Book Report: A Q&A with Ochsner, Grover, Daviau
The Oregon Book Awards are coming up, April 24 at The Armory, with winners to be announced in categories that include fiction, nonfiction, poetry and more.
Tickets start at $10 at www.BrownPaper Tickets.com. The ceremony will be hosted by "Monstress" author Lysley A. Tenorio, with appearances by Portland's Cheryl Strayed and Monica Drake, among others. The 30th annual Oregon Book Awards are put on by Literary Arts and recognize and award excellence in writing. Go to literary-arts.org to vote for your favorite Oregon book.
Meanwhile, the Tribune caught up with three authors who are up for awards to learn more about them:
Born and raised in Salem, Ochsner later made what she calls her "big move to Keizer," her home 3.6 miles away. Her book is "The Hidden Letters of Velta B" (fiction).
Tribune: What's your book about?
Ochsner: It's set in eastern Latvia after the fall of the Soviet Union. The narrators are a family who run the town's cemetery, and they are the caretakers of its history. They also have a son with enormous, furry ears. (She explains.) "The Myth of the Bear Slayer" is extremely important to Latvians, the bear will one day rise up and beat back the invaders — so it was easy for them to see themselves in this myth. The son has these big, furry ears and they do have special powers, but not in the way you might expect.
The book necessitated a lot of research and help from my Latvian friends, who were all so intelligent and wonderful. I put the word out there that I was working on this book, and well, there aren't a lot of books about Latvia. I just really love the culture. I also feel really strongly that you have to put your feet down in the soil of the place you're writing about, so I made five trips to Latvia over the course of writing the book, which took 11 years to complete.
Tribune: When you think about being an Oregon writer, what comes to mind? What does it mean to you?
Ochsner: Inner and outer geography matters a lot to writers. You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl, right? Right now I'm working on a series of short stories that is fueled by Oregon's brooding, dark, foggy atmosphere.
Tribune: Favorite books you've read lately?
Ochsner: I love the works of Milorad Pavic and Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Tribune: Favorite section at Powell's?
Ochsner: I come to Portland about once a month, and I have to go to Powell's. I love the history and ethnography sections, and I love the poetry section. Poetry does something to me, to my heart. A friend said poetry wipes the heart clean. I loved fairytales as a child growing up and my mom read to us a lot and took us to the library.
Tribune: What are your writer's habits? Where do you go, what are your rituals?
Ochsner: I start every day in my rocking chair, early at 5:30 a.m. I need to see the day start, for it to go from dark to light. It's my thinking chair.
Tribune: Favorite way to procrastinate?
Ochsner: If I'm procrastinating it's usually to do something that brings me joy. That means playing with my dogs. I have two Siberian huskies. One rescue and one puppy. Do more of what brings you joy, and less of what doesn't.
Tribune: Any cures for writer's block?
Ochsner: I can't wait to get to my writing, but I do have a few tricks up my sleeves for writer's block. One is to go to the books I love if I can't figure out how to enter the world of words.
Tribune: Book clubs — love them or hate them?
Ochsner: Oh, I love them! They are so much fun. It's so interesting to hear what people pick up on and the connections they make.
Grover's book, "The End of My Career" (creative nonfiction), is a collection of uncomfortable and comic personal essays about a series of dead-end jobs: house cleaning, working in a cheese shop, and her stint as a private investigator for an insurance company. The stories were written while she suffered from an adrenal disease that has since improved. These days she works as a real estate agent with her mother. Grover is a third-generation Oregonian who lives in Portland.
Tribune: What does being an Oregon writer mean to you?
Grover: It informs everything. It's why I dedicated my book to the Sandy River, because I believe strongly that we have to preserve these natural places. I grew up in Corbett and Gresham, and this is home for me. The past five or six years Portland has changed so much and people are moving away — but I've been through the five stages of grief about that. It's my home. It's where I'm from. Yes, it sucks when your favorite bar is torn down but it isn't all bad.
Tribune: Favorite place at Powell's?
Grover: I don't go downtown that much, is that OK to say? I do go to the Hawthorne store and to the coffee shop there. I live in deep Southeast. Someone tried to name it "dee-sep" but it didn't catch on.
Tribune: Best book you've read lately?
Grover: "Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine," and a story by T.J. Acena, "Supermarket Bouquet."
Tribune: What do you do when you're procrastinating?
Grover: Not really a problem for me. I have one day a week when I can write so I lock my door and then hours later, it's like, "Have I eaten, have I peed?" It's great to write every day, but I don't.
Tribune: Personal cure for writer's block?
Grover: I don't have it but don't say that. If I wrote every day I might have writer's block. Instead I have to figure out how to get to the five million ideas I have done. Right now I'm working on updating my correspondence for my zine, "Somnambulist." It's a series of updates from writers in China, Amsterdam, India.
Tribune: Book clubs — love or hate them?
Grover: I wish I had time! My mom's book club has been going on for about 10 years, and they keep a record of what they've read and they've read so many books!
The Portlander's book, "Every Anxious Wave" (fiction), is an indie rock love story about a Chicago bar owner. When he discovers a wormhole in the back of his bar, he time-travels to revisit the bands and the shows from his glory days, and falls in love with an astrophysicist along the way. A college radio DJ while a student at Smith College, Daviau took lyrics from the Sebadoh song "Kath" for her book's title. Her next novel is due in July, she says from a residency in Vermont, and it's titled "Funniest Book You'll Ever Read about an Abusive Relationship."
Tribune: What's your favorite section at Powell's?
Daviau: I have a route. I start out in the front tables. Always the front tables. See what's new and noteworthy. Then I have to check on my baby, and see how it's doing, it's shelved in the Blue Room. Then I wander through fiction, and then the psychology section. I go to the Pearl Room for readings.
Tribune: What do you do when you're procrast-inating?
Daviau: I procrasti-write. That's doing other writing than what you're supposed to write. I do a blog entry or two, and it gives me instant feedback, people are like, "Mo, that was funny!"
Tribune: What's your cure for writer's block?
Daviau: Go and read a book! The education for a writer is nonstop, so go read a book by someone else. One of the best books I've read lately is "Lincoln and the Bardo" by George Saunders.
Tribune: What are your habits and rituals as a writer?
Daviau: I'm a coffee shop writer. I like to park it at Cathedral Coffee.
I also have a writer's group I attend, we're called The Guttery, and we meet weekly. We have a reading coming up at Another Read Through on Mississippi April 20.
Tribune: Book clubs — love them or hate them?
Daviau: Love them! I get to speak for a few minutes, and you get a glass of wine and dessert. What's not to like? I also belong to a Smith College alumnae book club in Portland.