A great literary fantasy, with elements of psychological thriller, Eleanor is the story about choices that ripple through time. The book’s author Jason Gurley is sure to become a brilliant new voice of the genre. Here he discusses his thrilling new book, and ties links to the US state of Oregon.
Nine years ago I drove from my home in California to my folks’ home in southern Washington. The road trip was splendid, the skies bright and clear, the views resplendent. After a few days, I climbed back into my Jeep and struck out once more for California, passing through Oregon along the way. Unlike the previous leg of my trip, this time I encountered practically every form of inclement weather known to man: heavy rain in Portland; stiff winds somewhere north of Roseburg; flooding and mudslides in Ashland; a near-blizzard in Grants Pass. As I write this now, Portland has broken its daily rainfall records, and there are floods and landslides all over the city. My twelve-mile commute took more than two hours today. Oregon’s got some real kick to it.
For years, and for precisely those reasons, I’ve wanted to live here. I was born in Texas, slow-baking on the outskirts of Houston. My family packed up and moved, when I was just two years old, to the far larger frontier of Alaska, where I was blissfully happy among snowstorms and beneath the Northern Lights. We bounced back and forth between these extremes, until I moved away as an adult, ricocheting between temporary cities until I landed, happily, in California, where I met my wife, and where my daughter was born. Even then, I pined for Oregon. I’d only visited, but it seemed like Oregon was made for me. Several times I traveled alone to the woods near Klamath Falls, where I settled in for a week or so each time to work on Eleanor, a novel whose story proved quite elusive.
From its beginnings in 2001, Eleanor has always been an Oregon novel. The story occurred to me on yet another road trip, returning home to the dismal Nevada desert after a lovely Thanksgiving holiday spent on the stormy Oregon coast. It was only natural that the story would unfold in Oregon; I only regretted that I didn’t live there, experiencing the place for myself.
You might be hard-pressed to call Eleanor a cheerful novel—though it’s certainly full of heart—but its various locations are assembled from many of my happiest recollections of Oregon: Eleanor’s hometown, Anchor Bend, is fictional, but assembled from memories of various seaside towns (Depoe Bay, Astoria, Coos Bay, and others). A years-ago road trip along the Sunset Highway became the setting of one of Eleanor’s great tragedies. The story unfolds under persistent storm clouds, every page seemingly saturated with rainwater. (That’s me taking advantage of the long-standing myth that the Pacific Northwest is the rainiest part of the United States, which is far from true.) There’s only one exception to the Oregon inspiration of these locales, and that’s Huffnagle Island, the rocky outcropping to which Eleanor and her close friend Jack often row. In my mind, Huffnagle is not that different from California’s Morro Rock, a volcanic feature of the town where I lived when I met my wife.
Oregon always seemed dreamlike to me, almost otherworldly at times: its great forests shrouded in mist, its cities beaten by rain. For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to places as much for their weather as for their beautiful landscapes. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Finding my way here took years longer than I thought it might, but in 2012, my family finally landed like pilgrims on Oregon soil. My daughter has now spent most of her life here; California doesn’t mean a thing to her.
Oregon always seemed dreamlike to me, almost otherworldly at times: its great forests shrouded in mist, its cities beaten by rain.
After Eleanor began in Oregon all those years ago, I worked on it for a time in western Nevada, then southern Washington, and continued writing in central California. It wasn’t until we unpacked in Oregon, among the gloomy forests and cold, windy beaches, the flooded intersections and collapsed hillsides, the piercing sunset commutes and glittering bridges, that the novel’s elusive story began to come together. Sure, we called Oregon home now, but it seemed to me that it belonged to Eleanor all along.
Jason Gurley is the author of Greatfall, The Man Who Ended the World and the fiction collection Deep Breath Hold Tight, among other works. His stories have appeared in Lightspeed Magazine and the anthologies Loosed Upon the World and Help Fund My Robot Army!!! He was raised in Alaska and Texas, and now lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.
Learn more about Jason and his books at www.jasongurley.com