Spending Time in Different Worlds: An Interview with Lenora Rain-Lee Good
Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Lenora Rain-Lee Good has lived most of her life in the Great Pacific Northwest. She had some marvellous teachers who gave her a love of history, especially the history of her native state, Oregon. Lenora is the author of three young adult novels, ‘My Adventures as Brother Rat (2009), ‘Jiang Li: Warrior Woman of Yueh’ (2010) and ‘Yadh, the Ugly’ (2011); a historical novel, ‘Madame Dorian: Her Journey to the Oregon Country’ (2016); a fantasy novel, ‘Jibutu: Daughter of the Desert’ (2018); two collections of poetry: ‘Blood on the Ground: Elegies for Waiilatpu’ (2016) and ‘Marking the Hours’ (2020); a selection of poetry, fiction and memoir ‘The Bride’s Gate and Other Associated Writings’ (2021); a collection of short stories: ‘Dream Time and Other Flights of Fantasy’ (2013) and three radio plays. She blogs at coffeebreakescapes.com
Lenora, tell us a little bit about your background and how you first became inspired to write.
That’s easy. I think. Daddy loved to write, and I wanted to be just like Daddy (Loren D. Good). He did a lot of writing in his various jobs (he was in Public Relations), wrote and published one novel, ‘Panchito’ about a parrot who was too fat to fly but he wanted to go back home to the ranch he was from, so he started walking and having adventures, and he sold one poem, and one short story, ‘And the Desert Shall Blossom’ to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Alfred Hitchcock bought the TV rights and put it on his show. So, I’ve been exposed to writing most of my life, in one form or another. I’m also a reader of everything but Romance, Horror, Mathematics and Spy novels. Having said that, I’ve been known to read in all those genres. For anyone who would like to read my reviews since 2013, they are free to go to Rainy Day Reads at http://lenoragood.blogspot.com I have a rule: If I finish a book, I review it, so most of my reviews are 4 and 5 star.
Who were you when you were young – were you shy or extrovert? How has this played into your writing?
Since my nick names tended to be either The Question Kid or Motor Mouth, I’m pretty confident in saying I was an extrovert. I’m still asking questions. But I don’t think I talk as much. I think it has played into my writing as I tend to write about strong females, whether girls or women. If anyone takes anything away from my books, I want it to be a positive image of women, one where women can be anything they want to be, if they work at it, and that there is nothing wrong with being a strong woman.
You write in several different genres: fantasy, historical fiction and poetry and you write for different audiences: children and adults. You also write from the standpoint of poet, short story writer, novelist and playwright. Which genres do you find the most challenging and which ones do you enjoy the most?
I think poetry is the most challenging. I write mostly non-rhyming, narrative style poems. Often of an historical nature. (Blood on the Ground: Elegies for Waiilatpu (pronounced: Wy ee laht poo). They are often mini stories or emotions. A poem is an emotion captured in as few words as possible. I tend to write too much, and then I have to start cutting. Fortunately, I belong to a poetry group who love nothing more than cutting my work down to size.
Many commentators say that you are meticulous in your research when writing about your native country or, indeed, any of your subjects. Do you find the research as absorbing and as interesting as the writing?
In a word: YES! Actually, sometimes I use ‘research’ as an excuse to read so much, and then I feel guilty that I’m reading so many books I feel obligated to write something. I read several books for Blood on the Ground, and many more for Madame Dorian. There was some overlap between the two. Madame Dorion was the factotum of Fort Walla Walla when the Whitmans came. Later, after Narcissa had her baby, Mme Dorion and a couple of friends went to visit the new mother and baby. When I wrote my Ancient China stories, much of the research worked for all of them. Not, mind you that I need an excuse to read, but it helps.
Several of your fictional prose pieces feature strong, female characters. Jibutu is a healer, the warrior woman, Jiang Li forfeits the love of a man for the love of her country and several of the leading female characters in your short stories navigate courageously across different worlds and cultures. You also chose a strong woman, Marie Dorion, to be the subject of your historical novel based in Oregon Country. Why do you think that you are drawn to writing about strong female characters?
For a couple of reasons. I’ve never really thought about it until now, but I like strong women, I don’t like victims. Actually, I don’t like victims of either gender. That’s not to say strong people can’t be victimized, but I’ve never been one to like the ‘poor little me, rescue me, rescue me’ type of person, or the one who constantly says, ‘it isn’t my fault.’ And I want to be as strong, as cool, and as put together as my protagonists are. Ayn Rand wrote some great novels. Unfortunately, she crammed them full of politics. But she, too, wrote about strong women. I think her novels were the first I remember reading where the women didn’t need to be rescued. My women do not need to be rescued, nor do they intimidate the men. At least not the men I know who have read my stories.
You seem to favour keeping your writing on the shorter side so that your readers can enjoy them in bite-sized episodes in the middle of a busy day. Here in the UK we have this phrase ‘flash fiction’ which has encouraged writers to explore the challenges of writing very short pieces of prose that are, despite their brevity, complete in themselves. Given our increasingly busy lifestyles, do you think that this is where the future lies for the modern writer of today?
We, too, have flash fiction and micro fiction which is even shorter. I truly enjoy the flash and micro fictions, but I hope they won’t take over novels. I have both flash and micro fiction and memoir in The Bride’s Gate and Other Assorted Writings. I think there are places for them. The first title I had for The Bride’s Gate, was Coffee Break Escapes and I tried to keep most of the pieces short enough to read on a 10-minute coffee break. My editor, Sharmagne Leland-St.-John, strongly urged me to change the title to The Bride’s Gate and see if I could get permission to use the photo, which I did. Back in the day, when I worked for a living, I would have loved a book of short pieces to keep at my desk for breaks and lunch time. I hope novels and long books don’t go away. They are such fun to read and become immersed in.
What aspect of writing poetry do you find the most challenging, and why?
Starting where the poem starts and stopping when the poem is finished instead of explaining why I wrote it that way. The most often given critiques of my work are along the lines of “Start in the middle of stanza 3,” and or, “Finish at the end of stanza 5.”
One of my favourite poems in ‘Marking the Hours’ is the one titled ‘Riding with the Assiniboine’. Do you have a personal favourite?
Actually, I love ‘Riding with the Assiniboine,’ but I do have other favourites. Before I tell you, let me tell you a bit about ‘Riding with the Assiniboine.’ Daddy was having some medical and mental problems, I’m not sure what they all were, but he would tell me he would often go riding with the Assiniboine. A group of the braves would ride to wherever he was, bring him his horse, and take him riding, and they always brought him back. I was with him one time when, suddenly his body was in the hospital bed, his chest continued going up and down, but he wasn’t there. After about an hour or so, he shook his head, looked at me, and told me he’d been out riding with the Assiniboine. When he died, I had to write about it. The odd thing, to me is that there is no Native American blood in his veins (I have it through my mother) and to my knowledge, he never knew any, or spent any time in their territory.
I’ll say one of my favourite poems is the title poem of my latest book, The Bride’s Gate. The painting is on a community river walk in Frederick, Maryland. When the city decided it needed some art, they asked the homeless what they’d like to see, as they spend more time there than anyone else, and their choices were varied and different. I saw the gate (cover photo) and wondered what was through the gate. Now, I knew it was a painting, I could see the bricks through it, but there was a tiny bird sitting on the bottom of the gate, so I walked very slowly to the gate so I wouldn’t frighten the bird, which of course was painted. And I bonked my nose when I tried to see what was through the gate. (You have my permission to laugh.)
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I have a chapbook I’m working on of 17 short poems about the summers I spent in the deep South of the US. I’m also keeping track of the poems I’ve written so far this year (205 +) and hope to have a collection together of new poems early next year and find a publisher for it.
I recently read The Glass Constellation by Arthur Sze and have been trying my hand at some longer poems in his style. I love the way he writes, and while it’s not my way, I can learn from his, and adapt to mine. I hope…
I also want to get back to making some small quilts (wall hangings, table toppers—not bed sized). For some reason, I can seldom write and quilt. It’s one or the other. Right now, I’m writing.
The Bride’s Gate
The outer gate of
curlicues, fine wrought of iron,
interlock one upon the other,
painted a soft, warm green,
they beckon, “Welcome.”
The gate allows errant breezes to pass
through the thick stone wall.
Hinges, rusted, are swung
only for entrance of a new bride.
she meets her husband
for the first time
within the garden, having
passed through the second,
inner gate; the bride’s gate,
as closely fashioned
in opposing pattern
of straight bars tightly grilled,
painted dark, forbidding brown.
No light or laughter
escapes these gates.
Only the breeze