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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An Interview with Mari Gayatri Stein, author of Out of the Blue Valise

Mari Gayatri Stein is the author of eleven books and the illustrator of many others. She has contributed regular articles to such publications as Inquiring Mind, The Medford Mail Tribune, Tea Magazine, and The Healing Garden Journal. Stein has been an actor and traded her Hollywood hometown for an organic farm in Oregon where she lives with her husband and a pair of rescue dogs. In addition to her work as an artist and writer, she teaches meditation and yoga and works with women in recovery.

You can find more of her work at Gypsy Dog Press and soon at

EB: Out of the Blue Valise is something of a departure for you as a writer. How did the book come about?

MGS: It began with a birthday gift: an adorable stuffed hippo who föted (Hippoease for flatulence). Po had a powerful personality. She became my constant companion. Po loved driving through the countryside with the top down, eating chocolate—she pronounced it shokolad, and couldn’t get her fill of British mysteries. In the winter, Po, my husband Robert, Mumbles and Snowflake (our rescue dogs) and I migrated to Malibu to escape the Oregon chill. After several days of meditating on the oh-so-blue breaking waves below the bluffs, Po and I began writing a story about a hippopotamus in search of authenticity, love and cheap thrills. Our pilgrimage commenced. We were on a magical mission. The scribbles became chapters, proliferated into The Po Pages and eventually morphed into Out of the Blue Valise. The compelling factor that changed Po from a frivolous bedtime story to a novel with serious intent (still retaining its whimsical nature) was cancer. Out of the Blue Valise became a book within a book and gathered gravitas.

EB: You got a veritable wonderland of curious animal characters—a shape changing hippo, a multilingual zebra, a frog. Why did you choose to focus the story around endangered animals?

MGS: We are all endangered species. Our very globe is imperiled. Human beings are complicated, self-involved and absent most of the time. Animals are innocents and utterly present. These pure souls are our saviors. They expand our hearts as spontaneously as a smile erupts on our faces when we see them, touch them, breath them in, admire and sit in awe of them. It is down to us to save them from extinction. Genocide and specicide are the nemesis of all that is sacred and spiritual. The endangered animals have the ability to break open our hearts, and by so doing they ignite our compassion and rescue us from ourselves.

EB: This is very much a healing fantasy. What is the role of fantasy in our lives, do you think? Escape, healing, something else?

MGS: Thank you. That was the intention—to delight, inspire, heal and provide sanctuary within the pages of Blue Valise. Humans have forgotten how to be happy. Fantasy and whimsy are inherent in our childlike nature and bring out the best in us. They are the antidote to earnestness and discontent. Life without humor is tyranny. Humor allows me to keep my boots on the ground and at the same time surrender to the joy of the moment. That is the magic of Po and her crew. Fantasy is the chocolate icing on her chocolate cake.

The writing of Blue Valise gave me refuge while dealing with cancer twice in two years; a safe place to dwell where meaning and purpose existed. Po’s world made me happy and lent equanimity to endless days filled with life and death scenarios. It buffered me against self-obsession, implosion, worry, doubt and fear.

Our fantasies, imagination and stories keep our hearts tender. They do offer escape, and they heal us. What is real or unreal? In the core of the Blue Valise lies the answer to this conundrum.

EB: Can you explain the idea of the blue valise to our readers?

MGS: The blue valise is packed for the ultimate journey within and without. When Petal lifts the lid and Po leaps into her arms, all things become possible. The valise reveals a bevy of characters and global adventures. Estranged twin British aristocrats will reconcile their differences by collaborating in the rescue of an endangered hippo held hostage in Africa. A lonely and victimized zebra with red stripes will be sneaked out of a Paris zoo by Petal’s bosom friend Dr. Jake. Characters will hippomorphosize—change size with a secret password, and finally defeat a supersized villain out for blood. And more.

Everything exists within the blue valise. All at once, Petal faces her demons and dreams and there is no turning back.

EB: You are also an illustrator, so I’m curious about the ways in which the visual dimension might inform your writing.

MGS: The pictures provide the subtext. In the same way that a friend’s expression and body language reveal more about her than the words issuing from her lips, my illustrations divulge a character’s true identity. They offer intimacy and insight into our hearts and souls—our humanity. No apology. No prevarication. No debate. Nice or nasty, drawings are the unspoken balloons above our heads. Imagine if today, every time you engaged with someone, you told the absolute truth. (Wouldn’t that be a treat?) That is the luxury of my illustrations. They dare say and do what I dare not.

EB: This is your debut novel. How was it different from your earlier books? Was it harder to write? Easier?

MGS: Different, much harder, and at the same time effortless as the inevitable can be, like gulping water when you are parched. I loved writing Blue Valise. This arduous discipline took me over. In previous books, the art starred and words filled the supporting roles. In Blue Valise, words reign. I wrote every day for three and a half years, no matter what—through two bouts of surgery and radiation in addition to the demands and rituals of family and daily life maintenance. My Higher Hippo ruled the creative monarchy. Po dubbed me invincible. Suddenly, I could breathe underwater. I could fall through the atmosphere unscathed. The book was my lifeline, and I was determined to outlive its publication.

EB: I really enjoyed some of the wordplay. I hope I can find a chance to use “hippomorphosize.” It seem like you had a lot of fun writing this.

MGS: Drop it into a sentence at your next cocktail party. It’s a very handy word and rolls off the tongue.

I had a ball. I am bored between books—in limbo. But no worries, a massive novel calls my name—a pile of patient folders stacked in a red Chinese box tucked away on the bookshelf in my office whisper daily. Stay turned. This one should keep me alive for the next five years. Words are my favorite playmates. I love my thesaurus—yes, a real book with frayed corners and glued-together pages.

The first draft is the hardest part for me and always daunting, but I have learned to sit still and face the blank slice of paper like a warrior. Once I start editing and playing with the text, I am in heaven.

EB: What are you currently working on?

MGS: Post-Po production and catch-up. I am writing blogs for my new website: They include a recent adventure at the Portland zoo where I fed and petted a rhino and hippo, a story about spirituality and recovery from addiction, the diary of my new found friend, Penelope, our resident peahen who adopted us as her flock, and sequels to earlier blogs about cancer and hip surgery. After that, I will launch my new novel. The title remains top secret.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

MGS: Thanks for asking. Po and I had a great time. Join us for tea in the bamboo garden. Po will uncover your mantra. We shall hippomorphosize and dance through the fields.

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An Interview with Midge Raymond, author of MY LAST CONTINENT

Midge Raymond’s debut novel My Last Continent is just out from Scriber. Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, says this: “There is a romance about faraway, desperate places, about isolation, about ice and snow. Add penguins and you have Midge Raymond’s elegant My Last Continent, a love story about the Antarctic and the creatures, humans included, who are at home there. Half adventure, half elegy, and wholly recommended.” Library Journal says it is “Atmospheric and adventurous…the story and vivid writing will keep readers glued to the pages.” And there are rave reviews also from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

Midge Raymond’s writing has appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and Poets & Writers and she is the author of several books, including a book of short stories, Forgetting English, that won the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. She has been an instructor at the Richard Hugo House, San Diego Writers Ink, and Grub Street Writers and has been an Adjunct Professor at Boston University. Midge Raymond is also the co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.

EB: This is a story about life and personal choices, but also a story about the environment and the consequences of eco-tourism. Which idea came first to you, the story of Deb and Keller or the story of the Antarctic? Or is it even possible to separate the two strands of the book?

MR: I wanted to tell a story about the Antarctic, and the character of Deb came to me quickly and clearly as the best way to tell this story. As a character, she is very much a part of Antarctica herself; she is so passionate about the continent and its future, especially the fate of the penguins. So I would agree that it’s not entirely possible to separate these strands of the book — they are all so closely connected.

EB: I thought the story of Deb and Keller was complicated, yet believable despite the unfamiliar settling. As you wrote them, were you thinking about how to make the characters relatable to the reader?

MR: Not at first. In the beginning, I wrote to get to know them, and it wasn’t until much later that I took a step back to imagine how they’d be perceived to readers. And then I worked on them some more. Their relationship is indeed complicated, and, I imagine, not easily understandable for most people. So I had to make sure that I could portray how they came together and how they make such a good fit for each other, despite all the complications.

EB: You tell the story of the shipwreck and the relationship between Deb and Keller non-sequentially. Why did you choose that particular type of narrative?

MR: I wanted to begin the story with the shipwreck — in part because I hoped to create a sense of tension and engagement in the story, which I really enjoy as a reader. I also wanted to create a sense of inevitability surrounding the shipwreck — this part of the story was inspired by the concerns among naturalists about large cruise ships in Antarctica as tourism increases. As I began to reveal Deb’s backstory within this narrative, I decided to separate out these sections so that they wouldn’t bog down the narrative but allow readers to take a step back every once in a while and learn more, then jump back into the drama of the shipwreck as it unfolds.

EB: Can you tell our readers a little more about the title My Last Continent?

MR: There’s a scene in which Deb tells a passenger, “[T]here are two kinds of people who come to Antarctica. Those who have run out of places to go, and those who have run out of places to hide.” While I don’t necessarily share Deb’s view, one of the things I did in the novel was put these two categories of people together, which provided plenty of drama for a novel about our planet’s last frontier.

Antarctica provides this contrast among the individuals and groups who share the ships headed down to the bottom of the world. For many tourists, Antarctica is their seventh continent, the last place left to see. For shipboard naturalists, including researchers, Antarctica offers a chance not only to do their work but to educate tourists, to make the passengers’ last continent more than just something to check off their lists. For Deb and Keller, the continent is their last in the sense that it’s the only place they can truly be themselves, both alone and with each other. So I wanted a title that encompassed many of the themes of the novel, and also one that I hope will be intriguing to readers.

EB: How did you first get interested in the Antarctic and its wildlife?

MR: I had the opportunity to visit Antarctica in 2004, on a small expedition boat much like the Cormorant in the novel, and I became fascinated by the wildlife, particularly the penguins and the people who dedicate their lives to studying them. I learned a great deal about the Adélie, chinstrap, gentoo, and emperor penguins while I was in Antarctica, and two years after that trip, I had the opportunity to volunteer for a penguin census with Dee Boersma of the University of Washington, at the Punta Tombo colony in Argentina, which Dee has been studying for thirty years. This experience gave me insights into a new species — the Magellanic penguin — as well as into the lives of scientists, which was very helpful in imagining and writing the novel. And most of all, I became even more passionate about these birds and their fate in a world that is changing around them so rapidly.

EB: What was the research like for this book? Did you have to consult a lot of experts on the environment, maritime disasters and wildlife?

MR: Much of the novel was based on my own experience in Antarctica and from volunteering at the Punta Tombo colony. But of course, I also had to do a lot of additional research, including reading books and watching documentaries. I was working on the novel when the Costa Concordia ran aground in 2012, and all the news surrounding this accident provided a lot of information about maritime disasters.

EB: Coincidentally, or not, it’s the 100th anniversary of Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctica expedition. Was that an influence at all?

MR: Absolutely. I’m fascinated by Shackleton’s story, and it inspired me a great deal because it’s not only a tale of the wild and unpredictable Southern Ocean, but also of the resourcefulness and good luck it takes to get out of such situations. He’s an inspiring figure, but I’m also intrigued by the ones who weren’t so lucky — Robert Falcon Scott and his party, for example — because one thing that becomes obvious when you read about explorers is how quickly things can turn around in Antarctica. We are all at the mercy of nature when we’re there, whether today or 100 years ago.

EB: I couldn’t help but read the story of the tourists Kate and Richard as a parallel to Deb and Keller’s story. Any thoughts on this?

MR: I did, in fact, want Richard and Kate to be a parallel for Deb and Keller in the story; as a married couple, they are more domestic and their lives are more settled than the lives of Deb and Keller, who travel to the bottom of the world and only see each other a few times a year. However, as she gets to know Kate, Deb finds similarities in the two relationships and begins to appreciate both the simplicities and complexities of love, no matter what the circumstances. And of course, for Deb and Keller, the continent itself is a big part of who they are as a couple, so in a way, Antarctica is like a third party in their relationship, creating something of a love triangle.

EB: Can you tell us some of your literary influences? Who do you read?

MR: Over the years, I’ve become much more interested in environmental issues, so I have a few favorites when it comes to the environment and animal protection: Karen Joy Fowler’s novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Ann Pancake’s Strange As This Weather Has Been, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, among others. I also read just about everything by Lionel Shriver and Ann Patchett, whose work I really admire.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. I really enjoyed My Last Continent.

MR: Thank you so much, Ed!

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