Remembering Doug Fortier

I met Doug Fortier at the 2012 Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference. I was twenty-seven years old and had just completed the third year of my PhD. I first visited the Mendocino Coast on my 2011 honeymoon, a road trip up Highway One, and I wanted to return to the beautiful place my then-husband and I had referred to as “Tolkien Country.” There must be a way to be a writer there, I thought. The hand of fate guided me to MCWC, and I applied for a scholarship. When I learned I’d been chosen for the Short Fiction workshop, I felt like I’d won the lottery. 

Doug was in that class. He workshopped a cunningly strange story I’ve always remembered, “Inside the Jaguar,” about a man who finds himself, well, inside a jaguar during a magical visit to an ancient temple. With Doug as its funny, warm envoy, MCWC welcomed me as a writer worthy of encouragement, an author who deserved to walk in the rustling golden grasses of the headlands, thinking about line and plot. I had never experienced anything like it. When, three years later, I was invited to return as faculty to MCWC 2015, I was honored to find Doug enrolled in my workshop.

He booked a consultation with me and expressed surprise when I reminded him we had been students together in 2012: “I don’t remember you at all!” Doug himself was unforgettable, of course. Funny, generous, and genuinely enthralled by all writing. A dream reader. His quality of open and loving engagement with the world, a pure curiosity, made his creative imagination unique. 

With Doug, anything was possible. You might end up in a vibey art piece—shortly after MCWC 2015, Doug emailed me an edited photo he’d taken of me reading and decorated with a quotation from my story, which I reproduce below—or have your name borrowed for the protagonist of a story called “Killer Tesla,” as happened to the beguiling young person who was also a student in that 2015 workshop, my partner Jasper Nighthawk, or find yourself enmeshed in a literary friendship so intense it seemed to have been written by E.M. Forster (or perhaps David Foster Wallace), as became of another 2015 workshopmate, Hunter Gagnon. I’ve still never been to the Purple Rose, a Fort Bragg restaurant where Doug placed an interdimensional portal in the bathroom in one of my favorite of his stories, but I’ve always wanted to have a margarita there because of the way Doug described it.

In 2018 I was invited to become Executive Director of MCWC and moved to Mendocino. It was both a dream come true and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I became part of the community I had so long admired, experiencing the honor of being included in such intimate events as a memorial service held at Doug and his wife Claire’s beautiful home, and taking over the legendary Norma Watkins’s creative writing courses at the local college.

But it is not easy to make a living in Mendocino, and in 2019 I began to offer writing workshops at Gallery Bookshop to supplement my income. Doug promptly signed up for these workshops and attended them all. I knew he didn’t just take my Gallery workshops because he wanted to practice his writing, or to read the stories I assigned and take part in our discussions. He signed up for my classes to support me, as a writer and as a friend. He did so quietly, with little fanfare, with the spirit of care we all remember when we think of Doug. 

I am grateful for those rainy weeknight evenings with him at the lovely long table amongst the cookbooks and carousel racks of greeting cards. I didn’t know it was the last time we would spend together. In 2020 I moved back to Los Angeles for a job. Too soon, too soon, every golden age ends too soon.

Please enjoy this special issue of Noyo Review dedicated to the memory of Doug Fortier, which I hope can serve as both a celebration of the friend we lost and an introduction to a very special writer.

Lisa Locascio Nighthawk
Noyo Review Pieces