Sometimes, mathematics and literature have been known to collide. I determined this truth during my first book tour to southern Oregon. I refer, of course, to my revelation that Attendance at book readings is in inverse proportion to the Community’s Size. (A (oc)CS). I’m considering submitting a paper on the subject to the Journal of Computational and Applied Mathematics. In the meantime, my blog readers will be the first to learn of my discovery:
Christmas Valley cannot be found in the AAA guide book or on my map of Oregon, which I admit is old. Neither would it be visible to the human eye if a gnat landed at the spot where the community might be designated. Christmas Valley is at best an unincorporated township or, closer to the truth, a cluster of alfalfa farms populated by people who chaff under too much bureaucracy. Here is where I walked into the Feed Barn Café and found myself transported to the Marabar Diner, the gathering place in my book, Heart Land. I was greeted by a knot of farmers and truck drivers who exchanged anecdotes as they sat on red vinyl benches near windows that were shaded with red poplin curtains. When I looked into those weather-beaten faces, I knew my Heart Land was alive and well all across America.
At 7 p.m. Mark and I entered the postage stamp library. Barbara Remy, the librarian, greeted us warmly. She seemed to take no offense at the prospect of working late. Someone had baked cookies, probably Barbara. The room was empty but the 12 chairs arranged in a half circle were soon occupied.
The faces of people I had never met and might not see again were friendly. They ranged in age from 16 to 60. Most of them carried pencil and paper for taking notes. One woman brought three of her novels for me to see. They were self-published, she said, but one of them had been picked up by the Mennonite Press. I read the blurbs on the book jackets but had to stop when the room filled.
-Christmas Valley, Oregon. July 15, 2010-
A lively discussion followed my reading. Everyone had a writing project underway, except for the mother of a teen age poet. She said her daughter was the one with talent. But I knew she had an eye beauty. I’d passed her garden earlier that day, saw her working amongst her flowers and knew only a determined artist could coax blossoms from a sage prairie.
The next day, Mark and I traveled to Lakeview, a beautiful little town that IS on the map. Amy, looking too young for her responsibilities as head librarian, was enthusiastic in her greeting and showed me the room where several rows of chairs had been arranged. Ryan, from the local press, wandered by to ask a few questions. He admitted he’d gone off to the big city for a while, Los Angeles to be exact but didn’t care for it. He returned home to write for the Lakeview paper. We’d barely finished the interview, when a few people wandered in. Four in number, all of them writers. Patty self-published a story collection, Janice was writing a family history and one man published several books and had received an offer on a screen play. Though sparse, the crowd was varied enough for us to exchange ideas and sometimes I caught a glimpse of the inner lives of those present. Janice, for example, was a cancer survivor. The experience had been a life changing, she said. Perhaps that’s why she’d decided to dedicate herself to preserving her family’s history.
-Lakeview, Oregon. July 16, 2010-
The final day of the tour, brought us to Ashland. The head librarian was away so Amy, her assistant, greeted us and showed us to an empty room where we were left to arrange furniture however we liked. To be on the conservative side Mark and I put out 5 chairs. At 3 p.m. two women wandered in who identified themselves as readers rather than writers. A third woman poked her head in, said her bridge foursome had been canceled and she’d decided to join us. She thought better of it, apparently, because she disappeared before the reading began. I was left with an audience of two. I did my best for them, utilizing all the gestures and flourishes I’d lavished on my previous audiences. When I’d finished, I expected both women to smile and fade away, but I was wrong. They were interested. They made comments on the work, both of them agreeing that each book would make a good movie. How clever these women are, I thought.
Mark and I drove home the next day. We wondered if A(oc)CS would hold true for our September tour to eastern Oregon. I don’t think it worried either of us.
We’d traveled over 600 miles, met 25 interesting people, sold two books and saw enough big sky country to bring Montana residents to their knees with envy.
Gazing out the car window, I wondered what it would be like to be J. K. Rowling or Dan Brown, big time writers who flew into the cities where they were speaking, stayed in fancy hotels and were greeted by local dignitaries. I’d probably never know. But I wasn’t envious. They’d never see the scenery I had, never meet people like John who wants to write sci-fi; or Patty with the big smile whose stories were sometimes dark; or the teen age boy with hair in his eyes who writes lyrics for his songs; or the woman who walks with a cane and dabbles in free verse; or my two “just readers” who are a writer’s life’s blood. Nor would J. K. Rowling or Dan Brown ever discover the significance of A(oc)CS: that richness derives from small gatherings. I had to admit, I felt a bit sorry for them.