Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gina Ochsner Reads from Debut Novel

When Keizer-based author Gina Ochsner won an NEA grant, she used the money to travel to Russia and Latvia to do research for her novels. One of her favorite activities was people-watching, especially at the post office and at internet cafes. Then, a colleague in the writing program turned her on to the Arctic-Antarctic Museum, where she became intrigued less by the items on display than by the employees tending to them. This experience inspired the museum at the center of her first novel, The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight: the All-Russia All-Cosmopolitan Museum, a place that holds a fantastic and terrible collection of art knockoffs created with the tools at hand, from foam to chewing gum, Popsicle sticks to tomato juice. She has now been to Russia and Latvia four times and is currently working on a novel set in Latvia.

Gina is the author of two previous books, both short story collections and both winners of the H.L. Davis Award for Short Fiction from the Oregon Book Awards. The Necessary Grace to Fall, published by the University of Georgia Press in 2002, was also the winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. People I Want to Be was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006.

She grew up in Salem and earned a degree in secondary education from George Fox University, followed by graduate degrees from Iowa State University and the University of Oregon. Gina and her husband and four children live in Keizer. Besides teaching and writing, Gina also gives talks at universities, retreats, conferences, schools, and book clubs on various topics relating to writing, the writer's life, cultivating creativity, and the intersection of art and faith.

The Oregonian recently published a wonderful in-depth article about Gina by Jeff Baker. In that article he writes that Gina said writing her first novel was "like pulling a snowball on a skateboard through hell." She also made it clear that she's not about making people feel warm and cozy when they read her books and stories: "I'm not here to make people comfortable. I'm not even writing to make myself comfortable. I make myself really uncomfortable because then I'm hitting on a raw nerve and that's what it should be all about. The worst thing someone could say about my work is 'That was a nice read. I felt so comfortable.' That would be horrible."

Jeff also noted that as a child, Gina dreamed of being a librarian or "working in a bookstore, a job where someone would pay her to read all day." Hmmm. I might have some bad news for her on that score! I can't remember the last time (or ever?) that I read all day at the store. Something to shoot for, I guess.

As with her first two books, Gina's third book and first novel is already off to great acclaim, including being a finalist for an Oregon Book Award for the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction, making the long list for the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction (subsequently won by Marilynne Robinson's Home -- pretty good company for a debut novel), and a review in The New York Times Book Review.

The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight is a book of magical realism set in the post-Soviet landscape. The novel tells the stories of Mircha, a ghost who won't go away, and his still-living wife, Azade; Olga, a disillusioned translator/censor for a military newspaper; Yuri, an army veteran who always wears an aviator's helmet; and Tanya, who works at the previously mentioned museum and who always carries a notebook in which she records her observations and dreams.

Colum McCann, author of the National Book Award winning Let the Great World Spin, called Gina's book a magical debut novel from an author who "manages...to capture our sundry human moments and make raw and unforgettable music of them." And Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, who wrote the wonderful book Ms. Hempel Chronicles, said "Ochsner's novel is enchanting, at once playful and poignant. With her marvelously light touch, she takes the rubble of post-Soviet Russia and turns it into gold."

We hope you can join us tonight at 7 pm to hear Gina read from her debut novel, The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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