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Family’s saga became historical fiction … and a writer was born

By on June 27, 2018 in Arts with 0 Comments

A burst of resolve and creativity yielded (relatively new) writer Jane Nagler four books based on incidents and related artifacts from her own family’s westward-movement saga.

By Susan Lagsdin

Jane Nagler of East Wenatchee is still a little dazzled by the fact that she is a published novelist.

Her books tell stories that she’s harvested over the years from her pioneer ancestors, and the more she learns about her extended family, the more stories there are to tell.

Growing up an only child on the Meador family ranch in the John Day River valley in Oregon, Jane was always aware of her history. Her many relatives (sprung from a few families with 10-plus children) provided her with stories of her great-grandparents’ westward travel and settling, plus a concoction of well-polished truths and time-honed suppositions.

Prairie City, population 800 when Jane lived there, in the shadow of the Blue Mountains, was a perfect setting for a little girl to dream Western stories. As soon as she could read, Jane recalls, “I was always the kid who picked a new book with the picture of a covered wagon on the cover.”

Now at 81 she’s the author of four linked novels under her pen name, Jae Carvel: By the River, Letters from the Little Red Box, Eddie: The Escape, and The Annie Martin Stories. The first was published in 2015, the latest this spring.

The family saga became historical fiction, close enough to home to make name changes necessary, imaginative enough that Jane could create new scenarios and bring in new characters.

Growing up in rural Oregon in the 1950s wasn’t a catalyst for out-of-the-box thinking. Expectations for girls, Jane said, were pretty much “get married and have children.” In her case, the more-evolved family ethic was “go to college, get married and have children.”

She did both, achieving her teaching degree at the University of Oregon. She said, “I don’t remember that I was ever prohibited from doing anything else; but being a doctor, for instance, would have been… more difficult.”

She worked at teaching and raising four children throughout her long and continuing marriage to husband Skip, with homes first in Spokane and then by 1989 in Wenatchee.

Jane took her turn at a few art forms. She had piano lessons from age five until, as she said, “I realized I would never be a performer.”

In a college art class, she learned the basics, but bemoaned, “My paintings never looked like I wanted them to — the paint was in charge, and I wanted to be in control.”

Then, a revelation: words. That was her art.

She could control words, and she had plenty to say. Tentatively at first, she published a poem in golf magazine, wrote a family cookbook, then a (paid) article in the Spokesman Review. She wrote every assignment she gave her junior high English students.

About 10 years ago, Jane started to research her own family’s lively history. Her short piece submitted to the first 2008 Write On The River competition started with the required three words, “On the river…” and she was off and running.

She entered NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month), a forced march of 50,000 words. Reading Nancy Turner’s These is my Words, the Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine inspired her to keep on writing.

She’s a continuing learner of her craft and has participated for years in a monthly writing group, which she said is, “One of the most helpful things I have ever experienced.”

Jane finally published By the River with Booktrope in March 2015, and the next three titles tumbled out more easily. She does readings and sells her books locally, occasionally traveling back to her childhood home in Oregon to deliver hard copies to stores and museums.

A latecomer to internet marketing, she’s also learned about proofreading, editing and choosing cover illustrations as well as Facebook promotion and blogging.

She now sells her books on Amazon singly and as a boxed set: The Strawberry Mountain Series: 1840-1942.

Buoyed by reader interest and eager to learn more about her family, Jane has already started to draft The Fighter. What relative in what scrape or entanglement in what Western scenario will she fictionalize for our reading pleasure?

Wait for it. She’s spinning the story right now.

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