Five Questions With Grace: David Berger

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I didn’t know anything about razor clams, much less razor clamming, before I met David Berger.  I was the event person in charge of one of his book readings and his enthusiasm for the subject, as well as great presentation skills – he came prepared with some awesome visual aids!- soon had us all enthralled with this fascinating bivalve!

David has been a contributor to the food feature, “Northwest Taste,” in the Pacific Magazine, and is a former art critic for the Seattle Times. He is also a recipient of a Metcalf Fellowship for Marine and Environmental Reporting.

His new book, RAZOR CLAMS: BURIED TREASURE OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST, is published by University Of Washington Press.

 

 

 

 

 

Now, let’s here what David has to say!

1. If you could have been the author of any book that has ever been published, what would it be, and why?

 

I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island every couple of years, so I guess it’s reasonable to wish I’d written it and had the chops for it.

It’s a great yarn and one of the world’s most popular books. I like stories and insights that have to do with the sea, and young Jim crossing the ocean with pirates and comrades, and having a tide-tossed boat ride in a tiny vessel called a coracle, are quite the watery adventures.

Sometimes people like to be read to as they’re failing in health and preparing to shuck this mortal coil. I wouldn’t mind hearing this tome in that circumstance. We’re all crossing something, one way or another.

 

 

 

 

2. What do you need around you when you start working on a book?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I need the stars to line up correctly, some space in my life and head, research and papers at hand, and a good amount in my bank account

 

3. You are forced to condense your book collection down to one small shelf. What six books would you want to always have in your home?

 

Well now, that’s a tough one. A dictionary, say the Random House Dictionary of the English Language. I like words and language.

Treasure Island, I’ve already said.

Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez.

Collected Essays by George Orwell.

My portable field guide to Western mushrooms, All that the Rain Promises and More… .

I like art, too, so The Hokusai Sketch-Books: selections from the Manga.

But OMG that’s leaves out Dostoyevsky, Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Moby Dick, all the poets and so much more!

 

 

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you first started your writing career?

 

I dunno, not feeling very advisor-ly at the moment.

Eat more chocolate. Buy more real estate.

 

 

 

 

 

5. During the course of your research for the new book, what was the most surprising thing you discovered about the razor clam or about clamming?

 

One thing that was surprising was how much fun it was to do the research. The number of people who went razor clamming in the 1970s, maybe as much as seven percent of Washington State’s population, was surprising.

And It’s quite astonishing to picture the razor clams on the West Coast all dwelling in their sandy intertidal burrows with hinges facing the surf. Their backs to the pounding waves. “Lined up as orderly as soldiers on parade.” That haunts my imagination every time I think of it.

 

 

 

 

Be sure to pick up a copy of David’s book from your local bookstore and check out the UW Press website to see if he has an event near you! And stay tuned for next week’s Five Questions With Grace with Eric Andrews-Katz!

Ikigai: Finding Happiness In Doing What You Love

Fall weather is here and I love it! I feel most alive and energized when the sky is grey and there is a slight drizzle of cold rain. Not a popular point of view here in the Pacific Northwest, where everyone lives for sunny days – but hey! I grew up in the tropics; I’ve had more than my share of sun!

Weather like this calls for a warm scarf, a cuddly kitty (luckily I have the perfect one), and a feel-good book! I picked up exactly such a book for the weekend. This latest in a long series of globally-themed life improvement manuals is not from Scandinavia but from Japan! I seriously can’t resist all of these cute little books so of course I had to check this one out!

So, you all remember Hygge – the Danish concept of finding contentment in coziness – well, ikigai is all about finding joy in working on your life’s purpose. And your own personal ikigai is the intersection of what you’re good at and what you love doing.

Makes a lot of sense! I am a firm believer that having goals, and dreams, and a raison d’etre can help you find focus and contentment -even if other things in your life aren’t always going according to plan. When you find your passion and you are able to find a way to work on that passion, your whole life changes. The little things in life don’t get to you as much – you have your purpose to keep you focused and on track.

This book is filled with scientific facts, anecdotal evidence, and interviews with some of the world’s oldest people. I look forward to reading it this weekend.

Five Questions With Grace: Steve Olson

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Steve Olson is a Washington-based nonfiction writer who has published articles and books on an array of fascinating topics. Subjects such as genetics, race, human origins, climate change, and even punk rock! His most recent book, ERUPTION: THE UNTOLD STORY OF MOUNT ST. HELENS, was named one of the best books of 2016 by Amazon, was nominated for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, and, most recently, has been named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.  His next book, to be released in 2020, is about the production of plutonium at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation during World War II and the Cold War.

You can check out more of Steve’s work at www.steveolson.com

 

 

 

 

 

1. If you could have been the author of any book that has ever been published, what would it be, and why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was a physics major in college, and I’ve always been enamored of the idea of mastering an idea at the forefronts of physics. For a while, my attention was focused on the book Gravitation by Charles Misner, Kip Thorne, and John Wheeler. I can’t say that I ever read the entire book or understood even a portion of it, but the general concept of mastering a particular area of knowledge is still the approach I take toward writing.
Oddly, I’ve been running across Wheeler again in my research on the history of the Hanford nuclear reservation. (I happen to be answering these questions from a hotel room in Richland after a day spent doing research.) He helped design the reactors at Hanford and solved a problem that threatened to shut them down when they first started up.

2. What do you need around you when you start working on a book?

 

I can write almost anywhere. But to work on a book, I need libraries, archives, and knowledgeable people. The problem with the way I write is that every single sentence is based on something I had to learn somewhere. Though I wish I could, I’ve never been able to write sentences that sound nice but don’t have much content.

 

3. You are forced to condense your book collection down to one small shelf. What six books would make the cut?

I’m going to interpret this as a “desert island” type of question, so six books that I’d choose if I could never again have any other books. They’re:

Don Quixote, since I’ve heard that it’s three different books if you read it once as a young person, once in middle age, and once in old age
A History of the World, the longest and most comprehensive volume I could find (though I guess multiple volumes would violate the rules)
The Bible, so I can reflect on the profound history the Bible has had on world history.
Ulysses, since I’ve been wanting to reread that book ever since college (preferably, right before a trip to Dublin)
Gravity’s Rainbow, both for its humor and complexity
The Collected Stories of Chekhov, to dwell on the reasons why people think and act the ways they do

Hmm, I guess all six of those books are kind of like Gravitation, now that I look at them.

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you first started your writing career?

I always tell aspiring writers the same thing: If you want to write full time, keep your financial needs as low as possible. Yet I’ve never followed that advice myself. And, sure enough, I spend most of my time on high-paying but routine writing projects that subsidize my lifestyle and occasional books.

 

5. I actually have a second ‘go-back-in-time’ question for you! As a science writer, if you had the chance to cover any scientific discovery or major natural event, and gather firsthand information, what would it be and why?

It would be the event I’m writing about now: the discovery of nuclear fission and the application of fission to produce nuclear weapons. Many journalists and scholars have listed the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the top news story of the 20th century. It’s a great privilege for me to be writing about those events.

 

Thanks for the great answers, Steve! Next week, I’ll be chatting with David Berger, author of the recently released, RAZOR CLAMS: Buried Treasure of The Pacific Northwest

Ladies Of Literature Portraits

During the month of September, I’ve been working on a series of portraits on my book Instagram page @graceandgutenberg : female writers, past and present! It’s been a fun little project and I’ve been taking suggestions from my followers as well so it’s also been a learning opportunity! Lots of great facts about some great women writers! It’s also been a wonderful chance for me to practice drawing people. Win-win all around!

Here’s a few of the ones I’ve done already and, with almost half of the month still left, I can’t wait to see who I discover next!

Three Steps For Dealing With Setbacks

Setbacks happen to everyone. Whether you’re building your own business, trying to lose weight, or fostering better relationships with family members. Things can’t go smoothly all the time, that’s just a fact of life, but don’t get so caught up on the ‘downs’ that you forget the many ‘ups’ that got you to where you are at this point.

However, just because setbacks happen doesn’t mean it’s the end of your dream. The key is to stop thinking of setbacks as failures and see them, instead, as a natural part of the process and a real opportunity for growth.

Here are some ways to deal with setbacks:

1. GIVE YOURSELF A SET TIME TO FEEL BAD

You just faced a setback! This means that something happened to derail plans that you’ve been working really, really hard on. That’s harsh and deserves a suitable period of mourning. Give yourself that time to feel bad for yourself and don’t feel guilty about it. But, and this is key to achieving anything, make that time finite. Set yourself a limit and then start the rebuilding process.

2. REMOVE THE EMOTIONS

When things don’t go well, our emotions go into overdrive and it’s difficult to see things as they really are. However, although it’s really painful to see things that we have worked really hard for not go according to plan, now, more than ever, it’s important to stop for a while. Do nothing on impulse, don’t succumb to the pressure to ‘fix things now’ , and step back from the situation. When you’ve cleared your head and can see the facts without emotional bias, that’s when you can truly start figuring out your next moves. Ask yourself what went wrong. How did you and other factors contribute to this? What could you have done differently? What can you do to help things now -objectively, not emotionally. Write these things down so you can see them concretely in front of you.

3. TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME

It’s important, when we have goals, to look at the big picture. The better health a year from now, the publishing of your first book, or a happier home life. These things can keep us going. However, sometimes it helps just to think of getting through things a day at a time. Don’t think of how hard a year of waking up early to write your book, or a year of changing your diet will be – just tell yourself you just need to make it to tomorrow. If you’ve just been thrown a huge setback, ask yourself what you can do to make things better tomorrow. And then, the next tomorrow. And the one after that.  Soon, you’ll be back in the swing of things again!

And above all, remember this : only people who take risks, work hard to follow their dreams, or even just HAVE dreams to begin with, face setbacks in the first place! It means you’re out there working towards something. And THAT is a good and brave thing.

Five Questions With Grace: Ben Clanton

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I got the chance to interview Ben Clanton, picture book author and illustrator, and his answers are just as much fun as his book launch parties always are! With only a few well-placed (and genius!) lines and squiggles, Ben is able to capture the heart and soul of a multitude of characters – from the very sweet duo of Narwhal and Jelly to his latest, the endearing ghost, Boo.

 

 

1. Ben, if you could have been the writer of any book that’s ever been published, what would it be and why?

 

Definitely Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It is the book that turned me into a reader and for good reason. Harry Potter contains so many things that I love such as magic, mail, humor, mischief, and goodness. J.K. Rowling weaves these things together in a way that is spell-binding as well as both fantastical and real. It helps that I have a healthy dose of nostalgia for reading it with my mom and sister.

2. What three things do you need around you when you start working on a new book?

A blank sketchbook (usually a Moleskine), a freshly sharpened pencil, and something unexpected

 

 

 

 

3. You are forced to condense your book collection to just one shelf : What books would make the cut?

That better be a huge shelf and I would definitely be cramming every last book on it I could, but the books that I must have on it include: ZEN SHORTS by Jon J. Muth, I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen, HOW DROOFUS THE DRAGON LOST HIS HEAD by Bill Peet, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak, CALVIN AND HOBBES by Bill Watterson, MATILDA by Roald Dahl, JIMMY ZANGWOW’S OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD MOON PIE ADVENTURE by Tony DiTerlizzi, STUCK by Oliver Jeffers, MUTTS by Patrick McDonnell, THE DOT by Peter H. Reynolds, and all of the HARRY POTTER books by J.K. Rowling.

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you were first starting out as a writer?

Make something new every day.

 

 

 

 

 

5. If you could have, as your sidekick, any of the characters you’ve created – which one would it be, and why?

Narwhal!!! Because who wouldn’t want a positively awesome, super kind, waffle-loving, and incredibly imaginative sidekick??

 

 

 

 

Thanks, Ben, for the very wonderful interview! We can’t wait to see your next project!

Stay tuned for next week’s FIVE QUESTIONS – with Steve Olson, author of  ERUPTION: THE UNTOLD STORY OF MT. ST HELENS.

The Hurricanes

    It’s utterly heartbreaking -seeing the devastation of homes, infrastructure, and even complete islands, in the case of Barbuda. The loss of lives is the worst of all. We, watching from a distance, feel powerless to help. However, we can continue to support all of the brave relief workers – with our prayers, good thoughts, and donations- now, and in the months and even years to come, as they heroically rescue and rebuild these ravaged areas.

June Book Club: Behind The Beautiful Forevers

Pardon the multiple postings for today but I decided to update my book club news, since I haven’t posted anything on that topic since May’s THE ARCHITECTURE OF HAPPINESS.

For June, I picked a heavier book – based on subject, not weight – BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS by Pulitzer winning author and journalist, Katherine Boo.

As you all may have figured out, I like to make each book club a mini party – with themed decorations and food. And, since this book is set in India, I had a field day! A quick trip to a local Indian store provided the treats. I also got the exact biscuits that were mentioned in the book. Luckily for me, they also happen to be some of my favorites!

We had a great discussion of this very painful-to-think-about subject. As some of you may know, Behind The Beautful Forevers is the result of three years that journalist Katherine Boo spent talking to some of the inhabitants of a horrific slum in Mumbai. The book is powerful, written as a very readable narrative, and will leave you thinking of the brutal topics for a very long time. I still haven’t decided what my take-away from this book is. I’ve vacillated between feelings of inspiration and hopelessness. On the one hand, despite the horrific conditions (living on open sewage, having to fight for everything they can) the inhabitants still feel a sense of hope and ambition, have dreams of a better life, celebrate birthdays, and even smile from time to time. Now, isn’t that a great testament to the resilience of the human spirit? On the other hand, at every step, they are also torn down by their own jealous neighbors, have to battle corruption and brutal authorities, and for every step forward, are hurled maybe five steps back. And that’s where my hopelessness comes in from this book: it all seems arbitrary, who succeeds and who fails. Hard work and honor are not always rewarded. And the biggest obstacle to these poor people was not the rampant TB, starvation, or floods – it was the brutality of other men.
I look forward to seeing how these ideas simmer and stew in my mind – because as hard as thinking about subjects like this is, I think it’s worse not to think about them at all.

The Magic Of Reading

Yesterday was World Literacy Day and, as of 2015, there are 1 billion illiterate adults in the world (UNESCO).Reading is something most of us take for granted. It is vital for improving our standard of life, staying informed with politics and current events that can impact us directly, and knowing how to improve and maintain our health. It is heartbreaking that this number is so high. Maybe not as vital to life as the previous reasons – but just as important to quality of life – is that books also have a way of stimulating your imagination and your dreams, and exposing you to perspectives that you may not normally be exposed to.

Books have given me some of the most wonderful memories of my life. Wherever I was, however young I was, there was a book to capture that particular time and place. My childhood was spent voraciously wolfing down every volume of Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys I could get my hands on. Even earlier than that, was Enid Blyton – especially The Famous Five and The Naughtiest Girl In School. Georgette Heyer reminds me of my best friend in high school, whose mother introduced us to that author. Tintin and Asterix will forever remind me of traveling to India with my family – my dad would always buy me one of those comics for the trip.

My summer vacations, spent with family in India, brought me many more, very dusty bookshelves to raid and that was when, at the age of 10, I first discovered the plays of George Bernard Shaw – who remains one of my favorite writers to this day. I remember reading Pygmalion for the very first time, lying on my aunt’s bed, a hot Indian afternoon, with the window open right next to me. And outside that window was a sapota (sapodilla) tree with the sweetest, ripest fruit you could imagine. Every now and then, between Acts in the play, perhaps, I would reach over and pluck a sweet, sticky snack. It’s one of my fondest memories of childhood.

Five Questions With Grace: Nancy Pearl

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Welcome to the newly relaunched Five Questions With Grace! After a much needed hiatus, I’m back with a long list of fun interviews with your favorite authors!

I decided to relaunch on the pub day for the fiction debut of America’s favorite librarian, Nancy Pearl! She has published several non-fiction books, is a regular contributor to NPR, and has a popular monthly show, Book Lust With Nancy Pearl, on the Seattle Channel. Nancy’s novel, George and Lizzie (Touchstone) came out on September 9th and has been highly anticipated! She gave me an advanced copy when I saw her a week ago, so I’ve been getting lost in the exquisitely-crafted tale. Be sure to pick up your own copy of this wonderful book!

Here are Nancy’s answers to my Five Questions:

 

 

1. If you could have been the author of any book that has ever been published, what would it be and why?

There’s so many books that came to mind when I read this question, among them Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, Ruth Doan Macdougall’s The Cheerleader, Laurie Colwin’s Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, Leah Hager Cohen’s Heart, You Bully, You Punk, but if forced to choose just one, it would be Anne Tyler’s Searching for Caleb. It was a difficult choice between that and Tyler’s novel Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant because they both have everything I look for in a book: wonderfully quirky characters, beautiful but not baroque or self-conscious writing, and a plot that grows out of the character of the characters, rather than having the story thrust upon them. Yes, Searching for Caleb for sure.

 

 

 

 

2. What do you need around you when you start working on a book? (E.g. Gallons of coffee, absolute quiet, a lucky pen…)

Diet Pepsi and almost total quiet. Also, a place to write that isn’t at home and has no Internet access. I live in a pretty small and narrow townhouse, so I have to write in the center of everything, at the dining room table, and of course we have Internet. It’s too easy to sit down at the computer and check my email or Twitter or Facebook, then look around the house at the things I need to do (make dinner, dust the shelves, take out the trash, and, of course, read all the books that have come in for review). My best writing is done when I’m visiting someone who’s gone all day and their house is empty and I have no responsibilities for it.

 

 

3. For some horribly twisted reason you are forced to condense your book collection to just one small shelf. What six books would make the cut?

The Collected Poems of A.E. Housman
The Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay
Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon
Anne Tyler: Searching for Caleb
The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin
Merle Miller : A Gay and Melancholy Sound

 

 

 

 

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you were first starting off as a writer?

I’m going to sneak in two bits of advice, because they’re short: 1) Write for yourself, not for the thought of possible publication; and 2) To manage to create a balance between believing in yourself and your work and heeding the advice of people who give you suggestions for making your work better.

 

 

 

 

 

5. SPOILER ALERT Which character from your new book, George and Lizzie, was the hardest to write and why?

All the character were pretty easy to write about because I felt I understood who they were and why they were that way. For that reason, even Lydia and Mendel, Lizzie’s parents, were easy to write about even though I disliked them intensely. The one character I felt the most distance from is Alicia, and luckily for me (and Lizzie, who feels the same way I do), she’s not around a lot.

Please watch this site for the next set of Five Questions – this time with best-selling picture book author and illustrator, Ben Clanton.