January 30, 2004
Former Newport resident visits coast for book signings of first novel
By Leslie O'Donnell
Of the News-Times
For several years, Diane Hammond was a familiar figure in Lincoln County, first as the spokesperson for the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and later, for the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation. These days, following the publication of her first novel, Hammond is the voice of women striving to make a living in coastal Oregon.
Hammond, a long-time Newport resident, moved to Bend after Keiko was transported to a new home in Iceland in 1998, and in May 2003, moved to Tacoma, Wash., to provide better educational and enrichment opportunities for her daughter.
Now she is on a book tour through Oregon to promote her first novel, "Going to Bend," published by Doubleday.
Hammond said she began the novel in 1994. "I got half-way through it and lost my way completely," she said in a phone interview last week. "(Current District Attorney) Bernice Barnett had lunch with me every Tuesday to thrash through the details and the legal issues I was writing about.
"And then Keiko arrived (in 1996), and I didn't think about the book until two years ago, when I was living in Bend," she continued. "It was a snowy day, I had little to do, and I found the manuscript on the computer. I didn't even remember the characters' names. I read the manuscript and got right back into it - in six more months, it was finished."
Then came the process of finding an agent and selling her book, but for Hammond, the pieces slipped easily into place. Years before, Hammond had met a college intern to a literary agent in New York. They kept up an occasional correspondence through the years, and when she completed her book, Hammond looked for the woman via the Internet - and found her at the William Morris Agency. She agreed to take a look at the manuscript, and three days later, told Hammond she had found a publisher and a "dream editor" - Deb Futter, vice president and deputy editorial director at Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.
"Deb called me and said, `I want it, and the next one, too,'" Hammond recalled.
The book purchase took place about 18 months ago, and "Going to Bend" was released this month.
Hammond, a native of the New York suburbs, has been writing fiction for 25 years. "I had made my peace with not being read by many people, I was doing it because I love it," she said.
But now, at 47, she is a published author well on the way to the release of a second novel. The Middlebury College graduate majored in art history and history - "Shakespeare class scared me to death my freshman year, so I stayed away from English lit," she said. "I didn't start writing until after I left college."
Most of her earlier published writing has been as magazine articles in Mademoiselle, Yankee, and Washington Review, with a few short stories published in the early 1980s. She moved to Newport in 1984, and worked in communications for the Central Lincoln People's Utility District for five years. Then came the job at the aquarium in January 1990, when she was one of its two employees and the facility was still on the drawing boards.
"Up until I moved to Newport, except for college, I had always been in big cities - New York, Honolulu, and Washington, D.C.," she said. "Newport was my first small town, and the West Coast is a lot different from the East Coast. It was a new experience for me to become fully immersed in Pacific Northwest small town living."
And that is what people will find when they read "Going to Bend."
As Futter wrote in an advance copy of the novel, which she termed "spellbinding....In Diane Hammond's small fishing village, friends are for life and love comes from the most unexpected places. (This) may not be a town where you'd necessarily choose to live, but it is one you'll be glad to have visited."
But Hammond said Lincoln County readers will not see their friends and neighbors in the novel. She said no one in the book is based on real people living at the coast.
"People may recognize types, but it definitely is not based on people I know or have met," Hammond said. "The towns have the physical features of Depoe Bay and Newport, but this is not a `roman a clef' - no secrets are being brought to the surface. The characters are people I am really fond of, but they're not people I know, and they're not me."
Meanwhile, in between book tours, Hammond lives in Tacoma with her daughter, Kerry, and her husband, Nolan Harvey, former marine mammal curator for Free Willy-Keiko and the person who was in charge of daily contact with the movie star whale. She and her husband operate a website marketing and design firm, which they started in Bend and took with them to Tacoma.
"My role with the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation ended when Keiko went to Iceland," she said. "I didn't want to live in Iceland. Nolan went there, but Keiko had adjusted so well and seemed so happy that Nolan left the foundation and we decided to move to Bend. We basically reinvented ourselves, and it worked out."
The publication of her first novel is a pleasant surprise to Hammond. "I'm very humbled with getting this opportunity," she said. "The world of writing is very difficult to survive in, especially the world of fiction. I wouldn't have guessed this would happen."