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Author Archive: "Keith Scribner"

Conflict, Art, and a Life in Balance

My new novel, The Oregon Experiment, began for me 12 years ago, when the WTO meetings in Seattle were rocked by demonstrators protesting unfair trade and labor policies, inadequate environmental protections, and globalization in general. I lived in the Bay Area at the time — my first novel The GoodLife was just published, I'd been married less than a year and a half, and our first child was three months old. As I watched news coverage of the protests on TV, I imagined a character who was at once sympathetic with the goals of the nonviolent protestors, but also wanted a stable and secure world for his new baby.

All art begins with conflict, and this conflict — this pull within a character — was the beginning of Scanlon Pratt . Scanlon became a political science professor specializing in radical action and mass movements, so that conflict in him pulled more fiercely: to provide security for his child he needed radical action and mass movements; his career depended on them.

My son is now almost 12, and, as I've been touring around with The Oregon Experiment since its ...


On Writing, Fatherhood, and Children

As I was talking through yesterday's blog post "On Anniversaries, Art, and Love" with my wife, the poet Jennifer Richter, we kept coming back to the influence of our two kids on our work and the connections between parenting and writing . To provide a little back story, today's post addresses some of those earliest connections for me. A version of this piece appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

Committing to 10 Years
One afternoon 25 years ago, I hiked from the Himalayan village of Old Manali, India, higher up into the mountains. I sat on an outcropped rock looking over the expansive valley spotted with villages and rippling with terraced fields. Never in my life had I talked to myself for hours as I did that day, and though I was self-conscious of the moment's staginess, I had to talk through the decision that I'd climbed the mountain to make. By the end of the afternoon, when long lines of women, children, and goats walked the footpaths from the fields to the village, I'd decided to commit at least the next 10 years of ...


On Anniversaries, Art, and Love

Keith:
Today's my wedding anniversary, and I'm driving from L.A. back to Oregon with my two kids in the backseat and my wife, the poet Jennifer Richter, sitting beside me with the laptop, typing out today's blog.

We just passed the exit to the town where we were married 13 years ago. It was a sunny July day, just like today, when we faced each other in a public garden and vowed to chronicle our lives through our work, to turn our family into art.

Some people are skeptical about a marriage between two writers, assuming that it would be problematic or competitive. But for Jen and me, it's been just the opposite. Whether it's fiction or poetry, we're often writing in one way or another about our marriage, about our life as parents, and about our children, so that finally the writing enriches and deepens our relationship. Early in my new novel The Oregon Experiment, my character Scanlon is reflecting on his marriage and his wife: "Naomi had taught him to experience the world ...


Frog Juice

The nose has practically become a vestigial organ in humans. Unlike other animals, who orient themselves to the world with their sense of smell, we rely primarily on our eyes, and then our ears. At least for Americans, there's a strange intimacy about personal smells. We wouldn't hesitate to say to an acquaintance, You have a beautiful smile. Or, You have sparkling blue eyes. We'd say, You have a soothing voice, or a great laugh.

But would we say, You have a wonderful smell to someone we've just met? The oils in your scalp smell sweet and remind me of my father. Or, It's so warm in this conference room that I can smell your body really well. Sights and sounds are public. Smells are private.

This privacy is exactly why smells are so essential in fiction — their evocation in a scene provides immediate intimacy with a character.

Smells are also the most direct path to summoning up memories. There's a particular scent used in Japanese shampoos that I come across very occasionally in this country; when I do, I'm transported back to ...


So, How Did You Become an Anarchist?

As I've been giving readings and interviews from my new novel, The Oregon Experiment, many of the questions I get are about the politics of the novel. Yes, one of the main characters is a political science professor specializing in radical action and mass movements, one character is an anarchist, and another heads up a fledgling secessionist movement; there are scenes of secessionist meetings and anarchist demonstrations.

But, surely, more page space is given over to a marriage struggling from the strains of moving from New York City to a college town in Oregon, of having a newborn baby, of illness, and job pressures. All the characters are trying to escape the pasts that haunt them. Sequoia fears her young daughter has inexplicably inherited her personal trauma. Naomi has a genius sense of smell, which she loses and regains.

The fact that so many questions have centered on the book's politics has gotten me thinking about the essential connection between the human/personal stories of the novel and its political/social framework. We humans are finally animals, and ...


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