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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Wedding in Yangshuo

Once upon a time at Wake Robin Farm in Oregon, I was miraculously pregnant with our first child.

That same summer, on the Li River in Southern China, a pretty woman exactly my age was also expecting. She and her husband were both artists.

Our child, born in August, was a son. Theirs, born in October, a daughter.

Twenty-two years later these children, now grown, would meet in Beijing.

The girl from Yangshuo had been studying English.

Our son, traveling with a university program, was rapidly become proficient in both Mandarin and Cantonese.

These two could talk to each other.

They could fall in love.

And did.

This is their story.

And ours.

Everything in this book actually happened, even the lovely, fateful coincidences.

Especially those........


So begins my new memoir, which is just out as an ebook and will be available as a paperback shortly. For readers of Children of the River, now in print almost twenty-nine years, Wedding in Yangshuo can be read almost as a companion book, as it explains the inspiration for the YA novel, and shows how deeply impacted the future of my life was by its research, writing, and publication.

For everybody else, my memoir is simply the story of my writing life, my marriage, and the life-changing trip my husband and I took to Yangshuo, trying to carry the family flag as our son married a girl from this most scenic corner of China.  Read More 
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BRIDES OF EDEN: a True Story Imagined

Finally....a reprint edition of Brides of Eden, which was originally published by HarperCollins in 2001. The new edition, in paperback and ebook, contains all the original historic photos of the original.

So much has been written over the years about the scandal that erupted in sleepy little Corvallis when charismatic Franz Edmund Creffield came to Corvallis, dubbed himself Joshua, and gathered around him the wives and daughters of several prominent families.

When my book came out, I ended up meeting some of the descendants of these folks. One older man was still terribly upset about the whole affair, although why he traveled a hundred miles to confront me in a bookstore to say he wished people would stop writing about this and embarrassing him in public I cannot say.

Other descendants of a younger generation seemed to understand that, unlike everything else written about this episode, I was telling the story from the point of view of the young women involved. I had sympathy for them as the victims they were.

One man called me and said he had only just learned that he was descended from the followers of Creffield. He had been advised not to read about it, but was told that if he did, he should read the one called Brides of Eden, because that's the only one that explained how it really happened. I took this as the best compliment, especially as my book is the only one written as a novel.

The story of a powerful man bending women to his will just keeps playing out, doesn't it? Check out the link to my newly posted book trailer to see how it happened in Corvallis, Oregon, in 1903.  Read More 
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Fake Words

When I was in the 8th grade, I decided to enter the city-wide essay contest sponsored by the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce on the theme of “What America Means to Me.” I set about this writing task with determination, congratulating myself on my rather scientific approach.

My method? I sat down and put on all my Peter, Paul and Mary records and copied out the ringing phrases that might work. Words. Somebody else’s words. Then I strung them together.

It worked. My mother was thrilled to open the local paper one evening and see a small headline: Linda Welch Wins Jaycee Essay Event.

My handwritten-in-pencil essay is tucked into a scrapbook she put together. Because she did this, I cannot bear to throw it out. I also cannot bear to read it. I mean, I literally cannot. I start in and just want to gag. The words were well-crafted for an eighth grader, I guess, but the essay contains nothing fresh, original, or anything that even represents my actual thoughts or feelings. Just one cliché after another.

I thought of that essay when NPR started playing President Donald Trump’s condolence speech on the mass shooting in Las Vegas. What a pile of crap! Somebody writes up a bunch of appropriate phrases, loads them on the teleprompter, and then he reads them in that sing-song, bored-with-it-himself voice. Something about we will be united by the power of our love? This coming from a man who clearly has no idea of the concept of love for anyone but himself?

It’s hard to know which is worse, this sort of stuff or all the times when he actually says or tweets what he really feels, giving us a horrifying look into the dark, empty void of his narcissistic soul.

He says the Mayor of San Juan, Yulin Cruz, “showed such poor leadership!”

I just want to gag.

Can’t somebody please find a way to free us from him?  Read More 
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Fire on the Wind

The forests of Oregon are on fire, and we are sitting under a blanket of smothering smoke. My town of Corvallis, situated on the west side of the broad Willamette Valley, had been spared the worst, giving us only the sun as a red disk at rising as a smoke indicator. Then, Sunday, the overcast layer began to thicken, smell like smoke, and become truly oppressive.

It makes me think of the scenes I researched for my historical novel, Fire on the Wind, which details with an accuracy of which I’m proud the course of the huge Tillamook Burn of 1933. All the descriptions of the fire and smoke darkening the skies were taken from eye-witness accounts published in newspapers of the time.

One scene I wrote jumped to mind—that of a young farmwife on the coast, running out to greet the welcome rain pinging on the roof, only to find falling from the sky blackened fir needles.

So, last night, when my daughter—that’s her at fourteen on the cover of my book—texted that ashes were raining down on her Southwest Portland neighborhood, I felt like we were all living this story again. These would be ashes blowing in from the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge, blown east by that same drying wind from the desert that played such a part in the Tillamook Burn. My Mary, the model for Story Faye, the log camp girl in my book, is now thirty-one and pregnant. I want breathing her fresh air!

If you’re stuck inside, waiting for the skies to clear, you might find Fire on the Wind diverting. It’s such a fast read, in fact, that if you download it to your Kindle and start in, you’ll likely be finished long before the smoke over Oregon blows away.

I used this 16th century poem in my book and I thought of it again today:

Oh, Western wind, when wilt though blow
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again……

Yes, please let it rain. Read More 
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After the Eclipse

Life moved on quickly after the eclipse last week. People got in their cars and drove back north or south on I-5, south on 97, joining what proved to be the only real traffic jams caused by the celestial event. In the Willamette Valley, we turned our attention to the thick smoke of forest fires blanketing us, and tuned into the reports of devastation out of Texas thanks to Harvey. All the reports of devastation from Houston made the dire warnings of the effects of too many eclipse visitors to Oregon seem almost laughable.

Afterwards, authorities said they’d just picked that number—a million visitors—out of the air, and probably the fact that it wasn’t so bad is due to the fact that not nearly that many showed up. The predictions of traffic gridlock were so scary, we warned our out-of-town guests we wouldn’t blame them if they backed out.

Now we’re so glad they didn’t! Because seeing the eclipse in totality turned out to be amazing for everyone, and none of the bad things predicted came to pass. That afternoon, when it was over, I took my niece Mallory from Vancouver, B.C., downtown, and I had never seen so many people walking our streets. Happy people. The mood was totally celebratory. They came, they saw, they shopped for souvenirs.
A lovely woman from Davis, California, wrote a letter of thanks to our local paper, the Gazette-Times, for the hospitality she found in Corvallis. No, thank YOU, Stephanie. You and everybody else who showed up and played nice. Apparently nobody picked fights or started forest fires (Mother Nature handles that on her own), people didn't overwhelm the hospitals with fried eyeballs, and authorities in Central Oregon were reporting a surprising lack of residual trash.

Whether the viewing party was formally arranged as was ours, or ended up being an impromptu gathering of neighbors, it seems everyone felt blessed to be able to go outside and for a few minutes, share this amazing phenomenon with others.

Our farm is two miles from town, but just like my memory of the eclipse of 19790, at the moment of totality, we could hear the cheering.  Read More 
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Countdown in the Zone of Eclipse Totality

Yep, my own hometown of Corvallis, Oregon, is sitting square in the path of totality for next Monday’s eclipse, and every day the news warns us that a million people are headed our way and surely all hell is going to break loose.

How come this didn’t happen with the eclipse of 1979? No internet? My husband and I don’t even know anyone else who even saw it. We, however, did.

It was February, so there was no way going to be a shot at seeing it from the rainy Willamette Valley. We decided to go to Eastern Oregon, looping up around the Columbia Gorge and then south. We booked a motel room in Cascade Locks a couple of weeks ahead, no issues, nobody even talking about it. Then, on the day before, we headed north from Corvallis on a scenic route through Silverton and the Cascade foothills.

Our troubles began when we hit Highway 26 at Sandy. We took a left and I was all for waiting until the helpful green highway signs, in which I have great faith, said something recognizable like “Troutdale” as a hint for when to turn right for the Gorge. But Herb felt that surely one of these other right turns must lead to the Gorge as well. Neither of us understood the geographical fact that the Sandy River was between us and the Gorge.

My husband took an impulsive right and soon we were lost. Or at least not making progress towards our goal. And here’s the thing: I was four months pregnant, and soon desperately bladder challenged. Herb was 29 and naturally had, as a young man, no inclination to stop and asked for directions, either to the Gorge or a restroom.

I do not remember how all that was resolved, only that eventually we got back on Highway 26, took the proper turn for Troutdale and eventually checked into the Cascade Locks motel.

It poured rain that night and we were fighting. I could not understand how I was having a baby by a guy who seemed incapable of saying he was sorry for being flat out wrong and making me suffer.

In the morning, still hardly speaking, we got up and drove east until we emerged from the rain to the dry side of the Cascades, then headed south. When we figured we were in the zone, we pulled off to the side of the road and climbed a small knoll.
As predicted, the moon’s shadow began to cross the face of the sun, and here’s what I remember: When the shadow totally eclipsed the sun, a great cheer rose from the neighboring hills, startling me. I hadn’t even been aware other people were standing out there until that moment.

Our spat was suddenly so yesterday. We were going to have a baby. Our first. And in spite of everything, we had managed to get ourselves to this spot at the right time to see this amazing spectacle. Together. We drove home happy.

So now, thirty-eight years later, we are ground zero right here at Wake Robin Farm and hosting family from Victoria, B. C. and San Francisco for the big event. Kids closer to home are still on the fence about whether to brave the predicted highway gridlock to come share this together. I cannot advise them.

We are stocking up on food, as suggested, and I am cleaning my house. It needs it anyway. I have complete confidence in the scientists that the sun will be totally eclipsed next Monday morning. I have no idea how the drama of a million people coming to Oregon will play out.

But I can be confident that whatever happens on Monday, on Tuesday, my front step bricks will be clean!  Read More 
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Brides of Eden: a True Story Imagined Now Available as an ebook.

Brides of Eden was first published in 2001, before ebooks were a thing. I've finally now been able to make it available in an ebook edition that contains all the lovely historic photos of the original.

Check Goodreads for a lot of great ratings and reviews.








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A Scene that Haunts Me Still

Yesterday’s front page article in our local paper, the Corvallis Gazette Times, reminded me of a story I’ve been meaning to tell. The headline reads “Corvallis police pack antidote to opioids.” The picture features a friendly looking police officer holding up a package of Narcan, and the article is upbeat about what this will mean in terms of lives saved from opioid overdoses in our town. Narcan (naloxone) instantly counters the effects of opioids and can miraculously revive a person just moments from death.

Now, to backtrack. A few weeks ago I flew to California to hang out with my old childhood friend at her oceanfront home in Santa Cruz. This is not Instagram or Facebook, so I’m not into posting vacation pictures in hopes of inciting envy. Hey look! I’m logging time in prettier places than you are! So I’ll just say it was lovely and only one final incident was negative and relevant to what I sometimes write about here concerning drug addiction.

On the way to the San Jose airport to fly home, we stopped at one of those huge malls. Right outside Nordstrom, as we approached, a young woman was absolutely freaking out. Three or four people were trying to restrain her, and others were watching from a distance, what I like to think hopefully of as respectful witness rather than just maudlin gawking.

“I said no Narcan!” I heard her scream. Or something like that. Something against Narcan, and the name of the drug I heard clearly.

I was one of the people who walked right past into the store, and would have looked to anyone watching like someone who couldn’t be deterred from shopping to show concern for a fellow human being. But that’s not what was going on in my head.

I wonder if maybe I was in a better position than the others present to have a feeling for what this woman was going through. “Take it easy,” the men who restrained her were saying. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Well, no it wasn’t. This was not somebody overdosing. This was somebody who’d been jerked back from death and into instant opioid withdrawal. Narcan works by instantly pulling all the opioids from the brain’s opioid receptors. What I suffered over the course of months in coming off of Oxycodone, this poor soul was experiencing in an instant. The intensity of her physical and mental anguish haunts me still.

When we came out of the mall—we weren’t in there long, and since I hate malls, I don’t know what possessed me to agree to this last stop in the first place—an ambulance was parked there, presumably with this woman aboard.

There’s so much controversy about Narcan. In towns like ours, everybody’s feeling pleased that they’ll be able to save lives. In towns where the same people get saved over and over, only to shoot up again, patience and the good feeling of doing the right thing begin to wear thin.

But here’s the thing—unless they get that young woman to some sort of a rehab place right now, she WILL shoot up again. It will look to the outside world like just the stupidest decision ever after these nice people saved her, right? But after my own experiences, I see it differently. Any human in such physical and psychological distress will be thinking of only one thing—how to get out of it. And the most immediate way is a hit of opioids. Their brains are highjacked. This is not a moral decision. Unless the person is rather forcibly cared for without a chance of finding relief from agony by using again, yes, they will use. Addicts will be revived over and over until finally they overdose when no rescue Narcan is at hand.

Treatment. Loving, non-judgmental treatment. That’s what’s needed. Expecting somebody in this position to somehow get a grip on themselves is absolutely futile.

I wish somebody would read this and tell me they know who that woman was and that she’s clean now and on the road to well. Because I can’t forget her agonized cries.  Read More 
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Childhood at the Beach

Well, time flies! My little cover model for Someday I’ll Laugh About This, Gillian Stephenson, probably around eleven when she posed for me, just graduated from high school. Congratulations!

Coincidentally, I was just shipping another box of this title to the lovely sisters at Mari’s Books And…..in Yachats, Oregon. I wonder how many titles can claim to be sold exclusively in one store? I was going to write that the book is available on Amazon but nobody buys it there, but when I went to check I saw that, yeah, that’s right, probably nobody has ever bought it through Amazon. That’s kind of what a ranking of 8 million or whatever means! So, Amazon gave up. Can’t blame them.

So, this summer vacation story can be bought only in Yachats, where Mary and Mari, the store's owners, do a great job of hand-selling the book the way only independent book store owners can, doubtless pointing out to customers that Yachats is the actual setting of the book, renamed Perpetua for fictional purposes.

It’s certainly dated in terms of the technology available to my characters; the beloved beach cabin, Sea Haven, doesn’t even have a phone, and cell phones are still in the future. But the heaving emotions of puberty are still the same, and I was so sad to see that last summer, a teenage girl from Eugene died in a rolling-log-in-the-surf accident similar to what I describe in the climax. The need to warn of this Oregon Coast peril will never be out-of-date.

Gillian, my model for Shelby, is the granddaughter of my dear friend, Margaret Anderson, who has herself just released a memoir entitled From a Place Far Away: My Scottish Childhood in World War II.

I loved this book! Read it last night in one sitting and it was so soothing, such an antidote to the current state of political affairs and the degradation of our culture. So pleasant to read about decent people coping with the threat of war as they live through what will in retrospect seem rather idyllic childhoods.

Margaret is a wonderful writer, and she had me laughing out loud over and over, describing her childhood antics. It’s a difficult thing to write about oneself, and she pulls it off to perfection. Fans of her earlier novels—who are no doubt now reading these books to their own children—will definitely want to read From a Place Far Away and learn about the places and incidents that inspired her earlier and much beloved works.

From a Place Far Away is a gem. Don’t miss it!  Read More 
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Fake Time Magazine Covers

I’m sure you all heard about Donald Trump’s fake Time cover, right? I’m not going to reproduce it here. I wouldn’t dream of featuring his narcissistic mug on my own website where I have control. Just looking at his picture gives me the creeps, thinking of all the vile, disgusting, misogynistic, homophobic, violence-provoking words that have come out of that mouth, never knowing but dreading how his next remarks will somehow manage to be even worse.

But may I share my own Time cover mock-up? It’s not hard to do! The main difference here is that when I hit on the idea of putting my son and his Chinese fiancé on a Time cover already bannering China ten years ago, I did it for the sheer creative fun of it, and the joy of celebrating this relationship. I didn’t send it out to the world and try to pretend my own son and his fiancée had somehow caught the attention of the media.

Happy 4th of July. As happy as it can be for our country having this clown in our highest office. Read More 
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