Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Mark Pomeroy

Mark Pomeroy lives with his family in Portland, Oregon, where he was born and raised. In 2014 Oregon State University Press published his first novel, The Brightwood Stillness, which The Oregonian called “absorbing and humane.” He has received an Oregon Literary Fellowship for fiction, and his short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Open Spaces, Portland Magazine, The Wordstock 10, NW Book Lovers, The Oregonian, and What Teaching Means: Stories from America’s Classrooms. For the past twenty-eight years he has led creative writing workshops in Portland schools.

Pomeroy's new novel is The Tigers of Lents.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I worked on The Tigers of Lents over the course of twelve years. For eleven of those years, the novel had a different title. My editor and publisher liked the earlier title, but asked me to supply an alternative option.

It took two weeks of brainstorming — long lists, plenty of brooding, some cursing — before I zeroed in on a title that links some key aspects of the novel. I also like the sound of The Tigers of Lents. Sound is important.

The Tigers of Lents is a family saga that centers on three feisty teenage sisters living in poverty in Lents, an outer neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. One of the sisters is a soccer star on the verge of possibly accepting a college scholarship. The novel shows how the three girls battle to be taken seriously, how they experience a crash of worlds when they try to engage the wider society, and how they also battle with self-doubts and self-sabotage.

The title connects the novel’s soccer element to the inner character of each person in the Garrison family.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage self would probably be stunned that I’m a novelist. I spent part of my childhood living on poverty’s edge — that fluid state, month to month, that many people don’t understand. Parmesan cheese comes powdered in a can, and you and your single mother are one emergency away from real struggle.

I read as a young kid, then stopped reading as a teen. For several years after my mother remarried, when I was in third grade, my homelife was difficult, and I wanted to be out of the house as much as possible. I spent a lot of time in the street playing soccer.

I worked on my high school newspaper, but not until I was in college did I start reading again, widely. After college, I traveled a lot and worked part-time jobs, then I was a middle school teacher for a few years. I quit to have my mornings for writing fiction. In the afternoons I worked as a creative writing teacher in Portland Public Schools, and as a soccer coach in after-school programs all around the city.

Some of these gigs were in neighborhoods marked by poverty. Places much like where I spent part of my childhood.

In 2011, I was the last writer-in-residence at Marshall High School in Lents. The school district had just chosen Marshall, out of all the city’s high schools, for closure, citing budget issues. It was another major blow to that community, which had been cut in half by a freeway a few decades earlier.

I found myself, before each teaching day, sitting in the school’s parking lot and taking notes, the freeway noise filling my car. The seeds of a new novel were growing, and they connected to parts of my childhood.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

In a beginning, you just want to pull the reader into the story in an honest way. You want crisp, evocative sentences. You want the reader, from the sentences and the voice, to feel an immediate trust and curiosity. Mostly, you want to tap what the late great Oregon writer Brian Doyle called “The Shimmering Center.” Each scene, each person in the novel must be true in that sense. Set aside the rest.

In The Tigers of Lents, both the opening and the ending just came in the moment, in the flow of drafting, and I felt there was resonance. I felt this over time. Sixty-some drafts.

There are no shortcuts, of course. It’s about showing up regularly at the desk and proving to the spirits that you’re actually serious about the work. Stubbornness is key. As is faith.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Places. Mount Hood and its foothills. The Oregon Coast. The Salmon River near Mount Hood. Central Oregon, including the Metolius River. New York City, Salzburg, Namibia, the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, Nepal, parts of Indonesia, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Among other places.

Musicians. So many musicians. Erroll Garner, Anita Baker, Midnight Oil, Hilary Hahn, Yo-Yo Ma, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Peter Gabriel, Mark Knopfler, KRS-One, Kendrick Lamar, Alison Krauss, Sting, Chopin, Beethoven. Among many others. A few days ago I heard Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better),” it had been several years, and I about teared up. God, what a song.

Athletes. Christine Sinclair, Megan Rapinoe, Julius Erving, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Pelé, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Ed Viesturs, Homare Sawa, Marta, Sabrina Ionescu, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Lothar Matthäus. The list could go for another few pages.

I would also include many painters, woodworkers, schoolteachers, ceramic artists, small business owners, nurses, professors, bakers, landscapers, and so on. Anyone who brings sustained attention, genuine skill, dedication, kindness, grit, grace, and integrity to their work.

Inspiration is all around us. It’s our choice — to notice or not notice.
Visit Mark Pomeroy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue