I’m not at all excited —you’re sensing the sarcasm, right— to be one of the Indie feature reviews in this months KIRKUS REVIEW magazine. Though it is my least favorite review (received for Return To Sender) it is none-the-less EXCITING to see Return To Sender mentioned in a glossy magazine that goes out to industry pros; agents and the sort. So cool! Doing the happy dance. What a nice bit of news before my book signing event at Third Place Books tomorrow. It lessens those haunting, ‘why would anyone want to come listen to me read’ nerves.
Neahkahnie’s Black Demon
Portland Oregon was home. Most of the year was spent working at dad’s shoe repair shop, but for a few years –the good years, we call them–summers were spent in Manzanita Oregon. My novel RTS takes place in that Manzanita of the 1950’s.
It’s a cliché understatement to say that things on the Oregon Coast have changed dramatically –but wow have they. Manzanita is now a swanky and expensive beach town with high end homes and mortgages I can’t afford. Long gone are the days when we stayed in shanty shacks, trailers and tents. Gone are the sun-splashed days when my cousins and I stood on the windy beach studying Neahkahnie Mountain, pondering the many myths of ghosts’ hauntings, and the pirate’s gold that had eluded an army of treasure hunters, most of whom traveled to Neahkahnie with a hunch, a shovel and a wheelbarrow. There were a few law-breakers who came with bulldozers and backhoes. They got arrested. My dad and his buddies included.
The thing we feared the most was what the Indians called the ‘black demon’ who guarded that treasure.
“That black demon must be pissed.” My cousin Nene would always say.
“Yeah,’ I’d say, “But he’s just a ghost, what can he do?”
“He could toss us like tooth-picks.”
“I don’t think so. . .” I’d say, “but you go first.”
We’d hide in the bushes at the foot of the mountain and look up through the binoculars we had ‘borrowed’ from
her dad, my uncle Ed, who would also be pissed, if he knew. We were eleven years old. My brothers who followed, younger, and the gang of summer-kids (Manzanita vacationers) that also followed ranged in age from five to ten. If you ever saw the movie Gooneys (also filmed on the Oregon Coast) then, that was us, but with two scared-ie-cat girls as leaders.
Anyway, that black demon as legend told was left behind one summer afternoon, many years ago. Indians near Neahkahnie Mountain were astounded when two sailing ships approaching their coast –the first ships they had ever seen on the Oregon coast and that they said looked like “great birds” –began to ”thunder” and puffs of smoke blustered from their sides. After considerable noise and smoke, one of the ships began to list, and was cast up on the beach near the foot of Neahkahnie. The other set sail over the horizon and was not seen again.
As the ship pitched onto the sand, men toppled over its sides and staggered ashore. All of them were white, except one, who was much larger than the others–a giant, legend says. And he was black.
To the Indians, who, until then never thought there was another race, these men of diverse colors were an alarming sight, and they observed them much as we might regard aliens from another planet coming into our backyard.
At low tide the colorful strangers brought their belongings ashore. Among their items was a huge chest, so heavy and awkward that it took eight men to carry it. With considerable determination, they carried the chest a short way up the mountain, where they then dug a deep hole. They then lowered the chest into the hole. The black giant, whom the Indians supposed was an evil demon, was ordered by a knife wielding white man, to step forward. When he did, he was struck down, and his body flung into the hole with the chest. The men then filled the hole with sand and returned to the beach. The Indians watched all night. The men lifted small boats off the listing shipwreck and rowed away in the moonlight, never to be seen again. The Indians did not disturb the demons resting place, but legend holds that the sand at the end of the mountain turns black in winter. That the black demon pirate is often heard bellowing his anger across the sea, and that when treasure hunters have gotten close, that black pirate has manifested great tragedy in their lives. It was him we wanted to get a glimpse of –from far away, but a glimpse just the same.
So, we’d climb, pulling ourselves up by tugging on the slopped junipers or jagged rocks of the path. Every time someone fell or got hurt we claimed they were pushed by the black demon pirate. Eyes would bulge. Paranoia would set in. Every natural sound had an unnatural effect. We never made it to the top but instead would make it about halfway up the path on the side of the mountain and run yelling and screaming back down.
Summers in manzanita were filled with ghost stories, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows at the campfires along the shore, and watching for that black pirate who we believed sat on a rock at the crest and watched us as we imagined we were watching him.
Of course we never got a glimpse of him. Nobody I know ever found the elusive gold treasure, but a couple people I know spent a small fortune trying to and several days in the Tillamook County jail to prove their devotion.
While I don’t know about that black pirate who haunts Neahkahnie Mountain, what I do know is that I and my brothers have all had mystical, often frightening, often spiritual sightings and happenings when hiking there. So did our dad, that’s why he stopped looking for the black pirate’s gold, saying, “Let him have it.” One of my brothers looked for a bit, but the rest of us never did. To just, “Let him have it.” made more sense. The story of that black pirate plays a role in Return To Sender, which in many ways is ultimately how dad felt about that rumored treasure. 🙂
You can find a lot of info on the history of Neahkahnie, Manzanita, Tillamook or Nehalem at the Tillamook museum.
Below is an excerpt from one tour page.
How Long Does It Take To Write A Novel?
By Mindy Halleck
Aspiring novelist often ask, “How long did it take to write Return To Sender?”
“TEN YEARS,” I tell them.
Then I get a look of horror, so I explain. There were a lot of reasons, but two main ones.
One was that I had cancer three times while writing my book. With each time I lost at least one year of recuperation time and the long bouts of NO energy or creative flow interrupted everything. When focused on my own mortality it turns out I’m not one of those authors who can create: some can, and I admire their stamina. I just couldn’t think straight and so lost a lot of time.
The other reason was it took years to research Korea, The Korean War, and The Korean War orphans who our US soldiers raised money to help and risked their own lives in doing so. I then had to write my protagonist, Theo Riley’s journals based on that research. I wrote his letters and journals for three or four years so I would know who he was, what he went through and how deeply he was wounded. It was a long process but one I needed to go through in order to create an authentic Korean War hero.
It takes a lot of energy and focus to write a novel and for many of those TEN YEARS I was focused on loving my family and staying alive. However, what I did create while really sick was one of my other characters who I adore, Solomon. He’s a Nehalem Indian Shaman (a healer) and a wise man who guides Theo out of his darkness. No mystery there; I needed a healer and a guide through my darkness and so unconsciously created one. It helped. Today I’m fine and starting work on my next novel. To Read an excerpt from Return To Sender, and the rest of the blog click here, ALSO sign up to win a $100 Amazon gift card while you’re there.
This ‘About Return To Sender’ interview was transcribed and edited from a recorded conversation with Roxana Arama, author of Re-Writing History.
As a young Irish immigrant in America, Theo thrives with the help of Solomon, a Nehalem Native-American man. After the Korean War, Theo finds Solomon again, and his old mentor helps him in his struggle against Genghis. You studied the Nehalem culture closely for this novel. Is there a real-life model for Solomon?
Yes, there is. I mean, I didn’t know this man and I didn’t know if he was anything like Solomon, but he left a deep impression on me. When I was about ten years old, my dad and my uncles would go fishing and then we’d go to the Cannery in Wheeler, Oregon, and they would go inside and have a beer and talk for a long time about smoking salmon. For a ten-year old girl with her Barbie doll in tow this was not a very interesting time. So I would go sit outside on the bench and wait. And outside there frequently sat an elderly Nehalem Indian gentleman. It was widely-known there that he didn’t speak.
Back in those days we had popsicles that break in two, (do they still make those?) anyway, I broke my Popsicle in half and handed him one and he said, “Thank you!” That startled me because I didn’t know he could speak. So I said to him, in one way or another, “I didn’t know you could talk. Can you hear me?” The type of thing a ten year-old would say.
He had this cryptic language and tone of voice, very guttural – it was a wonderful, soothing voice, I loved it – and he said “I don’t talk to white people over twelve years old because they’ve lost their souls and don’t know how to listen.” It was a huge statement to ten year old me. I mean, I went for years pondering why people lose their souls after twelve years old. I know I’m not remembering exactly as he said it but that was the essence. It stuck with me as I worried I would lose mine. And then he said, “…but I can tell that you listen.” And I remember thinking, yes, I’m a good listener; maybe I won’t lose my soul.
Those maybe, three times that I sat on the bench with him, he told me stories and said they were Indian stories and that the Indians used to live there and that it used to be his family’s homeland. It all captured my imagination and interest at the fledgling age of ten.
Flash-forward a lot of years and I decided to put this man in my novel, and so unconsciously created Solomon, who is my favorite character in the book. He is a shaman, a healer, and he heals Theo and helps him transcend his current life situation and move onto his destiny.
I instinctively created a healer while I was dealing with cancer. So I really got involved with writing about him as a shaman – what kind of herbs he would’ve used, and all – while I was going through my own healing process. And it wasn’t really until I made it through the cancer and realized I was going to live that I looked back on that writing and had the epiphany that, while I was going through my journey, I subconsciously created what I needed. I needed a healer. I needed Solomon.
Later, I bought Clara Pearson’s book at an auction held by the Oregon State University. She was considered the last living Nehalem Indian and she was interviewed in 1953 by the Oregon State University and they documented it all in a book called Nehalem Tillamook Tales. So I bid on that book and got the only one they had. And I read through those myths, which was very difficult because it’s such cryptic English and the interpretations are a little wonky. It’s a brutal read. But now, all the myths and things that Solomon says in the book come directly from real Nehalem myths as does his language and the way that he speaks. Inspired by that man I met as a little girl, I tried to make Solomon resonate with his spirit that he so generously shared with me.
I wonder if other writers get as attached to their characters; I cried for days after writing what happens to Solomon in my novel, but it had to be that way. Still, letting go of my spiritual healer was difficult, painful and yet timely.
Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advertisement h
Writers are always in search of the perfect place to write. Some like noisy coffee shops, as I do on occasion, and others need soft music, birds chirping, the sound of water (and a gazillion other personal muse requirements) and some need silence. I tend to need silence when I’m creating, and noisy coffee shops if I seek inspiration. It’s been my life-long dream to have a quite place with a water view where I can write.
Guess what we just bought!!!! My dream. This will be my new writer’s nest (after Sept. 1st), with a view of the Puget Sound. I’m so blessed. Finally the perfect place to write my next book. Return To Sender launches in the fall (mid October) and then I’m heading up those spiral stairs to begin my next book in the perfect place to write.
Return To Sender is based on some true story details. There has been a stack of 1950-54 Airmail envelopes with negatives tucked in the letters stashed in a tin box in my cabinet for close to forty years. I finally took the negatives to the one and only developing company in Bellevue WA that could handle the fragile reproductions. What I discovered was a treasure of forgotten faces. Many of the pictures were from my ex-father-in-law who is now deceased. He told me how he adored the Korean kids, many of whom were orphans, while he was there during the war, and how broken hearted he was to leave them behind. In part, those brief insights into his heart that otherwise seemed as impenetrable as stone, were inspiration for my character Theo’s back story.
LOOK at these faces; How could you not be broken-hearted to leave them behind?
Then, while cleaning out my attic I discovered the full photograph album and love letters written and sent from Korea and Japan.
You can red the interview with a local newspaper here “Author’s book inspired by 60-year-old letters, photos”
Manzanita Oregon is one of the most special places in the Northwest (in my opinion) and since I moved to Seattle I miss going there on the weekends. We only get down to the coast about 3 times a year now, when I’m lucky. The last time I was there my brother Clark took this picture of me and then did a digital drawing of Neahkahnie Mountain (in the background) for me to use on this website. I think it looks great. What do you think? I used it as the header on my home page. I have a talented brother.