Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 6:05 PM on Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Porte's latest book completes African trilogy

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


With the completion of "Pale Lion Rising," Homer author Joyce Baker Porte brings to completion a three-book series, the idea for which arrived as a messenger in the night.

"I dreamed it," Porte told the Homer News of the storyline that begins on the African plains in the early 1900s in "Where Lions Still Roar," continues with "Rogue Lioness" and comes to a close with "Pale Lion Rising."

In her dream, Porte encountered a young man she had actually seen years earlier, but never met.

"In my dream I knew everything about him," said Porte.

The young man's message: "You have got to write my story."

That charge did not disappear when Porte awoke. Following direction, she was soon writing the first volume of a tale set in the continent of her childhood, where her parents served as missionaries.

Storytelling runs deep in Porte's family. She remembers her father, Russell Baker, for the stories he would tell to entertain his six children. Going back a bit further, if family claims are true, Samuel Clemens — Mark Twain — is a shirttail relative.

"We grew up with no television or radio," Porte said of her years in Africa. "Instead, we sat around and told stories."

Porte dictated her first story to her mother at the age of 5. While attending boarding school, she would find out-of-the-way places where, undisturbed, she would commit to paper what her imagination was creating. In high school, she asked teachers if she could get extra credit for writing essays on the subjects being studied.

After high school, Porte returned to the United States, completed college, married and began her own family, temporarily setting her writing aside. In 1990, after she and her husband, Vince, moved to Homer, "I started writing more seriously," she said.

Porte connected with a critiquing group, from whom she picked up valuable tips on writing. Then she became involved in the Homer Writers' Group.

"All of my books were read to them," she said of the four books she's written. In addition to the trilogy, she penned "Stormbird of the Serengeti and Other African Tales."

Approximately 50 percent of the proceeds from Porte's books are dedicated to helping Moses and Emma, a brother and sister from Africa, complete their education. Their father was massacred and all the family's cattle slaughtered. In another wave of violence, 45 members of the family, including a grandmother, their father's wives and their stepbrothers and stepsisters, also were massacred. A college scholarship Moses was awarded was withdrawn, also as a result of tribal conflicts.

Attempting to raise funds to complete his education, Moses spent a summer working as a counselor at Solid Rock Bible Camp near Soldotna. It was there Porte met him.

"I heard his story and it knocked my socks off," she said. "We put the word out and a lot of people began stepping up so he could at least finish college."

This December, Moses will complete his studies at the Evangelical School of Theology. Emma has completed high school and been awarded a full scholarship to begin her medical studies at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.

What advice does Porte have for beginning writers?

"The first rule of writing is butt in chair," she said, laughing. "Just start and it will come. Start writing vignettes about your life. If you don't go any further, at least your kids will appreciate it."

She also urges being familiar with your characters.

"Befriend your characters, even the bad characters. They need to have depth. Live with them. Listen to them," she said.

Porte also encourages reading.

"I read all the time," she said. "Everything."

Porte is currently editing another manuscript, preparing to submit it to a publisher.

"Several people have asked why I don't continue with the next generation," she said of requests to add to the Tanganyika Trilogy. Her husband has other ideas. "He says I lived in Africa a shorter time then I've lived here so why aren't I writing about Alaska."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.