November 2, 2012

We Apologize ...

We just wanted to put up a note here.

We very much still believe in this blog, and if we were able to we would continue it.  We all believe strongly in the purpose of the Native Home of Hope.

Unfortunately, however, it was just too much and we too few.

Rest assured, however, if we can find a way in the future to pull it off, we'll be back!

~ The Editors

September 19, 2012

A Conversation with David and Jean Abrams

Jean and David Abrams on their wedding day (courtesy David Abrams)

Three weeks ago I invited myself over to David and Jean Abrams’s house for dinner and an interview. David’s first novel Fobbit was getting ready to enter the marketplace, and I thought I would write a friendly piece for a new blog. I rarely read fiction, and I am not interested in war. What I was really after was an insider’s view of their marriage, during which the writing of Fobbit took place.

David is gracious, so of course he accommodated me. He was happy that I wanted Jean there as well.

I arrived promptly at 6 p.m. to find David bustling about the kitchen in his work clothes, making dinner, cell phone wedged between shoulder and ear. Jean poured us a glass of cool white wine.

I sporadically follow David’s blog posts, and I enjoy his sense of humor. It’s edgy, and often not proper. Not bound by that moral straightjacket that causes one to worry what people might be thinking.

Then there’s the non-fiction. The stories of his father, his wife, the birth of their children. This writing wrapped around the arteries of my heart, pulled tight, and sent me to my knees in literal pain.

I am the person in between an acquaintance and a friend. I have known David and Jean socially for a few years. We have a shared interest in the preservation of Butte, Montana, where we live. But you come to feel you know someone much better than you do by being connected through social media. And both David and Jean have blogs that will pull you in and make you feel right at home.

Butte, Monana (via)

And right at home I was. I had an inkling of guilt at this point, knowing full well David had gotten up at his usual 3:30 a.m. to write, review, and blog. He then put in a bit more than his usual 8-hour day, with apologies to me for getting home late.

He’d been fielding calls all day and spent 3 hours in interviews for his book. A long-lost relative had called to congratulate him, and he’d been interviewed by NPR’s Morning Edition. And other national outlets that I can’t remember because I was getting more intimidated by the moment.

I suggested a “conversation” rather than an “interview.” And after David changed out of his work clothes at the insistence of both of us, we went out on the deck to eat and chat.

David talked at length about the excitement of this moment, about the buzz preceding the actual release of his book a week away. It was, he said, a moment in time to cherish for it would never happen again. There is only one first book.

Jean was enjoying the moment as well. Having been by David’s side his entire thirty-year writing life, Jean had this to say:

“I just wondered when everyone else would realize what a great writer he is.” (Large swig of wine)

I believe that time has come.

“I just wondered when everyone else would realize what a great writer he is.” ~ Jean Abrams
Anyone that writes knows it is a one-person show. It’s been called “lonely,” but I don’t agree. No one else can take credit for those hours spent alone in your mind, or in David’s case, the basement of his beautiful historic bungalow. But the support that the other person contributes to that endeavor, that process, is invaluable. A simple “I believe in you” that allows you to follow your dream despite the day to day struggles of life.
I am always intrigued by relationships such as David and Jean’s where I witness this kind of support first hand. It is – don’t gag – a fairy tale I still believe in and strive for at the age of fifty.
David and Jean did talk a lot about their life together, and this is the nutshell version.
They married young, not long after meeting. They knew they were meant to be together. David pursued an English degree, Jean had their children. They were still very young. They had agreed that Jean would raise the children and David would provide. He kept his word though he was unable to provide enough through a writing career. So he went into the Army. There were many moves and time spent apart, but Jean raised the children and David worked. All the while he continued to write. Eventually he was deployed, and you can read all about that in his book Fobbit. The children were all raised successfully, and after twenty years in the Army, David retired. David and Jean moved to Butte, Montana, where they fell into the “More house for less money” trap and bought a gorgeous Craftsman home. David took on another full-time job and kept writing. Jean started an amazing business called Backyard Bungalow. They spend every evening together, enjoying fine food and drink. They do not like to spend the night away from each other.
That’s a condensed version of their life together. It might read kind of boring because it is not fraught with drama. 
And now, after almost thirty years of marriage, raising a family, lots of writing, and lack of proper sleep – success has arrived.
It is easy when someone “succeeds” to have no idea of the tidal push and pull that has kept them grounded through the process. 
I’m talking about the reader now. You, the reader, will only begin to know David by reading his book, perhaps meeting him at a book signing. I’m just giving you a little heads-up on the layers that make up this man.
"David is humble, gracious, and astounded at this good fortune. And Jean – well, Jean is just ready."
Remember that he is a methodical writer. Remember he has been writing for thirty years. Remember that his success has been excruciatingly long in arriving. Remember there is no guarantee. Remember his family always came first.
David is humble, gracious, and astounded at this good fortune. And Jean – well, Jean is just ready.
There has been a congratulatory letter from the Governor of Montana, reviews in various weekly magazines, online magazines, interviews on radio, and television. Last week, right here in Butte, Montana, the official launch of the Fobbit book tour took place. Both David and Jean were radiant. It’s real now, and the entire town is cheering.
If you are lucky to live in one of the towns or cities where David will be promoting his book, please go. And don’t just go to buy a book. Go to meet him.
Do not be fooled by the author photo on the back jacket. He is no tough guy. He has the face of a kindergartner on his first day of school and the same sense of wonder.
Maybe you can envision him in the Army in wartime. I still can’t. 
I’m still a little bit embarrassed that I was brazen enough to invite myself into their home during this busy time when everyone wants a piece of David Abrams.
The piece I got was the one I suspected I’d get: confirmation of a genuinely kind person, a loving husband and father, a hard worker and a kick-ass talented writer.
Oh – and by the way: He’s a great cook!

 Nicole von Gaza lives in Butte, Montana, where she runs a tour company, a stained glass studio, and a gift shop and tries to find time to write. She has lived all over the West and tries hard not to work too long at one job. She has been published, but it's been a while and all she knows is that it was in Alaska. Her website is and her blog is and contains no posts as yet.

September 17, 2012

Happenings, Week of September 17

This week is full of book-related events, not least of all the Library of Congress National Book Festival.  As always, please please let us know of your book events!

Week of September 17


Courtney Miller Santo, The Roots of the Olive Tree, 7:30 p.m., Powell’s Books on Hawthorne, Portland, OR




Betty Jones, A Child’s Seasonal Treasury, 7:30 p.m., Capitola Book Cafe, Capitola, CA

Shann Ray, American Masculine, Natalie Diaz, When My Brother Was Aztec, and Bill Wetzel, contributor The Acorn Gathering,7:30 p.m., Casa Libre en la Solana, Tucson, AZ

Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins, 4:30 p.m., Purdue University, Rawls Hall, Room 2058, West Lafayette, IN

Lidia Yuknavitch, Dora: A Head Case, 7:00 p.m., Elliott Bay, Seattle, WA


Brush Creek Presents, co-sponsored by Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, the University of Wyoming Art Department, and the University of Wyoming MFA, 5 p.m., Visual Arts Building, Laramie, WY

Cheryl Strayed, or Dear Sugar, Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, Do Lectures, Campovida, Hopland, CA

Lysley Tenorio, Monstress, 9:15 p.m., Cork International Short Story Festival, Cork, Ireland

Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins, Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN

Yuvi Zalkow, A Brilliant Novel in the Works, 7 p.m., Annie Bloom’s, Portland, OR


David Abrams, Fobbit, 7:30 p.m., Tattered Cover Colfax, Denver, CO

Alyson Hagy, Boleto, 7 p.m., Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins, CO

La Jolla Literary Festival, a 17-speaker event that includes Mitch Albom, Ridley Pearson, and James Bradley, Sherwood Auditorium, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla, CA

Cheryl Strayed, or Dear Sugar, Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, Do Lectures, Campovida, Hopland, CA


CAConrad, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon, 5 p.m., Night Heron Books, Laramie, WY

La Jolla Literary Festival, a 17-speaker event that includes Mitch Albom, Ridley Pearson, and James Bradley, Sherwood Auditorium, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla, CA

Library of Congress National Book Festival, National Mall, Washington, DC

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, Writers in the Woods, Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe, NV

Cheryl Strayed, or Dear Sugar, Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, Do Lectures, Campovida, Hopland, CA

Lance Weller, Wilderness, 10 a.m., Northwest Bookfest, Kirkland, WA


La Jolla Literary Festival, a 17-speaker event that includes Mitch Albom, Ridley Pearson, and James Bradley, Sherwood Auditorium, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla, CA

Three Ways to Look at a Landscape,” a benefit for youth literacy and leadership program Adventure Risk Challenge sponsored by Bona Fide Books, with Janet Smith, Sue Kloss, and Michelle Murdock, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sagehen Field Creek Station, near Truckee, NV

Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis, Under Wildwood, Baghdad Theater, Portland, OR (tickets

Library of Congress National Book Festival, National Mall, Washington, DC

Gregory Spatz, Inukshuk, with Eric Sasson, Margins of Tolerance, 7 p.m., KGB Bar Sunday Night Fiction, New York, NY

Cheryl Strayed, or Dear Sugar, Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, Do Lectures, Campovida, Hopland, CA

September 14, 2012

We'll Be Back ...

Sorry we were slackers this week!  We'll be back next week - never fear.

September 11, 2012

Happenings, Week of September 10

This week of happenin' Happenings!  Be there or be square.  And as always, let us know what's happening in your world.

Week of September 10






Michelle Alexander with Liliana Segura, 7 p.m., Lannan Foundation, Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe, NM


David Abrams, Fobbit, 7 p.m., Barnes & Noble, Billings, MT

Cheryl Strayed, or Dear Sugar, Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, Toronto, Canada

Lance Weller, Wilderness, 7 p.m., Tacoma Public Library, Tacoma, WA

Lidia Yuknavitch, Dora: A Head Case, with Chelsea Cain, Kill You Twice, 7:00 p.m., Broadway Books, Portland, OR


Casper College/ARTCORE Equality State Book Festival and Literary Conference, featuring Pat Frolander, Zak Pullen, Cat Urbigkit, Kendra Spanjer, Karla Oceanak, Alyson Hagy, David Romtvedt, Linda Hasselstrom, Rebecca O’Connor, Renee d’Aoust, Brian Turner, Matt Daly, Claudia Mauro, W. Dale Nelson, and Luis Carlos Montalvan, Casper College, Casper, WY

Celebration of Writers at Valhalla, 7 p.m., from Tahoe Writers Works, with Stefanie Freele, Steve Robinson, Tim Hauserman, and Suzanne Roberts, Valhalla Grand Hall at the Tallac Historic Site, South Lake Tahoe, CA (tickets $10)

Ivan Doig, The Bartender’s Tale, 7:30 p.m., Powell’s City of Books, Portland, OR

Alyson Hagy, Boleto, Equality State Book Festival, Casper, WY

Lance Weller, Wilderness, 7 p.m., Elliott Bay, Seattle, WA


~ ~ ~

Book Launch

A Growing Season, by Sue Boggio and Mare Pearl

Hailed by Booklist as "Two talented authors who vividly bring to life the beauty of New Mexico and its people", Sue Boggio and Mare Pearl return to Esperanza, New Mexico, where a devastating drought threatens the farming community's survival. Vultures circle in the form of developers who see failing farms as ripe pickings for a bedroom community for Albuquerque. Court battles pit the endangered silvery minnow against the farmers as the once mighty Rio Grande shrinks from its banks even as demand for its precious water increases.

Abby Silva and her adopted son Santiago must heal from the violence of the past to claim their futures. CeCe and Miguel Vigil care for CeCe's octogenarian Jewish parents, whose long-distance disapproval of their marriage is now played out under their own roof, threatening their once solid union. Their daughter Rachel finally confronts the Jewish half of her ethnicity through her grandparents, Holocaust survivor Zeyde Mort, and irrepressible Brooklyn Bubbe Rose.

In A Growing Season, Esperanza is an American community at the crossroads. A place where people are struggling to preserve a traditional way of life and bring it into the future despite overwhelming odds. A place where cultures must cross divides if all are to thrive. Where love is risked, secrets are revealed, past wounds healed, compromises become victories and somehow, standing together despite their differences, good, brave people prevail.

 1963. President Kennedy was assasinated. All the adults were distracted and sad. The TV sets in Iowa began to show a war brewing in Southeast Asia. Sue's parents sold the house she had come to consciousness in, a lovely little green cottage with a grove of pine trees perfect for forts and secret gardens. They moved a mile west into a new subdivision where all the trees were so puny they had ropes attached to stakes to hold them up in the wind.
It was lonely in the new neighborhood. Sue was ten and her little sister was only six and therefore boring. She walked two blocks to the new grade school she would be attending. Along the way, any kids she saw stared at her and she stared right back. They were all younger and therefore boring. She thought about the Beatles. They were the only interesting thing in her life. When she had seen them on Ed Sullivan she felt something she had never felt before. It was joy and sadness mixed together and it became hard to breathe. Afterward, on the commercial break, she found she had squeezed her fists so tightly her fingernails had made little cuts in her palms.

By the school there was a house with a girl in the yard who looked about her age. She had wavy long dark hair and she held the collar of a mean looking dog. They looked at each other and knew each other at first sight.

Mare was short and kind of round and Sue was tall and skinny. Mare was Lennon and Sue was McCartney. Jewish and WASP. Brash and funny, reserved and serious. Mare taught Sue how to giggle and Sue taught Mare how to think deep thoughts. They played Beatle music non-stop and spent every minute they could together. They started their sentences with "What if" and then let their imaginations run wild with scenarios in which they would meet John Lennon and Paul McCartney and impress them with their sarcastic wit and maturity. These 'what ifs" became stories, with dialogue, plots with twists and surprise endings. They harmonized to Beatle songs and Mare learned guitar.

To read the rest of their entertaining biographies, go to their website.

Buy A Growing Season at IndieBound or at Amazon

~ ~ ~

Sue Boggio and Mare Pearl, A Growing Season, 3 p.m., Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM.

Casper College/ARTCORE Equality State Book Festival and Literary Conference, Casper College, Casper, WY

Alyson Hagy, Boleto, Equality State Book Festival, Casper, WY

Ruben Martinez, Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West, 5 p.m., Skylight Books, Los Angeles, CA

Claire Vaye Watkins, Battleborn, 7 p.m., Alumni Bookfair & Festival, OSU Bookstore / Barnes and Noble, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio


Junot Diaz, This Is How You Lose Her, 7 p.m., Baghdad Theater, Portland, OR

September 10, 2012

Happenings Delayed

We apologize.  Due to technical difficulties, Happenings will not be posted until tomorrow.  Until then!

September 7, 2012

Book Review: The Executioner's Song, by Norman Mailer

Reviewed by David Abrams

For the moment, let’s set aside the fact vs. fiction argument raging on either side of Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and face up to one simple fact: this is one damned good book. Some folks have even called it a “masterpiece.” I’m not about to talk anyone out of the “M” word.

If you’re one of those who insists on arranging books according to fiction and non-fiction, then you’d better shelve Mailer’s “true-life novel” somewhere in the middle. Using a novelist’s technique of fabricated dialogue and compressed events, Mailer writes with such force and energy that it fully deserves its trophy-case of literary prizes, including the Pulitzer.

Mailer (who first burst onto the scene with The Naked and the Dead in 1948) has always rankled both critics and readers with his sprawling literature. Some readers lose patience with his wordy prose; some critics say he’s just plain bombastic. I say he’s just plain good.

By the time you make it to the end of The Executioner’s Song, you’ll either hate him or love him—Mailer does not allow any namby-pamby in-between. I’ve read The Executioner’s Song twice—the first time in 1981, two years after its publication and four years after Gary Mark Gilmore’s death by Utah firing squad; the second time was at the turn of our century. The interval of nearly two decades did little to dim my enthusiasm for this book (which I prefer to classify as “embellished journalism”).
Gary Gilmore (via)
When Gilmore was arrested, tried and convicted of killing two Mormon men in Provo, Utah, one hot July night in 1976, I was living about 500 miles away. Up in Wyoming, I followed the whole murder case on the evening news. Back then, the viciousness of Gilmore’s crime (shooting decent Americans in the head with little provocation) was big news. Our society had yet to see the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, the Night Stalker, Columbine High School, or whatever sad shooting you’ll find in the headlines tomorrow. Gilmore, with his movie-star good looks and piercing gaze, was the Monster Next Door.
After his conviction, things really took a turn for the bizarre. Gilmore was given the death penalty.  Rather than fight with a series of appeals and pleas for gubernatorial pardons, Gilmore told the state he wanted to die. Never before had someone pursued his own death sentence. The media swooped in on the penitentiary and the rest of the world held its breath to see if Gilmore would eventually change his mind. He didn’t. And that’s partly what makes this book so fascinating: the character (if a real person can be called a character) of Gary Mark Gilmore. He is, in fact, so complex that even a tough-guy writer like Norman Mailer has difficulty getting inside his heart and head to find out what made the Monster Next Door tick.  (Unlike Truman Capote who burrowed deep—some say too deep—into his In Cold Blood killers.)
But Mailer gives it his best shot and the result is a big, whopping book composed of bite-sized vignettes—most of them only a paragraph long—making the pages fly past at the speed of cinema.  The book tracks the lives of Gilmore, his girlfriend Nicole, his Mormon relatives, his victims and the media circus that set up camp outside the state penitentiary. The Executioner’s Song is divided into two parts: "Western Voices" (the crimes and the trial) and "Eastern Voices" (the deathwatch and execution). Of the two, the first is much more fascinating and suspenseful—a result, probably, of our morbid fascination with all things bloody and twisted. Some of the second half is tedious, especially the long stretches with Lawrence Schiller, pseudo-journalist and self-promoter who is the only writer allowed to share Gilmore’s last moments (Mailer cut a deal with Schiller to use his notes and tape recordings for this book). Still, I was actually moved by Gilmore’s final walk toward the firing-squad chamber. By that point, he almost had my sympathy.
The book is huge in both size and scope, but Mailer always finds the right words to describe even the smallest of events.
The book is huge in both size and scope, but Mailer always finds the right words to describe even the smallest of events. Here, for instance, is the moment the entire book has been leading to—the execution by firing squad:
When it happened, Gary never raised a finger. Didn’t quiver at all. His left hand never moved, and then, after he was shot, his head went forward, but the strap held his head up, and then the right hand slowly rose in the air and slowly went down as if to say, “That did it, gentlemen.” Schiller thought the movement was as delicate as the fingers of a pianist raising his hand before he puts it down on the keys.

I have just one word for a passage like that: Wow.  Okay, maybe one other word:  Masterpiece.

Reviewer David Abrams is the author of Fobbit, a comedy about the Iraq War (Grove/Atlantic) that Publishers Weekly called “an instant classic.” His short stories have appeared in Esquire, Narrative, Salamander, Connecticut Review, The Greensboro Review, The Missouri Review, The North Dakota Review, and other literary quarterlies. He earned a BA in English from the University of Oregon and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.He retired from active-duty after serving in the U.S. Army for 20 years, a career that took him to Alaska, Texas, Georgia, the Pentagon, and Iraq. He now lives in Butte, Montana, with his wife. His blog, The Quivering Pen, can be found at: (Author photo courtesy Lisa Wareham Photography.)

Buy Fobbit at IndieBound or at Amazon.

September 6, 2012


We apologize.  Due to extenuating circumstances, we've taken down the wonderful post about slasher films by Jessica Robinson (aka Pembroke Sinclair).  Sorry to be coy but it's not due to anything on our parts or on Jessica's.  We were so happy to have her, and she'll be sharing another post with us in the future.

September 5, 2012

Foursquare, Delicate, and Lovely

by Brad Green, Contributing Editor

When one examines wood for purposes of construction, one looks at the direction of the grain, its flow through the sanded plank. A grain's pattern offers indications of a plank's strength. Grain that wavers like a sine graph yields a weaker structure than a grain pattern more oriented and point-to-point. Woven throughout Plainsong is a deep-rooted sense of goodness and grace that almost seems hokey and antiquated in today's world. But goodness in this book is not bumpkin in the way that sophisticated city-dwellers often sneer. No, Plainsong is brave. It's also a slow book in the way that a mist only begins to saturate you with time. It takes hours or days perhaps to realize the strength of this book and allow it work upon you. One fingers the pages and comes in stages to know Tom Guthrie, his boys Ike and Bobby, the troubled but sweet girl Victoria Roubideaux, and the work-rough hands and wind-blistered faces of the McPheron brothers. It's the McPherons, two brothers who live alone on a farm outside of town, that buoy this novel of human cruelty with an unyielding air of decency. What's so compelling about the McPheron's good nature is that they are decent and the veracity of their decency is never challenged. That decency is a fact weighty and undeniable as a boulder. I imagine that if one could slice the McPheron brothers apart the way a tree's trunk becomes wood plank, one would see the grain of good in them run arrow straight. Normally I admire characters that skirt the terminator line between right and wrong. That teetering often makes the characters feel real, but that wobble between shades doesn't exist with Raymond and Harold McPheron. They are good people, simply that, and it's incredibly pleasing to encounter them, to be reminded that we can create such light and people that embody those characteristics might exist in the world.

There's a blurb on the front cover of this book by the New York Times that sums up the feeling I get from reading Plainsong: A novel so foursquare, so delicate and lovely, that it has the power to exalt the reader. Exalt the reader. How often do you encounter those words in the description of a novel? Often novels entertain, stun, confuse, surprise or excite us. But exalt? What a weighty word exalt is. It means to praise, to esteem, to revere, venerate, worship, lionize, and ennoble. Ennoble. It seems like we often lose sight of what being noble means. It's not a large part of our reality tv lexicon. Nobility is a smaller facet of our modern character because to be noble means also we have to believe in something greater than ourselves. I think this capacity is shrinking in the human animal, especially the Internet-connected human animal. We have to be noble for something larger than our own concern. That can be God, Nation, or Community even. One can be noble for another person, one's daughter, son, mother, or even a stranger, but being noble is never an aggrandizing of self or self-image. To be noble is to not be solipsistic or surface-oriented. Many modern texts are concerned with their own aims and goals only. Such texts engineer ways to make their voice heard in the modern din of literary work by confusion, manipulation, or straight-out, unqualified weirdness. Often we laud the strange as being something new when in fact the strange is really nothing more than a weakness of communication, a grain run awry through the wood. There's a marked difference between having no meaning at all as opposed to merely being sly about meaning. But the sorts of inward-oriented texts I'm talking about here fulfill many needs still. They can surprise, flabbergast, stun, or entertain us, but such works cannot exalt a reader. Only a text concerned with reaching out can connect enough to exalt a reader.

In Plainsong, it's that exaltation that does me in, every time. See, I'm a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy, his tortured, wonderful sentences, and the grim, nihilistic characters that inhabit his landscape. It's easy to consider the world in McCarthy's terms. Such an ill-hearted determinism often feels right when we face what we face in the world. In a book like Blood Meridian, one marvels at the intensity with which McCarthy stares into blackness, never wavering. He's showing us the true heart of the human! At one point, I thought it brave to do such a thing. Many consider Blood Meridian his best work, and a work like The Road to be inferior, but I tend to think of it differently now. While The Road is brutal and forlorn, there is a moment slowly built up to where the book offers a gesture, when the boy reaches out to take the stranger's hand, and that textual gesture is also the book itself reaching out to the reader. With that motion, the book elevates itself. Sometimes it behooves us to deny reality because in that turning away, we have a chance to change things, to reimagine our world in different terms. Each denial is also the spore of recreation, or can be. The Road does not exalt the way Plainsong does, however, because the focus is different. Plainsong's focus has what John Gardner may have called a moral intent, or if that word is too bold, then perhaps one might proclaim the aim of Plainsong to be an effort to not tear down and lay waste, but instead to lift. 

Some may consider these types of gestures to be remnants of the magical thinking that has plagued our species since its inception. And perhaps that is so. To be wedded to feeling or emotional states often presents a poor invention in the face of bald facts and many consider that moment at the finish of The Road to be McCarthy growing soft. I don't think so. It takes guts to reach out like that. It takes balls to write about hope, especially when cataclysm gathers the large crowd.

That's why Haruf's Plainsong, to me, is such a brave tome. It's not fanciful. It's constructed of straight lines and forward glances. The morality in Plainsong is gray, however, never unilateral, and its variations are wide as the sky in Holt, Colorado. Tom Guthrie takes questionable actions against one of his students, but he's also fierce in his defense of his children. There are no reasons, no explanations. The same sorts of things we get in McCarthy, we can find in Haruf (and one hears as well tones of Cormac in Kent's measured prose), but what we find in Plainsong that's not in Blood Meridian is a willingness to entertain that good does exist in the world, that good is not imaginary, nor foolhardy, nor magical, nor is good delivered from God or portioned out by spirits otherwise incorporeal and unseen. Instead, goodness is realized, or better yet, created in the world by how we act, how we treat others, and how we protect those that we love from the small-hearted. Because what is exaltation other than a recognition and transcendence of faults? What makes me weep when I read Plainsong is seeing how easy it is to be a good person and then wondering why, for me, it's always so hard.
This essay was originally published at the Lit Pub.
 Brad Green has lived most of his life in North Texas. His work appears in the Minnesota Review, the Texas Observer, Surreal South '11, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, and elsewhere. He's a contributing editor here at Native Home of Hope and an associate editor at PANK magazine and can be found online at

September 4, 2012

Excerpt from 'Explicit Violence,' an essay by Lidia Yuknavitch

One of the legacies of the West - and of the world in general - is violence.  Children are told to keep these family secrets secret, but it is the power of writing to set us free and to somewhat excise those demons.  Here is an excerpt the Rumpus of an essay "Explicit Violence" by Portland's Lidia Yuknavitch, who is just out with a novel Dora: A Headcase, about one of Freud's famous patients. 

Excerpt from "Explicit Violence," by Lidia Yuknavitch

In a bar, with friends, listening to a man I’ve admired for years saying this: “Enough with the sob stories, ladies. We get it. If I hear one more story about some fucked up sad violent shit that happened to you, I’m going to walk. You win! You win the sad shit happened to me award! On behalf of my gender, I decree: We suck!” Laughter. The clinking of glasses. Again the secret crack in my heart. Stop telling.
The first time I saw my father’s specific sadistic brutality manifest in physical terms, I was four. My sister was flopped across his lap, barebottom. He hit her thirteen times with his leather belt. I counted. That’s all I was old enough to do. It took a very long time. She was twelve and had the beginning of boobs. I was in the bedroom down the hall, peeking out from a faithlessly thin line through my barely open bedroom door. The first two great thwacks left red welts across her ass. I couldn’t keep watching, but I couldn’t move or breathe, either. I closed my eyes. I drew on the wall by my door with an oversized purple crayon — large aimless circles and scribbles. Not the sound of the belt—but her soundlessness is what shattered me. Still.
The second time I saw my father’s naked brutality he came at my mother – I mean the second time I physically witnessed my father looking more animal than man, his embodied rage – he threw a coffee mug at her head. Hard. He once tried out for the Cleveland Indians as a pitcher. That hard. He missed, and the mug punched a hole through the wall in the kitchen. My sister was long gone—the escape of college. Afterward, there was dead silence in the kitchen. I know because I held my breath. Even air molecules seemed to still. I’d recently written a fifth grade school report on hurricanes.  It felt like we were in the eye.
My father never struck my mother. She told me it was because she was a cripple. My mother was born with one of her legs six inches shorter than the other. She said, “He wouldn’t dare hit me,” the lilt of a southern drawl and vodka in her never-went-to-college voice, some kind of messed up trust in her too blue eyes. Instead, he molested his daughters.
What do you think?  There is such a disconnect between what we allow people to say and the truth of experience.  Is it better to regulate or to write about it?  Better for society to have sanitized role models and deny what kids are experiencing?  Or better to admit it all at the risk of losing an idealized view of the world?

September 3, 2012

Happenings, Week of September 3

Here's the Happenings for this week.  Find a book event near you! And as always, if you have something to add, please email us at

Week of September 3

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Book Release

Okay, this was technically last Saturday, but we missed it. And, you know, the launch is this Saturday. So we’re including it in this week’s happy happenings. Happy birthday, Dora: A Headcase!

Dora: A Headcase, by Lidia Yuknavitch

Dora: A Headcase is a contemporary coming-of-age story based on Freud’s famous case study—retold and revamped through Dora's point of view, with shotgun blasts of dark humor and sexual play.

Ida needs a shrink . . . or so her philandering father thinks, and he sends her to a Seattle psychiatrist. Immediately wise to the head games of her new shrink, whom she nicknames Siggy, Ida begins a coming-of-age journey. At the beginning of her therapy, Ida, whose alter ego is Dora, and her small posse of pals engage in "art attacks." Ida’s in love with her friend Obsidian, but when she gets close to intimacy, she faints or loses her voice. Ida and her friends hatch a plan to secretly film Siggy and make an experimental art film. But something goes wrong at a crucial moment—at a nearby hospital Ida finds her father suffering a heart attack. While Ida loses her voice, a rough cut of her experimental film has gone viral, and unethical media agents are hunting her down. A chase ensues in which everyone wants what Ida has.

 Lidia Yuknavitch

In 1986 my daughter died the day she was born. From her I became a writer.

My writing is informed, deformed, and reformed by these things:

1. I think gender and sexuality are territories of possibility. Nevermind what we’ve been told or what the choices appear to be. Inside artistic practice the possibilities open back up.
2. I think narrative is quantum.
3. I think the writer is a locus through which intensities pass.
4. I think literature is that which fights back against the oppressive scripts of socialization and good citizenship.
5. I think the space of making art is freedom of being.
6. I think things that happen to us are true. Writing is a whole other body.
7. I believe in art the way other people believe in god.

I have had lots of jobs. Some of my favorites were being on an all-male house painting crew because you could see and touch your labor and it had concrete meaning and I could drink beer, pee standing up, and fart anytime I wanted; seasonal farm work like picking basil and fruit because I got to be outside and meet cool people; and working on the road crew with Mexicans two of the times I was arrested.

In the more recent past all my jobs have been bourgeois teaching gigs. I don’t know what I think about teaching. Mostly I show up and beg people to have a dialogue with me about ideas. I do feel lucky to have a job and health insurance. It’s just hard to be an isolate and do something so public every day.

In Eugene I invented a magazine called two girls review. In Portland my husband and I made a press called
Chiasmus. Both are the result of radical collaborations.

Oh. And I am a very, very good swimmer. Which must be why, as my friend Mia says, I have not drowned. When pulled under, kick.

Buy Dora: A Headcase at IndieBound or at Amazon

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Authors in Pubs, area writers read original works, 7:30 p.m., Jack London Bar, Portland, OR

Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival, Seattle, WA

Josh Garrett-Davis, Ghost Dances, 7:30 p.m., Powell’s Hawthorne, Portland, OR


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Book Release

Fobbit, by David Abrams

“Abrams’s debut is a harrowing satire of the Iraq War and an instant classic. The Fobbits of the title are U.S. Army support personnel, stationed at Baghdad’s enclave of desk jobs: Forward Operating Base Triumph. Some of the soldiers, like Lt. Col. Vic Duret, are good officers pushed to the brink. Others, like Capt. Abe Shrinkle, are indecisive blowhards. But the soul of the book is Staff Sgt. Chance Gooding Jr., a public relations NCO who spends his days crafting excruciating press releases and fending off a growing sense of moral bankruptcy. A series of bombings, street battles, and media debacles test all of these men and, although there are exciting combat scenes, the book’s most riveting moments are about crafting spin, putting the “Iraqi Face” on the conflict. A sequence in which a press release is drafted and edited and scrutinized, held up for so long that its eventual release is old news, is a pointed vision of losing a public relations war. Abrams, a 20-year Army veteran who served with a public affairs team in Iraq, brings great authority and verisimilitude to his depictions of these attempts to shape the perceptions of the conflict. Abrams’s prose is spot-on and often deadpan funny, as when referring to the ‘warm pennies’ smell of a soldier’s ‘undermusk of blood,’ or when describing one misshapen officer: ‘skull too big for the stalk of his neck, arms foreshortened like a dinosaur... one word came to mind: thalidomide.’ This novel nails the comedy and the pathos, the boredom and the dread, crafting the Iraq War’s answer to Catch-22.” ~ from starred review in Publishers Weekly

 David Abrams is the author of Fobbit, a comedy about the Iraq War (Grove/Atlantic) that Publishers Weekly called “an instant classic.” His short stories have appeared in Esquire, Narrative, Salamander, Connecticut Review, The Greensboro Review, The Missouri Review, The North Dakota Review, and other literary quarterlies. He earned a BA in English from the University of Oregon and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He retired from active-duty after serving in the U.S. Army for 20 years, a career that took him to Alaska, Texas, Georgia, the Pentagon, and Iraq. He now lives in Butte, Montana, with his wife. His blog, The Quivering Pen, can be found (Author photo courtesyLisa Wareham Photography.)
Listen to a piece by David on the wonderful Reflections West radio show, read by co-hosts Lisa Simon and David Moore.

Buy Fobbit at IndieBound or at Amazon

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Book Release


Wilderness, by Lance Weller

Thirty years after the Civil War's Battle of the Wilderness left him maimed, Abel Truman has found his way to the edge of the continent, the rugged, majestic coast of Washington State, where he lives alone in a driftwood shack with his beloved dog. Wilderness is the story of Abel, now an old and ailing man, and his heroic final journey over the snowbound Olympic Mountains. It's a quest he has little hope of completing but still must undertake to settle matters of the heart that predate even the horrors of the war.

As Abel makes his way into the foothills, the violence he endures at the hands of two thugs who are after his dog is crosscut with his memories of the horrors of the war, the friends he lost, and the savagery he took part in and witnessed. And yet, darkness is cut by light, especially in the people who have touched his life-from Jane Dao-Ming Poole, the daughter of murdered Chinese immigrants, to Hypatia, an escaped slave who nursed him back to life, and finally to the unbearable memory of the wife and child he lost as a young man. Haunted by tragedy, loss, and unspeakable brutality, Abel has somehow managed to hold on to his humanity, finding way stations of kindness along his tortured and ultimately redemptive path.

In its contrasts of light and dark, wild and tame, brutal and tender, and its attempts to reconcile a horrific war with the great evil it ended, Wilderness tells not only the moving tale of an unforgettable character, but a story about who we are as human beings, a people, and a nation. Lance Weller's immensely impressive debut immediately places him among our most talented writers.
Lance Weller has published short fiction in several literary journals. He won Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A Washington native, he has hiked and camped extensively in the landscape he describes. He lives in Gig Harbor, Washington, with his wife and several dogs.

There’s a great video of Lance talking about Wilderness on the book’s Amazon page

Wilderness at IndieBound or at Amazon

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Fourth Annual Hemingway Festival, a celebration of Ernest Hemingway, with Teju Cole and Sandra Spanier, among other events, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID

Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son, 7 p.m., Book People, Austin, TX

Lance Weller, Wilderness, 5 p.m., Square Books, Oxford, MS


David Abrams, Fobbit, 5:30 p.m., Quarry Brewing, Butte, MT

Duane Becker, Mount Spokane, 7 p.m., Auntie’s Bookstore, Spokane, WA

Jonathan Evison, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, and Willy Vlautin, Lean on Pete,7:30 p.m., Powell’s Burnside, Portland, OR

Fourth Annual Hemingway Festival, a celebration of Ernest Hemingway, with Teju Cole and Sandra Spanier, among other events, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID

Fur Trade Symposium, Museum of the Mountain Man, Pinedale, WY

Gould Distinguished Lecture on Technology and the Quality of Life, Miriah Meyer, 12 p.m., Gould Auditorium, J. Willard Marriott Library, Salt Lake City, UT

Rick Hendricks, “Fiesta Lecture: Diego de Vargas’ Strategies,” lecture, 6 p.m., New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe, NM

Pam Houston, Sight Hound, and Heather Lende, Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs, 7 p.m., Wilda Marston Theater, Loussac Library, Anchorage, AK

Lance Weller, Wilderness, 5 p.m., Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS


Fourth Annual Hemingway Festival, a celebration of Ernest Hemingway, with Teju Cole and Sandra Spanier, among other events, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID

Fur Trade Symposium, Museum of the Mountain Man, Pinedale, WY

William Gibson, Distrust that Particular Flavor, 7 p.m., Book People, Austin, Texas

Alice Hoffman, The Dovekeepers, Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland, OR

Stephen Graham Jones, Growing Up Dead in Texas, 7:30 p.m., Tattered Cover Colfax, Denver, CO

Cheryl Strayed, or Dear Sugar, Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, 6 p.m., Celebrate 30 years of Orion Magazine, On-stage conversation with Brian Doyle, Ecotrust Natural Capital Center, Portland, OR

Victoria Ann Thorpe, Cages, 7 p.m., Auntie’s Bookstore, Spokane, WA


David Abrams, Fobbit, 5:30 p.m., Fact & Fiction Books, Missoula, MT

Sharon Coleman, The Christmas Calf, 5 p.m., Ritzville Art Gallery, Ritzville, WA

Amanda Coplin, The Orchardist, 7:30 p.m. Powell’s City of Books on Burnside, Portland, OR

Jonathan Evison, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, Jefferson County Historical Society, Port Townsend, WA

First Friday Poetry with Bill Campana, 7 p.m., Changing Hands, Tempe, AZ

Fur Trade Symposium, Museum of the Mountain Man, Pinedale, WY

Sierra Nevada College Literary Lollapalooza, with Suzanne Roberts, Shaun Griffin, the Sierra Nevada Review, and Bona Fide Books, 7:00 p.m., Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, CA

Fur Trade Symposium, Museum of the Mountain Man, Pinedale, WY

Jess Steven Hughes, The Sign of the Eagle, 1 p.m., Auntie’s Bookstore, Spokane, WA

D. Andrew McChesney, Beyond the Ocean’s Edge: A Stone Island Sea Story, 2 p.m., Hastings, Spokane Valley, WA

Lidia Yuknavitch, Dora: A Head Case, book launch, 7:30 p.m., Powell’s City of Books on Burnside, Portland, OR


Clemens Starck and Charles Goodrich, 7 p.m., the Studio Series, Stonehenge Studios, Portland, OR

Mo Willems, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, 2 p.m., Powell’s Cedar Hills, Beaverton, OR

August 31, 2012

Book Review: Five Skies, by Ron Carlson

Reviewed by David Abrams

Three men stand at the edge of a remote river gorge in Idaho, about to begin work on a summer construction project: a large wooden ramp at the lip of the canyon, built for a motorcycle stuntwoman who plans to jump the canyon, a la Evel Knievel.  The three men are relative strangers to each other, but before the summer is over, they will bond in ways none of them could have predicted.

That's the sum total of Ron Carlson's first novel in thirty years, Five Skies.  It's a beautiful, patiently moving narrative about the value of hard work and the way flawed men come to grips with their personal demons.  Each of these three men are running from something: the gigantic man-of-few-words Arthur Key, who used to build collapsible sets for movies and who can't shake feelings of guilt over a recent death; Darwin Gallegos, the former ranch-hand at Rio Difficulto, where the men are building the ramp, and who won't let go of the pain of his wife's death in a plane crash five months earlier; and Ronnie Panelli, a nineteen-year-old petty thief who is trying to mend the error of his ways.

The men are each, in their own stoic way, trying to heal themselves by plunging into a summer of hard labor.  Arthur, for instances, reveals this to us early in the novel:  He told himself he was trying to regroup, to get a grip, but he now knew, after this time away from the life he had ruined, he wasn't doing a very good job of it.  The bulk of the novel demonstrates how three tough but sensitive men go about untying the knots that bind them to past sorrows and mistakes.

Amid the hairy navel-gazing, the methodical work of engineering goes on unabated.  Save for a few trips into the nearby town of (aptly named) Mercy, the action is confined to the job site on the wind-swept plateau.  Even here, Carlson finds poetry in the muscular world of construction, filling Five Skies with precise details of the labor and materials involved in building a structure that will, in essence, be a one-shot wonder.  Here, for instance, is one paragraph planted early in the book when Arthur goes shopping at the local hardware store:

He had a list in his pocket and he began assembling the items:  wooden stakes; heavy twine; steel hinges; two hundred yards of the rope; a one-inch tempered steel drill bit; forty-yard-long dowels, diameter one inch; a basket of steel fittings; boxes of wood screws; bags of brads; a roof stapler and staples; five gallons of wood sealer; five gallons of white enamel; spray enamel, white, black red; coarse-bristle paintbrushes; four paint rollers with extension handles; ten bags of posthole mix; five gallons of creosote; and a shopping cart of miscellaneous small tools, including chisels, a rasp and a fine Stanley wood plane.

The novel is a literary blueprint of work, the diary of one summer of sweat and sore muscles.  The men carefully clear brush from the site, dig post-holes, hammer sheets of lumber together, and smooth asphalt for the runway.  They are proud of their work but are always reminded that it's just a job and that soon the summer will end and they will drift away from the site and, most likely, from each other.  There is one particularly telling scene when they travel to the other side of the canyon and look back on the half-built ramp:

Key was sobered by the panorama, and the vastness smothered his notions that the project might succeed.  It was one thing, and a good thing, to secure a rail or build a step, but under the pressing sky and against this thousand-mile wind, and across the red and violet vacuum of the rocky chasm, every nail they'd pounded seemed a waste of time.  The three men stood in the soft sand near the lip of rock in their sunglasses and looked across at this little jobsite.

“Amid the hairy navel-gazing, the methodical work of engineering goes on unabated.” 
The physical labor may take center stage, but it's the personal growth of each character we're most interested in.  Carlson unfolds those revelations little by little, not playing his whole hand all at once.

These characters, these men, are kind and patient with each other—something you don't typically find in the predominantly cynical fiction of today.  This is wholly refreshing to read and lends Five Skies a sweet but melancholy air that lingers even after you've set the book down and gone about the rest of your day's business.  Arthur, Darwin, and Ronnie are guaranteed to stay with you for a long time, that's how magnificent a job Carlson has done in creating these three men.

The wind-swept plains of Idaho will also be burned into your imagination.  There are beautiful, compelling scenes—especially one in which the men descend into the canyon on a fishing trip—that have the power to take your breath away.  Here is a passage that's typical of the way in which the land resonates into the story:

They had woken to the sky a perfect trick, a magnified color well beyond cobalt.  Tangible and tender, the air and the earth after the rain seemed minted, some rare promise in the leverage of the early sunshine.  Rags of mist stood twisting in the atmosphere.

Those sentences also point to one of the novel's minor flaws: a complicated syntax that often calls attention to itself and reminds us that a writer is at work, sweating over these sentences as he pounds them into place.  Those moments are few and far between, however, and Five Skies succeeds best when Carlson relaxes and lets the story proceed transparently and without interference.

Carlson uses metaphor subtly and effectively, knowing just when to slip in an image that will echo beyond itself.  Arthur, for instance, is initially disappointed that the project is a motorcycle stunt ramp and he tells Darwin, “I was really hoping this would be a bridge.  That would have been more than I could chew, but I was hoping.”

The whole book, really, is about three men searching for ways to span the emotional chasms that have, in various ways, isolated them from the rest of society.  Here, in the high Idaho plateau country, they will do their best to overcome past mistakes; some will succeed, others will be cut short by new tragedies, but the point is that they're trying.  They are men at work on their souls and it's a testament to Carlson's talent that he's able to make this inner journey as exciting to watch as any high-octane testosterone action movie.

This review was originally published in January Magazine.

Reviewer David Abrams is the author of Fobbit, a comedy about the Iraq War (Grove/Atlantic) that Publishers Weekly called “an instant classic.” His short stories have appeared in Esquire, Narrative, Salamander, Connecticut Review, The Greensboro Review, The Missouri Review, The North Dakota Review, and other literary quarterlies. He earned a BA in English from the University of Oregon and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.He retired from active-duty after serving in the U.S. Army for 20 years, a career that took him to Alaska, Texas, Georgia, the Pentagon, and Iraq. He now lives in Butte, Montana, with his wife. His blog, The Quivering Pen, can be found at: (Author photo courtesy Lisa Wareham Photography.)

Buy Fobbit at IndieBound or at Amazon.