Smoke and Mirrors

A week ago today I presented my first talk on River of January. Conscious thought ceased, my mouth filled with alum–but, luckily some old teacher training kicked in.

I soldiered through the musical opening, the introduction song where the computer speakers didn’t work. You know, that opening. Quickly abandoning the hushed song, I dove quickly into the power point. And the audience seemed to like what they saw and heard. I measured that success in the number of eyes open, and the astonishing fact that no one tried to escape. Still, I realized later that I forgot to read an excerpt from the manuscript, and the idea of doing so never cross my thoughts.

Yet, in light of surviving this first foray into book promotion, I asked the Arts Center Director for an endorsement. His name is Greg, and what he sent left me wondering if we were at the same event.  His words were so very kind and flattering. His letter reminded me of my teacher evaluations–where an administrator would assess my teaching while observing my classroom. Later, reading the review, I’d always think, “fooled ’em again.”

To repeat, I am grateful for my teacher training.  When things go badly, I adjust and move forward.


To Whom It May Concern,

We were honored to host Gail Chumbley as part of our performing series for a discussion of her novel, River of January. Gail’s presentation highlights the true story of her In-laws through an engaging hour of oral storytelling, slides and music. She uses her years of teaching experience to creatively capture the audience’s attention and bring her subjects to life. Our members were thrilled to view personal family treasures and photographs Gail utilized in her novel. We appreciated the opportunity to ask her questions and visit with her one on one to learn more about the art and craft of researching, writing and publishing her work.

Gail’s presentation is a must for those interested in literary arts or exploring the history within River of January, as this novel is also a story of America. I highly recommend Gail as a speaker for your group or organization.


Greg ——


Nice, huh?!

By the way, alum is a horrible powder that sucks up all the saliva in one’s mouth, leaving an iron-clad pucker.


Coming Soon!


Happy Friday. 

A suggestion was made (by my daughter) that I ought to post my speaking engagements. Clearly the March 22nd date has come and gone, but more are in the offing. It’s fun to talk about River of January–there are so many dimensions to the story, so many avenues to explore!

My program has been designed as a multimedia affair, with music, slides, and discussion.  And yes, wine, if the setting is right for libations.

We are still in the discussion-stage with other bookstores and libraries.  As soon as those dates are set, I will update the times and locations.

March 22, 2014 @ the Garden Valley Center for the Arts.  6:00 PM in Garden Valley, Idaho

April 4, 2014 @ the Garden Valley Library.  7:00 PM in Garden Valley, Idaho

April 15, 2014 @ Aunties Books. 7:00 PM in Spokane, Washington

April 26, 2014 @ Hyde Park Books.  1:00 PM to 4:00 PM in Boise, Idaho

May 5, 2014 @ the Shadle Park Public Library.  7:00 PM in Spokane, Washington

May 12, 2014 @ the South Hill Public Library.  6:00 PM to 8:00 PM in Spokane, Washington

May 20, 2014 @ the McCall Public Library.  7:00 PM in McCall, Idaho

Clutter as a Lifestyle


Company was coming.  A group of kids from school were driving up from town to visit their old teacher–me. The idea that they cared enough to make the hour-plus journey was nice.  However, our house is small and very difficult to keep tidy.  And the worst part of trying to apply order is my propensity for little piles of clutter.

Okay, not so little piles of clutter, and they have many brothers and sisters.

A person with a properly wired brain would probably not have allowed the paper nests to have materialized in the first place. In that same thinking, the stacks would have been sorted into some order and stored properly for later use. Yet, for me, that’s too hard.  It is much more efficient to hoist the mess up, plopping the stack alongside the others in my room from earlier projects. After all, bedroom doors close nicely.

I am not a lone offender.  My husband’s “office” is on our dining room table. He has important crap lying there.  And if I even look like I am contemplating a drive-by hoist he nearly dives on to the tabletop to protect his domain. The combination of two clutter-ers in one little cabin equals double the upheaval and chaos.

So, as I began, company was coming.  We had a stage to set.  And it’s tricky to negotiate the exact re-settlement for my husband’s “important” stuff. For me, the shove and run is efficient and fast. For him, if a paper is one inch from where he left it, the poop hits the prop. “I can’t find that list of passwords. Where did you hide it this time!”

“Look over to the right,” I holler back.

“Oh. Okay. Quit moving my stuff, Gail!”

“Where we going to put plates, Chad?”

And so on. At least with my system, the formidable heap makes the hunt more exciting. Finding that precise paper far more gratifying.

I worked with a woman years ago who gave me another useful hint. The ironing moves easily from the couch to the dishwasher if there’s a knock on the door. Good to know.

Concerning the visit from town, that went well. These were my students, and they had survived the catacombs of junk in my  old classroom. From our slight of hands, they most likely saw the house as clean. 

We clutter-ers are misunderstood people. Unlike hoarders, we can see the mess, and are sensitive to public opinion. My guilt is ever-present. The pressure becomes so unbearable at times, that I succumb and clean something.

Oh, and one more thing–River of January is ready for pre-order.  Go to



ImagePBS ran a series called “Finding Your Roots.”  It was hosted by historian Dr. Robert Louis Gates and focused on celebrities and their genealogy.  Yo Yo Ma, Meryl Streep, Eva Longoria, etc . . . were featured on the program. The show quickly transitioned beyond the begats of family trees when Dr. Gates added revealing blood tests concerning ethnic group composition.  One guest, an African American professor, found that she was actually Caucasian, with little African makeup.  The woman looked visibly shaken as she absorbed the news, clearly at a loss to define herself in this new light.  It felt almost cruel to watch her grapple with the science.

Identity can be a slippery concept.  For thirty three years I was known as teacher.  Along with wife and mother, teacher constituted the third leg of my reality.  Family concerns and lesson plans ran equally through my thoughts.  I listened to my husband’s work problems, worried about  classwork my own two had to complete, and prepared for my own lectures.  That was my life and my identity.

Any travel, reading, or discussion usually had a connection to history.  I attended seminars at Gettysburg, along the Oregon Trail, and touring the grounds at Mt. Vernon, Virginia.  After years of historic pursuits, I retired and turned to writing.

The people I am meeting now, while promoting “River of January,” think that I am a writer.  A WRITER!  I am not settled yet with that new moniker, it feels pretentious to presume the role of author.  Does taking a story that fell into my lap, experimenting with sentences to tell the story, adding pictures and a cover make me a writer?  This new definition of Gail is going to take a while to break in, like new shoes, or a pair of jeans fresh out of the dryer.

Identity is a funny concept.  When exactly does it happen?  When does an occupation become an identity?  The professor featured on PBS taught African-American studies, considered herself black and then bloodwork betrayed her foundations of reality.  What has she done with that new information?  Who is she now?

And that reminds me–I hated Metaphysical Philosophy in college.  I wasn’t too thrilled with Voltaire, Montesquieu, or the rest of those dudes, either

 At our most essential level who are we as people?  If another looks to me as a writer, am I indeed what they see?  I can counter that notion with thousands of kids who passed through my classroom and see only teacher.