Word Play, June 2020

Text by Diane Slocum

Isolation from normal life and those we love occurs in different ways and times.

For Max Farber, it meant lying in a “grave” hiding from the Nazis. His son, Bernie Farber, tells this story in an article in the National Post at nationalpost.com/opinion/surviving-the-grave-a-story-of-isolation-and-resiliency-for-these-covid-19-times. Farber was a Polish Jew who barely escaped from a train bound for Treblinka. A Christian friend hid him in a shallow hole in the ground for four months, risking his own family.

In an article at nytimes.com/2020/03/21/opinion/scott-kelly-coronavirus-isolation.html, astronaut Scott Kelly said: “I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share.” His tips include follow a schedule, pace yourself, go outside, have a hobby, keep a journal, take time to connect and listen to experts. He reminds us that seen from space, Earth has no boundaries.

For a novel about isolation, try “Room” by Emma Donoghue, which tells the story of 5-year-old Jack and his mother held prisoners in a room for his life up to this point. “The Light Between Oceans” by M. L. Stedman is the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife on an isolated island off Australia’s mainland when a boat containing a baby and a dead man washes up. You can’t get more alone than in Andy Weir’s “The Martian,” when Mark Watney is left for dead on the planet after his teammates escape from a devastating dust storm.


Chelsea Bieker, originally from the Central Valley, is the author of “Godshot” (March 31, Catapult). This novel, her debut, is a Google’s Best Books of April. The story centers around 14-year-old Lacey May, who lives in the town of Peaches. What was once an agricultural paradise has become a drought-ridden disaster.

Its supposed savior comes in the form of Pastor Vern, a modern-day rainmaker who recruits his female parishioners for secret assignments to bring back the rain.

Bieker received a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Foundation Award and a MacDowell Colony fellowship. She has a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Portland State University. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Catapult Magazine, Granta, McSweeney’s, Joyland and Electric Literature. She teaches writing in Portland, Ore., where she lives with her husband and two children.


Penguin Random House’s list of best-selling books of all time includes “If I Stay” (Gayle Forman), “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Margaret Atwood), “Fifty Shades of Grey” (E.L. James), “Me Before You” (Jojo Moyes), “The Girl on the Train” (Paula Hawkins), “Wild” (Cheryl Strayed) and “Inferno” (Dan Brown).

Classics include “Of Mice and Men” (John Steinbeck), “Lord of the Flies” (William Golding) and “1984” (George Orwell).

Children’s and teens books include “The Fault in Our Stars” (John Green), “Wonder” (R.J. Palacio), “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” (Dr. Seuss), “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” (Eric Carle) and “The Book Thief” (Markus Zusak).

Non fiction books include “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (Marie Kondo), “Mindset” (Carol S. Dweck), “The Boys in the Boat” (Daniel James Brown), “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” (Laura Hillenbrand) and “Becoming” (Michelle Obama).


It’s hard to make plans this year, but we can hope that conferences scheduled for fall may take place. The Central Coast Writers Conference is scheduled for Sept. 24-26 at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. Registration through June is $300, going to $350 July 1. Details and updates at cuesta.edu/communityprograms/writers-conference/.


The SLO Nightwriters Golden Quill Writing Contest is open for submissions. Deadline is Aug. 1. The theme for all entries is “The Unexpected.” Categories are Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir and Poetry. Entries must be unpublished and must never have won a contest prize. Details: slonightwriters.org/Golden-Quill-Writing-Contest-2020.


The best remedy for those who are frightened, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be alone, alone with the sky, nature and God. For then and only then can you feel that everything is as it should be and that God wants people to be happy amid nature’s beauty and simplicity. As long as this exists, and that should be forever, I know that there will be solace for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances.” — Anne Frank (1929-1945)