An Interview with Amira Makansi, author of Literary Libations

Amira K. Makansi is the author of LITERARY LIBATIONS: What to Drink With What You Read. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago and spent her first few years out of college working in the vineyards in France.

With her mother Kristina Makansi and her sister Elena K. Makansi, she is the co-author of the dystopian SEEDS series, written under the pen name K. Makansi.

Amira is now a full-time writer based in Ashland and you can see her at book launch events at Bloomsbury Books on September 6 (7-8 PM) or at Irvine & Roberts Winery on Sept. 4 (5:30-7:30 PM).

Ed Battistella: I really enjoy Literary Libations—I virtually guzzled the book. How did you ever come up with the idea for a book pairing great literature and good drinking?

Amira Makansi: While I was working at a California winery called Peachy Canyon, I spent a lot of time climbing around in barrel stacks for days on end. It was mindless, solitary work that left plenty of time for thinking. During one of these periods, I started brainstorming what wine styles I would drink with certain genres of literature. Rosé with romance novels, for instance. Petite Sirah with thriller and suspense novels. It occurred to me that this concept would make a great blog post, so when I got home, I jotted it down. The post went live the next day, and I got a really positive response from my readers. A day later, my dad called me and said, “Amira, that post was funny. Have you considered writing more pairings like that?” It was then that the idea of one day turning it into a fully-fledged book materialized, and voila, the seed took root.

EB: How did you choose the books to include? You’ve got a lot of my favorite books and some really intriguing pairings.

AM: I could spend hours answering this question, because there’s a myriad of different reasons why each book was included. But the basics are: I wanted to have something for everybody, which meant touching on many different genres. I wanted to have roughly the same number of books in each genre. And I wanted to include women and writers of color where possible. After that, I just had to fill out each genre. I did have a few rules: 1. No books by the same author. (Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky are the only exceptions.) 2. No books published within the last ten years. (Again, there were a few exceptions—I think the most recent book I included was published in 2011.) 3. The book had to be both well-read and well-known within the genre.

EB: I was nodding in agreement with the pairing of The Metamorphosis with absinthe and the pairings for The Fellowship of the Ring, Cider House Rules, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Dracula, The Shining, and many more. By some took me by surprise. How did you happen to come by the pairing of A Confederacy of Dunces with Budweiser? That seemed so right, and sad at the same time. But I was also intrigued by the pairing of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Oregon Chardonnay. Can you elaborate on those two?

AM: Oh, yeah! I love those two pairings. In fact, I’ll be discussing the pairing of Lady Chatterly at the book launch party at Irvine & Roberts on September 4. (Which anyone and everyone is welcome to come to, by the way!) When I think of A Confederacy of Dunces, I think of quintessential, old-school Americana. I also think of hot dogs, because we all know how Ignatius loves his hot dogs. (The scene where he eats all the hot dogs at the stand he’s working is one of my favorites.) From a personal perspective, hot dogs make me think of baseball, and baseball makes me think of cheap American beer. They’re all intertwined. I like to imagine Ignatius on the streets of NOLA somewhere with a hot dog and a bottle of Budweiser in hand.

As for Lady Chatterley, that book is so seductive, so subtle, so intricate. There are layers of power—the dynamic between men and women, between the aristocracy and the working class, between the opening doors of sexuality and the cloistered Victorian attitude. To me, Oregon Chardonnay represents all those layers. A tug in one direction, an opening in another. Conflict, power, and balance. California Chardonnay, by and large, is a little too voluptuous to fit these needs. And Burgundy, by contrast, is often quite austere. We need something in the middle—something with tension, precision, and sexuality—to meet Lady Chatterley. That’s where Oregon Chard comes in.

EB: What was the toughest book to pair?

AM: Oh, man. There were some that were really challenging. By and large, the classics sections were pretty straightforward. I finished those first. By contrast, I agonized over Infinite Jest. I really wanted to get that one right, because I love the book, but it’s so massive. How can you come up with one single drink to fit that book? That’s why I ended up with Pinot Noir, in the end—because it, too, is so versatile, so adaptable. (At least in the glass—out on the vine is a different matter!) Brave New World was tough. I’m still not sure I got that one right. The pairing works, but could it be better? Absolutely. I think the hardest pairing in the book was The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. It didn’t open itself in any clear way. It’s so foreign, so speculative, that there wasn’t much connection with our world, no easy way for me to link it to something drinks-related in our universe. I’m pleased with the pairing I chose, but that one could go in so many different directions.

EB: I imagine you’ve read all the books, but have you tried all the drinks? Or do you have a team of drinkers working for you?

AM: Actually, it’s the reverse! I haven’t read all the books (at least not cover-to-cover), but I’ve had almost all the drinks. I’d read, I think, a third of the books I selected for inclusion prior to starting work on Literary Libations. The ones I hadn’t read, I checked out from the Ashland library (thank you, librarians!), but I was operating on a relatively short deadline, so I didn’t have the opportunity to read them all. I made sure to read the first fifty pages, and then, depending how hooked I was, I either finished the book or skimmed the rest.

But the drinks—I’ve had a lot of drinks in my life. I’m the kind of person who likes to experiment, so I’m always trying new things. Not to mention I’ve been working in food and beverage since I got out of college. (That’s nine years now.) There are a few drinks I haven’t had, though: Mamajuana is one, and baijiu is another. I haven’t ever tried recioto della Valpolicella, which is the pairing for Romeo and Juliet. But it sounds amazing. And I haven’t ever had a blue cosmopolitan, which goes with Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I hope to never have a Knifey Moloko (A Clockwork Orange) or a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) Both of those sound terrible!

EB: There were some drinks I had never heard of, like the Corpse Reviver and the Olive Oil Martini and Mamajuana. How did you find all these? Do you have a favorite? And thanks for the various recipes! Now I can make Butterbeer.

AM: I would say my favorite discovery from the writing process was the Olive Oil Martini. That drink is amazing! It’s astonishing how the addition of something so simple like olive oil can change a classic cocktail so dramatically. I’m not a martini drinker, but those few drops of olive oil change everything for me. But like I said above, I like to experiment. My favorites change yearly, even monthly. These days, when it comes to wine, I’ve been in love with dessert wines: eiswein, Sauternes, tawny port. A whiskey sour with lime and egg white is my standby cocktail. And on the beer side, I’m still on the roller coaster of sour beers.

EB: Reading the way you describe wines and beers and the way you describe prose, I am beginning to think the language used has some intriguing parallels. What do you think?

AM: Absolutely. That’s quite intentional. I’ve spent most of my career in wine, from restaurants to distribution to production. And I think one of the barriers to understanding wine—one of the most misunderstood things in the world—is that folks are afraid they’re not using the right language, the right words to describe what they’re experiencing. The corollary to that is a pretentious insistence on using only proper language. I want to break away from that. In Literary Libations, and in general, I try to use emotive, evocative language to describe sensory experiences, because sensory experiences are deeply emotional. We form deeper memories when they’re associated with a strong scent or taste, whether pleasant or unpleasant. And emotions are very sensory. Vivid memories are often accompanied by strong scents, flavors, or sounds. And that’s another part of the reason why I think books and drinks go so well together: when the flavors complement the reading experience, your experience of both the book and the drink becomes so much deeper.

EB: You covered the literary canon and then some, from the classics to mystery, fantasy, scifi and young adult, but of course you couldn’t mention everything. But I’m wondering, just off the top of your head, what would you pair with The Oxford English Dictionary?

AM: Off the top of my head? Beer fermented with wild yeasts; sour beer. Language is a wild thing, constantly growing and evolving in ways we can’t predict. So are yeasts. I’m sure brewers and dictionary-writers could spend a fair bit of time chatting about the pleasures and challenges of cataloging and utilizing a thing that is so diverse and unpredictable. And I, for one, would like to be drinking something that celebrates that diversity while reading through the dictionary.

EB: Tell us a little about your background and other interests. Have you always been a writer?

AM: In some ways, yes; in others, no. I was a writer when, at nine years old, I penned a thirty-page handwritten (in glittery green gel pen) fanfiction of Brian Jacques Redwall series, about a group of mice and rabbits living together in the woods who were occasionally terrorized by a large cat. I was a writer when, in fifth grade, I typed out a fifty-page Harry Potter fanfiction narrated by Fawkes the phoenix and his experiences with Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs.

But reading—and writing—fell by the wayside in high school and college, when reading for pleasure seemed more like torture after spending hours and hours poring over scholarly papers or books for school. Even after I graduated college, I felt like I had to ease back into reading books. It took another two years before I was reading again for pleasure.

But in 2012, by the time I’d started reading again, the Muse was close at my heels, this time in the form of my mom, Kristy. She’d had a dream she felt compelled to turn into a story. She asked my sister and I what we thought—and we loved it. Then she asked us to pitch in and help her write the story. Ten months later, we had a book on our hands. That was the genesis of the Seeds trilogy, and the book we’d written together eventually became The Sowing.

EB: I understand you are from a family of writers. How’s that?

AM: My parents have been writers for as long as I can remember. My dad’s had a number of short stories published—he’s the true “literature” nerd in our family. I have distant, toddler-style memories of opening drawers and finding pages of my mom’s work-in-progress novels—she loves great literature as well, but doesn’t shy from action and adventure, either. When she invited me to help write her dream into a story, I felt compelled. That’s when my sister and I got into writing as well.

EB: You also have a book series called The Seeds Trilogy. What’s that about and what drink would you pair that with? (I had to ask!)

AM: Ha! You’re not the first one to ask, but I haven’t quite found an answer yet. If I had to answer off the cuff, I would say, a shot of high-fructose corn syrup. Our book is all about agriculture, food, and farming: from the dangers of genetic modification (which isn’t intrinsically bad, but certainly can be) to how food chemistry can affect brain chemistry. High-fructose corn syrup kind of embodies all the terrible things about large-scale agriculture. It’s an useless product that was turned into a fattening, mind-altering food (sugar makes you crave more sugar), the result of artificial surplus of corn that was created when agricultural subsidies met a highly profitable cash crop—and, subsequently, genetic modification. If there were a way to distill the message we’re trying to pass along into a single drink, it would be the dangers of stuff like high-fructose corn syrup.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Cheers.

AM: Thank you for these fantastic questions, and for all your support and enthusiasm. Cheers, indeed!

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An Interview with Tod Davies, author of Report to Megalopolis

TOD DAVIES is the author of The History of Arcadia series: Snotty Saves the Day, Lily the Silent, The Lizard Princess and now Report to Megalopolis: The Post-modern Prometheus, which Kirkus Reviews called “A philosophical fable.”

Tod Davies is also the editor/publisher of Exterminating Angel Press and Exterminating Angel Magazine. She lives with her husband, the filmmaker Alex Cox, and their dogs in Colestin, Oregon.

Tod is also the author two cooking memoirs Jam Today: A Diary of Cooking With What You’ve Got and Jam Today Too: The Revolution Will Not Be Catered.

Ed Battistella: Report to Megalopolis is book four in The History of Arcadia series. Can you give our readers a quick orientation to the world you’ve created in Snotty Saves the Day, Lily the Silent, and The Lizard Princess?

Tod Davies: Arcadia is a land surrounded on three sides by a huge, technocratic, decayed, and power hungry world. How does it maintain itself and evolve? Or does it go under, swallowed up by the greater power? That’s what we’re exploring in all of the books. Arcadia was literally formed by someone discovering who they truly were—and acting on it. The first three books are about how the characters struggle to preserve the values that make Arcadia what it is. The fourth book, though, is told by a character who despises those values, and seeks to replace them with an imperial structure based on the rule of the powerful—with himself at the top, of course.

EB: Readers can read Report to Megalopolis without going back to the earlier books, it seems to me. Did you have this in mind as a stand-alone tale?

TD: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, I like to think they’re all stand-alone books—but there’s a rhythm, and maybe some more deep satisfaction in reading all of the books. The same heart, from multiple points of view. I love writing that. Why do individuals think/feel/see the way they do, so differently about the same landscape? How does that interact with other viewpoints to form our collective story? What is the responsibility of the individual doing the seeing, and the acting that comes out of that seeing?

EB: The subtitle is “The Post-modern Prometheus.” How much was Frankenstein on your mind as you were writing Aspern Grayling’s story?

TD: By the last few drafts, completely. It’s weird, hardly anyone notices that Shelley’s monster is the sympathetic one—denied love, denied warmth, denied common humanity. Then he turns against all love, warmth, humanity. We see that happening in our own world when we objectify our fellow human beings, turning them into statistics. Like the historian who said that things are getting better because, percentage wise, fewer people are being tortured and murdered than ever before in history! Wonderful news. What he doesn’t mention is that the numbers are astronomically higher than in the past. But since populations have grown, the percentage is less. You think all those people, our fellows, being tortured and murdered don’t have an effect on the rest of us? Dream on. You know the joke about the kid who’s on a beach littered with thousands of stranded starfish? He doggedly throws them back, one by one, when some guy mocks him—“What good is THAT doing?” Kid just heaves another one in, and says, “It did some good to THAT one.” Arcadia means to build a pattern out of that vision.

EB: There seem to be other dystopian and fantasy influences as well. What other works inform the story, do you think?

TD: Oh, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea tales, of course. All her work is about the treasure of being human, and the responsibility to support our fellows in their human needs and values. C.S. Lewis, same reason, and for his principled love of fairy tales. Tolkien. His yearning for a more human world is palpable. Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Her understanding of the suffering that comes from trying to be more than human—how it leads to being worse than less. Proust. His whole oeuvre is one long fairy tale, about the transformations that happen to human beings, and how we’re blind to them—as if they’re formed in a world outside of our blinkered vision. A world like Arcadia, in fact.

EB: Traditional fairy tales, before they were Disneyfied, had a lot of brutality and ruthlessness. Was Report to Megalopolis a bit of an homage to the origins of the genre?

TD: Oh yeah. More than an homage, I like to think it’s in lineal descent! Fairy tales talk about who we really are. I mean REAL fairy tales. For example, “Donkey Skin” is about a father preying on his daughter. There are predatory fathers everywhere, probably without letting themselves be conscious of what they are doing to their daughters. Fairy tales have known about a father’s incestuous preying on his daughter for centuries. But it’s only coming out now into our common discourse. Woody Allen would not have surprised the tellers of fairy tales. Neither would Report’s Pavo Vale and his desire for his own granddaughter. A very fairy tale subject.

EB: Report to Megalopolis has a lot going on and the narrative captures Aspern Grayling’s confessional voice and his emotions as well, which I imagine was a challenge to craft. What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

TD: Oh gosh. The memory of it is still raw. The most difficult was letting his real pain break through. Man, that was tough. I think that if you read an earlier draft, you’d know I was trying then for a lighter, almost cardboard villain, touch. But the more I wrote, the more I suffered, and the more I knew I was suffering his pain at not allowing himself to be human. That’s happening everywhere, you know. It was happening to me when I was writing the earlier drafts without wanting to go deeper. People deny their humanity because they think that makes them ‘good’ or ‘successful’, or at the very least, comfortable, and then when it pains them, they blame those they have refused connection with—Aspern’s tortured love for Devindra is an example of that. His twisting and turning to get away from any self-knowledge that would force him to understand who he truly is. That he is as weak and subject to human laws as anyone. Contempt is a powerful defense against one’s own weakness. But that defense causes unlimited suffering. And I realized with this book that was what I was writing about, and will write about: how we defend against our own vulnerabilities, and in fighting them, destroy what happiness we, and others, could have. What a godawful waste.

EB: Pavo Vale, the monster, is misogynistic to say the least. Was this aspect inspired or spurred along by the #MeToo Movement?

TD: It’s funny, you know the RESIST image that Mike Madrid created for the earlier books—that was way before the #Resistance movement, but totally in tune with it. Same with the #MeToo movement. All of Arcadia, in the very first book, is formed by a horrible little boy realizing he has given up all his female values to ‘succeed’. And the #MeToo movement is about not having to harden yourself against the sufferings of your sisters in order to get ahead in the pecking order that, up till now, was unconsciously and exclusively built with solely ‘male’ values: dominance, hierarchy, power plays, endless growth. You had to pretend you weren’t being abused if you wanted to get ahead. That’s over now. Arcadia is fighting that battle against Megalopolis. Softness, kindness, commonality: these are not weaknesses. These are strengths.

EB: You teased us with hints about the Evolutionaries. What can we expect in book five of The History of Arcadia series?

TD: Isabel the Scholar kept talking to me, and coming into Report when I least expected it—the voice of the younger generation, the new Evolutionaries, who are forming a new pattern and a new story in the hopes that will preserve and expand the values of Arcadia. Revolution doesn’t work. It needs the opposing side to exist, inevitably strengthening what it fights. The only hope, my young characters feel, is a leap in evolution. And Isabel is a scientist of evolution. I love her. She is my heroine, even though her dearest friend Shanti is the glamorous one. Shanti knows Isabel’s worth. And Shanti and Isabel are going to be grappling with the next great problem Arcadia faces after Pavo Vale has invaded: how to make human what has been created to be inhuman. Which is the problem we all face. Yep. We all face that problem now. I’m thinking of asking Mike Madrid, who does all the Arcadian artwork since the second book, to change the RESIST image to PERSIST.

EB: Can you tell us a little about the artwork that accompanies the book?

TD: Mike Madrid, who does all the Exterminating Angel Press design, as well as being one of its authors (The Supergirls), has done the illustrations for the last three Arcadia books. I can’t say enough about Mike—he always comes up with design ideas that push me to go further, even when I’m writing the earlier drafts. A good example of that is the Luna deck. He’d come up with a few Luna cards, and the next thing I knew, the Luna was a huge part of Arcadian culture. We needed an appendix to discuss it, written by Devindra Vale!

And in this book, my own dear husband, the filmmaker Alex Cox, drew a few maps as if he were Aspern sketching them out—I think they help orient the reader. I’ve always been blessed to have great collaborators nearby.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

TD: Thank you, Ed. And, speaking of great collaborators, thank you for being an essential part of the fast evolving literary world here in Cascadia.

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An Interview with Morgan Hunt, author of Bad Moon Rising

Ashland writer Morgan Hunt has written mystery novels, poetry, screenplays, short stories, and magazine articles, including Writer’s Digest. Her poems have been published in the California Quarterly, San Diego Mensan, and she’s considered one of the Oregon Poetic Voices. Hunt’s short story, “The Answer Box,” placed as a Finalist in the 2014 Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction contest and in 2016 she published We the Peeps: A Political Caper and Wish Fulfillment.

Morgan Hunt grew up on the Jersey shore. She is a Navy veteran and a licensed ultralight pilot. She has lived with an aggressive form of breast cancer for more than 15 years.

Her Tess Camillo mystery series (Sticky Fingers, Fool on the Hill, Blinded by the Light) won a Best Books Award (USA Book News) and a National Indie Excellence Award. We talked about book four in that series: Bad Moon Rising.

Ed Battistella: Congratulations on Bad Moon Rising, the fourth in the Tess Camillo series. Tell us a little bit about Tess’s current adventure, which is set in Ashland. It features OSF, SOU and even some cameos from locals.

Morgan Hunt: I decided to set this Tess Camillo mystery in Ashland and to make it an engaging tale. I also wanted to convey to readers my personal sense of gratitude for the Ashland community. I knew theater would be involved (hey, it’s Ashland!), but I also wanted to write about ordinary things — lesser known eateries, a hair salon, cannabis farms, pub trivia, hiking trails, etc. I wanted to give readers a sense of Ashland they couldn’t get from a Wikipedia article.

EB: How did you get interested in the Voynich manuscript?

MH:It was one of those accidentally-on-purpose writer things, Ed. On a “What should my next writing project be?” day, I Googled various provocative terms and phrases to see what would turn up. When I searched for “most mysterious,” Google listed the Voynich Manuscript as the “most mysterious” ancient manuscript. Further research showed me that many scholars had become obsessed, almost addicted, to its study. That gave me an emotional path into the story. An aside: In September 2017, when I’d written two-thirds of Bad Moon Rising, a researcher and TV personality, Nicholas Gibbs, announced that he had translated the Voynich. Headlines popped up all over about his view that Voynich script was a form of Latin shorthand. I held my breath and kept writing. By the time I had edited the final manuscript, Gibbs’ theory had been debunked.

EB: Tess is from New Jersey—like you (and me!). How does she fit into Ashland? She seems rather bemused at times.

MH: Bemused; hmm; yes, I love that word. I am definitely bemused at certain aspects of, shall we say, Ashlandia? I pull about 65-70% of Tess from my own life. And like most writers, I use hyperbole and other devices to create humor, conflict, etc. While there are certain social sectors of Ashland that I may not be wildly comfortable with due to my east coast working class background, most of the Jersey references are there for fish-out-of-water humor. Great question, which makes sense since you’re a Jersey dude!

EB: How did you come up with some of the other characters. Are they based on real people? I’m especially curious about Jefferson Graham and Echo Sapien?

MH: Neither Jefferson Graham nor Echo Sapien is based on a real person. Both are amalgams of my imagination, and a certain trait I may have encountered here and there. Jefferson Graham’s secret craving came about to foreshadow the theme of obsession. Most of us are obsessed with something – food, alcohol, drugs, relationships, religious fervor, politics. Inevitably that affects us. As for Echo, I do know a bit about the NSA because I was married to a Navy cryptologist who later worked as an NSA analyst. When we were married, I met enough of his social circle to absorb the type, I think. As a writer, one of the most delightful challenges of Bad Moon Rising was to see if, in the middle of a book, I could pivot from one sidekick-helper figure to another. And back again. I’ll leave it to readers as to whether I succeeded.

EB: I loved the device of the bargain-basement hearing aid. Did that really happen to someone?

MH: By the time I needed hearing aids, I’d heard enough cautionary tales to avoid that pitfall, but it’s happened to many. I had fun working with the device. Reading “Monkey Vicodin” still makes me smile.

EB: Tell us about the cover, which neatly previews some plot points. Who designed that?

MH: I designed front cover, Ed. Thank you for noticing the details. I went through at least five or six different designs until I landed on one that reflected the sometimes-whimsical, sometimes-macabre, but always-Pacific Northwest-flavored story.

EB: I enjoyed the pace of the book. Any tips for other writing working on pacing?

MH: Honestly, I don’t have any tips to offer, but pacing is an aspect of my writing I’ve been working to improve. I appreciate the encouragement.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with Bad Moon Rising!

MH: Thanks for the opportunity to be part of Literary Ashland!

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An Interview with Sandra Scofield, author of THE LAST DRAFT: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision

Sandra Scofield is the author of seven novels, including Beyond Deserving, a finalist for the National Book Award, and A Chance to See Egypt, winner of a Best Fiction Prize from the Texas Institute of Letters.

She has written a memoir, Occasions of Sin, and a book of essays about her family, Mysteries of Love and Grief: Reflections on a Plainswoman’s Life. She is also the author of The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer and Swim: Stories of the Sixties, published by Ashland’s Wellstone Press with a cover image by Ashland artist Abby Lazerow.

Her most recent book is The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision.

Ed Battistella: Congratulations on THE LAST DRAFT: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision. I really enjoyed reading it.

Sandra Scofield: It’s great to have a chance to reach your readers. I think of them as slouched on couches, upright in desk chairs, zipping in and out of bookstores– These are my people.

EB: You mention that the book came out of your teaching. Tell us a bit about that and how the book arose?

SS: I have taught workshops at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival every summer since 1993 (I missed two). The topics change a lot, but what students want is essentially this: a set of guidelines to hold on to as they write and revise. They want to go through the process of figuring out how writing works, in the very pleasant environment of the summer workshop. (No sharp criticism here!) So over the years I accumulated notebooks with all my syllabi and handouts, and one day I realized that I had very practical materials that could be organized into something useful.

EB: I’m curious why you focus on the last draft rather than the first draft?

SS: Tons of stuff out there about writing a novel (mostly following ideas borrowed from screenwriting). But Truman Capote aside, nobody writes a first draft that’s good enough to fly. The first draft is for finding the story and getting something down. You may have to do that more than once. “The last draft” is the one where you apply lots of analysis and turn that story all around; where you discover what you were really after; where you amend and reinvent until you have a finished manuscript. I think it’s fun. Not knowing how to write the last draft stops a lot of novels dead. I’ve heard so many agents say they see books that have good stories but poor structure. Or “that needed another round.”

EB: You break the process down to looking, planning, and polishing? I get the feeling you see “looking” as the key element in revision (as the etymology suggests). What should writers look for in their drafts? What does the revision process tell an author?

SS: This sounds counter intuitive but I stand by the assertion: Most writers don’t really know what their novel is about when they draft it. They have some kind of story idea and they have to pursue that to make it solid enough to carry the rest of the weight of a novel: theme, characters, motifs, etc. In revision you have to take a very intense look at what you’ve done so far in order to gain ground for rewriting. You have to be cool about it, self-critical, but also self-accepting and optimistic. The big question is: what is the story? Is it big enough for a novel? If you think the answer is yes, you begin to deconstruct the early work, seeking the best structure.

EB: I was intrigued by the depth to which you discussed the process of summarizing one’s own novel—right down to ways to make notes on the text. How much of this analytic framework –intension, world-making, premise, action and commentary, agency, and threads—did you know about when you first began writing?

SS: It definitely took me a while, but I knew by the end of my first novel (first draft: 1087 pages!) that I didn’t want to write miles of pages again. My first approach was to think through a sequence of scenes, each one on an index card, with a summary line (a “caption”) and notes as I worked through the writing. (I could go back and add stuff to the card, postponing adding it to the manuscript until later.) By the 3rd book, I was really hooked into summarizing (a) the whole book (b) the beginning, middle, and end; and the chapter I was about to write. (I did that summarizing as I approach the chapter.) I think my graduate work in theatre had a lot to do with how I work, because structure is so key to writing plays. And a summary captures and holds the story so you can focus on the writing (developing) rather than the “making up” part.

EB: Are there some things that writers should definitely avoid doing in revising?

SS: I think the worst possible approach is to pick up a page and start rewriting sentences. The worst.

EB: I was fascinated by the breadth and eclecticism of the novels to discussed as examples—Henning Mankell, Donna Leon, Richard Russo, Sue Miller, Mark Haddon, Jane Smiley, Andre Dubus III, Karen Joy Fowler, and of course Austen and Fitzgerald. You seem to read voraciously. Do you think broad critical reading is crucial to the fiction writing process?

SS: Reading is how you get the sound of a novel in your head, and the rhythm of structure. I don’t know any way to shortcut that. It’s why I don’t think screenwriting principles are good instruction for novelists. Yes, you need a “spine,” or scheme for the plot, but you also need the deep breathing of the novel: that capacity for deep meaning, for introspection, and so on.

EB: As a non-fiction writer, I found myself thinking of how I might apply some of the revising techniques. Do you think THE LAST DRAFT has something to say to the non-fiction writer?

SS: Well sure. Learning to focus, really focus, on your intention, your vision, and your subject is key to developing coherence. Mastering structure is like mastering a skill in any profession or art.

EB: You’ve also done a guide called THE SCENE BOOK. Can you tell our readers a bit about that?

SS: I’ll tell you what I hear from people who use the book: I wish I had had this the day I started writing.

I tried to give writers something that isn’t too heady, too nerdy, too precious; but that absolutely stands on structure. It’s filled with examples, models. Fiction is ultimately scenic, you have to master writing scenes. I figured the people who might need a book would be independent writers who didn’t have opportunities for classes and schools and groups, so I tried to talk to “each one,” if you will, directly, kindly, generously, respectfully. What I discovered, though, is that lots of writers in or finished with writing programs snatched it up! They might have talked about scenes for two years or ten, but this book has an accessible vocabulary and clear concepts that demythologize a lot of “talented writing.”

People tell me the same thing about THE LAST DRAFT–that they can hear my voice in it, as if I am talking to them. That pleases me no end, it’s exactly what I was striving for. I want to be a writing nanny. I want to push writers out on their own. I want more stories in the world.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

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Forensic Linguistics and Authorship Analysis, a guest post by Sierra Adams

Sierra Adams is a senior at Southern Oregon University, where she studies English literature.

Authorship analysis is a branch of forensic linguistics that can be used to solve court cases as well as identify authors like JK Rowling and (possibly) Shakespeare. The term forensic linguistics was coined in 1968 by Jan Svartvik (Olsson). Forensic linguistics is a relatively new topic that has been used in some high-profile murder cases such as the 1996 case of Ted Kaczynski and more recently Chris Coleman in 2009. Authorship identification is an exciting new form of research that is used to identify authors based on linguistic analyses and computer programs. It can be useful outside of the courtroom as well. Recently, linguists have worked with computer programmers to develop software that can detect authorship, with a high-accuracy rating, within minutes. Because of the growing interest in forensic linguistics and specifically authorship identification some literary scholars have taken this opportunity to bring up the old argument of Shakespeare’s writing. Authorship identification techniques serve useful and interesting in all forms of written investigation.

Interest in linguistic authorship analyses can be traced back to the early 1700s, according to John Olsson, with some discussion over biblical passages in 1711 and Shakespeare studies in 1785. One of the first methods of forensic linguistics involved statistics and was invented by Augustus Morgan, an English mathematics professor, in 1851. However, it was not until the 1940s that authorship analyses using statistics and linguistic cues became a serious study (Olsson 12). With the new invention of powerful computers that could analyze statistics in the 1980s, computational linguistics arose and with it, more ways to analyze a text.

Tim Grant, a professor of forensic linguistics, writes that the study of authorship “attracts researchers and practitioners from a variety of disciplines including those working in linguistics, literature, history, theology, psychology, statistics, and computer science” (Grant 215). These researchers look for a variety of things when trying to understand or detect authorship. How the text was produced (medium, method, materials) is used to establish a basis of the work, especially if it was hand-written. The most important factor in authorship analysis is style (i.e. the use of pronouns or grammar cues such as semicolons, too many commas). Other telling features of writing include: tone, sentence structure, faux oversimplification or up-reaching (trying to sound uneducated vs trying to sound pedantic), and descriptions of people, places, emotions, or situations. Forensic linguists also dip into psycholinguistic profiling which means they try to determine the psychological background of the suspect and answer the question, ‘what kind of person wrote this?’ Lastly, they take a look at the texts relationship to comparison texts (Grant). These techniques allow for forensic linguists to scientifically organize and analyze data from personal writing and speaking.

One of the first high-profile court cases involving forensic linguistics was the case of Ted Kaczynski, or the Unabomber, who published a “rambling thirty-five-thousand-word declaration of the perpetrator’s philosophy” (Hitt). As the investigation progressed with little traceable evidence, the FBI turned to linguistics. They contacted a retired FBI agent and forensic linguist, James Fitzgerald, who used authorship analysis to determine who wrote the Unabomber’s Manifesto and,

By analyzing syntax, word choice, and other linguistic patterns, Fitzgerald narrowed down the range of possible authors and finally linked the manifesto to the writings of Ted Kaczynski, a reclusive former mathematician. Both Kaczynski and the Unabomber also showed a preference for dozens of unusual words and expressions…as well as the less familiar version of the cliché “You can’t eat your cake and have it too.” A judge ruled that the linguistic evidence was strong enough to prompt him to issue a search warrant for Kaczynski’s cabin in Montana; what was found there put him in prison for life. (Hitt)

This fascinating case brought a lot of recognition and interest to the field of forensic linguistics and authorship analysis. It also set the precedent for bringing linguists into the court to help sway the jury.

In 2009, Chris Coleman’s family was murdered after receiving several threatening “ransom notes” asking for money as well as emails threatening both Coleman’s family and his boss’s. No physical evidence connected him to the crime yet something about his story didn’t add up. Coleman was working as a security officer for a televised evangelical Christian company and was also having an affair. Beyond this, many of his wife’s friends testified against him in court. Forensic linguist Robert Leonard analyzed the ransom notes and Cole’s emails, journals, and notes and deduced that he was the killer himself, and even though “Leonard’s testimony was disputed in the courtroom…in a case with no physical evidence firmly linking Coleman to the crime, Leonard’s words—and Coleman’s—took on added weight.” (Hitt). This case, along with Kaczynski’s, put forensic linguistics in the courtroom and led to various classes and degree programs around the country (Butters) as well as made way for authorship analysis to be taken seriously as a form of investigation.

The tools of forensic linguistics and authorship analysis can be used in non-criminal cases as well, “today, computers can do this type of analysis in seconds, whether to uncover a case of murder-disguised-as-suicide, study an anonymous medieval poem, resolve disputes about authorial credit, or even provide political asylum for a refugee” (Juola). Patrick Juola developed a computer program that can detect authorship with over 90 percent accuracy. In 2013 J.K. Rowling published The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Juola’s software analyzed the novel and compared it to her other work. The software matched it within minutes. Juola writes,

Over the past decade, I have developed a computer program to do this sort of analysis of writing style, based on literally millions of different features. This program will take a sample of writing and determine, on the basis of similarity, who among a set of authors was most likely to have written that sample. (Olsson)

His computer program replaces hours of comparison work and helps build up linguistic evidence. An actual linguist would most likely have to double-check the work and be able to explain the differences and why they are significant. Even so, this is still an exciting development in the field of forensic linguistics. Not all, however, appreciate the results of computational authorship analyses.

Literary authorship analysis has been an area of interest since the 1700s and the question of Shakespeare’s authorship began around 1785 when “Reverend James Wilmot wrote that Sir Francis Bacon was the real author of the Shakespeare plays” (Olsson 11) and since then the Shakespeare Controversy has been fiercely debated. Over the years, curious fans of the famous plays have attempted to credit “Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the 5th Earl of Rutland, the 6th Earl of Derby, and the 17th Earl of Oxford” (Dobson). The most convincing and/or popular competitor though, seems to be Christopher Marlowe who was a respected contemporary of William Shakespeare and who has a cult-like following that is just as passionate, if not as large, as the Bard himself. Organizations such as Shakespearean Authorship Trust are very active in the debate and even hold annual conferences to provide platforms for discussion. The founder of the organization runs a website called “Doubt About Will dot org” and signs his welcome letter, “Yours in doubt, Mark Rylance, Trustee of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust” (Rylance). In 2016 the Shakespeare Controversy made headlines after “The New Oxford Shakespeare edition of the playwright’s works — which will be published by Oxford University Press online ahead of a worldwide print release — lists Christopher Marlowe as Shakespeare’s co-author on the three “Henry VI” plays, parts 1, 2 and 3” (Shea). This shocking news was reported by the BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post among others. The Post reports that in order “to find out if collaboration occurred, 23 international scholars performed text analysis by scanning through Marlowe’s (and other contemporary writers’) works, creating computerized data sets of the words and phrases he would repeat, along with how he did so — all of the idiosyncrasies that comprise one’s writing” (Andrews). They found enough of Marlowe’s presence in the texts to credit him with co-authorship. Most Shakespearean scholars are not pleased with this controversy and have made themselves very clear on who is responsible for the Bard’s famous plays.

A particular favorite retort of mine comes from the 2008 edition of The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. This whopping 5.2 pound, 541 page encyclopedia is edited by Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells who are decidedly Stratfordians, or, pro-Shakespeare. Those who question the authorship of his plays are called anti-Stratfordians. In a biting entry under authorship controversy Dobson writes, “many commentators have paid reluctant tribute to the sheer determination and ingenuity which these anti-Stratfordian writers have displayed” (31) and later he goes on to write, “this Authorship Controversy, consciously or not, is very largely about class” (31) and since many of the anti-Stratfordians reside in the United States, Dobson claims that the USA is “a country whose citizens apparently find it easier to entertain romantic fantasies about their unacknowledged talents than do the British themselves” (31). Even though it was a little outdated it was definitely the most passionate and straightforward published response that I could find.

So, after reading this passage from 2008 and then discovering that the publishers at the very same Oxford University Press went ahead and included a co-authorship a mere eight years later, I had to find out how the editors of the encyclopedia responded. It turns out that the second edition of The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare was published in January of 2016 just before the computational authorship analytics that c-credited Marlowe were confirmed and published. In early November of 2016, the Oxford University Press released a statement by Gabriel Egan saying, “the news is that he collaborated as a writer much more than we used to think he did. We can now say with a high degree of certainty that upward of third of his plays were co-written in some sense or other” (Egan). As to how this was confirmed:

The new machine-based approach – Computational Stylistics – has started to reveal some very startling facts. For example, it is now clear that Shakespeare’s vocabulary – the total body of all the different words he knew – was not exceptionally large (as has long been assumed) but rather was just typical for the period. We now know that a lot of words and phrases that we used to think were coined by Shakespeare were already in use by other writers before him. Wherever his genius lay, it was not in his vocabulary, but in his ways of combining existing words and phrases. (Egan)

This piece seemed so defeated in tone that I began to feel genuinely sad for the self-proclaimed Stratfordians and their ardent belief in the singular-genius that was Shakespeare. I could not find any public responses from the original editors of the encyclopedia but I hope to one day read the updated entry on Authorship Controversy in the next edition. As far as Egan’s thoughts, ultimately he seemed to accept this unwelcome linguistic study by concluding, “we should apply this kind of scientific rigour as much to humanistic study as anything else, since no matter what their fields everyone who undertakes research for a living is ultimately in pursuit of the truth, and these are the best ways we have for finding it” (Egan). Regardless of co-authorship, Shakespeare is still a key figure in literature, history, and drama. The new techniques of authorship analysis may uncover even more shocking discoveries as it develops.

Authorship analysis, whether in the courtroom or in academics, remains a hot topic. This burgeoning branch of forensic linguistics will only get more valuable and more contested as time goes on. With most of us broadcasting our lives on social media, through texts, and online chatrooms, our writing can define us more than ever. How we present ourselves, what words we type, the pronouns we choose, and the slang we use, are all key pieces in creating our written and spoken identities. Now that forensic linguists can work with statistics and programmers to determine authorship from huge samples of personal writing, we will have to pay closer attention to what we are saying.

Works Cited

Andrews, Travis. “Big debate about Shakespeare finally settled by big data: Marlowe gets his due”, The Washington Post, October 25 2016.

Butters, Ronald. “Forensic Linguistics.” Journal of English Linguistics. Sage Publications, 2011.

Egan, Gabriel. “What did Shakespeare write?” Oxford University Press Online, November 8 2016.

Grant, Tim. “Approaching Questions in Forensic Authorship Analysis.” Dimensions of Forensic Linguistics, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2008.

Hitt, Jack. “Words on Trial; Can Linguists Solve Crimes that Stump the Police?” The New Yorker, July 25 2012.

Juola, Patrick. “How a Computer Program Helped Show J.K. Rowling write A Cuckoo’s Calling”, The Scientific American, 2013.

Marche, Stephan. “Wouldn’t It Be Cool If Shakespeare Wasn’t Shakespeare?” The New York Times, October 21, 2011.

Olsson, John. Forensic Linguistics. Continuum, 2004.

Rylance, Mark. The Shakespearean Authorship Trust, 2018.

Shea, Christopher. “New Oxford Shakespeare Edition Credits Christopher Marlowe as a Co-author” The New York Times, October 24 2016.

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An Interview with Ceil Lucas, author of How I Got Here

Ceil Lucas is professor emerita of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where she taught linguistics through American Sign Language for 31 years before retiring in 2013. She began teaching Italian at all levels in 1973 and continues to do so. She has edited or co-authored 22 books and also is editor of the scholarly journal, Sign Language Studies, published by Gallaudet University Press.

Lucas was born in the United States, but raised from ages 5 to 21 in Guatemala City and in Rome, Italy, and has written a book titled How I Got Here: A Memoir.

Ed Battistella: How I Got Here is an unusual memoir in that covers the early part of your life—up to about the early 1970s. What prompted you to organize the memoir that way?

Ceil Lucas: I always knew that I wanted to write a memoir about my upbringing in Guatemala City and Rome, Italy, 1956 – 1972. Before I started working on the memoir, I had already started working on my family’s genealogy, and I quickly realized that this information would have to be included in the memoir; it was not enough to tell the immediate stories of my parents. I needed to go back as far as I could. In the process, the stories of my ancestors really became my stories and I couldn’t leave them out. At this point, I feel like I know these people. So the memoir is about the 1951 – 1972 period and also about those who came before. It is about how I got here, in the broadest sense.

EB: What’s the significance of the title?

CL: When I came back to go to Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington in August of 1969, I heard myself saying, “Well, I wasn’t raised here; I’m not from here.”, “here” meaning America, the US. But I was starting to plan the memoir at the same time as I was working on my family history and came to find out that my mother’s people came to the Eastern Shore of Maryland from Scotland in 1654, and my father’s people came from England to Philadelphia in 1679. I had to come to terms with the fact that, when your folks arrive in 1654 and 1679, you’re “from here”. So it’s not just about how I came to be born in Phoenix in 1951 or how I got to the US in August of 1969 but how my people got here 122 years before there was an America. The memoir is about the balance between “I’m not from here.” and “I’m deeply American.”

EB: How did your upbringing in Guatemala and Rome affect your perceptions of US events and your sense of yourself as an American?

CL: See above. The effect was more powerful in Rome because I was in Italy during the Vietnam War and got the Italian/European perspective on it, for example, and on US politics in general. But in 1957, my civil engineer father was called to serve as a pallbearer at the funeral of the assassinated Guatemalan president [photo of my father with the casket in the book], in a situation that had totally been engineered by Eisenhower and the brothers Dulles. I was way too young in 1957, of course, to know what was going on, and my father passed before I was able to ask him all the questions I had. But when I went back and studied the history of Guatemala in those days, I was stunned. He was a civil engineer who did civil engineering in Guatemala, worked on irrigation projects, and he was also a fluent Spanish speaker, having been born and raised in New Mexico [he was born in 1909, before it became a state in 1912], but his company was a subcontract to the Dept of State run by John Foster Dulles [of the airport] and Dulles’ brother Allan ran the CIA. I came to find out that they were pretty much the puppeteers. I was ages 5 – 9, having a magical childhood in Guatemala. When I came back for college in 1969, I did NOT have a sense of myself as an American, not at all. I was “other”; Latin American, Italian, European. At 67, that sense of “I’m not from here” lingers, even after 46 years of living and working in the US. I started teaching Italian when I was a grad student, age 22, and am still teaching, not willing to give it up.

EB: When did your travel experiences awaken an interest in linguistics?

CL: Almost immediately; a chapter in the memoir is called Teaching the Dolls, about how I started teaching my dolls English and Spanish in first grade; I learned to read in Spanish and English at the same time and spoke 4 languages fluently – English, Spanish, French, Italian – by the time I was 10. The interest in language was there from my earliest memories. Good thing ‘cause I can’t do math.

EB: There is a good deal of family history in the book—going back to—what sort of research was involved in that?

CL: A lot of archival research. My mother left a good framework and I picked it up. I got comfortable with the National Archives in Washington, DC, the state archives in Maryland, and several historical societies- Eastern Shore of Maryland, Oklahoma Historical Society, New Mexico Historical Society, the Hackensack, NJ Historical Society, I spent many hours at the National Archives, filling in the framework that my mother left and I became an member (still am a member) and got a lot of information on line.

EB: What was the writing process like for you compared to, for example, academic writing?

CL: It was a lot more relaxed. A lot of the stories were already formed in my head and just came out very smoothly. I am an academic of 45 years, so the first version of the memoir had references and footnotes in the text itself. I had the great fortune to start an autobiographical writing course the fall after I retired, in 2013, and the genius teacher Susan Moger (herself a novelist) said, “Um, no. Have a references section at the back; in the text makes it dry as toast.” I was so lucky to have her help me shape it. That reference section let me follow my very strong academic instinct to recognize the work of others – I can’t claim to know the history of Oliver Cromwell, for example, the dude who got my folks to Maryland’s Eastern Shore; I needed to research that and many other things – but a memoir is not an academic paper and I had to learn that. It was entirely liberating and I’m still taking the course, long after the memoir has been published. It’s really fun to write what I want without the academic constraints.

EB: How long did the memoir process take, and what was the most difficult aspect of the work?

CL: I had been listing the memories that I wanted to write about for about 3 years and eventually came up with an outline; I knew that I wanted to start with the funeral in Guatemala and go from there. I had written some of the pieces in other creative writing courses but in the fall of 2013, I got organized and made a schedule that had me finishing each section within 2 weeks. By early 2015, it was done.

EB: I was impressed with the many historical images in the book. How did you come by those?

CL: Many of them are family photos and documents that my mother had collected and passed to me and I am so grateful. I think the oldest one I have ( not in the book) is of my great-grandmother as a young woman, taken probably in 1885 and there are a number of vintage ones like that in the book; some images came from the historical societies, from newspapers of the time. A classmate in Guatemala who now runs the school that we went to ( his mother started it ) worked with the National Archives in Guatemala City to find the photo of my father at the funeral (p. 6). The census images, like the one on page 64 and the map on p. 51, are openly available; your tax dollars and mine at work. Others, like the image of Eastern Maryland on p. 69, came with permission from a relative who also worked on our family history. I was extremely careful to secure permission for any image that did not belong to me and people were always quite willing to grant it.

EB: Any advice for other aspiring memoirists?

CL: Do the research and include your family history in your memoir. The stories of all of those people are YOUR stories and helped shape who you are.

EB: Are you planning a sequel covering later times?

CL: I don’t think so. The sheer assembly of the images for my first 18 years plus the archival ones took a lot of work. I don’t think I have it in me to tackle the age 18 – age 67 time period…..

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

CL: Thank YOU for inviting me and for your great questions. It has been a pleasure to share all of this.

Visit the How I Got Here website.

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An Interview with Roger Thompson, author of No Word for Wilderness

Roger Thompson is an award-winning nonfiction writer, whose work has appeared in both academic and non-academic journals. He is co-author of Beyond Duty: Life on the Frontline of Iraq, a bestselling Iraq War memoir, and has directed an international environmental research program in Banff, Alberta. He taught at the Virginia Military Academy for fourteen years as a Professor of English and fine arts. Thompson currently serves as Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University. His most recent book is No Word for Wilderness published by Ashland Creek Press.

Ed Battistella: Congratulations on No Word for Wilderness. Tell us a little about your book and about the Abruzzi bears living not far from Rome.

Roger Thompson: Thanks Ed. The book details the surprising lives and current threats to a group of brown bears only 50 miles from Rome. Few people seem to know about these bears, and when I first learned about them myself, I was captivated by their story. Only 50 of the bears now remain, and they are facing surprising threats to their survival.

EB: As a linguist, I was fascinated by the title observation, that there is No Word for Wilderness in Italian. What does that tell us?

RT: It’s not entirely unusual for a language not to have a word for the idea of “wilderness,” but in Italy, I think it’s especially important because it points to some of the challenges for wildlife in the country. When a country has no meaningful word to describe wild places, it is especially difficult to convince a population to rally for conservation. It’s hard to save what you can’t name.

EB: A lot of the book is devoted to the aptly named Bruno. What is Bruno’s story?

RT: Bruno is bear from northern Italy who, in 2006, became probably the most famous bear the world has ever known. He migrated from Italy to Germany just as Germany began to welcome soccer fans for the World Cup, and the result was massive media coverage of Bruno’s exploits. Bruno had a habit of killing domestic animals, and while there is lingering disagreement over the degree of danger Bruno posed, the German government certainly decided that he would not be tolerated. So, what began as a story about the first wild bear in Germany in over 150 years became the story of how a government responded to a wildlife crisis–a crisis some believe the country itself created.

EB: How are the Abruzzi bears different?

RT: Bruno was born of a Slovenian sow and was among the first cubs born of an ambitious rewilding program in the north of Italy. Slovenian brown bears are not entirely unlike the American grizzly, and while the rewilding program that introduced them into the Italian Alps was by many measures a tremendous success, local Italians began to have conflict with the bears. The question began to be reasonably asked whether an introduced bear is as well suited to a region as a native population. The Abruzzo bears, unlike Bruno and his Slovenian ancestors, are entirely native to Italy. They have lived in the Apennines for a millenia, have adapted to that habitat, and are notoriously peaceful. While in the Alps, there have been a few problematic human-bear interactions, in Abruzzo, the bears have never in written record attacked a human. That’s a thousand years of recorded history without a single attack of a a bear on a human. They are an astonishing species of bear.

EB: What is the state of the national parks system in Italy? I had never given it much thought before reading your book.

RT: National Parks issues in Italy are complicated. On the one hand, the country can boast an rapid expansion of the national park system over the last 50 to 100 years, faster than any other country in such a short period of time. On the other hand, the management of the land is a complex mix of national, regional, and local politics. Park Presidents are appointed as political favors, and it’s not unusual to have president appointees who have very little investment in parkland. A park granted to a president may be something akin to a bauble to brag about for an individual. Certainly, some park presidents are impressive people, and the current park president of Abruzzo National Park, which is home to most of the Abruzzo bears, is generally well regarded. Still, the system is deeply flawed, and as a result, conservation initiatives are hard to carry out over long periods of time.

EB: What does this story tell us about the wilderness—development divide? Or about attitudes toward wildlife and land more generally?

RT: To me, it suggests quite simply that the divide can be bridged. If bears and humans can coexist in Italy, they can in other parts of the world–even highly populated parts. It may require us to rethink the idea of the wild, but it still suggests pretty astonishing possibilities for the wild to not only live, but potentially thrive, alongside thoughtful and intentional development.

EB: How did you come to be a nature writer? And, as a university professor, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

RT: I don’t have a good answer to the first part of this question. I read a lot of science writing and nonfiction, and my first piece of published nonfiction was nature writing and won an award, so I figured I might have some talent there. Still, I’m a bit hesitant to group myself with the far more accomplished groups of writers who can probably more rightly be called nature writers. As to advice, it’s pretty simple. You have to write. Then, you have to send your writing out for consideration. Then you have to endure repeated rejection with an open mind–meaning, you may need to change things about your writing. And lastly, if someone wants a career in writing–you’ll note I took the easy way out and found a full time job that allows me to write as part of my job description!–but if you want to be a full time writer, I would recommend starting with nonfiction. Fiction is tough to break into. Nonfiction or professional writing–not nearly as hard. Oh, and let me add what one of my mentors once told me: if you write fast and on deadline, work will come to you. I think this is quite true.

EB: As a writer about nature, do you have some favorite authors?

RT: Hard to beat McPhee and Lopez. I’m a sucker for Sigurd Olson. I admit I’m impatient with a lot of the self-reflective wanderings in the wilderness books, but I do find myself drawn to work that is engaged with the world and wants to make a difference. Sometimes I think that a lot of journalists who write books may have a better ear for audiences than people coming out of MFA programs.

EB: How did you happen to choose Ashland Creek Press to publish No Word for Wilderness?

RT: I had some offers on the book that I didn’t feel as confident about. Ashland Creek appealed to me simply because they seem genuinely invested in the project. I’ve published enough to feel a bit selfish. I really do want to find the right press for my work. I don’t mean that in any sort of holier-than-thou artistic way. I don’t feel protective of my words, and I try hard to listen to editors and their advice. I just mean to say that I don’t have to sell a book in order to make a living, so I like the idea of finding a publisher who actually cares about my project. The folks at Ashland Creek very much did, and they were just great editors.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

RT: It was a real pleasure. Thank you.

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An Interview with Malcolm Terence

Malcolm Terence left his job as a reporter at the Los Angeles Times in the late 1960s and helped found a large hippie commune in the Klamath Mountains. He followed that with logging and reforestation work, setting up–and opposing–timber sales, and fighting wildfires.

Along the way, he married a local schoolteacher and raised a family. He still writes for regional papers, teaches, and cultivates a large garden.

Beginner’s Luck is his first book.

Malcolm Terence will be reading and signing books at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, June 18th, 2018 at 7 pm. It’s free and open to the public.

Ed Battistella: How did you find your way to the Black Bear Ranch in the 1960s? Tell us a little about your background and journey.

MT: When I came to Siskiyou County in 1968, it was not a friendly place to hippies. I’d left the Los Angeles Times where I’d been a reporter and then as business manager for a band of gifted musicians. I traveled with them to shows and recording dates on both coasts, but drifted away when I met the Diggers, a radical theatrical gang in San Francisco. I confess I thought them a little crazy, but when a few of them wanted to start a new commune in the mountains, I jumped in. That year, 1968, was like that. It was a full day’s drive from San Francisco and the last many miles were just the sketchiest of roads. I arrived midday and maybe 20 minutes later two carloads of deputies came in and arrested me. It seems like yesterday, but 1968 was a half century ago.

EB: Tell us a bit about your book Beginners’ Luck, where you tell the stories of commune and the nearby towns.

MT: When I moved to the mountains I figured that news was something that came out of the city halls, the courthouses and the police stations that I’d worked in Los Angeles, so I stopped writing. Instead I learned about goats, firewood and the reality of living with sixty hippies in the middle of nowhere. There was no internet then and not even many telephones, certainly none at Black Bear. But over the years it became apparent that the stories unfolding around me were as important and as gripping as those that had been on my beat in Los Angeles.

EB: What’s the significance of the title?

MT: Specifically it’s from a time when a Native American friend took me to play cards with his friends near the ceremonial grounds. But more broadly, I came in clueless but got by. I got by with the help of the few locals who found us hapless hippies kind of interesting. That’s been my luck all along. I’m grateful.

EB: How did the community sustain itself over the years?

MT: The folks at the commune gardened, of course, but that was seasonal. Some people qualified for welfare payments, what they call TANF nowadays, and shared them. A few people came from wealthy families and their parents might send them occasional checks. We called that stay-away-from-home money. Since we were snowed in every winter in those days, we’d send out a big truck in the fall once or twice to get the winter’s provisions. Huge amounts of un-milled wheat and potatoes, barrels of oil, big sacks of beans. The Diggers still in the City helped with that.

EB: You’ve also been involved with reforestation work. How did that come about?

MT: Some of the commune expates moved to the river towns and started doing jobs planting small trees in the clear cuts where logging had just happened. People liked it because it was seasonal, which left them time for their homesteads the rest of the year. After one season they organized it as an employee-owned co-op.

EB: You were one of the people who stuck it out. How did the community evolve over time? What changes did you see?

MT: I lasted four years at the commune and left when I felt I’d had enough. I tried San Francisco again for a while and also Santa Cruz, but then I returned to the river. I’d had enough of commune life but the little towns along the river, the mix of Native Americans, rednecks, agency people and other hippies had figured out how to get along. They might have doubts about each other, they might harbor reservations, but they made it work, especially when everybody was needed for things like firefighting or opposing the Forest Service policy of herbicide use in the forest.

EB: Do you think that some of these environmental collaborations served as the basis for later cooperative efforts with watershed projects?

MT: It lay the foundations for work later by restoration non-profits and for productive collaboration with the neighboring tribes. Even the Forest Service has signed on. I call that a miracle, given where we started, and salute all our brilliant allies. I’ve been especially impressed by the caliber of our children, both the ones who returned to urban settings and the ones who stayed or who went to college and then came back. They are so much smarter and so much more politically astute than their parent’s generation, my generation. They work with the Tribe, with the Forest Service, with environmental groups and with a couple of powerful restoration non-profits. Early on we elders saw the benefits of getting along with the non-hippie neighbors, but our kids are really good at it. I’m proud of them and awed.

EB:Are there similarities between America today and our country 50 years ago when the commune started?

MT: Some things seem different. People smoke pot openly and men have beards and long hair, but those shifts are kind of superficial. On a deeper level, the country is still drastically divided in culture and politics. There is a crazy war that goes on and on without clear benefits. There are still deep divisions over issues of gender, class, race and much more. There is more poverty and more concentration of great wealth. The government talks democracy, but practices secrecy, corruption and authoritarianism. Is Trump worse than Nixon? We may have been utopians, but we didn’t leave a very perfect world for our kids. Still, if we hadn’t done the work we did, culturally and politically, it would be even worse. I remain an optimist.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with your book.

MT: I hope you find it interesting.

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Snow Speech: The Evolving and Combatting Dialects of Ski and Snowboard Culture, a guest post by Brian Wood

Brian Wood is an English major and skiing addict studying at SOU. His two great loves are prose and powder.

Anyone who has found themselves on a ski lift listening to their neighbor describe how they[1] “sent it off a gnar cornie, pulled a triple-cork, just missed the death cookies, and stomped the landing with steeze” probably understands that skiers and snowboarders possess a unique lingo largely unintelligible to outsiders. As in many sports, technical terms and esoteric descriptions pepper the speech of snow sports enthusiasts, transforming their casual banter into a language sometimes barely recognizable as English. However, the linguistics of skiing and snowboarding differ from the majority of sports dialects in two key points.

First, while most American sports’ lingos consist primarily of English terms coined to more precisely describe sport-specific actions, skiing/snowboarding speech embodies an amalgamation of English, Norwegian, and German terminology. To master ski/snowboard jargon—and indeed, to comprehend almost any conversation on or about a ski slope—one must understand expressions derived from all three of these languages, as well as some French, Russian, and Finish additions. Second, the language of skiing and snowboarding departs from more uniform sports’ vernaculars in the cultural rift splitting the dialect. The counter-culture, punk- and gangster-influenced lingo of snowboarders—and recently, some young freestyle skiers—exists in overt rebellion to the ordered, establishmentarian speech characteristic of skiing. This ongoing cultural power-struggle, in addition to the dialect’s diverse linguistic roots, gives the lingo of skiing and snowboarding a depth, nuance, and complexity unparalleled by more single-faceted sports.

Just as the sport of skiing traces its earliest roots to stone paintings in Norway, Herbert R. Liedke recognizes in his paper “The Evolution of the Ski-Lingo in America” that, “Norwegian has contributed the fundamental ski terms to the American ski language” (Liedke 116). Likewise, in his essay “The Language of Skiers,” Horst Jarka affirms, “The first [skiing] terms to be found in dictionaries are, like the word ski itself, of Scandinavian origin: Christiania (long since Anglicized to Christie, -y), ski joring, skiöjoring, slalom, and telemark” (Jarka 202). Despite Norway’s responsibility for the existence of skiing lingo, however, American English speakers initially resisted the adaptation of Norwegian terms into their skiing lexicon.

Throughout the 1800s, Americans preferred to clumsily lump skis in with the English ‘snowshoes’ rather than accept the more precise Norwegian term (Liedke 117). Additionally, some American skiers, such as those in California’s Sierras in the 1860s and ‘70s, invented their own terms for the sport. Sierra skiers devised “such picturesque word creations for skis as: flip-flops, or wooden-wings or, simpler, snow-gliders and wooden sticks” (Liedke 117). These coinages, while commendable in their ingenuity, failed to make a lasting impact on ski lingo. Even after skiing’s popularity exploded going into the nineteenth century, spurring a burst of corporate attempts to articulate the sport to potential customers, the search for English ski terminology still yielded unsatisfying results. Exclusively English ski lingo proved clumsy and inefficient at best, misleading at worst: “an awkward and unskilled mode of describing skiing” (Liedke 117).

By the early 1900s, American skiers and ski marketers had begun to recognize the need to blend English ski expressions with the more accurate and elegant alternatives offered by European languages. Motivated by linguistic necessity, the excellence of German skiers and ski technology, and a growing number of ‘jet set’ American families with a taste for extravagant European ski vacations, English ski vocabulary began to give way to an influx of European—particularly German—terminology. Jarka asserts, “the German element in the language of skiers soon outweighed that of any other foreign language…used not only by American theoreticians and instructors but also by ski fans who want to show how much they are ‘in the know’ on the art of skiing.” He lists a variety of German words incorporated into English ski vocabulary, including ‘fallinie,’ ‘vorläufer,’ ‘girlande,’ ‘riesenslalom,’ ‘schneepflug,’ and ‘treppenschritt,’ which evolved into the English adaptations ‘fall line,’ ‘forerunner,’ ‘garland,’ ‘giant slalom,’ ‘snowplow,’ and ‘stair step’ (Jarka 202-203). These terms, Jarka explains, are literal translations of the German, or loan translations, as he refers to them. Other German words, such as ‘mogul’—a term for bumps caused by heavy skiing on a particular slope—interlaced with English ski lingo without any change at all.

With the adoption of extensive German terminology into skiers’ jargon, the skiing lingo began to develop into a unique mode of speech, a language distinct from Norwegian, German, and English. In addition to loan translation and verbatim usage of German, Norwegian, or French words, the sport produced words exclusive to the world of skiing. Jarka references ‘skiable,’ ‘skimanship,’ and ‘skithievery’ as examples of skiing lingo’s departure from any single language, and points out, “skiers have added new meanings to words like bathtub, bunny, doughnut, eggbeater, snowplow, T-bar, and tow, and coined new terms like dope slope and slope fashions” (Jarka 204). Additionally, Liedke demonstrates skiing lingo’s burgeoning unintelligibility to non-skiers of any language or nation, quoting a ski reporter from the New York Times as proclaiming, “Such expressions as ‘geländesprungs, schusses, slalom, tailwagging and langlaufing’ are heard and you realize that, in addition to learning how to ski, you must learn to speak a strange language” (Liedke 120). As both Jarka and Liedke recognized, the language of skiing had outgrown the constraints of a single place or national identity, evolving into an entity tied exclusively to the experience, the mountain, and the exhilaration of hurtling downhill over snow.

Mirroring the journey of ski lingo into linguistic distinction and legitimacy, skiing also developed a unique culture: one stepped in affluence, prestige, and exclusivity. In stark difference from the sport’s Norwegian genesis as a practical and universally-accessible means of transportation, skiing in the 1900s on catered almost entirely to the upper classes, and the language of skiing expressed this elitism. The practical impossibility of skiing on a budget, coupled with the insidious classism prevalent in ‘ski biz’ advertising, cultivated a strong “snob appeal of…skier’s language” (Jarka 203). Skier speech became a privileged dialect, a syntactical assertion of wealth and cultural capital, and skiers utilized the complexity and multi-lingual nature of their lingo as a barrier to outsiders of lower class or economic means.

Even for those accepted into the prestigious inner circle of skiing lingo, slope speech tended toward a strong focus on order, adapting driving and traffic terminology to stifle freedom of expression or recklessness in skiing. While many of these terms inevitably stemmed from necessity as the skyrocketing popularity of skiing led to increasingly crowded slopes, some phrases—such as the epithets utilized to chastise and demonize reckless or aggressive skiers—demonstrated a clear dedication to structure, principle, and restraint on the mountain. Jarka demonstrates the antipathy faced by skiers who resisted the order imposed on their sport, listing various punitive labels imposed on high-speed skiers: ‘schussboomers,’ ‘hot rod skiers,’ and ‘trail hogs’ (Jarka 204). Additionally, he references an article which, in its title, posits the question “Can Schussboomers be stopped?” As do the derogatory terms of most cultures and languages, these labels for reckless skiers demonstrate the values of skiing lingo through the language’s choice of opponent. By vilifying those (usually younger) skiers eager to push the boundaries of the sport, the skiing language of the 1900s embodied a foundation of support for social and linguistic establishment—a support that grew so pervasive as to invite almost inevitable rebellion.

The revolution against skiing’s establishment culture emerged with the introduction of snowboarding: a sport which, while not significantly different from skiing in a technical sense (skiers slide down snow on two planks, snowboarders on one), embodied skiing’s collective cultural Id. While skiing society supported social values of order structured to maintain the status que, snowboarding championed individual expression, unapologetic pursuit of adrenaline, and strong counter-culture ideologies. In her article “What Is So Punk About Snowboarding?,” Rebecca Heino asserts, “snowboarding is aligned closely with surfing culture…Both blend the creativity of movement with the beauty of nature and the thrill of vertigo, a flirting with danger” (Heino 182). Heino continues, “Snowboarding represented a resistance to materialism and separation of mind and body, while embracing a wholistic view of nature that was similar to Zen and Buddhism” (Heino 183). This stark conflict in worldviews gave snowboarding the fuel to instigate a linguistic revolution.

In order to differentiate from mainstream ski culture, snowboarding lingo drew inspiration from other counter-culture movements. Heino explains, “Instead of the snowboarders aligning themselves with the dominant ski culture, they presented their cultural roots in surfing, skateboarding, and the ‘gangsta’” (Heino 178), and this cultural rift led “Snowboarders [to clash] with skiers in style of dress and body presentation, equipment, and language” (Heino 178). Perhaps the most fundamental linguistic divergence of snowboard culture from ski culture arises in the description of the sport itself. As Heino addresses, snowboarders did not ‘ski,’ but rather adopted the surfing term ‘shred’ into a mountain context (Heino 180). Heino elaborates, “Snowboarding appropriated other words from skateboarding and surfing such as goofy footed (riding with your right foot in front) and sick (excellent, as in ‘That was sick air’)” (Heino 181), resulting in a snowboarding lingo far more easily recognizable to the youth counter-culture of surf and skate groups than even the most linguistically well-versed mainstream skier.

In addition to surf and skate vocabulary, snowboarding also derived strong linguistic influence from gangster culture. As Holly Thorpe observes in her article “Embodied Boarders: Snowboarding, Status, and Style,” “The snowboarding media blatantly appropriate this gangster lingo, writing text in colloquial language and terminology that only gangsters and snowboarders understand” (Thorpe 189). Thorpe offers an example in Transworld Snowboarding, a popular snowboarding magazine and website which “writes to ‘all you fresh-ass mofos out there’” (Thorpe 189).

The incorporation of gangster lingo into the snowboarding lexicon differs from that of surf and skate culture, however, in that gangster terminology offers virtually no practical use in describing the act of snowboarding. Instead, snowboarders draw an exclusively stylistic and ideological connection between their sport and gangster culture, appropriating gangster terms to synonymize the snowboarding lifestyle with aggression, rebelliousness, and masculinity, despite the lack of physical or technological similarity. As Kristin L. Anderson affirms in her piece “Snowboarding: The Construction of Gender in an Emerging Sport,” snowboarding’s gangster speech is both a cultural statement and an intimidation tactic. Anderson argues, “Because the physical practice of snowboarding does not require obvious strength, violence, and aggression, snowboarders must use other factors, such as language, fashion, and ‘attitude,’ in creating a masculine identity…Like the African American men who create a ‘cool pose’ masculinity” (Anderson 69). Therefore, what skiing lingo accomplishes covertly through the underlying themes of prestige, exclusivity, and class distinction associated with the sport’s European technical terms, snowboarding language achieves more bluntly, and in the opposite direction, though gangster lingo. Both skiing and snowboarding adopt specific linguistic and dialectic terms to send a cultural message; snowboarding, true to form, simply refuses to apologize for doing so.

Despite a foundation of antipathy, however, skiing and snowboarding dialects have increasingly begun to merge as snowboarding gains cultural acceptance and joins the ‘mainstream’—a phenomenon highlighted by snowboarding’s presence in the Olympics, and one which has inspired some counter-culture devotees to strap into the once-maligned skis. Heino quotes the Transworld Snowboarding’s managing editor as admitting, “Skiing is punk again. The opposite of what convention is” (Heino 185). Consequently, terms once exclusive to one lingo or the other are being shared: skiers can now ‘shred the pow’; snowboarders can race ‘slalom’ and ride ‘moguls.’ The two once-distinct languages are gradually merging into one. Whatever the future of ski and snowboard speech, however, these lingos have achieved remarkable complexity, originality, and cultural relevance for two dialects founded around skidding down snow on planks, and they show no signs of slowing down.

Works Cited

Anderson, Kristin L. “Snowboarding: The Construction of Gender in an Emerging Sport.” Sage Journal of Sport and Social Issues, vol. 23, no. 1, 1999, pp. 55-79.

Heino, Rebecca. “What is So Punk about Snowboarding?” Sage Journal of Sport and Social Issues, vol. 24, no. 2, 2000, pp. 176-191, Accessed 19 Feb. 2018.

Jarka, Horst. “The Language of Skiers.” American Speech, vol. 38, no. 3, 1963, pp. 202–208. JSTOR, Accessed 18 Feb. 2018.

Liedke, Herbert R. “The Evolution of the Ski-Lingo in America.” Monatshefte Für Deutschen Unterricht, vol. 35, no. 3/4, 1943, pp. 116–124. JSTOR, Accessed 19 Feb. 2018

Thorpe, Holly. “Embodied Boarders: Snowboarding, Status, and Style.” Waikato Journal of Education, vol. 10, 2004, pp. 181-201. Accessed 19 Feb. 2018

  1. I use the singular ‘they’ intentionally in this essay in an attempt to avoid gendered speech.

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An Interview with Becky Robinson of Hometown Reads

Hometown Reads! helping them connect with readers in their hometown through what we call the Read Local movement. Founded in 2016, the organize authors by local community.

Hometown Reads is sponsored by Weaving Influence, a full-service digital marketing agency founded by Becky Robinson.

Ed Battistella: What is Hometown Reads?

Becky Robinson: Hometown Reads is a collaborative community dedicated to serving local authors across the country, by helping them connect with readers in their hometown through what we call the Read Local movement. We provide a free online digital bookshelf, where authors can showcase their books for increased discoverability.

EB: How long has Hometown Reads been doing this?

BR: Hometown Reads launched its first city, Toledo, Ohio in 2016. We celebrated our two year anniversary as a company in March of 2018.

EB: What is the benefit to authors?

BR: Hometown Reads allows authors a free platform to showcase their works amongst others in their hometown for exposure locally (and even globally).

We promote our authors across social media and have created tweets for authors to cross-promote each other and their locations. Each location has a city-specific Facebook group and author-Ambassadors to help grow the Read Local movement in their hometown, as well as share best practices for book marketing.

EB: Are there services for readers who are not authors?

BR: Our site is designed so that readers can search and find both books from their hometown, paired with the hope that they can develop online or in-person connections with their favorite hometown authors. Readers are also able to search by location, genre, and featured books.

EB: How do you pick the towns?

BR: Some of the locations we showcase were suggested by authors, local bookstores, or publishers. Other hometown locations were added when we notice an influx of authors signing up in a particular area. We are always looking for new locations and are open to suggestions.

EB: Are libraries and bookstores involved? How so?

BR: We encourage libraries and bookstores to sign up as Read Local Champions. These community organizations are supporters of the #ReadLocal movement in their hometown. We showcase them on our website and encourage them to implement “Read Local” shelves to support awareness of the local authors in their hometown.

EB: Who sponsors Hometown Reads?

BR: Hometown Reads is sponsored by my core company, Weaving Influence. Weaving Influence, based in Lambertville, Michigan, partners with authors and thought leaders to grow their online influence and market their books. It has grown into a team of more than 30 skilled professionals, offering full-service traditional publicity services and website development, in addition to our social media work and book launch promotion. We currently serve more than 40 clients and have launched more than 100 books since our start in 2012, with more planned for this year. While we primarily serve authors and thought leaders, we also work with corporations, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations.

EB: What are your plans for the future?

BR: We want to continue increasing the number of locations we represent to gain more attention of readers. We plan on launching a new homepage and book page designs in 2018 to make the site more attractive to readers. We want to continue exploring meaningful relationships with Read Local champions, facilitating involvement from our Ambassadors, and finding new, innovative ways to support our local authors.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

BR: Thanks for your support of Hometown Reads in Ashland!

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