summer of the river bottom dragon

Jennifer O’Neill Pickering

Jennifer O’Neill Pickering’s prose appears in numerous literary journals and is featured in audio recordings at “Writers on the Air” and “Restore and Restory: A Peoples History of the Cache Creek Nature Preserve.” She is the Host of “Prose In the Afternoon” at the Sacramento Poetry Center, a finalist in the New Women’s Voices Competition, and a Pushcart nominee for poetry. She is the author of Fruit Box Castles: Poems From A Peach Rancher’s Daughter. Visit her website here.


Summer of the River Bottom Dragon

written by Jennifer O’Neill Pickering

This eloquent and poignant short story, about redemption and forgiveness, is told through the eyes of Sarah, who remembers her childhood growing up on a tomato ranch.

It begins when she opens and old photo album and a horseshoe shaped belt buckle tumbles onto her lap. She recalls that there was nothing lucky at all about that particular keepsake, and relives the momentous events of one particular summer that she called “the summer of the river bottom dragon.”

Read by Rebekah Nemethy

“I thought of last summer as the River Bottom Dragon summer. It was a period when five important things happened in my life. Fishing, swimming lessons at Buck’s Lake, my first sighting of the River Bottom Dragon, berry picking, and my bicycle ride to the Raquela’s house.”

“I learned to be a strong swimmer last summer, and to distrust my Daddy at the same time.”

“On the Fourth of July, Jake, and I climbed the levee and saw the Dragon. There was a full Buck Moon that lit up the bric-a-brac outline of the Dragon’s dancing tail. Seeing its fiery breath spew sparks into the darkness, we shrieked and raced down the levee.”

Q&A with Jennifer

Tell us about your story...

Summer of the River Bottom Dragon is about redemption and forgiveness of a daughter for her father. It plays out through a young girl’s view of a dragon who becomes an ally.

What was the inspiration for this story?

It was inspired by the stories of families I grew up with. My mother had so many great stories she shared with me in her later years that I wrote down. She lived with my husband and daughter for a while before she passed over. My Dad did too and both my mother’s parents.

What have you recently read that you loved?

I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries during the pandemic. I have always loved a good mystery! I’ve read all of Tana French’s books.Writers who have inspired my writing include John Steinbeck, Alice Hoffman, Maeve Binchy, Barbara Kingsglover, Alice Walker, Joan Didion, Margaret Attwood, Isabel Allende, Amy Tan, James Baldwin, Marge Piercy, Mary Oliver and so many others.

Someday I want to...

Finish another novel! I have one finished, a historical novel, Princess Judith and Her Viking Captors that is set in what is France and Germany now and Jarvick (York) that is Britain. She is not your stereotypical Princess! She’s a feminist who speaks three languages, is captured by Vikings, married twice, elopes a third time, is Alfred the Great’s stepmother (briefly), and has other adventures you will need to read about.  

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

My favorite thing to do is get out in nature. During the summer I go to more remote places to swim in lakes, rivers and creeks with swimming holes. There are many near Sacramento. I can’t think of anything more relaxing than floating on water!

Do you have any hidden talents?

I’m a visual artist, but I don’t hide my art. I have an MA in Studio Art. I’m a good cook too and love to cook. One of my favorite soups is called Red Soup using Mexican seasonings, tomatoes, squash, chicken or (vegetarian). I love to garden!

On the weekends I like to...

Pretty much everyday is a “weekend” now. Prior to the pandemic I’d attend a concert with my husband, Mike or go to a movie at the Tower Theater — a classic movie theater built in the thirties.

Tomorrow, I absolutely refuse to...

Slow down — life is too short! But I will probably curl up with the cat and dog and a good mystery, and take a 10 minute nap!

Anything else you'd like to share?

I have always written stories in my head, beginning as a child riding my bike or wandering in the orchards near where I lived. People said I was always staring off in space, but I was probably imaging the next bit of drama a character was going to live through.

I wrote my first novel 20 minutes a day before getting ready for my day job. I typed it up at my job in “down” periods. I worked in IT for the CA State Legislature and did everything from designing websites to writing software technical manuals.

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