Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Just Who Is Charles Rodenbough Anyway?

I am Charles Rodenbough and beyond my role as husband, father, and grandfather, I suppose I can characterize myself as a writer and teacher, both capacities I have enjoyed since retiring from being a business manager. Many years ago I was aware of what I enjoyed doing but I let others convince me of my “responsibilities” and I gave up the desire to be a college professor. I don’t begrudge the choice nor do I regret what might have been. In my retirement I am getting to catch up on the avocation that I had continued even while functioning as a businessman.
History is my genre and my concentration has been associated with North Carolina. I chaired a Sesquicentennial Celebration (Madison, NC), organized Historic Districts, county chaired the National Bicentennial, Presided for the Historical Society, planned for a county museum, and all the while I read, researched, and collected for a time when I could write. When that time came, I was not starting from scratch but ready to compose from what I had assembled.
I like to structure my writing on the bare facts but I like to create beyond into the logic or lack thereof in how people, individually and collectively, accommodate to their circumstances. History writing is always interpreting the circumstances of one time or generation to another which sees through its own prism. The historian has to convey facts and situations in such a way that the reader begins to perceive in the historical moment. I have written biography, history, and historical fiction.
Most recently, I wrote a biography with my grandson that could be read and appreciated by multiple generations of readers. Stealing Andrew Jackson’s Headwas published this year by All Things That Matter Press. My wife, Jean Rodenbough, is also a published author with All Things That Matter Press.
Currently, I am involved with a project with the University of North Carolina, studying a unique common thread of slavery from Africa, through the West Indies, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana and Canada over a hundred year period.

Stealing Andrew Jackson’s Head

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Who Is Mark Lewandowski Anyway?

I did not go to Alaska because I wished to live deliberately; I went to make money, hopefully enough to fund a trip to Sweden. The plan was to work in a cannery for the first half of the summer, and then fly to Stockholm, hometown of Hans, a college buddy from the University of Kansas. Things didn’t work out that way. When we arrived in May salmon wasn’t running yet; jobs at the fish processing plant in Homer were scarce. By the time the jobs arrived at the end of June, Hans, his girlfriend, and her brother had given up and left Alaska. I stayed on for the rest of the summer, sometimes working 18 hour shifts “sliming” salmon for many days in a row. I never overslept, even though I didn’t need an alarm clock. Before I went to bed each night I popped some Tylenol. Like clockwork I’d wake up five hours later, once the Tylenol wore off and the pain returned to my hands. By the end of the summer things so striking before, like the bald eagles as common as crows in the Lower 48, or moose lumbering down the main street, clogging up early morning traffic, had become the norm to me.

In August I started a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Wichita State University. I arrived in Wichita in the middle of the night, about four hours before Orientation was to begin. The second story I wrote for my first workshop was called “The Slime-Line Queen.” It became the first story in my collection, Halibut Rodeo. Like all the other stories in the book, “The Slime-Line Queen” was inspired by the jobs I did, and the people I worked with at Seward Fisheries.

That was 1988. I planned on going back to Homer the following summer, but in March 1989 the Exxon Valdez spilled its load into Prince William Sound, setting back the Alaskan fishing industry for years. Seward Fisheries had no immediate use for slimers. Full time residents found work scrubbing oil off of sea rocks with paper towels. I never returned to Homer. But I continued to visit places outside my comfort zone. I lived in Poland as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and in Lithuania as a Fulbright Scholar. I travel just for fun, too. My experience traveling infuses all my writing, both short stories and essays. I like to believe that I have a keen eye for “place.” In all my narratives setting plays a primary role.

Now I am an Associate Professor of English at Indiana State University, with a modest list of publications in numerous literary journals. Halibut Rodeo came out 22 years after that summer in Homer. When I think of how much time has passed, I recall a conversation I had with a single dad I worked with on the Slime-Line. He had just finished his first year of classes at the local community college:
“You know why I’m going to college?” he asked.
“So I can get a job where no one looks over your shoulder and tells you to go faster.”

I think I took his words to heart.

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