I attended one of my favorite local writer events Friday night. HomeWord Bound is the annual fund-raiser for Community Partners for Affordable Housing.
Oregon authors attend as guests and featured speakers, giving attendees the chance to chat with them, buy books, and get personalized autographs.
This year’s speakers were esteemed Gov. Barbara Roberts, who wrote UP THE CAPITOL STEPS: A WOMAN’S MARCH TO THE GOVERNORSHIP, and the amazing Jean Auel, whose latest work is THE LAND OF PAINTED CAVES.
The other authors in attendance were Scott Poole, April Henry, Jon Bell, Emily Chenoweth, Kim Cooper Findling, Loren Christensen and Lisa Place, Ted Coonfield, Bart King, Scott Sparling, and Alexis Smith. I had the pleasure of chatting with several of them before the evening’s speeches began, as they sat at a long table with piles of their books and multiple pens for signing. During the dinner itself, it was especially wonderful to visit with Emily Chenoweth, whose novel HELLO GOODBYE is now next on my reading list.
What could be more inspirational than seeing local authors assembled with stacks of their published books? Of course it’s also for a great cause: affordable housing.
Before reading several selections from her memoir, Barbara Roberts talked about being one of the first ten female governors in America. When she started working on her book, only one of them had written a memoir. She spoke eloquently about preserving that important history from a first-person perspective, rather than letting the story go untold.
In her speech, Jean Auel, now 76, discussed how she began writing the Earth’s Children series. “I was in my forties when I started writing,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be until I was forty.”
Auel didn’t intend to write novels, let alone a series, she said. “In late January 1977, an idea buzzed around in my brain.” She went on to explain the basic premise of THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR. “I began to wonder if I could write a short story like that.” She answered herself: “No!”
The audience laughed and applauded, as of course that idea for a short story turned into a renowned six-book series. Then she addressed the kind of research she did, citing the fact that someone focusing on contemporary times can write about a character who gets in a car and drives to lunch, but that’s not true with writing historical fiction. Where would a caveman go for lunch, she posited.
While the dictum “write what you know” is often cited, Auel suggested instead, “Know what you want to write about.” And with that thoughtful remark, she shared an overview of her research process.
She began her exploration of early man using the Encyclopedia Britannica, where she learned about Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals. Then she went to the library. “One book led to another,” Auel said. “I came home with a couple armloads, 45 books or so.” Her discoveries included information about wooly mammoths and the first art–“a perfect setting for new, fresh, exciting fiction.”
After that, Auel enrolled in classes to learn about the prehistoric experience, including how to make stone tools and a session on arctic survival where she spent a night in a snow cave. She recalled telling her husband, “We’re going to spend the night on Mt. Hood, dear.” He replied, “Oh you are, are you?”
Auel’s insight into her creative process was fascinating, and I am so grateful for Community Partners for Affordable Housing, not only for its essential and invaluable service to our community, but for bringing local writing talent together for one inspirational night each year. For those of you who live in Oregon, put HomeWord Bound on your calendar for next April. The fund-raiser is a great way to meet local authors and to hear their ruminations on the craft while supporting CPAH’s great work.