Buy a Book, Save a Foot, in Support of The MORELove Project for Seattle’s Homeless

Scroll to the end for details of “Buy a Book, Save a Foot”.

The Beginning

loveI met Chris under the freeway on Jackson Street. A year ago, he could have been me. Middle 40’s, successful business owner, had a house on an acre of property east of Seattle, wife, two kids, dog. But when I met him he was living under the I-5 freeway on Jackson Street. Why? He told me. He was an alcoholic and that had ruined his first marriage. But he got sober. He built a life that worked. He built a family. He built a construction business. Then one day he injured his back working on a construction project. He was prescribed opiates for the pain and it triggered his addiction. When the prescription drugs ran out, Chris turned to heroin and cocaine.

When I met Chris he was months into a downward spiral. I noticed he had two large, dark scabs peeling from his cheeks. I thought he might have fallen or been in a fight. I asked him what the scabs were from. The reality was far worse than I could have imagined: the cocaine Chris was still doing was laced with a veterinary drug — levamisole, a pig, cattle and sheep de-wormer. It’s a common and terrible additive in much of the cocaine circulating these days. Levamisole causes the skin of the face to begin rotting away and that’s what was happening to Chris. He knew it, he hated it, he wanted to stop doing the drug that was causing it. “But,” he said, “I know I won’t if I don’t get help.” He told us he had an appointment at a treatment facility in Renton the next day. He was worried he would sleep too long and miss his bus to Renton. He knew which bus to take, just not if he would be on it.ugm_2

I was with a group from Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission rescue van program. A week after we met Chris, a couple of the others in my group called the Renton treatment facility to see if Chris had made it there. They had no record of his arrival. The group members went back to the spot under I-5 where we’d met Chris, but they never found him.

This is a difficult admission, but it’s true: in the past I have felt frustration and annoyance over the presence of so many homeless. But I realized it wasn’t because of anything they had done, I was annoyed because I didn’t know what I could do about the problem, though I felt compelled to do something. Since then I’ve decided the most important thing I can do about the problem is to stop judging it from the outside and, instead, get inside of it. My friend Larry Snyder (author, charity auctioneer, philanthropist extraordinaire) invited me to go with him on the Union Gospel Mission rescue van. I went. I’ve been multiple times since. What I’ve learned is that the problem is huge, but it looks bigger from the outside when I’m doing nothing. On the inside of the problem are people ugm_1who are suffering. People who need. They need supplies—dry socks, clean underwear, toothbrushes, gloves, hats, blankets. They need food. They need shelter. They need a system that better supports them. Many of them need drug treatment and they know it. They need a lot of things. But most importantly, they need three things: 1) They need compassion, just as we all do. 2) They need the experience of being treated like people—you don’t have to give them money, give them a moment of your time and a “hello, what is your name?” 3) They need us to not give up.

No one person can solve the problem and, even collectively, street-level action is not going to reverse the tide. But we individuals can ease suffering and though the individual action is small, it is important

 Buy a Book, Save a Foot

Here’s what I’m doing right now:

The first time I went out on the van I was amazed to see that, yes, the people were happy to get some food, and a warm drink and a blanket. Those things got them excited and it didn’t surprise me. Something else that got them excited and was a big surprise to me was socks and underwear. I thought about it afterwards and realized it shouldn’t surprise me. Of course! If you’re cold, wet and dirty from the skin out it just compounds your suffering.

PrintUndergarments are often overlooked when we’re thinking about what needs we can address. And I’ve heard it said since that first outing that, when you’re homeless, “if your feet go, you’re in really big trouble.”

I have this publishing company, Iron Twine Press. We’ve just released a new book: Color Stories: the Short Fiction Coloring Book. It’s a lot of fun, this new book. Thirty-two flash fiction stories paired with coloring pages inspired by the stories themselves. It’s the coloring book for lovers of story, the story collection for lovers of coloring books. You can find it on Amazon.

From today until the end of the year $1 from each copy of Color Stories purchased will be used to buy new socks and underwear which Iron Twine Press will then donate to The MORELove Project for Seattle’s Homeless. This great organization directly supports the UGM Rescue Van program and can get the supplies to the people who need them. I know, socks and underpants are funny…unless you don’t have them when you need them, then they’re kind of serious.

Please consider buying a copy of Color Stories. And even if you don’t buy one, please spread the word about this, lets see how big an impact we can make together. If you do get a copy, I know you’ll enjoy the book and you’ll have the added enjoyment of knowing that you’re helping ease a little of the suffering around us.

Thank you all!

Ethan Yarbrough

Founder and President, Iron Twine Press

PS: Come to Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, October 30th @ 3pm to hear the Color Stories authors read selections from the book and other works.


For Individual Success, You’ll Need a Team

Have a look at this picture from the acknowledgements page of a book my mother was reading (click the image to get a clearer view):


I think the picture tells you everything you need to know about what it really takes to publish a book. The image of the tortured, solitary writer slaving his or her way toward success is common and romantic, but inaccurate. While the writing process can be a solitary pursuit, to publish your book you need to step out into the world, and enlist the help of many good-natured souls. To publish your book, you need a team. And it’s never too early to start building that team. Look around you: are you surrounded by the people you need to get your book across the finish line? If not, start reaching out now, start telling people about it, start asking for readers, get feedback, talk to experts. Successfully publishing a book requires the same effort at relationship building that is required for success in any other professional pursuit — networking, team building, collaboration!

Best Sentence Saturday — #3

yakimaReporting this week from the road and posting from a phone. Forgive the typos, my thumbs are too big for this “keyboard”. This week something new and some things old. All good though.

We’re big fans of the short story here at Iron Twine Press, so we’re always excited to hear about a new collection. This week we’ve been learning about Nicole Hartounian’s debut collection Speed Dreaming available now. You can read one of the stories, “Youse”, at The Center for Fiction. “Youse” is, on the surface, a gentle and touching coming-of-age story, but there’s a dark sadness beneath the surface. Rae, the main character is still reeling from a tragedy that occurs before the story begins but serves as the inciting incident and leaves her quietly careening like a deflating balloon sputtering in descending circles around a room. We liked the pace and the urgency and the vividness of this sentence:

When a hand touches her shoulder, she screams, her mother screams, the secretary, maybe, screams—it is surround-sound panic until Rae leaps to her feet, turns, sees Joanna standing there, leaves stuck to the side of her hair, but there, in the flesh, screaming, too.

“Surround-sound panic” is a great phrase.

Congratulations to Nicole Hartounian. You can find her on Twitter @NicoleHrtn

Now some older things:

Langston Hughes, Salvation:

I began to wonder what God thought about Westley, who certainly hadn’t seen Jesus either, but who was now sitting proudly on the platform, swinging his knickerbockered legs and grinning down at me, surrounded by deacons and old women on their knees praying. God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple. So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I’d better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get up and be saved.

So I got up.

Suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting, as they saw me rise. Waves of rejoicing swept the place. Women leaped in the air. My aunt threw her arms around me. The minister took me by the hand and led me to the platform.

It’s a comical image, but in the context of the whole piece it reveals how deception has the power to validate and to torture at the same time. Hughes’ prose is, of course, as infused with poetic brilliance as any one of his poems. I’m so glad he’s still being read.

And finally, on this week of the 90th anniversary of the publishing of The Great Gatsby we would be remiss (and embarrassed to call ourselves book people) if we didn’t share our favorite passage from that Great American Novel:

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

Hard to say what it is about that passage…just the breeze blowing the curtains in at one end and out at the other. You can feel it, smell it, hear the quiet of it….every time I read that passage my breath catches, somehow I feel I have touched the heart of Fitzgerald’s novel in that one simple moment.

Keep on reading! And get ready, in future posts I might ask you to share the best sentences you’ve read in the past week.

Best Sentence Saturday — #2

Brautigan_1Maybe you didn’t think we could do it, but here we are again: Keeping the Best Sentence Saturday series alive into it’s second week.

It’s simple: we read, we encounter sentences that hit us hard, that demand rereading because they are so well crafted or so full of the flavor of being alive.

1) Author: Richard Brautigan; Story: “The Betrayed Kingdom”; from his collection The Revenge of the Lawn

At the end of a funny story of a woman he once knew in San Francisco who would flirt her way to getting rides home from parties in “the last spring of the Beat Generation” and always left her lustful drivers disappointed, sleeping on her floor, tangled in an army blanket

This might have been a funny story if it weren’t for the fact that people need a little loving and, God, sometimes it’s sad all the shit they have to go through to find some.

And yet, isn’t that a good thing for us readers? Look at all the great writing that struggle gives rise to.

2) Author: Lisa Mecham; Essay: “Reckoning”; published online at Midnight Breakfast

I think of you. Forty-seven point six miles away in your townhouse, your new life. What’s it like in that alternate universe? It must be so still. Remember how we used to listen? Under the sheets, taking turns cupping ear to chest. The rhythmic pounding of the day, beating itself out. And then lying side by side, how we swore we could hear our girls, their heart muscles pumping in the room next to ours. Those tiny flesh miracles we’d created. And now? What do you hear on the other side of forsaken?

The precision (“forty-seven point six miles away”) of it, the intimacy, the whistling wind of loss. Read the essay, it’s short at just over a thousand words. But the way those thousand words are put together, they knock you back like a solid punch.

Whatever you’re reading, enjoy!

Our First Company Scandal and What It Has Taught Us

Kaye Dacus offers some interesting insights about the origins of stories on her Web site. Click the image to go see.

Once upon a time (Monday), Iron Twine Press published a new book (The First Honeymoon: New and Collected Stories, by Lyn Coffin) and the world caught fire with excitement. No, not really, but we were excited—no lie, it’s a damn fine book, you’ll enjoy it if you’re a reader who appreciates fine crafted writing, the play of language, the clever image, tongue-in-cheek humor, and unabashed offerings of wisdom—”Life as we know it is always coming to an end”; “the farsighted swim in irony-infested waters”; “Moral: there is none (Fables usually have morals, people usually don’t)”—all within the comfortable confines of good stories. In our excitement to share, we posted excerpts of two of the stories, and Lyn (the aforementioned author) posted links to those excerpts on her Facebook page. Minutes later: outrage! hurt! scandal!

Robin Hemley, from whom I took a writing class at Western Washington University, has written a book about this topic. Click the image to learn more or go to
Robin Hemley has written a book about this topic. Click the image to learn more at

It seems one of the stories we excerpted is based on actual events and a real human person in the world at large, a person who participated in the non-fiction events now fictionalized in the excerpted story took umbrage over the story being told at all. Sore aggrieved this person was. Super pissed. No one wants to see anyone’s feelings get hurt. But it got us to thinking about a few truths about fiction:

  1. Most fictional stories draw from real life. Many times the true event is just a jumping-off point. I’ve written a story about the home-invasion robbery I endured, for example. But in my story every single thing that happens after the robbery is made up. I wanted to see what would happen if my protagonist, faced with the same experience I had, then made the opposite choices from the ones I had made.
  2. As readers we take it all as fiction, if we’re told it’s fiction. But if you’re the person who lived through the events that figure in the fictional account, you can feel exposed even though the readers most likely don’t know you’re there.
  3. If you have writers in your life, assume you’re in one of their stories. Go ask your writer “am I in any of your stories?” They will say no. Then sometime later you’ll read one of their stories and you’ll see yourself coming into a paragraph with a different name to ask “am I in one of your stories?” We are all raw materials in writers’ workshops.

Best Sentence Saturday – #1

BaxterPageWe read every day. We mow through books and stories like the anxious go through potato chips. But sometimes it’s nice to stop and appreciate examples of transcendent writing. You know the stuff — the phrase, the image, the sentence or paragraph that stops your headlong rush forward and shows you you’re in the presence of a real artist of the written word. So that’s what we’re doing today (and we ambitiously declare that we will do this every Saturday going forward, though, because we know ourselves, we reserve the right to stop if we get lazy or tired or forget). This is Best Sentence Saturday #1.

Here now, three of the best sentences we came across in our reading this week. Share what you’ve enjoyed this week in the comments, if you’re so inclined.

1) Author: Steven Polansky; Story: “Beard”; from his collection Dating Miss Universe 

We loved this description of a photograph of the protagonist’s writing teacher:

“(In the photo) Her eyebrows are thin, straight lines that go at right angles from the bridge of her nose and stop, clean, halfway across the top of her eyes. Her nose is sharp. Her lips are full and open slightly, as if they’d just come to rest after saying “I know and I am sorry for you.”

2) Author: Charles Baxter; Book: Feast of Love, page 288:

Two characters are in a scuffle with one another and one hits the other. Just have to love the description of how the guy looks after he gets hit. The moment passes quickly in the story, but it took real care and craft for Baxter to pull this from his imagination:

“I put the chair down and popped him one. He stood for a moment, as if surveying the sky for blimps. Then his knees gave way under him and he appeared to sit down, dazed, on the sidewalk.”

3) Author: Charles Baxter (yes, OK, we were on a Baxter kick this week); Story: “Flood Show”:

Love this character description:

“Conor is a large, bearish man with thick brown hair covered by a beret that does not benefit his appearance. He knows the beret makes him a bit strange-looking, and this pleases him. Whenever he bikes anywhere there is something violent in his body motions. Pedaling along, he looks like a trained circus bear.”

The description is so comical and vivid and says so much about the character. But then the fact Baxter says “his body motions” instead of “his movements”, is brilliant. “Body motions” is an awkward phrase and it adds to our understanding of Conor as an awkward character.

That’s it from here. Whatever you’re reading, enjoy!