October 2020-A chat between Robert Michael Pyle and Hal Calbom

Robert Michael Pyle is the author of more than 20 books, including Wintergreen, Sky Time in Gray’s River, Chasing Monarchs, and Where Bigfoot Walks. A Yale-trained ecologist, Guggenheim Fellow, and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, he lives in rural southwest Washington state.

About the book:

From The Tidewater Reach:

Robert Michael Pyles work transcends genre and region. His voyages seem migratory, like the butterflies he so loves. Yet, at the same time, he reveres a sense of place, and the intimate details of places. His collaboration with photographer Judy VanderMaten for their book, The Tidewater Reach, combines forty-four of Bob’s poems with color and black & white photos by Judy, all focused on the Lower Columbia River region, “the reach” where tidal salt water and fresh river water intermingle.

Film producer, educator and Emmy-award winning journalist Hal Calbom talked with Bob about his newest book. The following excerpts are from that discussion which appears in full in The Tidewater Reach, published by The Columbia River Reader Press, and used here with permission.

Bob: When I first envisioned The Tidewater Reach, I assumed my contribution would be in prose, like most of my books.

Hal: What changed your mind? What attracted you to poetry?

Bob: Over the last couple of years I’ve written and performed and published more and more poetry, and I came to realize its special attractions and capabilities. First of all is brevity. While many readers will pass by an essay because of the time it takes to read, they can enjoy any of these poems in a minute or two or a few.

Hal:  Ironic that poetry, which is thought to be so esoteric, would actually suit our notoriously short attention spans.

Bob: Oh, very much so. Instead of going on and on, you cut to the heart of the matter, and realize that concision is its own reward.

Hal: You also tell stories in your poems. They’re not just lyrics.

Bob: Certainly. Many of my poems are stories that relate to the readers’ own experience, and as such, are very accessible — definitely not esoteric. Still, why not tell them in conventional prose? Because the line breaks mean as much as the words themselves, indicating natural pauses and flow in the song; and the ability to take liberties with grammar or syntax in favor of narrative means that the poet can concentrate on bewitchment instead of mere structure….A good essay is a fine thing, but a good poem will stick to your ribs — and to the heart within.

Hal: Do the pictures lead the poems, or vice versa?

Bob: It’s an intricate relationship. Neither the pictures nor the poems can be said to “lead.” Certainly Judy and I were inspired by many of the same things, and I was directly inspired by some of the photographs…In our book the pictures and the poems are presented on an equal footing, to expand the reader / looker’s view of one another. We believe the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts.

Hal: What do you want people to take away from this latest piece of work, this pairing of words and pictures?

Bob: Both Judy and I love this river. We love its working parts, and we love how the people depend upon it, from the gillnetters to the writers and photographers, even the damned cruise ships. … Everybody who comes here knows the river is essential. They care for the river ­— or they certainly should! The river makes us feel like caring. And to feel like caring is a better way to live than to be oblivious.

Portions of these interviews originated in the Columbia River Reader, April 2018; April 2020. Interviews are edited for length and condensed for clarity, Copyright MMXX. Columbia  River Reader Press. Used with permission.

September 2020-A chat with northwest mystery writer Rick E. George

Rick E. George has been a sportswriter, a wildland firefighter, and an educator. He is the author of Vengeance Burns Hot, published by Unsolicited Press (2019) and Cooper’s Loot, published by The Wild Rose Press (2019.) His short fiction and poetry have been published in various literary magazines. He lives with his wife April in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State.

About the book:

It’s 1972, but the Neanderthal editors of reporter Bev Wikowski’s newspaper don’t have a clue. They’ve assigned her to the Women’s Pages and put her desk near the door so she can greet newsroom visitors. It’s a wonder they haven’t asked her to make the coffee. Then Bev meets a buddy of the infamous hijacker DB Cooper. Cooper has sent him to gather a posse to find and dig up the loot he buried in the Cascade Mountains. Would Bev like to join the group? Suddenly, Bev’s looking at the possibility of a front-page story in every newspaper in the nation—and maybe a Pulitzer Prize. The young widow leaves her four-year-old daughter with her parents, hides her work identity, and joins the group. But it doesn’t take long before an even bigger challenge demands every ounce of Bev’s strength: Survival.

From my interview with Rick:

1. How did you come to write a novel based on the DB Cooper mystery

People love real-life unsolved mysteries, especially when nothing is harmed except the bank accounts of the fabulously rich. DB Cooper, whoever he is, pulled off a daring feat and got away with it. In doing so, he spawned a small regiment of armchair detectives who still take great pleasure in advancing their theories about who the real DB Cooper was and what happened to him. It’s fun stuff.

2.  What aspects of Cooper’s Loot are true to what is known about the Cooper Hijacking?

I did a lot of research about the hijacking. The setting is quite feasible, as is the hullabaloo surrounding the event, the outlaw folk-hero mystique, the manner of cash Cooper made off with, and the societal conflicts of the Vietnam era. But mostly it’s a story about a young female reporter whose striving for professional respect prompts her to take a big risk that ends up placing her in a life-or-death predicament. I worked in the newspaper business around the time of the hijacking, and I saw first-hand how women were frequently denied meatier assignments and ushered instead toward feature writing and the Women’s Page.

3.  How does the story deviate from the facts?

Everything about the hijacking and getaway is true to the facts, but beyond that it’s a completely fictional story.

3. You’ve said your book was influenced by both Agatha Christie and by the John Huston film, “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” How so?

“The Treasure of Sierra Madre” begins in a bar, where they’re enticed by a tale of hidden gold. The characters make a pact—they’ll stay loyal through all privations in their quest to find it, but once they do find it, their commitment to each other turns out shakier than they thought. In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a group of strangers ends up stuck on an island, and one by one they meet a terrible demise. All these elements occur in Cooper’s Loot.

4. What’s the theme or message behind the story?

A current of feminism runs through the story—how women are demeaned and regarded as less capable than men. In her acclaimed essay, Chimamanda Adiche asserts, “We should all be feminists.” My story makes a case for why.

5. How would you describe your writing process?

I plan and write and cut and revise and change and write it all over again, compiling miniature novels of character journals, plot journals, and revision notes. I am fortunate to be part of a great critique group, and they’re not shy about telling me what isn’t working.

6. How long did it take to research and write the book?

One year.

7. How did Cooper’s Loot come to be published

It’s a traditionally published book. I pitched the novel to an editor from The Wild Rose Press at a Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference; she asked for the manuscript and liked it enough to take a chance on publishing it. 

8. What are you working on now?

I’m currently pitching a novel entitled Syrian Winter to literary agents. The elevator pitch: While trying to cope with their unexpected feelings for each other, a rookie FBI agent and his Arabic interpreter try to rescue Syrian refugees before they’re forced into a sex trafficking operation. I’m working on a sequel while I await the agents’ verdicts.

Copies of Cooper’s Loot ($19.44 paperback; $4.99 e-Book) and Vengeance Burns Hot ($17 paperback; $4.99 e-Book) are available wherever books are sold, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and ordering through your local bookstore.

August 2020-A Chat with mystery writer Jan Bono

Jan Bono is one of our most popular presenters at WordFest, her readings marked by her characteristic humor, verve and vivacity. Jan has lived on the SW Washington coast, just steps from Willapa Bay, since 1977. Oyster Spat is the fifth in her Sylvia Avery Mystery series. The Chicken Soup for the Soul series has published over 40 of her stories, putting her in their top five contributors world-wide. You can visit her at www.JanBonoBooks.com.

About the Book

The feud between Shallowwater Bay oystermen Brent Booi and Tom Diamond is decades old. Environmental issues, tideland ownership, and burrowing shrimp control are only a part of their ongoing disputes which escalate as time goes on.

When recent UW Marine Biologist grad Nautika Henry arrives, she enlists Sylvia Avery to help her find out what really happened to her missing father, while also working to save the oyster fishery from extinction.

Sylvia and Nautika uncover many long-standing secrets in the tiny burg of Willoopah. But must someone die before all the fences can be mended?

Your Sylvia Avery books are cozy mysteries. How would you describe this genre?

A cozy mystery contains no graphic violence, no obscene language, and no explicit sex scenes. It has an amateur sleuth who works with the police department in a small town, a quirky cast of characters, and plenty of humor. Cozies are light reading, lots of fun, and won’t disturb your sleep. Primarily for women, my mysteries have a surprisingly strong male following as well

Oyster Spat is the fifth book in the series. What’s the significance of the title?

Like all my titles, it’s a double entendre. A spat is a disagreement between people—in this case, two oystermen—and spat is also the tiny oyster seed that has set on an oyster shell ready to mature into a harvestable bivalve mollusk.

How has Sylvia developed over the course of writing these books?

The first five books all take place within a single year. I didn’t want my characters to age too much between books, so Sylvia hasn’t aged at all, and as far as how she has developed, I like to think she will forever be a cross between I Love Lucy and one of Charlie’s Angels. She’s smart, savvy, sexy, and silly all at the same time. In fact, SYLLEE is on her personalized license plate!

Each of your books is set on the SW Washington coast and offers a richly intimate view of the physical environment, the industries, people and culture around the Long Beach-Ilwaco area. In this book, you focus on the oyster industry. How did you gain knowledge about oysters and oystermen?

I am not a fan of raw oysters, and even the fried ones are not something I would willingly order. Smoked, on crackers, are just great, but that’s as far as my knowledge went until I dove into this book.

I’ve lived here almost 43 years, teaching history for the first 30 of those years, and learned much about the area through my own teaching, but I had no idea just how much I didn’t know until I started doing research for Oyster Spat.

I started by reading a very thick folder of local newspaper articles that I’d been saving. I also watched 7 short documentaries by Stony Point Pictures on oyster farming. Keith A. Cox, a former student of mine, was behind the documentation of this important native industry, and he did a fine job! Then I wrote pages of questions in order to interview another former student who, along with her husband, is now heading up the family oyster farm. I learned so much in the months I spent researching! For example, oysters are alive when you eat them raw. Dead oysters contain bacteria that are dangerous to humans–Did I mention that I don’t like raw oysters?

As a lifelong teacher as well as learner, I worked a great deal of that factual information into the book.

You are incredibly prolific, completing on average a new mystery each year. What is your writing process?

My books are calendar-driven. In January, I read whatever I’ve stashed into my folders on the main topic of the book and do whatever research I think I’ll need to sound like an expert. (Laughs) Then in February, I write a very thorough synopsis. In books 1-4, my synopses were about 22-24 single spaced pages. But in this book, I wrote a whopping 42-page summary to guide me through the chapters when I finally sat down to write. Normally, I start the actual writing sometime in March, but this year I had knee surgery, and I waited until I was off pain meds during the day to begin writing in earnest, so my first day at the keyboard was April 15. On June 1st, I was satisfied that most of the 71,000 words I’d written were pretty good. The synopsis makes the writing move right along, and you always know what’s coming next. Then I send it to 4 or 5 friends to proofread and critique. And after fixing the boo-boos, it goes to one more friend, a woman who is AMAZING, and she catches another 15-20 things the first five readers never found.

While they’re all reading the drafts, I’m writing the end pages, the back of the book blurb, taking a photo for the cover, and the author’s photo, and doing all the formatting. The printer takes about a month. In August I rest! Then for three months in the fall I sell my books at holiday bazaars and craft fairs. I take a December breather, and start all over again in January!

Do you ever diverge from your original outline?

Well, my characters always get the last word, and I have changed the ending of two of the books pretty dramatically from what I thought was going to happen, and even as to who “dunnit!”

How far out do you plan your series?

Originally, I planned 8 books. Then I thought this one, number five, just might be “it.” But my readers screamed bloody murder, so I started thinking “What if….” and now there’s going to be a sixth for sure, and after that, well…we’ll see.

What’s up next for Sylvia?

Without giving anything away, Sylvia is going to be spending some time in Maui early in Book 6. I love Lahaina, and know it well, and I thought maybe she might find something interesting to do there, too.  But rest assured, the bulk of the book, the mystery itself, is right back here on the Long Beach Peninsula, and she’ll be in the thick of getting it solved. Hint: I’m pretty sure someone she loves is going to be kidnapped.

How has this time of Covid-19 changed your marketing and sales of your books? Any marketing tips for other authors?

What a nightmare this virus is! My usual “Book Release Party” would be at a coffee shop, but not this year. I used the Peninsula Senior Center’s hallway to literally “channel” the readers in one door, past the book table, and out the other end so that we could maintain social distancing. And of course, we all wore masks.

Right now I’m looking into other similar venues, like the covered porch at an ice cream shop, and perhaps an open-air carport

The worst part is that this year most of my holiday bazaars and craft fairs are cancelled. Right now, there’s only two events on my calendar instead of 10 or 12, and those two will also be cancelled if their counties aren’t in Phase 4 by then.

I’m hoping to get some buzz going and maybe hook up with some local artists and participate in an art walk or studio tour. No doubt about it, this year will be tough to make ends meet. I printed 300 copies of Oyster Spat, but I also have about 200 of each of the first four mysteries, so I’m looking at 1100 books to move, and that’s not counting the first 8 story collections I wrote!

So, how can readers purchase copies of Oyster Spat and your other books in the series?

My website is www.JanBonoBooks.com , and I almost always get orders mailed out in a day or two. If you’re in the Long Beach area, give me a call, and I’ll meet you personally in most any open-air area. Someone once thought I was dealing drugs in the grocery store parking lot (Laughs) but I ended up using that idea in my book, so all’s well that ends well!

You can watch Jan’s November 2018 KLTV Book Chat interview here.

July 2020-A Chat with D. Randall Faro

Randy is a speaker, preacher, and lifetime worker with words. His experience in the killing fields of Vietnam and apartheid-gripped Namibia, his global travels in some two dozen countries, and decades of working for peace with justice in North America provide an experience-rich context for his first novel. He lives with his wife, Betsy, in Olympia, WA.

About the book

Jedediah Bazo’s early upbringing was with the Ndebele culture of Zimbabwe. After coming to the U.S. for education, he does a stint in the Marine Corps, goes to seminary, and ends up with a street ministry to marginalized people on Seattle’s south side. Seeing the ravages of child prostitution, Jed works to dismantle a west coast trafficking ring. His USMC skills combined with an expertise in martial arts serve him well as he confronts this raw evil. Encountering a richly developed cast of characters spanning three continents and five decades, the reader will come to champion Jed and to wrestle with the same ethical issues he does.

Randy was scheduled to read at the July WordFest before Covid-19 ended group events. Alan spoke with him about his novel.

How did you get the idea for this book?

Some of the seeds sprouted from my experiences both as a Marine in Vietnam and as a Lutheran pastor for forty years. My goal was to provide a good action novel, but one that also challenges readers to examine what are morally acceptable responses when faced with soul-destroying wickedness.

The book goes into the very grim and dark territory of human trafficking, especially of children. What prompted you to explore such dark aspects of the human soul?

To stimulate wrestling with ethical questions, I chose a context which any sane person would deem ultimate evil. Character development elucidates how or why anyone could ever perpetrate such horrific actions. The subject also provides a basis for Jedediah, a man of faith, to examine his own values in the face of the sexual exploitation of little girls.

How long did it take to write?

After years of thinking, research, and plotting the story line, it took eleven months, from striking the first keys to the last. I built a little writing shack in my yard and basically disappeared. But another year passed before publication as the manuscript was given to first-readers and then revised. And revised again.

What background or training did you have for writing a novel?

My qualification for writing the book was simply being a lifelong wordsmith and inveterate reader. I have had no formal training in writing, but having read zillions of books and spending a career as a preacher/teacher, I was determined to give it a shot. With this as my first novel, I wondered if I could do it and if I would enjoy it. The answer to both is an emphatic yes. I had more fun than I ever imagined . . . which continues with the sequel, Gunnar.

You write very authoritatively and affectionately about the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe. How are you familiar with their culture?

I have traveled repeatedly throughout southern Africa and met some Ndebele people. After choosing 1940s southern Rhodesia as the place for Jed’s early development, I then simply did extensive online research. My purpose was for Jed Bazo to be raised with the Ndebele values of courage and caring.

What was the process in getting the book published?

Everything I read encouraged self-publishing, so I formed Beartracks Press (www.beartrackspress.com). Siblings contributed to the proofreading and editing, and my son David turned the manuscript into digital and print formats for its availability at Amazon online.

How soon will the sequel be coming out?

Gunnar is in the making and will hopefully be available late this year or early 2021. The COVID-19 scourge is making on-the-ground research more challenging, but the internet helps a lot. There will be a “spoiler alert” at the beginning of the sequel because if it is read prior to Bazo, it will ruin some big surprises in the latter.

How are you marketing Bazo?

David has done professional marketing for another industry and is handling this for me. Our idea for marketing was to segment our potential audiences into the specific groups who the book might appeal to–the general book reading public, readers who identify with a religious faith, and the military–and then create marketing plans aimed at each group. We’ve created video interviews for my YouTube channel and have also created a Facebook page. We are attempting to build a large enough list of subscribers that we can begin a re-marketing campaign through larger media outlets. We are also compiling an email list of organizations, people, and institutions that we feel would have an interest in the themes in the book, and we are sending regular marketing emails to this list. We hope to spend the next few months generating a buzz that lights a fire.

You can watch Randy’s video interviews about the writing of his book and the issues it confronts on his Author’s YouTube Channel here.

Bazo is available at Amazon.com in paperback ($18) or as an e-Book ($4.99)

June 2020-A Chat with Joan Enders

Joan taught literature and research skills in middle and high school libraries for 28 years. She was a recipient of the American Library Association’s Frances Henne Award for library leadership. She is a FamilySearch online volunteer fielding questions from directors of  Family History Centers.   She enjoys “peeling the research onion” for students and adults. Joan speaks to professional organizations and at genealogy conferences

About the books:

Evidence is Lacking, Yet I Still Hope by Joan Enders (2018) $24.95

Joshua Henry Bates, a young teacher in a country school, wondered what he would do with his life. He enjoyed summers away from the farm, attending the University of Utah, dancing and watching pictures shows, and ice cream on bone dry summer days. In his journal he questioned his future. He found a young woman to love, then registered for service in the American Expeditionary Forces. Readers will review primary sources about Joshua, an everyman doughboy of World War I, including documents and photographs from his youth, his journal and Camp Lewis diary and many other materials about him.

Semper Fi: Idaho to Iwo Jima by Joan Enders (2020) $19.95

His mother called him “Sunshine Boy.” He played cowboy riding the goat, Jack, around their dry farm in Idaho, stalked lions (their dog Fritz) in the field, rode fine Arabian stick horses, and picked buttercups for the best mother in the world. He didn’t realize how poor they were until a city slicker pointed it out. Graduating from high school, Lee enlisted as a Marine. This interactive book includes Lee’s photographs, his own words, and documents for the reader-detective to patch together Lee’s story, experiencing World War II, Iwo Jima, and his life on the personal level it was lived.

Alan asked Joan about her books and their popularity among people interested in researching family histories.

How would you describe your two books?  

Thumbing through them, you would think they were scrapbooks. Semper Fi  and Evidence is Lacking are both “deconstructed” life stories of  young men serving their country. What was it like to be a World War I doughboy in the newly constructed Camp Lewis? We’ve all seen the photos of Marines on Iwo Jima, but what was it like to a private first class in the 27th Division? Both books include primary source materials (diaries, journals, photographs, official documents, newspaper clippings, written histories, etc.) that the reader-detective uses to form a historical narrative about the person. It requires that you read, sort, analyze, and research the sources to make sure the narrative is as exact as it can be, based on the material in the book.

How can the books be helpful to people who are interested in exploring their own family’s history?​

Family history use was not my initial goal for the books, but the reviewer and reader comments have consistently mentioned that reading and working with the books gave them the impetus to find the same kind of sources for their ancestors. 

What prompted you to create these books? 

The US History teachers at RA Long High School were in mourning over my impending retirement, and at conferences, teachers would tell me there was no way they or their librarians could create such a wealth of primary source materials to analyze, so I decided to produce the first book for them. I also created a teacher resource book, and offer teacher workshops and student debriefings online.

What are the similarities and differences between them? 

The formats of the books are the same. The artifacts and documents are in chronological order, and both subjects are honorable, accomplished men. W. Lee Robinson, the subject of the second book, is alive and well. A retired vice president of forestry for Fibre, he just turned 96 and is one of the most amazing persons I have met. He writes poetry for his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. He wrote his own life story from which I liberally quoted. Much of it is about Iwo Jima.

You volunteer with FamilySearch. What resources does the organization provide? 

Do you have a day?  They assist in Family Tree construction and archiving of family photographs, documents, stories, audio recordings, research materials in digital and book formats, and provide advice, assisted by more than 1000 volunteers. They also offer local Family History Centers where people can access help and online genealogy lessons and databases for free. 

You can learn more about Joan’s books and Family Search on her website at www.joanenders.com.