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Powell’s Books, Phillip Margolin, And Worthy Brown’s Daughter


Listen to a man say he writes but only took one college writing class.

He admits to grinding out a C+, then says he’d like to talk to an MFA fiction expert one day to learn how writing really works.

The same man tried writing historical fiction for thirty years. He took one history class. If the main question of history is, “What happened” one class ought to drive that one home.

Is this some baby boomer apologist, one of the “I only had one term left to graduate from Lewis and Clark man, but the wilds of Mt Hood called me,” guys?

You hear them in the booths of new brew pubs, boomers who’ve explained the 60’s and 70’s so often they need a new audience every week.

The man whimsically seeking an MFA fiction writer’s opinion is Portland author Phillip Margolin. You’ve heard of him? He’s the one with seventeen New York Times best sellers under his pen, the former defense attorney with thirty murder trials under his belt.brown

You might forgive him his fun with writing and history classes. He figured it out on his own like a good Oregonian with four words, “research” and “Oregon Historical Society.”

Go ahead and compare him to writers you find in lit journals, then ask which of them argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Advantage Margolin.

Would you expect any less from someone who wrote legal thrillers before the name ‘legal thriller’ was on the list? It’s the evolution of the murder mystery, and Mr. Margolin knows his murder up close and personal.

He also knows how to enchant a live audience.brown

Not one of the shuttered writers pained to speak in public, Margolin embraces his readers. You’d expect that from a writer who reads two to three books a week. He calls it a reading addiction. It’s not as uncommon as it sounds.

Joe Queenan seems afflicted. Stephen King may have a case. Pat Conroy needs a vaccinationReading habits of writers are worth a look. So are writing habits.

One habit Portland baby boomers have cultivated over the years is the Powell’s Bookstore habit. When downtown boomers got older, got married, and decided to raise kids in the suburbs, Powell’s followed them to Beaverton.

Easy parking, one level, and a ton of books makes Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing the same ‘must visit’ stop as Powell’s City of Books.brown

The difference is the drive. Boomerpdx used to walk down under the Broadway Bridge on ramp and turn right on NW 11th to hit Powell’s. The on ramp gave way when The Pearl grew up. Things changed.

Things have changed since the era of Worthy Brown’s Daughter, too. The question is, “How much?”

After Phillip Margolin’s reading, he answered questions. Someone asked what he reads. He said, “Everything,” and mentioned an installment of Robert Caro’s biography on LBJ, along with a vampire trilogy.

When he said what he like to read when he travels, he cracked the door most writers keep bolted.

“I read books without intellectual content when I travel, like the ones I write.”

History professors and writing instructors gasp at such a revelation.

(The defense attorney came out when he answered a question about the Peyton – Allan murders from 1960. His book Heartstone is loosely based on the case.)









About David Gillaspie
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