Portland authors

‘Pity Party’: This one’s for you

Portland writer Kathleen Lane and her smart new novel for middle schoolers turn the table on anxiety and use it to spark creativity

Can I ask something? Can I ask you to think of something? Can I ask you to think of a time you felt as though you were at war with your brain, a time you felt overwhelmed by your own thinking? Can you think of a time you felt this way? I know I can. I have struggled with mental illness throughout my life resulting in a number of diagnoses, therapists, medications and assorted treatment plans.

After reading Portland writer Kathleen Lane’s new middle-grade novel Pity Party, published in January by Little, Brown, I knew I was not alone. I knew there were other people out there with minds often riddled with stress and worry. Most importantly, I knew that the focus didn’t have to surround dissatisfaction with my own brain. 

Lane is also a nonprofit founder and program director, and all of her work centers on shifting the focus from what is wrong with us to what is right with us. Through her writing, her work with Create More, Fear Less (which helps kids combat fear and anxiety through creativity) and SHARE (in which gatherings of artists work in a single evening to create new pieces based on a shared prompt), Lane invites people of all ages to investigate their relationship with their minds. 

“Pity Party” author Kathleen Lane at her book launch. Photo courtesy the author.

Open Pity Party and you’ll find an invitation to the pity party. Right off the bat, Lane makes a point of letting readers know they are accepted and understood in all their wonderful wackiness within the worlds of the book. The book is separated into five parts linked together by the story of Katya and “The Voice,” which is the manifestation of Katya’s anxiety. Constantly filling her brain with what-ifs and reminders of danger, “The Voice” has kept Katya safe. However, it does so at the expense of Katya’s self-esteem until Katya stands up for herself.

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Bard to the bone: A Star (Wars) is born

Ian Doescher has built a mini-empire of modern pop stories retold in Shakespearean style. (Read through the history plays with him, online.)

Ian Doescher’s favorite Shakespeare line comes from Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 2. “If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.” I find this line most relatable in this moment as we all are forced to contend with matters out of our control. Sickness, political unrest, racial tension; while these forces are ever present in 2021, they are also ever present in Shakespeare’s work. In focusing on Shakespeare’s universality, verse and literary devices, Doescher has carved out a place for himself as the bard of reframing modern classics as poetic tales.

Portland author Ian Doescher: modern pop classics with a Shakespeare beat.

Since the beginning of his William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series of books in 2013, the Portland writer has been exploring this literary niche within a niche. Doescher has always loved writing, though his background is in music and theology (with a B.A. in music from Yale, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary and ordainment from the Presbyterian Church, this background is extensive). But he never thought he would find himself here. Academic writing, maybe. Pop culture as Shakespeare stories, no way.

What do you get when you combine rewatching the Star Wars trilogy, reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and taking a trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival? If you’re Doescher, you get William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. Ian is a prolific writer with work spanning the Star Wars Universe, Mean Girls, Back to the Future, Clueless, A Christmas Carol, Deadpool, and Frankenstein. He is also co-author,  with Jacopo della Quercia, of MacTrump: A Shakespearean Tragicomedy of the Trump Administration. In addition, he’s completed a four- part volume covering the complete Avengers series, coming out in July.  

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Graphic voices of Guantanamo

Portland writer Sarah Mirk's new illustrated book delves deep to tell the tales of lives in limbo at the prison built on the War on Terror

Forty prisoners of the “War on Terror” are still held in the United States prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Out of the 779 prisoners who’ve entered the military prison following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., they are the last ones left. Most of the others were released or transferred to other countries. A few died, having never left the prison. Some of these men were picked up off battlefields, or captured by intelligence officials. But most were turned in for lucrative bounties offered by the United States.

The 40 who remain exist in a dystopian legal limbo, not charged with a crime but unable to return home. The George W. Bush Administration insisted the Geneva Convention did not apply to these men, and over the years a confusing bureaucracy has sprung up that keeps them in this limbo. While protests against police brutality erupt nightly in cities across the U.S., those men go to bed unsure if they will ever be released. Portland writer Sarah Mirk’s new graphic book Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts From the World’s Most Infamous Prison asks us to consider the lives of those men who were released after years of imprisonment, and those who still remain.

The dilemmas of observing. Illustrator: Hazel Newlevant

Mirk might be best known for her work as a former online editor for Bitch Media and her reporting for The Portland Mercury. She now spends most of her time in comics, as an editor on The Nib and through publishing comic zines daily on her Instagram. In Guantanamo Voices she’s stepped back into the role of journalist, employing an international lineup of artists to bring her reporting to life.

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