Matt Love is an original thinker, essayist and nonfiction author inspired by an intense appreciation for the state of Oregon. He founded the independent Nestucca Spit Press in 2003, and since then, he has published numerous, invaluable works on the state’s culture, spirit and history.
His new book is LOVE & THE GREEN LADY, a collection about Newport’s Yaquina Bay Bridge, which is subtitled “Oregon’s Crown Jewel of Socialism.” As if that isn’t keeping him busy enough, Nestucca Spit Press released CHANCE OF SUN, an Oregon memoir by Kim Cooper Findling, on July 18.
Matt is one of the most tireless authors and promoters I’ve ever met. His drive to record stories rooted in Oregon is unparalleled, and he’s committed not only to writing books, but to getting them in the hands of readers. Matt was awarded the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award in 2009 from Oregon Literary Arts to commemorate his achievements.
I first met Matt in 2004 when he was teaching journalism at Taft High School in Lincoln City, and I was the managing editor of local weekly, The News Guard. I’ve always been impressed by his enthusiasm, whether it’s engaging students in his big-picture ideas or tracking down resources for his latest nonfiction work.
Matt’s recent books include GIMME REFUGE: THE EDUCATION OF A CARETAKER; SUPER SUNDAY IN NEWPORT: NOTES FROM MY FIRST YEAR IN TOWN; CITADEL OF THE SPIRIT: OREGON’S SESQUICENTENNIAL ANTHOLOGY (edited by Matt); and RED HOT AND ROLLIN’: A RETROSPECTION OF THE PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS’ 1976-77 NBA CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON. Here’s the full list of Nestucca Spit Press titles, but be warned–some are sold out!
Matt is the the Powell’s Books “On Oregon” columnist and he writes “One Man’s Beach” for Oregon Coast Today. He’ll be on a book tour for LOVE & THE GREEN LADY during the next few months, including an event at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22. If you’re an Oregonian, check out this list of Matt’s upcoming appearances and put a few on your calendar.
Welcome to Seven Questions, Matt!
1. Tell us about LOVE & THE GREEN LADY. Why did you choose to feature the Yaquina Bay Bridge as the second part of the Newport trilogy?
I moved to Newport four years ago and began a daily commute across the Yaquina Bay Bridge. Pretty quickly I had my whole aesthetic revolutionized by the experience and started taking all these photographs of the bridge while I was driving. I also started taking notes (while driving) and fairly soon, nonfiction stories connected to the bridge emerged, some of them mine, some of them historical, some of them from total strangers. In the end I blended memoir, essay, vignette, autobiography, love note, letter, homework, meditation, ode, coffee table book, commentary, oral history, polemic, curriculum, and confession and came up with something kind of weird, but so what?
There really isn’t another bridge like this in Oregon, in its proximity to the ocean and the bay, its distinctive and eccentric art deco flourishes, such as the elegant green arch, beveled columns, obelisks, ornate railing and pedestrian plazas. All of these cool unique traits are the hallmark of Conde McCullough, the bridge’s designer.
Basically I fell in love with the bridge and dubbed it the Green Lady because it seems like a woman to me. I’ve always loved great curves on women and the Yaquina Bay bridge has them for sure.
I think another thing about this book that I wanted to convey was to show how the Yaquina Bay Bridge has stood magnificently for 75 years as a monument to excellence in architecture and how a partnership between state and federal government in the throes of an economic calamity can produce something practical, beautiful, and lasting. It is nothing less than an Oregon landmark and a powerful reminder how to build a great bridge. It needed a book about it, a personal book, a sexy book, and not some turgid treatise.
2. The memoir CHANCE OF SUN by Kim Cooper Findling has just been released by Nestucca Spit Press. What made you fall in love with her story and decide to publish it?
I met Kim in Bend a couple of years ago at one of my readings. She came up afterward, introduced herself as a writer, and we somehow began talking about Oregon memoirs, her unique Oregon experiences growing up and I said send me some of yours. She did a few months later. I loved their originality, and that became the genesis of Chance of Sun. Kim is an entirely fresh (and welcome) voice for Oregon, and her memoir of growing up in Oregon in the 70s and 80s is completely novel in its perspective. She’s not writing in the tradition of the heavy breathing PNW nature memoir genre. I can’t read another book like that for the rest of my life. It’s been done to death. I wanted to bring her voice and talent to Oregon so I published the book and I think it’s going to do very well, and become a very strong word-of-mouth book that will appeal to a lot of different readers.
3. You launched Nestucca Spit Press as a side project, and it has evolved into a dynamic publishing force—and definitely a cultural authority—here in Oregon. What made you decide to start your own publishing company in 2003? How has the venture has evolved in the past eight years?
Well, thanks for that kind assessment. The press has sold over 10,000 books in Oregon, exclusively at events or through Oregon independent bookstores, and I’m pretty proud of that. We’ve all worked together to sell books and keep the traditional business of the community bookstore going.
I do think a couple of the books could have been huge regional hits, but I simply didn’t and don’t have the time or energy to seek distribution outside of Oregon. Writing books is easy—getting them distributed and into the hands of readers is the tough part. There may be a point soon where I really take the press regional, but I don’t know how that would evolve. It’s a little daunting to consider.
I started NSP to get unique stories out: our legacy of publicly-owned beaches, the Vortex rock festival, the legendary 1977 Portland Trail Blazers’ championship team, and I simply got tired of waiting around or listening to inane or indifferent comments by editors and agents. None of them really ever took the time to get to know me or what I was trying to do. They also never seemed to grasp that I was selling all these books by myself and understood the market. It was so absurd at times but I never let it block me. Doing this sort of thing with fiction is a lot tougher than the nonfiction books I’ve produced, but it’s still doable. And the rewards of doing it yourself are enormous. I’ve learned so much and taken a lot of risks and have grown as a result.
It would be great to have a national book with a national audience to appreciate my passion for Oregon… but, if it happens, it will probably be a complete fluke. I don’t worry about it any more and just keep writing.
4. Many writers have trouble with publicizing their work, but you’re an amazing marketer and promoter, Matt. You have earned many fans by presenting entertaining readings, offering compelling facts and insights on panels, holding special events and getting community members involved and enthused about your books. What are some of the most important things a writer should do to publicize a new book?
The only real way I ever found success as a writer/publisher was to take the stories/books and my passion for them out to a reading public that was interested in Oregon. I’ve gigged at bars, barns, bookstores, galleries, coffee shops, theaters, utility closets, fairs, fields, parties, prisons, libraries, parks, and historical museums and met thousands of fantastic Oregonians who have responded enthusiastically to my personal, somewhat eccentric approach to telling Oregon stories.
I put 320,000 miles on a truck–and never left the state. I found my best readers at these events. They could care less about who or what published the book. They just wanted to be engaged with the story or the passion of the person presenting it.
Naturally, all writers/authors can’t do this. My fatigue from gigging nearly annihilated me a few times. But you have to get off your ass and get out there. And by that I also mean writing, writing everything you can, to get it in print and get feedback from readers, and not just those in your writing group. That’s why I blog for Powell’s, write regular columns for several publications and keep a blog myself. It’s like training.
I don’t hold myself out as a model. Other authors have found success doing it differently or responding successfully (meaning e-books) to the various challenges to the industry. I just know that if I hadn’t been willing to go out and meet librarians, bookstore owners, museum directors, I would have never sold more than a couple hundred books, and I wanted more readers than that.
5. What are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on a book about the filming of Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, an epic event here on the Oregon Coast that unfolded in the summer of 1970. It’s going to be a wild and fun book with over 200 never-before seen photographs.
I’m also working a collection of essays about my teaching career. Maybe down the line I might try writing a novel, but nonfiction seems to be my forte. I have a hard time making things up, although that doesn’t seem to bother other nonfiction writers.
6. Your books are consistently political and personal. What motivates you to capture these important Oregon events, icons and experiences? Is there anyone doing anything like this in other states?
Oregon’s progressive legacy, the internationally famous one established by Governor Tom McCall and a bipartisan legislature in the late 1960s and early 1970s, helped shape me who I am today as a citizen, writer and teacher. All the great things that many associate with contemporary Oregon, like public beaches, bike paths, land use planning, etc., came out of McCall’s two terms, which, by the way, I call the Stone Oregon Era. I feel a real responsibility to protect this legacy from the likes of idiots like Lars Larson. They want us to become like Houston.
I have often wondered if there a writer/publisher similar to me in other states. I don’t know. Surely there is.
7. I was especially moved by your memoir, GIMME REFUGE: THE EDUCATION OF A CARETAKER. After penning many nonfiction books about Oregon and its rich history, what was it like to tell your own story? How has GIMME REFUGE been received by your readers?
GIMME REFUGE was a huge hit with teachers and I received many incredible and personal emails and letters from teachers thanking me for writing an honest account of teaching. So often the profession is the victim of cliché (or loathing) in popular media. Most of the books written about teachers fall into one of three categories: 1) Hero teacher saves underprivileged minority children; 2) A dilettante non-teacher teaches for a year in a rough setting and shares his account; 3) Journalist hangs around a school for a year and writes a polemic about the terrible state of American education.
GIMME REFUGE is nothing like that. It is about how and why people become teachers and what it costs to teach with (or without) purpose and passion.
I had initially billed the book as a nature memoir but I can see now it worked on many different levels. I rewrote the current version and added 15,000 words to it and I’ve entertained national aspirations for it. I’ve pitched it here and there and nothing’s happened. Who knows? Maybe I’ll put out this new version myself. Not sure at this point.
Thank you so much for participating in Seven Questions, Matt! For more information about Matt and his publishing career, check out the Nestucca Spit Press website. For details about LOVE & THE GREEN LADY, check out this page. You can purchase LOVE & THE GREEN LADY through Nestucca Spit Press, or through Powell’s and other Oregon bookstores. To prove my point that Matt is a tireless promoter, here’s the list of tour dates for LOVE & THE GREEN LADY. Attend some if you can! Matt’s blog is here. Read more about CHANCE OF SUN at the Nestucca Spit Press site, or check out Kim Cooper Findling’s website and her blog for more information.