Archive for the ‘You are what you read’ Category

Take my blogging course at C4 Academy

June 16, 2010

Hot off the presses: the C4 Academy downtown at Clockworks Cafe and Cultural Center just published its first-ever  Brochure of classes. Among the list of classes you’ll find there — all of which are free to the community in June and July — is a blogging basics course by yours truly.

A blog is just a vomitorium for navel-gazers and diarists with a penchant to overshare, right? Well, sometimes. Hundreds of millions of blogs have been launched. Very few survive in perpetuity (if that’s even possible).

This course is one for would-be writers interested in the blog form.

I’m not going to teach you how to set up a blog on WordPress or blogger in my class; it’s not really about the technical aspects of blogging. But I will teach you how to write a blog and craft a message through online media.

Blogging basics is for people with a story to tell, perhaps a product to sell,  looking for way to do it well.  I’m beta testing this course here in Salem before I pitch it to my colleagues at the University of Oregon, where I teach magazine writing, so you can bet it will be a step above your average free course.

Questions? Email me at Interest? I’ll see you there!

Update: Some have been asking when the course is taking place. I am offering the same intro course on June 21 and July 12 at 6:00 p.m. at Clockworks Cafe.


Statesman Journal’s Best Of’s – Where the Masses Get it Wrong

May 3, 2010

It’s that time of year again, folks. It’s time to furrow your brow and shake your fist and cluck incredulously at how the public in Salem so often gets many of its own Best-of’s wrong. Say what you will, James Surowiecki, about the Wisdom of Crowds, but there are areas in our lives where it really helps to have a real taste maker tell you where to go and what to eat, what to see and what to do. Otherwise you might just end up eating your Cheap Eats in the charming digs of Costco instead of at La Perla downtown.

Some categories of the Statesman Journal’s annual best-of’s are obviously spot-on. Word of Mouth wins Best Breakfast? Yeah, I’ll agree with that one.

But man, are there some hilarious entries and hilarious winners in this year’s poll.

Best Place to Give Birth:

1. Silverton Hospital
2. Salem Hospital
3. At-home with midwife

What’s number 4? In the the back of your Subaru on the way to the hospital? Under the rotunda at the State Capitol building? Spontaneously in line at Fred Meyer?

Best Hot Dog

1. Casey’s
2. Costco
3. Mt. Angel Sausage Co.

I love a hot dog, but does the hot dog really warrant its own category? A better bet would be best grilled cheese. Casey’s would win that, too.

Best Coffee Shop

1. Dutch Bros.
2. The Grind
3. Starbucks

Love me some Dutch Bros. on the way down to Eugene to work sometimes, but people people PLEASE!, Dutch Bros. is not a coffee shop, unless you consider sitting outside on a lawn chair next to the water feature a coffee shop experience. Best coffee shop is the Beanery downtown. Best coffee SHACK is Salem’s Latte.

Best Food Cart

1. Casey’s Cafe
2. Capitol Dog
3. Adam’s Rib Smokhouse

Do these restaurants really have food carts or are they just selling food cart food? Someone please enlighten me. Where are the Salem food carts? I know there are a few on Silverton, and there’s a Latino fruit cart that parks sometimes on Savage Road. Can we count Canby Asparagus Farms at the Chemeketa St. Farmer’s Market as being a food cart? If so, they win.

Best Bookstore

1. Borders
2. Book Bin
3. Tea Party Bookstore

I’m done talking about how much Borders sucks. But here’s a note in case you’ve forgotten. My friend and I meet often at Borders for our Bored Meetings. Can’t find a book there because they never have what I want or need. I heard they carry Twilight, though.

Best Adult-related Business

1. Santiam Wine Co.
2. Enigma Adult Toy Boutique
3. Eve’s Boutique

That’s not a best-of list, that’s a recipe for a kinky Saturday night!

Ah, best-of’s. You say so much about Salem. I’m nominating this mobile from our nursery for Best Sculpture AND Best Zoo.

Found Poetry: On Bringing Back Chickens

November 12, 2009


Sometimes I think my house has become this celestial dumping ground for Salem’s stories — all in service of making this blog a place  where Salem’s true character can come alive in fits and short starts.

Why else would someone have sent me this poem inspired by Salem’s ongoing chicken debate?  It was penned in black ink on the back of a “nike school innovation fund” pad of red-lined paper, and looks to be hand-written by a woman.

Also, it has these ridiculously cute line drawings of chickens pecking at specks of black feed. Yummy full stops about as big as a period at the end of the lines of poetry.

Check it out the text — it’s got an ABCB rhyming scheme and is fleshed out in four stanzas.


On Bringing Back Chickens to Salem

It takes me back to the good old days
when chickens ran the yard.
My cock would come out every morning
and stand up straight and hard.

And then from the top of the chicken coop
he’d wake you from your bed.
My cock was a friendly, neighborhood bird
who liked you to pet his head.

But everyone had a cock back then.
It was the regular thing to do.
People were happier with cocks all around,
and the hens seemed happier too.

We’d like to bring those old days back,
but the law’s put that dream to bed.
So we’ll be walking the same old dogs
and petting our pussies instead.

Did anyone else notice that this writer doesn’t seem to understand that the group advocating for chickens in Salem isn’t talking about bringing roosters back, just hens?

No matter. I guess hens don’t lend themselves very well to innuendo. Either way, I’m kind of shocked and besmirked by this gift from a stranger. And I kind of love the idea that there is this underground world of rhyming poetry inspired by Salem. Beats a slam poetry night any day of the week.

Zombies Welcome in Salem

November 2, 2009

EmilyZombie 003

Were you one of the estimated 1.597 million people in Salem who decided to go to Value Village last Saturday at 2:00 p.m. to see what the second-hand retailer had in stock for Halloween? I was. It was a mistake I won’t make again.

We were actually looking for some furniture, but got distracted by all of the 1960s loungewear and gold facepaint and all of the people walking around dressed like [insert favorite cartoon character here].

My ability to walk straight down an aisle of clothing is inversely proportional to the number of people in said aisle, so it wasn’t long before we threw up our hands in exasperation and screamed “Screw it!” let’s just find something at home.

And that’s how Adam ended up a Devil’s Advocate — easy, all you need is some horns and lawyer’s garb — and I made good on my promise to be a Zombie Emily Dickinson.

You know, a dead poet. They have societies for these things.

Sadly, no one at the Halloween party we attended recognized Ms. Dickinson, perhaps because she so staunchly refused to be a part of the public eye. Seriously, what did her diary read like?

Woke up this morning. Wore white. Wrote some poems.

The party guests did reconize me as that pus-spewing little girl from The Exorcist, though, so I walked around yelling obscenities and trying to make my head spin.


I’m still thinking about them.

I had a plan to write November’s Desperately Seeking Salem column about something kind of altruistic and Thanksgiving-y that I’ve been doing here in Salem, but I couldn’t help myself. Zombies are an image that fits well with what I see as the hunger for cultural products in Salem.

And I’ve been pretty excited to see what Salem’s Culture Shock Community Project has cooked up with zombies over the past month. Those guys deserve some recognition.

Their brains taste good.

Skipped Heartbeats Courtesy of Diana Gabaldon

October 6, 2009


The audience at the Salem Public Library fell into a hush when Diana Gabaldon took the stage in a purple, black and gold sequined cardigan yesterday to read from her latest novel from the Outlander series, An Echo in the Bone.

A fan had bought the sweater for her.

“Why did someone buy you a sweater with sperm on it?” her husband had asked her.

Gabaldon isn’t your ordinary novelist — she’s kind of like the Stephen King of historical fantasy romance.

And this wasn’t an ordinary reading. In fact, it was the raunchiest, sexiest, most stifled giggle-producing reading I think I’ve ever been to.

Gabaldon opened with the story of her launch as a writer — a lot like what I wrote of in the little preview I did for Salem Monthly — but she fleshed in that story with some very funny anecdotes and lots of talk of the compelling image of men in kilts, who feature prominently in her books.

“A German journalist once asked me: Why men in kilts?” she said. “I explained to him that it was the idea that you could be up against the wall with him in a minute.”

Judging by the crowd — many women aged 18-65 — it’s easy to see who she touches with her stories of a time-traveling 20th century nurse and her 18th century Scotsman husband, whom some have called “the most perfect man on earth.”

And then she read from the book itself.

She picked a sex scene.

Gabaldon stayed for an hour or so, answering questions about the fate of beloved characters, filling in details of plot sequences that have spanned seven books. And then she went out into the hall to wait for about 150 people to get their books signed.

It was a near-perfect book event. She even threw in a bawdy rhyme that got the gals hollering.

In days of old
When knights were bold
And condoms not invented
They strapped some socks
Around their cocks
And babies were prevented.

Who wouldn’t like to see more of these around town. Readings by great authors, I mean, you cheeky monkeys. Who wouldn’t like to hear more salacious Highland rhymes performed by hot women in their 50’s? These things aren’t always confined to the space between women and their books.

Diana Gabaldon reading at Salem Public Library

August 28, 2009

GabaldonJust got word that Diana Gabaldon, author of the fabulously successful “Outlander” series, will hold a free reading at the Salem Public Library on October 5 at 12:30 p.m.

The catch? Well, the mid-day event scheduling may pose a problem for some of you, but if a woman can be a 20th century time-traveling nurse married to a 17th century Scottish Highlander (the premise of her series), I’m pretty sure you can wrest some time away from your cubicle over lunch to sit at the feet of Ms. Gabaldon, probably the biggest-name author to read in Salem in a while.

Yes, the tickets are free. But the library will start doling them out at the reference desk beginning September 1, with a limit of four per customer.

Gabaldon first came on my radar when I was living in Germany, where her books are ubiquitous bestsellers and she is much more of a household name.

This new book, An Echo in the Bone — the seventh in the Outlander series out of nine planned — is a narrative juggling act of an epistolary novel. She’s got the usual: time-traveling wife, romance and conflict across centuries, cameos from historical figures. But she adds to the mix letters that tell the story of the wife’s parent’s love story.

Sounds like a wormhole to me. I’m game for climbing in.

Either way, I’m stoked for the event.

The Holy Grail already found in Oregon

August 19, 2009


If there is a book that one should absolutely not read while pregnant, chances are good that I have it stashed in my library rotation.

Deformed children?


Lost pregnancies?


Doom and gloom?

Most definitely, check.

Give me your destructive narratives your poorly protaganists, your no-win scenarios and I will be drawn to it like dry rot to your front porch. And though every pregnancy book I have read warns strongly against surrounding yourself with books that might bring you down (you’re depressing your baby, too!) I keep picking them up and holding them to my chest and snuggling with them before discovering the scenes and moments that make it oh so clear that this is not a book I should be reading at this moment in my life.

Indeed, my pregnancy canon is looking a little too much like Law & Order: SVU.

The worst book of all? Portland writer Brian Doyle‘s The Grail: A Year Ambling & Shambling through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wide World.

Yes, if you really want to make yourself feel bad about all that you are giving up by having kids, I suggest you read  Mr. Doyle’s frilly, funny, delightfully comprehensive book about the year he spent at Lange Estate Vineyards in the Red Hills.

Doyle’s style can take a little getting used to. After Thomas Mann and James Frey, he’s the world’s biggest fan of the run-on sentence (Check out that subtitle to his book! Even if the marketers are the ones who make up the titles, it is clearly inspired by his prose).

Also, his personality is all over the page. If you don’t go for cheeky writers who don’t take themselves too seriously (and like to see them interacting with serious people), it can grate a bit.

But by a few chapters in, I rather enjoyed sitting at the table with someone so clearly unafraid to take himself out of a story. And what a story it is.

Winemakers! Originally from Iowa! In Oregon! Making the best wine in the world! And doing it that oh-so-Oregonian way of complete commitment to craft without the rubbings of pretension.

Love it.

How unpretentious can they be,  you ask? Well, I’ve heard through the grapevine har har that quite a few of the main players at Lange haven’t even read the book (though they sell it in their tasting room).

And why would they, other than to get a great primer on pinot, a cultural history of the grape, an anthropological study of the winemaker’s persona, and captivating descriptions of vintages that they get to try every single day.

Man, I really need a drink.

I invite someone to take me out for a glass of Lange pinot in exactly 1.5 years.

Make that a bottle.

Finding a novel in Salem

August 18, 2009


I’ve been going back and forth over where I should set the novel I am working on. I’m still in the planning stages — writing out character sketches and scene sketches and charting the, hopefully, rip-roaring roller coaster of a plot that will leave millions and millions of readers turning pages until the wee hours. But the setting is giving me a hard time. It’s poking me in the forehead, it’s ripping off my sheets in the middle of the night, it is rousing me from my other work.

It is by all accounts a glorious little bugger that  won’t sit still and hasn’t gelled in any meaningful way.

See, I have a big problem. I have been thinking a lot about place over the past half year (obviously) and how place informs character, and much as I would like to set a novel in Salem, I haven’t found the right real-life locations to make the book gratifying. You know, toothy in the way that real places are, but fascinating enough to inspire some major  imaginative leaps (don’t tell me the fault could be my own, I’ve already gone there).

A note about the novel: It’s post-apocalyptic. That’s all I’m saying at this point.

So, a request. I am asking you to tell me about the greatest unsung places in Salem. The best dark alleys, the scariest chambers, the brightest spots, the most mysterious corners. With so many people out hailing Salem — and acting as the city’s PR agents — I’m getting a little bogged down in waves of “Salem’s an undiscovered gem” nonsense.  I’m convinced that people won’t think Salem’s interesting until it is shown to be interesting.

I’m going to try to do that.

By the way, get a load of this pic of Salem circa 1900. [Sigh]. Now that’s a city I can see being torn apart by the warring factions of the post-apocalypse!

How to save the book industry. Well maybe just the books.

July 3, 2009


If you walk through the entrance to Mission Mill Museum, veer past the information, steer clear of the gift shops, and wind your way to the northwestern most end of the facility, you will find Max Marbles, probably the most interesting person I have interviewed in Salem thus far.

My story on Max, called The Fixer, appears in the current issue of Salem Monthly.

Now, if you’ve been following the monthly since Editor Eric Howold took over in February, and since I started writing for them in March, then you might have noticed that I have been tearing up the WORD section, a back-of-the-book column about all things literary and bookish in Salem. So far I’ve covered:

Local romance writers on Obama

Reading therapy dogs

And I’m not done yet. A profile of Max Marbles — one of the nations’ premier bookbinders and local all-around intellectual nut and cool guy — is my latest attempt to discover if Salem has not, as I had feared when I moved here, a scrapbooking culture, but an actual book culture. Max is the local go-to-guy for salvaging those most precious books in our collections.

So far so good.

I have a couple of books I wouldn’t mind taking down to Max. There’s my baby book, which my mom left in the basement as it flooded, there’s my German university transcript that my husband spilled red wine all over (in Germany you have to keep track of these flimsy pieces of paper called “Scheins” in a more flimsy book, there is no central registrar…), there’s that copy of Spy Magazine: The Funny Years, which my friend Jason’s daughters scribbled all over.

But none of these books, have really earned their wings, as Marbles says, as a venerable object of time.

Maybe someday I’ll take him my munched on copy of Dr. Suess’s Yurtle the Turtle. I liked that book so much as a child, I used to eat it.

You are what you read: The Postman

June 25, 2009


If you can get past the Kevin Costner image on the front of most copies of  The Postman floating around in second-hand bookshops these days, it isn’t difficult to get swept away in David Brin’s images of a post-apocalyptic Willamette River Valley, in which men and women struggle to survive in a new world chaos where rogue factions  and peaceful communities fight to have their ideas for the future live on.

The Willamette River Valley has long seemed to me like an excellent place to wait out the post-apocalypse. My husband and I actually considered this fact before moving here. We had a map of the United States spread out before us and contemplated the possible cataclysmic events that could shape our future by attaching ourselves to the wrong geography.

Both being from agriculturally-based regions — Lancaster County, PA for me and Ames, IA for him — setting ourselves up in a food-producing region was paramount. And if you read this blog, you might wonder if I’ve already begun storing my calories away, squirrel-like, for just such a ground-shaking event.

Something about the ruggedness of Oregon’s landscape and the imagination and ingenuity of its best citizens strikes me as rich soil for planting post-apocalyptic narratives. Also, I’d feel well-inclined to band together with a group of people whose biggest laugh during Pixar’s Up came when the fat little Asian wilderness scout couldn’t pitch his tent (I’ve confirmed this, having seen Up twice).

But back to The Postman, which has all the hallmarks of great post-apocalyptic lit: the world after great tragedy, torn apart by competing ideologies for the future; a lone hero with a grip on reality, but who never loses his sense of hope; a culture that has moved backwards each year as generations lose access to education, rogue bandits whose survivalist motivations bring out the true evils in man; and limited pockets of technology that are never as helpful as humans might wish.

But the real subject of The Postman is the stories and lies we tell ourselves to get through the day.

Near the beginning, hero Gordon Krantz, a travelling storyteller and one-man theater troup — stumbles onto a dead postman and dons his uniform for warmth. But in this world, where men can’t expect to be allowed peacefully to enter new communities, the uniform serves a bigger purpose. He soon concocts a tale that he is an actual postal officer from the Restored United States of America — a lie that establishes himself as a trusted figure, bolsters the hopes of everyone he encounters, and sends the main events of the book spinning into disaster.

I’m not a huge fan of older science fiction, and some of The Postman grated on me. Specifically, Brin has this habit of writing through the perspective of the hero but also explaining what he is thinking through annoying italicized phrases that add little insight to the narrative. Brin does this a lot when Gordon encounters women, leaving me to believe that the hero responds to females like a nerdy 7th grade science-fair champion.

Also, I wouldn’t recommend getting too attached to anybody but Gordon, for the obvious reasons.

What Brin does best is create characters that move beyond type, and which act in a way that seems entirely plausible in this imagined world, which is based so much on the places we know.

If you’ve spent a lot of time in this valley, you’ll recognize some of the settings — in Eugene, Corvallis, Roseberg, Cottage Grove. Sadly, Salem — which I imagine sometimes as the setting for its own doomsday novel — only figures into one page of the book:

“Dena had pestered [Gordon] to bring along her own list of presents. Needles and thread, base-neutral soap, samples of that new line of semicotton underwear they had started weaving again up in Salem, just before the invasion.” – p. 219

But that line alone sent my mind wandering to underground underwear-weaving subcultures, perhaps founded by the little old ladies who weave outside of Max Marbles Book Bindery at the Mission Mill Museum, perhaps putting their “flags” on the Oregon Pioneer in a sign of hope…

Next on my journey through Post-Apocalyptic Oregon is William Stirling’s Dies the Fire, first in a series of newer novels also taking place in the Willamette River Valley. Anyone know of any more to add to my list?