A writer’s journey

In which our coast correspondent learns that the secret to publishing a novel is to never, never, never give up

Next fall will mark 20 years since we moved to the Oregon Coast. The years were some of the hardest of my life, but also the most gratifying. We came to the coast because we loved it. We’d discovered it while living in a small town in Southern Oregon that we abandoned nearly every weekend to camp by the beach. And even though we eventually moved on to Colorado, it was here that we wanted to one day land.

When the hubs got a job offer here, I didn’t see how we could say no. I was pretty sure a similar offer wouldn’t come anytime soon. But faced with leaving my job at the Rocky Mountain News, leaving my Denver friends, leaving all that a thriving city offers, this rugged landscape on the Pacific no longer seemed so enticing. Still, I believed if I wanted to focus on the writing that was important to me — fiction, creative nonfiction — I needed to go someplace where I could be quiet. I needed to take myself out of the race. As it turned out, I actually really liked that race.

Lori Tobias (right) is joined by Denver writer Sherry Spitsnaugle at the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver. Tobias’s novel, “Wander,” won the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction.

Nonetheless, here I was. Every morning, I’d rise at 5 and go to the office to write. But the words didn’t come. It seemed everything I’d learned in many writing workshops and classes had evaporated, simply disappeared from my brain. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. Still, whether the words came or not, the rule I’d made for myself was that I had to spend time in the chair.  

A little more than a year after moving to the coast, my brave new venture seemed doomed. Despite clinging to every bit of pithy advice and encouragement — including a ceramic piece from a friend that paraphrased Churchill: “Never, never, never give up” — I seemed to be getting nowhere. Reluctantly, I decided I wasn’t meant to write fiction. It was time to give up. I made the decision with a mix of sorrow and relief. It had been my dream from a very young age. But now at least I could move on, focus on the career I was building as a travel writer.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Outsmarting the Grinch

Stuck in an impeachment funk? Liberace, Liza, shape-note singing, and a whole lot of holiday shows to reset the mood.


IT’S BEEN SOMETHING OF A HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS WEEK across America. But if I can draw your attention away from the impeachment proceedings for a few minutes, let me gently remind you that it’s also a season of peace on Earth, good will toward men, and more holiday shows than you can shake a peppermint stick at. Ah, the traditions. Ah, the welcome rituals. Ah, the familiar faces of … Liberace and Liza Minnelli?

That’s the lively and somewhat tongue-in-cheek holiday duo arriving at CoHo Theatre for a limited run of A Very Liberace & Liza Christmas, a tribute cabaret starring the casino-lounge-smooth David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris. “The chemistry between the imagined pair gives off the sparks of a well-programmed Vegas act that’s being prepared for a television special,” Christa McIntyre wrote in an enthusiastic review for ArtsWatch three years ago. “Your foot will be tapping, and don’t expect the rest of you to remain idle in your seat.” The show gets four performances Dec. 26-29, and we’re giving you early warning in case it sells out, which it just might. Ring-a-ling ding. It’s a sequin thing.

David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris, bringing a bit of Liberace/Liza glamour to the holiday stage at CoHo Theatre. Photo: Mike Marchlewski 

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MusicWatch Weekly: Year end album guide

Get your healthy 78 minutes of listening with albums of modern classical, vintage pop, nouveau prog, Australian psych, and Portland Gothic

We recently came across a study showing that 78 minutes of music a day can have a positive impact on mental health. Now, this particular study wants to break it down into percentages and so on: yet another instance of the commercialized slicing and dicing that gave us the one-minute bible and endless “classical adagios” compilations. I say cancel all that noise and damn it to hell. Listen to what pleases you. Don’t make a goddamn recipe of it, reducing Glorious Music to a set of instructions. If you’re going to do that, you might as well buy one of Philip K. Dick’s Penfield Mood Organs and relax into navel-gazing oblivion.

Anyways, the main takeaway here is that curiously specific 78-minute block of time, which just happens to be pretty close to the exact length of a CD (remember CDs?)–and that’s probably no coincidence. Various other studies (start here) have shown that our brains prefer twenty-minute chunks of mental processing, and if you string four of those chunks together you get your basic symphony. Vinyl LPs (remember LPs?) followed the same flow format, their 20-minute sides strung together into 40-minute single albums and 80-minute double albums. Scale that back down and you get mini-albums and EPs. These usually these clock in at a brain-friendly 20-30 minutes, shorter than a full-length album but also distinctly more substantial and coherent than a mere collection of songs.

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The Artists Series: Writers, Part 2

Ten portraits in black and white by K.B. Dixon of Oregon writers who are making a mark in the world, with excerpts from their work


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


This is the second installment of portraits in The Artist Series. Like the first, it focuses on Oregon writers—the unusually gifted people who make up this state’s diverse and dynamic literary culture. 

The visual approach remains the same. It relies on an economy of means, on a simple alchemic mix of raw materials: time, light, and character.

My hope is to call attention to the uniquely rewarding work of these talented people, and, as always, to produce a good photograph—one that presents a feeling as well as a form, one that preserves for myself and others a faithful representation of the subject. 


FLOYD SKLOOT


Poet, novelist, memoirist, and science writer. Far West is his latest book of poetry.

“My brain is a jukebox stuffed with old songs

playing a phrase or two at random over

and over. I keep the volume turned low

but you can sometimes see my lips move

as I sing along, eyebrows rising as I reach

for a silent high note.”

Excerpt from the poem “Over and Over” in the collection Far West

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Coast calendar: Holiday shows, music — and whale-watching

It seems dark and stormy at the end of December, but upcoming events promise a lot of merry and bright

Things can get awfully quiet on the coast in late December. Black Friday has come and gone, the holiday visitors haven’t yet arrived, and dark and stormy nights are not the exception but something of a rule. Despite all that, there’s quite a bit going on. 

In Newport, Saturday is “The most wonderful night of the year…” as Red Octopus Theatre Company presents, one night only, The Christmas Show in the Performing Arts Center’s Alice Silverman Theatre.

This year’s performance features The Lutz Radio Theater Christmas Show (of 1947). The story line:  “It’s Christmas Eve 1947 and the final radio broadcast for station KMAS in Hollywood, California. After this, they’ll be converted to a television studio… and not everyone’s happy about it. When the writer throws a fit and the professional actors and musicians don’t arrive, the station workers must scramble to save the broadcast (after all, the show must go on!)” 

Hosted by the music-comedy duo The Tequila Mockingbirds, the Dec. 21 show is also a food drive for Food Share of Lincoln County. Attendees who donate two or more items of food receive a raffle ticket for a chance to win two tickets to Red Octopus Theatre Company’s four 2020 shows. The winner will be announced during the show and must be present to win. 

Get your tickets to the performance here.

DOWN THE STREET, THE NEWPORT VISUAL ARTS CENTER is hosting several shows, including Gourd Play, an exhibition by Newport-based artist Louise Hemphill, through Jan. 25 in the Coastal Oregon Visual Artists Showcase.

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Singing across the centuries

Excoriated musical Americana lives on with Portland Sacred Harp’s recent shape note singing convention

By DANIEL HEILA

I was running a bit late for my visit to Portland Sacred Harp’s Pacific Northwest Convention at the Laurelhurst Club. The parking options were few on Ankeny Street down along the bottom of Laurelhurst Park, but I found a tight space about a quarter mile up the street from the club and squeezed in. Lucky me, since the stroll down to the event was alongside giant evergreens, quiet pathways, and distant green swards where folks walked or jogged, caught up in the serenity of the place. I admit, I was timid about attending the event. I am a bit of an introvert, and, although I like to sing, I was not sure I wanted to put myself out there in a crowd of strangers.

I shouldn’t have worried. That crowd on this October day was nowhere to be found. Instead, inside the woody confines of the lodge ballroom (complete with crackling fireplace blaze) I found a familiar family of folkways enthusiasts. Someone’s grandpa greeted me at the doorway with a smile (there was a definite edge of interest at my unfamiliar face) and thrust a loaner copy of The Sacred Harp songbook into my empty hands. I filled out a name tag with the dorky tagline “Talk to me about Sacred Harp!”, slapped it on my lapel and headed into my foray.

The singers were on a break and milling about saying hello to friends and being introduced to new faces. Volunteers were going about their duties, one of which was preparing the long banquet table for the potluck lunch to come at noon. The comforting smells issuing from the kitchen piqued my appetite, and I sheepishly considered being late to my next appointment. A glance around the room revealed a demographic that I have considerable experience with via the New England contradancing scene: mostly 30-60ish men and women, a handful of seniors and people of color, a few brave teens and twenty‑somethings, and a marauding flock of tweens, tots, and rug rats of various sizes. I started to relax.

Portland Sacred Harp performed shape note music in October. Photo by Daniel Heila.
Portland Sacred Harp performed shape note music in October.

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Storm Large: from Deadly Sins to Holiday Ordeal

An interview with the star of Seven Deadly Sins, bringing her holiday show to the Schnitz tonight

Local singer-composer-writer Storm Large made a new fan this May. I can’t say I was a huge fan before her stellar performance of Kurt Weill’s creepy Seven Deadly Sins with the Oregon Symphony earlier this year. Her voice is magnificent, and as a performer she has impressively commanding charm, but genrewise the American Songbook sound she usually specializes in is simply not my cup of coffee. It’s all great, of course–I wouldn’t be telling you about her otherwise, and if it’s your cup of coffee you should definitely put on her terrific 2015 album Le Bonheur (or dip into the Pink Martini back catalogue, where you’ll find gems like 2013’s Get Happy). But the present author’s tastes always demand something musically a little nastier. Lucky us: that’s exactly what we got with Large’s Weill.

Our hometown orchestra–a well-balanced band with equal affection for Hadyn and Shostakovich–does a lot of work in the fertile in-between ground where pop and classical hang out to smoke weed. OSO’s Steven Hackman mashup concerts have been well-attended and enthusiastically received: peanut-butter-and-chocolate affairs that have been as much about Brahms and Tchaikovsky as they were about Radiohead and Drake (still waiting for the Bartók v. Björk show). And earlier this year, when the OSO decided to create a Creative Chair position for a living composer, they chose Gabriel Kahane–perhaps the most well-known pop-classical composer alive.

Seven Deadly Sins is another important step into that fertile ground–just playing the rebellious hybrid composer’s music at all is a fairly bold move, and hiring a local singer who’s not generally known for classical music is outright audacious. But the collaboration was a canny move: Large, who first sang the work with OSO in 2010, is hardly a nobody, and her devoted fan base showed up in force to hear her knock it out of the park and steal the whole fucking season.

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