Between the lines: 'Writing is an optimistic act'
Lake Oswego's authors share some of their pathways through the creative process of writing and publishing
Lake Oswego is well known as a city that is highly engaged with writing and literature, and that strong affinity for writing is also reflected in the many authors who call Lake Oswego home.
Some of the communitys writers are known first and foremost for their work as authors; others are better known for other professional roles but pursue parallel writing careers in their free time. Some are poets and novelists; others write childrens stories or textbooks.
All share a passionate love for the written word.
In this third part of a continuing series, The Review sat down with several local authors to get a better sense of who these writers are, how they impact the community and how Lake Oswego impacts them.
Books: Wire to Wire
Scott Sparling grew up in Michigan, which is also the setting of his first book, Wire to Wire. But while the book is inspired by his experiences growing up, it was written primarily in the Pacific Northwest in places like Seattle and Lake Oswego.
Sparling, who worked as a journalist in his 20s, says his interest in fiction didnt arise until he was around 30. He was living in Seattle at the time and decided to take a class on fiction writing.
On the first night, I walked out, thinking, Im going to write a book, he says. There was a certain optimism and craziness to that belief. Writing is an optimistic act.
Sparling says reaching his goal took a lot longer than he originally anticipated. By the time he moved to Lake Oswego, he was only about halfway through the process.
I was five years into writing Wire to Wire, he says. (When I stared), I had thought it would take five years. It took forever.
Still, he says, Lake Oswego offered a lot of opportunities for him to continue working on the book. When moving to the Portland area, he says he was drawn to Lake Oswego because it was a suburb defined by its geography, giving it a distinct feeling much like some of Seattles main neighborhoods.
Lake Oswego and the Portland area provided him with two assets for writing, he says. The first was a treehouse that he was able to build in his backyard, which he says became the place where a lot of Wire to Wire was written. He says the setting and the solitude helped him remember the details about Michigan that he needed for the novel.
The treehouse was my escape from Portland, he says. I didnt built it with that in mind, but thats what it became.
The other asset was Portlands writing community. Sparling says he was able to work with other authors and get advice that helped him ultimately finish the novel.
I needed to learn how the story wanted to be told, he says. I was lucky to meet people who could help me with that.
Books: Playing with Fire, The Hunter and others, including some novels and some nonfiction
As Lake Oswegos city manager, Scott Lazenby is used to wearing multiple hats. But hes also an accomplished novelist, and his books involve a similar amount of variety. His published novels range from a sci-fi adventure to a thriller about the trials and travails of appropriately enough an intrepid city manager.
Lazenbys first novel, Playing with Fire, was published in 2001 and tells the story of a city manager who must contend with controversial policy changes in the citys fire department. Lazenby says he was able to draw on his own experiences when writing the book; early in his career, he worked for the City of Vancouver and he watched as the citys fire department explored similar issues.
I said (to myself), Well, think that though, he says. Lets play this out and see where it goes.
In multiple ways, the novel shows how life and art impacted one another. Lazenby says he was able to rely on friends in the local police and fire bureaus for fact-checking while he was writing the story, and he says the novel has been used as a hypothetical case study in the years since it was published.
Being able to write clearly is a skill that comes in handy for budgets and staff reports, but Lazenby says his experience as a novelist also helps him in other ways. Being a city manager can sometimes mean serving as a mediator between different parties, and Lazenby says his writing experience allows him to serve in that role more effectively.
It allows you to step back as a removed observer, he says, and not get drawn into conflicts.
At the same time, the city manager role also helps the writing, Lazenby says partially because he hears interesting stories from all over the city, but also because characters can sometimes emerge from the people he meets.
You pick up characters from the people around you, he says.
Lazenby says he prefers the writing as a secondary pursuit rather than a job, but hes hoping to get more involved in Lake Oswegos writing scene. He participated in a writers group when he worked as the city manager in Sandy, but as a relatively recent arrival in Lake Oswego, hes still working on building up that same kind of network here.
Books: Medicine Wheel, Celtic Ties
Portland native and longtime Lake Oswego resident Kelly Running spent 12 years as an English teacher in the Lake Oswego School District, encouraging seventh- and eighth-grade students to pursue creative writing. But a few years ago, she says, she decided to take her own advice and give up teaching to focus to writing novels.
When I was done teaching, at the end of the day, Id be writing, she says. And I realized something has to give here.
She published her first book, Medicine Wheel, in November 2013 and followed it up with Celtic Ties this year. Both books are mystery stories that focus on a character named Lizzy OMalley, and both were published through Amazon.
Ive always loved mysteries, says Running. I love the puzzle of trying to write it the clues, the red herrings. You dont want your reader to figure it out too soon.
Running says the ability to publish through Amazon was a major factor in pushing her to begin writing, and she credits the company for encouraging creative writing by providing a new platform for many independent authors. But Running says she also enjoys having access to the detailed information that comes with eBooks data about when and where people buy the books, how much they read and even how far into the sample chapter they got before deciding to buy the book.
I like to dabble in the business side of it, she says.
Like her central character, Running is a frequent traveler, and she says those trips provide a lot of the research and inspiration for her books. She says she spent a month in Ireland in 2014 before she began writing Celtic Ties, and Medicine Wheel was inspired by a trip to Arizona. But while the books focus on far-off places, Running says she likes Lake Oswego and isnt planning on going anywhere.
In fact, she says, shes already begun thinking about OMalleys next adventure and it starts in Portland.
I think its just a really great place to be she says. I like the smaller town feel Lake Oswego still has that feel that Portland is losing its getting too big too fast.
BETWEEN THE LINES
This is the third in an occasional series of articles about the many authors who call Lake Oswego home.
To read Part One, go to bit.ly/2aqJuEk.
To read Part Two, go to bit.ly/2br3YPJ.
And watch for more profiles of local authors in future issues of The Review.