Friday, August 6, 2021

Cheryl Grey Bostrom Interview - Sugar Birds

Photo Content from Cheryl Grey Bostrom

For most of her life, Pacific Northwest naturalist, photographer, and award-winning author Cheryl Grey Bostrom, MA, has lived in the rural and wild lands that infuse her writing. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the American Scientific Affiliation’s God and Nature Magazine, for which she’s a regular photo essayist. A member of the Redbud Writers Guild, she has also authored two non-fiction books. This is her first novel.


Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
A well-told story connects mind and heart—in a magical synergy that expands and enriches our insight into the human condition. Story can reach us in ways little else can.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Hands down, I love hearing from readers who tell me my book sparked their imaginations, moved their hearts. And when someone feels heard and known by what I’ve written? The best.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m up to my ears in a sequel to Sugar Birds, set in Washington State’s breathtaking Palouse country. Working title: Because of Burnaby, but that name’s written in pencil. The book is another character-rich, suspenseful, nature novel. Other projects? Poetry, always. And quarterly photo-essays for God and Nature Magazine.

Can you tell us when you started SUGAR BIRDS, how that came about?
Five years ago, I submitted a sketch to a critique group about a young, rural girl who hid in the woods after she accidentally lit a horrific fire. Afterwards, that girl began awakening me at night. I saw her in trees as I went through my days. Before long, memories from my own childhood resurfaced: hours spent climbing to perilous heights in PNW firs, seeking solace from a tough home life in the rugged forest I knew so well. The story unfolded from there.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I trust that some will immerse themselves in the adventure and recognize a story of human resilience set in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Others will savor suspense fraught with both tender and broken relationships. But many will, I hope, recognize a story filled with awe, forgiveness, redemption.

As Aggie and Celia travel into physical, emotional, and spiritual wildernesses, I also hope readers will reflect on where each of us runs and hides during heartbreak . . . and on the varied ways we deal with tragedy, some of which can make things harder still. I hope readers will ask what the natural world reveals about safety and hope—and even about God.

And that they’ll experience the wonder that comes from close encounters with nature.

What part of Aggie did you enjoy writing the most?
Every word she thought or spoke. Every gesture. Every choice. That little girl had her own volition, reducing me to a transcriber and surprising me at every turn, telling me what she’d do next, how she felt. Great fun.

Did you learn anything from writing SUGAR BIRDS and what was it?
Now this question has me laughing. Yes! I circumnavigated the learning globe twice while writing this book—and making the transition from non-fiction to long-form fiction writing. I had the great privilege of working with master editors, who led me through the equivalent of a one-on-one MFA in creative writing.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Pretty sure Aggie and Harper Lee’s Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird would be fast friends. Innocent, resourceful girls—who encounter the worst and emerge resilient, wiser.

  • Without looking back, the girl cranked the engine and revved the throttle. The tires skidded sideways, spewing gravel behind her before they caught and fishtailed into the pasture in a streak of crushed grass. The machine bucked uphill across uneven ground—too fast, she knew—but the engine’s whine would drown out anything else Mama might yell.
  • “Start with him,” Dad had said, singling out a house finch cracking sunflower seeds at the feeder. He had found Aggie slouched at the kitchen table, worry bowing her spine like a daisy stem, her fingers wilting sprigs. He pushed her untouched sketch book and pencils toward her. “See where he flies.”
  • No school and no more town church meant no more Trina. Aggie was relieved. Mama’s erratic behavior was worry enough. Besides, kitchen church was way better. And short, usually; she and her brother recited the week’s memory work from the catechism, Dad read Scripture. Aggie would sing from the Psalter Hymnal while Dad jazzed it up with a Celtic riff or two on his fiddle. Sometimes she even danced on the linoleum, where her feet clacked out the rhythm.
  • Aggie rose to her elbows, coughing. Her movements were jerky, her brain ragged with sleep and fumes. Mama dropped to the floor beside her and tugged her shirt. “This way.” Smoke bellied over them as Aggie crawled after her mother, her hammering heart a blood drum in her ears.
  • Riveted to the unfolding devastation, she flailed against blame until shock lifted her outside of herself, detached her from the body she no longer wanted to claim as her own. Until denial, in a brief respite, made her an observer, not the cause. Yes. An observer. Of that girl in the treehouse. That girl crying. That girl who lit a fire.
  • “But I don’t want to live with her!” I shouted. “Why can’t I stay with Meredith?”
    “I think you know.”
    Unbelievable. My best friend ever, and he called her a bad influence. “Loose as ashes in the wind,” he said, like he was talking about cleaning a fireplace or something.
  • A nurse log bridged the pool’s upper half. She crawled past baby trees growing on its mossy trunk, extended dished hands, and sucked the water down, wild with thirst that intensified with every swallow. She plunged to her elbows and lifted her hands again and again, the taste of snow from some faraway glacier rousing and reviving her until, satiated, she splashed her swollen eyes. Rinsed her ears. Snuffled water from a curved hand and blew—rinsing, rinsing, as if she could sluice away the sounds and smells of the fire. Extinguish those images.
  • Burnaby panned the foliage overhead. “Those would be the first prints anyone has seen. You certain they were human?”
    “No, I’m not certain. I only saw them for a second.”
    He nodded slowly. Folded the bandanna.
    I felt fidgety. ‘’You see your parents yet?”
    I waited. “Well, How are they?”
    His eyes dulled, and he shoved the kerchief into his pocket. “Critical. Especially Mama. Necrotic expansion. Immunosuppression.”
    “And that means?”
    His shoulders hunched. The explainer was still holding the apple.
  • “Past the exposed shallows, toward the Strait of Georgia, smooth water held more of the San Juan Islands, floating like green dumplings in cool blue soup. Calming. I pulled in a warm, salty breath, held it in until my lungs wanted more, then blew between my pursed lips, forcing myself to relax into the festive beachfront. Teenagers strolling in clusters on the road’s shallow shoulder turned and watched the shiny Camaro as it rumbled past.
    “Speed limit of twenty-five feels like a cage, don’t it, Celia? My car is crying to be let out.”
  • The word sorry erupted from her like a train, its horn blaring. Or like a blowtorch.
    And like a broken-winged bird.
    Bree braced herself on the table and stood, pausing for breath before she crossed the room to Aggie, whose eyes roved wild over ceiling and walls, her sides heaving with the pent-up stuff of nightmares.
Tell me about a favorite event of your childhood.
My grandparents lived on a bluff overlooking the Morse Creek Valley on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where my sibs and I prowled the surrounding fields and beaches, cliffs and forests. By the time I was Aggie’s age, I was begging my grandmother for a horse. Her compromise: visits to Four Seasons Ranch in that valley below their home. Times were different then. Ten-year-olds rode horses on trails alone, without helmets. A grandmother-approved escape from a weighty childhood into imagination and autonomy.

One August morning I arrived at the ranch with enough money in my pocket to buy a couple of hours on one of their geldings. That day I rode my old friend Sarge, a tough-mouthed, aging buckskin. Along a new (to me) loop upstream into the woods, we picked our way across the chattering current before we returned to the ranch’s fields, where I urged the horse to run.

Fortunately, Sarge’s canter was more of a lope, so when he stumbled and pitched me, we both survived. Still, I landed hard. Saw comets as my head struck earth.

Sarge nosed me where I lay. Stood vigil beside me until I reached for his trailing reins and reseated myself behind his withers. I don’t recall any fear, though I must have been shaky. I do remember feeling downright jubilant. Initiated. Never mind the possibility of a concussion. Now I knew I could be thrown and return to the saddle. Exactly what I needed—and a favorite day.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Something hard and brave. Alone.

Best date you've ever had?
A moonlight row on Lake Aldwell, with red licorice and kindness involved. The guy wasn’t right for me, but the night was amazing.

What was the first job you had?
Age 10: I caught a bus with other neighbor kids to nearby Sequim, WA, where we picked peas. Still vivid: kneeling in the dirt with that half-full bushel basket beside me. That viney smell. My thumbnail, green from stripping pods. The sweet earthiness of chewed peas on my tongue.

Which incident in your life totally changed the way you think today?
When, at age 19, I met the living God personally. From then on, hope infused my worldview.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Eden, pre-apple.

What were you doing the last time you really had a good laugh?
Hard to pinpoint a single time. Even in the mess, life is FUNNY. It’s a rare day when I DON’T laugh. Puns help.

First Heartbreak?
Hm. Age 4? My parents split up that year.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Doesn’t all love have a heartbreak component built in? Worth it, worth it, worth it.

Northwest Washington State, 1985

For years, Harris Hayes has taught his daughter, Aggie, the ways of the northern woods. So when her mother's depression worsens, Harris shows the girl how to find and sketch the nests of wild birds as an antidote to sadness. Aggie is in a tree far overhead when her unpredictable mother spots her and forbids her to climb. Angry, the ten-year-old accidentally lights a tragic fire, then flees downriver. She lands her boat near untamed forest, where she hides among the trees and creatures she considers her only friends—determined to remain undiscovered.

A search party gathers by Aggie’s empty boat hours after Celia, fresh off the plane from Houston, arrives at her grandmother’s nearby farm. Hurting from her parents’ breakup, she also plans to run. But when she joins the hunt for Aggie, she meets two irresistible young men who compel her to stay. One is autistic; the other, dangerous.

Perfect for fans The Scent Keeper, The Snow Child, and The Great Alone, Sugar Birds immerses readers in a layered, evocative coming-of-age story set in the breathtaking natural world where characters encounter the mending power of forgiveness—for themselves and for those who have failed them.

You can purchase Sugar Birds at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you CHERYL GREY BOSTROM for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Sugar Birds by Cheryl Grey Bostrom.