Much appreciation to everyone who came out to Lucy’s Books last Saturday for the Second Saturday Art Walk! It was fun to chat with so many readers–some of you I’ve known for a long time, and some I met that day. I’m glad you came out to enjoy the sunshine and talk books with me. Many thanks to Lisa Reid for hosting me and being a champion of my work. (Thanks for the wonderful reviews and Lucy’s Books bag too!)
I wanted to share a new excerpt from Sunset Empire with you. I hope you like it.
From high above the forest floor, the hunter watched the girl. She was pretty, but she was too busy talking on her cell phone to watch where she was going. He had to suppress a laugh when she almost stepped on the deer carcass. That would teach her to hang up and walk.
Where had she come from? He glanced down the path—probably from one of the houses on the edge of the forest. The more pressing question, however, was where was she going? He doubted she knew. She seemed to be wandering the path aimlessly, with no idea of the trouble she could get into.
From his perch, he could clearly hear her side of the conversation as her voice echoed among the trees, even though she wasn’t speaking overly loud. With dismay, he realized this was because the forest had gone eerily silent. The wind picked up, and in the breeze he could smell death.
Go back, he thought, as if he could will her to hear him and take his advice. Wherever you came from, go back. She didn’t, of course. She just kept walking, chatting on that stupid phone of hers.
He narrowed his eyes, irritated. What was this girl’s problem? Surely she could sense that something was wrong in this part of the forest. All the birds had flown away. There were no squirrels chattering from the trees, or any other sounds of wildlife. But no, she was too busy talking to notice. She had barely given the dead deer more than a glance.
He checked his weapon. He couldn’t just stand by like last time—not now that he was sure it worked. He was going to have to reveal himself. He was going to have to save her.
Then, something curious happened. The girl stopped and looked around. “I’ll have to call you back,” she said. She hung up her phone and slipped it into her pocket. She turned a slow circle on the path, staring into the forest. Then, she shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, starting back the way she had come.
The hunter followed her with his eyes, and then surveyed the forest. The smell of decay was fading. Maybe the creatures weren’t coming after all. Silently, he inched his way down the tree, watching for trouble. Six feet from the bottom, he heard a scream.
He dropped the rest of the way to the ground and ran up the path after her, ducking behind a tree when he saw she had stopped and wasn’t dead. She was staring at a spot on the ground, her delicate features contorted with disgust. Whatever was on the ground was smoking. She shuddered in revulsion and then took off down the path, back to civilization.
When he was sure she wouldn’t see him, the hunter emerged from his hiding place. He approached the blackened thing on the ground cautiously, toeing it with his boot. A banana slug. The only reason he could identify it at all was because he could see the piebald yellow and brown markings on the end of its tail. The rest of the six-inch creepy-crawly had been burnt to a crisp.
Who was this girl?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
The best thing about playing tour guide is you see things anew through other people’s eyes. My brother had a business trip in Portland this week, so I made the two-hour trek from the coast to meet him for dinner. We drove over to the Pearl district, and as we were paying for parking, I heard the sound of bagpipes.
“The Unipiper!” I said.
“The what?” he asked.
“He’s this dude who rides around Portland on a unicycle, wearing a kilt and a Darth Vader mask, while playing bagpipes that shoot fire,” I explained. And sure enough, as we crossed the street, we ran into the man himself. The Unipiper was gracious, letting me take a photo with him and giving my brother a keychain before pedaling on his merry way. A pretty good ambassador for the city.
“Okay, you’re done,” I told my brother. “You’ve encountered a quintessential PDX icon. You can go home.”
Then we walked into Powell’s City of Books, and I realized we weren’t finished yet. There was much more to see. If you’ve never been to Powell’s, you should remedy that posthaste. It had been too long since my last visit, and I’m glad we went. The first thing we saw was a display dedicated to all things Oregon: t-shirts, magnets, cutting boards, jewelry…whatever your tourist heart could desire. They even had Bigfoot air fresheners. What more could you want, really? Stegosaurus taco socks? Fine, done. They had those too. Along with posters, book bags, and all kinds of geeky accessories that made me want to blow my paycheck.
I managed to resist, and chose one book to bring home, after my brother recommended it. Ready Player One was a book I’d always meant to read, but hadn’t, so it was nice to have a reminder. He asked me for recommendations on books from Oregon authors. I was thrilled to point out books from writers I love: Chelsea Cain, April Henry, Ursula K. LeGuin, and more. It’s such a joy to talk books with someone and find out you adore the same authors. You love Jim Butcher too? No way! Powell’s is so huge we didn’t even make it to the upper floors. When his arms were full of books and my stomach started growling, we walked over to a pub to eat and chat some more.
Living 1,500 miles apart, we don’t see each other often, so it was great to catch up. Of course, I tried to sell him on moving north by gifting him a book on weird places in Oregon as well as a sand dollar from one of my favorite beaches. I stayed later than I meant to, and didn’t get home until one in the morning, but it was worth it to spend time with my brother.
Driving down the Sunset Highway in the middle of the night, surrounded by trees and patches of fog, I kept an eye out for Bigfoot. It seemed a good night for spotting him. There was a full moon and I’d had a fortuitous encounter with the Unipiper earlier, so why not? Alas…no such luck. My air freshener will have to suffice.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Last evening, I had the pleasure of attending a fundraiser to support a literacy program. The Libraries ROCC program is a partnership between three of our local libraries. It promotes reading outreach by providing every child in the county with a library card. As a writer, encouraging people to read is a cause near and dear to my heart, so I’m thrilled this program exists.
Libraries are so important to our communities. They foster literacy for beginning readers, give kids a safe place to hang out after school, host speakers on various educational topics, grant space for community groups to meet, and provide internet access for many patrons who don’t have it, like those with low income or who are seeking a job. One of my favorite librarians (and a beloved friend) works at the Seaside Public Library and does an outstanding job working with youth. My own children have benefitted from the wonderful summer reading program she has developed.
Beyond all that, libraries are simply sacred to me. They always have been, from the time I was old enough to have a library card. Stephen King has said that books are uniquely portable magic, and I believe this to be true. I remember visiting the library as a kid and browsing the stacks. I felt a sense of awe at the possibilities as I read the spine of each book, trying to choose just one or two to take home. Nothing has made me prouder as a parent than seeing my children fall in love with books. Seems like we’re at the library every week, feeding our addiction. It’s a pretty great addiction to have, although my to-be-read pile at home suffers every time I get distracted by a shiny new book. My boys tell me I’m only allowed to check out one book at a time. Choosing is still hard.
All these reasons are why it’s an easy decision to pull out my wallet and support programs like Libraries ROCC. It’s even easier when there’s an auction for little free libraries created by local artists. My favorite was the nautical-themed library designed by the talented folks at Vintage Hardware. (Everything Becky Johnson and her staff create is amazing, and they are constantly involved in community projects.)
The other libraries were gorgeous too. One was constructed of cedar and smelled just as wonderful as you think it would. Another was Oregon-themed, complete with a wood cut-out of the state. One had been painted with literary quotes.
I got outbid and didn’t come home with a library, but it was great to see them going for as much as $450 and to know they’d be well-loved and curated by individuals and business owners. The most heart-warming part of the auction involved a barn-themed library. A pair of tween girls feel in love with it and started a bidding war with some of the older attendees. I was worried as the bidding got higher that they’d get in trouble for raising their bid, but the adult with them seemed okay with the amount they pledged. Finally, they got the highest bid, and were so joyful, everyone applauded and cheered. I can’t imagine the library going to a better home than that of two enthusiastic young readers.
I did come home with a few things from the silent auction, one of them a gift certificate to Norma’s, a favorite local restaurant. Anybody want to join me for dinner?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017