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Contributed By:

Emily Harris

Northwest Passages: Chelsea Cain

OPB | March 16, 2011 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:56 p.m.

Chelsea Cain ruined my run last weekend. Or perhaps I should blame Gretchen Lowell. Cain is the author of a series of bestselling thrillers. Gretchen Lowell is the beautiful, psychopath star.  Cain’s books are set in Portland, and in the second one, Sweetheart, bodies are dumped in Forest Park, left for bugs and pugs to feast on.

Too bad for me I stayed up late Friday night to finish Sweetheart, then got up early for a run in Forest Park. The weather was cold and wet. The trail was muddy. Nobody much was around. And I was busy imagining skulls and limbs behind every tree.

I know Gretchen Lowell is made up, despite the doubts of some readers. But I still wish I’d brought a friend. It’s a good thing I think Cain’s horror stories are funny too.

Her newest book, The Night Season, keeps Lowell in prison. Instead, there’s a psychotic child-stealer killing people with rare octopi. (Or octopuses? There’s a brief grammar debate in the book. Or octopodes? Here is an entertaining explanation of all three, thanks to Merriam-Webster.) The story was inspired by Cain learning about the 1948 Vanport flood, which wiped out the city then just north of Portland, leaving thousands of people homeless and destroying a core African American community.

We’ll talk with Cain about her books and her life, beginning with her early years on a commune in Iowa. At the tender age of 22, Cain wrote a memoir tracing the core of her soul back to that farm. She calls it “the place where everything seemed possible.”  To write about it, she grilled both her parents, who

remember their time at the farm as differently as two people could. My father remembers people and events. He can tell you who was there when and whose friend they were. He can tell you what stories were going on in the news in relation to everyday life, whether they dug the new outhouse before or after Kent State, and who had or had not yet been convicted for Watergate the day he rode out of the lane on Rue after that blizzard of 1972.

My mother’s memories are sensual. She remembers what was blooming in the garden, walking down the dusty gravel road to pick blackberries in the summertime, how big the moon looked at night from the porch.

We’ll also peek into Cain’s writing process with help from one member of her writing group, Lidia Yuknavitch. Cain says she likes Lidia’s writing so much she considered stealing drafts from one workshop session. Yuknavitch has plenty to say herself.

Tell us your questions for Chelsea Cain, or Lidia Yuknavitch, about writing, murder, female body image, the best place to leave corpses in Portland, or whatever else is on your mind.

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