An Interview with Connie King Leonard

Connie King Leonard is the author of Sleeping in My Jeans, a YA novel about a teen girl who has to live out of her car with her mother and young sister. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Connie to discuss what inspired her to write a book about being homeless, what message she hopes it will send, and the unique protagonist at the center of it all—Mattie Rollins.
How did you find Ooligan Press?
I saw an announcement in a Willamette Writers newsletter from Ooligan Press and went to the website. Ooligan was looking for work set in the Northwest dealing with a marginalized population, and I felt Sleeping in My Jeans fit that criteria. I checked with writer friends and found Ooligan had a good reputation as a reputable publishing press.
Your novel is fiction, but it rings true. Do you think it represents real stories of women and girls on the streets?
I do. Women and children are sometimes victims of domestic violence, which puts them in a vulnerable position—particularly if they don’t have the resources to afford to live on their own.
But abuse isn’t the only reason women end up in the street. The loss of a job, a major medical expense, and countless other catastrophes can destroy their ability to meet basic housing expenses. Even families with two adults working full time find themselves with financial problems.
What inspired you to write Sleeping in My Jeans?
I set the story in Eugene because I could visualize Rita parking Ruby in different areas of town, and I thought the best place she could leave Mattie and Meg after school was the city library.
The story was inspired by a sixth grade student I had in science class. Teaching kids to come prepared for class was one of our school goals. That meant bringing your binder, book, and pencil. I checked every day to make sure my students had what they needed.
One boy, I’ll call him Johnny, was a good kid and worked hard in my class, but mid-year he quit bringing his science book. I’d remind him and he would nod that he understood. One day, I said, “Johnny, I want you to go home tonight and look through your room for that science book.”
Johnny whipped his head around and said, “There are five of us living in a camper on the back of a pick-up. My science book is not there.”
Students in middle and high school do not always share the hardships and problems in their lives like elementary students. Even when teachers ask kids if they are okay or need help, older kids don’t open up like little ones. Johnny’s outburst was a shock. I was sick, disgusted with myself for not being in tune with my students.
I got Johnny another science book, but I have never forgotten him, because he taught me a huge lesson. The farm where I grew up in North Dakota was small and poor, but I always had a roof over my head and food on the table. I was privileged.
Why did you choose to write Mattie as biracial?
I am glad to see more wonderful stories being published about kids of color, which is great, but I still don’t see many about biracial kids. From my first idea for this novel, I pictured Mattie as strong, brave, and biracial and couldn’t think of her any other way.
What do you hope your book will achieve?
I want kids to know they are not alone in their struggles, whatever those hardships may be. In Mattie’s case, she has a small and beautiful family, but she lives in extreme hardship. Other kids problems are different, yet sometimes they feel like they are the only kid in school that doesn’t have a perfect life. Mattie is strong and resilient, and I hope kids learn from her determination to strive for a better life.
I also want people to be aware of the lack of affordable housing and know that not everyone goes home to a warm house or even a small apartment. Some of the students in their school may be living in a car, camped in a tent, couchsurfing between family and friends, or living in a shelter.
I hope my readers will enjoy Sleeping in My Jeans and will care about Mattie and her family as much as I do.
Do you have any suggestions for how to get involved with aiding homeless and domestic abuse survivors?
My biggest suggestion is to be aware that the person sleeping in a doorway is a human being. He/she may have serious issues that you and I can not help with, but that person deserves our compassion.
Many people now use the term “houseless” instead of “homeless”, because the new term recognizes that the tent on the side of the freeway or the beat-up minivan parked on a back street is someone’s home. I am training myself to switch terminology.
Lastly and maybe most importantly, we need to fund affordable housing as well as shelters for victims of domestic violence, teen runaways, families in need, veterans, and people with addictions and mental illness. It is a huge task, but one that is being tackled by some great organizations. St. Vincent de Paul in Eugene is doing an amazing job of providing housing options for people in all sorts of circumstances. Food for Lane County and the Oregon Food Bank are two other organizations that provide immense help to so many people in our state.
A portion of the sales of Sleeping in My Jeans will be donated to St. Vincent de Paul for the building of a youth house for houseless teens.

Ooligan Celebrates the Release of At the Waterline

Brian K. Friesen stands at the front of the crowded room, a microphone in one hand and a small orange notebook in the other. “The Attic” of the Buffalo Gap Saloon and Eatery is packed full of people to celebrate him and the release of his new book, At the Waterline. Of this fact, he is earnestly aware.

“I just want to say a few words about gratitude and thanks,” he begins. A spiralled stack of At the Waterline copies rests on the table next to him. Its publication is a testament to his craft, heart, and, as Brian notes, the community he immerses himself in.

This is the scene at the At the Waterlinerelease party. The air is joyous, communal, and honestly, a little bit wet. Before settling into the warm atmosphere at Buffalo Gap, a scavenger hunt sent teams all over Portland in search of local wares present in At the Waterline. Through the wind, hail, rain, and occasional sunshine, intrepid folk sought the same kinds of comfort and scenery present in Friesen’s book, which takes place just north of Portland in a ramshackle marina filled with characters as diverse as the items the teams were hunting for.

“How many ducks did you get,” a scavenger hunt judge asks a team in regard to their visit to local Portland craft shop Crafty Wonderland. “Did any of you manage to climb a tree?”

Teams were tasked with taking photos and getting all sorts of At the Waterline–related things from Portland mainstays like Ancestry Brewing, the Willamette Sailing Club, Portland Kayak Company, Pacific Pie Company, The Meadow, Daily Cafe, the Outdoor Program, Crafty Wonderland, and Nossa Familia Coffee, all of which also generously sponsored the event.

At the Waterline is, at its heart, deeply passionate about community. In that way it aligns with the Ooligan Press philosophy. The Press, like the scavenger hunt, is all about turning the literary lens inward, highlighting Oregon authors—like Brian, who lives in Tualatin—and showing the wider literary world what makes Oregon so vibrant.

The crowd at Buffalo Gap reflects this as well. Scavenger hunt teams ranged from Ooligan Press members (some of whom worked on the book), to friends of the author, to those who just want to support local literature. To ignore the communal nature of Ooligan Press is to belittle the multitude of outside contributors that make the dream of book publishing a reality.

As everyone enjoys plates of nachos or cold beer, Brian stands at the bar, scanning the scene. “It feels pretty damn good. Having everyone here, it’s great.”

Oh, and the winning scavenger hunt team? The Hot Ruddered Bums, of course. What’s more perfect than that?

Want to see what everyone was so excited about? Brian K Friesen’s At the Waterline, is available now on IndieBound and Amazon!

“Old No. 1” and Me: A Digital Romance

Last month, I became the new lead of the Ooligan Press digital department, and I’m thrilled because I’m a huge fan of the work we do in digital. I’m proud of the websites we oversee: Ooligan Press, our Publishing program, and the new and evolving Oregon Authors site. But my real passion is ebooks. I love reading them, I love making them, and I love the potential that they offer us as publishers and as readers. At the same time, I recognize that digital can be off-putting for those who are passionate about printed books, and so I’d like to reveal how I fell in love with digital publishing.
The romance unfolds in an unlikely spot: the rotunda reading room of the American Antiquarian Society, where I first made the acquaintance of a 240-year-old printing press named “Old No. 1.”
For those who aren’t familiar with it, the American Antiquarian Society is a treasure of an institution in Worcester, Massachusetts; a learned society and research library, the AAS has preserved over three million books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, and other printed material created in what is now the United States, dating from the first European settlement to 1876. The AAS was founded in 1812 by a man named Isaiah Thomas. (If you’re a basketball fan, no, not that Isaiah Thomas; and if you’re an old basketball fan, no, not that Isiah Thomas either.)
This Isaiah Thomas was a Revolutionary War printer who published a newspaper called The Massachusetts Spy. It strongly supported the cause of American independence—so much so that the British authorities referred to Thomas’s printing office as “the sedition factory.” Thomas heard that the British were planning to shut him down, and knowing how important it was to keep the flow of information going, he moved his press from Boston to Worcester to keep it safe on April 16, 1775 in the dead of night. Many years later, Thomas donated that press to the American Antiquarian Society. “Old No. 1,” as Thomas described it in the donation documents, now resides on a balcony above the reading room of the AAS.
In 2014, I spent a month at the AAS doing research for a nineteenth-century detective adventure called A Person Known to Me. The project is an experiment in mixing different forms of storytelling in a single integrated narrative whole, and I realized that to combine the many types of of media that were part of the project, I would need some programming skill. Using resources suggested by Derek Sivers, including the book Head First HTML and CSS, I began to teach myself programming. By day, I was a researcher in the library, paging through nineteenth-century dime novels, newspapers, and other gorgeous resources unearthed for me by the AAS librarians; by night, I was a fledgling student of computer programming.
One day, as I sat working in the library, I looked up at Old No. 1 in its balcony perch and thought about how much precious information regarding the American Revolution it had conveyed. In that instant, I was struck by the power of what I had been learning during those evenings spent poring over my programming books. Anyone who was willing to spend some time, like me, could now build a virtual printing press. Any of us could follow in Thomas’s footsteps and take on his mantle of publishing responsibility and civil action.

My path after that moment delivered me to Portland State University, where my focus has been on digital technology and what it can do for publishing. (I define “publishing” in the broadest possible sense, incorporating as many forms of media as are necessary to tell a story well. To see some wonderful examples of journalistic use of this kind of storytelling, check out “Snowfall” from The New York Times and “Hell and High Water” from ProPublica.)
What possibilities exist down this road for even longer-form narratives? What would Isaiah Thomas have been able to do with all of this, if he too had known HTML and CSS? And how can we in the digital department and at Ooligan Press honor and advance that heritage?

Welcoming the Oregon Authors Website

For the past year, one of my responsibilities as copy chief has been to manage the Ooligan blog, which generates content related to the book publishing program and industry-specific issues. Now, I am pleased to announce that Ooligan Press has acquired the Oregon Authors website; this site was previously maintained by the Oregon Library Association and was established to “provide access to information and resources about authors living in Oregon.” And while we will continue this tradition at the press, inheriting another social media platform has presented a unique and exciting opportunity for expanding the Ooligan brand and increasing the program’s involvement within Oregon’s rich literary community.
As one of the managing editors at the press, I’m thrilled to have another outlet that can attract a new audience while further developing the existing readership. The Ooligan blog (having program-specific articles) is particularly relevant to other students and readers already familiar with Ooligan. But this new endeavor is a chance for us to bolster our presence by showcasing what it means to be a teaching press: Portland State’s program allows for the students and the press to exist in academia as well as the book publishing industry, therefore we can contribute to ongoing discussions in the literary community through a plethora of resources that come from experience and research. As this process unfolds, I hope to see the creation of content that delves into industry-related topics and takes advantage of the resources and opportunities that come from being immersed in academia and publishing, as well as a vibrant literary community like Portland. The Oregon Authors website is our opportunity to establish Ooligan Press as a pillar of the community and an authority in the publishing industry, as a collection of informed voices. To fully round out the goals of this undertaking, I talked with the director of the book publishing program, Per Henningsgaard, who said:

I’m excited for PSU’s graduate program in book publishing to take over the Oregon Authors website … because it affords us yet another opportunity to contribute to the local literary culture. We already do this through the contributions our graduates make to the local publishing industry, as well as through the books and local authors published by Ooligan Press, but the Oregon Authors website represents new opportunities. We’re bringing together writers, publishers, libraries, and readers, and we want to make them equal stakeholders in this project.

I may not be here to see the project’s full transformation, but I’m excited just thinking of all the possibilities for the website as the press evolves. Upcoming articles to look forward to include an interest piece on the library systems in Multnomah County and Douglas County, a feature on Central Library, a roundup of writing conferences in Oregon, and interviews with local publishing professionals.