Friday, February 7, 2020

"Ms. Erin is a fine wordsmith and a helluva gal": Neil Elwell on your Sunday Plans

"Ms. Erin is a fine wordsmith and a helluva gal... You probably ought to go."

—Neil Elwell on why you should attend the party for Hezada! I Miss You

Neil Elwell
(photo by Erika Jones)


Story about how I met the blues, and twenty years later, Neil Elwell

I don't remember the first time I heard the blues. If anyone would have shared the sound, it would have been my father, but he listened mainly to jazz on the cassette tapes he'd plug into his van's stereo while driving country roads in search of something to photograph, or just something. He never found it.

But I do remember when I started a relationship with the blues. I was both in love with a musician and taking a class at Indiana State University on the history of blues/jazz/rock. He and I decided to drive to the birthplace of the blues. He'd been there before, years ago. He knew the map. He'd gone when he was in college, also during learning about the blues; he and some friends decided to skip class and drive to Mississippi, a mere seven-hour drive. His story went that upon their return, the professor asked why they'd skipped--where have you been?

We wanted to learn where the blues started, they said.
And the professor couldn't be too angry about that, could he?

It was a late October when we drove South. It was my first time past the north boundary of Kentucky. I saw how the sides of the roads turned red. How the land flattened out. How villages appeared and disappeared, and had disappeared inside themselves, remnants. How the old wood had gone gray-blue like the roads I'd grown up on. 

I remember the ache in my throat from seeing, finally, what I'd read in Faulkner, Lee, Williams, O'Connor, Morrison. 

Seems like we arrived in Clarksdale, Mississippi on a Sunday. It's where the blues is said to be born. It was deserted enough to look for signs of living. I took a picture of the water tower that I still have and run across when sorting memories for the thrift store. I keep it every time, if only because who else would? 

There were signs of a future museum for the blues; this was twenty years ago. It was either closed because Sunday, or nearly close to opening. We walked its porch, peered through the windows. It was a long, rectangular building in my memory. 

Later, we would drive back toward Indiana and stop in Memphis. We'd walk Beale Street by day, by night. I remember the thrumming of such a street. What it does to a body, its circuitry. In a few hours, I'd fall in love with more than one street musician in that kind of immediate brightness that the world sometimes punches into your stomach, showing you what life you might live if you lived here in the dream you allow of yourself.

It was that trip that would send me with my best friend down the train tracks to New Orleans for a non-traditional Spring Break where we stayed in a hostel, daily wrote in our notebooks while seated in the shadow of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. It was because of that trip that I sent all of my graduate writing applications south. I nearly made it South, but ended up a little west, in Texas. But even in Texas I found the blues. At the time Austin had its own bar dedicated to the blues. No searching required.

All of this is to say that twenty years after that autumn trip, I walked up the steep stairs of Spokane's community radio station, KYRS; this time for an annual fundraising drive. I expected to talk about our radio tower--the amount of electricity required to power us--how for only $3 a month you can be a supporting member to your community radio station--how if you call in the next hour, a stranger will double your donation.

All true, but this is what I didn't expect when I sat down across from Jukebox Jennie during her show, Workin' Woman Blues: I would meet Neil Elwell. I didn't know who Neil Elwell was. He sat down beside me. He had a guitar. He'd come on as a favor to Jennie to help raise money for the station by playing live.

Jesus, how he played.

I think this is a story of how everything you've learned about parts of the world wind up returning in the people you meet. How often I seem to think that objects hold my memories, but forget that people can carry memories, too, even when they weren't part of them.

Since Clarksdale, my blues had only deepened. Aside from my family history of having the blues (depression), the course of life had brought more. The musician had driven away in his red car. My best friend who went with me to New Orleans had died. My sister was dead. I was further west in a northerly manner. My marriage was over. I was in love again, but more love doesn't fade out old love, disappeared love, misjudged love. My dad was still dead, of course, because death does that, and sometimes it seems only the blues remembers that. Sometimes, it's only the blues that remembers there's people who walk country roads alone, or drive them, searching, or live in houses where the wood isn't stained and nature starts taking the wood back, because it can.

So when Neil started playing the blues. Dark, right blues. Deep sounding blues. You understand what I'm saying blues, you can see why I had to make this person my friend.

Neil and Henry
And we have done that.

He would play for an artist fundraiser for my friend Breanna amidst the big shows he plays with his well-known band, Laffin' Bones.

I'd learned in that same blues/jazz/rock class about the diddley bo, and a few months later I asked Neil if he'd ever made one. I was thinking of art projects to share with the preschoolers. Not only did he know what I was talking about, he'd made one. He invited my son and me over to see the one he'd made with his son. When we arrived, Neil had started the base of one for Henry to make. A surprise. The best kind of surprises. They finished it together that afternoon.

Later, Neil and I would share coffee while he helped me repair a sculpture my father had made. And on and on our friendship goes, which is as good as the blues and born from it.

And on Sunday, I'll be happy to stop reading from Hezada! I Miss You, and listen to Neil Elwell sing the blues. I hope you'll join us.

Sunday, February 9
2 PM
Cracker Building (304 W. Pacific)
words. music. wine. maybe cake.
You're invited.
I mean it.


Thursday, February 6, 2020

Erin Pringle on Northwest Arts Review: Thursday, February 6

I met up with Chris Maccini of Spokane's NPR to talk about my new novel Hezada! I Miss You. The best part was reading from the opening chapter. Otherwise, it was morning, and I'm no good for mornings, which I should have taken into account when scheduling the interview but didn't. So, thank you to Chris and my apologies to Chris.

But, regardless of my anxieties, you can listen to the discussion once or twice today: 

If you found your way here from the interview, that's fantastic, and I thank you greatly. You're invited to the book celebration this Sunday, Feb 9th at 2 PM/Washington Cracker Building/304 W Pacific. It's free and local blues musician Neil Elwell will play music after the reading. The book will also be available to purchase from Auntie's and online retailers.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

"A tale about magic, about longing, about the crushing weight of dreams": Ann Tweedy on Hezada! I Miss You

"Pringle’s writing is lush and poetic.  Her weaving together of her characters’ disparate lives is nothing short of masterful.  In sentences sprinkled with unexpected metaphor, Pringle deftly renders this heartbreaking story of the meager and sometimes desperate lives of the residents of a rural Midwestern town, lives inextricably tied—through imagination, excitement, and, in some cases, blood itself—to the circus that visits every summer.  Readers will empathize and identify with Heza and Abe, the quirky and wise ten-year-old twins at the heart of the story, siblings who, like their single mother Kae, don’t quite fit in here and yet may not be able to escape.  The lives of Pringle’s characters are freighted with tragedy and sorrow and yet what am I most struck by is the love and compassion delivered when the protagonists most need it by unlikely strangers and acquaintances.  This is a tale about magic, about longing, about the sometimes crushing weight of dreams.  About the flashes of excitement that keep us alive." 
— Ann Tweedy, author of The Body's Alphabet 


Ann Tweedy
This is the story of how Ann Tweedy came to read Hezada! I Miss You, which is also the story of how I met her.

The Hugo House had a good idea to have Washington writers read. I was one of them. As I'm from Illinois, and will celebrate only my tenth anniversary of living in Washington, I was excited to learn about who these Washington writers would be and what they were like. Ann was one of them. And as it happens when excellent poets walk up to a microphone and begin to speak, I felt chills. The urge to lean forward. The wish that she would see me listening.

I felt too shy to talk to her, and she seemed enveloped by a similar feeling. My friend Walt had come to the reading, and we were standing near the front door and the rainy sidewalk as Ann left. Walt told her he liked her poetry. Walt's a poet. Walt has no concerns about speaking, or saying lovely words to strangers like, Good poetry. Or I enjoyed your poetry. Whatever it was he said in an easy way. 
Ann said thank you and walked into the rain. 

Like anyone who is better at written words than out-loud words, I messaged her online. Later, she would write a piece for the Book Your Stocking Series (read here). 

I would imagine renovating my backyard into a reading space and having Ann come read under strings of bulb lights, amidst lawn chairs of kind people and warm summer air. I have yet to do that. I still imagine it.

Ann, however, used reality, and organized a reading for us at Last Word Books in Olympia, WA. It was an intimate reading, filled with Ann's friends, and we had a wonderful, thoughtful conversation afterward. One of their group had died suddenly and recently, and we spoke of grief and friendship. It was like a temporary living room had been created among the books, and we sat together in it while the rain went on outside.

And although it is not typical for a novelist to ask a poet to blurb her work, I did. And she said yes.

You can listen to Ann read here:


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Sharma Shields calls Erin Pringle a "Great Ringleader" and the world seems good again

"Mournful, funny, piercing, and profound, Erin Pringle's Hezada! I Miss You is a stirring, vivid novel about a declining circus and its dynamic denizens. Like a great ringleader, Pringle highlights the most exciting, daring, death-defying, and dangerous aspects of the human condition. Hezada! I Miss You is a breathtaking work of art.”

Sharma Shields, author of The Cassandra and The Sasquatch Hunters’ Almanac 


Sharma Shields
(photo by Rajah Bose)
This is the story of how Sharma Shields came to read Hezada! I Miss You. 
    Maybe I'd lived in Spokane a year, though probably less, before I was talking to a librarian who asked if I knew Sharma Shields. I did not. I'd never met anyone in my life named Sharma.

    Oh, she writes stories, too, said the librarian.

    I liked the sound of Sharma. It sounds beautiful enough to be anyone, and fragile enough that one ought not to assume who this person might be.

    A kind of fairy-tale beginning, I think. 

    I would encounter Sharma at a reading at a different library; she read a story from Favorite Monster while I carried my baby from shelf to shelf, trying to keep him more silent than giddy. Or maybe that was another reading, same shelves. Maybe there was no baby yet.

    A few years passed before we would meet. Or maybe it wasn't that long. But in feeling. Years.

    It was in the lobby of The Bing Crosby Theatre before Lilac City Fairy Tales, an annual event Sharma curated. She'd found my email, asked me to participate. Our first in-person conversation went something like this:
    She hugged me, and I thought it was very nice that she should hug me, and that people named Sharma must be very nice. 

    Several years passed before we'd meet again, which seems impossible when most of the writers in Spokane seem to run into each other monthly. Sometimes, I think they actually live together, share laundry, memories, electricity, and only pretend it's funny to find each other outside their shared home. But that might be the way with writers. They're an interesting species.

    One day, Sharma thought aloud on Facebook that she might not make it to an event--an event she seemed to want to attend. She has MS. It takes over her, sometimes. Probably more than sometimes. It reminded me of my best friend Alexa who had similar experiences toward the end of her life, so I immediately wrote to Sharma and said I'd be happy to take her wherever she need go. 

    Luckily, artists are immune to quirky people, so she graciously thanked me for offering to carry her on my back. Me, who'd hugged her once in a lobby.

    Time passed. A year? A June came, and we found each other in Seattle, doing a reading at the Hugo House with  Gary Lilley and Ann Tweedy. I'd read the same story she'd asked me to write for the Lilac City Fairy Tales--now, it was bound in my book of stories.

    After the reading, listen to this: she bought everyone's books right there--her arms full and her face bright. I was so confused. People named Sharma hugged in lobbies, asked for fairy tales, then bought books at readings she was a part of.

    Then, damn if she not only read mine, but also wrote about it in Spokane/C'oeur D'lene Living Magazine

    The rest is either history or bullet points.

    • She wrote a piece for Book Your Stocking (read here)
    • I sent Scablands Press (her press) Hezada!  
    • Then Awst took it. 
    • She congratulated me.
    • Later, I would ask her to read Hezada! I Miss You as a potential blurb-writer. She said she would. She said it with enthusiasm. 
    • Every few months we summon the energy to schedule a walk, a coffee, a casual time, and then after a round or two of our calendars, we give up.
    • Sharma's newest novel The Cassandra came out. 
    The Cassandra seemed written for me--not me Erin, but me as a mind. A woman of my grandmother's era, and told in that era, goes to work at Hanford, where the plutonium for the atomic bomb used on Nagasaki was manufactured. But it's set in the past, so no one knows what's going on. The book winked at me unlike books ever do. Like, it expected me to get inside jokes that women looking back into time and forward from the past would understand. Nobody has ever expected this of me as a reader, or given this to me, or showed me how that was missing from merely all of literature. 

    But aside from all of this, I think it comes down to Shirley Jackson. Sharma loves her. I love her. So, were this a fairy tale, this is how I would have met Sharma: There she'd be, holding The Lottery in her hands, and I'd wait until she looked up so as not to interrupt.
    I'd tell her it was a sunny day.
    She'd say it was a longtime ritual.
    Then we'd sit together before the story, heads bowed, until the child picked up a stone.
    We'd shake our heads as though to say, But isn't that the truth? 

    Monday, February 3, 2020

    "It's a tender novel": Rajia Hassib on Hezada! I Miss You

    Set against the fascinating backdrop of a traveling circus, Hezada! I Miss You is a meditation on sorrow—how people deal with it, how they attempt to escape from it, and how, for some, it’s inescapable. It’s a tender novel that should be read slowly, each line given the careful consideration it deserves for the beautiful, heartbreaking insights it holds.”

    Rajia Hassib, author of In the Language of Miracles and A Pure Heart 


    Rajia Hassib
    Rajia Hassib and I have yet to meet. When I meet her, I'll first make sure she accepts hugs, and then I'll hug her so tightly. It will be one of those, stop-hugging-hold-shoulders-admire-the-hugged-then-hug-again hugs. A double hug. Triple hug. 

    The first time I met her words was in a recommendation from my friend Michael Noll when he was running Books are not a Luxury. I bought In the Language of Miracles and fell in love with it. 

    I fell hard. 

    Then I sent her a note to thank her for the book. Because when you read a book so deeply considered in its rendering, so full in how it grows around you, you must thank the author. 

    She responded. 
    I felt wowed. 
    (I've yet to achieve desensitization when encountering the walking gods I imagine writers to be.) 

    Later, I gathered up my gumption and asked if she'd share an essay about her childhood library for the Summer Library Series. She said yes. And then commenced to write about her library: the world's most famous, if not first, library (read here). 

    So. Wow.

    Later, she wrote a piece for the Book Your Stocking series. And, again, she wrote it with the same seriousness that I'm learning marks all her work (read here).

    In this way, the word appreciate--even when mining the depths of that word--does not begin to describe how I think about her. 

    This is probably where I should have stopped asking her to write things. In a fairy tale, I would have known better. What has she asked of me? Nothing. Geez, Louise. 

    I didn't know better, or I buy too hard the old "you-won't-know-if-you-don't-ask" wisdom, so I asked--I asked if she'd read Hezada! I Miss You. I just thought, the author of In the Language of Miracles would understand what I'm trying to do. 

    Politeness says that you should not ask people you admire to do things. 
    Then again, when you find a working writer whose work you admire to the moon, and she keeps writing back, don't you help hope by asking? 

    Although, when recounting all of this to you, I clearly should have asked her where to send armfuls of gifts instead of yet another thing. I should have just sent her the book when it came out. 

    But she did read it. And she saw it! She saw it the way I hoped when I used hope to get me through the hardest parts of the book. And as I have a very tense relationship with the novel, I think I need her words about it as much, if not more than, any reader. Perhaps it was my heart that asked her and elbowed my brain aside.

    So, this is my plan: at the end of the Hezada! book tour, I'm disappearing for a while and taking A Pure Heart, Rajia's newest novel with me, which seems the better way to recover.

    Sunday, February 2, 2020

    Hezada! at the Washington Cracker Building, Spokane

    Washington Cracker Building
    (photo from this Inlander article)
    We are a week from the official launch of Hezada! I Miss You. I arranged to celebrate the book at the Washington Cracker Building because it seems of the era the novel reaches back into. Though Hezada! is told in the present-day, it's set in a village whose heartbeat was steadier a century ago, and whose stories of that time persist into the abandoned-now. The Washington Cracker Building is the same, and the first time I saw it, I felt Casey, Illinois--from the building's red brick to its faded, painted signage.

    The building sat empty for a long while before it was acquired and put back together into the thriving space it is today, which has served for two-story art shows, private and public events, a permanent art gallery, bar, and work-spaces. The Cracker Building is basically what the villagers in my novel dream their village could be again in some utopian future. And so, the Cracker Building seems perfect to celebrate the novel--both my completion of it and its public introduction.

    If you haven't read up on the history of the Cracker Building, here are several useful articles regarding its past:
    You and everyone you know is invited to come to the celebration.

    Sunday, February 9
    2 PM
    Washington Cracker Building
    304 W. Pacific Ave.

    I mean it. You're invited.

    Tuesday, January 28, 2020

    Donna Miscolta and Erin Pringle Walk into a Montana Bookstore in 2017

    In language that pulses with poetic precision, Erin Pringle depicts with clarity and intelligence a dying village and the dying circus that each year stirs its heart and heartache. In this observant, often mesmerizing novel, Pringle shows how each is hoping to find something in the other to save it, how each succeeds only a little while failing immeasurably in other ways. This novel is a lovely meditation on how the inevitability of change and loss is sustained by nostalgia and memory, and survived by that quiet beat of hope that lives in us all.”
    — Donna Miscolta, author of Hola and Goodbye


    I was sitting at the kitchen table when Donna Miscolta's words came in about the book. I immediately shared them with my family. Because not only was the blurb long and beautiful but she'd seen it. She'd seen the novel in the way I'd hoped. For me, it felt akin to the moment in a fairy tale when a person is recognized, or when a person becomes visible--Cinderella in her hut with the bloody stains of her sisters' feet printing the floor; the girl without hands standing tiptoe to eat a peach from a tree when someone wandering the forest sees her and leads her to safety.

    Donna Miscolta
    I met Donna on a panel at the Montana Book Festival back in 2017 when I was wandering around with The Whole World at Once. I'd proposed the panel, one on the tragedy of fairy tales, or something like this. They'd taken it. They asked me to moderate. I'd not known I was proposing a panel, so the request was a surprise; I thought I was offering subjects I could speak on so they could know what to do with me. Thankfully, they found a moderator. Thankfully, they filled the panel. It took place at the back of Fact and Fiction Books, which serves as homebase for everyone during the festival. 

    I sat beside Donna, and I'd bought and brought her book Hola and Goodbye! to the festival in order to read it and thereby have a way of talking to her that didn't rely on nicety and manners. I was in therapy actively working on my social anxiety. People with social anxiety don't do well following a script of niceties (because the script ends, and . .. then what?). I had to create my own, or one that made sense to me. Melissa Stephenson was on the panel, too. Wendy Oleson. All of us will join again in April at the Hugo House to discuss tragedy, fairy tales, and all between. More on that later. 

    I finished reading Hola and Goodbye! that autumn. It's an involved work, storytelling through generations of family over the course of nearly a century. Later, Donna would allow me to interview her about the book (read it here). Then she would take part in the Summer Library Series and the Book Your Stocking series. Meanwhile, she's attending writing residencies, writing for the Seattle Review of Books, working a full-time job, writing her own fiction, and maintaining a blog (and I suppose eating and sleeping). And still she agreed to write for these little projects I kept thinking of. Still she agreed to an interview on my website instead of a bigger elsewhere. Still she agreed to read my book and write a blurb. 

    Now, I know she was reading Hezada! while her daughter was pregnant and she was in the midst of retirement, moving, becoming a grandmother, and the final round of her own next book. 

    Grateful. I'm grateful that I was sat beside Donna at a folding table. I'm grateful that she responded to my emails. That she kept responding. And I'm more than grateful that she read Hezada!, much less that she took the risk of putting her name on my book, beside my name, within the writing community that is smaller than you'd ever imagine (than I ever imagined coming from my cornfield childhood). 

    I don't know that Donna would call me her friend, but whatever kindness describes our relationship, I'm happy for. 

    This is all to say, or I'll this is how I'll end by saying, that when a book comes out, especially by a small press, there is so much more going on beneath the good words written by writers on the dust jacket. Those words don't fall out of the sky or wand. Those words aren't bought by a publisher (or at least not in small press world). Those words were a sacrifice by the writer who agreed to spend x number of hours reading a brand new book whose destination and value is unknown--hours reading that could have been spent on their own writing, own life. 

    So, thanks, Donna Miscolta. 

    Thank you. 


    Sunday, January 26, 2020

    Hezada! on KYRS Radio

    I was on KYRS Community Radio last Saturday to talk about Hezada! I Miss You. Thanks to hosts Liz and Neal for reading the book and putting the show together. I forgot to summarize the novel, but hopefully you can piece it together enough to keep listening. Also, I cry, but that part lasted longer in my mind than in reality (so they assured me afterward).

    Listen here:
    (I'm the January 18th episode.)


    Friday, January 17, 2020

    "To the bone, with cadences that sing": Regi Claire on Hezada! I Miss You

    Regi Claire
    © Dawn Marie Jones, Stoyanov and Jones
    Brilliant. A heart-wrench of a debut novel. The writing cuts right to the bone, with cadences that sing. Reminiscent of Bradbury and Sherwood Anderson, Pringle's Hezada! I Miss You is a kaleidoscopic vision of love, desire, loss – and life.”
    — Regi Claire, author of The Waiting and The Beauty Room


    I have not asked Regi whether she knows Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio is on the top of the book-list I casually refer to as DEVASTATING-FANTASTIC-STORY COLLECTIONS-BROKE MY HEART AND THE BIRD THAT LIVED INSIDE IT IS NOW FREE. But I should ask her.

    I loved Winesburg, Ohio so much that I waited a year before reading the last story because I did not want to finish the book.

    Regi Claire and I encountered each other back in 2009 when my first book, The Floating Order, was published by the same publisher of her collection, Fighting It. When Two Ravens Press was sold and then suddenly fell off the face of the earth, we navigated what that meant--how to re-own our books. Then she was always game for my blog ideas and contributed to the library series ("Cigarette and Astrid Lindgren") and the book-your-stocking series (2017 and 2018). In this way, slowly over the past decade, we have forged a friendship that deepened once we both had sisters who died suddenly.

    All of this is why I hoped she'd understand what I was after in Hezada! and asked if she'd be willing to read and blurb it. She agreed. And that is one story of how the words on the dust jacket got there.


    Wednesday, January 15, 2020

    "Spare, haunting": Jack Kaulfus on Hezada! I Miss You

    Spare, haunting, as honest as poetry gets, Hezada! I Miss You is a dream of a novel that conforms to neither expectation nor demand. Though the external forces at work on this family succeed in tugging them away from one another, Pringle's precisely woven narrative connections are unbreakable. She again finds a way to render time and place as emotional states, while making memory as corporeal as you or me.”
    — Jack Kaulfus, author of Tomorrow or Forever: Stories

    Jack Kaulfus
    Jack Kaulfus is the author of Tomorrow or Forever, serves as fiction editor at Gertrude Press, plays in the band Brand New Key, and teaches and lives in Austin, TX. More importantly, Jack is my dear friend and we attended the same MFA program in Texas. Jack is the person you hope to meet in grad school, the person who will understand your work in the deepest of ways and who you will turn to over your writing life to look at work you'll give to no one else. I am grateful to have found Jack, blessed to have them as a friend, and in love with the writing that comes off Jack's desk--the angles of the stories, the way they click together (or against themselves), the clear empathy and curiosity beneath the rendering of the characters, the language--all of it. So, when I needed to ask writers to review the book, you can see why Jack was first on my list.