Debra Gwartney books
Monday, September 29, 2014


What? A Blog Post?

My friend, the wonderful novelist Cai Emmons, recently asked me to participate in the Northwest Writers Blog Tour. I said I would love to, even though it meant cracking through the thick ice of guilt that’s been holding me in stasis about this so-called BLOG of mine. Terribly ignored for too long.

Thanks to Cai for getting me rolling again, and I hope anyone reading this will visit her site for her answers to these questions she’s posed.

I’m eager to find others who want to continue the blog tour. Let me know and I’ll link to your blog (whether neglected as mine or tended to regularly) here.


1)     What am I working on? 

I’m now five, perhaps six, years into a book about a particular foiled missionary, the enigmatic Narcissa Whitman. She is, in the annals of history, the first white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains (a few steps behind her was Eliza Spalding, the second white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains, according to history books). Why am I interested in Narcissa? For many reasons, one of which is her stunningly  presumptuous attitudes about the West–she was called on by God, she said, to “save savage souls” even though she knew absolutely nothing about native people before she showed up to “help” them. I’m also interested in the ways her bitter end was leveraged by others. She was killed with 13 others at the mission called Waiilatpu, a massacre that served as impetus for a whole lot of justifications for clearing this part of the country for white settlers, including my family.
I’ve published essays about NW in various journals, including, most recently, a piece called “Her Hair” in the Crab Orchard Reviewand earlier essays in The American Scholar, Oregon Quarterly, and Oregon Humanities Magazine.
2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m thinking of this book, wrongly or rightly (as even the shape of it is still in flux) as a sort of memoir-biography; that is, both about her and about me. I want to sort out some of the ways this long-ago woman, with whom I have about nothing in common, has informed me, who I am as a woman in the West.

3)     Why do I write what I do?
An idea gets in my head, I stew on that idea, and maybe one out of a dozen times thoughts related to that stewing make it to paper, and about one out of a hundred times those scribbled notes turn into an essay.4)     How does my writing process work?
When I was a single mom with four kids in the house, I learned to take advantage of whatever minutes came my way. Sentences, paragraphs, maybe a half-hour of revision, piece by piece, bit by bit. I wish I were more disciplined than that, here in my quiet house on the river, but, alas, I’m still a rather catch-as-catch-can writer. Though when I see an open morning or afternoon, I can fall into writing for three or four hours until my brain is fried, and that is wonderful (the writing for hours, not the fried brain or the bleary eyes–)
If anyone out there is interested in continuing the Blog Tour–posting answers to these questions on your own blog and tapping a few others–will you let me know? I’ll link to your site–

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