, like a director in a play, arms fluttering, cautions being given, was a creature the likes of which our simplistic town had never seen. She was a bird of paradise in a flock of starlings, the lone orchid in a sea of dandelions. She was magnificent!
I was a polite child, taught never to pester, although I was always given full credence in my own home. I knew it might be considered intrusive, but I went anyway. I stood back, near the edge of the property, and watched as this woman, this vision of color and movement and surety, fairly vibrated with energy from mover to mover, from road to house, then back again. Her dress was calf-length, fuchsia in color, a cloud of light silk spilling, swirling about her. Around her neck she wore a chartreuse feather boa that took on a life of its own, trembling like the wings of small birds. Her shoes were not sensible — four inch stilettos the exact color of her neck piece. She glanced at me once, lifted her bangled hand, fluttered the fingers, then once again returned her attention to the furniture and her new house. I stayed there until the van drove away and the front door was closed. Then I went home.
The next day was Monday and since it was the first week of summer vacation, I was free. Just as there was a band of boys in our neighborhood — twelve and thirteen-year-olds — there was also a loose-knit bevy of girls, slightly younger and therefore rendered by age and gender uncool to hang out with except by others of their own kind. Wendell was the undeclared leader of the boys and my closest kid neighbor. At eleven I was on the cusp of an age-appropriate friendship with him. Sometimes we would speak over the back fence that separated our two homes. Most of the time, especially when his friends were over, Wendell ignored me. Monday was such a morning. No words came floating over the wooden partition even though I could hear him moving about in his yard, so I took myself down the road to a nearby creek where I was allowed to play unsupervised. The waters were shallow, barely covering the moss-slick rocks. Later in the season they would dry up entirely. There were no fish, just an occasional water skipper that could provide me with hours of intrigue. Those were simpler times.
I was joined mid-day by two of my friends, sisters from a block away. We splashed our way through another hour, then headed back for some lunch, our stream exploration having rendered us tired and hungry. It was then that I remembered our new neighbor and I asked my companions if they’d seen her yet. They had not. So it was decided to overshoot my driveway in favor of a quick peek to see if she was up and about. My description had intrigued them and my friends were as eager to catch sight of the newcomer as I.
And there she was. Sitting on her front porch in what was, no doubt, the only rattan chair for miles. Her costume, for from the beginning I thought of her as dressing for a daily part, was a light blue, made of some wonderful material I had never seen before. It draped itself, sleeveless, clinging, to her figure in soft folds. A pastel lightweight scarf just a shade darker circled her neck. And she said to us in a voice that both whispered and carried the distance, “Ladies, how kind of you to come visiting. May I offer you some of my shade and perhaps a soft drink?”
Up close she was just as exotic as her clothing, with bold, sculpted features, large dark eyes, dazzlingly auburn hair, full lips. Her eyebrows were tweezed and darkened, cheeks blushed tastefully with rouge. She was beautiful and she said her name was Ellen Gregory and she was glad to make our acquaintance.
When it came time to tell our names, my friends blurted out Jenny and Jackie Bowerman. As for me, I hated my name. I hesitated. Ellen tilted her head at me and waited. “Izette, ma’am,” I finally answered. “Oh, dear,” she said, frowning slightly. “You’re most definitely not an Izette! We’ll have to do something about that, won’t we?” To this day I can remember the heat in my face, the flames on my cheeks, the bone-deep shame of being saddled with an unlovely moniker dredged up from some old family genealogy. “No, no, no, that just won’t do.” She frowned slightly, placed a long, lacquered fingernail against her chin and tapped as she appraised me. “You have lovely skin, young lady, with just enough freckles to save you from great beauty. Great beauty, as I’m sure you know, is more trouble than it’s worth. No, you need a name that is just as pretty as you are, but unique.” Her eyes became unfocused as she thought, and as she thought, my friends and I were spellbound, caught up in the momentousness of the occasion. I was being reborn!
“I have it!” she announced. “A bit of your old name, for something that horrid must come from a depraved sense of family history and family should not be denied regardless of its insensitivity. Something old and something new. Izetta! See how that extra vowel adds a new dimension? Izetta has a lilt to it! And I don’t believe I’ve heard it before, so it is something we made up, and if that doesn’t make it special, I don’t know what does! So nice to meet you Jenny and Jackie and Izetta! My name is Ellen Gregory, but please, I feel we’re going to be great friends; call me Ellen.” I had been christened! And her dazzling smile was my confirmation.
From then on Izetta was who I was. I corrected everyone until my new name became second nature by dint of repetition and it was if I had never been anyone else. My parents, I’m sure, were amused but played the game as well. And they could not deny that with my sudden and unexpected new name, came a confidence that had not been there before. If I took to wearing scarves in homage to my mentor, well, it was just part of the transformation.
The days of summer lengthened then began to grow shorter. The heat stayed with us and my companions and I spent hours on Ellen’s front porch. Between frosty glasses of ginger ale and girl talk we did become friends with the odd woman in the tastefully outrageous attire. Shy at first, we learned to trust her with our questions about life, something of which she surely knew. Questions we could not ask our mothers, Ellen always answered. Honestly and without judgment. She treated us like the adult women we so desperately wanted to be. At the critical juncture of adolescence, our budding breasts, our roller coaster emotions, our unformed but forming selves cried out for nurture, for explanation. Ellen gave us what she could and she gave it with respect. She gave us pride in being young and female and it was a gift we treasured.
Our days would begin, often as not, at her front door and would end there too. In between was the creek, a back yard — my friends’ or mine, it didn’t matter. The bond that Jenny and her sister Jackie and I had before that summer was strengthened along with our developing sense of self. For the first time we were mistresses of our own universes and we had Ellen, she of the haute couture, the endless and varied neckwear and jewelry, to thank.
And thank her we did. We took to leaving stemmed flowers on her fence much like Wendell and his band of boys had left Jaydin. And I don’t doubt for a moment that we loved our patroness any less than they had loved theirs.
It was another Sunday. My parents and I were just getting back from church. There were two police cruisers at Ellen’s cottage, parked near her front gate, lights flashing. From the front door she emerged, flanked by two officers. She carried herself with dignity. When an officer pushed her into the back seat of one of the squad cars, her glorious, red hair fell to the curb. It was a wig. Her shining, sunset locks were not her own and she was revealed — bald, but unbowed. She reached down, grasped her hair, and with a quiet resolve that bordered on nobility, refitted the shocking blaze to her head. She looked up then, saw me watching, wiggled her fingers in what was to be a gesture of goodbye. As I stood there, the blue and red lights disappeared down our street, away from my neighborhood, and out of my life.
Her name was not Ellen, of course, but Allen — Allen Gregory Dupree. Ellen, for that is what I insist on calling her even to this day, was a person of infinite kindness who asked little but to be allowed to live her life as the gender she preferred rather than the one she had been born with. The endless scarves hid the lump in her throat, her Adam’s apple that would have given her away.
We heard later that a policeman from several towns over bragged to one of our own officers that they had run one of those cross-dressing, Nancy-boys, out of their community a couple of months previous. The description matched that of Ellen. Our officers and the local selectmen met and decided that in our town such an anomaly was not to be accepted. They used different words. Ellen was driven to the city limits and allowed to exit the car, to make her way to the next town and the next and the next in a kind of never ending search for tolerance. Later that same week, a Bekins van came and hauled away all of her possessions.
And so it was that a week later, I received in the mail a package addressed to Izetta Collins. When I opened it and searched through the gauzy paper, I found the chartreuse boa. I lifted it out and watched as the rustle of air once again turned it into a thousand tiny wings that flew on and on.
By Morgan Songi
My father was a keeper of secrets. For decades his anecdotes lay unquestioned and strewn throughout my memory. I was in my mid-thirties when I discovered that my mother had conspired in the secret keeping. Her Palmer Method penmanship records in black ink on a page of Our Baby’s Book”, — under the heading Congratulations Were Received From — “letter from grandfather Gordon,” the man my sisters and I were told had died when my father was a child.
Stunned by the knowledge of the lie and the fact that my grandfather was not only alive when I was born but had reached out to me through my parents, I began to see my father’s bits and pieces of stories as crumbs he left on a shadowy and tangled path.
“I had to go home through the woods at night,” my father said. “It sounded like something was right behind me and I’d run like a striped ape with his ass on fire until I hit the front door. It was darker than hell and when the owls said, ‘Whooo,’ I thought they were talking about me.”
In my imagination I heard the sound of an owl calling while a boy with my father’s blue- black hair and dark brown eyes ran north through a forest. Why north? I have no idea, but I knew what it was like to feel that something was gaining on me in the dark. On summer nights I’d leave the farm house to go into the pasture where I climbed into a haystack and lay on my back staring into the Milky Way river of stars that stretched in a wide band across the velvet black sky above me. When I climbed down from my fragrant nest and walked back to the house, I felt movement in the grass behind me and heard silky panther-like whispers in the air.
My father finished filling the burlap bag I held open and jammed his shovel into the pile of yellow-brown wheat looming behind him. He went to the barn door, wiped his forehead clear of sweat and pulled the cotton work gloves from his hands. His gaze was focused on a point in the distance as he looked out over the corral across the western Nebraska high plains. A red-winged blackbird chortled from the nearby shelter belt of chokecherry bushes, wild plum and thorn trees
“My old man died when I was six and my mother died a couple of years later.” He took a package of rolling papers and a small white bag from an overall pocket. He loosened the yellow drawstring at the top of the bag, pinched spicy scented tobacco between a forefinger and thumb and laid it down the middle of a rectangle of white paper.
I was fascinated by his hands. Pale as the belly of a fish in comparison to the suntanned bands of brown-black between the bottoms of his blue chambray shirt cuffs and the tops of his gloves, they were hands that I loved and that frightened me in equal measure.
He moved the fold of the paper up and down with his thumb until it formed a little tube. “Somebody took the youngest kids but Grace and I got sent to an orphanage. The nuns cracked my knuckles with a ruler until they bled. They made me kneel on broom handles. One of them —Sister Mary Cat Shit — said, ‘You may not be a Catholic when you leave here, but you will never be anything else.’”
He ran his tongue along one edge of the cigarette paper to seal it shut.
“She told me, ‘You’re never going to amount to a thing,’ and I said, ‘Hell, I’ll be eatin’ chicken when you’re eatin’ feathers.’”
He spit a stray flake of brown tobacco onto the ground.
“A guy used to come to the orphanage and take kids out to work for him. He helped me run away when I was thirteen.”
A late spring blizzard howled over the fields and pastures and around the old farm house. It snuck in the cracks between the weather stripping and the front door to pack snow against the doorframe. It whistled under the eaves and over the peak of the shed roof where the cows huddled together out of the wind.
A woman now with two children of my own, my mother dead two months, I sat again at the kitchen table with my father. He held a clear drinking glass filled with freshly popped corn. He poured milk from a pitcher into the glass and curved edges of white shell ears disappeared. Tiny yellow eyes winked out of milky depths.
“Something,” he said, “landed on the roof one night last week. I heard it walk the length of it, then across and back. Damned if I know what it was.”
He filled a soup spoon with milky popcorn and ate.
“My old man said there were things in the night that looked like skeletons. They jumped from tree to tree like monkeys.”
He took a long drink of milk.
I gripped the edges of my chair and listened to the wind. I thought about my warm house in Colorado. My husband working. My sons in school.
“He said they make clicking noises when they move. Like frozen thorn tree branches brushing up against each other in the wind. Guess it would be damned hard to tell what’s branches and what’s not.”
He bit his lower lip and locked his fingers around the glass. He tensed his shoulders and stared past me through the kitchen window into the darkness.
In my imagination, a boy ran beneath a thick canopy of trees. His heart — trapped in his throat — beating like a rabbit caught in a snare. The night air rattling with the sound of bones and rank with the hot dry breath of something not quite bear.
I never thought of my father as being afraid. But there were secrets. There had always been secrets.
Final judges have been chosen for the 2014 OWC Writing Contest.
Stevan Allred is the author of A Simplified Map of the Real World, his debut collection of short stories recently published by Forest Avenue Press.
He began working on the collection in 2004. “I knew early on that the stories would be linked, that I would set them all in the same small town, Renata, and that this would be my chance to build something like Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.”
The central theme is love – romantic, familial, gay, straight – and how love fails us, and yet we keep coming back for more.
Point-of-view characters from one story wander into others, and we see them through their own eyes as well as through the eyes of their neighbors, ex-wives, and children.
Ten of the 15 stories have been published by various literary journals and websites.
Stevan’s work has appeared in:
- Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life
- Clackamas Literary Review
- Bewildering Stories
- Second Writes
- The Text
- Mississippi Review
- Ilya’s Honey
- The Iconoclast
- I Wanna Be Sedated: Thirty Writers on Parenting Teenagers
- Beloit Fiction Journal
- The Organ,
- The Cereal Box Review
- The Gobshite Quarterly
- The Paumanok Review
- Berkeley Fiction Review
- Contemporary Haibun Online
- Lite: Baltimore’s Literary Newspaper
- The Portland Mercury
- Writers Northwest
- Northwest Writers Handbook 1995
- Stepfamily Advocate
- Portland Review
She has been in the publishing business 15 years, wearing multiple hats in the editorial/production process.
Her work has included working for Portland businesses such as Collectors Press, Beyond Words Publishing and Graphic Arts Books, as well as other houses and authors nationally and internationally.
A graduate of St. Cloud State and the MA publishing program at Emerson College, she is proof that a paid profession can come of an English and American Studies degree!
She founded her own small publishing house, Dame Rocket Press, in 2007 and released five titles in as many years, featuring female authors with equal parts talent and sass.
In fact, the second title was her own 10-year project, Give My Love to Everybody, a collection of WWII letters from a great-uncle killed in action.
She also spreads the good word through her work as the coordinator of WiPP (Women in Portland Publishing), a position she’s held since 2006. Its monthly gatherings are a just a slice of all the talented and passionate people who live in the Portland area — something Jen celebrates and strives to emulate daily.
Find this year’s contest rules and prizes on the Contests page.
Christine Finlayson was one of the featured debut authors at Left Coast Crime in Monterey. She got to hobnob with some famous mystery authors (including Sue Grafton, Louise Penny, Marcia Muller, and Jacqueline Winspear), give a 50-second-or-less pitch for “Tip of a Bone” at the New Authors Breakfast, and appear on a panel called Day at the Beach: Murder at the Seashore. Christine’s favorite part of the conference was connecting with other writers and mystery fans—plus watching the seals, sea lions, and otters in Monterey Bay.