(Above: Author Cai Emmons and her husband, playwright Paul Calandrino; source, Facebook)

By Randi Bjornstad

If there’s one word that sums up author Cai Emmons, it’s indomitable — in all caps, bold-faced type, maybe even underlined.

Here’s why, in a nutshell, and in Emmons’ own words:

After a circuitous route through poetry, plays, and screenplay, I finally found my home in the writing of fiction. The last few years have been the most prolific of my writing life, and I think I have produced my best work. Then, a year ago, I was diagnosed with bulbar-onset ALS and I am now mute. ALS is one of those other-people diseases one never imagines getting oneself, and it strikes everyone very differently. Now, as death looms at an uncertain date in the future, I have been set on the adventure of my life, determined to stay alive as long as I can, and determined to write as much as possible in that remaining time.

And to prove it, this month — September 2022 — Emmons has released two new novels, her sixth and seventh, one titled Unleashed and the other Livid.

Unleashed, released first in early September, in a sense follows a bit more clearly the trajectory of two of Emmons’ previous novels, Weather Woman and Sinking Islands, both based on a heroine named Bronwyn Artair who realizes she has a superpower ability to control weather, and struggles with the overpowering responsibility that could entail.

Unleashed also deals with weather in the sense that a major plot point involves wildfires in Northern California that upend the protagonists’ already unraveling marriage and their equally precarious relationship with their daughter.

Before her diagnosis of bulbar-onset ALS, author Cai Emmons preferred to write her drafts on lined notebook paper with a ballpoint pen, sitting on her bed instead of at a computer desk; photo by Randi Bjornstad (2019).

But it also harbors links to Emmons’ own personal health catastrophe, which she explained in an essay, writing that the book “could only be read as a metaphorical chronicle of my developing illness, an autobiography of the last year, despite the fact that there is not the least bit of discernible autobiography within its pages.”

There is, however, an ending in which the mother and daughter take on new identities, transforming even their species as they race together through the world in a quest for new freedom.

Vivid takes a very different tack, focusing on a woman named Sybil who is seated on a jury that will determine the guilt or innocence of another woman accused of the vicious murder of her husband. To her shock, she finds that the jury also includes her own ex-husband, Drew, whom she divorced after their own rage-filled and venomous marriage. But even as Sybil becomes obsessed with the idea that the defendant is innocent, she is just as inexorably forced back into reliving her own past in his presence until everything explodes.

Both books will be launched at a coming-out party at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25, at Oregon Contemporary Theatre at 194 W. Broadway in downtown Eugene. Unlike previous book launches, where Emmons normally would read from her own work, because of the loss of her voice to her disease the reading this time will be done by local actors Rebecca Nachison, Ellen Chace, and Laura Robinson.

The event will include food, drink, and conversation. Copies of Emmons’ books will be available for purchase, courtesy of Eugene’s J Michaels Books.

Asked what she’s up to these days, the indomitable Emmons puts it this way: “A new novel! Trying to finish it while my hands are still working!”

Book launch event for Cai Emmons’ two latest novels

When: 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022

Where: Oregon Contemporary Theatre, 194 W. Broadway, Eugene

Admission: Free

Books (so far) by Cai Emmons:

  • His Mother’s Son (Harcourt, 2004)
  • The Stylist (Harper Perennial, 2007)
  • Weather Woman (Red Hen Press, 2018)
  • Vanishing (short stories, Leapfrog Press, 2020)
  • Sinking Islands (Red Hen Press, 2021)
  • Unleashed (Dutton, 2022)
  • Livid (Red Hen Press, 2022)

Links to previous Eugene Scene stories about Cai Emmons

2019 — https://eugenescene.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=11833&action=edit

2021 — https://eugenescene.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=18408&action=edit

Eugene, Oregon, author Cai Emmons published her sixth and seventh novels in September 2022