MEMORIES FORMED AT PIVOTAL TIMES IN MY LIFE often pop up as I’m imagining Logan’s next adventure. FOREST PARK is a good example. When I returned to school as an adult, part of my Anthropology coursework involved collecting the life histories of Vietnamese refugees, particularly those who came during the mass exit in 1975. At that time, people had very strong feelings for and against the war and the Vietnamese people who came here as a result of that war.
As I listen to the news now—I hear the same concerns about refugees coming across the Mexican border that I heard expressed back then about Vietnamese refugees. I remember wanting to understand who was right. Were refugees a drain or a boon to our society? I encourage everyone to dig into the data and answer that question for themselves. As for me, by getting to know individual Vietnamese people and their families, as well as checking on federal and state data available at the time, I learned a great deal. The wrenching story of the choices parents had to make, the gold bars and the temporary camps, came up more than once.
In the course of interviewing people, I was often invited to share a meal. My father’s daughter, anything involving new food was right up my alley! Everyone was generous with their time and what little resources they had. One woman tried to teach me how to make pho, the satisfying, rice noodle soup that is a staple in every Vietnamese home. She told me it was simple, gave me instructions. I decided to make it for her and her children that weekend.
I diligently spent Saturday morning boiling beef bones for the broth, adding spices, and preparing everything for her arrival. I even found Thai basil for garnish, which was scarce at that time. When she arrived, she took one whiff, wrinkled her nose and said, “Smells awful!” She quickly went into the kitchen and peeked into the offending soup pot.
“Oh!” she said.
Understanding dawning, she laughed and grabbing a large spoon, started skimming white scum off the top of the liquid. Since this was second nature to her, she just assumed I’d know to do that when making the broth. She didn’t know she was dealing with an American whose mother served canned spinach without batting an eye. We had a good laugh and I made something else for lunch. The next time we shared a meal, she taught me to make something easier, shrimp and other things wrapped in lettuce leaves, dipped in fish sauce. Light and delicious!
But back to the story of FOREST PARK…For many years, I flew up to Portland, OR often and spent a day walking the city before driving out to the coast to spend a week with my sister where she lived in Lincoln City, OR.
I loved those days of autonomous wandering, which always included trying a new ethnic dish at the gathering of food trucks across the street from the Governor Hotel, where I liked to stay. (It’s now called the Sentinel, for it’s guardian like statues gracing the building).
One of those food trucks became Than’s Pho in the book. Like all immigrants, the women who work it have roots that reach back to their home country, while making a go of it in their new home, America. Not all the immigrants are good. Not all are bad. I hope I show how the refugee experience changes externals, but not our essential natures. I love exploring how my characters choose to react to the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Portland, OR is a character itself. Like most cities, it has a unique personality and presence. And like most cities, it has its share of problems, including homelessness and crime, which also find their way into the story. One of the homeless, G.I. Joe, a Vietnam vet, becomes one of the main characters in the story, another human being affected by that war. He finds a home in Forest Park, an urban forest with miles of trails and its own haunted house, right in the city.
In all of my books, I try not to shy away from tough, social topics, but I also hold to a ‘No Preaching’ policy. Different characters in my stories share their points of view, which often differ. Living in different countries growing up had that effect on me. I tend to see the world from multiple perspectives.
Next up…DEVIL’S CLAW: Logan Book 3, where I explore sea otters, a Coast Guard rescue during a violent storm, environmentalists vs land developers, and two half-siblings who didn’t know the other existed, with very different visions for a pristine piece of coastal property they both claim to be theirs.