Manuscript Delivered! AN ISLAND TO MYSELF To Appear in Spring 2025

Sitting in one of the monk caves near Grikou on the island of Patmos.

I just delivered the manuscript for my book An Island to Myself: The Place of Solitude in an Active Life to Monkfish Publishing.

Look for it in the spring of 2025.

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.

Korza Books Will Publish My First Novel in the Fall of 2024

The Hall of Mirrors in Bavarian King Ludwig II’s Herrenchiemsee Palace, where one of the book’s key scenes takes place.

I’m excited to announce that I’ve signed a contract with Korza Books to publish my first novel in the fall of 2024. A press release will be coming in January.

The book follows guide Joe Newhouse, whose marriage and business are failing, as he leads one last tour from Munich to Venice shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Traveling through the heart of Romantic Europe, Joe sorts the stories and mysteries of clients who don’t seem to want to be there while weighing–and acting on–his own desires.

“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.