Jason Gurley

By day, I'm a user experience designer; by evenings/weekends, I write novels from my home in Scappoose, Ore. My newest is Awake in the World, published February 2019 by Roaring Brook Press; my previous novel, Eleanor, was published by Crown in 2016 and has since been translated into German, Portuguese, and Turkish. I’m currently working on a new project.

Ramblin' man

Last weekend, Felicia and I drove to the coast to celebrate five years of marriage. We stayed in Astoria, and wandered around the town, discovering local curiosities. Over lunch at a pub, when Felicia ordered oysters, the server told us about a little hole-in-the-wall we should investigate for dinner that evening. "They have the best oysters in town." It's not often an employee of Restaurant A will direct you to Restaurant B, so that night we ventured out into the little downtown, hunting for a place called The Albatross. We couldn't find it; Felicia looked at Google Maps on her iPhone, and looked around, bewildered. "Google says it's in the middle of the street." We spotted it after squinting at every single window of every building on both sides of the street. It's no wonder we missed it; its sign looks less like a secret restaurant's would, and more like a palmist's: 

(I borrowed this photo from a Yelp user named Gary S. Thanks, Gary!)

(I borrowed this photo from a Yelp user named Gary S. Thanks, Gary!)

Blink and you'll miss the restaurant name on that sign. We'd been advised that the place was exceptionally small (it was) and that there might be a wait (fortunately, there wasn't, though we got there just in time). We tried lots of things, including the oysters, and had remarkably good cocktails. The owner/bartender mixed what was probably the single best Old Fashioned I've ever had. (Naturally, I had several.) 

We're back in the world now, and in the evenings following work, I've been holed up in the little writing office I lease, proofing and correcting Eleanor layouts. I'm on a rather tight schedule here, and this stage is surprisingly slow going, at least for me. With red pen in hand, I'm re-reading the novel, line by line, word by word, for the tenth or fifteenth time, making corrections, swapping better words for ineffective ones, scribbling notes in the margins.

This is the first correction pass that my publisher and I are making through the book; there will probably be a second and a third. Once that's all finished, I believe they'll print the paperback advance review copies of the novel, which will look something like this:

I'm in my office all day today, probably all day tomorrow, probably Monday evening, wrapping up this latest correction pass. It's slower going than I'd have expected; wanting everything to be just right means taking every second I'm granted to make sure it is. Spending this much time in my office (which, now that I think of it, probably needs a name; 'office' feels too clinical) is a little disorienting. I've compromised for the lack of windows by drowning the walls in artwork and photos of my girls, but that doesn't tell me if it's noon or midnight, or how sweltering or chilly it might be outside. It's easy to lose track. 

It's kind of a strange place, this office. I'm almost always here after-hours, when everyone else who leases space in the building has gone home for the night or for the weekend. The building hibernates then: the cooling system dials down, so I have to keep a fan whirring; the lights are on a timer system that I can't change, so they'll randomly snap off while I'm in the middle of work, jerking me out of whatever reverie I was fortunate enough to slip into. The building's cleaning crew has gotten accustomed to seeing me here, and they don't startle when I suddenly appear. 

If it isn't clear by now that I'm writing this blog post as a way of procrastinating the 200+ pages that are still stacked on my desk (shown in the photo above), waiting to be proofed, then... well, now it's clear to everyone. Hell, you can even see this very blog post on my computer screen up there, being composed. 

A college student contacted me yesterday, asking if I'd be open to an interview about Eleanor and my publishing experience. This is a first: that student is writing a paper, the subject of which is my book, for a publishing class. I've never been the subject of someone's classwork before, so this should be interesting. It also echoed something I've been thinking about recently, which is just how difficult it is for me to answer the question "What's your book about?" It would be easy enough to say something like, "It's a multi-generational saga about mothers and daughters," or "It's a literary fantasy about a troubled girl who saves her family," but neither of those says anything about where this book came from, or what went into it. The real answer would require taking a walk into my past, to examine the things that I learned as a boy, and shrugged off as an adult; without those experiences, Eleanor never would have existed. But that's too much to lay on someone who's usually asking the question to be polite, or out of casual interest. 

Still procrastinating here, as evidenced by this meandering, aimless post.

Should probably stop that now. 


Okay, still procrastinating. I used to keep a blog, kept it for about ten years or so, called Deeplyshallow. (I was, like, twenty when I came up with that name. I know how ridiculous it is.) But I wrote a lot on that site. It's no longer live, but I have a private archive of its old posts that I'll dip into, now and then, just to see how much life has changed in all these years. A quick glance through its archives shows many, many entries written in past months of May, but only a couple posts specifically from this day, May 30.

There are two old posts from May 30, 2008, and both, coincidentally, are old character sketches and story snippets that I used to call "Eleanor sketches". In these sketches, I would write little plot threads for Eleanor that were, at the time, completely unrelated to the main story. I'd drop her into the apocalypse, maybe, or write about her at a party, twenty years in the future, just to better understand how she might behave, what was important to her. On this particular day, seven years ago, the two sketches were about her marriage to a character who doesn't exist in the novel, a midwesterner named Harold. It's an artifact of the original story of the novel, which is nothing like the novel I'm proofreading now. The marriage was an unhappy one, but produced a child named Audrey. I'd forgotten about this entirely. It's almost like stumbling on old family photos, and realizing there are people in them who have completely drifted from your life.

In one of these sketches, I wrote about Harold's death. The scene's kind of lovely, actually, juxtaposed with Eleanor's journey back to Oregon, in search of Jack, her childhood friend and confidant. While Eleanor and her daughter search for Jack's house, half-lost, Harold is in an ice fishing house, on the middle of a lake; his ice house is a shrine to his deceased father, who used to take him fishing each winter: candles and photographs and a cassette player with the old man's favorite tapes. As Eleanor knocks on Jack's door, hoping he will be home, Harold is watching water rise in his little ice house, and the ice below him snaps, and he goes under. The ice house freezes to the lake, trapped in its surface for the rest of the winter, leaning like a miniature tower of Pisa made from plywood and two-by-fours.

Harold never really made it into the novel (though these sketches are included in the limited edition ebook I created last summer, The Eleanor Sketches, for readers who pre-ordered the original, self-published edition of Eleanor) but it's still so interesting to look back at all of the missteps and dead ends that Eleanor went through to get where she's at today. If I think about it that way, then sitting here with a red pen and two hundred pages of manuscript isn't quite so exhausting. This is giving the car one last shine before rolling her out of the garage and into the world. 

With that: Jesus, Jason, stop procrastinating. 

Rest in peace, Mr. Gurley

Five years