ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.

WINNER 2013 COLORADO AUTHORS' LEAGUE BLOG OF THE YEAR AWARD!

"Your recent blog about the tender return of your loved ones to the earth was moving, graceful in words and inspiration. Your words always come from the heart and intellect. A rare and insightful combination." Rolland Smith, former news anchor for WCBS-TV in New York, recipient of 11 Emmy Awards

We've nearly reached 150,000 pageviews. Thank you!


RETURN TO HOME PAGE

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Timothy Egan Comes to Fishtrap


Timothy Egan, Summer Fishtrap Gathering
Photo credit: Sam Traylor, Whitman Intern
"I get afraid sometimes when I've signed a book contract," Seattle author Timothy Egan told the Fishtrap crowd Friday night, "because I start out kind of panicky when I don't know where the story arc is." Pulitzer-prizing winning author of seven award-winning books, including Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, Egan came to the Summer Fishtrap Gathering at Wallowa Lake, Oregon, to talk to writers who had been immersed in a week of workshops, panels, digital storytelling, and poetry since Monday.

A generous and thoughtful speaker, Egan shared his three-step approach to writing a book. "First, I go out and see if I can find that story arc.  For The Worst Hard Time about the Dust Bowl, I went to places like Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas - places the hardest hit by the worst environmental disaster our country has ever known - and I tried to find people who had lived through it.  I found dozens, but I focused on the story of just seven women."

Earlier that day at Fishtrap, I had flipped through the book's index, looking for references to the Panhandle of Oklahoma, where my daughter and son-in-law live. The women Egan wrote about had been young girls when the nation's "worst hard time" hit. Now, old women bent with age, lines of disaster were etched in their resilient faces. "The earth pushed back," Egan told us, "against the hubris of our nation."

Once Egan begins to understand the arc of a story - the human journey - he begins to research, going into the archives, diving deep into historical documents.  When researching The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America, the heart of the story rose up when Egan read this line in one of Roosevelt's journals, written after Roosevelt lost his wife in childbirth, and later that day, lost his mother. "The  light went out of my life," Roosevelt wrote. "This tragic day changed the course of his life," Egan told us, "and of our nation." Roosevelt entrusts his sister with the care of the infant, and goes West to become a cowboy.  "The West," continued Egan "gave him back his life."

Thus is the power of place.  "You've got to go to the place where the story happened," said Egan of his third step. "Going to the Texas Panhandle, feeling the wind. Come here to this Wallowa Valley," he swung his arm wide, "and you understand the Nez Perce and Chief Joseph."

In a July 17 op-ed for The New York Times, "Heritage and Healing," Egan wrote about his appearance at Fishtrap. "I recently went back to the isolated, alpine hideaway of Joseph, Ore., a little town I’d spent some time in 17 years ago, and was pleased to find a laboratory of hope for small town America... it is a stunning place — set in a cradle of grass and forests in the Wallowa Mountains of eastern Oregon."

Sound like a perfect place for a writer's conference?  Yes, the power of this place was palpable, and no doubt some of the stories and poetry generated at Fishtrap reverberate with this sense of place.  And certainly, Fishtrap reverberated with a sense of appreciation at Timothy Egan's generous storytelling. During a relaxed Q&A session after his keynote, Egan took time to tell us about his latest, favorite book. Anthony Doerr's  All the Light You Cannot See"A novel about the German occupation of Paris in 1940 - a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy - ultimately it's a story about how people, against all odds, try to be good to each other. A remarkable story."

And for all of us at Fishtrap, a remarkable week, giving back to many of us the life we call writing.  Yes, we will remember this place...

Note: Learn more about FISHTRAP: Writing and the West, and the annual Summer Fishtrap Gathering of Writers.

2 comments:

Alice Trego said...

I enjoyed reading this post about Timothy Egan telling his Fistrap audience about "story arc." His description heightened my knowledge and gave me food for thought for when I begin my own stories. Thanks for sharing, Page.

Page Lambert said...

Alice, thanks for taking time to post a comment. Ah, yes, the story arc, and the smaller arcs within the larger arc, we do need those, don't we!