Nerding Out on Nature:

Because Earth is cooler than screens

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Bart King, Author and Bird Lover

You probably know Portland author Bart King from his books, The Big Book of Boy Stuff and the Big Book of Girl Stuff. He’s also written numerous other nonfiction books, and now, he’s got a novel!

Titled The Drake Equation, it’s the story of birdwatcher Noah Grow, a boy who starts out on a quest to find a wood duck and ends up on an intergalactic adventure.

drake equation

On Wednesday May 4th at 7 PM, Bart King and I will host a family-friendly literary event at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing . We’ll talk about his book, and about my new novel Avenging the Owl, then debate which bird is cooler–black swifts or great horned owls.

Learn about birds with our slide show presentation and Avian Trivia game, and stay for our reading and book signing. This event is ideal for anyone who loves wildlife and wit.


Author Bart King

I caught up with Bart King earlier this week to ask him about his new novel. Here’s what he had to say:

Melissa Hart: What is it about black swifts that intrigues you, and why did you want to include this particular bird in The Drake Equation? Have you seen these birds in person, and if so, where? 

Bart King: First off, I’ve never seen a black swift personally. Almost nobody has! They’re very rare, canny, and private.

About two years ago, I read a short book about black swifts, and was amazed to discover this mysterious, rare little bird that nests behind waterfalls. So I imagined a young birdwatcher named Noah who thinks he *might* have seen a black swift.

But if Noah was secretly watching the black swifts, was it possible that someone (or something) else was watching Noah? (The story took off from there!)

Melissa Hart: Tell me about your relationship to wood ducks.

Aix sponsa (Wood Duck - Brautente)

Aix sponsa (Wood Duck – Brautente)

Bart King: In 1971, I was living in a small town in California called Sebastopol. It has wetlands on its east border (now known as the Laguna Wetlands Preserve), and wood ducks lived there. As a community project, I helped build and install nesting boxes for the birds. (Wood ducks are unusual in that they perch and nest in trees). Anyone who’s ever seen a wood duck knows how absolutely beautiful they are—and I’ve remained impressed ever since!

Melissa Hart: Let’s say you have a whole weekend free to travel to your favorite spot in the Pacific Northwest. Where will we find you?

Bart King: You’re going to think I’m a freak—but I might just stay home and work. (To explain that a bit, I’ll just add that given what we know about climate change, the idea of driving a car somewhere for fun has become completely “alien” to me.)

Melissa Hart: Are you working on another book now, and if so, can you tell us a bit about it?

Bart King: The Drake Equation was conceived with a large story arc with a natural halfway point. That point is where the novel ends. If the story attracts enough readers, then I’ll get a chance to finish the tale I envisioned. (Oh please oh please)

I’ve also just finished a funny novel called Three Weeks to Live (Give or Take). Among other things, it’s a “SickLit” satire about a teen girl named Jackie who nearly gets hit by a meteorite in her PE class. (Her tennis partner is not so lucky.) Jackie finds herself becoming a reluctant celebrity—but she may not be around long enough to enjoy her new status.

For more about author Bart King, visit his website at And see him in person with me at Powell’s Books, Cedar Crossing, 7 PM Wednesday May 4th.


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Banana Slug Slip ‘N’ Slide!


Jake says “two paws up”

I knew I didn’t want to make a traditional book trailer. Typically, a book trailer’s a short video preview of one’s new novel or work of nonfiction or poetry. I’d made one for each of my previous books which, while quirky, followed a narrative about the stories I’d published. But my new book, Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, April 2106) is my debut middle-grade novel about a 13-year old boy who’s essentially saved by Pacific Northwest flora and fauna, so I wanted to create a video in celebration of nature–a quick documentary that would entertain viewers and teach them something.


Enter the banana slug.

I love witty nature documentaries like this one on nutria by Ted Gesing, and funny book trailers like this one by David Gessner. I decided to create an alter ego to highlight one of the weirdest creatures in Oregon’s natural world–Ariolimax columbianus. (Bonus info: As a college freshman, I enrolled at U.C. Santa Cruz because their mascot is the banana slug.)

My husband and daughter and I teamed up to create a three-minute documentary/promotional video for Avenging the Owl. I wrote the script and created a storyboard. Jonathan (who’s a professional photographer) filmed, and our kiddo provided sound effects and some physical comedy along with me.

Click here to watch the video, Banana Slug Slip ‘N’ Slide


Me and Ariolimax columbianus, BFFs

We spent several winter mornings hiking through Mount Pisgah Arboretum in Eugene, searching for banana slugs. Finally, we found one in the long grass under Douglas firs. The slug became our movie star for 24 hours, and then we returned it to the spot in which we’d discovered it, right next to the Coast Fork of the Willamette River.

For super-cool information on banana slugs, I relied on a brilliant nature guidebook written by Patricia K. Lichen. All of her titles sit on our living room bookshelf.


Next up, we’ll be working on a three-minute documentary about owl pellets. Stay tuned, Northwest Nature Nerds, and stay outside!


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Writing Process Blog Tour

I haven’t blogged in quite a long time.  Instead, I’ve been working on my just-published memoir, Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family (Lyons Press, 2014) and writing columns and articles for The Writer Magazine.  You can see my newest articles and essays over at  (Check this blog soon for family-friendly adventure travel in Oregon and beyond.)

Thanks to my writer friend Ana Maria Spagna for inviting me to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour, during which writers are answering the four questions below.Hart-facebook-72dpi

1) What am I working on?

I’m working on a feature article for Oregon Quarterly about the foster care tuition waiver and how it allows students who’ve grown up in foster care to attend the University of Oregon.  I’ve just turned in a feature article for The Writer about magazines that publish writing from children and teens.  And I’m about to revise my first middle-grade novel, Avenging the Owl, to be published by Sky Pony Press next year.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My great-grandparents worked as circus and vaudeville comedians, and so I have a high regard for wit.  This comes through in most of my writing, regardless of subject matter.  I write travel articles and essays, nonfiction articles on the craft of writing, and short and book-length memoir. Readers can find elements of humor in almost all of these.  Wild Within is unique in that it blends two stories–learning to rehabilitate and train injured birds of prey, and working 2 1/2 years to adopt my daughter from Oregon’s foster care system. Despite some grim anecdotes, there’s a lot of humor in the book.  My previous memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood, tells the story of growing up Anglo, heterosexual and boring in multicultural Los Angeles with a lesbian mother and a deep desire to be a Latina.  I like to think it’s witty, as well.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I’ve always been interested in writing about social issues and illuminating the stories of under-represented demographics.  For a long time, people didn’t realize that gay and lesbian parents–newly-out–were losing custody of their children as my mother did in 1979.  It’s a shameful period of our history, and it deserves investigation, particularly in terms of how parents and kids were affected.  I’ve written about my moms, about my brother with Down syndrome, about the plight of foster children in the United States, about the precarious position of birds of prey worldwide and why it’s critical to conserve their habitat and well-being. Even my travel pieces tend to be about underrepresented destinations–Wild Wings Nature Center in upstate New York, for instance, or backpacking to Sitka on an Alaska Marine Highway ferry.

4) How does my writing process work?

I’m a slow writer. Wild Within took five years to write, and about 20 drafts.  I usually write longhand in a notebook, and transcribe my owl-scratch onto the computer.  I read my work out loud, draft after draft, until it sounds just right.  Then, I make my husband read it; he’s incredibly intelligent, and he can tell me when I haven’t fully explored a theme or when I’m being sentimental or obtuse.  I love working with editors to shape a finished piece; it’s exciting and gratifying to see the work in print.

7. Melissa-and-Bodhi

I’ve tagged the following three Oregon writers to continue this conversation next Monday, September 22nd:

Cecelia Hagen is the author of Entering, from Airlie Press, and the chapbooks Among Others (Traprock Books) and Fringe Living (26 Books Press). Her poems have appeared in Rolling Stone, Prairie Schooner, Blood Orange Review, Natural Bridge, and the Christian Science Monitor. Her poem “At the Bus Stop” can be found in the stairwell of a downtown parking garage in Eugene. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Literary Arts, Soapstone, and Playa, and her writing has won the Passager magazine annual award and an Intro Prize from AWP. She lives in Eugene, Oregon and teaches memoir classes in the community.

Cai Emmons first novel His Mother’s Son, was published by Harcourt in 2003. It won the 2003 Ken Kesey Award for the Novel (an Oregon Book Award) and was released in paperback in 2004.  Cai’s second novel, The Stylist, was published by HarperCollins in 2007.  Booklist said of the book: “With family relations twisted as a French braid and language as vivid as a platinum dye job, Emmons’ potent novel features magnetic characters and complex and compelling secrets.”  Cai’s third novel, The Seventh TenetA fourth novel, Continuous Travelers, is underway.  Cai’s essays and stories and reviews have appeared in such publications as:  Arts and Letters, Narrative Magazine, The New York Post, Portland Monthly, and The Oregon Quarterly. 

Mary DeMocker teaches the harp and writes about climates of all sorts. Her work has appeared in Sun Magazine, Oregon Quarterly,, ISLE (Interdisciplinary Study of Literature and the Environment; Oxford University Press), The Oregonian, and music journals. She is cofounder of 350 Eugene, a local, rapidly-growing chapter of the international climate recovery group She lives with her husband and teenagers in Eugene, where they chopped down the fence to better share a sauna, lawn mower, ping-pong table, trampoline, and six chickens with their neighbors. For links to her blog Climate Mom: From Worrier to Warrior, visit her website.