Monthly Archives: May 2013


If you’re on Twitter, join @litchat today for a Junction, Utah, interview that includes my agent, Sally van Haitsma. The Litchat website posted this host information today, and I love that Litchat visionary Carolyn Burns Bass “gets” the book so well.

Rebecca Lawton connects the powerful forces of human understanding and environmental action in her debut novel, Junction, Utah. Protagonist Madeline, “Mad,” Kruse is more at home on a river raft than a conventional home. Her father was shot down and went missing during the Vietnam War and her mother’s a peace and environmental activist. She gets by as a river guide—think raft pilot—for people wanting whitewater rafting thrills.

Junction, Utah, by Rebecca Lawton

Junction, Utah, by Rebecca Lawton

Rebecca Lawton and literary agent Sally van Haitsma visit #litchat on Friday, May 31 to discuss publishing Junction, Utah. Follow #litchat in Twitter to follow the chat.

When Mad and her river guide friends discover an energy company threatening the pristine wilderness they love, Mad reluctantly draws on her mother’s activism experience to fight Big Oil. Mad expects to go head-to-head with her cancer-stricken mother, endure flame fights with her ex-boyfriend, and suffer the antics of her raft passengers, but what she doesn’t expect is to fall in love. With a town, with a farm, with a farmer.Enter Chris Sorensen, a widower and a cowboy as rooted in the land as Mad is home on the river. Unlikely partners, Mad and Chris join forces against the encroaching oil rigs for a conclusion that will have you turning pages back and forth to fully accept.

Junction, Utah opens with a hair-raising whitewater ride down the Yampa River and never lets up as it explores the wildness within a person as well as the wilderness without.

Rebecca Lawton was among the first women whitewater guides on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon and on other rivers in the West. Her essay collection on the guiding life, Reading Water: Lessons from the River (Capital Books), was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and ForeWord Nature Book of the Year finalist. Her essays, poems, and stories have been published in Orion, Sierra, The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Shenandoah, THEMA, More, and other magazines. She blogs about writing and environmental issues at Writer in Residence.

Lawton’s writing about the West has won the Ellen Meloy Fund Award for Desert Writers, three Pushcart Prize nominations (in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry), and other honors. She has received residencies at The Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska, and Hedgebrook Retreat for Women Writers in Langley, Washington. Her debut novel, Junction, Utah, set in the resource-rich Green River valley, is available as an original e-book from van Haitsma Literary.

Lawton works as a writer and scientist and serves on the Board of Directors of Friends of the River.


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This is what I have to remember him by: a nail file, made of metal, with my name scratched on it in ballpoint pen. He left it for me in the Elves Chasm boatman’s mailbox in Grand Canyon — it was the only piece of “mail” I ever received there. I knew about that informal message center, but I never really paid it much mind. Never, that is, until Wesley’s gift turned up in it.

Pied Piper

Pied Piper

I scratched my head when a colleague who’d collected the mail delivered it to me. Only later, when I had the chance to see Wesley and thank him, did he remind me, “You told me it was the one thing you didn’t have.”

True. Somehow when we’d been talking, the subject of filing nails had come up, and I’d said that a nail file was the one thing missing from my toiletry bag. Leave it to Wesley to remember. He never forgot the things we told him.

He had served as a foot soldier in Vietnam. When he came home to his small hometown in Arizona, he lived with his mother and worked various jobs. One of these was as a Grand Canyon river guide. That’s where I met him — me, who’d only felt the war from a distance, beginning with the news in 1967 that one neighbor’s son had been killed in action.

Wesley befriended me, as he befriended everyone, but he never held onto us too tight. He loved us when we were there, but didn’t reach too far across the chasm between our lives when we weren’t. Now I believe that he had trained himself to detach from us. It was part of his strategy for survival.

The last time I saw Wesley, it was after he’d left us. He lay in a casket wearing a dark suit and tie. I’d never known him to wear anything other than river shorts and a sun shirt, and the outfit he would be buried in clearly honored his spirit but didn’t capture it. And obviously his bright, loving soul had flown. But I still remembered it, and I couldn’t forget his aliveness. I still own the nail file, kept deep in the bottom of an ammo box to happen upon when I least expect to.

My hope today is that we see and remember the details of our loving lives now, while we still have them. Simultaneously may we remember those who have gone before. Wesley and many generations of others served us with all their hearts. Today I’m reminded to live in a way worthy of who they were and what they gave.


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I’ve long believed that many lines from the Casablanca screenplay (penned by Epstein, Epstein, and Koch) may come in handy to writers as comeback statements. Because I’ve seen the movie dozens of times, all within the last five years, I’m quite familiar with the valuable advice the script provides. Here I have ranked some of the classic film’s pithier statements from tenth to first place in terms of their relevance to us literary types.


Principal players in Casablanca: Heinreid, Bergman, Rains, and Bogart.

10. “You can believe that if you like.”

Ilsa Lund  (Ingrid Bergman) says this to Rick Blaine  (Humphrey Bogart) when he accuses her of running out on him because life on the run would be too hard. A writer accused of wasting time by looking out the window, scribbling in a notebook, or hanging around a bar may want to retort this same line, icily. We all know we are really doing research.

9. “That is my least vulnerable spot.”

Louis Renault (Claude Rains) makes this claim when Rick threatens to put a bullet through his heart. A writer swatted on his or her weary posterior may want to point out that it’s already numb from sitting and therefore immune to feeling.

8. “Let’s get out of here. We can drive all night.”

Sam (Dooley Wilson) wants to whisk Rick away before he can get involved again with Ilsa. Any writer wishing to flee a demanding manuscript could use this to escape, at least temporarily.

7. “Aren’t you ever going to bed?”

Again, Sam to Rick. A question to put to family members, if the latter are up late and disturbing the writer’s much-needed, brain-restoring, beauty-preserving rest.

6. “I never make plans that far ahead.”

Rick brushes off his girlfriend Yvonne, who wants to know if she’ll see him that night. Writers can use this reply on anyone, anytime, if they wish to stay ready for the all-sacred call of the muse that might come at any instant.

5. “You’ve got to hide me!”

Signor Ugarte (Peter Lorre)  appeals to Rick to save him when his arrest is imminent.  A writer might need to request this of her roommate if Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Fuller Brush Man happen to call during her writing time.

Ferrari and Blaine.

Ferrari and Blaine.

4. “How long was it we had, honey?”

A drunken Rick inquires this of his lost love, Ilsa.  An excellent question to ask of a workshop leader who is keeping the stopwatch for a timed writing.

3.  “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

The legendary toast repeated by Rick in honor of Ilsa. The writer may wish to say this to his reflection in the mirror.  Sometimes we’re our only company.

2.  “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Rick’s famous line to Louis at the end of the movie.  The writer could whisper this to her pen, for example, or her keyboard. Whatever works.

1. “I’m the only cause I’m interested in.”

Rick claims that the troubles of the world are not in his department. He’s done saving the world. This is a lesser-known line from the movie, but it’s one of my favorites. My writer self often reminds my heroic self that if I’m going to save my own soul, much less the world, I need to put myself first long enough to write new words every day.

Use this line. You will need it–and the others–when the world comes calling on your time for every other endeavor but your art.

Here's looking at you, kid.

Here’s looking at you, kid.


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One of these signs is not like the other. One of these signs just isn’t the same . . .


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