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Mark Ellis

Mark Ellis is the author of A Death on the Horizon, a novel of political upheaval and cultural intrigue. He came aboard as a Liberty Island contributor in 2015, and writes on politics and culture at PJ Media. Follow Mark on Twitter.

New Fiction: Constance Dryden’s Oil

We bought the house we’re currently living in from an elderly woman–Constance Dryden–who had lost her husband ten years before. My wife Teri and I figured Constance to be in her late seventies, perhaps early eighties. On our first walk-through, and all through the sales process, she seemed vaguely ambivalent, even unwilling to part with the bungalow on Portland’s Southwest Devonshire Street. According to our agent, Sally Showwalter, her family had insisted Grandma Dryden give up the homestead when it became clear she could no longer keep it up. Her three children were worried about her living alone with the stairs to the basement, the old clawfoot tub, the considerable amount of work needed in the large yard. The oldest daughter was taking her in.

Our offer was countered, we accepted, and that was that, but returning from a run to Home Depot several days after closing we found Constance raking October leaves on the front lawn.  “You have to stay ahead of the leaves this time of year,” she said. “How do you like the place so far?”

Teri and I were friendly, but a shadow of wariness crossed our shared glance.


3 Shots from the Columbia River Gorge

*Submit your photographs of nature and the outdoor life to [email protected] to participate in this weekly feature exploring the natural world.*

Room for Adjustment

A Personal Narrative

Did I mention that I’m a grandfather? Yes, I’m that older guy who fumbles with his iPhone and produces a photo of his offspring’s offspring in about three minutes. It’s great, but recent events involving my extended family illustrate how being an agreeable and somewhat smitten grandparent can send you down the proverbial primrose path and run you ragged.

New Fiction for Halloween: The New Boss

A Halloween Short Story

Texas Governor George W. Bush has just touched down at Portland International Airport. The word is out on talk radio: Bush will hold a rally at Memorial Coliseum at 7 pm. Halloween in the year 2000 dawned with the eternal chance of showers that make a Portland fall forecast, and Kyle Waldenburg wonders why W is bothering. It’s common knowledge that the Rose City is the progressive capital of a state Bush has no chance of winning.

That doesn’t stop the Reagan Republican divorced father of two from rounding up his children, Lance and Lindsey, fifteen and nine respectively, after getting permission from ex-wife Kay to take them out of school early.

“You never want to miss a chance to see a president,” he’d told her.

“I’ll agree to this,” Kay had replied, “but God forbid that man should become the president.”

The Awe of Glacier National Park (3 Fantastic Photographs)

*Submit your photographs of nature and the outdoor life to [email protected] to participate in this weekly feature exploring the natural world.*

CRITIQUE THIS! Notes From a Writer’s Workshop

Can you handle the James N. Frey Intensive?

It was 2002, and our guru at the weekend writing workshop on the Oregon coast was author James Frey.

Not that James Frey, who got in big trouble with Oprah Winfrey after committing one of  literature’s cardinal sins: adding fictionalized elements to a purported memoir.

Our James Frey, James N. Frey, was (and is) a recognized author of both fiction (with an emphasis on mysteries) and nonfiction. He earned an Edgar Award nomination for his 1987 novel Long Way to Die, and his 1992 novel Winter of the Wolves was a Literary Guild Selection. By the second year of the new millennium, our Frey was perhaps best known for his writer’s how-to book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel. Frey was a much sought-after commodity for writer’s groups looking for workshop leaders and literary mentors interested in sharing knowledge of story-craft and developmental structure with aspiring and early-stage professional writers.

Twenty such writers had each ponied up $300, and on a foggy Friday night convened at the Oregon Writer’s Colony retreat at Rockaway Beach to cook communal meals, read aloud excerpts of their work, and face the legendary, brutally honest, and potentially devastating critiques of Mr. Frey.

New Fiction: Dust Up

The thing was, I didn’t know anything about cars. I mean, I’d never even had the hood up on one. My entire experience with motor vehicles involved having driven around in my parent’s lumbering Buick Invicta station wagon, while still living at home. I was always running to the store for my mother, always picking up my younger brother from school. It was a boon for Mom when I got my license. But that didn’t qualify me for anything remotely to do with automotive maintenance. My father did all that.

I had opted for one of the dorms at State for my freshman year, this was 1984, and the campus amenities, including proximity to a small commercial district nearby, made it possible for students to attend without needing a car. Most things you needed were within walking distance. The cost of college was no slam dunk for my family. To spare them the cost of a car and insurance helped. Suffice it to say that I left home with a clear understanding of the challenges I faced—I’d decided to pursue a degree in occupational therapy—but absolutely no clue about what made internal combustion engines tick.

My new boyfriend, Rick, had no such blind spot. He loved all things vehicular and had a special place in his heart for his burnt orange Plymouth Duster. It was a 1972 hot rod, with a raked-up rear end, a mysteriously louvered back window, and huge tires Rick called “slicks.” He had also installed a special muffler, called a “glass-pack” that gave the engine a low-end guttural sound. He liked to brag that because of a special carburetor he exchanged for the factory carburetor, “my 340 block can beat any 440 block in town.”

Roseanne’s Big League Co-Star Brings Ratings Bonanza

Finding a positively-spun conservative character on the boob tube can be as challenging as finding a Blue Dog Democrat

In the film Sideways, when Miles goes into the home of the easy waitress to reclaim Jack’s wallet, he hears muffled noises coming from the bedroom. The unsavory couple from the wrong side of the tracks are having sex on the bed, and their television set is on. Onscreen are Bush and Rumsfeld. In Little Miss Sunshine, while Dwyane and Frank wait in the lobby for the beauty pageant to start, President Bush is on the television. Frank (Steve Carell) switches the set off with a look of perturbation, as if viewing it was just another brick in the wall of their unfulfilled lives. In I, Tonya, in a scene set in the either the disreputable Jeff Gillooly or the deranged Shawn Eckhardt’s paneled basement (I can’t remember which), a Reagan poster is seen, and zoomed in on.

The entertainment landscape is rife with examples like this. This is Hollywood’s relentless message about conservatives: they are the bad people, the low-class people, the evil people that more evolved types must endure and hopefully overcome. Don’t get me wrong — I loved all three of those films…

2 Core Truths About Guns and the Second Amendment

I read with interest Liberty Island contributor Audie Cocking’s essay about her family history with gun ownership, and the tragic death of her friend. The piece resonated because mine is a similar history, and the takeaways from both the essay and my experience reinforce two core truths about gun ownership and the Second Amendment.

7 Book Pairs That Transformed My Life

Join the discussion! Which authors and books have influenced your the most?

After reading excerpts from the Liberty Island Klavan symposium, I decided to take David Swindle up on his call for others to write about books that transformed their lives. For writers, in addition to literature that had great personal impact, books that change the way they approach writing in my opinion qualify as life-changing.

If you’re a person with two or three books going at all times, it may be hard to pinpoint the life-changers; for this exercise I came up with seven pairs that seemed to fit together, and reflected chronological milestones in my history of literary appreciation.

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