Friday, November 15, 2019

How to Celebrate Indies First in Spokane on November 30

I have learned that there are three burning questions writers are frequently asked. 
  1. How do you sit and write for that long?
  2. What do writers do the day before running the Seattle Half-Marathon?
  3. How do you celebrate Small Business Saturday? 
Today, I will answer questions two and three because one stone can kill both these birds. 


Auntie's Bookstore (their photo)
The day before I run the Seattle Half Marathon is November 30th, 2020. November 30th is Small Business Saturday, and if you are a bookstore, it is known as Indies First. I will be at Auntie's Bookstore in downtown Spokane, Washington in the hour between 10:00 and 11:00 AM. And in that hour, as I have always wanted to work in a bookstore, Auntie's has fulfilled that wish like any self-respecting fairy godmother. 

Not only will Auntie's allow me to help sell books for one hour under the guise of Guest Bookseller, but I will also be given solely the perks of a bookseller's job. That's right, they will not weigh me down with a single drawback, though I am absolutely sure drawbacks exist because I've worked as a waitress, started and quickly quit a retail job, functioned as a barista, and performed other jobs that shine on the surface but end each day with butter on your shirt, the stench of steak in your hair, ninety composition papers waiting to be graded by morning, and a devastatingly clear insight into the human condition and those who expect to be served.
Inside Auntie's
photo here

But Auntie's will allow me the ability to know none of those; such as the panic over a suddenly failing credit card machine, what to do with a spill, or how to bite one's tongue when someone's complete purchase is one pair of socks at a bookstore, even if those socks are patterned with Max from Where The Wild Things Are!! (P.S. I would be that person. I'd wear those socks everywhere.)

The point is that My Fairy Godmother, Auntie's Bookstore, will give me only the fairy-tale version of book-selling. Here are my duties: 
  • Ask strangers if I can help them, and if they ask who I am, I can say Your Resident Guest Bookseller. 
  • Write those recommendation cards for books, the sort you sometimes see on shelves that make you stop. Evidently, we in the bookseller trade refer to those as "shelf-talkers." They even prefer that I type out my "shelf-talkers," so that someone else has to hand-write them. I think this is likely a perk, even though I do love to write by hand.
  • Guest Book-sell with two people I already like quite a lot: Sharma Shields and Ben Cartwright. Arriving at "work" will be like walking into one of my favorite places (a bookstore) and accidentally running into two of my favorite people. And then we, together, will pretend to be booksellers instead of having to spend the whole hour inventing the game ourselves.
  • Request specific books, no less books I love, to be stocked so that I can direct strangers to them. Several were not able to be ordered, but I won't tell you which ones. Maybe you could make that a sort of scavenger hunt when you celebrate Small Business Saturday at Auntie's with me, Sharma Shields, Ben Cartwright, and other book-loving strangers (or strangers who need to gift books to book-loving friends and relatives). 
    •  Feel free to print my list, handwrite it, memorize it, then bring it to Auntie's or Your Local Bookstore (or Local Library if you are far from an Independent Bookstore such as was the case of the first two decades of my life).   
      1. Anything in the children's section by Shaun Tan (esp. Rules of Summer)
      2. Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories of Patricia Highsmith
      3. Agota Kristof's The Notebook, Proof, Third Lie (usually sold as a full trilogy)
      4. Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
      5. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Machado
      6. Tomorrow or Forever by Jack Kaulfus
      7. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
      8. Citizen by Claudia Rankine
      9. Break Every Rule by Carole Maso
      10. Jenny Saville 
      11. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

So, friends and strangers, I hope that you will mark your calendar to visit Auntie's on November 30th and celebrate Indies First with me inside your very large, very merry, and very independent bookstore. 

Saturday, November 30th
My shift: 10:00-11:00 AM
Fellow author-booksellers: Sharma Shields and Ben Cartwright
Auntie's Bookstore
402 W. Main
Spokane, WA
Full schedule of Guest Author Booksellers here.
Their faces here:


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

November 13 in Spokane: Twenty Local Writers to Meet, Read Poems, Raise Funds

fifty percent of children arriving in the united states have no one to represent them in immigration court 
On Wednesday, November 13, I'll join a dazzling lineup of local writers, all of us reading poems and short works for your enjoyment in order to raise support for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).

Join us!

7:00-8:30 PM
35 West Main
Spokane, WA

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Author Photo, or how I met my friend Grace through photography and suicide

I met the photographer Grace June when she was in the last stages of the Survive Project in which she was photographing people affected by suicide, whatever that relationship, from having a person die that way to trying (not) to die that way. Death by suicide has a way of haunting a person left behind that, for me, other ways of dying have not. Grace's project felt right. Poetic, real, honest, immersive.

So, I reached out to her to thank her for doing the project because of how my sister died.
She asked if I'd want to participate.
Yes, please.

I hoped that participating might bring some catharsis since it would involve photography, art, and a way of approaching this death, these feelings, this experience that seemed more real to me than other traditional forms of mourning had.

We met in her studio, which is an old building like the old buildings in my hometown--paint flecking from the walls, gorgeous wooden stairs, large windows. It's likely what the house of my imagination looks like. It just felt right. Why aren't we all mourning by sitting quietly in artist studios?

We talked. She worked. This is the photograph she/we would end up selecting for the project.

Survive Project by Grace June
The Survive Project became the entryway to our friendship.

A few years have passed. It came time for author photos for Hezada! I Miss You. Naturally, I asked Grace if she'd do that, especially, to my mind, since Hezada! is the fictional transformation of my experiences living in a small town and grieving my sister.

Thankfully, Grace agreed. So, we spent last Sunday morning walking together, taking photographs as we made a path down to Riverfront Park where I walked every day after I returned from my sister's funeral. Every day. Walking. Because what else is there to do when your sister has died, and you feel like a very big mistake has been made? You walk.

And you walk and you walk and you walk.

On our walk, Grace and I found my favorite place in Spokane, a quiet place by the river hooded by trees and walled off by apartments where it smells like autumn, like childhood, like wet trees and rural Illinois, and we stood there being friends. That was good. We didn't take a picture of that. Grace thought to, then said, No, let's not ruin it with a camera.

That's why she's my friend, in a nutshell.

Here are a few of the results of our trying to find an author photograph with my face in it. Perhaps you can guess which one will appear on the back of the book.

Erin Pringle, photo by Grace June, 2019

Erin Pringle, photo by Grace June, 2019

Erin Pringle, photo by Grace June, 2019

Erin Pringle, photo by Grace June, 2019

Erin Pringle, photo by Grace June, 2019
Erin, photo by Grace June, 2019


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Visual Art, Writing, Grief, and More at the 2019 Spokane Writers Conference

 2019 Spokane Writers Conference
Spokane County Library
North Spokane Library, 44 East Hawthorne Road
Saturday, October 26 
Sunday, October 27
Free to all

North Spokane Library
I'm pleased to be a part of this year's annual Spokane Writers Conference, held by and at the Spokane County Library. I'm joining a roster of wonderful writers and instructors who will lead and participate in discussions and workshops about books, reading, writing, aspects of the drafting process, skills and drills, and everything you might imagine from here to there when you're thinking about words on a page.
On Sunday, October 27, I'll facilitate two workshops, both revolving around subjects that affect every aspect of my own writing process and that I doubt I'm alone in. I hope you can join me.


Using Visual Art for Inspiration

  • October 27, 2019
  • 1:15-2:15
  • Visual artists are often speaking to the same concerns, desires, and problems that writers are in our work. We cover ways of viewing contemporary visual art that inspire ideas on days when creativity feels beyond reach. Be ready to engage in several writing activities.
  • Sign up! (Free)
Here's why I wanted to create this workshop: I grew up surrounded by my father's love of art. Our backyard held his modernist sculptures that he re-spray painted every few years, and that I was attracted to but warned not to play near because the design inadvertently attracted wasps. He'd dabbled in wood sculpture, metal, plaster. His oil paintings hung in the garage that he'd converted into a workshop.

At the library, we'd sit between the shelves, turning the pages of the cement-heavy art books of Renoir and whatever other classics our rural library had. He drove the roads and walked fields searching for the best light, camera bag on his shoulder (and he'd made the red and yellow lanyard for the zipper pull, which still pleases me, though I'm not sure why).

I suspected, as did everyone, that my own life would follow similar but perhaps more explicit artistic avenues. Instead of a garage, galleries. Instead of only books, museums. In short, the way the American Dream colored my future in.

Life did not pan that way, but central to my storytelling, written or aloud, is the image. I simply work in the medium of words rather than oil, pastel, charcoal. And I feed my sense of self by viewing photography and art, participating in the dialogue that artists create through their images, and respond through language in the way I do.

As such, I look forward to facilitating this workshop on Visual Art as Inspiration, as well as the conversations, activities, and art we'll explore together.


Writing with Grief

  • October 27, 2019
  • 3:00-4:15
  • Mourning is a long and varied process, which may restrict or dampen creativity. We look at strategies for writing after the loss of a loved one and ways to write with the grief instead of fighting it or feeling overtaken by it. 
  • Sign up! (Free)
The second workshop I'll lead revolves around grief, which certainly would not have been my chosen topic years ago, but after a long decade of close death, from my father to my best friend to my sister, each dying differently, each beloved to me in different dimensions, their lives and the vanished nature of death has deeply imprinted my way of thinking, responding, loving, and thus, writing. (Not to mention that I grew up in a rural town that, during my childhood, was dying in population, trade, and hope, certainly set the stage of perspective on daily dying and the rituals connected to it.)

Because grief is such an intimate experience, often lonely, often isolating, often suffocating, we may not write, we may write pages and pages, we may not see the crisp lines of autumn leaves and lose the interest in waiting for the beauty to return, or believing that it will, or that it should in exactly the way it was before. With each death I experience, my writing seems differently affected. Beauty, grief, and language affect each other in ways we don't anticipate. Or, at least, I didn't. But this workshop will not be a monologue on my loss but tangible ways to navigate your writing through mourning, its relationship to identity and creativity--wherever you are in time and loss. While I am a fiction writer and prefer writing fiction to non-fiction, writers of any genre or level of truth-telling are welcome and encouraged to participate. 

(This is not necessarily a workshop on how to write about grief, though I'm sure we'll talk about that, this will be about writing while grieving, as I suspect grieving never ends, merely rubbing itself into one's identity until it's impossible to separate one from another. Perhaps I should have named it Grieving and Writing. Or just Writing.)

Please join me.

If you have any questions about my specific workshops, feel free to message me. Of course, direct any general inquiries about the conference to the librarians, as they are the ones in the know.

 Spokane Writers Conference
Spokane County Library
North Spokane Library, 44 East Hawthorne Road
Saturday, October 26 
Sunday, October 27
Free to all


Thursday, October 3, 2019

Novel news: Hezada has a book trailer!

Phoebe Waldron from Awst Press has created a fantastic book trailer for my forthcoming novel, Hezada! I Miss You.

It's better than a love letter, I think.
Or it's the best kind of love letter.
That's probably right.

Hezada! I Miss You - "All it Takes" from Awst Press on Vimeo.

Pre-order Hezada! I Miss You at

Frog Voice, Frog King: I'm telling a story at Library Con

This Saturday, the South Hill Library is throwing a Library Con, full of fun, fantasy, fairy tales, and whimsy. So, of course I'll be there to tell a story. You've heard about the golden ball, or read about the frog at the bottom of a well, or seen a version of a terrible kiss, but you've never heard the way I'm stringing it together. A little Grimm, a little gender equality, a lot o' me. Come listen, come play, bring all of your children and any children you find along the way. 

(As I am in the midst of losing my voice, I won't have to work hard at all to sound like the frog.)

Story at 11 AM
Saturday, October 5th
South Hill Public Library
3324 S Perry Street, Spokane
View the full event schedule here: 

Artwork by Andrea Deszo here,
Splish, Splash, Rrrrrrbit: Imagining a Story

Come listen to storyteller Erin Pringle tantalize listeners of all ages with the timeless predicament of a child who loses a cherished toy, makes a bold agreement with a frog, then lives to regret the decision. Sometimes known as the frog prince, this version provides a contemporary take. The story will contain movement, listener participation, and, of course, a surprising ending. Story is geared to children ages 2-7, but no one is too young or old to hear this story.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Order now, read in 2020: Hezada! I Miss You from Awst Press

To celebrate the Montana Book Festival and my newest book, Hezada! I Miss You, Awst Press made these fantastic postcards and are now, now, now taking orders! These are pre-orders, which means you order now and receive it as soon as it's released! Reserve now, find it in your mailbox in February 2020 so hot off the presses, it'll burn off your fingerprints (not guaranteed).

Hezada! I Miss You
What's it about? Well . . .

The last Midwestern travelling circus is due to arrive in a rural village it has visited for a century of summers. Like the village, the circus is on its last leg. It’s down to one elephant and a handful of acrobats. The circus boss’s sweetheart is dying. The former starring act is recovering from cancer. The assistant, Frank, plans to retire after this show. Meanwhile, twins Heza and Abe wander the hot fields and roads, waiting for the circus or anything better. Hezada! I Miss You is a novel that explores tradition, love, and suicide—set under the fading tents of small-town America and the circus.


To meet me in Missoula at the Montana Book Festival, see my schedule here:

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Meet Me in Missoula at the 2019 Montana Book Festival

Let's meet at the Montana Book Festival this weekend. Here's where I know I'll be.

📙 Friday, September 13th at 11:30 AMWillow Springs Reading
Location: The Public House, 130 E. Broadway St.
Description: A poetry/prose reading and a Q&A with Northwest writers who have all been published in Willow Springs Magazine. Willow Springs is the top-ranked literary journal affiliated with the Eastern Washington University MFA program.

📙 Friday, September 13th at 2 PMCelebrate Queer Voices
Location: Missoula Public Library, 301 E. Main St.

📙 Saturday, September 14th at 11:30 AMThe Fractured American Dream in Fiction
Location: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Montana Properties, 314 N Higgins Ave
Description: Join these novelists in a discussion of the American Dream as portrayed in our novels, what it means to pursue it, the shifting nature of what it means from one decade to the next. Each of our novels deals with the American Dream in some ways, the pursuit, the failure, the impact, the fleeting nature, what happens when it slips through your fingers.

For the full schedule of events, visit
Just found me? For the newest of news, follow
Heard about Hezada! I Miss You? Pre-order at

Sunday, September 8, 2019

THE BIG REVEAL: Uncovering the cover of Hezada! I Miss You

One of my favorite parts of the lead-up to a book's publication is the cover reveal. Luckily, all of my books have covers that I love and that seem to complement the content. I gasped the first time I saw LK James's cover for Hezada! I Miss You. 

It was early summer when it appeared on my phone, and I went around the whole day finding people I loved and asking if they'd like to see the cover, and then, without waiting for their answer, I'd do the big reveal.
Are you ready? I'd say.
Are you ready?
Are you sure?
And then, I'd turn over my phone.

They'd move the phone this way and that until they could see with the light.
And then.
Then, friend, they'd gasp. With their mouths, their hands, their whole faces.
I'd grin with them. I'd clasp my hands, lean forward, with the child inside me who knows she has the perfect object to bring to show and tell.
Isn't it perfect? I'd say.
It is. Yes.
I love it, I'd say because you can prolong the moment of appreciation, and I always try when I can.

Then I'd take back the phone, returning the cover to hiding, and swear them to secrecy regarding what they'd seen.
Hundreds of people I showed that day.

No, but that's how many I wanted to show. That's how many I think should see it. Imagine the collective gasp. Imagine all of us looking at the same picture and thinking, Yes. Yes, that's right.

Well, today, friends, we can do that. I'm not sure of when you'll find this, of your time zone, of how to time your gasp to another's, but we will have to do our best.

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

Cover of Hezada! I Miss You, illustration by LK James


Do you see that elephant? Do you know how my father loved elephants? He would bring home ceramic and glass elephants in the white boxes from downtown, from the Bird's Nest jewelry and gift store. My kindergarten teacher's husband owned the store, and every gift to my mother from my father came from there.

And the elephant's expression. Do you want to cup the elephant's face in your hands and press your forehead to its forehead? I do. Do you know that feeling? That's the feeling of the novel. That's what I felt, deeply, when writing it. So deep it ached. So deep the ache hurt and many days I dreaded opening the manuscript to work on it.

Is there an elephant in the novel? Oh, yes. Yes. And that feeling, too, is there.

And what about the flower in the elephant's trunk? Do you know what that is? It's called several different names, which I didn't know until the internet, but in the Midwest, on my road, in my childhood, my mother called it Queen Anne's lace; it grows along the road my mother pushed my stroller up, then I toddled, walked, bicycled, then ran from. Had I never taken any classes on the body, I'd imagine my veins patterned like Queen Anne's Lace.

What about the frame? Its blend of Art Deco and circus poster. Its whimsy elegance. I love it. Imagine how carefully our artist drew it. Imagine her bent over her desk. Imagine. 

And the colors! The red and the blue! The banner, the script, the placement of A Novel and Erin Pringle. 

Do you love it? 
What else do you love about it? 
Will you love it with me? 
If you don't love it, let me love it until you love it, too, so we can love, together.

Thank you, LK James. 
Thank you, Awst.
Thank you, friend, for looking.

About Hezada! I Miss You
The last Midwestern travelling circus is due to arrive in a rural village it has visited for a century of summers. Like the village, the circus is on its last leg. It’s down to one elephant and a handful of acrobats. The circus boss’s sweetheart is dying. The former starring act is recovering from cancer. The assistant, Frank, plans to retire after this show. Meanwhile, twins Heza and Abe wander the hot fields and roads, waiting for the circus or anything better. Hezada! I Miss You is a novel that explores tradition, love, and suicide—set under the fading tents of small-town America and the circus.

View more of LK James's illustrations here:
Learn more about Awst Press here:

Thursday, August 22, 2019

How I Found Missoula and More at the Montana Book Festival

View of Missoula, MT on a morning in 2017

Because my novel Hezada! I Miss You is to be published soon, I'll be participating in the 2019 Montana Book Festival, this September 12-15th. It will find me reading with Willow Springs, talking about the Fractured American Dream, the Fissured Family, and reading work with other queer writers. I am so grateful and glad to return to Missoula. So glad.

The first time I met Missoula, Montana was on a very hot July of 2011, closing in on the first anniversary of living in Spokane and of my sister's death. My spouse and I were trying to stay married, and had just left Spokane for the first time since moving there a year before. We were headed for a trip home to Texas where we'd met and lived for nearly a decade. Then the car broke in Montana.

I'd bought the car in 2003 with part of the fellowship money I'd been awarded to attend grad school in Texas. In July 2003, my best friend Alexa and I had driven in that car from Illinois to Texas to find an apartment for me to live in. By July 2011, I was living in Spokane, Alexa was dead, as was my sister, and now the car would soon show symptoms.

The trip to Texas stopped in Missoula. Well, it had started failing after we'd pulled off the interstate to discover a little art gallery. I've always wanted to be the sort of person to see a sign for a cool thing and impulsively turn off to see it. It was a summer in which I was searching for any other life but my own, so when I saw the sign, I pointed, and we exited. We both wanted to discover beautiful things. Maybe we debated stopping. We had a schedule, after all, as I'd plotted our trip across an atlas of KOA stops. I'd reserved them in advance. But we took the exit and drove away from the interstate toward the Hope of Something Good. 

Ohrmann Museum and Gallery, Montana 2011
I'm sure we argued about turning back or going forward. I'm not sure how I won. But on we went, and we found the Hope of Something Good, better known as the Ohrmann Museum and Gallery. And it was a good discovery. It's an art gallery surrounded by farmland and big sky. The artist's house is just up aways. Around the gallery are large metal sculptures. The gallery is built like a storage shed with a Western-style exterior and holds a warehouse of paintings by the same farmer who is the self-taught artist and sculptor.

To find the gallery, for something like that to exist in the middle of seemingly nowhere, and then to move through it, felt like the petal of a larger promise. To return the favor of that feeling, I bought a print we couldn't afford, and the artist's wife handed me the credit card receipt to sign. It was our vacation, we hadn't fought in the gallery, and for moments looking at the sculptures it seemed to me that we were together in the way we wanted to be.

Polar Bear Sculpture by Ohrmann
Polar Bear information board
Maybe we wouldn't remember the gallery or any of this without the troubles or without the pictures that I still have. But it was here at the gallery, print in hand and our shared delight at such a place, that when we climbed back in the car that the car started having troubles.

It was here that the reward for leaving the beaten track became the bad omen, the reason we should have kept driving, why we were the way we were, why this whole trip was ridiculous. There we sat, dogs panting at our shoulders, in the middle of art, yes, but also the middle of a lot more. Of course, the farmer-artist came out to try to help. I'm sure we followed the choreography of lifting the hood and examining the engine's labyrinth while the metal sculptures stood around us reflecting heat, and I simultaneously thought of polar bears in the wrong climate and the deadly garden sculptures in Stephen King's The Shining. 

When the car started, we left. It was a long road back to the interstate. The Hope of Something Good was gone. We stopped in the nearest village, but the mechanic was gone. Probably it was a Sunday. So we drove on, at slow speeds to the interstate and crawled on toward the next exit with signs of life not just signs for a faraway attraction. The next time we pulled off, the town was bigger, and we waited for a mechanic who never showed up. I remember how hot it was. No trees. We sat in the dugout of a park baseball field. We walked the dogs. We left. My husband stood on a pitcher's mound and showed me how he once pitched. He'd hated it. And now?

Once we gave up on that mechanic, we debated Missoula. Perhaps we'd driven past it, and now we had to return. However it was, Missoula is where we had to go, at minimum speeds, until we reached the KOA there. And there we stayed for two wonderful days.

KOA Missoula
Those two nights at the Missoula KOA were beautiful. Maybe they shouldn't have been. The cynicism of authenticity would bet against it. KOA is a franchise campground, after all. It thrives on sameness, from the hallmark triangle-roofed Kamping store that often houses family recreation activities (ping-pong) and laundromat services. The trademarked Kabins. The Missoula KOA held the same swimming pool that I'd swum in at every Alabama KOA and up through the North Carolina KOAs when I was on my first book tour in 2009. 

But nothing had ever gone wrong in my life at a KOA. My affection for KOAs is their 1970s decor. Their insistence on good days dovetailed with my disbelief in good days. The way each KOA owner plays her own variation on the KOA theme. Whether the putt-putt golf has new green felt or hasn't been used in thirty years, every KOA seems to agree both on the human attempt to have respite from life, which juxtaposes pleasingly with my belief that reality prevents respite and that the discordant sound of reality, or as it relates to KOAs, the nearby interstate, will never let us be free, fully, to be. Some people live year-round in KOAs. I've seen campers with miniature picket fences built around them. Flowerbeds. Street signs with the resident's name standing on poles that share bird feeders. Most people pass through. But the campgrounds are like tiny, pedicured planets outside of time.

I have never felt fear at a KOA like I have in standard hotels. I spend less time locking myself in a hotel room while imagining a maid finding my dead body the next morning, and more time walking the campground, waving at people in lawn chairs, following paths landscaped to resemble a more rugged and less reservations-only camping experience. 

That summer, though, I wanted the trademarked respite. More than anything I've wanted, probably, outside of resurrection of those I love. Those two July days at the Missoula KOA allowed for that wish. My life felt far away from the walls of the little cabin. My better life was allowed to live. The pancakes were free. Families camped around us. Workers zipped around in their golf karts, attending to whatever needs kampers have. My husband and I read aloud to each other the joyful and dire news of a town whose patterns did not affect us. We were voyeurs. We were, perhaps to the other campers, a young married couple, pre-children, pre-family packages of mosquito repellent. What did we look like to everyone else? Better than we were.

The result was I never wanted to return to Spokane. I begged to stay. And maybe these many years later, we would still be living in that cabin, bellies full of free pancakes, but when we tried to reserve the cabin for a third night, we learned that a motorcycle convention was coming to town. The cabin was booked. Every cabin was. The whole campground would become a constellation of shiny metal, leather, and the sound of engines kicked to start. So we had to leave and take our car, our dogs, and our lives with us. 

We'd return to Spokane, driving at the slowest speeds possible, through heat and the stink of new oil. All of Montana was under construction, it seemed. Or maybe it was Idaho. It was interstate. The car wouldn't drive in reverse. It had a hard time even shifting into first, much less second. Seems like we had to skip first to trick it into shifting at all. Sometimes shifting the car would lead to it shutting off. Sometimes it wouldn't start. For the next six months, we'd plot our parking strategically, avoiding flat lots and searching for spaces with a downward slant until, finally, our adjunct and graduate assistant paychecks could afford a mechanic and the almost assuredly bad news that would come from it.

Over the next seven years, our marriage would end, I'd fall in love with my current partner, I'd have a baby, we'd all learn how to co-parent a child of three parents without artifice or tension. I'd shuck my desire to become a tenured professor and start writing part-time while teaching children's tennis. My father, my sister, and my best friend would continue to be dead. I'd write a new book. In those years, if I thought of Missoula, I thought only of that KOA campground, and that was good. Two good days are worth remembering. Luckily, though, I would meet Missoula again in 2017, in better circumstances, and on a second book tour, this time stopping at the 2017 Montana Book Festival. 

Fact and Fiction Storefront
Missoula, MT 2017
During my book tour for The Whole World at Once, I applied to participate in festival, and they accepted. So in September 2017, I arrived in Missoula with my partner and three-year old. I was nervous to meet the writers I would share discussions with, cynical of any writer-related activity that involved more than sitting quietly to write, and so I bought the books of all the writers I'd been scheduled to share time with. My hope was that, by reading their work, should the writer ask about my day, I'd have more to offer than Good and a long, awkward pause. 

In short, the 2017 festival came at a time where life had become steadier so when I attended the festival, I could do so as a fully engaged participant. The result was that the festival ended up bringing me friends and deepening my connection to this region of the country. To hear a region's writers talk about that place is, to my mind, the best way to learn about where you are, the culture, the problems, and the positive. Who else, besides a region's artists, have spent so much time living, studying, and reflecting on it? Thus, after days of attending panel discussions and participating in them myself, I finally became connected to the Northwest and the writers who called it home, whether home was in Montana, Idaho, Washington, or other nearby states--the Northwest was what counted as our shared roof.

Fact and Fiction Books -
Book Display, MBF '17
There, I took part on a panel about fairy tales and reality, and met Wendy Oleson, Donna Miscolta, and Melissa Stephenson. We sat side by side at a table at the back of Fact and Fiction bookstore, talking narrative, tragedy, reality, and more. The audience was packed in the chairs, and we were all there together, thinking and talking and listening. It was like the best first day of school that you could imagine, if you already like school and harbor a deep wish that this year you'll meet real people, as opposed to book characters, who love the same things you do. There was the blip where a man asked us about being women writers, or something woman-related, and then interrupted Donna when she began to share her thoughts. More a confirmation than a blip. Of what it is to be, or happen to be, a woman with thoughts at the front of a room instead of in the audience. I've never forgotten it, though. More than a blip.

I found Melissa online before the festival, and our friendship grew quickly. We learned that we'd just missed each other at the same MFA program in Texas, that we thus shared an overlapping group of friends, that our siblings had both died by suicide, and that we both grew up in the Midwest. Usually, just finding another Midwestern writer is enough to secure a friendship, but to share in common so much more? That's how people say words like destiny. At the time, she was a year out from publication of her memoir but starting to enter the whirl of promotional activities like the panel at the festival. 

That her memoir revolves around her experiencing her brother's death while I was a book away from a novel revolving around the experience of my sister's has helped to strengthen our friendship and, thankfully, given me the ear and wisdom of someone who understands nearly exactly the worries or quandaries or after-effects of the same kind of grief, particularly as a writer carrying this grief. Later, she would come to Spokane to read from her memoir Driven, and I was lucky to be in the audience. 

Melissa and me at her event at Auntie's Bookstore
Summer 2018
I started reading Donna Miscolta's novel of stories, Hola and Goodbye at the festival, but the festival lasted a weekend, and her stories cover a century, so it took me a little longer to finish. It's a beautiful book, and reading it made my memories of our discussion at the festival that much more nuanced. Never one to let go of someone who helps me understand the world, I've kept up with Donna. And she has, thankfully, allowed for it, letting me interview her about the book and her writing. She also contributed essays to both the summer library series and to the Book Your Stocking holiday reading countdown. 
Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories
Donna Miscolta
A few weeks ago, she shared the great news that her newest book is coming out in 2020, and while we won't see each other at the Montana Book Festival this year, I have secret hopes that we'll meet several times in 2020, which will make the book tour for Hezada! I Miss You a more welcoming venture if it's to be more a reunion of writers and friends and less a tour of empty chairs and new spaces. Though strangers are good, too. 

I will get to reunite with Wendy Oleson at this year's festival. We're sharing a panel again, this time celebrating queer voices. She was the first queer writer I'd met as one myself, so her appearance in my life may resonate more in my memory than mine in hers. But even if she doesn't remember me, I'll have read her recent works and, should she ask me about my day, I'll have more to say than Good. 

A few months after we talked fairy tales at the festival, I checked my email and found that none other than Wendy Oleson had won the Gertrude Press prize. Because I'd read her chapbook Our Daughter and Other Stories to prepare for that panel, I saved that email announcement so I'd remember to purchase her next title: 

Gertrude Press
November 21, 2017
    Wendy Oleson * Reviews * $10 Off  
Wendy Oleson_THIS ONE

Our 2017 Fiction Chapbook Contest winner has been selected from a fantastic group of submissions: WENDY OLESON!

Her brilliant collection, PLEASE FIND US, was chosen by our guest judge, Robert Hill, and will be out early next year. * CONGRATS! *
Wendy Oleson is author of Our Daughter and Other Stories (Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award Series). Her stories, poems, and hybrid texts appear in [PANK]Crab Orchard ReviewThe Journal, and elsewhere. She has received fiction fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and serves as editorial staff for Fairy Tale Review and Memorious Magazine. Wendy teaches for the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension and Washington State University at Tri-Cities. She lives with a hiccup-prone dog, Winston, and her wife in Walla Walla, Washington.

At the 2017 festival I participated in two events, the fairy tale panel, and a reading and Q and A. The reading was with Polly Buckingham, and this was probably the biggest affirmation for why regional book festivals are so important, not only for the readers who attend but also for the writers who find each other. Polly and I may have lived a mere twenty minutes away from each other, but Missoula brought us together. On the festival mornings leading up to our reading, I'd walk to the coffee shop Bernice's Bakery and, while my son and partner slept in, I'd read Polly's book of stories, The Expense of a View. 
Reading Polly Buckingham
Bernice's Bakery, Missoula, MT 2017
To read Polly's stories was to learn that the distant figure who walked the empty shores and fields of memory and grief was my kindred spirit. To realize that not only was she alive (my literary kindred spirits are often long dead), but that she also lived nearby felt like the purest of luck. It turned out that she would read my stories and find in me the same distant figure. 

We have since become fast friends, extending our friendship from writing into triathlon training. Most every weekend this summer we've worked on our front-stroke in the lake by her house. We will have done two triathlons together this summer. One in July, and our next is this weekend in Priest Lake. My first and second triathlon to her umpteeth. It's seems a strange route to thank the Montana Book Festival for my triathlon training, but it's because of it that when I take every third breath out of the water it's Polly's head and arms swimming ahead of me, it's her I follow to a favorite rock, into another lap, or back to the dock through green water that shows nothing but the women I imagine floating beneath us as we slip forward on the surface.

Polly and me after a training swim for the Valley Girl Tri
Summer 2019
Already with this next book, I'm having a new experience with book events than I did with my first and second books. This time around, I live in the same city I did when my last book came out, so I'm returning to a festival instead of arriving for the first time. The friends and fellow writers I found last time are with me now, too. I've stayed put, and the reward is continuity and return. I like it. I like looking forward without fear and wondering what new people and new books I'll find when I'm there. 

This is to say, now when I think of Missoula, the layers have multiplied. It's the Missoula carousel, watching my child photograph rain puddles on the sidewalk, meeting new friends, reading books that have clarified the world yet another time. It is refuge and real. Now, I can say that I know it's coming time for the Montana Book Festival. I can tell the way summer is falling away and the books of writers I've never met have begun arriving at our door. 

Missoula, Montana
The Sky in 2017