Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Andromeda: Your Turn to Blog for 49 writers? With links to some past favorites

The call has gone out, and we've heard from a nice selection of writers ready to be our 2012 monthly featured authors-- but three or four spots remain. If you're interested, please contact Andromeda at by December 9. One question that arises, of course, is "What should I blog about?" To answer that, and to make good use of some of the great writing and community-building that's already happened here over the last three years, I'm sharing a few links from past guest-posters. These are just a very small taste, running the gamut from the professorial to the personal:

Poet Tom Sexton on the meaning of place and how he started to write distinctly Alaskan poems.

Alaska state writer Peggy Shumaker, in her role as experienced teacher and mentor, sharing the stories of five Alaskans who decided to pursue the MFA.

Don Rearden, ready to make us laugh as always, imagining an interview between an Alaska screenwriter and a Hollywood executive.

Joan Kane on top writing places, tools, and prompts: inspiration for a day when you just don't know how to get started.

Storyteller Brett Dillingham on a trip to a village north of the Arctic Circle.

Dana Stabenow confessing that's she a sci-fi geek (with the specifics on her favorite inspirations).

Susanna Mishler sharing a deliberately disobedient writing exercise called "negative inversion."

Marybeth Holleman remembering the Exxon Valdez oil spill, twenty years later.

Bill Sherwonit musing on the essays, and critiquing essay collections (with lots of suggestions for recommended readings).

Thanks to everyone who has shared their ideas and experiences with 49 writers. We hope to hear from you again, and we also hope to widen our circle to include the voices of new writers and readers.

Post-script: Thanks to everyone who responded -- we have lots of new voices as well as familiar friends planning to join us in 2012. With the featured author slots now filled, we can still use individual blogposts at any time. Send to or

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Checking for Doneness v3011 28 11.docx: A Guest Post by Jo-Ann Mapson

In two days my 11th novel is due in New York.  Right now it’s in a file called v3011 28 11.docx.  This file occupies a mega folder called Finding Casey.  Next to it are three other mega folders, each with different titles, each filled with fifty or more other files, research documents, and so on.  Writing a novel is mostly sweat and uncertainty, trying to get to this destination vacation over a crazy, sweaty, rocky, long path.  I start with an image, and I write into the void until something connects.  But I’m not fully capturing the magic and other emotions that are also there, part of the process, and the more enjoyable brief stops along this long, winding way.

The seed of Finding Casey came about when I purchased a small micaceous covered pot at Indian Market years back.  They’re made from mica clay dug near a river here in New Mexico.  They cost a lot.  My friend Judi Hendricks has several and ooh do I envy them.  I bought my little pot from a young woman who was clearly uncertain about her work.  The exchange we had was jarring and odd.  It stuck in my writer’s mind as certain things do, and I thought about all that day while I walked the booths and wished I were a jillionaire.  She was young.  Her pots were small, and priced low.  The guy with her in the booth seemed a little controlling and I worried about that.

Days later, when I unpacked the pot, I found a blue ribbon from the Taos County Fair inside, and an entry card that the artist had filled out.  A bit of serendipity, I thought.  Things like this happen.  Later when I was talking to my friend, mystery writer Earlene Fowler, I told her the story.  Earlene was one of my very first students to go on to publish and we are good friends.  She has 18 books in print, and we read each other’s manuscripts and comment on them, usually at the finished draft stage.  She told me the story I’d just explained was the perfect plot for the book I was making notes on.  I resisted as I often do, but in reflection I began to see the wisdom of her words.  My novel now had an object in it that could function in several ways: concrete object, plot device and wait for it—metaphor!  Hurrah.  Metaphors are organic sprouts.  One can plant many, but few ever bloom.

My first start to this book focused entirely on the pot.  I wrote about the characters shopping at the Indian Market, a chance encounter between my characters, Glory and Juniper from Solomon’s Oak, and the creepy guy in the background.  I wrote 90 pages.  Then I foolishly gave them to a couple of writers for their opinion.  Translation: I was hungry for praise.  This was a very stupid move, and my book suffered as a result.  The responses were not encouraging.  WTH?  I’d sold this novel on the very same pages.  I lost my confidence.  I lost my way for several months and I could not figure out why the pages I’d written were so poorly received by these two trusted readers.  After much stomach churning, and months of not writing, I started over. 

I’m still not sure this was the right move.

What I finally realized was that I’d come to a new stage in my writing.  The stage where I need to trust myself, keep the story close to my heart, and finish a draft before I show it to anyone.  It might help to explain at this point that I’ve gone through many of these stages since publishing my first book in 1992.  Early on, I took a college workshop, and 30 people read my pages every week.  Thirty opinions influenced the next word I typed.  Then I was in a small writer’s group, and 5 people read my pages every week.  Then I stopped the group and had 2 writers reading my chapters every couple of weeks.  Then I was home alone, exchanging chapters every week with one writer.  Then it was down to me, pestering my husband every once in a while.  Then I stopped showing him anything until it was a finished draft.  Then I wrote this book, and foolishly showed it to 2 very different writers, both of who reacted as writers, not readers.  I’ll never do it again.  I now know I’m at the private stage of writing, where I must dwell in the story and trust my heart to know something I can’t fully understand.

Finding Casey started out as Miracle of Miracles, a title I took from a line in Solomon’s Oak.  Then came the day that I was writing some catalogue copy for my book, and I typed the words: finding Casey.  They were in the middle of a sentence, and when I saw them, I knew they were the title, come to me at long last, a kind of reward earned from spending a year writing about them.  I changed the title, and never looked back.  When I was reading through the finished draft this weekend, I saw the words had first appeared on page 93 of the manuscript, little flakes of gold, waiting for me to notice them, thank them, and make them the title they deserved to be.

This Thanksgiving my son was home for a visit.  He’s on his way to becoming a R.N. and a P.A.  He is a terrific reader and editor, and he went through the medical scenes in my book and helped me correct my mistakes.  His overall comments on the book were favorable, and he mentioned a couple things I might strengthen.  I’m fairly paranoid at this stage of a book, with no perspective whatsoever.  I had to mull his comments around for a few days to believe them.  That’s because at the finished draft stage all the seams and clumsy stitching and glue drips glare out at me announcing my inability, but apparently I’m the only one who sees them that way. 

Imagine, I’ve been publishing books nearly 20 years and I still don’t believe I can do it one more time.

Today is the last day that I can edit the manuscript.  I’ll attach it to an e-mail and send it to my editor and agent tomorrow.  They’ll read it in record time and send me letters suggesting changes and sometimes they are huge and other times they are minor.  I adore my agent and editor.  They are right 90% of the time.  We compromise and that changes the book.  When it comes out next October, I will read it again and see things I am too close to see right now.  The process of writing a book is a journey.  I always pack the wrong clothes, am traversing uneven, icy ground, get rocks stuck in my shoes, am lugging a heavy suitcase, getting sunburned, am thirsty, don’t understand the currency exchange, and yet I always arrive at my destination.

Thanks for the opportunity to blog here for the month of November.  I’d write more, but I am onto novel number 12.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Faces of 49 Writers: Board President Don Rearden

49 Writers Board President Don Rearden
will be featured in a free 49 Writers Reading and
Craft talk Dec. 8 at 7 pm Cafe Felix at Metro Books

Why 49 Writers? 

A couple years ago, if you asked me about the literary community of Alaska I would have answered with my own question, "What community?"

Don't get me wrong, there was no shortage of literary talent in Alaska. What was missing was community. Either that or I just hadn't arrived as a writer yet and received my skeleton key or learned the secret handshake. We all know writing is itself a solitary and --- at times --- even a lonely endeavor. Writers by nature aren't the most gregarious of creatures. Heck, some of us even don't like our own species. 

Still, we do, if I may be so bold to suggest, actually want to be around other writers, if only to be around someone who understands irony beyond Alanis Morissette's definition involving the desire for a knife when you've got several thousand spoons at your disposal.

While I've never even possessed more than twenty or so spoons at a given time, and perhaps a spork or two, I did jump at the opportunity to help start this cool little non-profit called the 49 Writers. I signed on as a member and later as a board of directors member because I wanted to be a part of something that sounded pretty amazing. I had no idea.

In just a few years I have made friendships that will ensure some one writes something powerful and/or funny at my wake, hopefully many many winters from now.  I have forged connections with famous authors, not so famous authors, future authors, and more importantly cool Alaskan writers I can ski with,  talk shop over coffee, or just borrow a knife should the need arise.

We're teaching young writers. We're supporting working writers. We're building a writing community, and not just here in Anchorage, but across the 49th State.  There are more than forty-nine of us, too, and I hope you'll want to join our ranks and become a part of this. Sign up and become a member! Or if you're like me and behind on your membership dues, then join with me and renew today.

Don Rearden doesn't really need to borrow a knife. He's being sarcastic. He recently renewed his membership in hopes we'd teach him the secret handshake.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Ela: 49 Writers Weekly Round-up

In this season of thanks, we’re grateful for each of our friends and fans, and we’re hoping your holiday weekend is full of both rest and joy.  Fun links to check out when you’re lounging off that turkey: 
For young writers: On Monday, November 28, our WYAK writers group for ages 12-14 will meet, also from 6:30-8 pm, at Teen Underground. Stay tuned also for details on a free workshop with Lee Post “Comics: Turning drawings into stories” at Teen Underground December 27-29 from 3-5 pm.  The workshop is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Library.
Visit or see our Facebook event for details.

Looking for a fun, informal gathering of writers?  Want to hear more about craft and publishing?  Look no farther than our free Reading and Craft Talks, debuting December 8 from 7–8.30pm at Café Felix/Metro Books with Don Rearden presenting “Writing is a Disease.” In this craft talk Rearden will share how he took a germ of an idea and cultured it into a full-blown epidemic novel, The Raven's Gift.  Don Rearden is an Associate Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage and is currently board president of 49 Writers. His poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in Ice-Floe, Chronogram, Cold Flashes, Copper Nickel, and Haunted Encounters. His films have aired on TMC and Showtime. His novel The Raven’s Gift, debuted with Penguin Canada in 2011.

It’s the season for giving, and we’ve got great ideas for the literary-minded on your list.  Thanks to a generous donation by Tom Sexton, we’re offering limited edition autographed broadsides of two JohnHaines poems, “On the Road” and “Poem of the Forgotten.” All proceeds benefit the John Haines Memorial Poetry Fund, which will help finance the 2012 Synergies series, an exciting line-up of dynamic events featuring well-known poets.  Another great gift option: 49Writers Gift Vouchers, good for one year on fees for classes, retreats, and other 49 Writers goodies.

For a comprehensive calendar of literary events throughout Alaska, visit

On Tuesday, November 29, 5pm, Mike Burwell and Randall Bruns will read from Chulitna II: A Further Conversation in Poems, at the UAA Campus Bookstore. Free and open to everyone.

Call for Readers: December’s Poetry Parley will feature Kay Ryan and more from Anchorage’s Ten Poets group. If you are interested in reading some favorite Kay Ryan poems, or in being assigned some to read, please contact DC McKenzie as soon as possible. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

A big thanks to all of our readers, contributors, members, and to the larger Alaska literary community. We hope you have a thankful and restful day that puts you into such a tryptophanic coma that you find some horizontal time on a couch, reading a good book.

What to read after enjoying--or surviving-- a Thanksgiving with family? Here's one particularly relevant link: favorite "tense literature" and dysfunctional family narratives for the holiday, from Ploughshares.

Thanks again -- 49 Writers definitely wouldn't be here without you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Negative Capability: A Guest-post by Rich Chiappone -- and a call for 2012 Featured Authors

We're turning the corner into deep winter, and that means it's time to be thankful for our wonderful audience and time to schedule our 2012 featured authors. Is it your turn to share thoughts about writing, reading, and Alaska life with our varied audience of fellow readers, writers, booksellers, and random web-surfers? Featured authors post once a week for an assigned month (posts of about 800 words or less, submitted four times). Each year we ask for volunteers and generally get a few more than we need-- but don't let that discourage you. In fact, we are eager to widen our reach and whether you've guest-posted in the past or have never left a single comment, please apply. Our call will be out until December 9. Just drop a line to Andromeda at indicating your genre or background (in brief) and whether you're requesting a specific month or are flexible. On the page links above, you can see our list of featured authors from the last two years, and you can also see general blogging tips.

This holiday season, we'll also be recycling a few favorite posts from the past. Rich Chiappone's post below originally ran on May 25, 2010. It combines literary thoughts with a personal, candid approach -- just the sort of thing we like to see from both featured authors and occasional guest-posters.

One recent restless night, set upon by a familiar coven of worries and regrets, I –having a wife who gets up and goes to work early every morning— wandered down to the spare bedroom and tried to get my mind under control by reading an old book of poems: Stanely Kuntiz’s Passing Through. In spite of the grim implications of that title (admittedly not the sort of thing for “dark night of the soul” browsing), I found there, on the first page of his introduction, a little encouragement. Kunitz says, “The poetic imagination lives by its contradictions and disdains any form of oppression, including the oppression of the mind by a single idea.” Wow. I must have one of those poetic imaginations, I thought, and knocked off to sleep in the guest bed, smugly reassured.

I needed to believe that just then. Last week, I finished correcting the proofs of my second collection, Opening Days. Having read it beginning to end for the first time, I have been a little horrified by the obvious fact that there is no single unifying idea in the book. Actually, I don’t seem too sure about any of the ones I’m trying on for size either. Contradictions? I’m all over the place.

There’s nothing like publishing a compilation of stories or essays written over a number of years to make a writer take a look in the mirror. I mean, you could argue that a single novel does not necessarily capture an author’s world view –written as novels are with a (more or less) unified thematic arc. But almost twenty pieces, written individually under the constantly changing circumstances of daily life is a little harder to deny. And the only constant in this collection of essays, stories and poems is that I’m constantly unsure about everything. So are my fictional characters --with the noticeable exception of one story that is peopled with adamant absolutists. You guessed: it’s a parody.

In the opening essay I start out whining about how much I hate winter (although I’ve lived in Alaska for nearly thirty years and have no intention of moving), and by the end of the same essay croon lovingly about this wonderful place. I talk about how I practically live for my annual tropical fishing trip, and then confess that I have never, in fact, even hooked the one specie I am mostly in pursuit of in those waters. I’m clearly ambivalent about my meat eating ethics (or lack of), but I poke vegetarians gleefully. I’m mostly certain that “catch-and-release” fishing is cruel and pointless, yet can’t wait to get back to it each summer. And so forth.

In TV shows, the police always get the truth out of suspects by peppering them with seemingly unrelated questions over a long period of time, sometimes letting an inquiry hang there a while (“Never mind,” the clever detective says to the criminal, “we’ll come back to that later.”) and always eventually trapping the fool in his own contradictions. Go ahead, compile a couple hundred pages written as autonomous pieces over six or eight years and see what happens to you.

Looking for validation for my uncertainties, I turn once again to a term coined by good old John Keats. (maybe that’s good “ode” Keats? Hah! I crack myself up, I swear.) He said (and, yes, I did have to look this up again) that a man should be able to be in a condition of uncertainty and doubt “without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

As you would expect from a capital “R” Romantic, Keats finds reason and logic to be liabilities for the artist and poet. Ironically perhaps, some of us in the arts today find ourselves aligning now with hard science in various areas, particularly the evolution argument. One of my favorite thoughts from Nancy Lord’s Rock Water Wild comes from an essay in which she describes the frustration of a science-minded individual arguing with creationist critics; it goes something like this: You can not use reason to persuade a person to give up a belief he didn’t come to by way of reason.

I sort of like that fact that, once again, I want to have it both ways: hard science for the hard stuff like fossils, and sheer whimsy for all the rest. In any case, I know that I am happiest when I avoid people who know what they know is right. Personally, they scare me a little. I’ll put it this way: you have to be absolutely certain of your ideas to strap a bomb to yourself to make your point. Talk about “the oppression of the mind by a single idea”.

That much I know for sure. Maybe.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How it’s supposed to work. How it really works: A Guest Post by Jo-Ann Mapson

When I was a kid I learned very quickly that I had a flair for writing rhyming poems, short stories and description (I’m embarrassed to say how descriptive I used to be.  You’d need a rake to get through my early efforts.).  Such talent got me out of homework assignments, placed in “gifted” classes where I did absolutely no work, and best of all, my writing made people laugh.  At that time other girls my age were deep into Tiger Beat and Seventeen Magazine.  Not me.  I read Mad Magazine, loved the comics where writers took well-known songs and made up hilarious lyrics.  I knew that was my job, waiting for me as soon as I finished the hell that was grades 1-12.  I’d write funny things and send them to that great-unknown address only writers knew about, where they were printed and enjoyed by my fellow miscreants.  Plus, I’d get a check back in the mail! 

Still waiting on that one.

Imagine my surprise when writing turned out to be so much harder than being funny.  And the money part—let’s not go there.  I freely admit that I thought my first novel (soundly rejected for years) would earn me enough to buy a beachfront property and a chestnut horse I’d been riding at the stables near my house.  But thankfully that novel is now in a box somewhere moldering.  I typed it by hand on a typewriter I was paying for by the month.  Agony then, but lessons I now consider gifts.  The truth is that most writers never give up their day jobs and maybe that isn’t so bad a way to live.  It certainly makes you take advantage of those precious allotments of writing time.  It’s hard to write, and I think it should be.  I won’t invoke the adage that only things that are difficult are truly appreciated, but I will say that serious effort creates wonderful products.  I love the hateful process.  I always think of a sculptor chiseling away at rock, dust in his hair, how slowly the lump eventually turns into a recognizable object.  Next time you’re in a museum, or walking around downtown, stop and look at a sculpture.  It came from nothing but an idea.  Imagine how long it took for the idea to become the object. 

Holy cow.

When I sold my first novel (the second one I wrote) I was given a contract for another, yet unwritten novel.  The first thing the editor wanted to know was what was it about.  Right then, on the phone. I stammered and made up a plot that surprisingly turned out to be quite accurate and that was Blue Rodeo, which is my favorite book, if a writer is allowed to have one.  I still think about that sometimes, how the subconscious is such a massive part of writing.  How it knows things I don’t.  The same thing happened with The Owl & Moon Café.  My literary agent called, waking me up (Alaska time and New York time have never been compatible) and said, “Quick, tell me the story for another plot, because they don’t like the one you sent,” and that’s how I embarked on that novel.  The title and everything was right there.  I pester my MFA students to tell me about their own subconscious moves, and beg them to articulate the role intuition takes in writing.  It’s such an intimate skill, yet so vital to making a story.    

In my early imaginings of what a writer does, besides sit at a desk and type into the void until something happens, was that the writer knows the germ when they type it.  That turned out to be true.  If only it were a matter of cultivating that knowledge and thus making the act of writing happen much more quickly and efficiently!  Alas, many pages are written that never see the light of day in pursuit.  Instead the writer writes and writes, tries to come up with something she does not hate, and that is what a novel ends up being, something not entirely hateful and not entirely embarrassing.  Eventually after moving commas around, it’s “done” and off it goes to the reader, the agent, the editor, or the drawer where far too many novels sit.

And then what?  The process begins all over again—that is, if you wish to write a second novel, or a third, or an eleventh—and many of those end up in the file drawer, too.

Why write?  It’s a foolish act.  Impractical.  The time I spend writing takes away from much more entertaining activities, such as going to the movies and talking walks and yet I always find time for shopping.  Less and less people read.  I have never found an activity that makes me feel as whole as writing.  I sit down at the computer, open a blank document, and all I have to do is type words!  I’m a terrible gardener.  I can’t sew or knit.  My husband took over cooking when we moved to Alaska and is much better at it than I am.  But damn, can I write a story. 

A former student writes about our November featured author Jo-Ann Mapson here.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

“Alaska Native Writers: Looking Back, Looking Forward”: A Guest Post by Lila Vogt

Eskimo Bob

Our thanks to 49 Writers member Lila Vogt for this report on “Alaska Native Writers:  Looking Back, Looking Forward”, with Dr. Maria Sháa Tláa Williams, Dr. Jeane Breinig, Jack Dalton and Eskimo Bob.

The UAA Campus Bookstore was the setting for a spirited panel discussion on November 2, 2011 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Alaska Native Heritage Month.  The panel was moderated by Eskimo Bob (Bob Petersen).  The panelists brought their own perspectives to the discussion of Alaska native writers; past, present and future, and were aided by active participation from the audience.  The Bookstore was host to 50 participants.  The three panelists were:

Dr. Maria Sháa Tláa Williams is the Director of Alaska Native Studies at UAA and edited The Alaska Native Reader: History, Culture, Politics published in 2009.  The mostly native contributors include scholars, political leaders, activists and artists.  Dr. Williams is a Tlingit songwriter as well. 

Dr. Jeane Breinig, Haida native and scholar; is also a poet, a UAA English professor and actively involved in the preservation and sharing of Alaska Native oral history.

Jack Dalton has explored his Alaska Native roots in performance, storytelling, playwriting and teaching.  One of the guests at the event told Jack that his play, Assimilation, had made more impact on her than “any play I’ve ever seen”.

Dr. Williams introduced the Alaska Native Reader, as a recently published anthology of work by mostly native writers.  She had invited her students to the event and asked Gordon Iya, a student from Savoonga, to read a short piece by Larry McNeil from the anthology.

“I was going to cross the street, but came to a ‘don’t walk’ sign. Finally, the red hand turned into a figure of a white man walking. Not wanting to offend anyone, I did my best imitation of a white man walking and crossed the street.” 

Gordon shared a story about a group of elders from rural Alaska confronting a ‘walk/don’t walk’ sign for the first time.  They thought the sign was telling them to ‘run’, so they did their best to run when signaled to walk.

Dr. Breinig introduced Nora and Richard Dauenhauer’s series of books on
Tlingit Oral Literature.  They have devoted their lives to preserving and sharing native oral history.  She also highlighted these books by Alaska Native authors:

A Dena’ina Legacy:  K’tl’egh’I Sukdu, by Peter Kalifornsky, a collection of stories from the Kenai Dena’ina. 

My Own Trail, by Howard Luke;  The Gospel According to Peter Johns, Effigies:  An Anthology of New Indigenous Writing, Pacific Rim, and Joan Kane’s The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife.

She then read a favorite poem by Mary Tall Mountain: 

There Is No Word For Goodbye
Mary Tall Mountain

Sokoya, I said looking through
the net of wrinkles into
wise black pools
of her eyes.
What do you say in Athabascan
when you leave each other?
What is the word
for goodbye?
A shade of feeling rippled
the wind- tanned skin,
Ah, nothing, she said,
watching the river flash.
She looked at me close.
We just say Ttaa. That means,
See you.
We never leave each other.
When does your mouth
say goodbye to your heart?
She touched me light
as a bluebell.
You forget when you leave us;
you're so small then.
We don't use that word.
We always think you're coming back,
but if you don't
we'll see you someplace else.
You understand.
There is no word for goodbye.
Jack Dalton said of his work; “these are my words, but it is your story” and “these are the words that fell out of my mouth”.  Dr. Breinig asked “what is oral tradition? ...that which is written on people’s tongues”. 

Discussion then followed about the future of Native writing, including transliteration and translation.  New technologies, new mediums such as audios, videos are being used more and more, but Dr. Breinig insists that there is still a place for books and reading.  The important thing is that history and culture are preserved and shared.  There are currently 10,000 hours of video being uploaded to the internet every second, according to Jack. 

Writing about and by Alaska Native people has followed a typical trajectory of ethnic writings starting with cultural practices, often written by anthropologists.  Oral histories are then captured in written or recorded form.  As told to stories are next, then the personal memoir.  Then poetry and performance becomes a medium; then fiction.  We are just now seeing a move into poetry, theater and fiction by Alaska Native writers. 

The Ford Foundation funded the Alaska Native Playwright Project this year and 10 plays were developed.  The Ford Foundation was so impressed with the level of talent discovered, they agreed to fund for two more years.  Jack Dalton has been working as an Artist in the Schools and he calculates that 20,000 children have written stories in his classes.  The future for Alaska Native talent and creative expression is bright.

This Alaska Native Heritage Month event was co-sponsored by the UAA Campus Bookstore, Alaska Center for the Book and the Alaska Native American Indian Heritage Month Committee.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ela: 49 Writers Weekly Round-up

49 Writers, 49 Reasons to become our Executive Director.  But time’s running out:  applications are due November 22. For a full job description and information on how to apply, go to and look for the downloadable .pdf document toward the bottom of the home page.

Wherever we go, we hear about young writers – kids and teens writing books, poetry, and more.  On Monday, November 21, our WYAK writers group for ages 15-18 will meet from 6:30 – 8 pm at Teen Underground, and on Monday, November 28, our WYAK writers group for ages 12-14 will meet, also from 6:30-8 pm at Teen Underground. Visit or see our Facebook event for details.

Looking for a fun, informal gathering of writers?  Want to hear more about craft and publishing?  Look no farther than
our free Reading and Craft Talks, debuting December 8 from 7 – 8:30 pm at Café Felix/Metro Books with Don Rearden presenting “Writing is a Disease.” In this craft talk Rearden will share how he took a germ of an idea and cultured it into a full blown epidemic novel, The Raven's Gift.  Don Rearden is an Associate Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage and is currently board president of 49 Writers. His poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in Ice-Floe, Chronogram, Cold Flashes, Copper Nickel, and Haunted Encounters. His films have aired on TMC and Showtime. His novel The Raven’s Gift, debuted with Penguin Canada in 2011.

It’s the season for giving, and we’ve got great ideas for the literary-minded on your list.  Thanks to a generous donation by Tom Sexton,
we’re offering limited edition autographed broadsides of two John Haines poems, “On the Road” and “Poem of the Forgotten.” All proceeds benefit the John Haines Memorial Poetry Fund, which will help finance the 2012 Synergies series, an exciting line-up of dynamic events featuring well-known poets.  Another great gift option: 49Writers Gift Vouchers, good for one year on fees for classes, retreats, and other 49 Writers goodies.

Recently, two Alaska writers were among only five singled out by a major literary website.
A Rasmuson Foundation post this week honors these recipients of Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award grants, our own Andromeda Romano-Lax and Eowyn Ivey.

For a comprehensive calendar of literary events throughout Alaska, visit

Tonight, Friday November 18, 7pm, the English Graduate Organization  (EGO) of Fairbanks presents a special Literary Reading, featuring Jody Hassel (Non Fiction), Cody Kucker (Poetry) and Chris Miles (Poetry). Bear Gallery; free and open to the public.

On Saturday, November 19, 12.30pm, authors Amanda Coyne and Tony Hopfinger will present Crude Awakening at Fireside Books, 720 S. Alaska St., Palmer. The story of Ted Stevens, Bill Allen and Sarah Palin and their political careers with the oil industry of Alaska in the background.
On Saturday November 19, 1-3pm, Heather Lende will be at Hearthside Books, Nugget Mall, 8745 Glacier Highway, Juneau, signing copies of her books If you lived here, I’d know your name, and Take good care of the garden and the dogs.

On Sunday, November 20, 204pm, the Indigo Tea Lounge will host the first of six VOICE Youth Open Mic’s. Ashlee Twiford, of the Brave New Alaskan Voices Poetry Slam Team will be the first featured reader. Contact Brian Hutton for more information.  

The Alaska Center for the Book is seeking an enthusiastic, organized individual to serve as the Reading Rendezvous Event Coordinator. This free, outdoor literacy fair, jointly sponsored by the Anchorage Public Library and the Alaska Center for the Book, will be held on Saturday, May 12, 2012, on the Loussac Library grounds.
Position responsibilities include:
Twice-monthly meetings with committee members
Working closely with Library staff.
Conducting outreach to local media outlets and serving as spokesperson for the event.
Recruiting and coordinating booth participants.
Directing all activity onsite the night before and all day during the event.
Other duties as assigned by the committee.

There is a small stipend paid for by the Alaska Center for the Book. Interested individuals may submit their resume to Sherri Douglas by December 1, 2011.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Andromeda/Your Turn: Acceptance speeches

She didn't walk away with the top honor yesterday, but that matters not at all. We are amazed and proud of Debby Dahl Edwardson's National Book Award nomination for My Name is Not Easy.

The winners were:
FICTION: Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury USA)

NONFICTION: Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern(W. W. Norton & Company)

POETRY: Nikky Finney, Head Off & Split (TriQuarterly, an imprint of Northwestern University Press)

YOUNG PEOPLE'S LITERATURE: Thanhha Lai, Inside Out & Back Again(Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)

The NBA site promises an interview with Debby Dahl Edwardson, to come soon, so check back for that.

And in the meanwhile, a silly question for a cold, cold day: If you received that National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, or Academy Award, who would you thank first? (One name only, not the Oscar-length list that makes the audience squirm.)

If your speech could draw attention to one issue or thought, what would it be: the fate of the book? The state of publishing, or education? Or would you tell us something more personal: why you became a writer in the first place? What that first small-town library meant to you as a kid? Go ahead, practice those short speeches here, if you're brave. We'll clap.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Andromeda: We writers are the 99% -- and always will be

One thing I've liked best about the Occupy Wall Street movement is the fact that Americans are, at long last, talking about that subject most often avoided -- money. (In polite company, we're not supposed to talk about religion either, right? But at least since the Bush administration and 9/11, if not well before, Americans dropped that element of etiquette.)

I've made people uncomfortable by talking openly about writing and money in the past. I've given gloomy speeches about publishing (somewhere between 70 to 95% of books don't earn back their advances; the typical advance is only $5,000; a huge advance is great in the short-term but can spell doom to a writer's reputation in the long-run, etc.) that beginning writers don't want to hear. I've broken off an already iffy friendship in part after being told, one time too many, that I should get a real job (this just a year or so before my first novel sold), and that I'd be better off working at BP in order to get health insurance (not that they'd hire me, and not that I'd trade my love of literature for any form of security or any kind of long-term job that didn't fulfill me).

I'd finally gotten the message -- that I should keep my pragmatic-money-talk to myself. And then the 99% movement hit. Now, every time I turn on the radio, there are wonderful, detailed explanations of who earns what (the top 1% hold over a third of all wealth), and since when (the 1980s were a major turning point when the stock market instead of inherited and other forms of old-style wealth became the most significant kind). I got a major in public policy and a minor in economics; I can't get enough of these details. No class divisions in this country? Since when? No class warfare until recently? Hah!

I recently enjoyed listening to the opinions of a high-earning friend tell my husband, an outdoor educator, that teachers earn too much. Never mind how important teachers are to society -- if there's too much supply, they should be paid peanuts in order to reduce that supply, our friend informed us. That's bad enough, but even worse is the fact that my husband earns less than a typical teacher's modest salary, because for twenty years he has chosen to work in nonformal settings, for the government and museums. He specializes in that kind of teaching, much of it outside in all kinds of crazy weather, because he believes that kids learn really well outside the classroom. He does what he loves -- a job that serves our community -- and he doesn't get paid well for it. Every year, we ponder this fact and decide all over again that he's really good at what he does and that there is no better place for him to do it than the great place where he works now.

We're a good match, considering that I, too, have toiled in low-paid obscurity. We accepted that fact formally when we married, and even had a line from the Talmud inscribed in our wedding rings that refers to the fact that where love is strong, a man and a woman can make their bed "on the blade of a sword." (Rolling over can get tricky, but one gets used to it over the years.) With our twentieth anniversary right around the corner, I just dipped into whatever weekend getaway fund we might have tapped, because I just returned from getting the car fixed after it died in midmorning traffic (again -- it was just in the shop last Thursday). I can only say I'm thrilled my debit payment made it through. We live by the skin of our teeth, and always have.

So why am I telling you all this? Not just because of the 99% movement. But because a fellow writer took me aside a few months ago to tell me something that I wouldn't bother sharing, except that it might make the difference to someone out there.

This fellow writer let me know that she'd always assumed, based on my long-term dedication to writing and my strong opinions and my willingness to take certain risks in the projects I pursue, that I was married to a rich man who supported us. A lawyer or something. (For the first time in my life, I literally did a double-take, head swinging left and right in confusion. My Brian? I started laughing. Haven't you noticed how we dress? Us, wealthy? I could barely get enough gas money together this week.)

Actually, I'm the bigger wage-earner in our family. On top of that, my income varies hugely. I've earned $1000 a month for long stretches. And I've earned $8000 or more a month (it went just as quickly as the $1000 -- a lesson I'm still struggling to absorb). The norm is at the low end of that middle range. When I was 18 years old, I set the goal of earning $30,000 a year from my writing within a decade. Some years I've made ten times that amount, and sometimes less than half, but I've never given up. The 18-year-old who thought no one could live on less than 30K has become the 40-year-old who thinks that simplicity is a great goal for more reasons than the financial ones.

For the last decade, most of my income --80%-- has come from my creative writing, most of it fiction. The rest, over the years, has come from journalism, technical writing and editing, a little teaching. But again, most of it from the writing that I care the most about: novels.

Compared to the average writer (who, according to one very outdated Author's Guild survey, earns about $5000 a year), I'm doing way better than average. And I'm grateful for it. I've gone without -- without dental and medical care, without floor and roof repairs, without college or retirement savings, without a second car even with a teen in the house, without money for kids' camps (I'm thrilled that they've learned how to pay for those extras themselves), without peace of mind except the peace of mind that comes from doing the only job I truly love-- in order to get there.

When the economy is doing well and everyone seems to be rolling in dough, it feels perilous to be a writer. When people suddenly realize that nearly all of us live on the edge -- and that even a fat stock portfolio is no guarantee of long-term security -- then at least a writer feels less alone, and people understand why you pack a lunch or can't afford symphony tickets.

The truth is, no amount of money is ever enough. I've had astonishing windfalls that were immediately sucked up by taxes and big purchases (a house, a major research trip), and I've had long spells of very little money where we somehow eked by, grateful for even the most modest, unexpected royalty check. (Thank you, Poland.)

I share this in case you are wondering how full-time writers manage, and thinking they have some secret stash -- a wealthy spouse, a big trust fund. Most of us don't have that. We write and freelance and teach and get a grant here or there and pray for foreign sales or a movie option or some other lucky break and we write some more. If we're smart, we live with a low overhead (see the Fitzgerald advice of a week ago). If we're not smart (and I'm not smart but still trying), we waste quite a bit of money on credit card interest, rationalizing that every small business needs financing of some kind.

We writers and artists will always be the "99%." To be honest, I never expected it to be any different.

Other opinions?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Building Tension, Final Days for Certain Dogs, and Keeping at Writing: A Guest Post by Jo-Ann Mapson

This post is late because I’m recovering from the Tony Hillerman Wordharvest Writer’s Conference, a two-day event filled with writers I’d never met, and many hopeful students of writing.  I gave a breakfast talk, powered by coffee and fear, and apparently did all right because I got a lot of kind remarks throughout the day.  As usual, I researched my topic far too much, and ¼ of the way through my talk, I abandoned my pages of notes and just talked about writing.

Later in the day, on a panel called “Building Tension,” with David Morel and Hampton Sides, both accomplished writers I’d never read, I told the story of my (late) Jack Russell terrier and the UPS driver.  It was all I could come up with on the topic.

Here it is:  Fifteen plus years ago, I was living in Southern California.  The publishing world was old hat to me, but of course it sure isn’t now with all the changes.  Anyway, my publisher sent me lots of UPS overnights and back then it was free to have them pick up and leave the parcel at your door.  My UPS driver was kind of adorable in his brown shirt and shorts.  He ran from the truck to my door, and usually he was met by Max, my Jack Russell who’d throw himself against the screen door and bark insanely.  It became a game with them.  The UPS driver would stealthily creep up to the door and try to drop the package before Max got to the door, yell “Gotcha!” and I’d hear Max’s nails scrabbling against the tile floor as he raced to get to the door in time to snarl.  The UPS driver managed to win a couple of times.  Jack Russells are tenacious, though, and if there was a scorecard for such things Max would’ve been declared the winner.

We had to put Max down when we lived in Alaska.  He was 19, blind, deaf, senile and incontinent, but still walking, totally healthy.  I cried and cried for a dog who never really liked anyone.  He was part of my life, my marriage, my world. 

This is a semi-humorous anecdote, so why did I talk about it on a panel called “Building Tension?”  Because it’s the perfect example of how to create fiction by using your own experiences as seeds.  So often writers overlook their own lives to use in fiction.  But my feeling is if I live through it, I might as well use it.  Max and Mr. UPS can be a lot of things in fiction:  Comic relief.  A telling detail.  For me, it provided a new character, Juan, the UPS driver in Bad Girl Creek.  It also gave me the opportunity to write about animals.  Yes, let’s all agree that I am insane about dogs, and usually have 4-5 at any given moment.  Anyone who’s taken a class from me has heard me say that animals, pets in particular, are “neutral love objects,” a term I learned from the Pulitzer-prize-winning poet, Maxine Kumin.  Aspects about character that might otherwise remain hidden can be revealed when you put an animal in the story.  The characters are having trouble in their relationship, but they both are nuts over the dog.  They relate, communicate, commiserate, through the dog.  Or the cat or parrot.  Maybe snakes, though I’m not sure exactly how that would work.  Your reader gains insight from how the characters relate to the pet.

It’s automatic tension, and a situation I could play out over the course of the novel.  It also deepens plot and theme with its little tendrils reaching out and affecting other aspects of character, plot, action, and so on.  It provides dimension.  When I read a beginning writer’s work and a dog appears, I generally react with dread, because 9 times out of 10 the dog is there to be killed, function as a symbol, and frankly, that’s lazy writing.  How much more interesting things become when the animal is allowed to do something else besides die.

Right now my rat terrier, a psycho rescue dog my husband brought home 14 years ago because he felt sorry for her, is at my feet.  She’s in kidney failure, but has been hanging on for months.  Terriers are incredibly resilient dogs, and Cricket is a perfect example.  She sleeps most of the time, and is finicky about food, and lately doesn’t seem to want to eat anything unless it’s bad for her.  Her blood values are way abnormal.  This is the week, I think, where we have to decide to put her down.  It’s killing me to think of saying good-bye to a crazy dog who cost me thousands of dollars (in Anchorage, we paid for cataract surgery so she could continue to play ball, once the most important part of her day) and who got in fights with the other dogs, cost a fortune, et cetera, etcetera. 

So during the conference I was carrying that weight along with me, while encouraging new writers, discussing their plots, listening to their hopes and dreams.  I was a prime example of “Building Tension” myself these last three days.  It’s no secret, really.  Every one of us humans knows grief, pain, anger, amusement and outright joy (far to rarely, but it does happen).  Our lives are lived in tension that we are so used to we don’t recognize how simple it is to replicate tension in our characters’ lives.  

My suggestion?  Use it in your writing.  You can’t turn away from loss and responsibility.  There is no way out of grief but through it.  But remember the joyful times, too, and allow your characters moments of happiness.  Yes, only conflict/trouble is interesting, but that’s not all there is to life and it shouldn’t be the only option in writing a story. 

I’m remembering throwing the ball for Cricket, how she’d bring it back, over and over an over and over.  I’d have to make her stop to take a drink of water.  Ball.  She loved it.  I’ve just decided I’m adding a rat terrier to the new book I’m working on.   Dogs don’t live long enough.  In my writing, she can have as many lives as I give her.

More soon,

Monday, November 14, 2011

F Magazine: A Guest Post by Bruce Farnsworth

Bruce Farnsworth is Poetry Editor and F Magazine Editorial Board member. F Magazine is an independent monthly focusing on local coverage of art, music and culture in South-Central Alaska.  We are committed to publishing vivid images as well as excellent original works of poetry, short fiction, creative non-fiction, criticism and journalism that explore all art disciplines. We will also generate and publish penetrating commentary on and analysis of relevant art and culture issues. All subject matter and styles are welcome as long as attention to craft is high, the images and writings are provocative, grammatically strong, syntactically unique, and illuminate the human experience.

F Magazine is at an important turning point. Founded three years ago, it was first a two then a one-woman show. Publisher Teeka Ballas remains at the helm but now she steers a nine-member editorial board that has begun to map out and navigate the magazine’s artistic and journalistic terrain. What is this thing that at one point called itself F-Zine and now goes by the more grown-up sounding ‘F’ Magazine? Is it a gussied up old school fan-zine as the earlier name implied? Or has it already sold out and become mainstream as the name change suggests? What does the letter ‘F’ stand for? I can’t answer those questions. I will tell you, as one member of the editorial board, what my hopes are and then its up to you, our readers, to judge when and if we are fulfilling them.

In case I wasn’t clear, I don’t speak for all the editors. The rest of the members of the board might join this discussion about aspirations by submitting their own contributions or they might not. I hope some of them will.

·         I hope we can present some terrific poetry, prose, photography and visual art in these pages. To do this we will have to start paying our contributors. That is a top priority and will begin to happen soon. Stay tuned.

·         I hope that in some not too distant future edition of the “Best American Poetry” anthology there is a poem that first appeared here.

·         A community ignores or marginalizes art and the artists that make it at its peril. I hope we can stir up an active interest in where the nodes of creative energy are in our city. To get everyone asking, ‘who is special and why?’

·         At F Magazine we don’t want people to like us, we want them to be interested in us, in what we have to say, the artists and events and issues on which we shine our collective spotlight. I hope we can raise the level of discourse about what’s right and what’s not right in the world of arts and culture. I hope we annihilate some old myths and give birth to some new ones.

·         Without honest, unblinking internal criticism an artist community can get lazy and self-satisfied. I hope we manage to foster a lively debate about what is art and what is not art. About quality and process, criteria and product. Sharpen your senses and the tips of your number two pencils and let’s begin a genuine dialogue.

·         I hope you are okay with paying for this experience and that you will be okay when we raise the price sometime down the road. This is an important project that must not be allowed to fail for lack of financial support. We’re not primarily a marketing vehicle for local events and companies as are our city’s many free publications. We solicit advertising from businesses and individuals so that we can make the magazine affordable to you.

·         I hope you will look forward to each month’s issue of ‘F’ with excitement and curiosity. If you are a writer, photographer, or visual artist, I hope you start submitting your best work to us on a regular basis. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ela: 49 Writers Weekly Round-up

Thanks to all who turned out for our 49 Writers Open Mic and Volunteer Appreciation event last night, with special thanks to volunteers Eric Larson and Debbie Moderow for hosting.  Good fun!  And remember there’s open studio this Sunday, November 13, from 1 to 4 pm at the 49 Writers Café at Out North, 3800 DeBarr.  All writers are welcome; drop by with your laptop or notebook, work on a project, visit with fellow writers, and if you’re a member, have a cup of Raven’s Brew coffee on us.

Writers ages 15-18, don’t forget the WYAK Teen Underground Poetry Workshop tomorrow, November 12 at 1pm on the third floor of the Loussac Library.  Whether you write poems feverishly or you’ve never written one, you’re invited to join the fun with an award-winning poet.  If you haven’t registered yet, you can do so on-site.  Visit or see our Facebook event for details.  

Later this month, on Monday, November 21, our WYAK writers group for ages 15-18 will meet from 6:30 – 8 pm at Teen Underground, and on Monday, November 28, our WYAK writers group for ages 12-14 will meet, also from 6:30-8 pm at Teen Underground.

Tired of the usual nine to five? Want a job that matters? 49 Writers is looking for an Executive Director. Someone creative. Someone excited about Alaska's growing literary community. For a full job description and information on how to apply, go to and look for the downloadable .pdf document toward the bottom of the home page.  The Board is accepting applications through November 22.

Who doesn’t love getting letters?  Of course someone must write them, and that’s pretty fun too.  49 Writers member Rosey Robards alerted us to the Anchorage “letter nerds,” who meet periodically at Kaladi Brothers downtown to share their passion for the not-quite-lost art of letter writing.  If you can’t make the meeting, you can still check to report your letter-writing activity: there’s a tally online

Thanks to WYAK/49 Writers volunteers Stefanie Tatalias, Cynthia Monroe, and Cheryl Lovegreen for representing us at the ASD Writing Institute tomorrow, Nov. 12, and helping teachers to motivate young writers.

For a comprehensive calendar of literary events throughout Alaska, visit

This evening, Friday November 11, 5-7pm, the Pratt Museum in Homer hosts the opening of a new Arts and Science collaboration featuring archeological research on the Kenai Peninsula. Local poets Jo Going, Erin Hollowell, Linda Martin and Eva Saulitis will read poems written specially for this occasion. The reading will take place at 6pm.
Also tonight, Friday November 11, 8pm, The University of Alaska Fairbanks English Department presents poet Mariela Griffor as part of the Midnight Sun Visiting Writer Series. Wood Center Ballroom, UAF Campus.

On Monday, November 14, 5-7pm,  Dr Diane Hanson presents "The House on the Hill:" new archeological developments in the Aleutian, on excavations from an upland house on Adak Island. This event is held in honor of Alaska Native/American Indian Heritage month. Last year's event can be found as a podcast. UAA Campus Bookstore.

On Wednesday, November 16, 5-7pm, Ambassador Peter Tornsen presents "The Wars of Afghanistan and US Foreign Policy." Tornsen's book, The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers was published July 2011. UAA Campus Bookstore.

On Thursday, November 17, 7-9pm, there will be a Community Poetry Reading in the UAA Student Union Cafeteria. Come read a poem--your poem, your friend's poem, any poem you care to share. For more information, email

Poetry Parley is coming up again this Wednesday, 16, at 7pm--and they need readers! The featured poet will be Joni Mitchell: if you can read a poem or two, please contact DC McKenzie asap. The featured "local poet" for the next two meetings will be the Ten Poets of Anchorage, reading from their new collection, Braided Streams. This time, it will be Marie Lundstrom, Tonja Woelber, Sherry Eckrich, Paul Winkel, Joe Nolting, and possibly Randall Bruns.

Next Thursday, November 17, 5.30-7pm,  Daniel Skrzynski will speak on Disaster Preparation at the UAA Campus Bookstore.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Andromeda/Your Turn: Open Mic Tips

Anyone else out there recovering from a bout of chest-crud (for lack of a more technical term)? In our house, we're on week two, with the coughing spells waxing and waning and patience long gone. Throw in several feet of snow this week, and a visit to the car mechanic this morning (cost of repair=more than the value of car, as always seems to be the case), plus some Internet connection issues at mid-day, and I was going to skip posting.

But wait -- tonight is 49 Writers Open Mic night! If you plan to go, read on. If you attended and are reading this later, tell us how it went, what you experienced, what you learned. Several of my 49 Alaska Writing Center students reported being nervous at the last reading they did, but all said it was a great experience.

I scanned the web for Open Mic tips and here are a few I found-- and agree with:

1. Obey the time limit provided. Time yourself in advance, and don't exceed. Better to leave your audience wanting more, not less.

2. Plan not to apologize, over-explain, or waste the audience time with too much nervous preamble. A quick hello in order to bond with the audience, a sentence or two at most to give the piece a bit of context (but only a very little bit!) and then get reading.

3. Print out your pages. Reading from a laptop or other gadget is distracting and unreliable. If there is a time for your computer to freeze, this will be it.

4. Format your pages. Whether or not you have middle-age eyes, it can be helpful to print your reading in larger font. Number the pages in case you drop them at the last minute. BOLD any sections where you want to slow down, or make other performance notations as needed. The experts say you shouldn't staple the pages -- turning them makes too much sound.

5. Practice. Read to your pets or your plants or your friends.

6. Go slow. And if there is a microphone, don't do the old "I don't need this thing" shtick -- you probably do. Unless the mic is buzzing and squeaking. Then step away and project.

7. And most of all, try to enjoy. The audience wants to see you succeed. Nine times out of ten, you will feel nerves and hear tremors that they can't perceive.

But you knew all that, right? Now tell us how it went!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Andromeda/Your Turn: US Artists new social media fundraising website -- would you take part?

United States Artists recently made an Alaska visit to spread the news about their new "Projects" website, a Kickstarter-like platform that helps artists raise funds for specific ventures.

The Anchorage Daily News reported on a workshop that was held for about 35 Alaska artists who had previously received awards from the Rasmuson Foundation, one of USA's partner organizations, to show them how to use the site. Rasmuson also recently announced that they are willing to match up to $2,500 for each of up to ten projects pitched on the site by Alaskans.

The Dailys News article explains: "The website lets artists raise money for new creative work by "crowdsourcing," which is to say high-tech public begging. The idea combines social media and micro-philanthropy." Originally made available only to winners of USA awards, the project has more recently opened up to include efforts of local and regional art award winners, including Rasmuson grant recipients. Two Alaskans, filmmaker Andrew MacLean and composer John Luther Adams, have successfully used the website to raise money for their projects.

My question for you: Do you plan to use this website, or have you thought about using similar Kickstarter-type sites? Would you be willing to donate to another artist's project, or do you find such requests annoying or offensive? I'm wondering, in particular, how literary projects fit. I can more easily imagine people donating to the creation of a community play, film, or visual art exhibit, for example, than to a writer's more solitary and independent writing project. But what if a small donation earned you a later book copy? In this day of shrinking advances and diminishing publisher support, does social media-powered fundraising offer writers a way to get their writing projects off the ground?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Faces of 49 Writers: Lizbeth Meredith

49 Writers volunteer Lizbeth Meredith

November is our volunteer appreciation month.  It's only with the help of our capable and committed volunteer crew that we're able to serve Alaska's writing community.  On Thursday, Nov. 10 at 7 pm at the 49 Writers Cafe at Out North, we'll be honoring our volunteers during Open Mic night.  All are welcome!  If you'd like to read from your work, please email  Featured here: 49 Writers volunteer Lizbeth Meredith.

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

By day, I work as a district supervisor of juvenile probation in Anchorage.  

As a volunteer for 49 Writers, I hang posters of upcoming events at local establishments, occasionally interview Alaskan authors for 49 Writer’s blog, and work with a neat team of volunteers to offer writing programs for youth.

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

 I love reading and writing, but haven’t always had the time to indulge my interests.
 A sole-supporting single parent since 1990, I’ve been so used to rushing around before and after work to sporting events and other kid activities.

 My daughters are grown now. Their absence has left a big cavity to fill.

When 49 Writers formed, I was impressed with how well-organized it was from the start. It’s been a perfect venue to absorb some of my extra time and energy.

What is the highlight of your involvement so far?

Interviewing the author Jack de Yonge of Boom Town Boys was nice. His sincere enthusiasm for his work was contagious.

 But the most fun has been working to develop writing programs for teens. My day job keeps me involved with kids who often have incredible stories of strength and survival that are buried underneath their delinquency. These kids were excited to fill out recent surveys from 49 Writers indicating their interest in writing opportunities. Likewise, the adults I’ve met, whether they’re staff at non-profits working with kids, Rotarians, or private business owners are just as excited to create those opportunities the kids requested.

Tell us something about your literary interests or activities.
I like reading and writing mostly non-fiction. When I was little, I wrote a lot of poetry. In college, I majored in journalism, but never did much with the degree. Life unfolded differently than I expected, with much of it turning out hideously. Yet I realized it didn’t play out too badly on paper, so I started writing again several years ago.

Now I belong to a great critiquing group which keeps me humming along with my own writing. I’ve learned that my book group is nearly as instrumental in improving my writing skills as my critiquing group. A couple of times a year, I enjoy taking a workshop from 49 Writers, including the David Vann workshop this fall.

What’s the last great book you read?
Lit by Mary Karr, and Half a Life by David Strauss. I simply can’t get enough of well-written, depressing memoirs.

When you picture our writing center ten years from now, what do you imagine?
I envision it being much the same, with but with a cozy, larger location and with numerous community partners that continue to offer opportunities for kids and adults to attend affordable workshops and retreats given by amazing writers.