Digging Through the Past to Help Define the Present

Digging through the Ooligan Press backlist, eager to see the legacy of those who’ve come before me and gone on to complete their degrees, I stumbled across Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity and was immediately intrigued. This collection of twenty-five essays from individuals of all genders, all sexual orientations, and all walks of life proved to be one of the most powerful and insightful books I’ve picked up in many, many years.
Untangling the Knot was heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully crafted. I would recommend this book in a heartbeat to anyone interested in queer rights and issues. These stories represent a diverse group of people with differing ideas on what it means to be queer and how to exist within a world that isn’t set up for their existence. It broke open the slew of topics that have been boiled into the tiny proverbial box of “queer issues” in order to look at pressing issues in the LGBTQ+ community. And though the novel is a few years old, released just before the national ruling regarding the freedom to marry in all fifty states, the same messages ring true today: legal doesn’t mean accepted; straight marriages and queer marriages will never look exactly the same; and “queer” means something different to everyone.
As a bisexual millennial, it was an eye-opening experience to learn the perspectives and stories of so many different people in all walks of life. Growing up with supportive parents and an accepting group of friends, I haven’t experienced many of the struggles that often come packaged in the “coming-out” narrative. This sense of naivety was perhaps the driving force behind my fascination with this book, as I often seek to use my sense of comfort and confidence to help shed light on issues that are so often swept under the rug.
My favorite essay in this collection was penned by Fabian Romero, who describes her experience growing up as a Mexican woman in the United States for much of her life. She was groomed to see marriage as an end-all, be-all—a saving grace from all the things in life that could go wrong. But as a bisexual woman who “performed” her femininity rather than embraced it, that narrative would never be her narrative. She mentions her foray into addiction and substance abuse, noting that she was just one of many queer people of color who chose these coping mechanisms, but also explains that she made it out alive with a refreshed sense of self and society. It is at the end of her essay that she provokes the greatest reader response, as she explains, “I question why gay marriage is talked about as if it will solve various forms of oppression that impact LGBTQIA communities.” She draws attention to violence, discrimination, poverty, and a slew of other issues that exist in the very structure of our society and admits that for her, marriage equality is only a small step forward in the face of equal rights.
One day, I look forward to “tying the knot” with the person I love, be they male or female. But for now, in an age where queerness is becoming more accepted, editor Carter Sickels reminds us that “there is still so much work to be done.” I’m perfectly content to just keep untangling the knot instead.

Close is Just Fine By Me

I grew up in a small town. A population of less than two thousand, a small gas station and convenience store, a tavern, and no stoplight anywhere even close to the city limits. There’s a way of life in small towns—slower, quieter, less self-aware—that people who grew up in a city just can’t quite grasp. Eliot Treichel’s short story collection Close is Fine is one of the closest depictions of small-town life I’ve read, as it captures both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

The rolling fields, the dilapidated houses, and the trucks that require a refuel on the trip to town and on the trip back are all hauntingly familiar to me. Treichel writes of teenagers forced to be older than they are, with no outlet for their aggression; of a girl who learns the hard way that life is cruel and unfair; and of fathers learning to let life take its course and sons learning to be okay with that.

The story “On By,” my favorite of the series, conveys in just sixteen pages the complexities of a man’s slowly collapsing marriage to his pregnant wife and the lure of someone new and different—a woman wild, tough, and steadfast. The new woman brings out some of his animalistic tendencies, a side of himself he loves and hates at the same time.

Treichel’s writing is gorgeous and easy, not at all flashy—just like the people and locations he writes about. So much is left unsaid, yet at the same time, he conveys entire lives and worlds in the few pages of each story. Treichel’s haunting landscapes and complex characters are what hooked me from the beginning. His masterful way with words is what won me over completely.

Eliot has since published a second book through Ooligan Press, a young adult novel called A Series of Small Maneuvers. You can learn more about Eliot at his website.

Are you reading the summer away, or have you barely picked up a book?

When I was between eleven and fourteen years old, there wasn’t a whole lot to choose from in terms of books for and about young adults. I consumed the entire Sweet Valley High series (I know, gross and gag me with a spoon, in the parlance of those times), anything by Judy Blume (which would cause me to turn crimson at points and make me wonder if I was really supposed to be reading about that stuff), The Babysitter’s Club series, and every single book by L. M. Montgomery and Madeleine L’Engle (many thanks to my grandma on both counts).

Arguably since the birth of the Harry Potter series, young adults have enjoyed far broader and richer options in which to spend the leisurely days of summer reading. To start off my summer, I did my own speed-reading through all of Ooligan Press’s young adult titles over the last couple of weeks and was very impressed, and perhaps a tad jealous. I wish I had been exposed to such finely crafted, socially/culturally relevant, and simply engaging stories when I was younger. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to have encountered them at all, for all they’ve taught me about various eras and Pacific Northwest places and people.

Ooligan Press has six young adult titles under its publishing belt, and they are all truly awesome books. I tend to be attracted to female protagonists who find themselves in a life-altering and challenging situation that is beyond their control—especially when the story takes place before the industrial age. Hence, I adored reading A Heart for Any Fate.

As a young woman, I would have deeply identified with the thoughts, trials, and heartbreak that Lovisa King encountered on her journey to Oregon. The plot moves quickly, and I really did have a hard time tearing myself away from finding out what would happen next to Lovisa and her family and community. In addition to an engaging plot line, there are complex matters of romantic love, faith, and death interspersed throughout the book that were deftly and carefully handled by the author. Despite the very real horrors of famine and disease (or getting lost in what truly was the middle of nowhere), Crew deals with very frightening scenarios delicately, and clearly she considered her younger audience.

As an adult, I was very entertained by the story and impressed by the thoughtful attention to detail that went into every aspect of recreating this world of 150 years ago. I can see why it has been used in school curriculums, as it is a vivid testimony to the immensity of westward expansion on the part of thousands of average people. The reader gets a clear and intimate view of how truly incredible this journey was. When I learned about the Oregon Trail as a child, it was often through romantic images like Little House on the Prairie—but A Heart for Any Fate is a much more realistic and full portrayal of early pioneers that would inspire younger and older readers alike to find out more about the Oregon Trail and Pacific Northwest history.

I wholeheartedly recommend spending some gorgeous summer days next to the river or ocean with this book or any of the six Ooligan Press YA titles—whether you’re going into middle school or teaching it. All of them are page turners that offer rich and realistic young adult characters of great complexity and resilience within their time and place.

Bloody Wednesday

Ahhh, Independence Day. A holiday intended to honor and celebrate America’s brave beginnings and illustrious history. A holiday of opposing emotions. And much like Thanksgiving, for many of us it may be filled with food, family, and fun. But also like Thanksgiving, it acts as a strange facade for a history that is far more complex and sometimes entirely and deliberately buried and forgotten. Michael Munk’s book The Portland Red Guide offers a slice of this complex history. Specifically, Portland was a quintessentially patriotic American city in the truest sense of patriotism, and its citizens exercised their right to free speech often and loudly. While “Keep Portland Weird” is one of the notions associated with the city nowadays, Portland was actually quite weird and wild far before the current stereotype came into, and fell out of, fashion. It was fertile grounds for various social movements and political change, and the Portland Red Guide honors the real history of what was once a blue-collar town:

The main purpose of the Red Guide is to offer a respectful rendering of the mostly forgotten people, organizations, and events that challenged the dominant powers of their day in the name of justice and equality—of which the victory of the 1934 strikers is a remarkable exception to a long list of defeats. An informal guide to Portland’s radical past, the Red Guide links notable radicals, their organizations, and their activities to physical sites associated with them. It honors those that the mainstream histories of Portland largely ignore. (Michael Munk, Portland Red Guide)

On July 11, 1934, one of the most pivotal events in Portland history took place in what is now Pier Park. The hundreds of laborers from Portland’s riverfronts, who spent long days for little pay unloading and loading the ships coming in and out of Portland’s busy docks, had been on strike for nearly a month. They won a victory in what was ultimately a class war between wealthy businessmen and blue-collar workers. It led to the formation of today’s International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which has among its members such organizations as Portland Locals 8 (Longshore), 40 (Checkers), 90 (Walking Bosses), 5 (Powell’s Books) 28 (Kaiser Permanente Security), 50 (Astoria), 12 (North Bend), and the Columbia River Pensioners Association.

Thinking of the striking laborers at Pier Park that summer eighty-two years ago (where for a long time you could still find bullets embedded in the douglas firs around the park), their bravery and courage for fair hours and wages and the right to create a union speaks more to me of celebrating our country’s freedom than the stories of rich landowners in the thirteen colonies trying to gain freedom from the British monarchy. The protesters on Bloody Wednesday exercised their right to speak out against social injustice and create communities for change and equality. I’ll light a sparkler to that.

Surviving the War

The Wax Bullet War is not a story that relishes in scenes of drama and so-called action. On the contrary, Sean Davis’s account of the war in Iraq is shockingly realistic and enlightening. His memoir begins the day of reenlistment, traverses through the chaos of war, and relives the trauma of violence. There are no victories to glorify, no marks typical of the action thriller genre. The Wax Bullet War has another purpose—at its core is a story exemplifying acts of courage and compassion in a world of violence. In Davis’s words:

I don’t think the world needs another war story about a squad of men who fought against all odds and won, who rallied against near-impossible obstacles until the tear-jerking end, whose story could easily be made into a Hollywood blockbuster. Maybe if I write a book exposing my faults and how vulnerable, confused, and scared-as-shit I was throughout this time in my life, it can help someone (277).

As a writer, soldier, artist, and person, Davis is inspiring and his memoir profoundly moving. In the midst of tragedy he manages to persevere and find moments of hope, warmth, and humor. Sean’s story is a love letter to anyone who has been affected by the violence of war, whether a soldier, family member, or friend. His memoir is a wake-up call to a society where war is too often perceived as a simple matter of right and wrong, good and bad.
Davis leaves his readers not with closure but the possibility of finding new purpose after experiencing unspeakable events. He recalls that:

I wave and smile at people holding signs thanking me for my service, but this isn’t a happily-ever-after. The nightmares don’t go away. The physical injuries caused some permanent damage; the emotional injuries, too. The war changed me in many ways, but I did get through the toughest times. There were many times I didn’t think I would … The artist inside me did what the soldier couldn’t. The artist found a new purpose and something to live for (276).

In the spirit of The Wax Bullet War, and in support of Davis’s efforts, this Memorial Day is a reminder to honor our fallen soldiers and all those affected by the traumas of war. This May presents numerous awareness opportunities and campaigns in support of our troops. Look forward to:

  • Loyalty Day (May 1)
  • National Anxiety and Awareness Week (May 2–8)
  • Nurse Week (May 6–12)
  • National Prevention Week (May 15–21)
  • Memorial Day (May 30)

If The Breakfast Club and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn had a Baby

Picture the popular jock, the beautiful girl who wants more out of life, and the outcast traversing high school life. Now, cue the backdrop of a small town surrounded by the woods and dammed lake with nothing to do but hang out at the local cinema and café-barbershop. This is the foundation for Robin Cody’s Ricochet River, a coming-of-age story that exemplifies the all-too-familiar awkwardness and angst that accompany growing up. However, Cody reinvigorates the recognizable structure with an unequivocally Oregonian flare. He echoes back to a deeper understanding of nature and a sought-after freedom that is oftentimes lost as we struggle to form identities and fit into an increasingly complicated world. It is appropriate, then, that Ricochet River will receive a twenty-fifth anniversary edition and introduce a new generation of readers to a journey of (re)discovery.

Wade—the star athlete of Calamus—embodies the aforementioned sentiments and a longing for more. He has difficulty articulating such feelings due to his confined status as a citizen of Calamus. He rarely questions authority, whereas his girlfriend Lorna is quick to criticize the small-mindedness of the townspeople and the insidious nature of Calamus. Like an audacious child, Wade imagines a future where, “We’ll build a raft, a great big one, out of cedar that will float high in the water … we’ll launch it where the water starts blue below the dam and just follows the current, let current take us, where it will” (44–45). His desires reflect maturity and a deep, lost understanding that links him to Lorna and their Native American friend Jesse as they breach the borders of life in Calamus.

Jesse sees what Wade must learn. From the beginning, where Wade sees déjà vu, Jesse sees vujà dé: “That weird feeling you’re the first one out here. Nothing in the world has ever happened before” (9–10). The trio develops a symbiotic relationship with nature that liberates them, frees them like the flowing of the current, brings them into being.

Wade ruminates:

I’d forgotten that a river doesn’t exactly take aim at things. It winds through a lot more country than a road does. A river ricochets down the valley, deflecting and echoing what it wants to say. Maybe it’ll get you thinking about the salmon and all that, but the river won’t take you straight there, either (70).

There is complexity to life and a relationship with nature that the town has long forgotten. And Wade must surrender control, let go of what he has come to know through Calamus to find himself and see life through Jesse’s eyes. With the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Ricochet River, so too will readers.

Blue Thread and the Obsession with Time Travel

While I was reading Blue Thread, I couldn’t help but think of the fact that there are so many films, television series, and books all about time travel and the consequences or effects of time travel. Why is that? There’s the appeal that we can go back to glamorous times and explore history, but is there more to it?

Is it because we all have a need to go fix a mistake in the past? Some people want to go back to take back that one regret, that one final argument that changed everything, or that time they walked away from the person they were supposed to end up with. People never sit up late at night thinking of all the choices they have made that they are proud of. No, we stay awake and obsess over the regrets. We think over and over again, what if?

What if I had never said that? What if I said that? What if I had taken that chance? What if I quit my job? What if I moved to a different city? You just experienced the worst breakup ever and do not know how to move on with your life? That’s okay. All you have to do is go back in time and never date that person—problem solved. If you want to make sure you are choosing the right major in college, you can simply jump ahead to your future and check things out.

With time travel, it is possible to go back to all our mistakes, our regrets, our missed chances, and fix them. We could erase the what-ifs from our lives. We could choose the perfect path we want to take. We could make mistakes and then take them back. With time travel we could live our perfect fairy-tale lives and never have to live with the heavy weight of regret, the shadow of guilt, or the shame and pain that come with some memories.

But these are all the obvious attractions to the idea of going back in time to fix a mistake or jumping ahead to see if our futures worked out the way we planned. We all like to imagine we are important, that we are relevant or connected to something meaningful. But through time we realize that though we may not recognize it, there are so many people feeling the same emotions and thinking the same thoughts as we are. Time travel is part of that in storytelling.

We all feel the clock ticking, our time running out. If we can travel in time, there is an illusion that we are somehow expanding our time or that we have control over time, something that in the end controls us all.

Through a magical object, a writer can show the feeling of being trapped between worlds or show a comparison. Blue Thread shows that through its main character, Miriam. Miriam feels trapped in the world she is in, but through travelling in time realizes that people have been struggling with the same issue for years, and in her world she fights to change that. Time travel is the gateway that Miriam uses to discover her strength and find her importance, but she is given that gateway because she is special. And that is what we all want: to be special and have that unlimited time that is offered by time traveling.

Redesigning Lincoln

Your relationship with a book begins with your first glimpse at its cover. The cover tells a story and affects your decision to pick up the book or keep on walking. Cover designs—colors, lettering, imagery—are carefully crafted to attract a specific audience and evoke a particular feeling when seen for the first time. From time to time, old books go through redesigns—primarily a marketing tool, a new cover is created to grab new readers or to update outdated designs. In the case of the design team at Ooligan Press, they have been hard at work redesigning ebook covers for the “time-twisting” trilogy Lincoln Out of Time by Tony Wolk. Compare the old print covers and the new ebook covers above.

“The original print covers for the trilogy were designed between 2004 and 2009, and since then, the Adobe Creative Suite programs have become incredibly powerful tools,” Erika Schnatz, design lead at Ooligan Press, shared with me. She went on to explain that the press as a whole has matured since Lincoln out of Time was initially published, and a redesign of the ebook covers seemed necessary to create a unified look for all three books in the series.

Three student designers submitted their concepts for the Lincoln Out of Time redesign. Each week they shared the updated versions of their design concepts while other students gave input on likes and dislikes and offered suggestions on how to best visually represent the series. Corinne Gould said, “That’s why I am at Ooligan, and why I will keep submitting designs—the peer mentoring is such an amazing learning experience.” Another student, Brian Parker, agreed with this sentiment: “Everyone who contributes a design is part of the process and adds something to the conversation.” Once the design process was finished, Ooligan Press as a whole voted on the final design and presented it to the author.

The designers creating new covers for these ebooks were very aware that readers will first encounter the covers in thumbnail size. They needed to think “simple, small, and strategic,” as Joe Friedlander explains in his article “3 Secrets to e-Book Cover Design Success”: use simple images that read clearly in a small frame; the main focus is to capture the attention of those unsure of what they are looking for; create unity among series or author-related titles (especially appropriate for the Lincoln Out of Time trilogy).

Redesigns happen more often than you might think—publishers want in-print books to keep looking modern and remain appealing to their target audience. In this case, at Ooligan Press, the main goal was to create a unified look across the books in the trilogy and attract a new set of readers to the series. If you are interested in reading more about redesigns in the publishing world, check out this interview with Molly Leach.

From the Missions to the Sea: Driving the Path of the Missoula Flood with Cataclysms on the Columbia as a Guide

There are many places in the world where one can see the dramatic effects of cataclysmic events carved into the face of the earth, if one knows how to look. Eastern Washington is one such place, and the revised second edition of Cataclysms On the Columbia: The Great Missoula Floods will show you where and how to look.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by the effects of the Great Missoula Floods. But I never knew about the floods until I caught episode 1001 of the Oregon Public Broadcasting program Oregon Field Guide. The program covered the Missoula Floods in a general way with some interesting animated and visual effects, but did not really delve deeply into the geology surrounding the events, or into the detective work of the scientists who pieced together the puzzle of what happened from their observations of the geological record. Over the years since watching the program, I have happened upon sites impacted by the floods, with their attendant interpretive signs giving me just a little more of the context of the story. While visiting the national bison refuge outside St. Ignatius, Montana, I discovered that I was standing near the bottom of Glacial Lake Missoula. While on a detour coming back to Portland from Spokane, I stumbled upon Dry Falls and got to see firsthand the deep scars that the floodwaters cut into the Palouse region of Eastern Washington. And taking my young children to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, I discovered an interactive exhibit devoted to the floods that put the depth of the flood waters in perspective. But it wasn’t until I began working at Ooligan Press and found Cataclysms on the Columbia in our back catalog that I felt like I’d been given the key to unlocking a deeper understanding of the floods and the detective work it took to initially put them into a geological context.

The Great Missoula Floods were a series of geological events that took place near the end of the last ice age, between 15,000 and 18,000 years ago. At the time, there was a massive inland lake in Western Montana. At its maximum size, it was roughly 2,100 feet deep, holding more than 530 cubic miles of water. These 530 cubic miles of water were held in place by a dam of roughly 50 cubic miles of ice. This ice dam gave way and reformed somewhere between 40 and 90 times during the life of Glacial Lake Missoula. Each time the dam broke, the waters behind it were released in a massive three-day flood that scoured its way through Eastern Washington, swelling the Columbia River to over 60 times the flow of the Amazon, and erupting from the mouth of the Columbia Gorge just west of Portland. As the floodwaters spread out into the lower Columbia and Willamette Valleys, they dropped more than fifty cubic miles of accumulated topsoil and boulders the size of small houses. At the height of the flood(s), waters in the Portland area would reach a depth of 400 feet—only the top floors of Portland’s tallest buildings would have been visible.

Cataclysms on the Columbia tells the story of the Missoula Floods and their geological impacts in great detail and is the first publication to attempt to relate the geological story in a way accessible to everyday readers. Also included in the text are a general introduction to geology, sections devoted to other ancient cataclysmic floods, and the story of J Harlen Bretz, an early champion of the Missoula Floods theory, and his struggle to gain support for what would eventually be understood as fact.

The final section of Cataclysms on the Columbia follows the path of the floodwaters from outside Missoula, across northern Idaho to Spokane, Washington, southwest to the Rathdrum Prairie where the waters backed up and formed Glacial Lake Columbia, to the channeled scablands of the Grand Coulee and Dry Falls, to the eastern end of the Columbia Gorge, downriver to the Portland-Vancouver basin the Willamette Valley, and to the Pacific. Someday, maybe, I’ll make the journey myself, as the authors of the blog Ice Age Floods have done. I’ll have Cataclysms on the Columbia to guide my journey and my understanding.

Backlist to the Future: Dreams of the West

With the release date of Ooligan’s upcoming book, tentatively titled Mastersounds, quickly approaching, we prepare to once again look at how our cultural history has shaped this place we call home. Mastersounds will show the rich history of jazz throughout the Pacific Northwest with a specific focus on Seattle and Portland. This new text, written by local jazz legend Lynn Darroch, will be rich with textual and visual pieces of the Pacific Northwest’s musical past. While Mastersounds is still many months away from hitting a bookstore near you, to get a glimpse of what the final text may look like, you need look no further than Ooligan’s 2007 title, Dreams of the West: A History of the Chinese in Oregon 1850-1950.

Like Mastersounds, Dreams of the West is a visual exploration of how the Oregon that we know today came to be. Accompanied by a plethora of informative text in both English and Chinese characters, this book shows us an Oregon that grew out of the blood, sweat, and tears of the Chinese immigrants whose fingerprints can still be seen throughout the architecture, cuisine, and art of the Pacific Northwest. Despite weathering terrible conditions and prevalent (often state-sanctioned) discrimination and harassment upon their arrival to America, the hardy and determined Chinese population that arrived in Oregon during the 19th and early 20th centuries steadily carved out a place for themselves, proving to be arguably the most significant foreign culture to impact what our state would eventually become. With the help and cooperation of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and The Oregon Historical Society, Ooligan was able to produce a title that gives an identity to the often nameless and faceless immigrants who helped to build a community of people that, regardless of race or origin, can simply identify as Oregonians.

Down to the book size and the heavy focus on historical images to accompany the text, Dreams of the West will serve as a sort of bellwether to the design and direction that Mastersounds will adopt. Even more than the physical features of the upcoming Mastersounds, Dreams of the West is the precursor to one of the most important messages that we here at Ooligan aim to deliver: through our unique past and identity, we are like no other place in the world. Whether it be jazz, Chinese immigrants, or anything else that makes the Pacific Northwest what it is today, Ooligan Press will strive to give appreciation to the things that make us who we are.