Ghosts along the coast
Up early than I'd planned or hoped this morning, but that's okay. I blame this:
That's the view at 6:45 this morning from my hotel in Lincoln City, Oregon. The moon was so bright it woke me. (I slept near a window so I could listen to the surf all night long.)
I didn't go back to sleep after that; I'm awake in the room, nibbling crackers with this cold chicken spread on them—which sounds maybe a bit depressing, but it isn't. This little snack takes me right back to 1997, specifically to a road trip that my uncle and I made: Anchorage, AK, to Houston, TX, in about 72 hours' time. We lived in my little Ford Ranger for the duration, stopping only for gas and gas station showers along the Alaska-Canada Highway (or whatever it's called these days; back then it was the Alcan). He introduced me to this snack, one of his staples from many prior road trips. Yesterday, wandering through a grocery, I spotted the stuff and just went for it.
I'm here in Lincoln City because the Driftwood Library, and its patrons, Friends of Driftwood Library, host a wonderful annual January event called the Oregon Legacy Author Series. So many Oregon authors I love have been here before me—everyone from Ursula LeGuin and Smith Henderson to Alexis Smith and Molly Gloss—and it was such a kick to be invited out here this year.
I somehow hadn't realized I'd been to Lincoln City before. My route to the coast took me along Highway 99W, which seemed strangely familiar: had it been the same road I drove to the Oregon coast for the first time some fifteen years earlier? In those days, I lived in Reno, NV, and was driving to the coast for Thanksgiving with my folks and sister. The road was worrisome then, during a northwestern storm; there were trees down along the side of the road, the rain coming down hard enough to blind me. I remember driving cautiously, no faster than 40mph, most of the way through the state. The destination was Depoe Bay, where my folks and sister had already arrived. Lincoln City, as it turns out, is only a few miles north of Depoe Bay. We'd driven from Depoe to here for lunch one day.
This brought back some pretty strong memories, all of them tightly connected to what I planned to speak about at the library. Yes, I was going to talk about Eleanor's rather circuitous road to publication, and how growing up Pentecostal gave me a bunch of built-in Big Questions to wrestle with in the early drafts of the book. But I also wanted to talk about the Oregon influence on the novel, and it's a mighty one: Highway 99, the route I took yesterday, was the same road I drove in 2001, when Eleanor's first sentence appeared from nowhere, and set me on this path. (My mind was drifting, as minds do when you drive. When it returned, it came with this: For all of her life, Eleanor had been falling.)
All of the things I remember about that very important trip to the Oregon coast, fifteen years ago, are still true of the place now. It's still wonderfully gloomy. The ocean roars, all day long, just a short skip away from the 101. Fifteen years ago, we spent Thanksgiving in my folks' timeshare, listening to the waves and the rain. You could hear sea lions barking up and down the coast. Last night I slept in a hotel that the library kindly provided for me; I'm right on the water, and the ocean sounded like home.
Yesterday afternoon I spoke at the library, and I talked about all the things I mentioned above, but I also talked about what it took to finally finish Eleanor. One of those things, I'm convinced, was that I finally found my way back to Oregon after all of these years, and brought the novel full circle. It began here; it was fitting it would be finished here. But sleeping beside this ocean, and waking up early to that big moon, took me back in a way I hadn't totally prepared for.
It's a strange thing to look back at fifteen-years-ago me, who didn't yet know what he was about to get himself into, and who didn't know everything in his life he was about to lose, and to stand alongside him, having finished the thing he hadn't yet begun, having built an entirely different life.
The book's out there in the world now, has been for nearly two weeks. Some people really love it; some don't care for it. It's anybody's guess whether it's selling or not; I don't know if it is, and I'm not sure I want to know. It's enough that it's out there, finished, no longer mine, but right there, waiting for all of its new owners to come along.