My last newsletter appeared here in February, that heady time we recognize now as the end of life as we knew it. Soon after I wrote the cheerful note about my 2018 book, From Here to Argentina: A Tango Love Story, I was off to Portland, Oregon for Valentango, the largest and longest running tango festival in North America. Dancers come to Valentango from all over the world; we embrace, clasp hands, touch cheeks in the social dance we love––intimate strangers, new and old friends. 

This year we’d heard whispers of an exotic virulent virus circulating somewhere not-here. I mentally crossed my fingers as I passed from the arms of one practice partner to the next in daytime classes. Crowding onto the dance floors for the Saturday night grand ball and the milongas had a giddy undercurrent of dancing in the face of death. I brushed it all off as my over-stimulated imagination. Two weeks later, back home in Bend, as news of the virus spread, our tango community closed its doors. My husband and I now dance alone together in my studio, astonishing the cat.

One way I make sense of my feelings when I need to explain the world to myself is through art. I’m good at shielding myself from emotions with words, but when I pick up a brush to paint, I never know what’s going to show up. My complicated pandemic fears emerged in this oil painting I’ve just finished, and I feel freer with them on the canvas than hidden inside me. I’m sharing the image without interpretation. Whatever it means to you, I wish you peace, wellbeing, and joy in small things.

Until the next time, love,

Kristina

 

Love, romance, and tango shine a glittering light through this month that can be so dismal in northern latitudes. For the fourth year in a row, I plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day (and my husband’s birthday) dancing at Portland’s Valentango 2020 festival.

To share the love, I’m giving away copies of my book, From Here to Argentina: A Tango Love Story, to the first ten people who contact me, either through FB private messaging, or at the email address listed on my website. Here’s what one reader says:

“This story by Kristina Bak burns bright and strikes deep into the heart of human loss and longing. The story structure is nothing short of breathtaking as the author uses the beat of the dance…Brilliant writing. Searingly thoughtful, and yet delightfully fun. A fabulous read.” Elizabeth Stephenson

Wishing you love in February, and always!

 

Among all the disasters and tragedies afflicting our world, the fires in Australia bring me to tears, my cherished memories of places half-a-world away now overlaid with videos of exploding eucalyptus forests, desperate firefighters, and animals with their paws burnt off. If you haven’t heard the gruesome statistics, ecologists based at the university of Sydney estimate that perhaps a half billion animals have been killed in the ongoing bushfires, many more left badly wounded and starving. In New South Wales the dead include about 8,000 koalas, wiping out thirty percent of that state’s koala population. And the amazing, glorious Australian birds! Thousands have been reported falling from the sky and washing up dead on beaches. The stories of loss can go on and on.

The situation is catastrophic now, but the recovery will be grueling and won’t be front-and-center in the news cycle. The need for help doesn’t end when the flames die. My dear Sydney friend, Elaine, is collecting raw carrots and sweet potatoes to help feed wombats and wallabies struggling to survive on a small patch of green on a burnt out property in the nearby Blue Mountains. While we can’t be there to deliver vegetables, Here are some worthwhile places to send monetary donations to help from a distance:

WIRES, New South Wales Wildlife Information, Rescue, and Education Services, Inc. (It’s more than just cuddly-looking koalas suffering!) www.wires.org.au

Help Save Kangaroo Islands Koalas and Wildlife (This is a Gofundme fundraiser. Many koala communities in Australia are already threatened by habitat loss, as well as devastated by Chlamydia, a severe and deadly disease. The koala community on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island is one of the few that remains disease-free, making loss of life there even more devastating. The island is also last refuge for a population of glossy black cockatoos and other rare wildlife.)

RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in every Australian state, helps pets and other domestic animals abandoned or lost in the fires.)

The Australian Red Cross (Humans need help, too! Some Australians have lost everything they owned–– some have lost loved ones––to the fires.)

Right now it’s our Aussie sisters and brothers who need help. Maybe next summer here in the American West it will be you or me. Let’s never give in to sorrow and hopelessness as long as we can help one another. 

Pre-fire forest on the south coast of New South Wales

In this time of political madness, nothing is more soothing to me than to take refuge in one of our Central Oregon independent bookstores. We’re rich in this region with Roundabout Books in Bend’s NW Crossing, Dudley’s in downtown Bend, Herringbone in Redmond, and Paulina Springs in Sisters. I have enormous respect and gratitude for the bookstore owners who work endless hours to keep their shelves stocked for us, and who willingly order books they don’t have on hand. 

I meet my friends in local independent bookstores for coffee and conversation, and often to hear other authors read their work. Researching my 2019 YA novel, Nowever, I took part in a book group with teen readers at Roundabout, and this fall I read from my sequel-in-progress, Cold Mirage, at Paulina Springs, with the store’s brave new owner in the front row. (Nowever was recently short-listed by Chanticleer International Book Awards in the Dante Rossetti YA fiction category––awards to be announced in April 2020.) 

If you’re stumped about what gifts to give this holiday season, visit Roundabout, or Dudley’s, or Paulina Springs, or Herringbone, and ask for help. People who work in these bookstores are avid readers who love to offer ideas. Of course, I’ll be delighted if you choose one of my novels––From Here to Argentina: A Tango Love Story, or Nowever.

Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Reading!

 

Write what you know is a sensible dictum; write what you want to find out is way more fun. The wild Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island first stirred my imagination when I was an undergrad in Bellingham, near the Canadian border. I finally got there a few weeks ago, more than four decades later, researching details for my novel-in-progress Cold Mirage. This sequel to 2019’s Nowever is set in Tofino, at the end of the road up a narrow peninsula between Clayoquot Sound and the Pacific Ocean. To go farther takes a boat or a seaplane. Beaches, rainforests, whales and bears, surfers and storm watchers––my old dream come true. 

And the tango? That was in Victoria at the beginning of our trip where, on our first return to Cafe Casablanca since 2017, we met two Australian tango dancers, Ron Fenton and Esther Zellweger––neotangoaustralia.com.au––teaching an Alternative Tango class, and joined the cafe’s usual gracious Friday night milonga dancers.

UPCOMING EVENT! On Sunday, October 20th, 2019, I’ll be reading a sneak preview of my novel-in-progress Cold Mirage at Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, Oregon. As part of the Sisters Festival of Books, I’ll be appearing along with eight other YA authors, signing copies of Nowever, and offering chances to win free copies of both books. Readings are scheduled between 11:00am and 1:00pm, with lots of other events going on over the weekend. Come join in!


Fiction writers, story weavers, dream for everyone. A person not allowed to dream gradually goes mad; a world without dreams would be unlivable. We need dreams of beauty and love and kindness, humor, excitement, and mystery––even nightmares––to thrive. As a writer, I dream into the concurrence of the beautiful and the terrible, how it’s possible to hold the perception of both at once. I’m drawn to the world’s gorgeousness, especially to light, and the way nothing stands still, ever, even when we want it to.

Our summer in Oregon has been like a childhood memory of summer, exquisite blue sky days flowing seamlessly into one another, until suddenly, past the September equinox, sunset comes earlier and the sun slants from the south. I sit at my desk, distracted by my view of trees and sky, but excited by my projects in progress, one of which is to follow advice I’m given, to share with you what other readers have said about my books (where you’ll find the natural world a recurring “character” in myriad forms. So, here goes:

About Nowever

“This has to be a “crossover” book, as it had me riveted! The ingenious plotting, the amazing descriptive quality of your writing, the wonderful characters Stevie encounters––how do you do it? Thanks for a good read!”  Isobel (age 93) Rye, NY

About From Here to Argentina: A Tango Love Story

“What a delightful novel. Kristina Bak may be the Jane Austen of the inter-mountain west, displaying and quietly skewering the manners and mores of the early 21st century. Her characters are believable, as are their foibles and occasional triumphs, and the choice of setting––tango class in a mountain town in transition––makes a nice crucible. I’m waiting for the next novel.”   Denise

“Romance. Intrigue. Mystery. Mortality. And more––all in the arms of a dance partner. The characters are strong, fragile, cruel, generous … believable! What a wonderful read. I knew nothing of tango, yet Kristina Bak makes me feel its rhythm and attraction. I won’t be surprised if we’re watching this love story on the screen in the future. Yet, you know what they say about the book––read it first!”  Jana Z

More reviews next time, or, you can read the books! 

Wishing all my readers, and readers-to-be-mine, wonderful summer dreams.

Here, in late July, each day’s air is so clean, the sky so blue, I want to drink it––no big wildfires this season in our Oregon Cascades. (We knock wood when we say it, as though the superstition will save us when lightning storms come flashing through.) Even now, in high summer, we can find lightly-touristed hiking trails among our sleeping volcanos, the peaks still crowned with snow, clear meltwater streams tumbling and sparkling in the woods. Last week my husband and I met flurries of orange California Tortoiseshell butterflies at 6,000 feet. 

The quality of sunlight has just tipped toward gold on the spectrum, the inexorable seasonal round. The crow family we’ve watched from our patio since spring fly farther each day from their nesting place in the giant neighborhood cottonwood tree. I miss their eloquent conversation when they’re gone. My garden is the garden of a writer: unkempt, overrun with flowers, all I see beautiful, some hidden, some planned, some surprising me.

As always, I write each morning. Cold Mirage, the sequel to my 2019 YA Novel Nowever, is evolving much like my garden. I mix the beautiful with the terrifying or mysterious, often surprised by what I find. To quote a writer I met at this spring’s Chanticleer Authors Conference, “I want everyone to read my book[s].” (I did read his, Sacred River: A Himalayan Journey, and loved it.) Writing fiction is an act of love and trust. I write, you read; you write, I read. We put ourselves out there in the best words and images we know. Each time a new royalty payment shows up in my account, I’m thrilled––of course, money is a vote of confidence, but the thrill for me is knowing you’re out there reading my words, each one chosen with love by me for you.

My friend, Krayna Castelbaum, and I both write. I produce novels with hundreds of pages,

Krayna with some of her books   krayna@clearlenscoaching.com

Krayna, poems, sometimes only a few words, all the more precious for the books she makes to share them. With her own creative alchemy, Krayna transforms tea bags––yes, tea bags––into magical embodied poems, words inseparable from the substance of their pages. Holding one of her tiny books in your hand offers intimacy with the poem; each word takes on life and lures you into the symbols and colors and textures surrounding it. I fell in love with these books, never able to just read one and move on, but always called to linger. Krayna’s consistent generosity of spirit humbles me, and it comes through beautifully in these works of art which never dictate their meaning, but welcome discovery.

Virtual reality, algorithms, blockchain, metadata, going wide, artificial intelligence and machine learning––doesn’t sound like the lineup for an authors’ conference, does it? Maybe not ten years ago, or even five, but if you stand still, WHOOSH, you’ll see the world changing so fast

Bellingham lilacs

the faces blur. I recently spent a spring weekend at the Chanticleer Authors’ Conference in beautiful Bellingham, Washington. The presenters did their best to bring us right-brain types up to speed in skills and concepts common in the digital world, while admitting that the details (and we know where the devil lives) were morphing into new shapes even as they spoke.

Bellingham bayside boardwalk

I loved coming home to meet readers face-to-face, in person at North Soles (my favorite shoe store in the world) on Bend’s First Friday May Art Walk. Stimulating and useful as all that digital information is, in the end, what matters is the connection between writer/creator and reader/viewer/listener/experiencer of storyThat’s what makes doing my work worthwhile.

Thanks to all of you who let me tell you stories!

 

At North Soles with Margaux http://www.northsoles.com