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Northwest Passages: Diane Hammond

Pete Springer/OPB

Author Diane Hammond had never been to the West Coast when her husband got a job with NOAA in Newport. As an East Coast transplant, she felt at first that she didn’t fit in. To avoid isolation, she decided to not talk, but listen.

Everything from the words I used to the things I might find of interest didn’t resonate. I didn’t fit in professionally or socially, which in a small town are often the same thing. In order not to seem like a Martian, I decided that instead of being the me I had been all my life, I would change to fit in better.

Hammond got a job with the electric utility company and listened as the people she worked with shared those little bits of their lives that come up in the break room or over lunch. Slowly, their stories wove into her consciousness, and her writing. That was 25 years and four novels ago. Now she says: “Before Newport I didn’t write anything worth a damn.”

Hammond’s first novel, Going to Bend, is set in a small Oregon coastal town. It’s a story of two friends who have managed life’s struggles despite bringing few resources to bear. Her next, Homesick Creek, searches deeper into Hammond’s questions about people’s needs, desires, and relationships. Hannah’s Dream, a story about an old zookeeper and an elephant in an odd rural zoo, drew on Hammond’s experiences as the “spokesperson” for Keiko the whale. That book’s popularity surprised her! Hammond’s new book this year, Seeing Stars, tells of a mother who moved from the Northwest to LA to help her daughter pursue an acting career. Hammond did that. But she says the book is not an autobiography.

I grab at the bits that stick as we’re falling through the rabbit hole. I write about things that are real, that I can see. They become symbolic. So what I write about is real, but what I do with it is not.

Have you read any of Diane Hammond’s books? What bits stick with you? Have you moved to – or from – a small town and struggled to fit in? Do you still wonder anything about Keiko and the people around him? Have you ever fed an elephant donuts?

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