castle in a forest

The Murky Depths of Portland Produce Fantasy Gems

Dark skies, misty drizzle, and towering trees hang heavily over the treasures of fantasy in Portland. The Pacific Northwest is home to a host of fantasy authors, and our city is no exception. Here are three authors who span fantasy’s roots to fantasy’s present in this beloved genre.

Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of the Earthsea Cycle fantasy series. Although Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California, she has lived in Portland for most of her adult life and began teaching at Portland State University in 1979. Le Guin is most known for her science fiction, but she began her career writing fantasy.

The Earthsea Cycle began as a trilogy from 1968 to1972 but was then added to in 1998 and 2001 to create a total of five books. Earthsea is Le Guin’s fantasy universe that begins with A Wizard of Earthsea. The wizard in question is the young Ged, who is pushed to travel across Earthsea to be trained as a wizard. When he feels slighted by another trainee, his hubris pushes him to cast a spell well beyond his ability, which releases a shadow that haunts him. Ged is stalked by this doppelganger of his ego until he is forced to chase it down and face it. It is a wonderful fantasy story with great philosophical undertones. Ursula K. Le Guin died in 2018 as a respected champion of women, fantasy, and science fiction.

Wendy Wagner’s debut novel was Pathfinder Tales: Skinwalkers in the Pathfinder Tales series, which supports the Pathfinder gaming universe. Like Le Guin, Wagner writes a broad range of genre fiction, but fantasy, sci-fi, and horror are their favorites. Wagner’s prose is intricate and eerie, weaving a folkish feel into her magic—a perfect complement to winter reading in Portland.

Wagner also focuses on eliminating gender bias from their writing as much as possible. In an interview with Chuck Wendig of Terribleminds, Wagner recalls how hard the process can be:

When it was time to revise, my editor pointed out many, many instances of gender-biased language. I lost count of the number of times I referred to a group of fighters as “men.” In situations with a crowd, I almost never described anyone but the guys. Jendara may have been a well-rounded female character, but she was definitely a rarity in her world. I’m a woman and I believe very firmly in equality for all human beings. I was pretty ashamed to see my own work, and I’m glad I got a chance to fix it before it went out in the world. It’s all too easy to use those same old phrases without thinking about them, but as a writer, it’s my job to think hard about the world I’m making with my words. Do I want it to be the same world that’s told women they have to stay home out of sight, or do I want it to be a world where everyone can adventure, no matter their gender?

Annie Bellet is the newest of the three writers. Her first book, Justice Calling, was published in 2014 and kicked off her Twenty-Sided Sorceress series. Her genre is fantasy with a heavy gamer influence. Justice Calling introduces us to Jade Crow, a sorceress who is taking a break from magic in Idaho. Jade is forced back into spellcasting when an evil shapeshifter finds her and her friends. Bellet’s writing is fast-paced, and her world is familiar to ours. She has parlayed the Twenty-Sided Sorceress into a long-running series that is now at ten books and counting.

An Intimate Evening with Meagan Macvie

Fri, 03 Nov 2017 19:00:40 +0000

We took a second to catch up with author Meagan Macvie before the launch of The Ocean in My Ears (November 7), asking some questions about books, goats, and life growing up in Alaska.

First, I’ve got to get the most burning question out of the way: what can you tell me about your goats?

I have two Dwarf Nigerian goats—a girl named Beth and her stinky brother Lucky. I take them out almost every day for walks in the field behind my house. They munch blackberry bushes and fiddle ferns while I think about the world. My goat-inspired ponderings often end up in my writing.

Meagan and her goats. “I look crazy in this photo, but it’s also kind of hilarious.”

Besides totally owning #goatstagram, got any weird hobbies?

Hm. Weird hobbies. I like taking pictures of fungi. Like a lot. I go on walks in the woods and see all these crazy ‘shrooms. Wild mushrooms are strange and mysterious to me. There are so many different kinds and colors, and they’re very photogenic.

The Ocean in My Ears opens with an epigraph from Margaret Atwood’s “Circe/Mud Poems.” Without spoilers, why is this epigraph so important for this book? Why should we read Atwood with relevance today—and, if we’ve never read her before, what should we start with?

There are many ways into Atwood because she’s wildly interesting. She’s a big thinker and prolific writer who’s written in all genres. As a young person, I started with her poetry for so many reasons. I was a teen girl becoming uncomfortable with the roles being foisted upon me as an almost-woman, and Atwood’s Circe/Mud Poems explored these cultural expectations in ways that sharpened my own thinking. I badly needed an ally at that time in my life, and there weren’t many to be found in Soldotna, Alaska. As a feminist thinker, Atwood’s work is as relevant today as it ever was. I also loved The Edible Woman and, of course, The Handmaid’s Tale.

What were some of your favorite fictional heroines growing up? How about more recent ones?

I was pretty geeked out on sci-fi and fantasy in my younger days. Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman, and Morgaine from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon come to mind. I wanted to be beautiful and strong, clever and mysterious. Even then, I wanted to fight evil in the world, especially evil that was confusing. Not the obvious “bad guys” in Disney films, but the slick conspirators who pretended to be good. The early Christian patriarchs threatening the matriarchal Celtic culture. The doddering old man who puts his hand up your shirt when no one’s looking. That last one may be a real-life experience, but my battle felt no different, the odds no less impossible, than those facing my fictional heroines. I still admire strong women who face impossible odds. Although I did love the new Wonder Woman movie, now my heroines tend to be real women fighting for justice in today’s world. Beautiful, strong, clever, and mysterious women like former First Lady Michelle Obama, writer Roxane Gay, and US Senator Patty Murray.

What was the book scene like in small town Alaska in the 90s?

I went to a Christian school through seventh grade. There was no library in my school. We read from the Bible, Christian textbooks, and ancient Encyclopedia Britannicas. My mom also had a mail order subscription for kids books. Disney, Dr. Seuss, and Little Golden books would arrive in our mailbox once a month. I don’t remember an actual bookstore in town, but at the drugstore I bought Nancy Drew hardbacks as a kid and later mostly popular sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks. My mom had stacks of romance novels that I would sneak and read in the bathroom. That pretty much sums up my young reading life. I did attend a public high school, where I read novels that focused on social, political, and cultural critique—1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm, Looking Backward, The Jungle. There was no shortage of fear-based thinking in my life at the time. I also had to read some Shakespeare, Of Mice and Men, and bits of Greek mythology in school, but I didn’t encounter a ton of literary fiction until college. As an English major, I was expected to read everything from John Milton to Toni Morrison. That was a steep learning curve for me—I had to quickly step up my library, reading, and critical thinking skills.

If you were to be tattooed with one literary quote, which one would you choose? And what font?

Oh, that’s a good one. Maybe just “without guilt” from the Atwood epigraph in the book, because guilt has sucked so much of my energy—wasted energy—over the years and kept me from doing things I wanted or needed to do. It’s made me hate myself. Guilt is an empty glass.

In terms of font, I have very particular font tastes. I like a traditional serif font with round “i” dots and round periods. Garamond is a traditional font I like, but this Alice Google font is pretty lovely.

The Ocean in My Ears is heavily rooted in nostalgia for the 90s. Did you listen to anything in particular to get you into that mindset while writing? What 90s band would you recommend for teens today?

I listened to a lot of Journey while I was writing Joaquin and Meri scenes. Though I wouldn’t call Journey a 90s band, I listened to them a lot back then, and their songs—especially their ballads—were popular at dances. The Brett character was clearly informed by Def Leppard. Depending on my mood while writing Meri, I’d maybe pull up some old Madonna or British bands I used to love, like Pet Shop Boys or Tears for Fears or OMD.

(Listen to Meagan’s The Ocean in My Ears–inspired playlists to really get in the mood.)

What’s one interesting thing about growing up in Alaska that readers won’t find in The Ocean in My Ears?

Once in real life I fed carrots to a moose from my back door. That is not in the book.

Kirkus Reviews categorized The Ocean in My Ears as historical fiction. How does that make you feel?

Old, of course.


Rapid Fire

What was your very first job?

Babysitting. I hated it.

Go-to order at Dairy Queen?

Chocolate Dilly Bar.

Last book you read & loved?

Thi Bui’s graphic memoir The Best We Could Do.

Three things you can’t live without?

Hummus and salami on a pita (I count that as one thing), my green puffy coat, and my phone that is also a computer and a gps and a thermometer and camera and a data base and a recorder and a million other gadgets in one.

Pick a gif to describe your feelings about the upcoming publication of The Ocean in My Ears.

Like that one gif of Sam and Dean where Dean’s all “I’m totally fine” and then makes a whacked out face and the caption reads INTERNALLY SCREAMING.


Meagan’s The Ocean in My Ears is about Meri Miller, a girl growing up and facing challenges of leaving her small-town life in rural Alaska for college in the 1990s. Read it November 7, 2017.

Welcome to Summer

Mon, 30 Jun 2014 19:00:08 +0000

Hello, everybody!

Welcome to summer term! As of July 1, 2014 The Wax Bullet War has been out for three months and we’re still going strong. Last term, we booked a lot of events for Sean throughout the summer with some going into the fall. Now, we are working hard to keep our momentum in order to make these events as successful as possible for Sean and withstand the temptation to spend the summer days reading in the sun.

Coming up, we have two readings: the first is at Last Word Books in Olympia on July 3, 2014, and on the heels of that is one being hosted by the South San Francisco Public Library on July 7, 2014. We’ve been spending our time researching and contacting the media outlets and veteran’s organizations in those cities. It’s a lot of work reaching out to all of these busy people, but as our publicity advisor instructed us last term: be assertive and professional, but above all, be bold! It hasn’t steered us wrong yet.

Ooligan Press is pleased to announce the acquisition of Three Sides Water from award-winning author Peter Donahue. Three Sides Water is a trilogy of short novels all set on the Olympic Peninsula in three different time periods. We are excited to work with Donahue on these stories, which have been five years in the making.

Peter Donahue is the author of the novels Clara and Merritt (Wordcraft of Oregon, 2010) and Madison House (Hawthorne Books, 2005) as well as the short story collection The Cornelius Arms (Missing Spoke Press, 2000). Madison House won the 2005 Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction.

He has also coedited two literary anthologies with John Trombold, Reading Seattle and Reading Portland, both published by the University of Washington Press. In Fall 2015, he published an abridged and annotated version of Seven Years on the Pacific Slope (Shafer Historical Museum) with coeditor Sheela McLean, a memoir by Mrs. Hugh Fraser about life in the Methow Valley between 1905 and 1912.

Since 2005, he has written the “Retrospective Review” column for Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History, published by the Washington State Historical Society. His many short stories and critical articles have appeared in such literary and scholarly journals as Connecticut Review, The South Carolina Review, Interim, Washington Square, Chiron Review, The Southern Quarterly, The Midwest Quarterly, and Writing on the Edge.

Michele Ford and her team will be working on this project, so look for their updates in the future!

Editors on Location

At the Waterline, Brian Friesen’s debut novel and Ooligan Press’s last big release, hit stores this past May. It tells the story of a strange little community that quietly exists on the shores of Oregon’s most prominent river. Houseboat and sailboat communities dot the Columbia River, just miles from Portland’s urban center, sheltering thousands of wayward men and women who choose to live atop the water. Despite the Ooligan offices standing just a few blocks from the connecting Willamette river, most of its editors had no idea these kinds of communities existed.

When one thinks about the realities of creating entertainment, the production of books lags far behind its contemporaries in terms of risk and adventure. The actor films on location and the musician records across the world. Then there is the book editor, hunched over his or her MacBook©, living or dying on the authenticity of the author’s voice, yet feeling no pressure to go out and see for themselves.

At Ooligan Press, we have the benefit of being located in the heart of the region we serve as publishers. We’re firm believers in the value of bringing personal perspectives to the table as editors. As such, when production for At the Waterline was in full sway, the editing crew decided to take a field trip to one of the Portland area’s prominent waterborne communities: Sauvie Island.

Sauvie Island’s last official census was almost 20 years ago, so its current population is not certain, though almost certainly low. Despite being just a short drive from Portland, it is well off the grid by urban standards. The state government is far more interested in conducting wildlife and environmental surveys in the area, so the communities of people who live there are usually left alone. Its houseboat communities are a near-perfect approximation of Brian Friesen’s vision and gave the At the Waterline team a chance to explore the world they’d only seen in writing. I’ve collected some of the team’s favorite memories and ideas in order to share them here:

    “[My favorite part was] seeing the houseboat communities in person. All of the boats were very different and it was very cool to see them all lined up along the piers. It also helps you imagine how the characters in At the Waterline lived: you could see where there are community gathering spaces, and you see firsthand how small their living quarters are. It was raining the day we went, and it made us all think that when living on a boat in the PNW, where it does rain a lot, much of your time has to be spent below-deck . . . .”

    —Emily Hagenberger (Editor)

    “I know the marketing process was best helped through the field trips. When you’re reading a book, you’re just there to enjoy it, but to get other people to read it, you really have to connect to that part of it that makes it special. Visiting the settings for both books was really helpful in that venture.”

    —Mackenzie Deater (Editor)

    “My favorite part was doing the corn maze at the pumpkin patch. It was over an hour of wading through a river of mud and only Mackenzie was brave enough to do it with me. Doesn’t really have anything to do with the book, but she is the [incumbent] project manager, so . . . maybe a willingness to get messy is something innate to leaders of this team.”

    —Cobi Lawson (Managing Editor)

The benefit of placing an editing team on location isn’t something that is readily apparent, as it is difficult to measure an increase in authenticity, quality, and design acuity during a production process that lasts more than a year. But if one were to observe an At the Waterline team meeting, they’d notice a certain camaraderie that can only come from a collective experience. They’d also hear the abundance of creative and extraordinary ideas that have gone into At The Waterline‘s production, from engaging marketing schemes involving riverside scavenger hunts to the creation of a companion adult coloring book (designed by the talented Riley Pittenger). A lot of big ideas are coming from that tiny team.

Perhaps most importantly, one would sense a reverence and understanding for the source material, the author’s vision, and the fascinating world of waterborne communities hidden in plain sight. Our team knows exactly what kind of story they’re presenting to the world. They’ve been there.

You might think that compared to writing an entire book, selecting a title for it would be easy. In reality, however, crafting an effective title is a finely-tuned art that usually requires a great deal of analysis and strategy on the part of the author and publishing team.

How did you like the book Trimalchio in West Egg? Or The Last Man in Europe? Classics, right? Perhaps you’re more familiar with their final titles, The Great Gatsby and 1984, respectively. Even legendary authors like Fitzgerald and Orwell had to revise their original book titles at publisher request. Changing titles after a manuscript’s completion is common; here at Ooligan, for instance, both our most recent release and our latest acquisition underwent title changes after their first drafts. Here are some basics we recommend keeping in mind:

Do make it appropriate length. Shorter titles are helpful for many purposes including marketing, ease of reference for word-of-mouth publicity, and memorability. Generally, five or less words is ideal, but this suggestion isn’t set in stone. Many times, the reader would be unable to get an accurate sense of the book from a short title, and in such cases, a subtitle is needed. If you employ the use of a subtitle, however, make sure it is necessary. Tucker Max offers some good examples on this topic. Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential originally had the subtitle, “Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.” Yet the primary title and Bourdain’s chef apparel on the cover rendered this superfluous information for final printing. Lawrence’s Wright’s The Looming Tower, on the other hand, wouldn’t clearly reveal its subject matter without its subtitle, Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.

Don’t make it comparable to existing titles, especially classics. Book titles cannot be copyrighted (the effects of which the author of Fire And Fury: The Allied Bombing Of Germany 1942-1945 certainly became familiar with this year), so there’s a lot of overlap on library shelves. Although many publishers find success with somewhat formulaic titles, you want your book to stand out, provided it’s not eccentric for the mere sake of being unique without other redeeming qualities. Many writers recommend Googling proposed titles and going through several pages of search results to see what turns up. This also helps prevent choosing a title that has unintended connotations or references the author was previously unaware of.

Do make it memorable. You want your work to stick in the brains of readers and grab their attention as they walk by it on a shelf at the store or glance at titles while browsing online retailers. Avoid generic, space-filler titles. Think about a reader suggesting the book to a friend–you wouldn’t want them to be grasping at straws to think of the title so their companion could follow up on the recommendation.

Don’t mislead readers about the book’s content. The title should give some indication of genre and what potential readers can expect, and you want to appeal to the right audience. An element of intrigue is certainly important–you don’t want to give too much away before the reader even opens the book–but avoid trying so hard to be different that your title is confusing. If you told someone the title of your book and they couldn’t narrow down its subject matter at all, some revising might be in order.

There’s a lot more information available about book title strategy, but hopefully this was a helpful starting point. For continued learning, check out Bill Morris’s article about the appeals and perils of one-word book titles, Joanna Penn’s article on her experiences with editing titles, and TCK’s post that lists some examples of improved book sales after title changes.

Having a social media presence is more and more important for companies today. Consumers expect an online presence and often want to communicate with brands online. With so many platforms and a new topic trending every hour, social media can be overwhelming. Here are some things to avoid while establishing your presence online:

    1. 1. Starting without a plan

Every good marketing campaign has a well-thought-out plan, and social media is no different. “You need to have predefined and measurable goals, and you need to create plans to attain those goals” (Rawat, 2017). Planning is important, but so is acting on your plans. Your Twitter is like a little snapshot of your company, and all of your tweets need to add up to a cohesive message. Without a plan, tweets or posts are less likely to be thought about in the context of the entire marketing plan. Consumers see posts, and they add to what they already know and think about a company, so controlling perception is necessary to your brand image.

    1. 2. Addressing negative feedback too slowly or without considering the brand’s image

We have all seen times when a company hasn’t responded to negative feedback and it goes viral. Make sure to answer positive and negative feedback in a timely, professional manner while still planning a response that aligns with the message of your brand. Make sure to address the problem and offer a possible solution in your response. “Every comment a customer posts, whether positive or negative, presents an opportunity to communicate with the customer directly” (Kucheriavy, 2017).

Positive feedback is great, but negative feedback is where your company has a chance to shine. Making whatever situation that prompted the feedback right is almost more influential than an unremarkable experience. Most consumers will not post about their experience unless it is very good or very bad. Consumers want a seamless experience, but by taking an opportunity to create some goodwill, consumers will see your company in light of your response—good or bad.

    1. 3. Not having an appropriate sense of humor.

People do not like accounts that just seem like a faceless AI controls them. Consumers like interacting with other humans, and often that is what is most memorable for them. Have you ever gone to one store over another because you know some of the employees? Have you gone to a longer checkout line simply because you like the cashier? Denny’s and
Taco Bell are examples of Twitter accounts that have a sense of humor. They interact with consumers, and their interactions include humor where appropriate, which makes their accounts popular. Taco Bell promotes content related to specials, new menu items, etc., but they also infuse a sense of humor within their tweets. This makes consumers feel as if they are interacting with a person, which will give way to more responses.

    1. 4. Only promoting your business, and no interaction.

Businesses that only promote specials or sales risk being overlooked. Consumers are in an advertisement-heavy world, and getting content to stand out is difficult. Consumers overlook ads almost automatically unless it pertains to them. “Social media is all about being sociable and communicating” (Rawat, 2017). Interaction is a great way to stand out, since your response shouldn’t simply be an ad. It should be genuine and consistent. This is where accounts like Denny’s and Taco Bell shine. Denny’s is well-known for its use of memes and humor in their interactions with consumers.

    1. 5. Spamming

Marketing through social media is a delicate balance of posting regularly without spamming. Posts should be spaced out so as to remain a presence in feeds but not a huge portion of feeds. Live tweeting an event once in awhile is one thing, but constant spamming will mean consumers often unfollow accounts and/or ignore the content.

    1. 6. Not tracking your results

This is the most important part of marketing campaigns. Measuring the impact of your social media activities will show your company what works for you. Your company is unique, and social media is a great place to highlight that through your brand message.