Bits 'n' Pieces: A 'quiet' debut from N.W. writer

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator

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Dan Berne began his novel, "The Gods of Second Chances," three years ago as a longtime resident of Vancouver. Now a resident of Portland, Berne will be reading his novel Sunday at Powell's City of Books in Portland as part of its debut launch.

It is the first fiction novel for Berne and the Portland publishing company Forest Avenue Press, which seeks to promote "quiet novels."

It's a niche in which Berne considers himself right at home.

"I think (quiet novels) tend to be more character-driven. They have a plot that moves along, as well, but at the end of the day, what keeps you reading is not so much the external plot but the characters and what they have to overcome internally."

"The Gods of Second Chances" is told from the perspective of Alaskan fisherman Ray, who is raising his granddaughter Sitka by himself after the loss of his wife. Jenny, Ray's estranged daughter and a former drug addict, suddenly arrives back in town, hoping to reconnect with Sitka.

"Part of the inspiration was knowing friends who were in this situation. They were raising their granddaughter," Berne said, due to the parent's trouble with the law and drugs.

He credits the support from his writing group, led by Portland author Karen Karbo, that helped mentor him and develop his novel.

"During the writing, my previous wife died from breast cancer. I had to set the book aside for at least eight months," he said, now happily remarried. "I couldn't write the ending. I came back and tried one weak attempt. I knew it, and everyone in the group knew it. I had to put it away again."

Ray is a character who doesn't express his emotions outwardly, but readers are privy to his inner emotional state.

"I had been thinking for a long time about decisions. Sometimes, we make these bad choices, regardless of advice, because there's something else is going on inside, some internal driver, perhaps a story that you've told yourself."

Rituals, deities and folklore are another strong theme sprinkled throughout the novel, from Tlingit legends to Christian saints and maritime superstitions.

"I've always been interested in cross-cultural religious stuff," said Berne. "A lot of the specifics of the rituals are different, but the core of the things are the same. Rituals ground us, and ground us to our history, but they're not going to do all the work," he said.

After the Powell's launch Berne is planning on hosting more readings, including Portland's Broadway Books in April and hopefully at Vancouver's Barnes & Noble. He's already working on his next novel, set this time in Eastern Oregon, though he "can't tell you coherently what it's about" just yet.

Berne will read from "The Gods of Second Chances" at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Powell's, 1005 W. Burnside St., Portland. Visit danberne.com for information about upcoming readings.


Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.