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About The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current | View Entire Issue (July 4, 2019)
4 // COASTWEEKEND.COM
Visual arts, literature,
theater, music & more
Astoria writer sparks with ﬁ rst novel
By PATRICK WEBB
FOR COAST WEEKEND
ennifer Nightingale had a spark.
She had always written
poetry, and her family’s Welsh
heritage engendered a deep appre-
ciation of words spoken aloud or
But she wanted to go one step
She accomplished that dream
this spring by publishing her ﬁ rst
full-length novel, “Alberta and
the Spark,” a coming-of-age story
about a teenage girl in the Paciﬁ c
“It’s always been a dream of
mine to write a full-blown story,”
said Nightingale, who lived most
of her life in Seattle and moved to
Astoria about three years ago.
She attended a writing workshop
and open mic sessions, gaining
conﬁ dence and skills. Another par-
ticipant was Diana Gulley.
“She would kind of nudge me
and read through the rough manu-
scripts,” Nightingale said.
Support has extended beyond
publication because — to the great
amusement of both
— the novel is on sale at Gul-
ley’s Butcher Shop in Astoria.
Nightingale’s day job has been
working on health plan adminis-
tration. The opportunity to tele-
commute led her and husband Holt
Moore to move to Astoria.
“We went through that process
of thinking, ‘Where would you live
if you could live anywhere?’”
Her mother had enjoyed Long
Beach, Wash., decades earlier and
Nightingale pined for Astoria.
“I love it here.”
Her main character’s home vil-
lage of Oyster Bay affords many
similarities with the upper reaches
of Washington’s Long Beach Pen-
insula and Willapa Bay.
“As for Oyster Bay, I made
up the name,” she said. “It’s Bay
Center, Oysterville and Ray-
Jennifer Nightingale’s Astoria home, as might be expected from an author and voracious reader, is ﬁ lled with
books in cabinets, on shelves and every available surface.
“Alberta & the Spark”
By Jennifer Nightingale
Available at Gulley’s Butcher Shop, Astoria,
Cannon Beach Books and
mond-South Bend. It’s all of those
little towns mushed together.
That way the town can become a
The heroine, 13-year-old Alberta
— called Bert — travels over the
Megler Bridge, visiting places in
Astoria, including Josephson’s
Smokehouse and the Custard King,
all against a backdrop of oyster
farming in the 1970s.
“I am so happy when I hear peo-
ple say that they know the charac-
ters and know the places,” Night-
ingale said. “That’s a pretty terriﬁ c
feeling. One lady said she fell in
love with Bert,
and that touched my heart
The coast’s blustery, often dan-
gerous weather, is almost a char-
acter, too. A scene in which she is
pulled into the surf by an undertow
is a reminder of nature’s raw power.
The era is a deliberate choice —
fast-paced technology is absent.
“I wanted it to be authentic.
I don’t know the world of social
media today. I grew up in that time
and I know that world.”
Is Alberta autobiographical?
“Everybody seems to think so! I
identify a lot with her. I had a sister
who was a bully — I climbed
trees to avoid her. Science did
fascinate me. Alberta and my char-
acters feel strangely real to me. I
have worried about them.”
The “Spark” is Alberta’s new
friend, Felix, who is a couple of
years older and approaches life
almost as a science experiment.
Amid deceptive rural tranquil-
‘THE THINGS THAT SINK PEOPLE OR KEEP THEM BUOYANT
ARE STILL THE SAME.’
— Jennifer Nightingale explaining setting her novel in the 1970s.
ity, danger lurks in the form of rac-
ism, led by a cowardly, bullying
Their targets are immigrant
families of Polish and Vietnam-
ese heritage whose values shine
demonstratively brighter than their
intolerant American neighbors. All
is condoned by a do-nothing sher-
iff, a character whose dialogue
In retaliation for embracing the
immigrants, Alberta is violently
attacked by two brothers who cut
off her hair.
While others exhort revenge,
she and those closest to her con-
found her attackers by performing
acts of kindness for their irascible
but wounded father.
“I like to believe that it does
not matter if you are in your 70s or
40s, the human condition is still the
same,” she said. “The things that
sink people or keep them buoyant
are still the same.”
A ferry ride to British Colum-
bia and a private boat return to
Bellingham, Wash., form the cen-
terpiece of Alberta’s later adven-
tures, allowing her to embrace her
Canadian links, savor out-
door discoveries and ask questions
about her relatives’ churchgoing.
“One person took out a chart
and followed the route,” Nightin-
gale said. “I never dreamed that
somebody would do that.”
The book is likely to appear on
“local author” or “young reader”
It appears suitable for all ages,
although parents of younger chil-
dren might be advised to read it
ﬁ rst because of swearing.
Like many authors, Nightingale
has mixed feelings when asked
“A lot of people have given
their opinions on what happens to
But a sequel is not necessarily
in view, she said.
“I want to keep writing and see
what happens.” CW