Press Release for My Forthcoming Novel!

The press release for my first novel went out this week! It includes the title reveal: The Last Grand Tour. I’ll be posting more about the book in the weeks ahead.

You can read more about the publisher, Korza Books, on their website.

Another Contract–This One For a Book about Solitude

When it rains, it pours. I’ve signed another contract, this one for a book on solitude to be published by Monkfish Publishing in the spring of 2025. The title is still TBD but the subtitle will be: The Place of Solitude in an Active Life.

The book is centered on my experiences during a month of total solitude on Patmos when I was 27 years old. It was after that month, while I was still on the island, that I met Robert Lax. The rest of the book will feature my later experiences of solitude, some on Patmos, some elsewhere.

The book’s last section will be about a return to Patmos I have planned for next month, during the same time period I was there the first time. I’m going to see how an older man’s experience of solitude today differs from that of a younger man at a time when absolute solitude was less difficult to achieve.

“One of the Greatest Americans of Our Generation”–The Subject of My Next Biography: J. D. Ross

James Delmage (J. D.) Ross shortly after he arrived in Seattle.

When James Delmage Ross died suddenly on March 14, 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt mourned his passing by telling the country it had lost “one of the greatest Americans of our generation,” a man whose “successful career and especially his long service in behalf of the public interest are worthy of study by every American boy.”

Yet “J. D.,” as he was called by everyone who knew him—from the president to senators to children in his neighborhood—is virtually unknown today. Even in Seattle, where he was once the city’s most powerful—and popular—figure, those who recognize his name know it only because a dam and lake on the Upper Skagit River were dedicated to him.

Map of Seattle City Light hydroelectric projects on the Skagit River, including the dam and lake named after J. D. Ross.

In the Depression years, however, as the nation suffered the aftermath of predatory practices by private companies, Ross became known across the land as a tireless advocate for publicly-owned electrical power. FDR held him in such high regard, he chose him to sit on the Securities and Exchange Commission, to keep tabs on the country’s private power companies, and then to serve as the first superintendent of the Bonneville Power Administration, one of the most important strategic positions in the years leading up to World War II.

By then, Ross had built Seattle City Light into one of the world’s model municipally-owned power systems and championed changes to both the production and distribution of electricity that reduced power rates to a fraction of what they had once been. He had also toured the country for years, making the case for public control over the nation’s electrical grid.

FDR quote on J. D. Ross’s tomb.

If the country had listened to him—or he had lived longer—there’s no doubt our power system would be in much better shape than it is today and people everywhere would understand FDR’s words of praise.

A self-taught electrical engineer who rose from humble beginnings to become the ideal civil servant and a close friend of the 20th century’s most powerful president, Ross is the kind of figure whose story—and example—we need today. Which is why I’m pleased to announce that I’m writing the first biography to ever be written of him.

A Seattle newspaper’s report on the tributes and crowds at Ross’s funeral

My work on Ross is being supported, in part, by the Oregon Historical Society’s 2022 Donald J. Sterling Senior Research Award in Pacific Northwest History. In the weeks ahead, I’ll be posting more about my finds in the months of research I’ve already done, as well as updates as the research and writing continue.

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook or check this site in the coming days, you’ll see images from Ross’s hometown of Chatham, Ontario, once known as the Black Mecca because it served as a terminus for the Underground Railroad. His journey from Chatham to Seattle began in 1897 when he walked—walked!—from Edmonton, Alberta, to the Klondike gold fields after a doctor told him his lungs were failing and he needed more exercise.

Stay tuned for future updates!

A Glimpse of Our Island Life…and My Memoir

The view from the cabin on our last evening there this year.

For many years, Sylvia and I have been spending part of each summer in the San Juan Islands, on land her parents bought back in the 1960s. We just returned from our latest sojourn there. The land contains two small cabins, one of which began as her family’s tent platform and I use now as a writing studio, which sounds much loftier than the space deserves.

The cabin land is what they call high-bank waterfront, which means there’s a beach below but it’s a long ways down. The cabins are nestled into a forest of mostly Douglas-firs and grand firs, with a sprinkling of lodgepole pine, hemlock, and alder. There are other cabins nearby, but only one that is close and it is generally vacant except in the summer.

When we’re on the island, we live a simple life close to nature, with eagles, kingfishers, and Great Blue herons winging by, seals and otters splashing in the waves, and deer grazing on the oceanspray. Although there is a village on the island, we rarely go there. When we do, it feels as if we’re reentering civilization. But of course we use the internet to stay connected from the cabins.

I mention all of this now because I recently completed a memoir about the time Sylvia and I spent a full year up there, during a sabbatical from teaching at Portland State University.

It was a tumultuous year during which my mother died, Sylvia’s mother faded into the fog of Alzheimer’s, and we faced a series of hardships on and off the island. It was also a transformative year, in which the hardships themselves gave me new vision and strength.

I’m in the process of looking for a publisher for the book now and thinking I might post short selections from it in the weeks ahead, as well as some of the pictures I’ve taken of island life.

For now, here are a couple more shots from this summer:

I woke up to this view one morning.
Mt. Baker from the shoreline.
Evidence of some of my island activities: chainsawing and crabbing.

New Award: 2022 Donald J. Sterling, Jr., Senior Research Fellowship in Pacific Northwest History

I learned this week that I’ve been awarded the 2022 Donald J. Sterling, Jr., Senior Research Fellowship in Pacific Northwest History. The fellowship, given by the Oregon Historical Society, will fund research in the OHS archives for my next book (a biography of a prominent NW figure–details to come) and 1-2 articles for publication in the Oregon Historical Quarterly.

I’m extremely grateful to the people at OHS for this very welcome encouragement as I move more fully into writing history.

Audio Version of PURE ACT Released on Audible Today!

TODAY’S THE DAY the audio version of my book, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax, is being released on Audible! If you click here, you can listen to a short sample.

I’m excited my book will be available to people who need or prefer to listen rather than read, but it’s strange to hear someone else read words I wrote about my own experiences.

Actor Joe Knezevich Will Read the Audio Version of PURE ACT

I just found out an actor named Joe Knezevich is doing the reading for the forthcoming audio version of my book, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax.  

Here’s a link to Joe’s website, which includes trailers showing him in movies and commercials as well as snippets from audio books he’s done: http://www.joeknezevich.com/demo.html.

Among his many credits is a recurring role on the long-running TV series The Vampire Diaries. Joe has a great voice. I’m excited he’s doing the book.

German Translation of Lax Book Published

I’m pleased to be listed as a contributing editor for the first German translation of my favorite collection of Robert Lax’s poems, 33 Poems. My German isn’t terribly good but I speak fluent Lax and was able to help improve the translations.

The book, called 33 Gedichte, was just published. To read more about it (in German) or purchase a copy, click here.

An Audio Version of PURE ACT Is Coming Soon

I’ve just learned that an audio version of my book, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax, is in the works–five and a half years after the book was published. This rarely happens this late in a book’s life, so I’m very pleased. It should bring the book to a whole new audience.

I’ll pass on more information when I have it. 🙂

 

Dipping My Toe in Translation

In order to insure the first German edition of Robert Lax’s 33 Poems would be as accurate as possible, I recently helped the translator and publisher, Thorsten Scheu, with his translation. My contribution consisted primarily of matching the German to the English and, with my intimate knowledge of Lax’s work (and improving knowledge of German), suggesting where the translation might be improved. It was a small part of the overall work, but it was enough for Thorsten to list me in the book as an editor, which delighted me.

My relationship to German is long and spotty. My grandmother’s parents were German and she grew up speaking German in the U. S., but I don’t remember her ever using more than an occasional German word in my presence. My first real encounter with the language was in grade school. I went to a Lutheran school with German roots and the only foreign language we could study there was German. If I remember correctly, I was forced to learn it from the 4th through the 8th grade.

I didn’t love the language, possibly because of how it was taught, but when I went to high school I took two more years of it to fulfill a language requirement and then did the same thing in college. One reason I never embraced it more fully was I never thought I’d be in a position to use it.

But then, just five years out of college, I started leading tours in Europe, including in Germany, and, for the next decade or so, found myself needing to use German every year. To my surprise, I started to like it and I did some studying of it on my own.

During those same years, I met and then married my wife Sylvia. Her mother was German and Sylvia herself spoke German exclusively for the first five or six years of her life. It was a sad day for her mother when Sylvia told her she had to be careful because this new man in her life knew their secret language. Being with Sylvia and her mother improved my German immensely.

But even then, I would never have had the confidence I’d need to help with a translation from English to German if I hadn’t decided in April of 2020 to take on a “pandemic project.” While clearing books from a shelf, I came across a Bible written in “heutigem Deutsch”: contemporary German. Sylvia told me a friend had given it to her years before. Since I had never read the entire Bible and I’d already thought about spending some of my pandemic time furthering my knowledge of one language or another, I decided to kill two birds with one stone.

To keep my new task from seeming onerous, I told myself I didn’t have to read every day but I had to average a chapter a day. I struggled a bit at first but eventually I enjoyed the work more and more, and two weeks ago I celebrated a full year of reading the Bible in German. At that point, I had read 40% of it. Which means I still have a year and a half to go!

When I first started reading the German Bible, I had to look up words in almost every sentence, but now I can cruise through several sentences at a stretch without looking anything up. It was that growth in my knowledge of the language that gave me the confidence to attempt translation work.

One interesting byproduct of my German Bible reading and translation work was I found more in Lax’s poems than I knew was there. Because translating slowed me down, I paid more attention to every word and saw how very carefully Lax had chosen each one. Because my German teacher was the Bible, I saw how strongly Lax’s work was inspired by Biblical rhythms and language too.

These good experiences with a language I once disliked have me thinking about maybe someday trying my hand at translating a German work into English.

Meanwhile, though, I have the rest of that Bible to read.

33 Gedichte (33 Poems) by Robert Lax (trans. by Thorsten Scheu) is scheduled to be published in a limited edition of 100 copies by Sprachlichter Verlag in June 2020.

The image at the top of this post comes from  Roman Kraft on Unsplash.