Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Deb: About those events

I’m not a big shopper, so while others are braving the stores at this time of year, I shift into a less glamorous mode: assessment and planning. As always, I’ll reflect on my writing – where it’s been, where it’s going – but this year I’ll also ponder our programs here at the 49 Alaska Writing Center.

Since the end of April, we’ve launched two instructional terms, hosted a hugely successful retreat, and sponsored author events featuring Heather Lende, David Vann, and Joe McGinniss. We’ve engaged readers in a Book and Tea Talk, and with the masterful orchestration of volunteer Paula Bryner, we’ve hosted regular First Friday book signings. In addition, librarians in Southeast Alaska helped us organize three writer gatherings. And to pay for it all, Andromeda and her fundraising team have devised fabulous ways to generate support.

Not bad for a newly-born center. But of course we’d love to do more. In the coming months, we’ll ponder options for program expansion: mentoring, distance education, youth programs, community outreach. Mindful of not doing too much too fast, we’ll weigh resources of time, money, and energy against various needs. As always, we welcome your input.

Since we’ve already got a track record in the program area of events, we’re turning our attention there first. While nothing is firm yet, I thought you might like a sneak peek of some of our planning – and we’d love to have you weigh in with your thoughts.

We began with these questions:

• What’s strong in the literary events scene?
• What’s missing in the literary events scene?
• Which models from other places do we like?
• How do we ensure that every event is successful and meaningful?
• How can we help Alaskan authors to become better presenters?
• Which venues are best for which types of events?

Agreeing that typical readings work from outdated models that often do little to engage readers with writers and books, we envisioned four broad categories of events, labeled here with working titles:

• CROSSCURRENTS: Because books aren’t just for reading, the Crosscurrents onstage conversations would unite authors and audiences through lively, moderated discussions on questions pertaining to art, culture, and science as illuminated by writers and their work.

• SYNERGIES: Following the Still North model of reading and performance, these would be uniquely experiential, literary-centric events that bring together sometimes disparate communities of artists and writers.

• GATHERINGS: Hosted in homes or cafes, these are informal opportunities to chat with visiting writers about craft.

• CELEBRATIONS: These may include occasional “open mic” readings by our students as well as collective book launch events. We’re also pondering a week-long “Alaska Book Celebration” that encourages libraries, schools, and bookstores to feature Alaska authors and books.

That’s our rough thinking so far. Now we’d love to hear yours. Are we close to the mark with events that support creative writers from throughout Alaska at all stages of their development while building an audience for Alaska literature? To what extent would you be excited about attending events like these? Any that you’d love to help out with? Any important event types we’ve missed?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Deb: Take Two, Cindy Dyson

Dyson shooting a black powder rifle at Bannock, a Montana ghost town.

"If everybody loves you, then you probably aren’t that interesting." That's some of the best author advice I've heard. It comes from Sharpie-art wearer, code-lover, Marmalade Sunlover, Alaskan-at-heart Cindy Dyson. On September 21, 2009, we first ran this interview with Dyson, whose novel And She Was sparked lots of lively discussion at our online book club the following week.

Almost a year later, Dyson contacted us to say that she'd be in Anchorage over the holdiays and would love to teach a course for us, with all proceeds donated back to support programs for writers and books through our non-profit.  The holidays aren't normally prime time for instruction, but how could we turn down a gift like that?  I'm thrilled at the chance to learn her perspective on the fine art of micro-editing, and of course I can't wait to see how she makes good on her intention to "flog everyone toward Whoville, where all the happy authors join hands and sing about their six-figure advances."

We still have openings in Dyson's class, and we'd love to have you join us on Dec. 22 at 6:30 p.m.  Give yourself a break from the holiday madness and on this Black Monday of cyber-shopping, do something nice for your writer-self by signing up today for Cindy's "Writer v. Grinch:  The Fine Art of Micro-Editing."  And remember, your entire course fee ($29 for members; $35 for non-members) goes to support future programs at 49 Writers

And She Was began as most good novels do, with a compelling character who wouldn’t let you rest until you told her story. What challenges did you face in the transition from journalism and non-fiction work-for-hire to writing a novel that demanded to be written?

It was weird switching to fiction. I’d find myself fingering the phone when I’d write, trying to figure out what source to call to find out what happened next. I’d laugh at myself but couldn’t stop. I remember the afternoon when it hit me that I could just make stuff up. I looked out the window at piled snow and felt exhilarated, free but also a little scared.

Of course, I did a great deal of research for the book, so the researcher/reporter side of me had plenty of work to do. I like including a strong nonfiction component in my fiction. If I’m not feeling particularly creative one day, I can use my writing time to research. The best of both worlds.

When did you live in Alaska? How long did you stay? What were your early impressions of the place, and how did those change?

My folks moved to Alaska from Seattle in the dead of winter when I was three. I remember peeing out the door of an old Cadillac. Other than my senior year in high school, when I went to live with my recently widowed grandmother in northern California, I lived in Alaska until I was twenty-two. I went off to finish college in Missouri, got my first reporting job in upstate New York, and then followed my husband to a job in Montana. He’s from Alaska, too, and both our families all live up there. We come up every Christmas and every other summer, and we both think we’ll end up back there for good someday.

I had no idea Alaska was unique until I began living elsewhere. When I moved to Missouri, I remember having this ah-ha moment about mountains. I would get so lost in the flatlands of Missouri, nothing but another water tower to orient me. And the feel. I realized then that living among mountains gave me a sense of being held by the land, cradled. Flatland felt more like I was placed on the land, set down all on my own. I also never knew how much an ocean nearby gave me a sense of security. There’s this little thing in me that gets nervous living inland. I just got back from a trip to Seattle and made a beeline for the harbor to get that feeling of landscape security back — if only for a morning.

And then there’s the people. I’m terribly unaware of myself at times, forgetting that I haven’t put on a bra or shoes or am still sporting some Sharpie-art on my face from my son’s latest artistic phase when I go out. People in the Lower 48 tend to notice this stuff more readily than Alaskans. In Alaska I rarely feel like an oddball. I think Alaskans are odder in general so you just get the sense that the small stuff doesn’t matter. I hate that I know this and that it makes an impact on me.

Oh, and the wrinkles. As I age, I’m more and more thankful I grew up in Alaska where sun damage is tough to achieve. I’ve only got one wrinkle so far!

I love your website almost as much as your book – not just the great effects, but the effort you seem to have taken to show your spirit. How tough was that to accomplish, and does the effort pay off?

Oh, thank you. I love it too, although right now it’s in transition as I gear it toward Novel Two. (Rough draft almost done.) When ASW sold, I was just going to hire a web designer to give me something arty and moody. I found three I liked and asked for presentations. I told each one, “Nobody needs my site so I want you to feel free to play, to do weird things.” Every one of them came back with a design that was not much more than a brochure on the web - pretty brochures, but nothing that took advantage of the difference between paper and electrical pulses.

I was disappointed, and my husband said, “Well why don’t you do it yourself?” I looked at him like he’d asked me to try those icky thong underwear again. “Why don’t you do your own laundry?” I said. But it got me thinking and poking around. I bought a couple thick manuals — few things I love more than a ponderous manual, a full bottle of wine, and a long lonely night — and started through the tutorials. I discovered I loved coding. I made a few play sites hand coding, then moved on to Dreamweaver and Flash. Perhaps even more than manual pounding, I loved the discussions with my husband about technology and psychology and expectations and desires. We had so much fun doing it. Frustrating at times, but the net is full of geeky esoteric discussions of coding minutia so the resources are right there.

My happiest web moment came when HarperCollins called saying they were trying to encourage their authors to have more engaging websites and had picked two of their best author sites. I was one of them. They wanted to know my designer so they could steer other authors to him or her. I jumped up and down and yelled, “It was me! It was me!” until they hung up.

As for the site selling more books, I’m afraid it was a big waste of time. I loved doing it and am excited as I work on the next one. But it’s more a guilty pleasure than a smart business move. Perhaps it has been useful for people who’ve already read the book to find out more. But to tell the truth I rarely get hits on the pages that detail WWII in the Aleutians, or the Elbow Room, or Aleut history. Most of my hits came to the page on which I gave advice on query letters.

For authors thinking of making or upgrading a site, I say do what is fun for you rather than what you think you’re supposed to do.

What’s your response to critics who fault writers for setting their stories in cultures that are not their own?

I think this is a legitimate criticism. And it actually gets to the heart of what I strove to bring out in the novel. I wanted to see what would happen when a lost woman from one culture (my own, at least in part) confronted another culture, particularly the women from another culture. It was the clash that I was interested in. In this case, Brandy’s culture was failing her, or perhaps she was failing it. Her family culture certainly failed her. It’s rare that stuck people get free. Often it takes a tidal, sweeping change, and few changes are as dramatic as being tossed into an unknown culture. If she wasn’t going to get unstuck in the Aleutians among the Aleut women, she was probably doomed. From my white-girl POV, they had what she needed.

I read voraciously about the Aleuts, had lived in the Aleutians a few months, went back for research, interviewed sociologists, Aleuts, archeologists, but my understanding of that culture was necessarily skewed. Especially when it came to writing about the Aleut culture at and just after contact times because so little is known. Aleuts themselves lost too many people too quickly to understand or recapture that way of life.

For me, I made a decision early on that although there may be oodles of stuff I could never understand, there was one thing I understood very well. What it means to be a mother. I was working on an article about Aleutian birds for a birding magazine, and as usual did way more research than necessary. I was obsessed. I kept trying to sell more Aleutian articles but couldn’t find any takers. I began to wonder if the only way to make a buck off my obsession was to write a book.

I was pregnant with my first baby and remember sobbing as I read about the conquest history of the Aleutians. The mothers who saw their babies’ heads bashed against rocks by the invading Russians. The mothers who watched their children starve because the men had been enslaved to hunt seals far away.

I believed then and I believe now that motherhood crosses pretty much every cultural line. I believe I know how those Aleut mothers felt. And the feeling only intensified when Simon was born and I was holding him. So to those critics I would say, “Yes, you’re right. There is so much we can’t understand about the ‘other,’” and then I would quickly add, “And there are a few things that we understand only too well.”

My favorite bad review is from an Aleut woman on amazon. She takes me to task for making all the Aleuts drunks and whores. I refute her criticism by saying, most of the white folks are drunks and whores as well, and pointing to Anna and Ida, stalwart Aleut women whom I certainly looked up to. It’s okay to call a drunk a drunk, and it’s okay to write about them. We are often most critical of what we fear in ourselves.

It is an embarrassment and a shame that so many of America’s indigenous peoples struggle with drugs and liquor. It’s true and it’s awful. I’m not going to be contrite for this bit of truth. The truth is the beginning of freedom, and, yes, it feels awful. In ASW, I was most fascinated by the folks who were willing to go there, to face truth, and to do something about it because once you do, the moral lines get murky and everything gets more interesting.

What advice would you give to writers looking to write a “break-out” novel?

Ummm, that’s a new question for me.

For me, I think it’s been important to decide to trust myself. As I said before, I’m sometimes a little odd, and I have to remind myself that if I’ve grappled with an issue, or respond emotionally to an event or idea, it’s likely lots of other people do too. So I’d say, when you write, trust that your thoughts and feelings will resonate with readers. Be you, to put it succinctly, and don’t coat you with a bunch of explanation. Trust yourself and trust readers to get you. Not everyone will, and you don’t want them to. If everybody loves you, than you probably aren’t that interesting.

My favorite example of this trusting yourself bit is in a scene about Brandy using toilet paper to ascertain the level of her intoxication. If the paper goes all ribbonish on her and she becomes entranced by the flow and wave, she knows she's drunk. This one is straight from my life. I don’t slur or stumble or do anything that would show intoxication, so I’ve used toilet paper as my gauge. I assumed, when I wrote, that I was just weird. But when the book came out, I was amazed by the number of readers who commented on that passage with versions of, “Oh, I do that. I didn’t think anyone else did.” Heartwarming in a dive-bar-sort-of-way, and a great reminder to trust ourselves when we write.

Of course read good books, authors who are way better than you’ll ever be. Love them. Read poetry; write poetry, but don’t let anyone see it.

And maybe most important, get a killer agent. As I was polishing up ASW, I started reading all the how-to books about agents, the publishing process, so I knew my chances of success were 1.5 percent. Dismal. I also knew that if I could get an agent, I’d boost that chance to 50 percent. So I spent months on the agent hunt. I came up with a query writing process that I think is pretty unique. A couple months ago I self published a little booklet about my query ideas with print on demand through amazon. (The Last Query if you’re in the midst of the query process. It’s a very methodical, analytical approach and not for everyone.)

That’s where I went right, taking the time to master that step. I think a good deal of good manuscripts remain in desk drawers because writers didn’t force themselves out of their comfort zone and into mastering this step.

Oh, and my favorite writing book: The Writer’s Journey. It takes Joseph Campbell’s ideas about the hero’s journey and applies it to writing a novel. Of course, Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.

Tell us about your work in progress. Do you agree with the old adage about second books being tougher to write than first books?

Yes, and I would add that they’re often crap. I don’t know how many times I’ve fallen for a first novelist, eagerly snatched up the hardback of the second and been disappointed. Something happens. After the first book, your agent and editor let a polite time go by, then they start asking what you’re working on and when they can see it. This is, of course, while you still have a pile of hand wash and dry clean-only clothes on the bedroom floor from all the spiffy, impractical clothes you bought for your tour and appearances. You’re still trying to remember to buy more Woolite, and they want the outline for your next book.

And then there’s the bit when you sit down to the first blank page of awesome Novel Two, and you think, “Shit, this may actually be read.” You did not have that thought with the first one. You think about “readers” instead of characters and themes, and just when your mindscape enters your story and you’re in the bookworld, you remember there will be readers. Eeek. You have to drink two glasses of wine to get them out of your head. And then you can’t remember where you were going and you just decide to play your guitar or make your husband dance with you in the garage. It is ugly.

So I wrote a whole Novel Two, read the rough draft, and decided it was classic Novel Two and should not escape the office. It lacked heart, too intellectual, too burdened with being a smarty-pants. A couple weeks later, during a misadventure with two girlfriends and a bad band, the idea for Novel Two came. Novel Two. One that had heart from the get-go and now actually has some plot to carry the blood.

Novel Two.One I’m calling something like Cowgirl Gothic or Gothic Cowgirl or Girl Band.

It's a modern western and gothic mixed kind of thing about four college friends who accidentally save an abducted girl, but chicken out on both the girl and their friendship. Twenty years later, they're 40ish, relationships falling apart, lives plugged up by failure and fear. Said rescued girl is on a mission to find and fix the women who saved her. Because of her manic meddling, the women find each other again, start a girl band, save a bunch of hippy vortex worshipers, and confront the baggage they've carried from the night they failed to be true heroes for the girl and for each other.

The research is a hoot. I just got back from a Pink concert in Seattle, and three friends and I have formed a real girl band — Marmalade Superlove (I know). We’re planning our first open mic appearance for October.

I live primarily in my head, and getting into music (I play electric guitar) demands I engage senses I’ve let go dormant. I feel with this book that I’m fulfilling one of my intentions, expressed most aptly from a song (Don’t Forget the Sunscreen), “Do something every day that scares you.” I’m doing that and it feels good, like the feeling you get after the bungee jump is over.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ela: 49 Writers Weekly Round-up

Ready for leftovers – and online shopping? Our Online Holiday Literary Auction starts Nov. 26 and runs through Dec. 5 with literary services and items of interest to readers and writers, from a two-night stay at Sheep Mountain Lodge to a partial manuscript critique by a New York editor. View items and place your bid at http://stores.ebay.com/49alaskawritingcenter. We also still have our book bags (including four to five donated books) for sale at www.49fundraiser.blogspot.com, with newly donated books, some of them signed, refreshing the collection every day.

As you dive into holiday shopping, remember books make great gifts, and personally autographed books are even more fun.  On Dec. 3, our First Friday book signing features Deb Vanasse from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art, 427 D St. in Anchorage.  In addition to signing her read-aloud titles for young readers (Under Alaska's Midnight Sun, Totem Tale, Alaska Animal Babies), Deb will sign books for older readers: Amazing Alaska, ages 7-10; A Distant Enemy, ages 10-14; and Out of the Wilderness, ages 10-14.  She'll also have titles for adults: Picture This, Alaska;Insider's Guide to Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska; and Alaska Off the Beaten Path.

And for even more help with your holiday shopping (and hinting!) we've added a new button for 49 Writers Gift Certificates at our website.

Also new this week is our unveiling of the Winter/Spring term. So many great creative writing classes, so many interesting subjects, with instructors hailing from Unalakleet to Southeast Alaska (and beyond). Full descriptions and registration at www.49writingcenter.org. P.S.: We still have room in our final two fall term clinics: Deb Vanasse’s “Crash Course: Characters” on Dec. 4, and Cindy Dyson’s “Writer v. Grinch” on Dec. 22.

Children's book agent Kendra Marcus is willing to teach her three-hour course "An Agent's Perspective: The 3 R's of Writing for Children" in Fairbanks on Feb. 22, but we need a local Fairbanksan to help host it.  You'll find the course description at http://www.49writingcenter.org/; the Anchorage offering on Feb. 19 is already filling fast.  Email 49writers@gmail.com if you can help.

The Art of Nonconformity. Sound intriguing? It should. Chris Guillebeau is a revolutionary. His message: Work for yourself. Travel anywhere. Change the world (love that one). He’s put together a little manifesto with some of his stories–and those of others he’s met along the way. And he’s coming to Anchorage as part of his 50-state book tour. Come see him in person on Monday Nov. 29, at Metro Books on Benson Blvd. in Anchorage. (I don't have the exact time for this event.)

Geoff Kirsch interviewed our own Deb Vanasse for the Juneau Empire: full text here.

40 Writers also got a mention in Ronald Spatz' interview on the Alaska Humanities Forum blog. Spatz will be teaching a course for 49 Writers  this Spring titled "Getting Published in the Literary Market."

Heartbroke Bay, by Lynn D'Urso of Juneau, is on the shortlist for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers award for 2011.

Capital City Weekly interviewed Alaska writer and poet Vivian Faith Prescott: see here for the full text.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Andromeda: Auction Time! Preview now and prepare to bid on Friday through Dec. 5

Turkeys are cooking, but here at 49writers, we're launching our next online experiment and we're hoping you'll take part and help spread the word.

On Black Friday, we'll begin our first ONLINE HOLIDAY LITERARY AUCTION, which will run for 10 days at ebay. This is the second part of our paired online fundraisers which support our expanding 2011 programs. Once links and bidding go live, visit http://stores.ebay.com/49alaskawritingcenter. Until then, here's a preview of the seven items we're offering up to bid, all lovingly chosen to help writers and readers have a fantastic, productive, and very literary 2011.


You can immortalize your pet in a literary work! Award-winning Fairbanks science fiction author David Marusek (http://www.marusek.com/) occasionally offers pet cameos at auction for local non-profits. His novels, Counting Heads and Mind Over Ship, and a novelette still in the works include a cat and several lucky dogs who have brought in hundreds of dollars for worthy community groups. The auction winner sends a photo and a little bio sketch of their pet. Marusek fits the pet by name and description into an upcoming nationally published story or novel. In the past some of these animals have taken part at critical plot points! Marusek says, “The pet cameo can be pretty much any kind of animal. If it lives with you, I should be able to fit it in. (Alternatively, I can do a cameo of your favorite boat, car, country estate, and so forth. No living people please).” Due to the vagaries of publishing, the release of the novel or story may take up to several years to occur. Minimum bid is $75.00.


Edeleman, author of the international bestseller, Motherless Daughters (which sold over 500,000 copies), as well as a memoir, The Possibility of Everything, is a moving speaker and a leading expert on early parent loss and daughter-mother relations. Invite her into the living room of your next book club gathering and enjoy a spirited conversation about motherhood, daughterhood, the memoir genre, and more. This is bound to be your best book club ever! Read more about Hope and her books at http://www.hopeedelman.com/.


Famous for several years as the kind, savvy voice behind the anonymously authored and much-beloved “Editorial Ass” blog, Moonrat has hung up her blogging shoes, but she continues to discover new authors and intriguing works from her secret editor’s desk somewhere in Gotham. The highest bidder will get a bit of her undivided attention as she reads the first 20 pages of your unpublished work (fiction or nonfiction) and shares her candid appraisal via email critique. This is money well spent if you’re on the prowl for an agent or editor. Soak up some of her archived advice at http://www.editorialass.blogspot.com/.


We all make mistakes, but when it comes to books about Alaska, writers seem to make a bunch. If you’re writing a book set in the north, here’s your chance to check tricky facts and hunt down obscure sources. Or perhaps you’re just beginning to think about an Alaska writing project and need some more general reading and research recommendations. Michael Catoggio of the Loussac Library in Anchorage will offer you three hours of research librarian advice and assistance that could start you on the way to writing the next great Alaska classic.


Your own “Classic cabin” rental. Two nights. Snowy (or green) woods. Yes, they’ll tell you can spend the time skiing 20 kilometers of cross-country trails or exploring nearby Matanuska Glacier. We know you’re going to use this exceptional rustic retreat to catch up on months of glorious reading or to start revising that novel that needs the perfect, quiet place to finish taking shape. Purchaser gets a lodging gift certificate good through Dec. 2011 and a brochure – the rest is up to you! Daydream at http://www.sheepmountain.com/.


Auctioned as a set, this collection includes three books of poetry – Underground Rivers, The Circle of Totems, and Wings Moist from the Other World – plus Peggy’s amazing memoir, Just Breathe Normally, and a beautiful coffee table book, Blaze, with poems by the author and paintings by Kesler E. Woodward. Perfect for anyone interested in the Alaska literary scene or any poetry lover, period. http://www.peggyshumaker.com/.


Everything you ever wanted to know about social media but were afraid to ask - or at least 10 things - will finally be answered. Ask Web pioneer and social media innovator Aliza Sherman those 10 burning questions that have been perplexing you. How do I create a Page on Facebook to promote something? How do I tweet? How can I have a blog if I'm not a writer? How can LinkedIn get me more business? If it's social media, Aliza knows social.

Aliza Sherman (http://www.alizasherman.com/) is a Web pioneer, business and Internet strategist, and social media innovator. She is the author of The Everything Blogging Book, Streetwise Ecommerce, PowerTools for Women in Business and is working on her eighth book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crowdsourcing (Penguin, Spring 2011). She started the first woman-owned Internet company in 1995, Cybergrrl, Inc., and the first women’s Internet organization, Webgrrls International. She also co-founded one of the first social media marketing agencies, Conversify.

...we still have book bags packed and ready to go out the door, topped off with great signed books that continue to roll in, from authors including Jo-Ann Mapson, Kim Addonizio, Heather Lende, and many more. The fixed cost (no bidding required!) is $80, which includes five donated books plus shipping. For more book bag info please visit http://www.49fundraiser.org/.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Deb: It's a small state after all

I'm back from a whirlwind author tour of Southeast Alaska - Ketchikan, Sitka, and Juneau - a scheme initially concocted by Charlotte Glover, 49 writers member/fan/contributor and librarian extraordinaire, pictured here with her assistant Debbie and me. Debbie, by the way, makes wonderful posters and displays for their visiting authors.

I'm seconding Tricia's shout-out to librarians like Charlotte and Debbie and Maite (in Sitka) and Sarah (also in Sitka) and Jonas (in Juneau). Together they arranged a logistically complicated author's tour that included nine school presentations for groups ranging in size from 20 to 200, one community presentation, two radio interviews, one preschool story hour, three writers gatherings, two 49 Writers courses, and an impromptu visit with detainees at Johnson Youth Facility in Juneau. And arranging wasn't the half of it. These tireless advocates for authors and books toured me around, fed me great meals, welcomed me into their homes, hauled sound systems and projectors, and fussed with all the little details of where to be when and who pays whom for what.

Beyond the fun of watching 200 first and second graders fall silent for the reading of a story (my story!), I was jazzed by the unflinching support of these librarians for the writers in their communities. They not only let us use their facilities to offer 49 Writers courses, they subsidized the entire course fee for the students (and laid out great spreads of snacks, too). As a result, both workshops were full, with waiting lists. And when I mentioned that I wanted to meet informally with writers in their communities, they set up writers gatherings at local cafes.

The response from writers was tremendous. I enjoyed meeting people I'd only chatted with online. Writers got acquainted with one another, exchanging email addresses and critique ideas. They offered input on how we could build our statewide outreach with more face-to-face courses, possibly augmented by electronic follow-up. They enthused over possible e-mentoring and apprenticeship opportunities, ideas that are still in the discussion stage here at 49 Writers.

Everywhere, there was the joy of interacting with the next generation of readers and writers. Students at Baranoff Elementary presented me with a book they had made, a spin-off from one of my own. Coming into a cafe where I was grabbing a quick bite to eat before my next presentation, a young girl announced to her mom, "Look! It's the author!" The boys at Johnson Youth Center talked eagerly about their writing projects and publishing possibilities. There was talk of collaboration and possible ongoing support from local writers. It's the sort of excitement we hope to embrace as we consider how 49 Writers can best reach out to youth, perhaps through models like 826 or WITS.

These are the sorts of partnerships we've been keen to build at 49 Writers - communities of readers and writers sharing resources and thinking outside our individual boxes to support the work of Alaskan authors and their books. Exhausting as it was, I'm eager to get out and do it again, or to send a new author emissary to writers statewide.

In the meantime, a tip for any who plan to talk writing and books to a couple hundred young writers in the five to six age range: C.R. Raven (Corvax McCarthy to you) is a big help.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Bookish Type: A Guest Post by Tricia Brown

A couple of months ago, a woman in our book club showed up with her sleek Kindle while the rest of us were toting along curled-cover softbound editions of The Help. I was curious about the device, but an uneasy sense of reader-pity also rose up: Oh, you poor thing. You’ve lost your way. The topic of Kindle v. paper and ink is getting almost as touchy as politics and religion, even among those of us who try to probe gently in consideration of our neighbor’s opinion before advancing our own. Really? You love it that much? The answer is yes, they really do. As we learned recently, downloaded book sales have surpassed those of paper books on Amazon.

I don’t question my cousin’s enjoyment of a book she’s downloaded to her Sansa so she can listen while she walks. So why this gut reaction to trading out actual reading media?

For me, it might be the way books smell and feel and look. I love to handle them, befriend them, take good care of them. I love the crinkly sound of the protective covering that librarians use on their hardbounds. I love to run my fingers over the deckled edges and study the page design, the font selection, the running heads. I have this streak of pride in which I try not to break the spine of a new paperback. And of course, no dog-ears. Sticking my nose into the pages of a textbook—new or used—at the beginning of a school year was always a heady experience.

I grew up in a small Midwest town where the summer days were muggy and oppressively hot. Our public library was small, but cool and inviting. Outside glare was absent and road noise muffled as soon as the door closed behind me. It was a protected world, and yet it presented a safe passageway to other places and other lives far from the cornfields. I’d sit in the stacks and begin a dozen books before choosing which ones would ride home in my bike basket. I still associate reading for pleasure with heat and humidity.

And then there were the librarians, who seemed so blessed to stay and dwell among all those splendid books when I had to go home to my dreary life. As a girl, I marveled at how good they were at stamping due dates in a tall stack of books. (Many of you remember that sound, a satisfying “thump,” instead of an electronic beep.) I was thankful when they shushed the noisy kids. They were bugging me, too. And when I checked out, I often heard endorsements of my selections and I simply glowed inside. Every librarian I met was so smart and adept, so worthy of my worship.

Lately I’ve been working with some wonderful librarians who are helping arrange my author visits to their schools or public libraries. And I’m still in awe of their earnest love for books and how they encourage children to read. In every state where I’ve traveled to speak, I see librarians who are selflessly hustling—trying to bridge the budget gaps, shoehorning special events and fairs into a full schedule, scrapping on behalf of the voices on their shelves, and especially working for the kids who visit their libraries every day.

I know they’ll say it’s all about the students. But I also know each has a personal story to tell—similar to mine only in that they, too, have fallen in love the written word, be it on paper, on the “pages” of a Kindle, or in the narration of an MP3 player. And that love is contagious.

You can’t see me, dear librarians, but I’m giving you a standing ovation.

Oh, and Santa, if you’re reading this, I’m thinking about a Kindle for Christmas . . .

About November’s guest blogger:

Tricia Brown will be visiting Fairbanks in early December to read and sign her holiday classic, Alaskan Night Before Christmas (Pelican Publishing) at various schools and other venues. She will release four new books in 2011 from Pelican Publishing, Alaska Northwest Books, Fulcrum Publishing, and Sasquatch/Paws IV. Her website is http://www.triciabrownbooks.com/.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ela: 49 Writers Weekly Round-up

Book Bag Fundraiser: New titles are being added each day as new donations continue to roll in. We're halfway to our goal of selling fifty bags. $80 for a great bag of four to five books. Please order soon and thanks if you've already done so! http://www.49fundraiser.blogspot.com/. Coming in less than one week: our online literary auction, starting on Black Friday. It's going to be really fun.

Join Anchor Park Reading Group for a discussion of this month's selected book, "This is not Civilization" by Robert Rosenberg, on Tuesday, November 23rd, from 7:00 to 8:00 pm. Although most of us have no idea of what's going on in our heads, brain scientists have figured out a lot about how the brain works. John Medina explains what scientists know... Barnes and Noble, 200 East Northern Lights Blvd, Anchorage, AK.

Gulliver's Books in Fairbanks is having their 25th Anniversary Celebration book signing next weekend, November 19th-21st. Featured authors are: Friday November 19th, 4-6pm, Glenda Field, "Aliska, Alaska, Charlie's in Alaska," Saturday, November 20th, Noon-2pm, Sue Ann Bowling, "Homecoming," Saturday, November 20th, 3-5pm, Annie Tupek, "Pacific Northwest Reader, Courting Morpheus," Sunday, November 21st, 1-3pm Debbie Miller, "Survival at 40 Below."

As part of the Arctic Refuge's 50th anniversary celebration, a play titled "Wild Legacy" (based on the writings of Margaret Murie) is touring Alaska in December. While here in Anchorage, the theater troupe will lead a "sense of place" workshop, intended to "provide participants with fresh ways to investigate the staging of written texts and personal narrative" particularly as it relates to experiences in the nature. Limited to 25 participants, the workshop will take place Saturday Dec. 11, from 10 a.m. to noon (Location tba). Anyone who is interested should contact Maureen Clark at 786-3469.

The 2010 ENDEAVOUR AWARD WINNER is Mind Over Ship by David Marusek, who received a $1,000 grant and an etched glass plaque produced by Kent, Washington, artist Ashley J. Harper. The award is for a distinguished science fiction or fantasy book written by a Pacific Northwest author or authors and published in the previous year. The award represents a collaboration between writers and fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy to encourage the growth of literature in the field and recognize works of excellence. It is named for H.M. Bark Endeavour, the ship of Northwest explorer Capt. James Cook. The award is announced annually at OryCon, held in Portland, Oregon.

Congratulations to UAA MFA Fiction candidate Heather Lende, who has been writing and publishing stories about small town life in Haines, Alaska, for many years, first as a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, and then as an author of two nonfiction books. And now, millions more will have a chance to gain some fresh perspective on this phenomenal place because Heather has become a national columnist for Woman’s Day Magazine! Heather will be contributing many more pieces to Woman’s Day throughout 2011.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Andromeda: Some personal news

I announced it on Facebook and I'm announcing it here, with pleasure: My second novel, The Discus Thrower, has been accepted for publication by Soho Press. The book is set in Italy 1938, and is a road adventure story, through Tuscany and the Piedmont, about classical art, politics, and love. Pub date is early 2012. Best of all, I'll be working with an editor I really, really admire.

When my 16-year-old son heard me making anxious comments about post-publication issues (like marketing), he said, "So which of part of this process do you like?" Well, the truth is, before I was published, I thought publication was the best part. Walking into a store and seeing the book on the table. Checking Amazon and getting a peek at customer reactions.

But in truth, I get really nervous about the reviews, sales figures, and all that. My favorite part, actually, is now: the opportunity to collaborate with an editor, to finally be part of a team after working on something alone (mostly) for so long. I'm always hoping, up until the final proof, to learn something more from the story itself, to have a last-minute epiphany as the excess is pared away and the best of the work emerges. The butterflies in my stomach are dancing around at that prospect: of spending the winter holidays working on a manuscript. (We writers have strange ideas about the ideal 'vacation,' don't we?)

Happy as I am at this moment, I could almost forget about the recent times I was quite unhappy about writing. But darn (or bless!) the electronic trails a blog leaves behind. For example, my August post, Cold Night in Rejection City. I mention it because several of you took time after reading that post to email or call, to offer sage advice or a silly link to something funny when I needed it most. Thanks again for that.

And: Wahooooo!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Andromeda: Old and New AK Classics in our Fundraiser Book Bags

"... short stories telling of the life in the northernmost state ... unique and original ... a sign that Ravicz is an author to look out for in the future." -- Midwest Book Review

Two of our favorite things about being part of this collaborative blog: The chance to interview and read about writers we want to know better in an era of thinning newspapers and disappearing book review sections. And the chance to keep looking for those Alaska books with something new to say -- books that may contribute, decade by decade, to the development of an Alaska literature.

Tanyo Ravicz is one of the intriguing authors we've featured here recently. He was kind enough to donate two books, including the short story collection above, to our Book Bag Fundraiser.

We've got lots of other great Alaska titles represented in our book bags as well: old classics and possible future classics. Randomly distributed in our $80 bags (which contain four to five books, shipping included) are Two Old Women by Velma Wallis, Cold River Spirits by Jan Harper-Haines, Beluga Days by Nancy Lord, The Accidental Explorer by Sherry Simpson, Living with Wildness by Bill Sherwonit, and Willie Hensley's Fifty Miles from Tomorrow. (Any of these books a favorite of yours?)

Many more great Alaska authors (and non-Alaskans as well) have donated books and are listed at our fundraiser site, http://www.49fundraiser.blogspot.com/, where you'll find it easy to place your book bag order.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Andromeda: We've got poetry! Book Bag Fundraiser Update

What do Anne Coray, Anne Caston, Peggy Shumaker, Mike Burwell, Derek Burleson, Sandy Kleven, and Elizabeth Bradfield all have in common? They're all Alaska poets or poets with strong AK connections and they all have books in our Fundraiser Book Bags, either donated directly by the poets or their colleagues. (A huge thanks to Peggy Shumaker who sent an entire box of new books by various poets -- all of them wonderful.)

We've been selling the book bags for one week and we hope to sell them out by the holidays. All money raised supports our programs, events, and classes in 2011. For $80, buyers get a raven logo tote bag plus four or five books, randomly assembled, shipping included. It just happens that nearly every single bag has, in addition to novels, memoirs, and other types of books, at least one book of poetry -- something we didn't plan, but are happy to boast about, because these are some collections that any book lover would enjoy owning. For more info on the fundraiser and to order, go to http://www.49fundraiser.blogspot.com/.

Need a free poem to start your day? Click here to read Elizabeth Bradfield's "No More Nature," at her website.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mysteries and Malice: A Guest Post by Tricia Brown

Years ago, I attended a conference in Dallas called Women Writing the West, where I got a kick out of watching a series of people pitch their book ideas to a panel of agents, editors, and one top-level screenplay writer.

Each person had three minutes to present his or her book idea. They’d been encouraged to practice ahead of time, even in front of a mirror if necessary, to get it right. First impressions are critical, and so the more theatrical types even wore costumes to get noticed. There was a loud buzzer at the end of three minutes, and wham, they were done. Panelists then got to ask a few questions, and the best of the presenters heard those sweet words, “Let’s talk afterwards.”

One woman had written a mystery, so she stepped up wearing a fedora and a raincoat.

“Ok, go,” said the moderator.

“Imagine . . . the . . . unimaginable,” said the woman, drawing out the syllables and moving jazz hands through the space around her. After three minutes of listening to her bewildering talk, none of us had a clue about what she was proposing to publish. Except that, yes, it was a mystery. Then came the buzzer, and the opportunity for questions.

“Uh, so what’s the book actually ‘about’?”

The woman’s responses were all so guarded that we never quite heard a synopsis in the tangled mess of words. And then she said it: she was afraid that if she talked too openly, someone would steal her book idea. It was that good. I think I actually heard a snort from more than one place in the room.

“I’m sorry, but we can’t make a judgment unless we know more detail,” said one diplomatic panelist. And the writer’s singular opportunity passed.

During the years that I was reviewing manuscripts for publication, I’d heard this concern a few times. What if the publisher lifts my idea and has somebody else write it? While I can’t say it’s never happened in the publishing realm, I have no firsthand knowledge of such a theft. There are plenty of ideas to go around.

And then, just this past week, I was accused of that very thing in an email that went to one of my publishers. It was a sarcastic, mean-spirited letter written by a person who has found success in book publishing, but had had several proposals declined, long ago, by then-editor Tricia Brown. (As it happened, I had to say no to lots of people back then and turned down some great ideas when we had a full slate of books scheduled, and no intent to expand the list. Occasionally something similar was already in the works, and sometimes another house had recently published something similar. There were many reasons.)

The writer of the email implied that I’d recognized a good idea, waited for years to pass, and written the book myself. I was deeply stung by the charge, and the email was loose with details such as dates and names, except for my own. The accuser even said that I’d asked for several rewrites before declining. Anguished, I wracked my brain. Why would I ask for rewrites when I couldn’t take in any new books? Could this have really happened? How could I not remember?

The reality was, each week I reviewed so many unsolicited manuscripts, and wrote so many “I’m sorry, but no, thanks” letters, that none of them stands out in my memory. Once a manuscript was rejected, it was rejected. We put our energy toward the stuff that was actually going to print.

My publisher was kind enough to ask for my “point of view” before responding to the email. I got in touch with a couple of former colleagues, and thankfully, one of them had the details—written proof that put my mind at ease. The in-house discussion surrounding the author’s story idea, this particular proposal, happened three years after I left the company. No wonder I couldn’t “imagine the unimaginable.”

Idea theft could and does happen, but not here, not with me. And yet someone was motivated to write a personally devastating email before checking the facts.

Why, do you suppose? It’s a mystery to me.

About November’s guest blogger:

Tricia Brown is the author of four children’s books and many nonfiction books for adults, all on Alaska subjects. In May, Sasquatch Books of Seattle will release her newest children’s book, Patsy Ann of Alaska, illustrated by Jim Fowler; and Fulcrum Publishing of Golden, Colorado, will release the fourth edition of Tricia’s travel book, The World-Famous Alaska Highway: A Guide to the ALCAN and Other Wilderness Roads of the North. Her website is http://www.triciabrownbooks.com/.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Andromeda: More beautiful signed fundraiser books have arrived -- by Hoagland, Doerr, Larsen, Stiles, Kizzia, and Weiss

I could spend the weekend with any one of these six books that just arrived and are being added randomly to our book bag shipments heading out the door or next in line for lucky orderers. The donations are all thanks to Miranda Weiss of Homer, who reached out to these great writers for help with our fundraiser. Every one of these books is signed -- all really beautiful editions. They include Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen (amazing illustrations), Early in the Season: A British Columbia Journal by Edward Hoagland, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by National Book Award winner T.J. Stiles, The Wake of the Unseen Object by Alaska's own Tom Kizzia, and Miranda Weiss's lyrical Tide, Feather, Snow.

Want a chance of snagging one of these? Click on the book photo at right or go to http://www.49fundraiser.blogspot.com/. Thanks for supporting our Book Bag 2010 fundraiser.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ela: 49 Writers Weekly Round-up

A reminder to writers in Southeast Alaska: 49 Writers is headed your way, and we’d love to meet with you at one of our no-host Writers Gatherings. Come catch the excitement, tell us about your writing, and share ideas about how we can better serve your area. In Ketchikan: Monday, Nov. 15, 4:30-5:30 pm at The Point (across the parking lot from the Plaza Mall in the new condo complex on the water). In Sitka: Thursday, Nov. 18 at 9 am Smith Street Cafe (215 Smith Street -- formerly the Grind Cafe). In Juneau: Saturday, Nov. 20, 2 pm, Silverbow Café, 2nd St. For all gatherings, please RSVP with Deb at 49writers@gmail.com or 907-388-9303.  There's also still time to sign up for our free courses in Sitka (Nov. 17) and Juneau (Nov. 20). Our thanks to the librarians in Ketchikan, Sitka, and Juneau for making all of this possible.

Tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 13, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.,  come to the UAA Campus Bookstore for "Writing My Story: Memoirs of Alaska Native Writers." Join Lucy Daniels and Burton Haviland Jr., contributors to the anthology "Purely Alaska," in a discussion exploring memoirs and non-fiction essays. "Purely Alaska," recently released by Epicenter Press and edited by Susan Andrews and John Creed, is a collection of life experiences by rural Alaskans.

Daniels, Haviland and other writers will lead a conversation on ideas for writing your own life story, from tales of daily life, to handling sensitive topics; from passing on cultural traditions, to just getting started on your story. Book signing and refreshments will follow.

The event is part of Alaska Native Heritage Month, and is sponsored by Alaska Center for the Book, the UAA Campus Bookstore, and the Alaska Native Heritage Month Committee.
Free admission and parking. For information, call (907) 764-1604 or e-mail carolben@gci.net

Also tomorrow, Saturday November 13th, at 1:00pm at Barnes & Noble, 200 East Northern Lights Blvd, Anchorage, AK, the exciting ladies from Pulpwood Queens Book Group share their love of reading during an extra special storytime the second Saturday of every month. Don't miss it!

On Sunday, November 14th,at 1:00pm, Hearthside Books is pleased to welcome back Ray Troll, fishy artist from Ketchikan. Ray will present his new book, Something Fishy this Way Comes: The Artwork of Ray Troll. Hearthside Books, Nugget Mall, 8745 Glacier Highway, Juneau, Alaska 99801

On the same day (Sunday November 14th), in the same place, at 6:00pm, join Hearthside for their 4th Annual Holiday Event. Featuring: Local authors with new titles, Discounted Holiday Catalog Titles, Refreshments, Live Music, Doorprizes.

On Tuesday November 16, at 11:00am, come to UAA Campus Bookstore, for The Tatilek Production of 'A Native Lad.' Presented by Sarah Hurst. This event is a part of Alaska Native/Native American Heritage Month. This is a UAA Campus Bookstore event and parking is free. 3211 Providence Drive, Anchorage, Alaska

Also on Tuesday, November 16, at 5:30pm at Barnes & Noble, 200 East Northern Lights Blvd, Anchorage, AK, there will be a book signing with Sue Henry, the award-winning author of dozens of Alaska mystery novels, including her books Murder on the Iditarod Trail, Degrees of Separation, and Cold as Ice. Stop in to get your signed copies.

Later that same day, in the same location, at 7:00pm, the Alaska Writers Guild's popular writers' group meets (and on the third Tuesday of every month.) Join them at the fireside from 7-8:30pm, where you're sure to enjoy this month's special guest speaker.

On Wednesday, November 17th, at 11:00am, (and every Wednesday), there is a "Write For Your Life" group at Mendenhall Valley library, Juneau. Share a journal, memoir, a letter or poetry. Details: Dixie, 907.789.2068.

On Wednesday, November 17, at 7:00pm at Out North, 3800 DeBarr Road, Anchorage, AK 99508-2011, and on the third Wednesday of each month is featured Poetry Parley, a free poetry event. A different well-known poet is celebrated each month (this month: Emily Dickinson), as well as a local poet who reads their own original work.

On Thursday, November 18, at 7pm, come to Z. J. Loussac Public Library, Wilda Marston Theatre, level one for A Celebration of A Native Lad: Benny Benson Tells Alaska’s Story. Author Sarah Hurst and cartoonists Shanley McCauley, Lee Post and Evon Zerbetz discuss the collaborative effort in the creation of the graphic novel A Native Lad: Benny Benson Tells Alaska’s Story with the guidance of moderator John Weddleton, the owner of Boscov’s Comics. KNBA newscaster Joaquin Estrus will feature with a group reading of a scene about an Alaska school segregation case from Hurst’s original play, which is the inspiration for the book. Vocalist Sandy Cunningham will open the festivities with her performance of the Alaska Flag Song.  Books will be available for purchase and signing. This event is in celebration of Alaska Native Heritage Month and is sponsored by the Friends of the Library.

On Thursday-Saturday, November 18-20th, at 10:00am at Fireside Books, 720 S Alaska Street, Palmer, Alaska: "Customer Appreciation Days" celebration. Treats, specials, and prizes. You can be the first to sign up for the new Customer Rewards Program that allows you to earn Book Bucks for every new book purchase! And on Saturday, Nov. 20 we'll have the Blues! The Valley's Blues Phenomenon, Forest Wilson, will be here to serenade our customers at noon.

Also in Juneau, also on Wednesday November 17th, at 5:30pm, the Adaptation Book Club begin an exploration of books adapted to movies. This month they'll read Persepolis (Complete) by Marjane Satrapi and then watch the film (10/20) and discuss the process, what makes or breaks an adaptation. 2nd and 3rd Wednesdays through December. Call (907) 586-0442 for more info. Douglas Library.

Sandra Kleven was recently featured in a reading for Cirque Journal in Bellingham, WA. The podcast is now live at http://poetrynight.org/ under Podcast, "11-08-10, part 2, feature Cirque Lit Journal."

For the first time ever, Alaskan teenagers will have the opportunity to compete in the writing portion of the national Alliance for Young Artists and Writers competition!

F Magazine is the statewide affiliate, and is accepting submissions now.
Teenagers, grades 7-12 can submit as many pieces they like, in a number of categories:
• Journalism
• Personal essay/memoir
• Poetry
• Novel writing
• Science fiction/fantasy
• Short story
… And more!

Statewide winners will have their work showcased at the MTS Gallery in Anchorage and published in a special issue of F Magazine. Their work will then go on to the national competition, where they will have a chance to be published in a national publication and win thousands of dollars in scholarships.

Deadline is Jan. 7, 2011! 
For more information contact F Magazine: FHideout@gmail.com

For writing competition: www.artandwriting.org/Affiliate/AK001W 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Andromeda: Welcome to our Book Bag 2010 Fundraiser and Thanks to This Charming Couple

Credit where credit is due: We stole our Book Bag 2010 Fundraiser idea from Ayelet Waldman, the Berkeley author who also happens to be married to Pulitzer prize-winner Michael Chabon. Waldman used a grab bag idea -- set number of randomly assembled books, seeded with signed or special editions, sold in a tote bag -- to raise money for Obama in 2008.

Why do an online fundraiser at this time of year? Because it's getting dark and snowy. Holidays are looming and we know you're busy. You don't need to attend another soiree right now. What you may need is an easy, affordable way to help and shop at the same time. Voila! The book bag concept.

When I contacted Waldman this year to share the news that we wanted to try her idea, she answered graciously and was among the very first to send some donated books: a signed copy of Bad Mother, her notorious and wonderful essay collection, and a copy of Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union, a novel set in Sitka that every Alaskan should read. (Chabon visited Anchorage when the book was released and demonstrated once again his unparalleled nice-guy approachability. These two gifted, socially conscious writers set a high bar.)

We opened the fundraiser storefront a little early on Tuesday night when I couldn't wait another anxious second. But today is the day we really start beating the drum: We need your help to sell our 50 Corvax McCarthy raven logo tote bags in order to support our continuing development of writing center programs and events. Each bag comes packed with four to five books from our great collection of donated volumes by Alaska and Outside authors. Some are signed, like the Waldman and Chabon books mentioned above; some are rare. We've also included some freebies, like advanced reader copies and other items generously donated by several publishers and a bookstore, Fireside Books in Palmer.

The $80 price includes shipping and boxes head out the door within 24 to 48 hours of order receipt, in time to beat the holiday rush. To purchase online, a painless process, please go to http://www.49fundraiser.blogspot.com/.At this blog for the next week or two, I'll continue to tell you about a few of the generous authors who donated and I'll mention some of the special books that could show up in any of these book bags. Please take part and help us spread the word.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Voices in the Wilderness: Guest post by Aleria Jensen

This guest post, subtitled "Check out the New Writers Residency in Southeast AK: By Kayak, In Wilderness," was a great surprise in our inbox this month, and just the kind of writers' opportunity we might have missed otherwise. Thanks to Aleria for sending it and good luck to those writers and artists adventurous enough to apply.

Think Xtra-Tufs for nine days. Think deep fiords and high peaks. Whisper-lite stove hissing on gravel beaches. Notebook in the pocket of your paddle-jacket—scribble, scribble, scribble.

If this sounds like your speed, think Voices of the Wilderness Program. This new opportunity sponsored by the US Forest Service (USFS) kicked off its first season in summer 2010. Three artists joined wilderness rangers for week-long field trips in the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, 45 miles south of Juneau, to celebrate art in one of Southeast Alaska’s wildest landscapes.

After being accepted into the program last spring, I was thrilled at the opportunity to head out for a field residency in July. In years past, I’d spent a lot of time in these fiords for both work and play, but never with writing at the center of the experience. Add to that now being the mother of a toddler, and the chance to attend to my own creative space for a week had me all but salivating.

Modeled after the Park Service’s Artists in Residence program, Voices of the Wilderness seeks to highlight both the Tongass National Forest and the National Wilderness Preservation System. The program broadly targets all forms of artistic expression, including visual artists, writers, storytellers, dancers, musicians and performance artists (not limited to Alaskans). Applications for 2011 will likely be due in April with selections made in May.

The program is the brainchild of Barbara Lydon, a wilderness ranger and artist who divides her time between Alaska and Montana. She started thinking about the concept through the course of several experiences in 2009: an artists’ celebration at the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, the World Wilderness Congress in Mexico, and a volunteer stint for the National Park Service in Gates of the Arctic. Now that her original idea has evolved to become an official program, Barbara is looking ahead to 2011. “We’re really excited about the second year of Voices of the Wilderness after the success of the first [year]—the program has just taken off,” she says over coffee on a recent rain-blowing-sideways fall day in Juneau.

So what’s expected of the writer? Artists should be motivated and willing to ‘give back’ after their residency by 1) donating a piece to the USFS to raise awareness about the Tongass, the wilderness area, or the value of public lands, and 2) communicating their experience to the public (this could take the form of a workshop, reading, exhibit, slideshow, performance, etc). A larger art show featuring pieces from the Voices of the Wilderness program is planned for 2014 at The Canvas in Juneau to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

Imagine yourself writing in the fiord, and you’ll get to the particular Alaskan twist here: the platform. Right, a kayak. Whereas a more traditional residency might involve, say, a desk, the USFS residency has artists on the move, shadowing rangers, traveling over water. This is not a sit-and-stare-at-the-mountains kind of week—you paddle, you hike, you explore new terrain. Pick up camp, wake to a new beauty each morning. Write in your tent, on the beach, in between paddle strokes.

And don’t forget the other twist: you’re not plugged in. Think back a decade or two—yup, that’s right, when we actually wrote, as in by hand. Since laptops and kayaks don’t exactly mix, there was no choice but to return to the original state of pen and paper. Hello cold hands, wet fingers, and bad handwriting. Now back at my kitchen table, I’m still trying to translate pieces of chilly chicken-scratch from my Write-in-the-Rain notebooks.

But the lack of a computer is exactly why you’re here. You might camp a half mile from an active tidewater glacier (see if you can sleep with ice crashing through your dreams). You might hop aboard a tour vessel (or, more accurately, wrangle your kayak, huffing and puffing, up the swimstep), where rangers talk to visitors about public lands, management challenges, climate change—and it’s all there in front of you, spelled out in rock and ice. You might race alongside a cruise ship in a small skiff while rangers read smokestack emissions to try to preserve wilderness character.

Voices of the Wilderness gives writers the chance to immerse themselves in this raw world for a week, ponder our relationship to place, and put it to paper. If you want to learn more about applying for a 2011 residency, contact Barbara Lydon at lydon_barbara@yahoo.com. Anyone with questions about the 2010 residency is welcome to contact me at aleriaj@hotmail.com.

Aleria Jensen’s poems and essays have appeared in publications such as Orion Magazine, Alaska Quarterly Review, Tidal Echoes, Potomac Review, and Terrian.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. She currently has work included in the collection Wildbranch: An Anthology of Nature, Environmental, and Place-Based Writing, released this month by the University of Utah Press. Aleria lives in Juneau with her partner, Kevin, and their two year old son.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Deb: 49 Writers Interview with Melinda Moustakis

New Flannery O'Connor Short Fiction Award Melinda Moustakis lives in Kalamazoo, MI, but she writes about Alaska, where she lived as a child and where she retains strong ties.   Her collection Bear Down, Bear North, for which she won the Flannery O'Connor award, features stories set in Alaska.  Moustakis gave us a chance to preview a few of the stories; look forward to the release of the full collection in fall 2011, when the books is released by University of Georgia Press.  You'll also find stories by Moustakis in the 2009 Spring/Summer issue of Alaska Quarterly Review as well as in their Spring 2011 issue.

Imagery associated with rivers and fish runs through your stories. What makes these images important to you?

About six years ago, I started going up to Alaska in the summers to go fishing with my uncle and stay at his cabin on the Kenai River. He knows that river inside and out and I am extremely lucky that he takes me fishing and is an expert fisherman. I don’t know if there’s anything better than when you’re on a drift, dragging for rainbows, there’s no wind, the midnight sun is setting, and all you hear is the flick of a fly rod as you mend your line. I also don’t know anybody who tells a better hunting or fishing story than my uncle. I think this all explains my love of fishing and my love for fishing stories and fishing banter.

In many of your stories, sinister family relationships create tension that’s a lot like a fish running a line under the water – you never know when it will surface. In terms of crafting a story, how does this tension evolve?

I think my writing really came together when I started to marry the idea of fishing or hunting with family relationships. What I mean is, the structure of a fishing story became the vessel that allowed me to write about relationships. If you think about it, when you’re fishing, you have some idea that a fish could bite at any moment, you anticipate it, but, you have no idea exactly what will happen. The fish might bite. You might get skunked and never have a bite. You might hook into a little dolly and throw it back. You might be fishing for rainbows and hook into a monster king and have a story you’ll tell for the rest of your life. In my story, “The Weight of You,” there’s a similar tension built around what the character Gracie wants to tell her brother, Jack, while they are fishing for kings. You know she has something to tell him something. Will she tell him? Won’t she? Why doesn’t she want to tell him? How life-changing is this thing that she has to tell him? Is she making it out to be a bigger deal than it is? Fishing and fishing stories taught me how to structure tension and anticipation.

Alice McDermott advises writers to do what they can get away with. In your stories, you make effective use of second person (“The Weight of You”) and vignettes (“The Mannequin in Soldotna). To what extent do you advise emerging writers to push the conventions of story?

I taught myself how to think about and write different points of view and structures in this collection by pushing convention. You have to take risks in order to learn. My advice is to write the story in the way it has to be told, whatever that happens to be. Even if the story is a failure, you have learned something that will make you a better writer. I started many of these stories over again because the voice or the point of view or structure wasn’t working or clicking in. Then I would try a different point of view like second person or first person plural and suddenly, the story sailed. But there are definite reasons why these stories are in these varying points of view or structures. And all these things are working together to create compelling characters. For me, structure has to inform meaning and vice versa. When that happens, there’s magic. When that happens, a reader comes away from a story with their heart exploding and their brain buzzing. That’s what my aim is because that’s what I feel when I read something wonderful. I know I have fallen for a story when I have to shake it off and swim back to shore, so to speak. Or rather, I feel as if the universe has tilted. I don’t think you can achieve any of these things without taking risks in some way.

Clearly Alaska is important in your work. What keeps drawing you back?

I was born in Fairbanks and grew up in California, and both my parents grew up in Anchorage and my maternal grandparents homesteaded in Alaska. So all my family stories, the ones that were told over and over again, the ones that became part of the family mythology, were set in Alaska. It’s not that I keep getting drawn back, it’s more that I can’t escape it. And I am my best writer self when I write about Alaska. I have tried to write about other things, but they are never as good.

Part of what makes your work so compelling is an intimate tone that suggests you know what you write. To what extent is your fiction grounded in your own life experiences?

I have been fishing quite a bit so I can place the reader on the river. But more than that, my fishing expert uncle has shared his knowledge with me. I know the fishing jargon from listening to my uncle and his buddies and then from learning to tell my own fishing stories. The starting ideas for many of my stories are often inspired from my own life experiences or stories that I have heard or have been passed down to me. Then the process of writing turns that inspirational kernel into this whole new other thing. I write fiction because I like the freedom of changing what needs to be altered in order to make the story better -- like how every time you tell that story about that monster fish you caught, the fish gains a few pounds and inches. The story stretches. The fish stretches. I like to write in that slinky accordion of a space. Also, I know I often write to work through things I don’t quite understand and I think that gives my work a sense of intimacy as well.

With growing recognition of Alaskan-based fiction by writers like you and David Vann (Legend of a Suicide, Caribou Island), is there any sense that Alaskan fiction might one day be recognized as a regional force of its own, like Southern Ontario Gothic?

Absolutely. I think Alaskan fiction has been emerging with writers such as David Vann and also Seth Kantner, Nancy Lord, Lesley Thomas and others. There is a beautiful collection of diverse Alaskan writing and writers in a book I found called The Alaska Reader: Voices from the North. What’s strange is that although Alaska is part of the United States, Canadian literature seems to be more well-known in the lower 48. Some of my writer friends who are southerners have called my work “Northern Gothic.” I like the sound of that. I hope to be a part of the emergence of Alaskan literature – it would be an honor.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Day in the Life: A Guest Post by Tricia Brown

I’ve been an “independent publishing professional” (i.e. author and freelance editor) since 2005, which is to say that checking the mail has become extraordinarily important. Payday comes when it comes, just like the work itself. And the business side of a creative mind must be minded, too. I mentioned last week that I’m not agented, so after a new book comes out and gets its few months in the sun with help from the publisher’s marketing department, I’m virtually on my own for generating promotional ideas and calling to set up signings, readings, special events, and school visits. I’m my own webmaster (although I feel I need to hire a hand there), and I occasionally involve myself in book sales, which means you’re the cashier most of the time, too. And then there’s following up on invoices, another necessary evil.

On the other hand, this arrangement allows me the privilege of taking care of delightful grandkids and attending sporting events and getting the dog to the vet, etc. Yet I can let the house go because “I’m working,” you see? It’s not unusual for ideas to take shape when I’m vacuuming, however.

Often I’m asked to describe a typical workday. First off, there’s no such thing as “typical.” This week, I saw the final round of page proofs for my new children’s book coming out in a few months. They came as pdfs with hi-res art and the last of the little typographic changes in place. Looks good to me. And for a 32-page children’s book, the proofing turnaround time is fairly fast. We’d already done the grunt work months ago. As it happens, the major back-and-forth with the editor happened back in May, when I was traveling the Alaska Highway to update the current edition of that travel guide. Overlapping projects isn’t unusual, of course, and the schedule for each book demanded equal time. So as we chose where to camp, I paid close attention to which campgrounds had wi-fi, and I had to block out time to work intently on the children’s book.

I spent the summer working on the highway book, so while everybody else did their summer fun thing, I was slogging along, fact-checking and updating, writing captions and sidebars—I moved my little office out to the fifth-wheel in the driveway to get away from the house full of people and pets. I was a load of fun to be around. Anyway, yesterday I received the first set of printed color proofs for that book, and I have a couple of weeks to pore over them. Then sometime in the coming week, I’ll be reading the final-final of a memoir I’m editing for a Portland publisher, so more overlap. A week ago, I turned in color proofs of a cookbook on Oregon fruit, which was funded in part by a grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and written by a couple of Oregonian foodies. So another round of page proofs is ahead sometime; don’t know when.

And lastly, I’m the developmental editor for a lavish book on entertaining, with suggestions for parties, décor, menu, wine, and specialty cocktails. The on-site photography took place last week in San Francisco, and the food photography is still ahead (separate photographers). I helped shape the structure, and will be looking at sample chapters soon as our contract writer gets underway.

So there are a lot of fly balls in this little corner of the freelance world. Editing pays better than writing out here, but I still love to entertain children, especially, with the written word. When I chat with people outside the industry, I’m constantly correcting the notion that authors are rolling in dough. Where did that come from? And that booksignings are a boost to the ego—I’ve had feast or famine at those, too, like the time I arrived at a store, and the clerk said, “Oh, is that today?” or when a shopper stopped at the table to ask the way to the bathroom. Other times, there’s a line (to me, not the bathroom). Go figure.

In the end, I feel blessed to have work that’s so satisfying and at times just really fun. The people I get to work with are just pros and I’ve developed deep friendships. Plus I’ve become accustomed to the blank page that lies before me: next month, next year, next project. Less often do I say, “Maybe I need to get a real job.” (But I do still speak the words, particularly when the taxman cometh.)

So you with the “real job,” how’s it going with your own writing and/or editing (not the stuff you do on the job, but what you want to write)? Are you getting fed at the workshops, conferences, writers’ groups?

What do you need to do to finally break out, and how can 49 Writers encourage you? Let’s hear from you.

About November’s guest blogger:

Tricia Brown is the author of four children’s books and many nonfiction books for adults, all on Alaska subjects. In the spring, Sasquatch Books of Seattle will release her newest children’s book, Patsy Ann of Alaska, illustrated by Jim Fowler; and Fulcrum Publishing of Golden, Colorado, will release the fourth edition of Tricia’s travel book, The World-Famous Alaska Highway: A Guide to the ALCAN and Other Wilderness Roads of the North. Her website is http://www.triciabrownbooks.com/.