Longtime newspaperman and prolific author John Hughes shares tips for writing

While most people in Grays Harbor probably know John Hughes as the former longtime editor and publisher of The Daily World, after leaving the newspaper in 2008, Hughes embarked on another standout career. The Hoquiam resident still works–at 78–as the chief historian for the Office of Secretary of State in Olympia. In that role, he’s written more than a dozen books on Northwest history. This July he was honored with the placement of a star on the sidewalk in front of the Old World Building, in downtown Aberdeen.

During the dedication of his star, Hughes and his wife, Patsy, were joined by former Daily World staff members and other friends from the community. Hughes recalled his days working in the handsome brick building, first as a newspaper carrier and later as a reporter. (The Daily World moved to its current location at State and Michigan streets in 1973.) Then Hughes, a longtime trustee of the Washington State Historical Society, gave a section-by-section history of Aberdeen from memory.

Hughes’ passion for accurate reporting and lively, precise writing garnered him a reputation within the newspaper profession as an excellent writing coach. In fact, journalism instructors around the region often guided their graduates to The Daily World to hone their craft with the master editor. And, in 2004 he received the highest award of the state chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for “distinguished service” to the profession.

Photo By Rick Moyer

So, we asked Hughes to take a moment out of his still-busy writing schedule to share his wisdom and tips on becoming a better writer, as well as to learn a bit more about him.

Q. After 56 years as a writer and editor, what advice do you have for beginners or anyone who wants to be a better writer?

A . Buy Stephen King’s amazing book, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. “It’s a short book,” the bestselling author notes in a foreword, “because most books about writing are filled with bull****.” I couldn’t agree more. There’s no BS in King’s bare-knuckled book, which Time magazine calls one of the top 100 nonfiction books of all time. King’s fundamental advice is that if you want to be a writer, “you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

My mother, a former teacher who studied literature at UC Berkeley, had me hooked on reading and writing before kindergarten. Then, as a 14th birthday present, she gave me a subscription to The New Yorker, the world’s greatest magazine. I was mesmerized by the writing—still am, 65 years later—and the breadth of subjects covered in each issue, from presidential politics to the mating habits of meerkats. The great cartoons are like the croutons in a Caesar salad.

Q. What’s your favorite book?

A . Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, a masterpiece that took him years to write because he revised it so painstakingly. My favorite nonfiction book is Murray Morgan’s Skid Road. Anything by Robert Caro or Tim Egan is also a master class in storytelling.

Q. For you, how much writing is “a lot”?

A . At least a thousand words a day, five days a week, with journal entries on weekends. That doesn’t mean all of those words are always worth keeping. Stephen King says you have to be willing to “kill your darlings”—stuff you really like that, in the final brutal analysis, fails to propel the narrative. One of my typical 5,000-word oral history profiles goes through at least eight revisions. A teammate calls it “sanding.” That’s a good analogy.

By Rick Moyer

My major project this year was a final edit of former governor Dan Evans’ long-awaited autobiography. Together, we trimmed it by more than a third—100,000 words. It wasn’t without pain.

Q. What’s the best writing assignment you’ve ever had?

A . Being a restaurant reviewer for the Northwest Best Places guidebook in the 1990s. I helped travelers discover that Aberdeen boasted a superb Northern Italian restaurant: Pierre Gabelli’s hole-in-the wall Parma, where the boar rigatoni was sublime. In Montesano, Candi Bachtell’s Savory Faire elevated a turkey pesto sandwich to greatness. And the Ocean Crest at Moclips, happily still with us after all these years, has a menu to match the view.

Though I no longer get paid to eat, I still share restaurant reviews online. I’ve spent the past half-century in search of the best Neapolitan pizza in the Northwest. I found it a few weeks ago in an old coal town called Wilkeson in the foothills of Mount Rainier. Ask YouTube about “The Carlson Block,” salivate and get ready for a weekend road trip. That said, you can get still a great, gooey American-style pizza at Casa Mia in Hoquiam. I’m in a photo on the wall from 1960.

Q. You’ve lived on the Harbor all your life. Did you ever consider leaving?

A . I had several offers over the years, notably from The Seattle Times. I jumped at the chance to become chief historian for the Office of the Secretary of State 14 years ago in part because I could just commute. There’s something about this place—warts and all—that has kept me here.

The sad grittiness that’s so off-putting to visitors when they drive through threadbare downtown Aberdeen is offset by the area’s natural beauty and affordability. I live not far from Bowerman Basin in a house I couldn’t afford in Olympia, let alone Seattle. I like the people here too—for their resilience and honesty—though it worries me that I see so many signs, literally and figuratively, of bitter, feckless discontent.

My biography of former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton is a highlight of my career. I believe it paints a vivid picture of a brilliant, complicated, controversial man unafraid to challenge leaders of his own party. Gorton was one of the first major office-holders in America to call for Nixon’s resignation over the Watergate coverup. Forty-six years later—appalled by Donald Trump’s attempt to “shake down” Ukraine’s president—Gorton said too many Republicans were betraying their country and the Constitution by refusing to confront the fact that the president should be impeached. Gorton’s deathbed request to his pastor during the 2020 presidential campaign speaks volumes about his patriotism. “What shall we pray about today?” the minister asked. “I’d like to pray for my country,” Slade said.

Q. You were famous in The Daily World newsroom for offering a Bob Dylan quote for practically any situation. Are you doing the same thing now at the State Library?

A . Absolutely. I saw Dylan at Carnegie Hall in 1963 when he could really sing. He now sounds like a frog with strep throat, but his poetry is still mesmerizingly topical. Consider this:

While preachers preach of evil fates

Teachers teach that knowledge waits

Can lead to hundred-dollar plates

Goodness hides behind its gates

But even the president of the United States

Sometimes must have to stand naked

Q. Of all the people you’ve interviewed over the years, who is the most memorable?

Courtesy of John Hughes

A . Arnold Samuels of Ocean Shores, whose family narrowly escaped Nazi Germany in 1937. After high school in Brooklyn, Arnold returned to Europe as an American GI, working undercover behind enemy lines. He helped liberate the horrific concentration camp at Dachau. And at war’s end, served in the Counter Intelligence Corps with another 22-year-old sergeant, Henry Kissinger. While researching Arnold’s life story, we discovered that he and Billy Joel had the same uncle!

Q. Any regrets?

A . I wish I could solve who killed Laura Law, the young labor activist brutally murdered in Aberdeen in 1940. That story has haunted me since childhood when I first heard it from my uncle. He was a business agent with the International Woodworkers of America during that polarizing era.

I also wish I had the proverbial nickel for every time some one tells me how great The Daily World was back in my day. Often, they’re the same people who used to tell me it was “the daily disappointment,” never mind that our 20-person news staff won a slew of awards every year.

The decline of community journalism is an American tragedy. I retired from journalism because chain ownership’s insistence on extracting unconscionably high profits meant more and more layoffs. Advertisers and readers, meantime, bought into the notion that quality news ought to be available for free. Now, practically no one is watching the store at city hall or the courthouse. And social media is rampant with rumors, lies, fear and loathing. With no robust media to analyze political candidates’ true views, the toxic Kool-Aid of deception is on tap by the gallon. I’m praying for my country.

Q. What have you learned in your 78 years?

A . Have a regular colonoscopy, take care of your back and keep your I-love-yous up to date.

Written By: Gail Greenwood Ayres

Ken & Vicki Mitchell create a colorful life

Ken and Vicki Mitchell know firsthand how a caring educator can change a life’s trajectory. Lifelong artists and career educators, this extraordinarily talented couple’s path was altered by one of Ken’s college professors. While attending Northern Colorado University, Ken was struggling academically. School had never come easily for him, but being a top shot putter helped get him into college.

He enjoyed history, but keeping the dates straight, writing papers without spelling mistakes, and completing all the reading was overwhelming. One day his history professor, Dr. Reynolds, called him in for a meeting. Reynolds told Ken he was nearly flunking out, but then asked Ken to look at a wall in his office. There the professor had tacked up a collection of drawings that Ken had made during the history lectures each day and simply left in the classroom.

Photo by Rick Moyer

Apparently, Reynolds had made a habit of picking them up. However, this professor wasn’t reprimanding his student; he was simply a talent scout with a plan. Reynolds had already talked to the head of the art department and then suggested that Ken fill his next semester entirely with art classes to get his grades up and to give them time to work out why this eager, bright student was struggling. “So that’s what I did. I took all art classes the next term and I went from being on academic probation to having straight A’s and being on the dean’s list in one semester,” recalled Ken, 79. “And we learned my problem. At the time, in the early 60s, it was something they were just learning about. I had severe, severe dyslexia.” Ken ultimately got a master’s degree in art, as well as a minor in history, and then became an instructor of fine arts himself.

Photo by Rick Moyer

Rewarding careers

Ken has spent more than 50 years as an educator and continues to prolifically produce paintings of all kinds, including some historically accurate ones that led both he and Vicki, 73, to be recruited in 2013 as artists in residence at the National Park in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Since then, each year they’ve served a month there, usually during the spring or fall.

There, Ken has six historical paintings at the main visitor’s center depicting the historic events surrounding this Civil War site, each requiring careful scholarship and painstaking attention to detail.

Vicki’s work there includes seven paintings that represent the major park themes, as well as a park coloring book, a 75th anniversary poster and a portrait of one of John Brown’s conspirators for the John Brown Museum in the park. She even restored an 18th century faux marble fireplace mantle in the park’s visitors center. And, the two of them worked together to create a mural at the park.

But the couple – and their artwork – is also well known in other places across the country. In fact, this May Ken was honored with a retrospective of his work at the Prairie Museum in Colby, Kansas. His work is well known there, including large murals in the city and one that he and Vicki both painted on the campus of Colby Community College, where they both taught from 1969 to 1989.

During those 20 years, Vicki taught art history, figure drawing and women’s studies, and was known for her creativity, even dressing up and acting as different historical women to bring them to life for her students. Ken taught everything from watercolor and oil painting to ceramics, silk screening, design, color theory, figure drawing, composition and even fashion design.

When Vicki realized she was interested in pursuing more education so she could work in academic administration, she added a doctorate in college administration to her bachelor’s in fine arts and master’s in education. During this time, they were raising their son, K.C., and daughter, Kendra. For two school years, Ken was “Mr. Mom,” while Vicki studied at the University of Texas.

Their next stop was in Central Washington, where they worked at a variety of institutions including Yakima Community College, Columbia Basin College and the Heritage College. Then in 1997, they moved to Grays Harbor for Vicki to take a job as vice president of instruction at Grays Harbor College. Ken worked as a substitute teacher for the Aberdeen School District and later taught math and art at Harbor High, the district’s alternative high school. After a few years, Vicki joined him there, teaching English and art.

Despite their illustrious and varied careers, the couple agrees that working at Harbor High was easily the highlight. And Ken is looking forward to the pandemic waning more so that he can at least go back to substitute teach there.

At Harbor High, Ken often told students about his struggles with dyslexia; and many could relate. Also, they both noted, it seemed like many of the students at Harbor High were particularly artistically gifted. Not unlike what Dr. Reynolds did for Ken, the Mitchells strove to do at Harbor High. They could be the people who spotted talent and encouraged and supported students in a variety of ways.

At home in Cosmopolis

The couple’s colorful Cosmopolis home is replete with both of their work, featuring a variety of subjects and styles. Despite a valiant effort, all the walls in each room can’t hold it all and some is stored on tables and in racks. Of course, that doesn’t include all the work on display at Harpers Ferry as well as all the work in museums in Kansas and that has been bought over the years or given away to auction for charities.

“There was even a time when money was tight in Kansas, where we were trading paintings for appliances and dentistry!” Vicki recalled. Ken says his favorite medium is actually pencil drawing, “but it doesn’t sell well,” he said. “I also love oil painting, but I can’t do it inside because my wife is allergic to it.”

But it’s clear by the resulting work that he also loves watercolor and acrylic painting. Some of his pieces are so detailed and accurate they look like photographs.

“He does highly, highly illustrative work, because he can draw so well,”  Vicki said of her husband. “He is a superb draftsman. He can draw anything! He is also an excellent colorist. He absolutely understands color and every combination of colors. That’s something I often ask his advice on. He is very patient getting every detail just right in his work,” she said.

As for her work, Vicki says she is enjoying picking it up after some 12 years of not being able to pursue it during her busy career. “I created some 80 pieces during the pandemic,” she said, and that doesn’t include the time spent on her hand-painted cards and humorous essays! “I like pastel best, but I like some pen and ink, and pencil,” she said. “I even went through a period where I was decorating gourds.”

“She’s determined and she likes to change,” Ken said. “She will get to a high level and will switch to a different subject or medium,” he noted. “We have never been intimidated by each other’s art and enjoy each other’s styles.”

While they both would say they’ve grown in their artistic expression over the years, some things don’t change. The couple attends Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Aberdeen. And, just like during those history lectures more than 50 years ago, during the sermons, Ken draws. But, instead of leaving the pictures lying around, at the end of the service he gives them away to eager parishioners.

In addition to seeing their work in West Virginia and Kansas, some of Ken and Vicki Mitchell’s work is available for purchase at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, where they have donated it to raise money for the church to restore its magnificent stained-glass windows.

Photo by Rick Moyer

Rob Horton, organic farming

Rob Horton, of the Bee Organic Farm and Apiary, grows amazing vegetables: mouth-watering tomatoes that put grocery store varieties to shame, beautiful bunches of carrots and beets that look like art and taste like heaven. Horton set a goal to produce “the tastiest, most nutritious food anywhere on the planet.” And he seems to be succeeding.

Horton did not start out as a farmer. After building a career in construction management, he and his wife, Rocki, bought a 10-acre property in Elma and settled in to raise their children in the country. As the children grew up and moved away, Rob and Rocki turned their attention to their community.

“We decided we didn’t want to just live day by day,” says Horton. “We wanted to do something meaningful for our community, something that would be good enough to be a model for other communities.”

Back then, Rocki wore the gardening gloves in the family. One day, she showed Rob a YouTube video about a famous market gardener, and Rob had an aha moment. Creating a local food source system could prove just the community-minded project they were looking for. But they had to do it right. “When I put my mind to something, I want to do it in a way that creates the best end product,” he explains.

Photo by Rick Moyer

For Horton, that means growing food the way nature intended it to be done, with an eye to the helping the environment and growing the highest quality produce. And so, he immediately got to work, taking class after class to learn about composting, cover crops and small farm operations. In 2019, after testing several growing methods, the Hortons were growing enough fresh produce to try a test run at the market. While they always intended to focus on their Elma community, they decided to start in Aberdeen. “I figured a lot less people know us in Aberdeen, so we could fall on our faces there,” laughs Horton.

Far from falling on their faces, the Bee Organic Farm stand sold out in just one hour. They brought more produce the next week, but still sold out quickly. It seemed the training had paid off. They had created a demand. Now they had to find a way to meet that demand.

Over the next year, Horton made improvements to increase efficiency. Thanks to grants, he was able to hire some help and also partner with the agriculture program at Elma High School. Since then, he has expanded to include not only the Aberdeen Sunday Market, but also the farmers markets in Montesano and Elma. Additionally, he sells tomatoes through Haggen grocery stores and offers produce through his website (https://www.beeorganicfarm.com/) and the Southwest Washington Food Hub (https://shop.swwafoodhub.com/).

Photo by Rick Moyer

The Hortons practice regenerative farming, a more ambitious cousin of organic farming. Beyond simply addressing the harm caused by pesticides, regenerative farming focuses on growing crops in a way that actually improves soil fertility, increases biodiversity and generates greater yield.

Additionally, because fresh-picked produce delivers the most nutrition and the best flavor, the Hortons set an ambitious rule for themselves. That is, they bring their produce to market within 24 hours of harvesting. That means long Saturdays and early Sunday mornings in the gardens. But, as the Hortons’ fiercely loyal customers will attest, the backbreaking labor pays off.

The increasing demand also creates problems to solve. Growing and harvesting the amount of produce customers will buy requires additional washing and packing facilities, cold storage, more hands. And that requires capital, ideally a partner that catches the vision and can help make the project sustainable.

Because, for Horton, producing and selling exceptional produce represents part of a larger goal. “We have created a new local food source system,” he explains. “If we work together, we have the capabilities to create something wonderful for our planet. That’s how we’re going to feed our world.” As he works toward this goal, Horton looks forward to market season, to the camaraderie and to the smiles on his customers’ faces.

“I’m excited to see the people again,” he says. “I can’t wait to get the tables full, to stack it high and watch it fly!” But be sure to get to the Bee Organic farm stand early, because produce that delicious, flies fast.

Photo courtesy of Rob Horton

The show must go on for Brad Duffy

Brad Duffy loves a good story. He loves to watch a good story and he loves to create a good story for others to watch.

After 26 years teaching classes and directing plays as the communications and theater arts instructor for Grays Harbor College, Duffy retired in 2018.  He was now free to enjoy a life of leisure, spend more time with his two daughters and granddaughter, and play more racquetball, bridge and pinochle.

“It’s worked out well. I get to do all the things I want to do and none of the things I don’t want to do,” says Duffy, 71. Turns out – no surprise – what he likes to do is theater, to tell a good story. 

Not only is Duffy still the executive producer of the 7th Street Kids Theatre, a role he’s had since 2000, but he’s also the new president of Driftwood Players, Aberdeen’s all-volunteer community theater. He’s recently done some acting himself and he’s currently preparing to direct two more plays this 2021-2022 season for Driftwood! “Brad’s love for theater is immense,” says Debbie Scoones, who has acted in 20 productions directed by Duffy, as well as served in other roles, including musical director for 17 of his productions. “Brad has broadened my love for theater and I will always be grateful for that. I have acted for many directors, but no one can hold a candle to Brad,” she says.

Photo by Katie McGregor

Professional, prepared, kind and talented are the words often used by those who have worked with Duffy as he transforms words from a paper script to a live performance where actors embody their characters and audiences are drawn into the story.

Surprisingly, Duffy says, about half of his preparation time to stage a play occurs before the auditions to cast the production. During this time, he divides the play into what are termed “French scenes,” which are created every time an actor enters or exits the stage. For instance, in the play, “The Humans,” which will run in February at Driftwood, there are 83 French scenes.

“My job is to determine why the playwright included each one,” he explains. “So, for instance, it’s clear, that this one is all about introducing this character and his personality, and this one is about revealing the drama or problem, and maybe this one is about unveiling that there is a lie going on among some of the characters. I want to make sure that what the playwright wanted gets translated onto the stage.”

Photo courtesy The Driftwood Players

After the cast is selected, he encourages them to interpret what they think is going on in the scene, and makes a point to encourage his actors not to just parrot the words from the script but to listen each time to the other characters and react as their character would from what is actually said.

This mindset is crucial when something doesn’t go as expected, such as someone forgetting a line, accidentally saying a line too soon or even if a key prop is not where it should be. It’s in those situations where it’s especially important that the actors stay in character and move the story forward.

All that preparation pays off, says Scoones. “What makes Brad a good director is he knows the show forwards and backwards. He gets a tremendous response from his actors,” she says. “He asks actors what is going on in the scene, what are they feeling or experiencing.” He also requires his actors to have the lines memorized early on. “It’s only after they have their lines down that they can begin to act,” he says.

As a director, Duffy says that he likes to work with actors who aren’t afraid to be wrong. “I like it when they try something in rehearsal. If it doesn’t work, I will tell them, but having the courage to try something is important.”

With all the different genres of theater, Duffy says he especially loves to tackle a musical. “I love the idea that the songs help tell the story and help develop the characters,” he says. “And, I love the collaborative effort of a working as a team with the musical director, choreographer and others.”  

The last two years has been especially hard on live theater due to the coronavirus. But Driftwood was able to meet the challenge by offering three shows virtually. By choosing plays with small casts and streaming them, audience members could enjoy watching a live performance from the comfort of their own homes. In fact, Driftwood was one of very few theaters in the Pacific Northwest that took on that challenge, producing “Constellations,” “Daddy Long Legs,” and “Gin Game” that way.

Duffy experienced “that side of the stage again” by starring in “The Gin Game,” directed by Stacey Hopkins. “When everything was shut down during the pandemic, I was talking to a very good friend of mine, Pat Sibley, who is a professional actress in Seattle,” he recalls. “She normally goes all over the country doing stuff, but everything was shut down. I invited her to come live with me for six weeks and do ‘The Gin Game’ with me. So, she did. When we weren’t rehearsing at the theater, we were rehearsing at my house, and we had a such a great time doing that.”

As fun as the show was, it did feel weird to act without audience reaction, he says. “A big piece of theater is the relationship between the audience and the actors; that is what makes each performance unique within itself,” Duffy says. “Not having that audience reaction was odd, but I’m so glad we still were able to provide a performance experience.” 

Producing live theater during a pandemic wasn’t the only challenge Driftwood faced this past year. An arson fire damaged the building in May. Thankfully, Duffy and the cast and crew of “Daddy Long Legs” were there for a tech rehearsal and able to alert the police and fire department. However, the fire was able to get into the walls and ended up doing a bit of damage to the back of the building. Even the stage curtains were so smoke damaged they needed to be replaced.

“The good news is that the Aberdeen Fire Department saved the theater. I’m so grateful we were there.  If we hadn’t had tech rehearsal that day, we would have lost the theater,” he says.

For someone who has acted in, directed and attended hundreds of plays in various cities over the years, the obvious question arises: Which one is his favorite?

“It is always the one I’m working on,” he quickly answers.

Right now, that is “The Humans,” which will play at Driftwood Theatre in February. He is also slated to direct the next production at Driftwood, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in the spring.

Driftwood Theatre’s website, www.aberdeendriftwood.com  includes the latest information about the theater, year’s schedule, current show and upcoming auditions. It also has a catalog with pictures of every past show that Driftwood Players has performed in the last 60 years.

Driftwood Theatre

Upcoming Shows

“The Wedding Singer”
November 26, 27
December 3, 4,10, 11:
7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday
December 5, 12 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Directed by Alex Eddy

“The Humans”
Feb. 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26
7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday
February 20, 27 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Directed by Brad Duffy

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”
April 30, May 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21
7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday
May 22 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Directed by Brad Duffy

Local author Karen Harris Tully prolifically produces sci-fi for young adults

Karen Harris Tully (Photo by Lisa Shell)

Sunlight fills a quaint little coffee shop, Elixir. Karen Harris Tully sits in a chair by the window sipping her tea; writing. It’s here on the docks alongside the Willapa River that the award-winning author opens her journal, jots down a few thoughts and crosses off a couple of tasks on her to-do list.

Karen, 42, who moved to Raymond in 2005, creates intricate stories with strong female protagonists for the young adult science-fiction reader.

She authored the trilogy, “The Faarian Chronicles,” which follows protagonist, Sunny Price, 15, as she is forced to move from Earth to her mother’s home planet. The first book in the series, “Exile,” published in 2015, took Karen more than 10 years to write.

Her book’s release party happened around the same time as the birth of her second child. But all that time writing paid off.  Two years later, that first book earned a finalist spot – one of the top five in the nation – from the 2017 Kindle Book Awards! This summer Karen and her “smart, handsome and supportive husband” Mike stayed busy with their kids’ sports, baseball, tumbling and soccer, and still made time for gardening, berry picking and keeping the kids happy with chocolate chip cookies. And Karen has also continued a prolific writing career, including a recent stint as a regular columnist at The Daily World in Aberdeen, reflecting on the effects of the coronavirus on day-to-day life. 

In her young adult fiction, Karen creates fantastical foreign worlds with humans and aliens, and brings it all together in coming-of-age adventures. She says she uses her bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Western Washington University daily “to inform my world-building.”

Karen’s fire to write for the young adult sci-fi reader was ignited after having some strange fantastical dreams, which she began crafting into adventure tales. She says her influences include “Harry Potter,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Trixie Belden” and “The Hunger Games,” as well as her love for science-fiction cinema and television sci-fi series. “I remember watching ‘ET’ in the theater. My mom and I watched ‘Star Trek’ when I was little, and I watched ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’ ” she says, “I loved it; I watched every one of them.” When they read her books, her readers travel faster than light speed to distant stars.

“Imagine being based on Jupiter, at the dawn of the next age,” Karen says, “when humans are about to venture off to a new galaxy to explore and settle a new planet like Alpha Centaur, which is a real star system made up of three stars, Proxima Centauri, Beta Centauri, and Alpha Centauri AB.”

Writing Partners

Along the way, Karen was introduced by a mutual friend, to fellow authors J.M. Phillippe, and Bethany Maines. They all went to the same college, but Karen didn’t meet them until after college. They collaborate, share writing, and critique each other’s work. The trio communicates a lot by text and email. But once Covid-19 hit, they began to meet every two weeks via Zoom. They came up with a goal, to write three books that fit into a trilogy. “Soldier, Princess, Rebel, Spy” is Karen’s contribution to “Galactic Dreams Volume 1: A Sci-Fairy Tale Anthology” published by Blue Zephyr Press.

The three writers continued meeting together to produce “Galactic Dreams Volume 2.” Karen authored “Little Nebula” for that anthology. Currently, they are working on the next series of Galactic Dreams. “I enjoyed it, she says, “We all wanted to write different fairy tales with the timeline working together. The universe is the same. Each book has different characters and different stories, but they link up.”

And as a group, they went through all of the stories from “Hans Christian Anderson Tales” and “The Grimm Brothers” for the Volume 2 books. Each author chose a fairy tale to base their book from in the series. Karen picked “The Little Mermaid.” “I enjoyed writing about the ocean, but the ocean in space. The main character in my book is a nebula. I’ve enjoyed using my imagination and figuring out how to make my story work in space.”


Hidden Dragons

In addition to good news for her current readers that “Galactic Dreams Volume 3” is due out before the end of the year, Karen shares good news for dragon fans. She’s currently creating tales with all types of dragons.

“There are dragon myths in nearly every culture,” she says, “flying feathered dragons, lake dragons, with healing powers, two-legged dragons from all over the world. Humans tell dragon myths all over the world,” she says, “but what do the dragons think of that?” She hopes to explore that question as she continues her writing career, which keeps her busy full time as she creates, edits and markets her stories.

Karen’s books can be purchased from Amazon, as well as at Grays Harbor Farmers Market in Hoquiam, Alder & Co. in Raymond, Pacific County Museum in South Bend, and North Cove Treasures, Treats & Trinkets. To follow her journey as a writer, check out her website at karenharristully.com; follow her on Facebook as Karen Harris Tully, or @KHarrisTully on Twitter and khtully on Instagram.

Rex Valentine: Storyteller, poet, musician and Harbor historian

Rex Valentine wrote his first poem, an ode to SPAM, 83 years ago. Now 87 years old, the Elma resident continues writing poetry and composing music. “I’m just trying to keep everything going,” he added with a chuckle, “At my age, it doesn’t go like I planned, but I’ve sure had fun along the way.” A gifted storyteller, poet and musician, Valentine grew up in the Wynoochee Valley on a primitive dairy farm. His father taught him the value of hard work, and his mother saw to his education, teaching him to read at the age of three. Both parents instilled in their children a lifelong love of music.

Days began early on the farm, with Rex and his brother Randy milking cows to the beat of the songs they sang while they worked. Those early rhythms spilled into hundreds of poems through the years, as Rex turned his experiences into verse. His poetry captures the stories of his childhood for his grandchildren and preserves a rich history of Western Washington in the first half of the twentieth century. Valentine credits his Montesano High School English teacher, John Terry, with cementing his interest in writing poetry. However, other concerns soon intervened, and poetry fell to the back burner.

Valentine married young, eventually raising a blended family of 11 children. He built several successful careers through the years, including real estate and dairy farming. Along the way, he grew proficient at dowsing, the practice of using divining rods to locate water for digging wells. Music accompanied Valentine throughout his adult life. In addition to composing, he has sung for audiences across the Pacific Northwest. In fact, he sang baritone in a barbershop quartet that won a national championship in 1963, and also sang the national anthem at local sports events for 45 years.

In addition to writing several volumes of poetry, Valentine is also a gifted vocalist and composer. (Photo by Juliana Wallace) Then, in 2002, Valentine’s mother passed away, and he discovered that she had carefully saved his early poems. He began writing again, entering poetry contests and eventually publishing six books of poetry and stories. Intent on honing his craft, he enrolled in a college poetry writing class in his sixties. The additional polish did the trick, and he started winning national and international contests.

By 2004, Valentine earned induction into the World Congress of Poets, an international organization dedicated to promoting world brotherhood and peace through poetry. He still serves on the board of the organization and was featured as the guest poet of the 2014 conference in Osaka, Japan. As a poet, Valentine writes a broad range of poetic forms, from long narrative poems to sonnets, villanelles and hsinku verses (a Chinese form similar to haiku).

His folksy, often humorous, style draws the audience in, enchanting listeners of all ages. While many of his poems recount stories, he explains that he chose poetry over prose because “poetry is much more to the point, more refined. In a poem, you can say as much in one line as you can say in a whole page of a story.”

And those verses do spin wonderful tales, from dragsaw days to weeding the rutabaga patch, trapping skunks and resurrecting an old Model T Ford. Along the way, the reader meets a delightful cast of characters, falling into the rhythm of a life lived to its fullest.

Look for Rex Valentine’s books at www.rexbvalentine.com and Amazon, as well as at your local library.

Valentine has written several volumes of award-winning poetry, a children’s book, a book on dowsing and numerous songs. (Photo by Juliana Wallace) To discover Valentine’s work, check out his website at www.rexbvalentine.com. In addition to several books of poetry and a volume on dowsing, he has also written an acclaimed children’s story, “Tiddlywinks, the Little Horse with Three Ears.” Look for Rex Valentine’s books at www.rexbvalentine.com and Amazon, as well as at your local library.

Preserve Beauty

The little pansy poked its pretty face

up through the concrete crevice on the walk.

It’s singleness of purpose filled the space,

a tiny crack made for one spindly stalk.

Now why would nature send its beauty queen

to grace a graying path of cement stone,

where careless feet its royalty dethrone?

The Lord of beauty, love, and elegance,

is not particular where sows his seeds.

A drab and dingy place he might enhance

with lovely flowers ‘mid the grisly weeds.

So little purple pansy hold your ground.

May beauty be a beacon to your place,

that all who pass go carefully around

and see the smile upon your pretty face.

– Rex Valentine


Wildflowers and Love (Sonnet #24)

A prairie harbors treasures found in spring.

Its see-through grassy dress will come alive

with Nature’s own corsage; a lovely thing,

whose brill’ant colors suddenly arrive.

The yellow Johnny jump-ups set the pace.

The violets and bluebells follow suit.

Wild strawberry’s white blossoms fill the space

where later, one can pick its sweet red fruit.

Nostalgically, my grandmother I see,

she’s stooping down, her apron spreading wide

enveloping the flowers picked for me.

Her sparkling eyes meet mine with love and pride.

Oh prairie, take me back to long lost joy,

To Grandma’s love, and flowers for this boy.

– Rex Valentine


From Belt to Suspenders

(Sonnet #9)

My belt size is increasing

as I am growing older.

I’m really not obesing,

just narrowing my shoulders.

But now my pants are dragging;

my belt is at a tilt.

So I have stopped all bragging

about how well I’m built.

I think I’ll wear suspenders;

they’ll give me peace of mind,

and when I’m doing benders

you won’t see my behind.

Does it really matter

if I keep getting fatter?

– Rex Valentine