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Stories from the road

Three years ago, writer and educator George Mason and his wife, Salli Slaughter, an artist, writer and website designer, took the retirement cliché and gave it a meaty plot twist. They let go of home and possessions, hitched up the fifth wheeler and took to the open road in search of one of America's greatest natural wonders: its writers. "Retirement with a purpose," Slaughter calls their Authors Road project. So far, the couple have visited 20 states and interviewed 47 of the country's best-known authors in the places where they write. "We're after the art of writing," says Slaughter. "We're passionate about writing."On Saturday, Oct. 4, Mason and Slaughter will bring the insight they've garnered from their time spent with America's "national treasures" to a special presentation for Southern Oregon Willamette Writers called "Stories from the Road: The Art and Science of Describing Place." Informed by their work, their travels and the authors they've studied, the couple also will lead an afternoon workshop to help local writers enrich their work with a vivid sense of place.Mason cites their 2012 visit with "Legends of the Fall" author Jim Harrison at his home in Arizona as an example of what they hope to achieve in the workshop."His ability to capture place as a setting for emotions, sensory images as a way to move the story forward is magnificent . . . not just smell, touch and taste, but shadows, the colors of things. How a painter makes a good painting is also how a writer makes good writing."Setting scene involves more than sensory inventory. Slaughter points to prolific author George R.R. Martin of "Game of Thrones" fame. "Martin not only describes place, he creates place. When you go into his studio in Santa Fe, it's filled with dioramas, all these miniature scenes. Medieval soldiers in battle, War of the Worlds.""Wall after wall," adds Mason. "Floor to ceiling. In the bathroom, the faucet handles are dragon heads. ... Here's a fellow who's lived inside his head all his life. And clearly likes it there.""And other people like to visit there, too," says Slaughter.The list of Authors Road interviews reads like a Who's Who of contemporary literature: Tom Robbins ("Even Cowgirls Get the Blues"), Diana Gabaldon ("Outlander" series), Gail Tsukiyama ("Women of the Silk"), Pam Houston ("Cowboys are My Weakness"), Jean Auel ("Earth's Children" series), Michael Blake ("Dances with Wolves").The common element uniting these powerful authors comes down to love of language. Says Slaughter, "We interview people who say, 'I write because I breathe. I can't do anything else.'"One of the couple's favorite interviews was also one of their earliest. Mason had read "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" to Slaughter in their courting days, so to tour Tom Robbins' compound in La Conner, Wash., in 2011 and interview him amid his collection of circus memorabilia was a particular thrill."He gave hands-down the best advice to writers," says Slaughter. He said, 'Take language out on a date, get to know her.'"Non-members and writers at all levels are invited to attend the Oct. 4 Willamette Writers event, which will take place in Central Point's City Hall Council Chambers at 140 S. Third St. The morning presentation runs from10 a.m. to noon and costs $10 for nonmembers. The afternoon workshop is scheduled from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. and costs $35 for nonmembers (or $40 for all day). Preregistration is requested for the afternoon workshop at soww77@gmail.com. For more information, visit www.willamettewriters.com/southernoregon.The Authors Road duo also will present a slideshow and talk about their traveling literary adventures from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8, at the Ashland library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland.

Reach freelance writer Kate Hannon at katehannon17@yahoo.com. 

Salli Slaughter and her husband, George Mason, will talk about their travels visiting with some the nation's most respected writers during workshops Saturday sponsored by the Southern Oregon Willamette Writers group. Photo by Marion Vendit