Friday, September 30, 2011

Ela: 49 Writers Weekly Round-up

The Governor's Official Proclamation of Alaska Book Week

Remember that tonight, Sept. 30 at 7pm you can help officially launch our fall literary season by attending the 49 Writers Student Reading and Celebration at the 49 Writers Café at Out North (3800 DeBarr Rd). All are welcome to celebrate with us as former students read short selections from their work.  Thanks to the generous folks at Great Harvest Bread Company, you'll have a chance to win a gift card if you attend.

Remember, too, that we’re recruiting instructors for our WYAK Write Young Alaska effort. If you’re a writer who’d like to help kids get excited about writing, we want to hear from you by October 1 . We’re working to secure funding so that we can offer payment to workshop instructors. 

Have you made your Alaska Book Week plans yet? Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has made our Alaska Book Week official.  Beginning in only 8 days (October 8), Alaska readers, writers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, and teachers are joining in a statewide celebration of Alaska's authors and books. Panel discussions, book displays, author visits, and book club events are among the activities planned from Barrow to Sitka. (Here’s a tip: if you check the Authors Page, you’ll find that acclaimed author Heather Lende is available for electronic Alaska Book Week appearances.)

Communities throughout the state are encouraged to come up with their own unique Alaska Book Week events, all featured on the Alaska Book Week website thanks to incredible Alaska Book Week volunteer Cheryl Lovegreen. Time’s running out to order free Alaska Book Week posters and bookmarks; the last shipment will be October 4. From October 8-15 we’re offering giveaways of Alaska books to those who comment on our posts at .

In Anchorage, Alaska Book Week festivities include a 49 Writers Crosscurrents onstage conversation on “Fictional Truth” featuring Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction winners Melinda Moustakis (Bear Down Bear North) and Frank Soos (Double Moon, Under Northern Lights) on Oct. 14 at 7 pm in the Anchorage Museum of Rasmuson Auditorium. A question and answer session and book-signing will follow. Copies of the Alaska Quarterly Review featuring a story by Moustakis will also be available. There is no charge for 49 Writers and museum members; a $5 donation is suggested for non-members. 

To wrap up the week, on Oct. 15 Moustakis, whose work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, and the New England Review among other journals, will teach a three-hour course “Writing and the Creative Spark” at the 49 Alaska Writing Center. Registration is required at Don’t wait too long to register: Andromeda’s Time in Narration course that begins Oct. 4 is already full, though we’re still taking registrations for other courses, including Leslie Hsu Oh’s Truth or Dare Nonfiction Workshop that begins Oct. 7.

If you’re a 49 Writers member
, there’s a good chance your membership expires tomorrow (Oct. 1) unless you’re among those who answered last week’s call to renew. And remember that thanks to Barb Hood of the Great Harvest Bread Company, the first 100 people who activate or renew a 49 Writers membership between Sept. 23 and Nov. 1 will receive a coupon for a free loaf of delicious Great Harvest Bread along with their membership cards. 

In addition, if you bring your membership card (yes – we now have membership cards) to our new 49 Writers Café at Out North for our first open studio session on Sunday, Oct. 9, 1-4 pm, you’ll receive a free cup of Raven’s Brew coffee. So don’t delay – join or renew today. Even if you’re renewing, please fill out the membership form so we can make sure our contact information is current. Membership is a great way to support all of our work at 49 Writers – plus you get discounts and invitations to special members-only events.

Congratulations to C. Wehde and Kailey Witrosky, winners of the WYAK Zombies Invade Alaska contest. We’re thrilled to have had so many wonderful entries, including many from outside of Anchorage. Our awesome WYAK volunteer contest coordinator Jen Walker has already teamed us with Kids These Days to offer a new contest for young writers. Aspiring writers ages 10-20 from anywhere in Alaska are invited to write about what it means to be a kid these days. Two winners (one from each age group) will get to read their work aloud on the air. The entry deadline is Oct. 21. Details are at

The Alaska Quarterly Review's Fall/Winter 2011 Issue will be released on Thursday October 6: it will be available in paperback or as an e-Book. Come out for First Friday, October 7, 7pm at Jitters, 11301 Old Glen Highway, Eagle River, for the debut of Alaska Native writer David Singyke and for the music of the UAA Jazz Quartet. The Alaska Quarterly Review may be purchased in an electronic version through or from local bookstores around the state. For more information, please see the website (subscriptions can be purchased here too).

Today, Friday September 30, at 3pm, Jonathan Engelhardt, Acquisitions Editor for the UAF Press will give a craft talk titled “Like an Off-Tempo Waltz: Writers and Editors” in the Kayak Room of the Fairbanks Arts Association, Fairbanks.

Also Today, Friday September 30, 4pm, J.A. Jance, “Amazing Mystery Writer,” will be reading and signing books at the UAA Campus Bookstore. Free and open to all (free parking also).

In Fairbanks tonight, Friday September 30, 7pm, the UAF Midnight Sun Visiting Writers Series presents Dr Johnny Payne and James Englehardt. Wood Center Ballroom, UAF.

On Saturday October 1, 1pm, Christie Lonie will be signing “Life by the Lynn,” a new book about the shrine to St. Therese, at Hearthside Books and Toys, Nugget Mall, 8745 Glacier Hwy, Juneau.

On Sunday, October 2, 11am, the fourth meeting of the "Young Writer Venue Development Committee" will take place in the Meeting Room of the Downtown Kaladi Brothers. Their aim is to promote the Anchorage community of young writers by working with them to develop a circuit of venues for young writers to perform poetry and spoken word projects. Please bring your ideas!
On Monday October 3, 6pm, the UAA Student Union hosts Viva La Poem!--a community-centered poem-sharing. Read a poem of your own, or a poem you love. Free admission, free participation. UAA Student Union, 3211 Providence Drive. Email for more information.

The Alaska Center for the Book monthly meeting will take place at Loussac Library, 3600 Denali St, Anchorage, on Wednesday October 5 at 6pm.

Also at Loussac Library on Wednesday October 5, also at 6pm, Nancy Pearl will speak on “The Pleasures and Perils of a Life of Reading” as part of the library's 25th Anniversary Celebrations. Wilda Marston Theatre.

The featured poet for October's Poetry Parley (October 19, 7pm) will be May Swenson. If you're interested in reading one or some of Swenson's poems, please contact DC McKenzie, who has taken over the reins, asap. The local poet of the month will be Kima Hamilton.

The Fourth Edition of the Delmarva Review has been released. Fiction writers are encouraged to enter the “Delmarva Review Short Story Prize” contest, offering cash prizes up to $500 for first place, plus publication in the 2012 issue. The nonprofit competition, open to all writers, will end on November 1, 2011. See the website for “Contest” details.Writers interested in submitting their work for consideration in the next issue should consult the Review’s website for submission dates and guidelines.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Andromeda: It's About Time, Part III

This is part three of a series about narrative time. In the first post, I talked about the concept of duration. In the second, I talked about "terroir" as a metaphor for character backstory and richness of multiple chronological levels. Today, I'm briefly addressing nonlinear and postmodern narrative. My Time in Narration class that begins Oct. 4 is now full; but I still wanted to share these final time thoughts.

Paraphrasing (and reversing) Kierkegaard's statement: We live life forwards, but we understand it backwards. By this, he meant we understand life by looking back at the past. But some authors have taken the concept further, with stories and novels that not only take place in the past, but really tell their stories in reverse. The classic examples include Martin Amis's Time's Arrow. In this disturbing novel, a Nazi doctor experiences his life -- and morality -- backwards. The novel opens with the guilty doctor living in America, and only later moves to Europe. Characters become younger, and reversed moments have a reversed meaning: Nazi victims are pulled out of the gas chambers, not put into them. Acts of violence heal injuries. Treatment causes greater pain. (Just explaining this novel is a challenge, and I find myself wanting to read it again!)

Justin Torres, an up-and-coming writer who recently visited Alaska -- and whose debut novel is making a big splash -- authored a story in the August 1 New Yorker, "Reverting to a Wild State," that is also a story told in three reversed sections. How does a story told in reverse change our understanding of cause and effect or influence our sympathy for characters? The Torres story is short and easy to access -- a great place to start if you're curious about how chronology can define a story's heart.

It pleases me to be reminded that writers don't always have a master plan. They stumble upon structures, experiment and revise, make up new rules that challenge their own defaults. That was the case for Jennifer Egan, whose A Visit From the Goon Squad, a wonderfully entertaining novel, recently won the Pulitzer and has quickly gained a popular following.

I've heard that Egan considered telling her novel in reverse, but then realized that even "backwards" is linear, just in another direction. She decided to try something different, ordering her book in an entirely unconventional way, with unpredictable jumps from one chronological moment to another, allowing the story to sprawl in an elaborate mosaic or modular fashion, over several decades. The novel even flashforwards to the near future. Time is not all that Egan was playing with: each chapter is told through a different main POV, and written in a different tone or style. (The most famous chapter is a Powerpoint presentation.) The fact that we, as modern readers, can make sense of this structure with relative ease tells us something about our hyperlinked, multimedia, playlist culture. We're used to jumping around these days. Narrative interruptions, unexplained gaps, and idiosyncratic mixes feel almost familiar to us.

When we write, do we consider the many options available to us? When we read, do we ask ourselves why a story or memoir has been fashioned into a particular chronological structure? Will our digital, internet future change storytelling, just as film did, making us more comfortable with certain techniques, from flashbacks to mosaic structures? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Andromeda/Your Turn: PFD Dreaming...

If you're like me, you already have your PFD mentally spent on necessities, long before it arrives on October 6. But let's pretend. If you were to receive an Alaska PFD payment of $1174+ and had to spend it only on writing and/or reading splurges, what would they be?
Here's how I'd parcel it out.

  • I'd renew my 49writers membership.

  • I'd go on a $200 spending spree at Title Wave, buying a slew of used books.

  • I'd buy a few tickets to upcoming theater productions, in hopes of inspiration and in order to support the great events I all too often miss.

  • And with the rest, I'd buy myself five days of hermit seclusion at a seaside cabin in Seward, taking advantage of low winter rates to do some novel revisions. Ah: the sound of waves rolling over stones, the tap of keys or the scratch of the pen.
That was easy. What about you?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Navigating the Truth, Part I — The Line Between Fiction and Nonfiction: A Guest Post by Leslie Hsu Oh

In May, Andromeda asked whether you were reading nonfiction differently these days in light of news about Frey, Mortenson, and Steinbeck.Leslie Hsu Oh teaches creative writing and business communications at the University of Alaska Anchorage.  Her essayBetween the Lines” was listed as a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2010. She will be teaching a workshop called “Truth or Dare: Nonfiction Workshop” from Oct. 7-9.    In this course, you’ll examine ethical dilemmas that poets, fiction, and nonfiction writers successfully navigated in their critically acclaimed nonfiction.  You’ll  also write and workshop pieces that you might be afraid to publish.  Register today!

When Mary Karr sprang up to the podium in her leather knee high boots at the Northern Virginia Fall for the Book Festival and hammered the point that there is no thin line between nonfiction and fiction, I stopped seesawing on my theater chair.

The Liar’s Club, Mary Karr’s first memoir, “won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction, sold half a million copies, and made its forty-year-old author, who was then an obscure poet, a literary celebrity.”

Some critics claim that The Liar’s Club changed the landscape for the memoir form and “jump-started the current memoir explosion.”  We studied The Liar’s Club in my MFA program to see how a novel transformed into a memoir.  We admired the poetic and novelistic devices Karr used to construct a child’s narrative voice.

Now, she made sure we all heard her loud and clear: “In nonfiction, there’s a contract with the reader: you don’t make stuff up.” I imagined her wielding two pistols, one pointing to each side of a fat line. 

“It pissed me off when I saw James Frey on Larry King saying there’s a lot of argument between fiction and nonfiction.  You know what?  There isn’t.  If it didn’t happen, it’s fiction.  If it did happen, it’s nonfiction.”

Karr told us that critics and editors suggested that she fictionalize parts of her memoir like adding a touching goodbye scene with her mother at the end of The Liar’s Club.  She refused, arguing that sometimes forgetting an event may be the most radiantly true way of representing it.

On the podium, Karr laid down her law: “In fiction, you manufacture events to fit a concept or idea.  With memoir, you have the events and manufacture or hopefully deduce the concept.  You don’t remember something?  Write fiction.”

She illustrated this with examples of how Frey messed up.  The audience started to look at each other nervously, especially when she rattled off names of her friends like Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, and David Foster Wallace.

Then, she ended her rant about Frey by calling him something akin to “skunk,” saying “it’s really sad.  He thought his own suffering was insufficient material.”

In the workshop I’ll be teaching on October 7, we’ll take a closer look at where Karr and other nonfiction writers (the ones who got in trouble and the ones who didn’t) draw their line between fiction and nonfiction. 

Karr believes that “novelistic devices, like reconstructed dialogue or telescoping time, isn’t the same as ginning up fake episodes.” For example, she openly admits that she made up the stories her father spins for the “Liar’s Club;” however the stories “are not represented as truth in the book.  I sort of defend doing it that way. They are seen as bullshit, and represented as bullshit.

Among the authors who have a murkier line between nonfiction and fiction, the worst might be Binjamin Wilkomirski.  Wilkomirski’s memoir, Fragments, was considered an award-winning masterpiece, a bestseller, one of the greatest works on Holocaust literature until a journalist discovered that “he wasn’t, in fact, a survivor of the deathcamps.  That he wasn’t even Jewish. Or Polish.  That his name wasn’t even Wilkomirski.”

There’s a fascinating republished version of Fragments retitled The Wilkomirski Affair: A Study in Biographical Truth, which includes a 374 page investigation by the historian his agent hired.  The controversy is juicier than Frey, Mortenson, and Steinbeck.  Despite all his publishers withdrawing publication with some stating “I feel pity for him,” Bruno Dössekker believed with absolute certainty that he was Binjamin Wilkomirski.

We’ll look at how Dössekker/Wilkomirski reframed events in his real life to a fictional life story constructed in painstaking detail over decades.  Did he do this deliberately or did he become so immersed in his craft that he believed what he had written? More importantly, we will examine how these scandals affect your craft?  

Monday, September 26, 2011

Calling Nonfiction Writers: A Guest Post by Ned Rozell

Meet Ned Rozell, author of four books, most recently Finding Mars, a biography of Kenji Yoshikawa, and most famously Walking my Dog, Jane, a story about his hike along the trans-Alaska pipeline with his chocolate Lab. He has also written more than 700 newspaper columns about science, natural history and adventuring in Alaska. Fairbanks writers, take note:  Ned's course "Nonfiction Workshop," sponsored by 49 Writers and hosted by the Fairbanks Arts Association, begins October 4.

On summer solstice in the Minneapolis airport, on the hustle to catch a connecting flight with a five-year old, I picked up a copy of Outside magazine. Just before the flight, I peeked inside the magazine to see if it was true. Then I closed the magazine and stuffed it in my backpack. Had to chase the five-year old girl.
            But the proof was there. After years of freelancing on the side of other life ventures, I vaulted what seemed to me the highest bar — an editor from Outside said yes to one of my story ideas after a dozen refusals from him over the years. On the cover of the July issue: “Exclusive — Return to the Wild, the lost archives of Christopher McCandless.”
And, inside, my name. Though the story that followed it was so heavily edited I barely recognized it, I had hit the big time.
And, like many goals achieved, this one came with a sense of underwhelm — I didn’t read it until hours after I bought it, when my daughter finally fell asleep on the plane. A few days later, I left the copy at my sister’s house in New Hampshire. I never bought another one before the month passed and don’t have a hard copy. Months later, needing the cash, I bugged the editor for payment. He never answered, but his assistant did. The check was in the mail. It came and quickly evaporated.
The experience once again gives me the greatest appreciation for people who have freelanced for a majority of their living, which has always seemed like a tough gig to me. I’ve made my daily bread from writing for some time now, as a science writer for the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute (mostly half-time). It’s a great job that allows me to follow my interests and never feels like the public relations work that it is. And, it pays the bills. But from time to time I aim higher with a big name publication. Most of my queries are refused, but some turn to gold.
And that, for me, has for some time been my main motivation to write — deadlines that come with a paycheck attached. I suspect many of you have different drivers, like the satisfaction that comes from completing a piece, the zone you enter when writing, the feedback you get from a reader, seeing your name in print. I also dig all of those, but I want to make writing pay, and pay well. I know it’s possible.
I’m teaching a nonfiction course starting in early October in Fairbanks. Our goal will be to emerge in early November with a sellable piece, to a venue (or dream venue) of your choice. We’ll read the work of some pros from Alaska, receive feedback from them on their own pieces, and we’ll critique each other’s work. Maybe we’ll find our dream editor in the process. Maybe we’ll just take what we like and leave the rest. One thing I will guarantee. We’ll have fun.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ela: 49 Writers Weekly Round-up

Are you a 49 Writers member?  While you can enjoy most of what happens at 49 Writers/49 Alaska Writing Center without joining, members get special perks: discounts on classes and retreats, free admission to our popular Crosscurrents on-stage conversations, discounted Raven’s Brew coffee at our 49 Writers Café, and invitations to exclusive members-only events.  Most of all, your membership funds our mission to support creative writers from throughout Alaska at all stages of their development while building an audience for Alaska literature.

If you became a member between May 1, 2010 and May 1, 2011, your membership expires in a little over one week – on October 1, 2011.  We’ve now set up memberships so they expire exactly one year from the date you sign up, or from the expiration date, if you renew in advance.  Our membership drive begins today and runs through October.  

Thanks to Barb Hood of the Great Harvest Bread Company, the first 100 people who activate or renew a 49 Writers membership will receive a coupon for a free loaf of delicious Great Harvest Bread along with their membership cards.  In addition, if you bring your membership card (yes – we now have membership cards) to our new 49 Writers Café at Out North for our first open studio session on Sunday, October 9, 1-4 pm, you’ll receive a free cup of Raven’s Brew coffee.  So don’t delay – join or renew today.  Even if you’re renewing, please fill out the membership form so we can make sure our contact information is current.
Online voting ends today, September 23 in our WYAK Zombies Invade Alaska contest.  We’re thrilled to have had so many wonderful entries, including many from outside of Anchorage.  Thanks to WYAK volunteer contest coordinator Jen Walker for a job well done!

To officially launch our fall literary season, the 49 Writers Student Celebration on September 30 will feature former students reading short selections from their work. 
We’ll gather at the 49 Writers’ Café at Out North Contemporary Art House at 3800 DeBarr Road in Anchorage from 7 PM to 9 PM – everyone’s welcome. Former 49 Writers students from any classes or retreats should send a note to if they’re interested in reading.  And of course you know we’re registering now for our entire fall line-up of 49 Writers courses.  Classes begin Oct. 4 in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Remember we’re also recruiting instructors for our WYAK Write Young Alaska effort.  If you’re a writer who’d like to help kids get excited about writing, we want to hear from you by Oct. 1 .  We’re working to secure funding so that we can offer payment to workshop instructors.  

We’ll be sending out two more batches of free posters and bookmarks  before Alaska Book Week begins on Oct. 8.  And remember to visit the Alaska Book Week site where you can click on the pages to find out how others are celebrating and link to an easy form to tell us how you plan the celebrate. With any luck, we’ll soon be announcing an Executive Proclamation from the Governor that makes Alaska Book Week official.

We’re still looking for someone to clean at our 3rd Avenue location – only two hours a month during October, November, February, March, and April.  And if you enjoy our our Events and Deadlines pages here at the blog, we could use some help in maintaining them.  Email for details. 

It slipped by quietly, but it’s still worth noting:  we recently passed the 1000 mark on blog posts at 49 Writers.  Thanks to all who’ve written guest posts, and of course to all of our faithful readers.  

This Saturday, September 24, from 12 noon to 3pm, author Joyce Porte will be at the Homer Bookstore (Pioneer Ave) to sign copies of her new book, the third in her Tanganyika Trilogy. The first two will also be available.

On Tuesday September 27, 7-8pm, join the Anchor Park reading group to discuss Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language by David Crystal. Barnes and Noble, 200 E. Northern Lights, Anchorage.

On Thursday, September 29, 7pm, Levi Johnston will be signing copies of Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin's Crosshairs. Barnes and Noble, 200 E. Northern Lights, Anchorage.

On Friday, September 30, 4pm, the UAA Campus Bookstore presents the Amazing Mystery Writer J.A. Jance, author of 45 books. Cosponsored with Arctic Cliffhangers (Sisters in Crime).

On Friday, September 30, 7pm, the University of Alaska Fairbanks English Department presents MFA faculty Dr Johnny Payne and James Englehardt as part of the 2011-2012 Midnight Sun Visiting Writer Series.

On Wednesday, October 5 at 6pm, as part of the 25th Anniversary celebrations for Loussac Library, author, NPR book reviewer and librarian action figure model Nancy Pearl will speak on "The Pleasure and Perils of a Life of Reading." Wilda Marston Theatre, Z.J. Loussac Public Library, 3600 Denali St, Anchorage. A book signing and reception will immediately follow the lecture.

Nominations are now being accepted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Two prizes of $5,000 each are given biennially for works of fiction and nonfiction. Cosponsored by the Stanford University Libraries and the William Saroyan Foundation, the awards are intended to "encourage new or emerging writers and honor the Saroyan legacy of originality, vitality and stylistic innovation."
Visit the website for more information, including entry forms, contest rules and complete guidelines.  
Entries must be received on or before January 31 2012.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Andromeda: It's About Time, Part Two -- Terroir

For three weeks, I’ll be blogging about time as an essential part of narrative structure. I’ll be teaching a 3-week class called “Time in Narration” on this subject on Tuesday nights beginning Oct. 4. In the class, which covers both fiction and nonfiction, we’ll be reading, writing, investigating our default choices, and developing our chronological sensibilities. We hope you’ll join us.

Definition: Terroir (pronounced terre-wahr) "Originally a French term in wine, coffee, and tea used to denote the special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place bestowed upon particular varieties."

In the viniculture world especially, aficionados know that the slightest differences in the history of a grape flavor the later wine product, making it something subtle, special, worth savoring. In the world of fiction and creative nonfiction, too, a character has terroir: a history or backstory uniquely his or her own, whether we as readers discover nearly everything in that past or just sense it as a richness, a complicated realness, with all the depth and nuances of a fine wine.

How does a writer convey that depth? One way is through a more skilled handling of narrative time.

Memoirists seem particularly aware of the possibilities for shifting back and forth, blending the narrator's "voice of experience" with his or her "voice of innocence" (two important varietals in the mix). But take a close look at a nuanced memoir, and you'll see that there usually aren't just two stances or timelines (narrator's current stance in adulthood and a linearly conveyed childhood, say) on the page. A lot of nonlinear storytelling happens in a good memoir, with multiple shifts and flashbacks or even a non-linear series of flashbacks. Even within a scene, there will be subtle micromovements in time, as a character thinks back or anticipates forward, sometimes in no more than a phrase. Those little shifts, combined with larger flashbacks and sections of backstory, revealed in a voice that varies in its capacity to reflect and interpret, all combine to create layers and flavors that a reader will sense and appreciate even without pausing to analyze. That's the terroir. That's the richness and complexity of good writing on the page, where a story is much more than just the linear rehashing of event: "then," and "then," and "then."

In the class I'll be teaching beginning Oct. 4, we'll analyze many examples, including one longer section from Dani Shapiro's memoir, Slow Motion. In that memoir -- even in just a handful of pages at a time -- we meet many versions of Dani: the young woman coping with the first days of her parents' near-fatal car accident, the woman who entered into a glamorous but damaging affair four years earlier, the young girl who was told all too often that her good looks and pretty face were her most important assets, and the mature woman who has survived it all and will go on to become a writer and a maker of meaning.

If you're the autodidact type, try this the next time you're reading a rich, multi-layered memoir: in 5 or 10 pages, mark out all the shifts in time, from longer flashbacks to subtle mentions of past events or hints of future changes to come, as well as shifts in voice or reflective capability. You may find there is more movement than you realized between a character's present actions and her negotiation with shifting memories, passing thoughts, and a changing sense of self. A character who stays relentlessly in the linearly described moment seems not only less interesting, but less real-- worth a quick taste, perhaps, but not worth savoring.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Anne Coray: Be Good to Your Blurbers

Thanks again to Anne Coray for being our September featured author.

As if writing a book and securing a publisher isn’t hard enough, writers have the additional duty of soliciting blurbs—or “endorsements” to use the euphemism. If you don’t have a lot of famous writer-friends the task can be tedious and disappointing. Who to approach?

The logical place to start is with writers whose work you’ve admired. But compiling the list is only the first step. Next is trying to find contact information, and sometimes we strike out. Then, even if we get that far, there are non-responders. Soon the list is less than half its original length. We might hear back from someone, but the message is, “Sorry, too busy.” Another says, “Sure, I’ll take a look.” Excitedly, we send off the manuscript, and that’s the last time we make contact. (Doubt kicks in—maybe the writing isn’t strong enough? That’s possible, but face, it, some people are just flakes.) Finally,when we’re on the verge of feeling desperate, someone says yes and means it. The blurb arrives several weeks later, and we are thrilled. We are grateful, and we offer profuse thanks. If possible, we should go further.

Someone has taken time out of his or her busy life (yes, most of us are insanely busy) to read our book and craft a comment that is meant to help promote our work. There’s no pay, and the only reward for the blurber is the dubious advantage of spreading his or her name to new readers. So I’d like to express my appreciation to a few of my blurbers by taking a minute (okay, I spent a few mornings on this) to endorse their work.

William Heyen I was first introduced to him when I read two poems in the environmental anthology Poems for a Small Planet. “Canary” and “Fur” expressed so perfectly my sentiments that I was compelled to order his book Pterodactyl Rose: Poems of Ecology. Later, after he’d written my blurb, he sent me a bundle of his books, and it was a pleasure to get to know his body of work. Sometimes lyrical, sometimes angry, sometimes philosophical or matter-of-fact, he also has more range in terms of content than almost any poet I’ve read, his collections covering topics diverse as Crazy Horse, the Holocaust, and Princess Diana. I especially loved two slim volumes: The Angel Voices and Lord Dragonfly, and a heftier one, Pig Notes & Dumb Music, a delightful mix of poetry, short prose, and parable, for which I wrote a review on Amazon. The Rope is also full of hard-hitting but essential environmental poems.

Joanna Klink—I ran across two of her poems when our work appeared in the same volume of City Art Journal out of Salt Lake City. Wow, was I impressed. Klink has one of the most lyrical, meditative voices in print. Lest I do disservice to her by trying to convey the beauty and quiet constraint of her poetry, let me offer an excerpt from her book Circadian. Here is the opening of “Sea by Flowers ”:

And what can you tell me of the foothills

spread with dusk, inchoate premonitions of stars

burning low upon this path sloping to the Adriatic.

Out of the earth that cools to scavengers you are made

remote again. Warm smoke from homes a presage

of what we have begun: the shallow seawaves drawn back

so that, on the darker inward water, an ancient calenture

might center itself. And we wish to pass close,

as when a reefless wind rises up from that water,

dispatched as the dusk is briefly dispatched.

Traveler, show me some place where I matter least,


This reads almost like a lullaby. The poet’s debut collection, They are Sleeping, is rich with equally stunning language. The seven aubades in the middle of the book insist that awakening is always possible—because we have erred, and slept, and it is dawn.

Rosellen Brown—My connection with Rosellen came about differently. I was a student in the MFA program when she traveled to Anchorage as a visiting writer. In a private tutorial, she helped boost my confidence, assuring me that “whatever it is, you have it.” Roughly ten years later, I remembered her support when my first collection, Bone Strings, was about to be published. When I approached her at the AWP conference in Vancouver, she generously agreed to read my manuscript.

I confess it was only recently that I picked up her 1992 novel Before and After. What a gripper. In the aftermath of a horrific crime, the parents of a 17-year old boy are torn with feelings of love, protection, guilt, and loyalty. The book is a page-turner infused with insightful psychological musings. I loved the gems Brown delivers throughout, observations such as:

Who knows anything about the law, really? It was like the body, I thought, helpless. If I asked you where your pancreas is, would you really know?

So, I guess, if he was super, we couldn’t be. There was not enough room in this state of superness for all of us at the same time.

This is writing at its finest, and I look forward to reading her other novels, The Autobiography of My Mother, Civil Wars, Half a Heart, and Tender Mercies (not to be confused with the movie starring Robert Duvall; they have nothing but a title in common). Brown takes on tough subjects and isn’t afraid to explore situations that some may find unpalatable.

These are just three writers who have extended themselves to me in ways that I won’t forget. I wish I had enough space here to thank the others.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

49 Writers Volunteer Interview: Hillary Walker

It's the good work of our volunteers that allows us to provide so many opportunities for Alaska's writers.  Featured here is Hillary Walker, whose energy and enthusiasm is perfect for our WYAK Write Young Alaska effort.  If you'd like to help out at 49 Writers, visit / Get Involved / Volunteer.  We can especially use help with our flyer blitz team (four or five locations, four or five times a year), with cleaning (twice a month, five months a year), and with our online calendar.  

Tell us a little about yourself, including your day job and what you do as a volunteer for 49 writers.

I was born and raised in Anchorage, and I finished studying English and astrophysics at Caltech and Williams College. Now I’m taking a year off before beginning my PhD in English Literature. Hopefully this year will be filled with substitute teaching, ukulele playing, breakfast dates, and plenty of reading and writing. I’m also learning German (for grad school) and working in a little clothing boutique.

Most of my work for 49 Writers is devoted to WYAK: Write Young Alaska, our new youth outreach effort. I’ll be leading a youth writing group at Teen Underground at the Loussac Library beginning later this fall.

Why did you decide to volunteer at the 49 Writing Center?

I had just graduated from college, and I didn’t really know what to do with myself for a little while. Then I saw a poster for the 49 Writing Center at Kaladi Brothers, and I never looked back. Seriously, it was love at first sight.

What’s a highlight of your involvement so far?

WYAK had a booth at the Spenard Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago to spread the word. I hung out there with two teens from our WYAK advisory council—we had an incredible time.

Tell us something about your literary interests and activities.

I mostly write short, experimental fiction, and I published my first story this spring. I’m also really interested in literary and cultural theory, so I do lots of critical work, too.

What’s the last great book you read?

I just finished reading The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Now I’m in the middle of rereading The Lover by Marguerite Duras, which is probably the book that turned me into a writer.

When you picture our writing center ten years from now, what do you imagine?

I see such good things! One of the best parts of the 49 Alaska Writing Center is the opportunity to meet other Alaskan writers, so I would love if we had a permanent physical space where people could gather, socialize, and share their work.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Enchaînement: The Dance of Words, A Guest Post by Sharon Randolph

Publicists often advise authors to write and respond to interview questions they anticipate in connection with their books.  Here, author Sharon Randolph of Sitka shares her thoughts in this format.  She's also helping us spread the word in Sitka about Alaska Book Week (Oct. 8-15).

As an author, the questions I am asked most often are: When did you begin writing; where do you get your ideas; and what is your process?

When did I begin?

In first grade, it was discovered that I had a reading problem. Not much was known about dyslexia then, but my teacher spent long hours helping me, and by the time I started second grade, I could read. It wasn't, however, until we moved to Bermuda when I was ten that words came alive for me. My fifth grade teacher's enthusiasm for reading opened up a world of wonder for the students in her class. That summer I began to write. When I wasn't in the ballet studio, I could be found hidden beneath the low hanging branches of a casuarina tree. This was my writing habitat—the place where the sound of the ocean, the distant cry of the long tail, and the scents of frangipani and Easter lily erased the dramas of the day. Curled up on a blanket, I wrote in my journal, created poetry, and wrote short stories about places I’d never been. This was the beginning of a life long love of the power of words.

Where do you get your ideas?

My ideas come from everywhere. A four-word prompt, "once upon a time" given to me by a fellow writer and a trip to New York City inspired The DiMensioner's Revenge. How did these two things provide the impetus for creating a fantasy fiction novel that takes place in another galaxy on the last remaining piece of Old Earth?

New York is an amazing city. I have lived and worked there, and I visit it periodically. Children playing in the streets or in cement schoolyards have always tugged at my heartstrings. What if . . ."once upon a time" . . . there was, tucked away in a vacant lot between tall buildings, a tiny cottage surrounded by a beautiful garden. What if . . . children discovered this cottage, and the kind, old woman (my grandmother) who lived there invited them in for cookies and milk? And what if . . . when the children passed through the doorway, they found themselves in another dimension, one where they could explore a garden or a barn or lush, green forest?

What is my writing process?

I'd like to say that I outline the entire story, do character sketches, and create the setting before I begin writing, but my creative process is much too messy for that. It is something I began to explore when I was asked to choreograph Hansel and Gretel in eighth grade. Choreography is all about storytelling, about linking steps together in ways that make sense, have flow, and have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Over the course of a forty-year career in dance and the creation of sixty original ballets, I learned not to second-guess myself or the direction my imagination was taking me.

My creative process in dance works like this:
            I find music that inspires me to move and listen until I become it and it becomes me.
            I consider a place to begin and a place to end.
            I enter the studio with dancers and forget everything but being in the moment.
            I create the work . . . let it pour out unedited until it is complete.
            I go back to the beginning and clean (edit) one step, one arm movement, one head direction at a time.
            And I add detail and clarify the storyline.

When I write, my creative process parallels what I learned as a choreographer. I let an idea settle into my psyche for a few days. Then, I sit down at my computer and begin to type. Like the first "draft" of a new choreographic piece, my first written draft is a far cry from the finished product. Once the draft is complete, I go back and begin at the beginning. Now, I know the story, and I know the characters. I add detail, provide motivation, and take out what does not add to the dramatic intent of the novel. I write like I choreograph, but instead of steps and bodies, I use an enchaînement of words to create the story, the characters, and the setting. From Old Earth to the Fourth Galaxy from the Great Central Sun to a beautiful place called Myrrh, words dance across the page, creating the patterns and pictures that bring the story to life.

The DiMensioner’s Revenge was written and published in Sitka, AK where I live on a thirty-foot sailboat named Lightfoot. For more information, please take a look at my website:           

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ela: 49 Writers Weekly Round-up

Our thanks to the good folks at Out North Arts House for inviting us to be part of their Sept. 8 “Revealing Party.” Our own Sandy Kleven generated lots of laughs with her on-stage performance “A Writer’s Life.”  Check out the event video.  We’re excited to be part of the Arts House effort by trying out a 49 Writers Café in the Emerging Artists Gallery.  Our café crew will meet Sept. 20 at 7 pm at Out North.  Email if you’re interested in helping.

Did you catch accomplished writer, chef, and 49 Writers Board member Kirsten Dixon on the Today Show this morning (Sept. 16)?  
Kirsten co-owns the Within the Wild Adventure Company with her husband and two daughters; it’s through their generosity that we’re able to run our Tutka Bay Writers Retreat.

Retreat-goers noted that Jeanne Worachek’s poem about her stay at Land’s End Resort is now framed and hanging at the resort.  Check it out next time you’re in Homer.  

Nice work, young writers!  We received over 100 entries for our WYAK Zombies Invade Alaska contest.  Our judges are hard at work selecting three finalists in each of two age categories.  Stay tuned for online voting!

Non-fiction writers take note:  instructor Leslie Hsu Oh recommends registering for her course “Truth or Dare” by September 24 in order to have plenty of time to read the pre-class assignments.  And of course you know we’re registering now for our entire fall line-up of 49 Writers courses  Classes begin Oct. 4 in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Almost two hundred students have attended 49 Writers classes during the last year.  It’s time to gather, hear their voices, and recognize their accomplishments.  The first 49 Writers Student Celebration on September 30 will feature twenty-five students reading a short selection from their writing. 

All are invited to hear to the students’ diverse styles, reunite with fellow students, meet other writers, and appreciate what we have achieved as a community. We’ll gather at the 49 Writers’ Café at Out North Contemporary Art House at 3800 DeBarr Road in Anchorage from 7 PM to 9 PM on Friday, September 30.

Anyone who has attended a 49 Alaska Writing Center class, workshop or retreat is invited to read a three to four minute selection.  If you are interested, send a note to  If more than twenty-five people respond, there will be space for more to read at future student celebrations.

This month we’re also recruiting instructors for our WYAK Write Young Alaska effort.  If you’re a writer who’d like to help kids get excited about writing, we want to hear from you by Oct. 1 .  We’re working to secure funding so that we can offer payment to workshop instructors.  

We’re enjoying a tremendous response to Alaska Book Week Oct. 8-15, which begins in just over three weeks.  Tell us how you plan to celebrate and order for free posters and bookmarks, while supplies last. 

The old saying about many hands making the work lighter is certainly true here at 49 Writers.  Our thanks to Ramona Pearce of Homer who answered the call for help with our bookkeeping.  We could also use volunteers for our “blitz team” – four or five times a year, each member hangs flyers at four or five spots in Anchorage.  Another need is for cleaning at our 3rd Avenue location – two hours a month during October, November, February, March, and April.  And finally, Lorena Knapp will be moving to a new volunteer role, leaving an opening for someone to maintain our Events and Deadlines pages here at the blog.  

On Saturday September 17, 2pm, local authors Debbie Miller and Frank Keim will be signing books at Gulliver's Books, Fairbanks.

State Writer Laureate Peggy Shumaker is on the road--and on the radio--again: listen out for her on Monday September 19, 2.30pm in an interview with Dave Kiffer on KRBD ratio.

On Tuesday September 20, 10.30-11.50am, Peggy Shumaker will be guest lecturer for Teague Whalen's UAS class, with a topic of "Narrative, Facing Adversity in Pursuit of Happiness.

Later that same day, at 5pm, Peggy will be present for the Community Writers group, Cape Fox Lounge fireplace, 800 Venetia Way, Ketchikan. Call 907 225 8001 for more information.

On Wednesday September 21, 4pm, Alexis Hills will be at Fireside Books, 720 S Alaska St, Palmer, to present on WiFi and the Bad Boys of Radio.

Also on Wednesday September 21, 7pm, it's time for Poetry Parley again, at Out North Gallery, 3500 Debarr. The featured poets are William Carlos Williams and local poet DC McKenzie. Readers are still needed, so if you want to read one or two Williams poems, please contact Jonathan Minton asap.

On Thursday September 22, 5pm, Carmen Nelson presents The Food Allergy Cookbook at the UAA Campus Bookstore, 3211 Providence Drive. For more information, contact Rachel Epstein at 907 786 4782 or see their website.

Thursday September 22 is also when Anchorage essayist and author Bill Sherwonit's 12-week nature and travel writing class begins. It will take place in the Sierra Club office downtown. Participants in this workshop-style class will explore and refine their own writing styles, with an emphasis on the personal essay form. The class will also read and discuss works by some of America’s finest nature and travel writers, past and present. The cost is $240. To sign up for this Thursday night class (7 to 9:30 p.m.), or for more information, contact Sherwonit at 245-0283 or Further information about the teacher is also available at

On Friday September 23, listen out for Peggy Shumaker on KTOO radio with Jeff Brown.

Later that same day, at 7pm, Peggy will present for the Fall Evening at Egan Lecture Series; Egan Lecture Hall, UAS: free and open to everyone.

On Friday September 24, 9am-noon, Peggy Shumaker will present for the Gathering Information Series: Writing workshop at the Downtown Juneau Public Library, 292 Marine Way, Juneau. Call 907 586 5249 for more information.

Congratulations to 49 Writers member and supporter Cherie Stihler, whose book Wiggle, Waggle - Woof has been awarded the 2011 Forget-me-not Book Award by the Alaska State Literacy Association.

Congratulations to L. K. Mitchell, aka Vivian Faith Prescott, whose middle-grade fantasy novel, Keeper of Directions, will be coming out in e-Book format from Euterpe, a middle-grade/YA imprint of Musa. Look out for it mid-September 2011. For more information, check out and