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Writers and artists create for us

When I was young, I lived inside a figurative fortress of books.

Paul Simon comes to mind: “I have my books. ... I didn’t intend to be a rock or an island, or feel any malice toward society. I just loved the places they took me.”

Fortunately for authors, there are armies of book-toting comrades out there. These weird days I’m feeling more like the hermit girl of yesteryear and wishing I could make the great escape back through the covers to Bookworld. Currently I’m keeping company with Pip, his miserable sister, and Joe Gargery in “Great Expectations.” I’ll be there a while.

After this lifetime of lolly-reading, I figured the time would come when the temptation would be too much and I’d have to try writing a book of my own. I have one that’s about ripe, which brought me to the decision of when to publish. We live in the great unknown, but then we always have though blissfully ignorant. This summer marks the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. Now as I take the crimson ink to my overdue infant for the 147th time, I feel the timing is right, since “Stone Revival” plays out in England during the summer and fall of 1945.

I began thinking of author friends and how the present situation might have made things even more difficult in the publishing world. We may be reading more, but bookstores, book clubs and libraries, until recently, have been shuttered. My friend Bonnie Leon lives in Glide. She’s written 22 traditionally published books. She’s working on numbers 23 and 24. Her recent book release, “One Hundred Valleys,” was planned months ago by her publisher, long before anyone had a notion of the grand detour spring would bring. The book published March 13. Normally upon a release, the author celebrates with a book launch party, signings and book club talks. She shakes hands and kisses babies to connect with readers and market her hard work. That all came to a halt for Leon.

“The biggest issue is being distracted,” she told me. “My heart and mind have been so wrapped up with the tragedy and fear going on throughout the world. A book launch is supposed to be fun and a celebration, but it doesn’t feel celebratory. Instead it feels inconsequential in light of our present circumstances. And yet, I have to stay focused. I have a job to do. I’ve created a story that could be a fun read, a good distraction, even an encouragement to people in this tragic time.”

We can’t all be first responders, but we can choose an essential tack within our sphere of influence. Good distractions save lives too.

“Of course, I’ve been locked down and unable to get out,” Bonnie continued. “One of my favorite things to do is to meet with reading groups, and I’ve been unable to do that, though I do have an online readers’ group meeting next month.”

“One Hundred Valleys” is a work of historical fiction about Emmalin Hammond, a young woman who is transplanted into the heart of the early Oregon wilderness because of a series of circumstances beyond her control. I haven’t yet read it, but I read “A Sacred Place” and enjoyed the journey to early 20th century Alaska and learning about the lifestyle of Aleutian natives. For a list of all her books, see her website at www.bonnieleon.com.

Years ago I took a fiction writing class from Leon in Salem. It was obvious she was a woman with stories to tell and had what it took to tell them. Her love for the art of storytelling was contagious, and I still marvel at her detailed notebooks full of character clips and pictures. I knew her stories would be well researched and her people authentic.

Writers, artists and musicians have to keep singing. Their art is their song, and their song is for us.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.