Oak Flat Book Review by Kate Jackson

Oak Flat Book Review by Kate Jackson for The Writer’s Workshop.

Oak Flat:  A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West

By Lauren Redniss

Reviewed by Kate Jackson

This is a stunning visual nonfiction book written by an award-winning author with the eye of an artist and the voice of a journalist.   From the opening pages with their vivid illustrations interspersed with text to the final black pages with white print, the reader is introduced to a clash of cultural values of immediate relevance.

Oak Flat is part of the Tonto National Forest, about 65 miles east of Phoenix, Arizona.  It is a popular hiking, birding, and camping area 15 miles from the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation and near the town of Superior.  The land also sits above a large copper deposit worth billions of dollars and coveted by Resolution Mining Company, LLC.  Apaches consider Oak Flat to be sacred ground where they gather medicinal plants and acorns and continue to pray and perform ceremonies passed down by generations.  The proposed mine would eventually create a large crater to replace the land and make the site unrecognizable.  Residents of the town see jobs and increased economic activity from the mining operation.

The book provides rich visual representations of Oak Flat while weaving a narrative based on interviews with members of an Apache family, the Nosies, and descendants of early settlers of Superior, the Gorhams.  Wendsler Nosie served on the San Carlos Tribal Council and was tribal chairman before forming the Apache Stronghold, an alliance of Apaches and others determined to stop the copper mine.  The Sunrise dance which reenacts the Apaches creation myth at Oak Flat, is seen through the eyes of his granddaughter, Naelyn Pike.  The Gorhams represent the perspective of workers in the mines and community members who have experienced the boom and bust of previous mining operations.

The fate of Oak Flat has not been resolved as the Forest Service recently rescinded the environmental impact assessment necessary for the mining project to proceed.   Pressures for increased copper production will continue to mount as the movement towards “clean” energy solutions to reduce carbon emissions are advanced.  Large amounts of copper are necessary for solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and battery storage.  Where do sacred spaces fit into the equation of costs and benefits?

The Writer’s Workshop Book Review regularly publishes reviews of fictional and nonfiction narratives from traditional publishing houses. If you would like to write a review or have your own book reviewed, please let me know.

The Queen’s Gambit Book Review for The Writer’s Workshop

Queen's Gambit Book Review for The Writer's Workshop.
Queen’s Gambit Book Review for The Writer’s Workshop.


Reviewed by Kate Jackson

The Queen’s Gambit is an opening move in chess used by the player of the white pieces. The objective of the move is to temporarily sacrifice a pawn to gain control of the center of the board.  The book by Walter Tevis of the same name chronicles the journey of a young chess prodigy as she becomes the center of the fictional world of competitive chess in the 1960’s.  The title is emblematic of the personal sacrifice required by the intensity of competitive chess at the highest level.

Loneliness, genius, and obsession are at the core of this portrait of Beth Harmon who loses her mother at the age of eight and is taken to the Methuen Home for orphans.  There she discovers an affinity for the tranquilizers supplied daily by the school and a love for the game of chess.  She learns chess by watching and by playing against the school janitor, Mr. Shaibel, who recognizes her talent and introduces her to competitive chess. Her only friend and mentor at the home is Jolene, an older black girl who assumes a pivotal role later in Beth’s life.  Their dialogues provide a window into issues about race and privilege relevant then and now.

At the age of 13, Beth is adopted by a couple who soon separate. She is mothered by Mrs. Wheatley, a lonely woman with her own addiction, in this case, to alcohol.  At school, Beth is an outsider with little connection to her peers.  Her gift for playing chess offers another life as she begins to win at state and regional tournaments.  Her mother realizes the potential for money and travel offered by these competitions and revels in the celebrity status Beth achieves due both to her age and gender in a game dominated by males.

Beth’s story illuminates the utter discipline and commitment it takes to become a chess champion. She lives in virtual bubble dominated by studying, thinking about, and constantly playing chess. Devotees of chess will appreciate the discussion of classic moves and strategies taken from actual games.

If you watched the Netflix miniseries based on the book, you may wonder why you would want to read the book.  Yes, the story is basically the same with some significant changes in the film adaptation.  But the written version skillfully develops the inner voice of the main character and suggests that the gift of genius comes at a heavy price.

Business of Books at Seattle Writing Class

Business of Books speaks at Seattle writing class
Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn of Business of Books speak at The Writer’s Workshop’s Seattle writing class

In my Seattle writing class, I teach the art and craft of writing as well as the publication process. As part of this, I bring in outside experts to talk about various aspects of writing as well as publication. The process of getting a book published always ranks high among the interests of my students. The process seems mysterious, powerful, and complicated, which it is, but if you have someone to guide you along its much more comprehensible. I help with some of this in my Seattle writing classes, but my latest guests provide a valuable service in packaging book proposals.

Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn, the dynamic duo behind The Business of Books (www.bizofbooks.com), are uniquely qualified to do this. Jen and Kerry have been “on both sides of the desk”— as both editors and authors. Kerry is the former executive editor of Chronicle Books and the author of a variety of titles, including How to Have Your Second Child First, Good Drinks for Bad Days, and Mama’s Big Book of Little Lifesavers. Jen, previously editorial director of Running Press, has co-authored or written more than 25 books, including her newest, Things I Want to Punch in the Face, and the New York Times best-selling Worst Case Scenario Handbook: Dating and Sex. During their publishing careers, they have reviewed many proposals and brought many successful books to market. They offer workshops, speak at conferences, and work with individual clients on book proposals.

“The benefit of self-publishing is that that you don’t have to pitch it and wait,” says Colburn. “But we’ve learned over the last few years, you still need a team of pros to make your book the best it could be. A lot of businesses have sprung up to help with that.

“With traditional publishing, you get a team, the expertise of the sales and foreign rights teams. Yes, they take a bigger piece of the pie, but it’s in their best interest to give your book a chance. :Your book will be assigned a marketing and publicity specialist and the publisher’s sales reps will take care of selling it to retailers all over the country. You’re part of this big machine.”

The downside is that you have to get your manuscript accepted by that company. I This is exactly where The Business of Books comes in.

“It’s like online dating,” says Worick. “Make your proposal specific.”

They’ll be teaching an intensive workshop on book proposals Saturday, May 14, 1–5 pm on Queen Anne hill in Seattle: https://bizofbooks.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/may-class-craft-a-winning-book-proposal/

The Book as Physical Object

The Storms of DenaliThe book as physical object. Though the number of electronic books continues to grow, there’s nothing quite like a book with an appealing cover design, elegant type and tempting jacket copy. With the explosion in growth of electronic books, such details are increasingly being lost. That’s why I so enjoyed receiving in the mail a stack of my new novel, The Storms of Denali. Yes, the carton was heavy, the postage was expensive, but turning the book over in my hands, the smell, feel, and tactile sensation of it was pure pleasure.

For an author, the physical book is a proof that your idea, your world, your characters have become real. Authors can tend to doubt this will ever happen, especially after working for years on a project as I did on the novel, wondering if the words will ever reach a larger audience. The physical book is proof that they will. The Storms of Denali will be out to bookstores within the next few weeks.

Readers benefit as a well-designed book enhances the pleasure and experience of reading, turning the pages with your fingers, working back and forth to take in all the details and insights and appeal of the manuscript.

I have nothing against digital books. I read them myself, but when it comes to a work I really want to devour, nothing beats the actual, physical, tree -sacrificed paper pages of a book.

Amazon: Friend or Foe of Book Publishers?

Jon Fine of Amazon
Jon Fine of Amazon talks about book publishing to The Writer’s Workshop writing class.

Everyone knows that Amazon.com sells lots of books. In fact, a recent Los Angeles Times article reports the Seattle-based company now accounts for 22 percent of the total U.S. book sales for key stores, thumping rivals Barnes & Noble and Borders. And that’s just print books; Amazon’s share of the fast-growing e-book market jumped to a whopping 90 percent as of last year, according to the Author’s Guild.
The Author’s Guild and others have sounded the alarm over Amazon’s dominance of book sales, arguing the company has become a near monopolist. This controversy over its retailing practices has often obscured its forays into the publishing world, which are of particular interest for authors, aspiring and otherwise. To learn more about these programs, I invited Jon Fine, director of author & publisher relations for Amazon, to speak to my winter Seattle writing class. Fine provided a fascinating overview of Amazon’s publishing programs.

“We saw this ability for people to write and make their voice heard,” says Fine. “I embrace the idea that everyone should have the ability to express themselves. We have a wealth of tools and services for authors at any point in the career, or any point in the life cycle of a book. Whether you’re an aspiring author, or you’ve published in digital or in print, at any point in that spectrum we hope to have something to help you with.”

Fine discussed Amazon’s three publishing programs in detail. For more, see the forthcoming issue of The Writer’s Workshop Review, www.thewritersworkshopreview.net.