AND SHE WAS by Cindy Dyson
woman kept nagging me. I’d be trying to write an article about how to
achieve ultimate orgasms or about the latest finds at an archeological
excavation, and suddenly she’d be there, demanding I open that file, the
one with only three sentences, the first lines of a book I never meant
I knew who she was. She was trashy and blonde and too old to be with
that kind of a man, too old to be working for tips in that kind of bar.
She was the beginning of an answer to a question, one I’d wondered about
for many years. It was a question that sprang from my experiences as a
cocktail waitress on an island in the Bering Sea.
In the late-80s I followed a fisherman to the fishing boomtown of Dutch
Harbor in the Aleutians. I found myself, a few days before my
twenty-first birthday, working as a cocktail waitress at the Elbow Room,
a bar infamously rated by Playboy as the “most despicable” in the
country. I left the man and island and moved on to college and newspaper
reporting jobs. But once in a while, I’d think back and wonder who I
would have been if I had stayed, if I’d become stuck in that life of
endless parties and easy men.
This woman kept asking me to think about it. She kept asking me to
figure out how it felt to be her. And what it would take to set her
I knew where she was -- working in a dive bar in the Aleutians. So I
started to research the islands and I became captivated. The journalist
in me had something old and meaty and obscure to research -- the history
of a forgotten people living in one of the most desolate, unforgiving
places on earth. I poured through journals written by explorers and
priests, discovered dark legends and fearsome taboos and a willful,
beautiful people, decimated nearly to extinction by their conquerors.
In writing my novel I kept my focus on real events that shaped the
future for these people, and imagined what it took for the survivors to
make it. What they did was heroic and gruesome, holy and sinful. It was
the ambiguity that fascinated me and brought a nuance and depth to the
book that I didn’t expect. It gave me an opportunity to play with
several themes that have long captivated me -- the consequences of man’s
fall from grace in the Garden of Eden; the dependence of women on men;
the fluid nature of the relationship between conquering and conquered
peoples; the life saving and life threatening facets of taboos.
But most importantly I armed one nagging, trashy blonde cocktail
waitress with the heroic, tragic stories of another people’s past, then
found a way to set her free.
About the author
Cindy Dyson grew up in Alaska, commercial fishing with her father.
She graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia, School of
Journalism, covered brutal small town politics for a daily newspaper in
upstate New York, then moved to Montana and began freelancing, writing
scores of articles for national magazines and eight educational young
adult books. She lives near Glacier National Park with her husband,
Mark, and four-year-old son, Simon.
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