Tag Archives: Halibut Rodeo

May is Short Story Month, Part 1

Yes, there is an official “Short Story Month.” Who would’ve thought? As the honorific is designed to do, this writer of short stories (http://www.amazon.com/Halibut-Rodeo-Mark-Lewandowski/dp/0984421939/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1305732251&sr=1-1) has been thinking of the ones I like the most, the stories that become better with multiple readings. So I made a list, roughly in chronological order. In order to narrow down the choices (millions have been published, I suppose) I’ve limited myself to American ones. That’s okay. The short story is probably the most American of the literary genres, though story lovers, obviously, shouldn’t ignore de Maupassant, Chekhov, Joyce, Kafka, etc. I’ve also limited myself to one story per author.

So here goes:

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Washington Irving. Most people know the premise of the story, even though few have read the original. That’s a shame, because it is a masterpiece of the form. It’s also a great story about food.

“The Birthmark,” Nathaniel Hawthorne. I once got in an argument about the ending of this story with a woman I was dating. I maintained that Georgiana doesn’t really die at the end, but ascends to heaven, just like Mohammed. She didn’t agree. We never went out again.

“Ligeia,” Edgar Allan Poe. Nobody manipulates the first person viewpoint better than Poe. There are typically two versions of a Poe story: the story as reported by the narrator, and the story as it actually happens. If you believe the narrator, “Ligeia” is a horror story. If you don’t, the narrator is a murderer trying desperately to cover his tracks. It’s not a horror story…

“Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Herman Melville. This is probably my all-time favorite story. Many readers miss the point of the closing section. If you believe Bartleby prefers not to do stuff because of his experience working in the dead letter office, you are just as clueless as the befuddled narrator.

“A White Heron,” Sarah Orne Jewett. I’m not sure if there is a better short story about a sexual awakening.

“The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin. One of the most read short stories in the English language. Short, sweet, and to the point. We now call stories like this “short shorts,’ or “flash fiction.” Surprisingly, not all readers get the irony at the end.

“The Blue Hotel,” Stephen Crane. The author didn’t write much before he died at the age of 29, but oh what a legacy. This story shows that the “Wild West” was romanticized decades before John Wayne started making movies.

“To Build a Fire,” Jack London. These days the author is held in higher regard abroad than he is at home. Funny how that works. Story shows that sometimes dogs are far smarter than men.

“Editha,” William Dean Howells. The author is known more as a critic and novelist than a short story writer, but “Editha” is a classic of anti-war literature. Every person who got caught up in post-9/11 war lust should read it. Apparently, George W didn’t.

“The Beast in the Jungle,” Henry James. Like most of the author’s novels, this story is long and complex, and not much seems to happen. That’s the point. The last page is devastating.

To be continued…

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Where was I?

Oh, yeah.  “King Salmon.”  In my book, Halibut Rodeo. In my first entry about this story, posted oh so many months ago, I wrote about the my admiration of Raymond Carver, and how the short story master influenced so many of us in MFA programs during the 80s. (Many critics were none too pleased about that influence.) “King Salmon” came about because I felt the need to tell more of the Slime Line Queen’s story, since a number of early readers of my work really liked her. She’s not the protagonist, however. Instead, the story is told from the viewpoint of an ex who still lives in the Lower 48. “King Salmon” contains a story within a story. The narrator, a recovering alcoholic, tells his sponsor about his past relationship with the Slime-Line Queen, and his vain attempt to travel to Homer, Alaska to win her back. The middle part of the story is his account of that trip. He does find the Slime-Line Queen at the Salty Dawg Saloon. (The Salty Dawg Saloon is real, by the way. This past summer my brother Mike ordered t-shirts from there.) Later, the narrator ends up on Homer Spit beach to fish, where he catches a .
20 pound King Salmon.

While the rest of the story comes straight from my imagination, the catching of the fish is based on experience. Fairly early during the salmon season, I had an evening off from Seward Fisheries. John Calhoun, Sr., my gracious host for the summer, as well as mayor of Homer, took his son and I snagging on the beach. You don’t use bait for snagging, just a barbed hook. Kachemak Bay is so thick with spawning salmon you can toss a line out into the bay, snap your wrist, and hook yourself a big-ass fish. Like the narrator in the story, I did just that. We weren’t at it very long, less than an hour perhaps. After John schooled me on the technique he left me to my own devices. He had never snagged a salmon before, but assured me it could be done. I was dubious. I had never heard of this kind of fishing. But sure enough, I snagged one. I don’t know how long it took to bring in the fish, but it was at least twenty minutes. By the end the tide had come in and I was standing in water. In my mind’s eye right now I see John splashing through ankle deep water net in hand. He scooped up the fish, grinning from ear to ear, and said it was 20 pounds easy.

We took it back to his garage, gutted it, and sliced it into steaks. Over the next week, day after day before going to work to clean salmon for 12 hours a pop, I scarfed down the steaks drenched in the hollandaise sauce Hans whipped up. Did I tire of salmon? Hell no! According to Anthony Bourdain, professional chefs like to ask themselves what they’d eat for their last meal if they ever find themselves on Death Row.

Me? I want one of those salmon steaks.

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King Salmon

In the 1980’s Raymond Carver was the scourge of creative writing professors.  It’s not that they necessarily had anything against the short story master; it’s just that too many of their students tried to imitate him.  Early in his career Carver was labeled a “minimalist.”  His style is sparse and deceptively simple.  He uses few figures of speech, and very little description.  Many of his stories are “dialogue heavy.”  Critics threw him into the same camp as Hemingway, the other end of the spectrum from Lessing or Pynchon.  Writing students ate him up.  He just seemed so easy. Carver never embraced the term “minimalist.”  He wasn’t into that “tip of the iceberg thing” Hemingway went on about.  He maintained that his “simple” style was an attempt to recreate the limited viewpoint of an alcoholic.  Like their creator, many early Carver protagonists struggled with substance abuse.  They wouldn’t bother to “see” a setting, or specific details.  Their minds are too preoccupied with the daily battle with the bottle.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the typical protagonist showing his junk in a creative writing workshop wasn’t an alcoholic.  Students attempted to emulate Carver’s style for no other reason than it seemed easy.  But like modern painting, it’s not as simple as it looks.  MFA programs started churning out “cookie cutter” stories, composed by “cookie cutter” writers.  In 1989, C. Michael Curtis, then fiction editor for The Atlantic Monthly, visited my fiction workshop at Wichita State and implored us not to follow suit.  (MFA programs are still accused of producing an endless stream of writers that all sound the same.)

I like to think I took Curtis’s advice to heart.  Still, I love Carver, and there are glimpses of my admiration of him in Halibut Rodeo. Stylistically, “A Man Loves His Cat” comes closest to a Carveresque story.  But I pay most conscious homage to him in “King Salmon.”  This story within a story recounts one man’s relationship with the Slime-Line Queen.  Like many of Carver’s protagonists he is a recovering alcoholic.  At the beginning, he invites his sponsor over for a meal of King Salmon.  While they’re eating, I adopt the tone Carver uses in the dinner scene in “Cathedral,” justifiably his most famous story.  After the two men devour the fish, the protagonist relates his attempt to win back the Slime-Line Queen by driving from North Dakota to Homer, Alaska, diamond ring in tow.  Like so many of Carver’s anti-heroes, he doesn’t achieve his goal.   True understanding is often just out of reach for Carver’s characters.  The Slime Line Queen becomes an almost mystical character in the book, despite her harsh past.  For many readers of the book she is a favorite character, even though she never appears as protagonist.  Maybe even for me, her creator, she’s beyond full comprehension.

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Musical Interlude: Rush in St. Louis

In early 1979 my Uncle Ernie took my cousin and me to our first Rush concert.  The Toronto trio were in the middle of their “Tour of the Hemispheres” run.  I wasn’t yet 14.  Endless listenings of Rush’s “Hemispheres” and “A Farewell to Kings” had led me to conclude that KISS, my first musical obsession, was simply too childish any longer.  My uncle didn’t agree.  After the closing notes of “In the Mood,” I asked him what he thought of the show.  He said that the songs were too long and it sounded like the singer had a rubber band around his balls.  He preferred the KISS show he took us to a few months earlier.  Apparently, his ideal bass players breathed fire and spat blood; they did not belt out high octave lyrics inspired by Ayn Rand.

It’s been more than 30 years since that first show.  I’m now older than my uncle was then.  There have been periods in those 30 old years that I drifted away from Rush.  “Moving Pictures” initiated the first spell.  “Moving Pictures” is considered by many to be Rush’s masterpiece.  It contains radio staples like “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight,” and “YYZ” earned the band their first Grammy Nod for Best Rock Instrumental.  (The Police’s “Behind the Camel,” a totally forgettable piece of album filler, took home the golden gramophone.)  But I was still young and rebellious, and a bit put off by all the radio play the album got.  I felt that the band had “sold out.”  I still went to see them in Kansas City, spending the night on the sidewalk in front of a ticket outlet to score good seats.  (Yeah, that’s what we had to do before internet sales.) I continued to buy their albums, and saw a few shows in the 80s, but for the most part I had turned “dirt twirler” and relied on the Grateful Dead for my live musical experiences.  In the meantime, Rush chugged along.  In 1992 they released “Roll the Bones,” their most successful album since “Signals.”  This album contains two great songs (“Bravado,” “Ghost of a Chance”) and two good songs (“Dreamline,” “You Bet Your Life”).  I found the rest of it unlistenable.  I didn’t bother buying their next two albums until I found them at a used cd shop.  By then Neil Peart’s wife and daughter had died, and it looked as if Rush would be no more.

But then there was the comeback.  Rush released “Vapor Trails” in 2002.  I caught them in Cincinnati, at first astonished they were playing an amphitheater.  Outside??? Rush?  It was my first Rush show since the “Hold Your Fire” tour.  That had been a pretty lackluster performance.  But 16 years after that, the boys played with a vengeance, skipping hits like “The Trees” and “Subdivisions” to play lesser known songs like “The Pass” and “Beneath the Sun and Moon.”  I was blown away.  The shows had stretched into 2 sets, and seemed to contain far more energy than other shows I had seen.  I was hooked again.

So I didn’t surprise myself that when tickets went on sale for the “Time Machine” tour, I was online and ready to pounce on good seats.  I even waited for the announcement of the tour schedule before I made plans for my annual vacation abroad.  I was just as excited to see them at 45 than I was at 13.  So last night girlfriend Katie and I drove the 100+ miles to see Rush in St. Louis.

Did they disappoint?  Get serious.  Like previous tours, Rush dug into their deep catalog for lesser known songs.  These are the songs that make the casual stand sit down, but fans like me stand up.   They whipped out two they hadn’t performed before this tour: “Faithless,” from Snakes and Arrows, as well as the title track from “Presto.”  Other first set gems included “Stick it Out” and “Marathon.”  Geddy Lee was on fire, shredding his bass on “Marathon” and “Leave that Thing Alone!”  The always great Neil Peart added new, engaging flourishes to “Time Stands Still,” a song that many Rush fans are not terribly fond of.

For many, the highlight of this tour was the complete rendering of the “Moving Pictures” album.  As I was expecting, they opened the second set with “Tom Sawyer,” and played the rest of the album in order.  While six of the seven songs from the album have been played frequently in recent tours, “The Camera Eye” hadn’t been in the set list since the “Signals” tour.  Rush fans have been clamoring for it in online polls for years.  Clocking in at over 10 minutes, it was the longest song of the night, and really the last traditionally “long” song the band recorded.  When Rush appeared on “The Colbert Report” a few years ago, the host joked about the length of the songs, even lying on his desk with a blanket and feigning that is was bed time while Rush played “Tom Sawyer” behind him.  While it was true that Rush regularly recorded 10+ minute songs, that’s a thing of the past.  Looking back on it, “The Camera Eye” was a last hurrah.  Last night was the first time I had heard it in any form in probably 20 years.  Members of the band had reported that it was not a song they liked to play, and that’s why it had disappeared from their set lists for so long.

Couldn’t tell that from last night.  Alex Lifeson clearly had a blast playing it.  Maybe he was acting for the crowd?  Doesn’t matter.  The great thing about Rush is they are now, at least, very much aware of their core fans.  They take chances playing new material.  (On the “Snakes and Arrows” they played 9 songs from the album.  How many bands still do that?)  And as I said before, they have no problems ditching well known standards for deep album cuts.  This is a change from the old days, when their set lists were incredibly predictable.  Said standards often come back, like, surprisingly last night, “Closer to the Heart” and “Working Man.”  Both songs, however, were substantially rearranged.  “Working Man” was the oldest song in the set.  The first two choruses had a reggae bent before the song tore into the instrumental bridge that contained Lifeson’s best solo of the night.  Even “La Villa Strangiato” (a standard that had been dropped from the last tour), maybe my single favorite Rush song, contained a bizarre Polka influenced beginning that left me initially scratching my head in confusion.

The night also featured two new songs, “Caravan” and “BU2B,” both available now for digital download.  Both are great songs, and Rush fans like me are looking forward to the new album that will feature them.  Better yet?  Next year’s promised tour.   (Katie has two requests, however: first, that you don’t play the closest show to her the night before she has a 9am class, and two, that you bring back the giant rabbits from the “Presto” tour.) More than 30 years down the road, and Rush is better than they’ve ever been.  They might be starting to show their age, but Geddy Lee can still hit the high notes, Alex Lifeson’s solos will make your eyeballs bleed, and Neil Peart still beats the living crap out of his drums.  When Rush appeared on “The Colbert Report,” the host’s first question to them was:  “Do you guys ever get tired of being so awesome and kicking so much butt?”

If last night was any indication…No, they’re not.

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The Prince of Kodiak: Old Believers, or Going Rogue

Alfred, an Aleut Native, is the title character of “The Prince of Kodiak,” the third story in Halibut Rodeo. Alfred is a large guy, the type of dude, as my father pointed out, that you want on your side in a bar fight. In the story he falls for an Old Believer named Anneke.  Anneke wears a brightly colored skirt and blouse to work, even though that work entails the gutting of fish.  She never works on Sundays, even though it would pay overtime.  In “Breaking the Halibut” Leo, one of the supervisors, is expelled from Anneke’s village for listening to the radio and smoking hash.

Early drafts of these stories were workshopped by other MFA students during my time at Wichita State.  One student cried foul for Leo’s expulsion, because he didn’t find it believable.  Bob Shacochis, the leader of the workshop, asked what the class knew about Old Believers.

Nothing, it turned out.  The student who didn’t buy Leo’s expulsion assumed I had made then up.

No, I didn’t make them up.  There are about 1,500 Old Believers in Alaska.  Their founders were part of a splinter group that left Oregon in the 1960s because they feared the influence of American culture on their kids.  Like so many other characters in my book, they rejected a life in the Lower 48 to pursue a new existence in America’s Final Frontier.

Old Believers don’t originate in Oregon, however.  In the 17th century Nikon (no relation to the camera), the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, instituted a number of changes to church ritual to bring it closer to that of the Greek Orthodox.  Most of these changes were minor: the number of fingers used to make the sign of the cross, for example, or the proper way to spell “Jesus.”  As is usually the case with the religious, not everyone went along with it.  (Religious history is filled with these traditionalists.  A few survive, like the Coptic Christians of Egypt.  Most don’t.)  The Czar adopted the changes, though, so those who didn’t were first excommunicated by the Church, and then persecuted by the Russian government.  These Old Believers fled, some going to the outskirts of the Russian Empire, like Siberia, or modern day Bulgaria.  Eventually a number of them ended up in Oregon.

Like the Amish and the Mennonites, Old Believers are very protective of their heritage  Purveyors of American culture (radio, television, computers) are often banned in Old Believer towns.  Until recently, teachers in some Old Believer schools were not allowed to have computers in their classroom.  Now some have them on their desks, but the students are not given access.

But times are a’changin.’  Alaskan Old Believers have traditionally made their living in the fishing industry.  But fishing is a feast or famine occupation.  There have been bans on fishing King Crab in Alaska, and the Exxon oil spill wreaked havoc on the salmon and halibut populations in not only Prince William Sound, but also in the waters around Kachemak Bay.  More Old Believers than ever before are finishing high school and looking for work in places like Anchorage.

This “modernization” will certainly lead to more fracturing of the community.  Periodic schisms seem to be the norm amongst Old Believers.  In Nikolaevsk, an Old Believer village on Kenai Peninsula, not far from Homer, the powers that be decided to reintroduce priests to their church.  Formal clergy had been banned in the past.  They even found a priest in Romania and brought him to Alaska.  (Kinda like Joel, the doctor from New York, in “Northern Exposure.”)  But just like before, not everyone embraced the change.  The bezpopovtsy, or “Priestless Old Believers,” left Nikolaevsk and started their own community out in the middle of nowhere.  Talking about Going Rogue…

Which reminds me: I wander what Alaskan Old Believers think of Sarah Palin?

I like to think they’ve never heard of heard of her.

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Breaking the Halibut: Zero Tolerance

In “Breaking the Halibut,” the second story in Halibut Rodeo, George travels from Seattle to Homer on his uncle’s fishing boat. Before the boat enters Homer harbor, the Coast Guard boards it in search of drugs. They find nothing but a single one year old marijuana cigarette in George’s jacket. On the street it would have been worth a buck or two. The United States government, in order to make an example of George, seizes the boat and fines his uncle $100,000. This, despite the fact that, at the time at least, the possession of small amounts of marijuana was legal in the state of Alaska. The government forces the uncle to fire George. Only after the intervention of the ACLU is the fine reduced to $10,000 and the boat is released. George ends up working at Seward Fisheries.

“Breaking the Halibut” is fiction, but George’s story is taken from real life. This actually happened to one unlucky bastard I met while working in Homer. All the details are the same. The joint wasn’t even his; his sister had borrowed his jacket a year before and left it in the pocket. “George” didn’t even know it was in there before the Coast Guard found it. The people of Homer were outraged. A petition went around, but it did no good. This happened in 1988, when Ronald Reagan’s “zero tolerance” law was in full swing in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of drugs from Latin America. “George’s” uncle was no drug runner, just a guy trying to make a living in some of the most dangerous fishing waters in the world. His innocence would’ve been very clear to the authorities, but hey, with all that time and effort they had to deliver something to Uncle Sugar: one marijuana cigarette. Good for you, Mr. President!

But let’s not knock zero tolerance drug laws. Because of the tightened borders, fewer and fewer drug runners were willing to deal with bulky marijuana. It’s easy to sniff out, and the pay off isn’t that great. Cocaine is far easier to transport, and fetches a far higher price. It can also be easily cut with, say, baking powder, to expand your yield. High school students don’t know the difference. Plus you can turn it into crack. Don’t worry, parents; I’m sure crack is much better for your kids than the devil’s weed.

But pot smokers, don’t you worry. Another fun side effect of zero tolerance laws: it led to really potent marijuana. You see, the “small government conservatives” who came up with zero tolerance laws know absolutely nothing about basic economics. I’m no expert either, but the concept of “supply and demand” is hardly rocket science. Sure, there was suddenly less of that Mexican gold bud that came wrapped in newspaper to pass around at Rush concerts. But it’s not like the desire to smoke it just suddenly disappeared. Can’t get it from Mexico? We’ll just grow it here! And grow it American entrepreneurs did. So many did, in fact, that good old fashioned competition improved strains dramatically. Now scientists grow the stuff in California, Kentucky, Arkansas, even Alaska, not just illiterate peasants in Mexico. The “kind bud” you can score now is far better, far stronger than anything you could get pre-zero tolerance. I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago when I attended a Further concert in upstate New York. One dreadlocked fellow next to me kept trying to pass his pipe in my direction (Jerry Garcia might be Dead, but his fans live on). “Dude,” he said. “It’ll set you freeeee!” I declined, knowing this new, improved pot just puts me to sleep. Apparently, that’s not the case for nearly everyone else at the show…And for this new wonderweed, they can thank Ronald Reagan, the man, the legend.

Sure, George had to pay the piper, you have to break some eggs to make an omelet.

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On Halibut

The halibut is a flat fish that skims the bottom of the ocean hugging the shores of Alaska and Kamchatka. But it starts off as a “normal” fish, swimming side to side like Nemo. Only once it reaches maturity does it flop over and head for cooler, darker climes. It loses its uniformity of color as its bottom (once a side) takes on a creamy whiteness, and its top turns the color of the ocean floor for camouflage, both against predator and prey. The eye on the bottom eventually migrates to the top. Even with the oldest halibut this evolutionary arrangement never looks quite right. That second, wandering eye is never perfectly aligned with the other; it looks forced, off-kilter, as if Nature hasn’t quite figured out where it should go. But the halibut is not a vain fish. It swims undetected beneath its quarry, a fattened black cod perhaps, or a spindly snow crab, and dives, but upwards, snatching its dinner, exerting the most energy it will all day. If indeed the cod hurls an insult at this Quasimodo of the fish world, his bemusement will not last long. Once inside the belly of the halibut, the cod will have its own problems. Meanwhile, his host will enjoy an after dinner snooze.

As far as predators go, well, let’s face it: after a certain age the only predators halibut have to worry about are human. The fish can grow up to eight feet long, and can tip a really big scale at 700 pounds. Snag one over a hundred pounds at Homer’s annual Halibut Derby and you got yourself a Trophy Fish. Something that big doesn’t go down without a fight, though. It might take three or four people to haul it on board, and once there it will start slamming into things. The wise captain fires at least one shot from a .22 into the halibut’s brain pain to keep its death throes from destroying the boat. After that? Hang it from a meat hook and get your picture taken, the white side towards the camera. Funny that the evolutionary turns meant to protect the halibut from its predators are ultimately useless against the sportsman’s hook. Does the halibut sigh in relief once it gets so big that no other form of marine life will mess it with it? Fat lot that does for it. Now it’ll be sought as a Trophy. And if you get one, save the cheeks for me; that’s the best part.

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On “The Slime-Line Queen”

“The Slime-Line Queen” is the opening story of Halibut Rodeo. In some ways it serves as a type of overture to the book, introducing a number of motifs, as well as many of the characters that appear in their own stories. It was my first “Alaska” story, and the second story I wrote as a graduate student in Bob Shacoshis’ workshop at Wichita State. During that first semester of graduate school I lived in a cruddy basement apartment that was infested with crickets. My shower was a tin washtub with a drain hole punched into the bottom. The only place to sit was the bed. Most of the rest of the basement stored the landlady’s lifetime accumulation of old clothes and appliances. It was dark and damp, but the rent was only $110 a month. More importantly, hotshot fiction writer James Lee Burke lived next door.

I punched out “The Slime-Line Queen” on a cheap typewriter while scrunched over my bed. The first draft was substantially longer than what first appeared in “Writers’ Forum,” a journal from Colorado. It contained sections about the protagonist’s sexual awakening before he travels to Homer to work at Seward Fisheries. Shacoshis quite rightly pointed out that so many lengthy flashbacks about the protagonist removed the reader from the immediate story, and in no way advanced the plot. I had probably taken the whole “show, don’t tell” axiom way too literally. In my earlier stories I relied too much on dramatization to round out my characters, rather than well-chosen details. I revised the story that semester, and the version in Halibut Rodeo is pretty close to that version.

One early reader once asked me if “The Slime-Line Queen” was “real.” In some ways, yes, she is. Her physical appearance is inspired by a woman I didn’t know who worked at Seward Fisheries: a tall blond woman who always wore the same jeans and flannel shirt. My character’s personality and mannerisms was inspired by another woman I worked with. Unlike me, she lived in Alaska year round, and had been working at the plant for a number of years already. Some of the events in the story are autobiographical. The woman did live in a cabin in the woods, and I did indeed spend a sexless night with her. The details about Seward Fisheries and the slime-line are taken directly from personal experience. Many of the workers did camp out on the beach, and all the businesses I mention, including the Salty Dawg Saloon, really did exist. (During the workshop, one fellow student mocked my name choice for the bar.) In the story the relationship between the protagonist and the slime-line queen is far more serious than anything that happened between me and the woman who lived in the cabin. If I had stuck to the “truth,” the story wouldn’t have been terribly interesting. While most of the actual events of the story are made-up, the protagonist is only a slightly veiled version of me.

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On Homer: The Eagle Lady

Many of the characters and situations in Halibut Rodeo are inspired by my stay in Homer.  Like most fiction writers, I often speculate on the lives of people I see on the street, inventing identities, imagining conflicts, etc.  Such ponderings often lead to fully developed characters in my short stories.  Many of the main characters in Halibut Rodeo have their origins in this process.  Other characters live on the fringe of the book as an aspect of setting, adding shades of detail to the main action. The Eagle Lady is one such “detail.” She worked at Seward Fisheries, and even though I saw her nearly every day, I never said more than a few words to her. It was hard to tell how old she was. Nearly 70 was my guess, though she still wore heavy make up and a mass of curly red hair that might have been a wig. She was about six feet tall and walked with a severe limp. Someone told me the limp was from a career as a rodeo rider. After retirement she moved to Homer. And why the Eagle Lady? Bald eagles are nothing unusual in Homer. You see one every day in the summer. For years the Eagle Lady had been feeding the eagles in her backyard with scrapes of fish. Up until a few years ago, at least, the second largest concentration of Bald Eagles in Alaska was in the ex-rodeo rider’s backyard.

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