July 1, 2010
A Series of extraordinary events
by Arla Shephard
Grapeview author launches supernatural books based on her own life experiences
When asked to describe the main character of her latest novel The Protected, Rowena Portch will tell you the following:
“She is kind of overweight. She’s plain-looking with blond hair and grey, silver eyes,” says the Belfair massage therapist, adjusting her own long blond braid off her shoulder. “She’s a very plain Jane, there’s nothing spectacular about her…She’s me.”
While some of that may be true, Portch is just as remarkable as her main character, who discovers through the course of the book that she has special healing powers. The lively, sarcastic author has had her share of challenges — diagnosed at 32 with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease, Portch suffered a debilitating car accident in 1998 and eventually lost her vision.
She managed to re-start her life in North Mason, and her latest novel is proof that she can hardly be described as nothing spectacular.
Portch grew up in Southern California, where she began her career in the writing business, doing everything from working on children’s stories to owning her own publishing house.
Her life changed dramatically when a co-worker at her publishing house asked why she wasn’t more scared of cars passing her bicycle so closely.
Portch, who rode her bike to work every day, replied that she didn’t really see the cars until they had already passed.
A visit to the doctor’s revealed that she had little peripheral vision and that in another 10 years, she would be blind.
That was in 1993. Five years later, and still in a state of denial about the diagnosis, Portch ran her car into a brick wall at 70 miles per hour.
“Then, it became a reality,” she says.
Portch crushed both of her legs and couldn’t walk for a year. But it was an incident early on in her hospital stay (replicated again in her latest book) that really put her on a different path.
“I met this pastor who came by and he took away my pain,” recalls Portch, who describes herself as a devout spiritual Christian. “Talking to a nurse later, she told me, ‘We don’t have a pastor here.'”
The strange occurrence pushed Portch more aggressively toward her interests in homeopathy and massage therapy, interests she would later fully embrace in North Mason.
Portch sold her publishing house to escape California and moved to Washington to work as a technical editor for Microsoft, Onyx Software, and other businesses.
It was in the library of Onyx Software that she met her second husband Gregg, a general contractor.
“He was off-the-wall gorgeous, so I thought, I want nothing to do with you,” she laughs. “We were married a year later.”
In 2004, Portch lost her eyesight entirely and had to leave the fast-paced world of editing. Two years later, she and her husband moved to Mason County, eventually settling in Grapeview.
When her husband’s construction business caved to a down economy, they decided to open a health clinic, where Portch could fully realize her love of homeopathy. They hired a natural family doctor, and in October 2008, the Abel Wellness Center opened in Belfair, where Portch works as a massage therapist.
Lately, Portch had been considering writing a book. She didn’t think it would be anything like her supernatural-laced novel.
“I wanted to write an autobiography but then I thought it’d be really boring,” she says. “So, why not write a book around some of these events?”
Enter her character Skye Taylor and the world of the Spirians — beings who are not quite human but not quite spirits either. Taylor, who also has retinitis pigmentosa, discovers she’s a Spirian after getting into a car accident and uncovering her unique gits as a healer.
Taylor moves to Belfair and her life becomes a paranormal tale of good versus evil and everlasting love.
Despite its supernatural leanings, the book, which is the first of a series Portch is planning, is very grounded in the real world, says Ina Culberson, a massage client of Portch’s who has read the novel.
“I could not put it down,” Culberson says. “There’s an element of mystery but curls of truth as well. I was excited that it was set in our county, in Belfair and Harstine Island. I immediately thought it’d be a good movie [and] if presented properly, it could be a real tourist attraction for Belfair.”
Lest it draw comparison to another paranormal love story set in Washington, Portch is quick to point out that a lot of her readers have said the book is different from the Twilight series.
“People have said it’s a refreshing change from the vampires, because it’s something that people can actually see in everyday life.” she says. “We’re surrounded with gifted people all the time, but they’re made to feel uncomfortable because they’re considered pagan or whatever you want to call it, and so they keep it hidden.”
Culberson came to the clinic last March, when her regular massage therapist was unavailable, and became facinated with Portch’s own gifts as a masseuse.
“She knew all these trigger and energy points,” she says. “I couldn’t believe the release in my hips…She does have special gifts, and I respect those. Some people think of this stuff as voodoo or hoohoo or whatever, but I am really receptive of what she has to give.”
Portch hopes that her character Skye who is also a massage therapist, will eventually realize her full potential.
“Right now, she is a reluctant legend,” the author says, spilling few details about upcoming books. It’s clear that her story, like Skye’s, is far from over.
Portch is planning to host a meet-the-author event at 11 a.m. July 11, at the Starbucks in Belfair.