An Interview with Vinnie Kinsella

Portland-based Vinnie Kinsella is an author and publications consultant with a long history of making books. It all began for him in the second grade, when he worked with his fellow students to write and illustrate a story about the adventures of an ice-cream-loving giraffe. Since then he has worked as a writer, editor, book designer, publisher, workshop presenter, and college instructor. He currently uses his broad knowledge of the publishing industry to assist and educate self-published authors and small presses. He is the author of A Little Bit of Advice for Self-Publishers.

His latest book, Fashionably Late: Gay, Bi, and Trans Men Who Came Out Later in Life, is an anthology offering an insightful look into the triumphs and struggles of coming out as gay, bi, or trans after years of living with a straight or cisgender identity.

EB: Welcome. Vinnie. Tell us about Fashionably Late.

VK: Thanks for having me! Fashionably Late is a nonfiction anthology that examines the lives of gay, bisexual, and transgender men who came out well into adulthood. It offers an honest look at both the triumphs and struggles men face when they choose to come out after decades of hiding their true sexual and gender identities. The stories in this collection explore a wide range of topics, including dating members of the same sex for the first time, conversion therapy, divorce, coming out to aging parents, and transitioning from female to male during middle age.

EB: What prompted you to take on this project?

VK: This book is rooted in my experience as a gay man who came out at thirty-four. At the time, I thought I was an anomaly, as most of my peers came out in their late teens or early twenties. After starting a social-support group for others like me, I discovered that I wasn’t as much of an anomaly as I thought I was. Since starting the group, I’ve met hundreds of men who came out well into adulthood, some even as late as their seventies. I was always on the lookout for resources for these men. As someone who takes comfort in books, I found it frustrating how few there were that spoke to the experiences of men like me and the ones in my group. I wanted to create a book that offers these men a chorus of voices to let them know they aren’t alone and to offer them affirmation. Essentially, I decided to create the book I wanted to read when I came out.

EB: What did you learn in the course of compiling and editing the material? What stood out for you?

VK: What stood out to me was how universal the emotional journey of coming out is. No matter what the circumstances are that lead a man to come out, and no matter what he is coming out as, it always boils down to him rejecting a narrative that says his otherness is something to be ashamed of. What I found fascinating in each story was learning what it was that brought the author to that point. No two men get to that point the same way, and an anthology underscores that reality more than a solo memoir does. It shows that there is no right way to come out—there’s just your way.

Another thing this anthology did for me was challenge my own concept of what in means to be out of the closet. Like most people, I saw it as an event. I had this idea that once I came out to everyone on my list of people I wanted to come out to, I was officially out. But it’s not that cut and dry. You can be out to family but not to coworkers, or out to friends and not to family. I also didn’t consider that you can come out of one type of closet and enter into another type of closet. This is addressed in some of the trans stories, where a trans man who is seen and treated as male now questions whether or not to disclose he was raised female. Through examining the concept of coming out from so many angles, I have concluded that coming out is a lifestyle, not an event. Every new person I meet, every new social group I become a part of, I am given the choice to come out or to keep my identity as a gay man hidden.

EB: How did you select the contributors?

VK: I did two rounds of submission calls. The first round was broad and resulted in a good base for the anthology. For the second round, I specified what topics I was looking for. There were topics I knew needed to be covered in the anthology that didn’t get covered in the first round, such as stories about men who found a way to remain friends with their wives after coming out. In addition to the two submission rounds, I also solicited a few stories directly from the authors.

EB: Fashionably Late is about men’s coming out stories? Do you have a sequel planned on women’s stories?

VK: Yes! It has been my intention from the start to approach this as a series. However, I won’t start work on a women’s edition until I find the right editor to work with, and that editor must be a woman. To do the book justice, I feel it’s important for me to take a behind-the-scenes role as series editor and let a woman step in as the volume’s editor.

EB: As an editor and book designer yourself, how did you like the process of putting the book together. Were that any issue that stood out for you?

VK: I always enjoy the process of making a book. If I didn’t, I would be in a lot of trouble career-wise! The editing and design processes didn’t differ all that much for me as when I work on someone else’s book. Since I try to approach each book I work on with the same care as I would my own, I didn’t really do anything different from what I normally do. That said, this was the most emotionally challenging book I’ve ever had to edit because I was so close to the content. There were several times I had to take a break from editing because an author’s experience resonated so deeply with my own that I had to just stop and process my feelings before I could move on. There was a bit of therapy through editing going on.

The part of the process that challenged me most was working to promote the book. I’m used to just handing a finished book off to the author or publisher and letting them do their own promotional work. Having to spend so much time coming up with strategies to promote the book and then doing the actual work of making the book visible pushed me out of my comfort zone. Like most authors, I would prefer to skip the promotional work and just hope the book will magically find its way to readers. But I know from years of working in the industry that it never happens that way. When it got to be too much for me, I would just step back and say, “Somewhere out there is a man who needs this book. He can’t find it if he’s never heard of it. I have to do all I can to make sure he hears about it.” When I could flip the switch from thinking of promotion as something that is self-centered (“Hey, look at me and my book!”) to something that is audience-centered (“Hey, here’s the book you are looking for!”), that put me in the right headspace to keep doing the work I needed to do.

EB: Were all of the contributors writers?

VK: Most of them were. And if you look at their bios, they have pretty impressive credentials. There was only one contributor who doesn’t call himself a writer, but he’s still a great storyteller. His was one of the stories I solicited. I heard him share it at two separate LGBTQ storytelling events, and I wanted it. I worked with him to take what he had written as a spoken story and tweak it for print.

EB: What was your role as an editor?

VK: My role as the editor was to first shape the anthology itself. I had to review every submission and decide which ones fit and which ones didn’t. After that, I went through each accepted story and performed a standard line edit, cleaning up any issues with the language and flagging areas where some added clarity from the author would be helpful. This was mostly asking authors to add a line or two that would define for readers a lesser-known term he used or to clarify his connection to another character in the story. After that, I passed the collection on to the proofreaders.

One editorial decision I made that was a bit different was to intentionally work with proofreaders who didn’t share any of the authors’ gender or sexual identities. I worked with straight, cisgender women whom I knew to be LGBTQ allies. In particular, I asked the lead proofreader to act as a stand-in for the book’s secondary audience: straight and cisgender friends and family of men coming out later in life. I gave her freedom to ask any questions she might have about the content as she worked. This is a bit abnormal, as proofreaders generally don’t focus on content. But I figured if she didn’t know what the content was saying, than it was a safe bet that others in my secondary audience wouldn’t either. Fortunately, she didn’t have many questions, but it was helpful to find out where things could be clarified a bit more for the sake of readers seeking to better understand a group of people they aren’t a part of. It was important for me from the onset that this book also serve as an educational tool for people wanting to be allies to their loved ones, so I took care to keep that audience in mind during the editing process.

EB: I know you recently had a launch. What has been the reaction to the book?

VK: The response has been amazing! I’ve already begun to receive emails and Facebook messages from recently out older men who discovered the book and wanted to share with me the impact it has had on them. I’ve also been thanked by straight readers who found it helpful for building empathy for these men. And as weird as it sounds to consider this as praise, I’ve had people tell me they had to stop reading the book in public because the content was moving them to tears. I understand that those tears are coming from a place of finding their own struggles reflected on the page, but it’s still a bit odd to have someone say, “This book made me cry,” and know it’s a complement. However, the feedback that has meant the most to me has been people saying that the book offers hope. That’s what I wanted it to do from the start.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with Fashionably Late.

VK: Thanks for having me! I hope your readers who choose the pick up the book enjoy it!

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An Interview with L L Templar, author of Rafer Thorne

L L Templar is the author of fantasy novels. She is a manga artist, a teacher and a master’s degree student, who lives in the northern California.

EB: Tell us about your collaboration on Rafer Thorne.

LT: There were a lot of us that merged our skills together to create Rafer. Eight of us were on the main team, but there many other students, parents and professionals that were involved. Our goal was to create the ultimate YA fantasy novel. So Young adults needed to be part of its creation. It also meant that it needed great illustrations and lots of them.

I was the main writer and artist, but the crafting of the story and additional art all came out of various imaginations, including high school kids. It was amazing how the illustrations and story grew with the different perspectives and talents.

Eliah, my co-author, was a graphic illustrator in the corporate world and added professional polish to the art, and she also used her zany imagination to write back stories, poetry and sequences to the manuscript. Some sections of the story we wrote together, sitting at the computer side by side. My husband, Gary, also an art student at SOU, illustrated creepy things like Blahtchuuk the Netherworld Imp, and imaginary animals like the enchanted mice, Eek and Tisk. Seventeen-year-old Victoria did the cover illustration and Fifteen-year-old Emily created a Manga, graphic novel sequence showing Kiyah the Elf’s battle with Gluuk the Goblin.

With all of us imagining the story and art together there was no limit to the depth of our story world. For example, we had long discussions on goblin insults. We wanted gross and morbid and brainstormed ideas together. The one I especially liked was, “Moldy pile of ogre vomit!” We created flying ships based on real engineering principles, and we dug into ancient Celtic mythology and dredged up Nahg the shapeshifter. Together we created imaginary beings, gnomes, goblins wizards, dryads and naiads, but also a very real world of teens struggling to survive as foster kids in a big city.

EB: How did the project get started?

LT: I began writing the story when I was a teenager, because I loved the fantasy genre. Years later when I was a language arts teacher for the Beaverton school district, my students motivated me to keep working on it. As part of a creative writing project, I asked my students, who were 13 and 14, what their ideal novel would be like. This is what they told me:

1. They liked Goblins, Elves. Dragons, wizards and magic. 2. But they also liked to have someone in the story that was a teenager that they could relate to, somebody like themselves so that they could imagine themselves in the story. 3. They liked an epic adventure— super heroes saving the world from dire evil. 4. They also liked pictures, lots of pictures. They especially loved Manga. (Manga is a style of illustration originating from Japan)

I could not find any one book like what they described, so I thought, “I can do this.”

EB: It’s a sci-fi fantasy set in 1976 San Francisco. Is that period interesting to young adult readers?

LT: What I found in talking to my students is that currently there is the same nostalgic fascination with the 1960s and 70s as there was in my generation with the 50s, which created the popularity of “Back to the Future” and “Happy Days.” The “Hippy era” is rich with culture – the flower children, the mingling of ethnic groups, the birth of rock ‘n roll, and the revival of a belief in magic. It was also a world in which teens were beginning to face the same issues that they are facing today; gangs, drugs, dysfunctional families and abandonment. It was the perfect setting for a magical adventure, but it was also where I grew up. I have been told by great writers, “write what you know.”

EB: What was the most challenging aspect of the project? And the most rewarding?

LT: The most challenging aspect was integrating the talents of various individuals, including teens. Being able to work together in a cohesive group and merge our abilities, while keeping conflict to a minimum was not easy.
However, the most rewarding aspect was the exact same thing. We did it! We accomplished something greater than any one of us could individually. Cooperative learning worked! A collaborative project model worked! The feeling of accomplishment for all of us when the first printed copy of the book arrived from the publisher was so exciting it’s hard to describe. I’ll never forget the reaction of 15-year-old Emily when she saw her art in print in a real book. She danced around the living room saying, “I’m a real artist!”

EB: What’s next in the series?

LT: Next is the second book in the series, Rafer Thorne II, The Staggering World, in which a group of teenage Halflings (half Fey and half human) including our hero Rafer travel through a porthole into the fairy world of Kynmahnduu. In this otherworld they continual the battle against the forces of the Void and their nemesis Sharh the Dragon Queen, who is seeking to invade Earth with her army of Goblins, Dragons and netherworld beings. We are also working on a series of extended edition e-books that are fully illustrated, in color, with interactive maps and animations.

EB: Tell us about some of your influences as a writer.

LT: My greatest influence was my dad, Tom Albright. He was a best-selling author and art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Because of him I was immersed in both creative writing and art from my earliest memories. I also spent a lot of time in the studio of his best friend, Bill Snyder a professor of art at UC Berkeley and a Disney artist. Consequently, I fell in love with the art of Disney. I started college in graphic design when I was just 14. Which meant I was only 17 when I got my first job as a graphic illustrator. I also published my first creative writing piece at that time. A gothic horror serial called The Chains of Evil.

Then I switched gears and went back to school to become a teacher. Here I would have to say that my greatest influences were my students. But it’s when I teamed up with Eliah Brave, a mom to three of my best and brightest students that I really begin to fly. She was a graphic illustrator and a book producer. We merged our talents to create a cooperative project that also included the talents of her teenaged kids, and Rafer Thorne was born. Since then other teens and students from the University have joined the team, like Zach Pearson who is an animator at SOU, and my husband Gary.

EB: Rafer is a 15-year-old boy. How did you go about capturing that voice?

LT: I began writing the book when I was a teen and although Rafer is the main character, the story is actually told by Grace, who was me when I was seventeen. I was very close to my brother Greg growing up and there is a lot of Greg in Rafer. That’s the main story line, however we also have a student author, Steven Trujillo, a Hispanic young adult, who is writing Rafer’s Journal. Excerpts from the Journal are scattered throughout the novel in Rafer’s voice. Steven approached me one day with a Rafer’s Journal page that he had written and said, “I am Rafer.” When I read what he had written and it so brilliantly fit the character, I said, “Wow, you really are!”

EB: What’s been the response to the book so far?

LT: Great. We have five stars on Amazon, we have book signings in local bookstores coming up, we’ve been on local TV, and we’ll be on a creative arts radio show in San Francisco. A major book store chain has also expressed an interest, which I’m working on right now. Getting seen by more people and in the bookstores is the next step in the process.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

LT: Thanks for having me on your blog.

You can see more of Rafer Thorne the authors’ blog here or website on the Rafer Thorne Facebook page on Twitter (@LLTemplar1) and Instagram (Rafer Thorne). Bookstore can order copies wholesale by emailing

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An interview with Dante Fumagalli

Dante Fumagalli is a senior at Southern Oregon University studying English and Art History. He is passionate about education, the arts, and accessibility.

EB: Tell us a little bit about your internship at MoMA.

DF: I interned with the education department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City from June 8 to August 12. My time was specifically split between Community and Access Programs; School and Teacher Programs; and Interpretation, Research, and Digital Learning.

EB: What sort of things did you do?

DF: Being split between three different departments, I ended up doing a lot of varying tasks. With Community and Access, I mostly helped facilitate programs. MoMA offers a wide variety of programs for people with disabilities and it was great to see the extent of how MoMA serves these populations. I also got to attend and help facilitate a professional development conference for teachers called Connecting Collections which is hosted by MoMA, The Met, and The Guggenheim. It was amazing being able to meet people from all of these different museums, in addition to teachers from around the world who came to New York to learn more about arts education. I got to develop a lesson plan for a gallery session centered on the essential question: How did artists in the 1960s make use of everyday objects to explore political, personal, and conceptual themes?

EB: What did you learn?

DF: I learned a lot about best practices in museum pedagogy. At Southern Oregon University, I’m a staff member and a docent at the Schneider Museum of Art. My general teaching style when leading groups through the museum was friendly, but also primarily didactic. At MoMA, they stress the importance of inquiry-based teaching strategies. Watching professional museum educators and going through the many training resources that the museum offers really has changed the way that I approach teaching in these spaces.

EB: How did the work complement or expand on your academic studies?

DF: When I was working on my lesson plan, I made use of a lot of the theory that I’ve learned in both my art history and literature classes. One piece in particular that I used was Black Girl’s Window by Betye Saar. I first was exposed to Saar’s work in a class I took called Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Art with SOU professor Jennifer Longshore. We discussed how her assemblage piece, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima used found objects to compose a comment on racist imagery in the United States. This was a great foundation for my work with Black Girl’s Window, which similarly uses found objects.

EB: What was the most interesting aspect of the internship? Any surprises or revelations?

DF: For me, the most interesting part was helping out with the program Meet Me at MoMA. It’s designed for people with Alzheimer’s and their caretakers. The framework for the program is hugely influential in Museum access worldwide, so it was incredible to see the program happen. Educators at MoMA are very patient and for this program they really extend their inquiry-based methods and bring out discussion amongst participants. At one point during the program, we visited a Roy Lichtenstein painting and one man who had been mostly silent the whole time became visibly excited and told us a story of how he had gone to school with Lichtenstein. It was really moving.

EB: How did you like New York?

DF: I loved New York, though it was very overwhelming at first. The day I arrived, after I picked up my bag, I just remember stepping outside of the terminal at La Guardia and trying to make sense of all the chaos that was going on ahead of me. And that was only in Queens! I lived in Belmont, a neighborhood in the Bronx right across from Fordham University which was nice but also meant that I had quite a commute. If anything, though, that commute motivated me to go out and see the city much more than I probably would have otherwise. I made a concerted effort to go see all sorts of sights after work. My MoMA ID also allowed me to attend other New York cultural institutions for free so I definitely tried to make the best of that. During my time I visited The Met, The Met Breur, The Studio Museum at Harlem, The Bronx Museum of Art, The Guggenheim, The Brooklyn Museum, and MoMA PS1. It’s crazy to me that with all of that, I still missed out on so many other things in such a crazy city.

I definitely want to come back after I graduate. I’ve been doing research on year-long museum education positions in the city and I’ve found that The Met, MoMA and The Brooklyn Museum all offer paid 12-month internships I’m going to be applying for. I found that once you get used to getting around this city, it’s easy to become attached. So many of the other interns I met shared this feeling with me; it definitely brought us closer.

EB: Any advice for other students thinking about internships?

DF: Don’t sell yourself short. You don’t have to be at a school like Harvard, Yale, or Columbia to get one a coveted internship in the professional world. While I was filling out my application, I nearly talked myself out of it. I thought there was no way that they were going to accept me, a student from a small school in Oregon who isn’t even an art history major, at one of the most well-known museums in the world. Even my first day, I still could hardly believe it. It didn’t help that the first person I met was working on his PhD in art history and here I was still in school. But I was able to contextualize the experiences I have had and relate them to the mission of MoMA in my application and in my interview. And I think that’s the most important thing when applying for jobs. You have to give yourself credit for what you have already done and see how that fits in where you’re applying.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

DF: Thank you! I appreciate getting the chance to reflect on and talk about my experience.

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Coming in October

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An Interview with Carole T. Beers

Writer Carole T. Beers is a descendant of Oregon Trail pioneers, who worked as a reporter and dance critic for the Seattle Times newspaper, where she won several awards and interview such celebrities such as Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, Clayton Moore, B.B. King, and Rudolph Nureyev.

She has a life-long love of writing and riding, and got her first horse and her first author autograph at eleven. After earning a B.A. in Journalism at University of Washington, she taught writing at a private school, wrote for romance and horse magazines, such as Modern Romance and Western Horseman, and began her career as reporter.

She also received a number of awards as horsewoman, including the 2012 American Paint Horse Association’s National Honor Roll Championship in Amateur Walk-Trot Horsemanship and Trail, and Reserve National Championship in Amateur Walk-Trot Western Pleasure.

Today Carole T. Beers still rides and writes. She pens mystery and adventure books and stories for adults and teens and her book Saddle Tramps combines two sassy women, show horses and crimes. She has also written a forthcoming novella, The Stone Horse, inspired by Zuni carvings of spirit animals, contributed to the collaborative mystery novel, Naked Came the Rogue, and has several projects in the works. We talked about her recently released Saddle Tramps.

EB: Tell us about Saddle Tramps.

CTB: The book is a fast and fun read set in the high-stakes western horse-show world — a world seldom if ever explored in fiction. In many ways it speaks of a New American West, where old traditions such as courage, honor, and connections to horses and the land are challenged by new yet strangely familiar crimes and passions. Retired reporter, Pepper Kane, aided by her Lakota-policeman lover, Sonny Chief, and her horsey buddies, tracks down the killer of a valuable stallion. And yes, there’s a gunfight at the end!

EB: Saddle Tramps is kind of a western but set in modern Gold Hill. How did you choose the setting and time period?

CTB: I write what I know. Both from my own heritage and history, but also what’s happening now. I wanted readers to experience some of the pride and other emotions I carry for the New West, which for me is in Oregon, Washington and California. And of course to learn something of this area — mainly the Rogue River Valley, first chronicled in Zane Grey novels of nearly a century ago. Tiny Gold Hill, where our heroine lives, is where in 1850 a five-pound nugget was found, launching the Oregon Gold Rush a year after the famous rush in California. I lived in Gold Hill once. The region is breathtakingly beautiful and truly Western flavored!

EB: You kill a horse at the very beginning. Did you worry that readers might be upset?

CTB: A bit. But I wanted to start the story with a bang, show its horse centeredness in a subdued yet compellng way, and then quickly get on with the crime-solving without offing a human. I’ve worked up to killing people in my present writing projects.

EB: I was fascinated with the description of the showhorse culture. Which characters were the most fun to write?

CTB: The heroine, naturally, but also her elusive but devilishly handsome lover, Sonny Chief. He is a traditional Lakota man, but also moves well through the modern world. Pepper’s buddies, such as her sassy best friend and dramatically inclined hairdresser, Freddie Uffenpinscher, additionally got me up and writing happy. Ditto that self-important, grizzly-bear sheriff who harasses Pepper for messing with his investigation!

EB: Pepper Kane is horsewoman and former journalist and so are you. Are you like Pepper?

CTB: There are several things an author and a lady shouldn’t tell (but sometimes does): Her age, how the book ends, and the names of real people who inspired certain characters. However, as I cannot sue myself. I confess that she and I share many qualities — with her name and some details changed to protect the guilty.

EB: You were also an award-winning journalist with the Seattle Times. What were some of the highlights of that experience?

Talking with and digging up facts about all manner of people, dead or alive, still stand as a cumulative highlight of my nearly forty-year newspaper career. I wrote news about lawbreakers and lawmakers. But mainly I wrote features, reviews and profile obituaries. I still feel privileged to have known leaders in the arts, business, politics, science, education and spiritual ways, as well as cowboys, cooks, test pilots, farmers, loggers, housewives and the homeless, I covered visits by Queen Elizabeth and Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well as by arts luminaries such as John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Peggy Lee, B.B. King, Frank Sinatra, Jr. and writer J.A. Jance. It is not so much the news from Microsoft, Boeing or the City of Seattle that I remember, but the people, and their sharing of deep and fascinating stories.

How has your work as a journalist informed your fiction writing?

CTB: I am not satisfied with presenting sketchy stories, settings or personalities. I am driven to go long, go deep, and bring out the hidden quirk or fact. Then deliver it with flow, cleanly and compellingly to readers. Make it so I’d want to read it. If I don’t care, why should they?

EB: You were also the dance critic, so I need to ask you this. How is dance like horse riding?

Both require centeredness, in-the-moment yet forward focus, ever-changing balance, an ability to isolate and use different muscle groups, attunement to one’s terrain (stage) and co-performer. In ballet, as in show riding, one is pulled up and out looking, yet oddly relaxed, Moving with purpose, conviction. Yes, I am a dancer. With a thousand-pound partner who speaks no English!

EB: What are you working on currently?

CTB: You mean besides marketing myself and Saddle Tramps? I recall you said one of your interview subjects said he was too busy being an author, to write! I am beginning to write a second Pepper Kane mystery, tentatively titled Final Cut, about the mysterious death of a leading horse judge at a world championship show in Texas. I’m also doing a rewrite of a young-adult novel, Hannah and the Mustangs, and readying several short stories for publication in short-story eZines.

EB: Tell us a little about your writing process.

CTB: Ideas and writing directions bubble in my brain just about 24/7. Sometimes I deal with them consciously, sometimes not. But when an idea for a character or situation keeps returning, I will jot a note. Mainly I write a bit every day, usually in the morning, when I and the day are fresh. From one to four hours, depending how it’s going. My best writing times are when the plot or character is at a critical point. Then I have to sit there tapping keys until it’s all resolved. The best inspiration, aside from reading authors you like, is write what YOU like!

Thanks for talking with us.

CTB: It was a great interview, Ed. Your questions cut to the heart of what we do, and make us think constructively about what we do. So we can maybe do it better.

Carole T. Beers’s Saddle Tramps is available at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, Oregon, and in print and eReader formats online.

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An Interview with Jason Gurley, author of Eleanor

photo by Rodrigo Moyses

Portland author Jason Gurley is the author of the novels Greatfall, The Man Who Ended the World, The Settlers, The Colonists, and the short story collection Deep Breath Hold Tight. His novel Eleanor was acquired by Crown Publishing in the U.S., HarperCollins in the U.K., and will be translated into Turkish, German, and Portuguese.
Gurley’s short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine and the anthologies, among them Loosed Upon the World and Help Fund My Robot Army!!!

On September 7, he will be reading at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland at 7 pm.

You can learn more about this work at

EB: Tell us a little about your background?

JG: I come from Alaska, and from Texas; I’ve spent half my life or more divided between those two very different homes. I started writing as a kid, but got serious about it in high school, when a very special writing teacher lit a fire under me. These days I spend just about all of my time in Portland, Oregon, with my family. By day I design software interfaces, and in the evenings or on weekends, I write stories.

EB: How did the idea for Eleanor come about?

JG: In retrospect, it’s far easier to understand what Eleanor was and where it came from, but at the time, it was quite mysterious to me. I was in my early twenties and returning from a holiday road trip to the Oregon coast, and in the wee early hours — when you’re driving in the pre-dawn hours, your mind wanders, you know — a very particular sentence came to me: For all of her life, Eleanor had been falling. That struck me as a nice line, and I knew nothing about this Eleanor character, so as I drove, I toyed with the line, building on it. And by the time I reached home — Reno, at the time — I had the rough shape of the story.
Looking back, however, it’s clear that Eleanor emerged from the things I was most struggling with in my life at that time. And while the novel that you’ve read is nothing like the novel it was then, there’s still a great deal of myself and my own fears and questions in this book.

EB: Is a psychological story but also about alternate realities but also a family story that features a fouteen-year old protagonist. Who is your ideal reader or audience?

JG: Oh, I think it’s me. I try my best not to think too much about a particular reader as I’m writing; I find that, for me, imagining the preferences or desires or tastes of the eventual audience will steer me away from writing something honest. I tend to write the weird little stories that capture my own imagination, and if there are people in the world who are interested in that, too, then it all shakes out just fine. I’m a rather emotional writer, too; if a scene wrecks me, I’m doing something right. And Eleanor wrecked me, many times over.

EB: Was it difficulty to write from the point of view of a fourteen-year-old girl?

You know, I’ve been asked many times why I chose to write from that particular point of view, but I’m not sure if anyone’s asked me if it was difficult to do so. That’s an interesting wrinkle. I suppose I’d say yes, because I’ve never been a fourteen-year-old girl, and I’m sure I missed quite a bit of the nuance that makes a young girl’s voice unique. But Eleanor’s also deeply curious, very quiet; she listens rather than speaks; she longs for a past that never quite belonged to her. I have many things in common with this character, and I hope those things come through with an honesty that brings her even more to life for a reader.

EB: I liked the way that the fantastical elements combined with the story of Eleanor’s family’s grief. Do you think that fantasy or just stories help us cope with the world?

JG: Absolutely. Perhaps more so in our youth, although the novel certainly throws that hypothesis out the window. Writing stories has always helped me in that regard, though I’m not always aware of it at the time. The women in this novel are at the mercy of consequences, with so little control over the events that set these repercussions in motion. I found it interesting to explore how their interior lives might blur the lines of reality and fantasy, to see if grief was something that might break down the boundaries between what’s real and what isn’t. But the other realities that surface in this book aren’t the same for everyone; some take comfort in it, while others are far more exposed and vulnerable.

EB: You wrote Eleanor over a long period with several breaks from it. Do you find it’s helpful to put a project aside and then come back to it fresh? Did it cause you to rethink the characters or plot?

JG: As I get older I find myself doing this more and more. I’ve been working on a new project since late 2014, and it seems to reveal itself to me in enormous waves. Now and then I have to put it aside and let myself think about it for a while, and inevitably, I’ll discover some little maneuver, some new facet that catches the light in a different way, and it will cause me to reconsider much of the book. That doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating; it can be. But it does seem to be part of my ill-defined process these days.

With Eleanor the periods away from the novel were both short and long, both intentional and un-. The novel took nearly fifteen years, but of course that wasn’t fifteen uninterrupted years of writing. There were false starts, entire drafts thrown away, diversions and detours. Those were as important as the writing time, in the end; in those gaps, I grew up, had more experiences, met and married my wife, became a father. All of those things informed the novel that Eleanor became, and I think it’s a far better book as a result.

Of course, I’d like to write my next book a little more quickly.

EB: You’ve released some of your previous books yourself and this time are trying Crown Publishing. How would you compare the two experiences?

JG: Both experiences have been so rewarding, in both different and similar ways. I self-published a novel, The Man Who Ended the World, in early 2013, and it was a revelation for me. At that point in my life, I’d been writing novels for about sixteen years — and aside from my family and a few friends, none of them had ever been read. That first step into self-publishing led me to readers, and that was utterly intoxicating and terrifying and wonderful. Some of those readers have stuck with me, which I’m grateful for.

Working with my editors at Crown, and watching a novel born into the world with the assistance of so many other people, has been a wild experience as well. There are things that, as a self-published author, I couldn’t easily achieve on my own — and yet my publisher accomplishes them with ease. I still get a charge when I walk into an unfamiliar bookstore and see my own novel on the shelf, usually a stone’s throw from David Guterson or Lev Grossman.

EB: Given the way, this book evolved, what do you think about the future of the publishing business and the ability of authors to work in different modes of publishing? Are things getting more flexible for authors?

JG: Oh, that certainly seems to be the case. There are more roads for authors to take than ever before, and I think that’s a good thing for authors, and mostly a good thing for readers. The volume of books that appear in the world each day has certainly increased; it’s both harder and easier to find something to read these days. Harder in the sense that there’s much more to sort through; easier in that there are far more people writing in narrow niches now than ever before, so readers with very particular tastes may find that they’re no longer limited to the one or two authors of whom they’d previously been aware. It’s certainly an interesting time for people who love books.

EB: What do you do when you are not writing books?

JG: I spend as much time as I can with my family. Recently, the majority of that time has been spent packing and unpacking, or making little changes to our new home. My happiest times are spent reading with my four-year-old daughter, or having tickle fights. And if I’m not doing that, I can usually be found in one of my few holy places: in a bookstore, at a ballgame, in a movie theater, or at a good diner, reading a book.

Any future projects you’d like to let folks know about?

JG: At the moment I’m working on a young adult novel, which is an exciting new adventure. I’ve got an idea for a collection of short stories, or perhaps a very weird novel, that I’ll indulge eventually. At any given moment I have one project on my plate, and about fifty attempting to distract me from writing it. If I can focus on one, I’m good.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. I really enjoyed Eleanor.

JG: It’s been my pleasure, Ed — thanks for having me, and for giving my book a chance!

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An Interview with Louis Sahagun, author of Master of the Mysteries

Louis Sahagun is a senior staff writer at the Los Angeles Times writing on issues ranging from religion, culture and the environment to crime, politics and water. He was on the team of Los Angeles Times writers that earned the Pulitzer Prize in public service for a series on Latinos in Southern California and the team that was a finalist in 2015 for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news. He is a CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California board member and the author of Master of the Mysteries: the Life of Manly Palmer Hall, which was recently issued in an expanded revised edition by Feral House Press.

You can hear Louis Sahagun speak in Ashland at Friday Wine and Words at Weisinger’s Winery, September 23, at 6 pm.

EB: I enjoyed your revised edition of Master of the Mysteries. I had only heard a little about Manly P. Hall before. Can you tell our readers a bit about him?

LS: Manly Palmer Hall – a huge avocado of a man, six feet four inches tall and wide in the center with piercing blue eyes and chiseled features – helped give birth to a vibrant subculture in California comprised of mystically-inclined artists, authors, entertainment industry and civic leaders who continue to have a profound influence on movies, television, music, books and art.

The 20th century’s most prolific writer on ancient philosophies, magic and mysticism, Hall authored hundreds of books and delivered more than 8,000 lectures—many of them from a throne-like chair at his Mayan-style headquarters in the Hollywood Hills. His works introduced people to obscure spiritual texts and symbols of the remote past at a time when Los Angeles was unfolding into a metropolis.

The arc of his life is a story worthy of Raymond Chandler. Hall, who never knew his father, was abandoned by his mother and never finished sixth grade, was 18 when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1919. A decade later, he was dazzling the rich and famous and counseling heads of church and state. Adherents referred to him as “Maestro” and “adept,” and whispered of his supernatural powers and membership in secret societies.

His death under bizarre and suspicious circumstances in 1990 triggered a Los Angeles Police Department homicide investigation. Investigators believe he was murdered by his apprentice and the case remains an open-ended Hollywood murder mystery.

The endurance of Hall’s works sets him apart from the thousands of other mystics and gurus who brought spiritualism to Los Angeles at the turn of the last century. His writings continue to sell steadily around the world.

EB: How did you get interested in his story?

LS: It all started with a phone call I took late on Sept. 2, 1990, while working night reporting duty at the Los Angeles Times. “Manly P. Hall, the greatest philosopher of our time, has died,” a tipster told me. “You better get an obituary ready.” I was immediately skeptical, of course, because the newsroom gets lots of phone calls like that late at night on weekends.

“Can you repeat that name?” I asked. “Manly P. Hall,” he said. “Spell it,” I said.

A few minutes later, I was in the paper’s morgue, sorting through hundreds of news clippings about the man dating back to the 1920s.

I was on a tight deadline and the paper had room for a 10-graph obituary. It began: “Manly Palmer Hall, an eclectic philosopher and founder of the Philosophical Research Society, has died at 89, the society reported Sunday. The peripatetic philosopher, who authored more than 200 books and gave more than 8,000 lectures—many of them from a throne-like chair at the society’s Los Angeles headquarters—died in his sleep Wednesday of natural causes, a spokesman said.”

I decided to write the book a few years later, after learning that suspicious circumstances surrounding Hall’s death had prompted a homicide investigation, and that the chief suspect was Daniel Fritz, the tipster who called The Times on Sept. 2, 1990.

EB: What was his book The Secret Teachings of All Ages?

LS: Hall was only 27 when he published his introduction to ancient symbols and secret traditions, An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy, also known as The Secret Teachings of All Ages and “the Big Book.”

Overnight, this immense book, which is filled with dream-like illustrations and uses Roman numerals instead of standard page numbers, ushered in a new era of appreciation for ancient religions and symbols and rocketed Hall into the national spotlight. Ninety years later, with more than a million copies sold, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, remains one of the most popular introductions to esoteric traditions.

EB: He wrote that in his twenties. How did he come about all the occult knowledge to do that?

LS: The occult knowledge in his so-called Big Book was gleaned from books he owned, borrowed, or had checked out from the Los Angeles Public Library. Beyond that, Hall, a self-taught writer with a photographic memory, was driven by a burning desire to explore lost and hidden traditions.

EB: Hall was a confidante of many Hollywood celebrities. Can you tell us a bit about some of them?

LS: Many actors and entertainment industry leaders were drawn to psychics and metaphysicians. In the late 1920s, for example, designer Natacha Rambova, an expert on metaphysical teachings and a friend of Hall’s, attended séances to communicate with the spirit of her late husband, the silent screen lover Valentino.

In 1938, Hall scripted an occult murder mystery for Warner Brothers titled When Were You Born? It starred his friend, actress and ardent astrologer Anna May Wong.

President Harry Truman had Hall’s books on his shelves. California Lt. Governor Goodwin Knight was a friend and a trustee of Hall’s society, and influential Los Angeles politician Sam Yorty touted him as a valued citizen. Movie stars Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lew Ayres and Gloria Swanson were close friends.

For horror film star Karloff, Hall developed a screenplay called Witch’s Sabbath, the tale of a robber baron in medieval times who sells his soul to the devil. For friend Lugosi, who was already bankrupt and 50 years old when his masterpiece Dracula was released in 1931, he researched and prepared movie proposals.

In 1940, Hall and Lugosi teamed up for a publicity gimmick to promote Lugosi’s fourth film with Karloff, Black Friday: A promotional film trailer purported to show Hall, with a nurse at his side, hypnotizing Lugosi for his small role in the movie.

On April 21, 1955, Hall accompanied Lugosi, then 72, to Los Angeles General Hospital, to kick his morphine habit. Lugosi told reporters that he had been addicted to the drug since he was wounded in World War I.

Lugosi entered Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, Calif. Three months later, he was released and married his fifth and last bride, Hope Linninger, in the living room of Hall’s home.

A little more than a year later, Lugosi was found dead in the bedroom of his Hollywood home, clinging to a script of what he had hoped would be his next movie, The Final Curtain.

EB: Hall’s death was mysterious also. How so?

LS: On Aug. 23, 1990, Hall, who was 89 at the time and showing signs of senility, signed documents that turned over his assets to his chief assistant Daniel Fritz, wedging out his second wife, Marie, and stepchildren who were to inherit everything, according to the last will and testament he had signed nearly two decades earlier.

At that time, Hall was receiving almost daily enema treatments from Fritz, a self-styled expert in alternative medicine. Fritz claimed he learned that particular enema technique from “ancient Essene documents” he’d discovered in the Vatican archives. He had borrowed tens of thousands of dollars from Hall to market an “Essene” enema gadget he called “Water Angel.”

Six days later, on Aug. 29, 1990, Fritz telephoned a local mortuary to report that his boss had died in bed at his home of natural causes.

The corpse collectors and the Halls’ family physician were horrified by what they saw in Hall’s bedroom. Hall’s body lay on a bed without a single wrinkle; thousands of ants streamed from his ears, nose and mouth. Fritz and his helpers were hauling Hall’s clothes and valuables from the home to his car.

The physician, growing increasingly suspicious, rescinded the death certificate he had signed a few hours earlier.

Today, Hall’s death certificate, which has been amended four times by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office since 1990, says he died of “suspicious circumstances, suspect foul play.”

In 2001, Fritz was diagnosed with adrenal cancer. He refused standard chemotherapy and tried to cure himself by ingesting enormous quantities of compounds that federal researchers say actually cause cancer.

Fritz died in a motel room bed in Reno, Calif., on Dec. 9, 2001.

EB: What’s the legacy of Manly P. Hall today?

LS: Hall introduced thousands of readers to sages and seers from Francis Bacon to Gandhi. Long before the Gnostic Gospels were translated into 21st-century bestsellers, Hall was promoting Gnostic beliefs as windows on the origins of Christianity. Before mainstream publications were touting doctors who incorporated a warm and friendly manner into their practice, Hall was urging physicians to also pay closer attention to their patients’ mental and spiritual well-being and offer a handclasp and a smile.

Before the advent of blockbuster movies with mythical settings such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, Hall co-scripted the first major picture with an astrological plotline and actively encouraged entertainment industry leaders to grow new markets by producing more movies and radio programs based on the spiritual visions and allegories of early civilizations in which, as he put it, “sorrow, suffering and loneliness are builders of character.”

These were not inconsiderable accomplishments for a high school dropout from a broken home in rural Canada.

EB: Your book is wonderfully illustrated with reproductions of Hall’s book covers, photos, programs for talks and lectures and more. How did you get access to all this material?

LS: This book is the product of 10 years of research. I relied heavily on his essays, books, memoirs and unpublished letters, as well as court records, testimonies and interviews with his widow, step-children, friends and associates around the world, homicide investigators and coroner’s officials.

I was given permission to reprint material from the archives at the Philosophical Research Society, which Hall founded in 1934. The striking portraits of Hall and his first wife, Fay, are from the William Mortensen Archives at the University of Arizona. Many other photos and images were provided by friends, business associates and relatives of Hall’s.

EB: What are you currently working on?

LS: I am a senior staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, specializing in coverage of environmental issues. I teach a course in environmental journalism. I am planning a new book: a modern history of the water wars between Owens Valley and the City of Los Angeles.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

LS: Thank for your interest. All best.

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An interview with Molly Best Tinsley, author of BEHIND THE WATERFALL

Award winning aurthor, Molly Best Tinsley taught on the civilian faculty at the United States Naval Academy for twenty years and is that institution’s first professor emerita. She is the author of My Life with Darwin (Houghton Mifflin) and Throwing Knives (Ohio State University Press), Broken Angels, Entering the Blue Stone. She has also co-authored the textbook The Creative Process (St. Martin’s) and the spy thriller Satan’s Chamber. Her work has earned two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sandstone Prize, and the Oregon Book Award.

Molly Best Tinsley lives in Oregon, where she divides her time between Ashland and Portland. We sat down to talk about her most recent book, the young adult novel, Behind the Waterfall.

EB: Tell us a little about Behind the Waterfall.

MT: Behind the waterfall that cascades down one side of Table Rock Mountain lies the threshold to the invisible realm of Thrae. Governed by Wedron (the Lord of Wonder), Thrae is Earth turned inside out. As a young woman, Agnes Eagleman inadvertently visited this realm before the novel begins, and as a consequence, she and her children, the twins Chetan and Nashota and their half-sister Shyla, have been on the move for over a decade. The story opens on the day the family has returned to the area, and as it unfolds, the kids learn what they have been running from. With the discovery comes a mission that drastically changes their lives.

EB: How did you get the idea for Behind the Waterfall?

MT: Behind the Waterfall began with a question/complaint from my eleven-year-old twin grandsons: Why aren’t there more books about twins? “I don’t know,” I told them, “but maybe we should write one.” Despite their reservations–they had lacrosse practice and trombone lessons and tons of homework–we began brainstorming right away and soon we had a rough idea of a story featuring twin brothers. But since we live on opposite sides of the country, progress was slow. There were big bursts of activity before, during, and after a visit, and then the manuscript simmered on a back burner until the next get-together.
Once we had maybe a third of the first draft, I took it along on a visit to their seven-year-old cousin, a girl, and read it to her. She had only one improvement to suggest: “These guys need a younger sister.” So I went back to the beginning and wrote Shyla into the narrative.

EB: Do your consultants want to follow in your footsteps and become writers?

MT: The real-life twins are now older than the fictional twins at the beginning of the story. Their chief preoccupations are things like taking college boards, passing their driver’s tests, and hanging out with friends. The model for their younger sister Shyla, now in middle school–is more into performance–music and acting.

EB: Was it difficult for you to write in a teen voice or for teens?

MT: Actually, my inner adolescent is very much alive, shuttling between hopeful wonder and cynicism. Teens are in the business of questioning the assumptions that grown-ups take for granted, and I think in general the teen voice borrows from the kid who blurted that the Emperor had no clothes. Shyla’s voice in Behind the Waterfall may not be on the cutting edge of the latest slang, but I think it conjures a precocious, astute observer of human nature.

EB: Are there particular matters of style or genre that work better in writing for young adults than for adults?

MT: Departures from realism are widely popular with teen readers. In fact, all the books my real-life collaborators mentioned as favorites had fantasy components, and that seemed to be the path we would follow. The real-life twins started us out with an idea: when the fictional twins turn fifteen, each discovers he has a special power. Soon after, the fictional twins learn of their mission, which will require them to use these powers.

I was soon an enthusiastic participant in the fantasy, conjuring a realm parallel to the earth of the five senses, or perhaps contained within it. Mix-ups between the realms generated comedy, and as is so often the case with fantasy and science fiction, the building of an alternate world becomes an opportunity to comment on the real one.

EB: What sorts of things did you read as a teen?

MT: In 7th grade, I devoured a series of baseball novels, modeled on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yes, it was that long ago! Then I graduated to mysteries, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner. Around the same time, my mother began insisting I read “the classics”–she plucked Wuthering Heights off the library shelf when I was 13. At some point when I was in high school, we acquired a set of the Harvard Classics bound in fake leather. I began plowing through those–diligently reading every word of some of those nineteenth century tomes and probably retaining only a tiny per cent.

EB: Will we see more of the Eaglemans?

MT: The three siblings are ready for their next adventure: I’m waiting for readers to make suggestions as to what form it might take.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

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The Language of Wine, a guest post by Sage Behan

Sage Behan is a 2016 graduate of SOU with a degree in English and Creative Writing.

Fran Lebowitz, an author and social critic, once said, “great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine.” While I’d rather not address the implications of her quote on this paper, Ms. Leibowitz has perfectly captured the over all sentiment of wine drinkers–specifically novice wine drinkers–towards the culture of wine, especially in America, where people simultaneously ridicule the snobby, elitist class of wine-consumers and also toss around the phrase “wine mom” and make jokes like “they say a glass of wine a day is good for you…the bottle is glass, right?” while picking up a box of Verdange at their local 7/11. For the average person–specifically, the average American–the world of wine is a world of exclusion, made so mostly by the language used by so-called “experts”. In fact, many novices feel that because they “cannot speak about its taste in a professional manner, [they] usually consider themselves as ‘not knowing anything about wine’” (Brochet & Dubourdieu 187). However, “wine language” is not some sacred, special patois that has been used across generations and around the world. Rather, the current way people talk about wine is a fairly recent phenomenon, and it may not be as exclusive as it first appears. Instead, it appears that “wine language” is just a tool for experiencing wine in a different way, and not actually necessary for appreciation of it.

Wine Vocabulary

Currently, the vocabulary of wine is as rich and full as any other jargon or parlance, with different groups of words for describing the over all taste of the wine, as well as various other traits, such as the volume, mouthfeel, weight, length, temperature, the region the wine originated from, the way it was made, the length of time it has aged or oxygenated, and so on. The most critical parts of the wine glossary are taste and smell descriptors, for which there seem to be a never-ending collection of ever-more creative terms including normal, useful words and phrases like “tannic”, “fruity” and “acidic”, as well as bizarre descriptors such as “dumb”, “crunchy”, “forthcoming”, and “foxy”. For the most part, however, the words used to describe the taste of wine can sufficiently describe a taste in a way that is not so bizarre it leaves drinkers wondering how in the world someone knew what foxes taste like. Many descriptors are also reflections of each other, in either a positive or negative way: “‘crisp’ is hedonic positive and is used instead of ‘acidic,’ even though the meanings of these words are very similar” (Brochet & Dubourdieu 193).

Adrienne Lehrer, author of Wine and Conversation asserts, “although we talk about the taste of wine, in fact what we perceive is a fusion of taste, smell, and texture” (Lehrer 6). As a result, many of the words used to describe wine do not fall under “flavor” type words (which tend to be types of foods, rather than tastes such as sweet or sour), but abstract ideas. Wine may be subtle, elegant, silky, or have a bite or a short finish.

While there exist a countless amount of words to describe wine, there are only a handful that tend to get tossed around most often, and of those, the words tend to get re-used between similar wines. Brochet and Dubourdieu explain, “when the taster speaks of a specific wine describing flavors, he or she mainly uses a series of words he or she has used previously for this category of wine and is not describing the specific wine” (Brochet & Dubourdieu 192). On top of that, many wine words fall under the same umbrella categories, according to Adrienne Lehrer, who writes “[wine vocabulary] is not just a list but rather a set of expressions that can be analyzed in terms of several dimensions. Many dimensions are interrelated, such as balance with acidity and sweetness” (Lehrer 18). While this means the descriptions of wines are less unique to the wine, it may, in fact, be a good thing: “if specific wines were described independently there would be many more word groups…” (Brochet & Dubourdieu 192). Instead, the vocabulary of wine is one of organization and specificity, and created to make the experience of wine drinking a little more inclusive.

Language Use

For the most part, the advent of a language specifically for wine is useful between wine experts, but also to bridge the gap between wine producers and the average consumer: “winemakers, professional critics, enologists, and amateurs have built a…vocabulary that they use to describe sensory properties of wine [which they use to] exchange sensory data among themselves and to analyze their information for other uses” (Brochet & Dubourdieu 187). Although there is a common misconception that the way experts talk about wine exists to make wine more inaccessible to the general public–especially in older variations of wine language, which involved referencing previous vintages a la “the 1978 Cheval Blanc is most like the ’72, though it has some characteristics of the ’68” (Gray) which don’t actually describe the wine at all–the fact is that “tasting notes also often accompany advertising documents or price lists… [and] are destined for the general public and should have a sense of the professional meaning of the wine vocabulary which should help individuals to appreciate the quality and the sensory values of a given wine” (Brochet & Dubourdieu 187). And while there may be some level of superiority in groups of wine experts, “experience has been shown to influence the use of wine tasting language which in turn affects the communicative value of the description” (Gawel 269). Because of this, it seems that as long as it’s done well, the language used to describe wines–especially with taste words that the average wine-drinker can identify, such as blackberry and chocolate–is meant to make the world of wine easier to navigate.

International Wine Linguistics

Despite the fact that wine vocabulary is extensive and intricate, the way wine is described–and thus, the taste of wine–is not necessarily an international experience. In old-world wine countries, wine is not described by taste or feeling of the wine, but by region or the experience of drinking the wine. While consuming a glass in France, “…the French drinker is thinking about the regions of Burgundy or Bordeaux” (Gray). One the other hand, French wine shares similarly metaphor-driven descriptions of wine with America, but in places like Italy, many people “may be bewildered by the adjective ‘big,’ which pops up in every American wine publication” (Gray). Italian wine drinkers are also more inclined to use what Americans would consider “negative” words like acidic or sour as a positive, or at least neutral description of a wine. Still in other countries, like China, where wine may not be a part of the traditional cuisine, wine isn’t described by taste, but by the mouth feel and the experience: “…it is important to talk about mouth feel, because Chinese people take that very seriously in food—so much so that they can describe mouth feel in ways that Americans have never even considered… you would want to use very specific words about how [wine] feels in the mouth” (Gray).

This means, writes W. Blake Gray, that “not only are we not speaking the same language; we may not even be having the same experience” (Gray). For those wine drinkers who see authentic and specific description of a wine as a sign of knowledge, this is bad news. However, for the rest of us, it certainly breaks down the barrier of exclusivity in the wine world.

The Wine Metaphor

Part of the reason American wine language is so difficult for novice wine drinkers to use is because of the metaphor included in the description of wines. According to Ernesto Suarez-Toste, author of Metaphor Inside the Wine Cellar: On the Ubiquity of Personification Schemas in Winespeak, “the incredibly wide range of aromas in wine is probably what attracts most neophytes to this beverage, but because the identification and naming of aromas in a wine is mainly a matter of experience and memory, the use of metaphors is particularly important in the description of a wine’s texture” (Suarez-Toste 54). Although there are a great many different individual flavor and texture words to describe the taste of wine–not to mention a whole wheel of adjectives classified in different ways to make the whole process easier– “if there is one inescapable schema in this context, that is surely anthropomorphic metaphor” (Suarez-Toste 54). Wine is often described metaphorically as a living organism, in the way metaphors of time are associated with money: “…we find that the combination… of alcohol, acids and tannin in a red wine is commonly labeled as its body and the tannins… supporting it as its backbone or spine” (Suarez-Toste 58). Further, “it is far from surprising to find different wine components referred to as its nose, palate, or legs…” (Suarez-Toste 58). Not only is there a whole anatomical schema in the language of wine– “big-bodied, robust, fleshy, backbone, sinewy, long-limbed, fat, flabby… lean, or disjointed”–there exists also “‘kinship’ relationships among wines (e.g. clone, pedigree, sister, mate, sibling or peer)” (Suarez-Toste 58). Ironically, before the current iteration of wine language, wine was occasionally described using comparisons to celebrities, such as “a famous one from a magazine called Wine X[:] ‘Tastes like Brad Pitt stepping out of the shower’” (Gray), so the theme of wine as alive doesn’t seem to be a new idea.


The language of wine is a vast, varied array of words and structures and ideas and metaphors. It exists as a tool, but occasionally acts as a hinderance in the average person’s understanding of wine culture. However, being able to speak fluently about the full-bodiedness of a wine, or it’s oak-barrel after-taste is not necessarily going to make one’s experience of drinking wine better than that of a person who proudly proclaims that a wine “tastes like wine”.

Works Cited

Brochet, Frédéric, and Denis Dubourdieu. “Wine descriptive language supports cognitive specificity of chemical senses”. Brain and Language 77.2 (2001): 187-196.

Gawel, Richard. “The use of language by trained and untrained experienced wine Tasters.” Journal of Sensory studies 12.4 (1997): 267-284.

Gray, W. Blake. “Tip of the Tongue: The Words We Use to Describe Wine “Changes” How It Tastes.” California. Cal Alumni Association UC Berkeley, Dec. 2011. Web.

Lehrer, Adrienne. “Talking About Wine.” Language 51.4 (1975): 901-23. JSTOR. Web. 8 May 2016.

Solomon, Gregg Eric Arn. “Psychology of Novice and Expert Wine Talk.” The American Journal of Psychology 103.4 (1990): 495-517. JSTOR. Web. 8 May 2016.

Suárez Toste, Ernesto. “Metaphor inside the wine cellar: On the ubiquity of personification schemas in winespeak.” Metaphorik. de 12.1 (2007): 53-64.

Teague, Lettie. “An Insider’s Guide to Weird Wine Words.” Wall Street Journal. 28 Dec. 2015. Web. 06 June 2016.

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An Interview with Josh Gross, author of THE FUNERAL PAPERS

Josh Gross, a southern Oregon native and Portland State alumnus, is a journalist, playwright and author of four books. His most recent book, a memoir called The Funeral Papers, is the story of Gross and his estranged father who died two years ago.

EB: Tell us a little about The Funeral Papers?

JG: My father and I didn’t really speak for the 15 years before he died. A major contributing factor to that was that I saw his self-identity as a writer as an excuse he used to not get a job or be a good parent. It might have been different if he’d ever produced anything. But it was a classic “those who talk don’t do, and those who do don’t talk,” situation. He talked about being a writer all the time, but never seemed to put pen to paper. So imagine my surprise when at his funeral I was given a manilla envelope of his collected works. It sort of threw everything I thought I knew about him, about us, into a tailspin. The Funeral Papers is a curated collection of his writing, my reactions to it, and postcards of our relationship and his passing that investigate how and why it all went sideways to see if there was another man beyond the one I thought I knew, and if forgiveness is even possible.

EB: What made you decide to write this memoir?

JG: It started as a journal entry about how weird his funeral was—and I say that as someone that has been to a funeral that turned into a dance party. It pretty much turned into an open mic, with accordion players, and stories about his time in the special forces with Elvis, and bizarre advice on grieving from his new age friends. It was as funny as it was intense. But while I was writing that I realized a couple things. 1. Since I was going to have to dig into his collected works anyhow, this would be a good means to cope with that process. 2. Since my failings as a child are myriad, and since he didn’t get any recognition in life, this might be a way to do something for him posthumously. 3. Cynically: the overly-honest, incredibly raw family memoir tends to sell well, and it was already half-written for me.

EB: You refer to this as a co-memoir. What do you think your father would say?

JG: Jeez. If I knew that, I probably wouldn’t have had to write this book. Hayo!

EB: Do you and your father share any literary influences?

JG: Not that I can tell. He gave me a lot of books, but it usually went badly because he was obsessed with grooming me to be a religious leader—but in really surreal ways. For example: he once got it in his head that I should read Lord of the Flies. Which sort of makes sense, since it’s generally required reading for high schoolers. Thing is, I was like, six at the time. So when I refused, he read it to me against my will. And when I was too horrified and uncomfortable to continue and started crying, he took me to the movie. In high school, he somehow acquired a really nice vintage Italian-imported bass guitar made by JG guitars (meaning my initials were built into the headstock in abalone, which was pretty sweet), and said I could have it for free, if I’d just read a book he wanted me to read. The book was called Autobiography of an Awakening, and though it was only 152 pages long, it took me three months to finish because it was so condescending and boring I literally fell asleep every four pages or so. At the end, I had to take a quiz. It remains, the worst book I’ve ever read. I would actually pay the cover price just to save someone else from it. Short version: Arnie really liked poetry and spirituality and I liked stories about robots—which in many ways is a succinct metaphor for our inability to connect.

EB: What do you want readers to take away from the book?

A desire for readers to try to see and understand their parents as people independent of them.

EB: A major component of Arnie’s personal history in the book is his involvement in the Sausalito Houseboat Community, both as a resident and columnist for the local paper. When you talk about the Sausalito houseboat wars (the decade-long legal and occasionally physical fight between the county and residents of the houseboat community over the legal status of their homes, a major event in Bay Area history), you describe Arnie as “one of the people who didn’t know he was in a fight.” Can you elaborate?

JG: I mean that the way he spoke and wrote about it treated it as a tall tale, as a caper, rather than as a choice between two paths, and that he could affect what which path was taken through his actions. He was quick to talk about the police raids, and the pranks, but never about organizing against the county in court or fighting back. Basically, it’s pretty clear in his first-person account of the Houseboat Wars (which I’ve included as an appendix in the book) that though he lived there for more than a decade, he viewed the conflict as an outsider, or as something that was happening around him, rather than something that he was a part of, and could influence. And because of that, he was never part of the victory. I think that in this age of gentrification, that’s an especially important element of the book to grasp.

EB: How did your family and your father’s friends react to the project?

JG: I don’t think any my father’s friends know about it yet, so I can’t say. But with this sort of nonfiction, you can’t worry too much about what other people might think because it can lead to self-censorship.

That said, if I were to speculate, I’m not sure they’d like it. For one: they didn’t experience Arnie the same way I did, so we have very different perspectives, and mine, is at times, quite caustic. For two: There are major cultural and generational conflicts that formed much of Arnie and I’s inability to connect, and they are as much a part of that as he is. For three: The biggest part of his writing that I cut from the final text was a collection of newspaper profiles of his friends, yet to his friends, those pieces would probably comprise the core of his writing, despite their being of no interest to anyone else.

EB: What have you got planned for your own funeral?

JG: I’d like animatronics and speakers to be installed in my body so that at the flip of a switch, my body will rise from my grave and say, “if I’m going out, then you’re all coming with me.” That’d be hilarious. Then karaoke. Basically, I’d want to Andy Kaufman the shit out of it. That would be a celebration of the way I like to live my life, just as much as his funeral was a celebration of the strange, confusing, and often wildly misleading way he liked to live his.

EB: What other projects have you got in the works?

JG: I run a small theater company and our next big production is my musical comedy adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. The script was written earlier this year, and I’m finishing up the music right now for a fall production. After that, we’ll be staging another script of mine, The Manifesto Monologues, a true-crime drama about three famous murderers. This summer I’m also probably going to start the script for the musical follow-up to the Cthulhu adaptation, Robopocalypse: The Musical, and either revisit the existing draft of another memoir I wrote about my time in youth prison, or novelize a sitcom pitch I wrote last year with a friend in the film industry.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

JG: No prob.

You can check out Josh Gross’s book trailer here:

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