Kim Cooper Findling is about to pack up and drive from her home in Bend to North Bend, Oregon. This is where she grew up and this is also where she would be reading from her new memoir the following day. She has no idea what familiar faces she might see, given that she'd been away from the southwestern Oregon town for several years now.
And on this particular day, sipping a coffee in a favorite Bend café, she doesn't seem too nervous about any of this. Her book, Chance of Sun: An Oregon Memoir, was released this summer and contains the story of her life growing up, hiking, camping, drinking and generally just living in this state. It's an Oregon story, for sure, but it also contains some deeply personal and sometimes shocking details, so it would be understandable if Findling would be worried about family and old friends reading this book - her second to come out this year.
"It's like throwing your heart on the barbecue to delve into your own stuff. But I love the connection you can make with other people when they read it and can relate," says the 41-year-old Findling, who has been here in Bend for the past 16 years, now living with her husband and two young children.
Her first published work appeared in the Source nearly a decade ago and in 2003 her hilariously insightful essay about getting into the competitive running game in Bend ran in Runners World. Since then, she's been a regular contributor to in-flight magazines and other local and regional publications.
This spring, Findling released another book, Day Trips from Portland, making for a busy year. That book is a collection of hundreds of quick and accessible outings that can be reached from Portland within a three-hour drive. Chance of Sun, on the other hand, is essentially a front-to-back linear history of Findling's life, including some David Sedaris-like essays about the challenges of her youth, including a brilliant piece about going to community college basketball games with her father, but soon learning that she needed glasses after the scoreboard proved unreadable. There's also an account of an annual camping trip during which she and her friends would put on makeup in their tent in an attempt to impress the gaggle of boys wandering through the campgrounds. It doesn't get more Oregon than that.
"I happened to have been [in Oregon] my whole life and so much of this story has to do with living here. It's a small-town book and it shows that even small events can be really fun," says Findling.
But when the setting jumps to Portland, where she moved after graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in psychology, a bit of darkness seeps into the story. In an essay entitled "The Friday's Trilogy" - winner of the Oregon Quarterly Northwest Perspectives essay contest, and published in the periodical this summer - Findling goes into detail about her post-college adventures working at a TGI Friday's where she'd dull the din of the busy chain restaurant with alcohol, or sometimes amplify it with cocaine. She describes a hectic and troubling environment where everyone is flirting with everyone and her own fascination with hard partying and a toxic relationship led her off the deep end by the time she was only 24.
Findling says that while she didn't tell many people about this period of her life, she's come to terms with now having those experiences in print for everyone to see.
"I didn't write about it for years and years, but when I did sit down, it wasn't hard to write about," says Findling, "Everybody has something. For a long time I took it much more seriously than I needed to."
She's probably right, everyone does have some period of their life that they don't want to share, but not everyone is a published writer who pours all of this out into the public. The Portland years aside, the book also features plenty of material about her parents, whose divorce when Findling was young figures prominently into the story. She was a bit concerned about what her parents would think of the book, but that apprehension soon melted away.
"It's a tribute to my dad and in the end he loved it," says Findling. "I found that - and maybe this is a cop out - but the story isn't about [my parents]. It's about me."
She is still promoting Chance of Sun, and she'll be at the Bend library doing just that on Sunday with a reading and book signing. But as for what she'll do next, Findling isn't entirely certain. Not that she hasn't been thinking it over, though.
"I'm thinking about what I want to do next almost to obsession," she says with a laugh.
Judging from what she's done with this book, she should be able to think of something to write. There's got to be some more material to be mined out of her Oregon life.
Kim Cooper Findling
2pm Sunday, December 11. Deschutes Public Library, 601 NW Wall St. Learn more about Findling's book at kimcooperfindling.com.