In 1999 a good friend called and asked if I would like to join her for a writer’s workshop in Leavenworth, Washington. “Have you heard of Barbara Kingsolver?? She’s one of the teachers.” I almost dropped the phone… of course I knew her work – loved her work – slept with her work under my pillow at night! I was so excited to have the opportunity to meet her and the other excellent writers at that weekend workshop.
We set out over the Cascade mountains on an early Friday. It was late spring and the flowers and plants were surging up past the receding snow line as we crested Stevens Pass. Then as we wound down the eastern slope, dry loving ponderosa pines replaced the moisture loving Douglas firs and red cedar of our familiar western slopes.
We pulled into Sleeping Lady Resort, a sweet eco-resort on the banks of the fast flowing Icicle Creek with Sleeping Lady Mountain creating a restful backdrop. We checked into our cabins and anxiously prepared for our first meeting.
I’m always a bit intimidated by these “first meetings” at workshops and conferences. I tend to avoid events that have the word “mingle” or “network” in them. I have a thing about icky strangers… but this time I was with friends and I was going to meet Barbara Kingsolver!! I promised not to stammer, but to be as gracious and un-gushing as I could.
She was tall. And, gracious, and kind and everything I had hoped and imagined she would be. She spoke to us in her soft accent and I knew that this would be a weekend that would have a lasting impression for me. I didn’t know at the time how lasting… (Remember it’s 1999 – almost 20 years ago now…) but I could sense an importance.
We were assigned meeting groups and I was going to be with 11 other writers in my workshop with Barbara… and I was going to be in the workshop on May 3 – which is the anniversary of my sister’s death.
In 1974 on May 3 my 11-year-old sister drowned in a boating accident in the North Umpqua River behind our house. It was a devastating loss… of course and tore a wound through our family that would never quite heal. In 1991 I had started my MA program in Integrative Studies in Psychology at Antioch University Seattle. When it came time to begin my final project my evaluator – the local poet Jody Aliesan said that I had to “go back to the river and find the body of my sister.” I absolutely knew what she meant. I designed a project oriented to the four directions and explored the natural history, native American history, my personal history and the current destruction and loss of salmon and their habitat. It was a powerful project and helped me orient myself to my story in a new and inspired way.
So here I was, no mistake, sitting with the other writers and Barbara. The topic was how to write fiction that expresses activist views. I was very curious and had this large body of research I had already done – what if I could translate that into a work of fiction??
Barbara asked for a story to workshop – I raised my hand. I told her my story. I think she got even taller as she turned to me and gently began asking me for details of my story. Then we work shopped my story together – shifting the details of “what happened” into a fictional story. I could feel a wind blowing through the details of the death of my sister and opening them to so many beautiful possibilities.
On that day – my novel “The Same River” was born.