Have you enjoyed reading this blog over the last year? Do you look forward to this weekly compilation of literary news and events from around the state? More than 100 Alaskan authors have contributed content in the form of monthly guest blogger stints, opinion pieces on topical issues, interviews, and more. The 49 Writers blog also offers you the opportunity to publish your work in our regular feature Alaska Shorts or promote your new publication in Spotlight on Alaska Books. If you value the blog--many of you have our Monday-Friday posts delivered daily to you inbox--and are not yet a member of 49 Writers, do consider joining to help us continue the work we do to support the artistic development of writers throughout Alaska, foster a writing community, and build an audience for literature. Our fall membership drive kicks off this weekend and runs through the end of the month. Since January we have welcomed 75 new members from around Alaska, and we would love to meet and exceed the 100 mark for 2014! Membership starts at $49, and seniors, full-time students, and members of the military can join for as little as $25. You can also become a Sustaining Member by signing up to make monthly payments in the amount of your choice. Click here for more information and to become a member. As I write this, I'm listening to the steady drum of rain on the roof of the oceanside home where I'm staying for the duration of the Juneau segment of our Crosscurrents Southeast program (see below). Tonight at 7pm, Ernestine Hayes will join Sherry Simpson for an onstage conversation as part of the Evening at Egan series at University of Alaska Southeast, "Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn: Cultural Appropriation in Alaskan Writing." Tomorrow, Sherry teaches a creative writing workshop at UAS, Autogeography. Registration is now closed due to the overwhelming interest from Juneau-area writers! We look forward to seeing 49 Writers members there and to meeting new friends. Finally, on Sunday, Sherry will give a 3pm reading at Douglas Library, "The Unseen Bear." We are pleased to announce the addition to our fall lineup of three events at Kenai Peninsula College. Thank you to 49 Writers member Dave Acheson (Dead Reckoning) for reaching out to make this happen. Friday, Oct. 10, 7pm, in the McLain Commons, Deb Vanasse and Don Rearden will feature in a reading and book talk entitled "Fact and Fiction: Life Into Story." On Saturday, Oct. 11, each will offer a three-hour creative writing workshop. Don will teach "Complex and Conflicted Characters : What's in Your Character's Pocket" from 9am to noon, and you can take "Perspective and Viewpoints: Exploring Point of View" with Deb, 1-4pm. Both take place in Room 132 at KPC. These workshops were both well-received by our membership in Juneau this spring, and you won't want to miss this opportunity to learn from two excellent, long-term faculty of 49 Writers. Have you signed up yet for Alaska Book Week? This year it falls October 4-11 and preparations are taking place around the state for this celebration of Alaska's writers and their books. Visit the website at www.alaskabookweek.com and click here to complete a participation form. You can contact ABW coordinator Jathan Day with questions at akbookweek (at) gmail (dot) com.
In Anchorage, the week-long celebration will culminate in The Great Alaska Book Fair on Saturday, Oct. 11, 10am to 5pm in the Loussac Library lower level (Outside the Wilda Marston Theater). All published Alaskan authors in the realm of creative writing are invited to participate. Don't miss the chance to sell your books and meet new readers.The fee for a Book Fair table is $20 for a half-table and $35 for a full table. Table set-up will take place the morning of Saturday, Oct. 11, from 8:30-10am. Authors must be residents of Alaska, but your books do not need to be about or take place in Alaska. You will be responsible for selling your own books, and either the author or your representative must be present at all times. This event will be free and open to the public. Registration deadline is Oct. 6. Register today at www.AlaskaWritersGuild.com. For more information, email Brooke Hartman at email@example.com or visit the Alaska Book Week
From Sandra Kleven, editor (with Michael Burwell, founding editor): Sept. 21 is the submission deadline for the Winter Solstice Issue of Cirque (#11). At this time, we have on hand about half the funds needed for the issue, so once again we turn to our readers and writers for support. In terms of bucks, we need $800. Find out more about Cirque and how to contribute at www.cirquejournal.com. September events at 49 Writers Click here for full details of the Crosscurrents Southeast program featuring Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes, funded in part by the Alaska Humanities Forum and National Endowment for the Arts. They'll be in Juneau, Sept. 19-21, then traveling to Sitka (Sept 22-23), Ketchikan (Sept. 24-25), with a grand finale in Craig (Sept. 26-27) with a creative writing workshop--"The Story and the Music: Fresh Approaches to Familiar Places"--and a Crosscurrents onstage conversation called "Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn: Cultural Appropriation in Alaskan Writing." All activities are free but pre-registration is required for the workshops. Sept. 30, 6pm, 645 W. 3rd Avenue, Anchorage: Exploring the Possibilities of Publishing with a University Press. 49 Writers hosts Regan Huff, Senior Acquisitions Editor at University of Washington Press, who will gave a talk and answer questions from writers with a nonfiction project that might be of interest to the Press. To pre-register for this free event, please click the link to sign up. Ms Huff is also scheduling one-on-one appointments with potential authors who have a book-length nonfiction project about the Northwest, including Alaska. Contact rhuff(at)uw(dot)edu to schedule. If you have a proposal and sample chapter to share, she would love to see it; otherwise, a short description would be fine to start. Events in Anchorage
Tuesday, Sept. 23, 5-7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: Exploring the World of What If? (that question, again): A Discussion with Speculative and Science Fiction Authors Sean Schubert, G.M. Whitley and Don Rearden. Author Sean Schubert discusses his zombie 4 books-- "Infection", "Containment", "Mitigation" and just released "Resolution". Author G.M. Whitley discusses her futuristic 4 books --"Basic Living", "Peace Out", "Sanctuar", and just released "Essentia". And author Don Rearden discusses his speculative fiction books—"Raven’s Gift" and the yet to be printed "Moving Salmon Bay" (currently published in France).
Wednesday, Sept. 24, 7-9pm, Anchorage Museum: Coming to Alaska is part of the Telling Your Alaska Stories series. Free but Space is limited; RSVP in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org or 929-9287 with your name, contact information and the program you wish to attend.
Wednesday, Sept. 24, 7pm, Loussac Library Innovations Lab (4th floor): the Alaska Writers Guild monthly program will be a Writers Roundtable. They look forward to welcoming new members and discussing the inspiration and lessons gleaned from last weekend's successful Writers Conference. Join them to talk about what's next, find writing partners and enjoy a few hours of good discussion with people like you! AWG is an organization supporting published and unpublished writers in Alaska. Members gain information and skills in which they may form a plan of action and a system of working with editors, agents, public relations people, printers, publishers, bookstores, and marketing people. And, frequently, by listening to authors who have done it. The people in the writing industry offer valuable information and contacts in the monthly meetings and workshops. Events around Alaska Tonight, Sept. 19, 8pm, UAS Housing Lodge: Woosh Kinaadeiyí present an open mic and poetry slam hosted by Dee Jay DeRego and Conor Lendrum, open to poets and performers of all ages and abilities. Sign up to perform opens at 8pm and show starts at 8:15 pm. Event is pay-as-you-can. This is slam is the last chance for poets to qualify for entry in the Grand Slam. Woosh Kinaadeiyí is a local nonprofit committed to diversity, inclusive community, and empowering voice. The organization hosts monthly poetry slams and open mics throughout the community. Learn more at www.facebook.com/wooshpoetry. Contact: Christy NaMee Eriksen, Woosh Kinaadeiyí President, email@example.com
Saturday, Oct. 4, 3pm, Fireside Books in Palmer: Come and meet authors Deb Vanasse and Seth Kantner. Deb Vanasse will be signing copies of her latest book, Cold Spell, the story of a mother who risks everything to start over and a daughter whose longings threaten to undo them both. Seth Kantner will be there for his adorable children's book, Pup and Pokey. Oct. 8-Nov. 12, Wednesdays, 12-2:15pm, Rich Chiappone will teach a class on writing personal esssays at KPC's Kachemak Bay Campus. Don't miss this opportunity to learn with a writer "whose rich humor has been a critical ingredient in an alchemy that turned subjects like squirrels and handmade road signs into cultural maps for early 21st century Alaska" (Krestia DeGeorge, Anchorage Press). Register online or stop by the campus off Pioneer Avenue in Homer.
Opportunities for Alaskan Writers Saturday, Nov. 8, 9am-2pm, Anchorage School District Young Writers Conference: Inspire the next generation of published authors by volunteering to share your craft and passion with students in grades 6-12. Showcase and sell your (age appropriate) books. Interested? Fill out this brief proposal form: http://tinyurl.com/n7wsgze.Authors do not need to be on site for the whole conference, but they are welcome to eat a pizza lunch with students, listen to keynote speaker Debbie Miller, and visit with students and fellow authors in a "Meet the Authors" space. Questions or concern? Contact Lisa Weight, Language Arts Curriculum and Instruction, ASD ED Center, at 907-742-4476.
The Denali Park Writer-in-Residence application period closes the end of this month. 2014 summer writers included Tom Sexton and Angela Morales. Apply now for winter or summer residencies. Visit http://www.nps.gov/dena/historyculture/arts-program.htm to learn more. Nominations for the 2015 Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities are now open. Learn more at the Alaska State Council on the Arts website. The categories are: Arts Education, Native Arts, Arts Organization and Individual Artist. In addition, the Alaska State Council on the Arts’ Literary Advisory Committee will accept nominations for the State Writer Laureate, who will be appointed by the Governor to a two year term (2015-2016). Deadline for both is October 1.
The registration deadline for Alaska Poetry Out Loud is October 15! Complete information and registration for the program is available at the Alaska Poetry Out Loud website. Not sure you're ready to register, but interested in discussing the program? We will host two, informational teleconferences on Sept. 23 & 30, 3:30pm. You can RSVP for one of these teleconferences here.
After a successful pilot season of Writers’ Showcase, 360 North statewide public television and KTOO News would like to invite Alaska writers to participate in this next season. We’re looking for short stories and creative non-fiction around the following themes: Holidays (Nov. 13); Journeys (Mar. 5); and Writer's Pick (June 4). Click here for more information.
They’d been begging to take me up mountain for days, but I kept us in the classroom. I am their new white teacher, dedicated. Our schoolhouse is built upon stilts poised above the permafrost. The building’s red has begun to match the fiery colors in the changing tundra; it’s late August in Alaska’s northern most latitudes. Black spruce grows in patches across the valley. At its lowest terraces, alder and willow, already gone from green to golden, live around the bogs and atop the cut banks of the East Fork of the Chandalar River. Spruce stands of stunted, spindly trees—like dirty pipe cleaners—thin with elevation and latitude, clinging denser in the draws until reaching the terminus of tree line, far below the summit’s shoulders. The Brooks Range lines the north and west of the river, an aged wall of scree slopes and immense ridges some with exposed vertebrae. Hills rise to the south and east from Vashràii K’oo, rolling and sloping downward all the way to the flats of the Yukon River. In between the mountains and the hills, along the river and the kettle lakes, amid the tundra and the tussocks, lives the Gwich’in of Arctic Village—the caribou people. “Dachanlee, holy mountain, sacred mountain,” they teach me as we walk a four-wheeler path leading away from the school. The village is more spread out than most. We walk through the last collection of six or seven homes, some log, others fuchsia and baby-blue hud style, then we’re in the wilderness. The path meanders around ponds and through wood lots where men will come for firewood once the land is locked in winter. Today summer is like a fall afternoon. The students wear thin black hoodies and faded jeans. The upper limits of the forest, before the terminus of trees, are haven for hunting camps. Most are vacant, as the caribou have skirted farther from the village this year, but still obvious by their old exoskeletons—trees skinned and lashed, stones collected as a fire pit. Dachanlee’s upper slopes seem sparse, solemn, but teem with life. The trail wanes to dirt single-track, the taiga becomes alpine tundra. Our pace slows as the slope steepens. We wander. With each step the ground gives then pushes back, breathing into us. The tundra exhales the last of the mosquito and gnat, but they are batted down in the breeze. Flakey lichen stains the rocks chartreuse and also lives like a spongy pillow in-between the shrub. I kick at the porous plant and it disintegrates. Two students make antlers with thumbs growing from brow, fingers pointed skyward, then click their jaws and lick their lips. “Food,” they say. “For caribou.” It’s hard to imagine a more resilient animal living off a more distasteful looking plant. We find a rack of antlers, but they weren’t shed, the skull is attached, not decomposed but gnawed upon. Nearby there are two scapulas and many ribs. “Zhoh,” they say. “Zhoh —wolf, caribou food.” I reach for the animal’s calcified headgear but a student stops me. “No,” they say. “Bad luck to touch those—we should leave them.” The village is four miles away but near enough. The runway is the most significant feature. A conveyance to the outside world, it’s a linear scar surrounded by an organic geometry. Then the school—filled with its curriculums and its interventions and its western education—sticking out like an arena in a metropolis. Some of my students live in the brightly painted new homes, radiating like Easter eggs or art deco above the Arctic Circle. The traditional log cabins are mere shadows in the valley floor. The earth smells fresh here. I bend and reach for the tiny forest growing beneath my feet. Like a hound I circulate my nose above the soft edged needles growing in shoots from the bushy carpet. “Lidii,” a student says. He grabs a bunch and stuffs it in his pockets. “To take to my auntie—tundra tea.” I go prone and bury my face into the prickly earth. It smells like time, musky, but with a familiarity I want to wrap around myself. The students giggle. I roll to my back, propped up on elbows. Flakes of caribou lichen stick in my beard. Today I am not their teacher. Samuel Chamberlain is a writer, teacher, and social activist living in Fairbanks, Alaska. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction at Pacific University in Oregon’s low-residency program. His work has appeared in O-Dark-Thirty. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Would you like to see your work featured here? Check out the Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today!
Earlier this month, on returning home from a trip to Denali National Park, I got some exciting news: one of my stories, “Of Waxwings and Goshawks and Standing Up to Power,” has been named a “Notable Essay” in this year’s Best American Essays anthology (joining two other 2014 Alaskan notables, Eva Saulitis and David Stevenson). But that’s not all. In April I learned that another essay of mine had been chosen to appear in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014, where “Twelve Ways of Viewing Alaska’s Wild, White Sheep” will be in the good company of essays and articles written by such literary luminaries as Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth Kolbert, Rebecca Solnit, and E.O. Wilson (along with several other lesser known journalists and essayists). I mention these honors not to boast or seek pats on my aging back, but to make a couple of points. First, such recognition is good for the writer’s spirit (as well as his ego), especially one who’s a largely obscure scribbler beyond Alaska. Or perhaps even beyond Anchorage. It’s natural, I think, to wonder how one’s work stacks up against other, better known essayists and authors, especially when a writer works in the far-north reaches of our nation. It’s also too easy (at least for this writer) to become despondent after repeated rejections, whether sending essays to magazines and literary journals, submitting book proposals to agents or publishing houses, or applying for grants, residencies, etc. The past few years my writing life has been filled with such rejections, prompting me to wonder whether I was in a slump of exceedingly long duration or simply didn’t measure up. Despite a reasonably successful career as a freelance journalist, essayist, and author, the doubts crept in. Maybe my work just isn’t very good. Or at least not good enough. The acceptance and now publication of Animal Stories marked an important turning point to more positive territory (though it’s simply one of many pivots in a writing life that now stretches nearly 35 years, if I count my dozen years as a newspaper journalist). It’s been a darn cool thing, to have a book publishing staff get excited about my essays, a body of work that stretches across two decades. And I suppose the recognition of my essays in two “best American” series this year is the proverbial icing on the cake. What’s even more cool is this: though both of the essays are included in Animal Stories, each was initially published in the Anchorage Press. How amazing is it that the list of stories to appear in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014 collection not only includes pieces from Audubon, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Scientific American, Orion, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and National Geographic, but also a small weekly newspaper published in Anchorage, Alaska? I bring this up because I think many creative nonfiction writers tend to overlook—or look down upon?—local publications when they have essays or other stories they’d like to see in print. Again I think it’s natural to seek publication in literary journals or magazines with a national or even international reach. And why not? But it might be a mistake to overlook something like the Anchorage Press, which (happily for me) sometimes runs pieces of 3,000 to 4,000 words and occasionally even longer. And which also pays decently (at least by newspaper standards) for such stories, not a small consideration for a “working writer” who’s eking out a living. Now that the Alaska Dispatch News has resurrected “We Alaskans,” there’s even more opportunity for Alaska’s essayists and other writers to find a local home for their stories. There’s one other thing about writing for a local audience that I appreciate. As I note in my acknowledgments in Animal Stories, “Though it’s always a pleasure to have work appear in a national and/or literary publication, I owe a special debt to the string of editors who’ve run my essays in the local weekly newspaper, the Anchorage Press. Besides providing a forum for several of my longer pieces, the Presshas given me the opportunity to share my observations, musings, and perspectives with a broad spectrum of local residents, many of whom have much different backgrounds, attitudes, and beliefs than I. The opportunity to present these readers new or alternative ways of relating to and thinking about the wildlife with whom we share this landscape is no small thing.” So both the Anchorage Pressand the newly revived “We Alaskans” will be on my literary radar whenever I write essays about the larger, wilder world we inhabit. And sometimes they’ll be the first places I turn when I have stories to share. A transplanted New Englander, nature writer Bill Sherwonit has made Anchorage his home since 1982. He’s contributed essays, articles, and commentaries to a wide variety of publications and is the author of more than a dozen books. His newest, Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife, will be published this fall by Alaska Northwest Books. His website is www.billsherwonit.alaskawriters.com.
Tell us about your background. I’m a full-time writer. To supplement my income, I work as a freelance editor (developmental and proofreading), and I teach creative writing workshops. My undergraduate degree is in English, and I have a Master of Arts in Humanities.
I live on Hiland Mountain, outside of Anchorage (in Eagle River, actually), but I also spend as much time as possible at my husband’s cabin on the Matanuska River, overlooking the Matanuska Glacier. Before moving to Anchorage, I lived in Fairbanks for twenty years, and before that, I lived in Southwestern Alaska, in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta: Nunapitchuk, Tuluksak, Akiachak, Bethel. How did you get into writing?
Like most writers, I’ve always loved books and language. At first, writing books—especially fiction—seemed too lofty a goal, so I studied journalism. But then I switched colleges and ended up at a school with an awful journalism program, so I became an English major. The more I studied literature, the more I wanted to write fiction. But when my college advisor asked how I planned to make a living as a novelist, I couldn’t say. He steered me into teaching, but I never let go of my ambition to write fiction. I decided I’d teach twenty years and retire (as you used to be able to do in Alaska), and then I’d do what I really wanted, which was to write books. Deb VanasseWhy an Alaskan book? I’m very taken by place, and this is the place I know best. And I think Alaska’s ready for more literary/book club fiction set in our state. Seth Kantner’s Ordinary Wolvesset the standard for all of us in that regard. So I’m hugely excited that the official book launch for Cold Spellis going to be Oct. 3–6 with Seth, who’s launching a new book of his own, a children’s book. It’s fun to be swapping places—he’s the one known for literary fiction, and I’m known for children’s books. How was the publishing experience for you? Cold Spell is my fourteenth published book, so I’ve had lots of different experiences in publishing: agented, unagented, big publisher, small press, and now, independent publishing. For Cold Spell, I had what I consider an ideal arrangement: a traditional press published the softcover edition, while I retained rights to the other editions—ebooks, audio books, foreign rights. It’s up to me now to prove to the print publisher that by my active promotion of those other rights, we’ll sell more print copies than we would have otherwise. You wrote quite a few children’s books. Why such a detour with Cold Spell?
Cold Spell is the novel I always aspired to write, the sort of book I love to read, with intriguing characters, evocative prose, and a compelling storyline. In that sense, the children’s books were the detour; I fell into writing them without really intending to. I enjoy the challenge of children’s books—in many ways, kids tolerate a lot less in terms of sloppiness than adult readers will. And I love interacting with kids. But my desire was to write a well-received novel for grown-ups. It feels great to have finally done that! Why did you have both Sylvie and Ruth so interested in the glacier?
My characters are an unruly bunch—if I tried to “have” them do anything, they’d turn right around and do something completely different. For the most part, I discover who they are and what interests them by seeing what they do on the page. If I knew from the start what they’d do, I’m afraid I’d get bored with them, and that would carry over to the reader. So it wasn’t until Ruth tore that photo out of the magazine that I knew she had an odd obsession with the glacier, and it wasn’t until Sylvie arrived at the glacier that I saw how her mother’s obsession was going to affect her, despite her best efforts to resist it. What was the significance of Kenny and Ruth’s relationship?
I suppose it’s another of my flaws as a writer—it’s certainly not very efficient—but I rarely know what anything in a story signifies until after it’s on the page. And in the case of Kenny and Ruth’s relationship, I don’t know that it signifies anything. I suppose on some level I’m interested in sexual politics, in that I’m intrigued by the ways women rely on sexuality when other avenues to power elude them. In the triangle involving Kenny, Ruth, and Sylvie, there’s a lot of that going on. What was the inspiration for the trucker?
David Vann (an author I hugely admire) wrote that Cold Spellis Greek tragedy; that while you like Ruth and Sylvie and hope they won’t hurt each other, you know that they will. An extension of that is that they also seem destined to harm themselves. When Sylvie feels powerless, she asserts herself sexually. You can only do so much of that before you get into trouble. The trucker is trouble. Brody and Sylvie seem to have a tenuous relationship. Why did you decide to have their relationship disintegrate, only to resume?
If only I could decide such things, writing would be so much easier. Brody and Sylvie made their moves on the page, and I tried not to be a knucklehead about seeing the obvious, so that in revision, I could clarify what was going on. In retrospect, I think Brody works in opposition to the trucker. He’s vulnerable, though he doesn’t want to be, and it’s through him that Sylvie lets herself become vulnerable, which in turn helps her emerge from her preoccupation with herself. What do you do to overcome writer’s block?
I always hate saying this, because it seems like I’ll jinx it, but in truth, I’ve never had writer’s block. I think writer’s block is strongly connected to a fear of failure, and while I’ve certainly failed often in life, I’ve never had much fear of it. I can generally write my way through stuck points; in fact, a bigger problem for me is forging ahead in a story when I should have stopped to assess whether it was heading in the best possible direction. Are there any more books in the works? Always! I’ve just finished a narrative nonfiction manuscript that I worked on during roughly the same time period in which I wrote Cold Spell, a biography of Kate Carmack, an integral but overlooked figure in Klondike gold rush history. When I was well into the draft, I realized that this book would be the first non-academic rendering of the gold rush from the perspective of those who were there first, Alaska Natives and the First Nations of the Yukon, so I wanted to make sure it was as accurate and compelling as possible. I’m also working on a book for writers: What Every Author Should Know. What words of wisdom would you give to a writer? With any luck, the book I mentioned, What Every Author Should Know, will impart 85,000 words of wisdom! One of the most important, in my reckoning, is to persevere. Writing is hard work. At every turn, you encounter discouragement. If you give in to it, you’re done. You write the best book you can, and then you make it better. You don’t quit.
Founder of Running Fox Books and co-founder of 49 Writers, Deb Vanasse has authored twelve books, the latest of which is Cold Spell. Deb is currently working on a narrative nonfiction book called Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Last Great Race for Gold. She lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. 49 Writers member Kellie Doherty, who has volunteered for us for several years--most recently as a blog interviewer, is leaving Alaska soon to pursue her Master's in Publishing. We wish Kellie well in her new endeavors and thank her for her many contributions behind the scenes.
It wasn’t the friends who laughed or the enemies who mocked him. It wasn’t the strangers who caught the odor and turned away. The unkindest cut came from Rory himself. More than anyone, Rory was disappointed in himself. “Coward!” he snarled. “You’re so afraid of water you won’t even take a shower.” Rory suffered from aquaphobia. He had been diagnosed as a toddler after fainting at the aquarium. Potty-training gave him nightmares in which his terrified face looked back at him from the bottom of the toilet. Rory never learned to swim, never rode in a boat, never drank club soda or beer. If it rained, he stayed inside—and lost jobs because of it, though he was self-employed now. To drink water he wore a blindfold. He relieved himself through innovative measures that are best not gone into here. Rory’s method of personal hygiene was to smear himself with a hand sanitizer and vigorously rub himself down with a towel caked in talcum powder. The results were marginal and his social life was pitiful. If his companions weren’t overcome by the smell, they cringed at his twitchings when, for example, someone mentioned fishing or plumbing or how their daughter had become captain of the swim team. Sometimes, failing all restraint, they burst out laughing. Occasionally Rory would see that he had real skills and could make positive impressions on others. For instance, Rory was a first-rate mountain climber. He’d conquered the world’s most aesthetic rock-climbing routes. In the bone-dry regions of Nevada, Utah, Africa and Australia, he had mastered challenging, technical routes, and did so prolifically, one after another, never looking back. It was Rory’s wry, understated reply to a reporter’s question about a particular line up Ayers Rock in the Australian Outback—“Been there, done that,” Rory said at the time—that had become the go-to affectation of hip boredom. Rory still ventured into the mountains, but now it was to kill sheep, and to guide rich men and rich women in the killing of sheep. As for the seeping wounds of freshly shot animals, Rory wore night-vision goggles, which made blood look like motor oil. Rory never hunted during the rainy season. Instead he stayed home and watched recorded Nascar events, fast-forwarding at the speed of light through the Budweiser commercials. His life was not easy, always beset by worry, and never free from self-reproach. But it had acquired a crazy kind of balance. That is, until he picked up the paper one morning and saw that the Taliban columnist Craig Medred had called him “mountain brave, water sissy.” It depressed Rory profoundly. His brand and his guiding business declined. Something radical was called for. He had to face his fears—and do so publicly. Rory decided to walk at deep low tide across the Anchorage mudflats to Fire Island. He whimpered at the very idea yet resolved to learn all he could about the consistency of the mud, the timing of the tides, the direction and force of the currents. “Walk fast. Never dawdle,” the experts advised. “If you begin to sink, stretch out flat on the ground.” Knowledge gave him confidence. So, on a mid-June afternoon with an extreme negative tide, Rory stepped out onto the flats dressed for speed, wearing only shorts, low-cut tennies and a daypack. Less than two hours later, having crossed three miles of mud and only two piddling shallow sloughs (while hiding his eyes), Rory walked up onto Fire Island. In a frenzy of self-approval, he raced to the nearest wind turbine, clambered skillfully up its pylon and quickly reached the top. There in his great joy he was thrown back and down 260 feet by a sharp electrical jolt. He landed with a huge splash, spread-eagle on his back, in a pond. A pond-browsing moose leaped away terrified, scaring Rory out of his wits. Rory jumped from the water and fled in the opposite direction. Blindly he reached the mudflats which he re-crossed in little more than 60 minutes, cussing himself the whole time for losing his pack and his shoes. Every inch of him smarted, especially the backs of his legs. On his shoulder was a third-degree burn where a metal band, part of his pack strap, had pressed against it. How did he lose his things!? For days he remembered being scared to death of the moose, but nothing else. Eventually some of what happened came back and Rory sorted it out. His pack had taken the brunt of both the turbine’s shock and the splash-down. What he didn’t realize for quite some time, however, was that he’d been briefly submerged in the pond, and that, nearing the Anchorage shore, he’d walked a half-mile through water up to his knees. Peter Porco writes from Anchorage. Would you like to see your work published here? Check out our Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today!
Earlier this week I launched a kickstarter campaign to help fund a series of readings. In talking to people about the project and Le Roman du Lièvre, the book that has necessitated it, I have found myself stumbling over my history with the text and the many converging paths that have lead me to this point and to its printing. I would like to take this opportunity to articulate the framework from which this project hangs, touching on a few key moments, from which everything else can be extrapolated. A little over 10 years ago I stole a book from my college’s library. Motivated solely by its appearance, I acted spontaneously, unaware of the way in which this deed would effect my life. I was pleasantly surprised by the story it contained. Romance of the Rabbit was a 1920’s translation of a turn of the century French novel. Set in the world of Jean de la Fountain’s fables. It was the story of a rabbit falling in love with Saint Francis of Assisi. Or was it a Hare? Five years after stealing the book I translated Francis Jammes’ original text for myself. On a whim I started with the title and immediately discovered that the story was about a hare not a rabbit. As absurd as it sounds, this inconsistency was enough to prompt my own translation. Did I mention that I do not know French? Another five years have passed and the book is as much a part of my life as it ever has been. Over the years it has empowered me, played excuse, lifeline and instigator. When I speak of it I often forget I am speaking of a book. And in many ways it has become much more. A series of group shows, music, food, travel, even the foundation of a comic book. This summer I finally got around to printing my translation. I did not put this off on purpose. I had just not found an opportunity to print the text in a fashion suitably laborious, or absurd enough to do my translation process justice. An e-book would not work for obvious reasons. In fact, most forms of printing that I had had at my disposal were not right for the task. As part of the Rasmuson Foundation residency program I spent 2 months at Zygote Press in Cleveland. There I hand-printed my translation of Le Roman du Lièvre using monotype on a Vandercook press. With the help of the community at Zygote, printing was approached through a participatory process modeled after the educational philosophy of Jacques Rancière’s Ignorant Schoolmaster. The cover was printed on paper hand made at the Morgan Conservatory specifically for the project. And the resulting books were beautiful. For those that are unfamiliar, monotype is a form of letterpress printing in which every letter is a separate piece of lead. Every character, every space, even the space between lines is separate. This seemed the perfect way to re-engage with a text I had had to fuss over so intensely during the original translation process. Monotype was suitably intimate, requiring repeated proofing and a great deal of handling. And that brings us back to the present. To my kickstarter campaign and the eventual series of readings that will result. Readings that will hopefully flesh out the ten year chronology presented here, re –centered this time around, again focused on the story that began it all. For more about the book and my work with Le Roman du Lievre please visit http://www.riordanjimmy.com/le-roman-du-livre/and my kickstarter page https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1206766764/the-le-roman-du-lievre-translation-and-comic.
The early stages of turning my “Animal Stories” idea into a book went remarkably smoothly. Two decades of writing wildlife essays had given me plenty of material to choose from. Though there are some iconic Alaskan animals I haven’t yet encountered and/or examined in story, I had more than enough diversity in the species, locales, and nature of my encounters to fill a book (and then some). There were certainly issues to address, for instance repetition of content in certain stories and the need to provide additional context and/or update information in some pieces. But overall, the essays seemed to work well when woven into a larger work. From everything I could tell, the staff at Graphic Arts Books/Alaska Northwest Books approved my choice of essays, my organization of them into four sections (eventually to become Meeting the Neighbors, Along City and Highway Fringes, Backcountry Encounters, and a sort of grab-bag section titled Oddities, Surprises, and Dilemmas), and my inclusion of an author’s note to introduce the stories. In short, the editorial staff seemed to trust my instincts, choices, approach, and story-telling style and ability. There was minimal disagreement or even discussion of how the manuscript was evolving. Upon reaching the copy-editing phase, I expected this also to go smoothly. I knew there would be questions and suggestions to address, but the content and organization seemed pretty well set by this point; the manuscript seemed to be in good shape. Michelle, my copy editor, began her notes to me in the same way I’d critique an essay in one of my nature writing classes: she told me what worked well for her, what she admired about the collection, what she considered its strengths. Then, in her fourth paragraph, she added, “My primary concerns are related to tense and time . . .” Uh-oh. I have always loved using present tense when writing essays. Certainly there have been exceptions, but nearly all my essays—especially those I’ve written about wildlife—are composed in present tense, which I believe gives them more immediacy: the reader is present with me as I’m having an experience and reflecting upon it. I also think that writing the main narrative line in present tense makes it easier to move (or jump) around between earlier, past experiences. Bottom line: present tense works for me as essayist; rightly or wrongly, I believe I’m more effective using it. While writing in the present tense can be effective for a single essay, Michelle pointed out that it becomes more challenging in a book-length narrative—or a book-length collection of essays that were written across two decades, with changing personal circumstances (including the places I’ve lived while residing here in Anchorage and the people with whom I’ve had primary relationships) and perspectives, understandings. Michelle explained, “Because of your unique position and ability to tell stories of human interaction with our natural world, some of the lessons that readers learn from you are in the ‘looking back’ on your experiences. “I believe readers will appreciate this book as a memoir. We know these things aren’t happening now, but rather that you are recalling memories. Your perspective on these memories adds depth to the theme of the book. You couldn’t always know, in the moment, the significance that a particular event would later take in your life. “Writing in the present tense is tricky. The reason to do it is to bring readers right into the action—they are actively participating as the scene unfolds. Not many authors use this technique because it is difficult to sustain in a logical way through the length of a book manuscript. Sections in present tense can feel jarring and shifts from past to present and back to past within the story itself can become a distraction. “There is a notion of historical present which can be employed to give a sense of immediacy to a passage that actually took place in the past. Again this can be tricky and needs to be used carefully and intentionally. . . . “That being said, I would suggest your memories of your encounters with nature be written in past tense throughout the manuscript. “I’m not suggesting that the whole book be written exclusively in past tense. There are places where you ruminate on the future (e.g. whether you will return to a certain location) and that works fine. Or places where you’re talking about the kind of city Anchorage is today and so present tense makes sense. Or places where you are making a current observation about a past event, expressing what you’ve learned from it . . . It’s really in the memories where we know the action is not occurring now, that past tense should be used.” To her credit, Michelle then gave some detailed examples to back up her points and suggestions. Still, my initial reaction was to oppose her well-laid-out argument and advice. Present tense had always worked for me and I believed it worked for me here, too. Besides that, I realized that changing all my essays from present to past tense would be an enormous amount of work. It’s not as simple as merely changing verb tenses. Of course Michelle knew that. She empathized with my dilemma and reminded me that the final decision was mine. At my request we talked. Though I said I needed to think about it some more, by the end of our conversation I knew I’d make the change. Her arguments—and especially some of the examples she’d given me—made sense. Given the substantial time frame that I covered, my own changing circumstances, and other changes that have occurred since I first wrote several of the essays, the use of present tense would likely create unnecessary confusion for the reader and perhaps some misinterpretations. Reluctantly at first, but with increased determination—and, dare I say it, enthusiasm—I made the changes. After all, I wanted this to be the best book it could be. And as a whole, I could see the collection of essays becoming clearer and stronger, more cohesive and coherent, when written in the past tense (with sections in present tense where appropriate, as Michelle had commented in her note). As I’d guessed, it wasn’t an easy change to make. Some of the essays required considerable revision and reframing. But in the end, I liked what I read. Animal Stories is a better book because of it.
A transplanted New Englander, nature writer Bill Sherwonit has made Anchorage his home since 1982. He’s contributed essays, articles, and commentaries to a wide variety of publications and is the author of more than a dozen books. His newest, Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife, will be published this fall by Alaska Northwest Books. His website is www.billsherwonit.alaskawriters.com.
Becky Saleeby After six drafts, two professional rounds of editing, and a moderate investment in publishing, I’m on the verge of seeing my first novel, Searching for Isaiah John, in print. It has taken shape, changed course, and arrived in final form over the course of a decade. Yes, one decade. But that’s a conservative estimate. Maybe I’m like most writers with a vague idea that sits dormant for a long while until something happens to jar it loose. For me it was jury duty— two weeks of repetitive, mind-numbing arguments in a stuffy Anchorage courtroom. My fellow jurors seemed amazed at my assiduous note taking on the pad of paper given to us when the trial began. By the end, I had filled it with furious scribbling about plot ideas instead of legal evidence. Better yet, I discovered one of my main characters — a charming police officer with wiry salt-and-pepper hair — on the witness stand. For each draft, I took advice from anyone who offered it. The first draft had a cool title, but revealed a plot twist toward the end of the book. A friend in my writing group fortunately pointed out it would never work. The second draft benefited from reviewers at the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference who suggested I ramp up the conflicts. My characters were apparently just too nice (it seems my reviewers were just too polite to use the word boring). One editor insisted that I add a romantic scene to help with character development, and Lisa Cron, speaker at the Alaska Writers Guild conference last fall, urged us to nail that first page so that readers would at least turn to the second. The final round of advice, and the best, was given by Andromeda Romano-Lax, one of my writing instructors at 49 Writers and my book coach. I sent her the fifth draft, which was lacking in something I couldn’t quite put a finger on. I was so unsure of the novel at that point that I asked if anything was worth salvaging. I was pleased with her response. She liked it! It wasn’t an unqualified thumbs-up, however, and that’s when the real revision started for me. Andromeda pointed out that my main character and narrator, Jacob Tao, had a serious personality flaw. He came across as weak and passive, never initiating any action in the story, just reacting to what other characters said and did. What a surprise! To me he was a typical, laid-back, sixties kind of guy. Another problem was the story within a story, both of them narrated from Jacob’s point of view. It was tedious to read about him sitting at a kitchen table, drinking endless cups of tea, and listening to his neighbor’s escape to Alaska in the 1920s. And then Andromeda said my two underlying themes were a bit too subtle, which I interpreted as meaning “undeveloped.” Once the book’s shortcomings had been gently spelled out for me, my vision cleared. I remember the feeling of great relief when I could honestly say I knew where I was going with the story. Draft six took one intense month of work, but it turned out to be the most fun, creative part of the whole journey. Since my initial attempt at sending the manuscript off to a publisher fell flat (she never provided a word of feedback or a reply to emails or a phone call), I decided to try independent publishing. CreateSpace at Amazon.com appealed to me because the process seemed streamlined and straight-forward. It turned out to be exactly what I’d hoped for. The important thing is that it fit my ultimate goal, which was to simply get the book out for others to read (fame and fortune never entered my equation). After my online inquiry, I received a welcome email and was instructed to set up a time for a phone call. I was hooked on CreateSpace after that first personal contact. One of the questions I asked the marketing specialist who called me was whether an author ever recoups her investment after the book has been published. He answered that 50% actually do, but it is all dependent on the quality of the writing and the effort each author puts toward marketing her own book. The final proof of my book arrived in the mail today (several days ahead of schedule, I should add). I love the cover. They asked for my design ideas and ran with them, even allowing me to make a couple changes along the way. They also gave me the option of a printed proof after each of my four rounds of editing and proof-reading. Their service has been personal, professional, and punctual. Now, I’m just waiting for the Kirkus reviews. Oh did I mention that submitting to Kirkus is included in their package deal? Until then, I want to let other aspiring novelists know about CreateSpace. I end here by giving them an unqualified thumbs-up.
Becky Saleeby is a thirty-year resident of Alaska. She signed up for her first 49 Writers class in 2010 to make the transition from her professional writing of books and papers about archaeology to another genre: fiction. The switch has been good for her health and her sense of humor.
I didn’t let myself think about who I was trying to help as I stopped underneath the darkened balcony. She was just a girl. Just your average all-powerful, insanely beautiful girl. My thoughts weren’t calming. My heart was thumping as loud as a jackhammer at the crack of dawn—which was about what time it was, sunlight trickling down from the peak of the pyramid, turning the world to gold. Would she even be awake? In my eagerness to help her, I hadn’t really considered the possibility that she wouldn’t be. I almost wanted to laugh. Then, out of nowhere, something hit me like a pile of bricks, so heavy it flattened me on the wet grass. Not a something—someone. A person, sprawled on top of me. A girl covered in blood. (WORDLESS, AdriAnne Strickland) In Eden City, a member of the illiterate wordless class would never dream of meeting the all-powerful Words . . . much less of running away with one. So when a gorgeous girl literally falls into his lap during a routine trash run, seventeen-year-old Tavin Barnes isn’t sure if it’s the luckiest or worst day of his life. That girl is Khaya, the Word of Life, who can heal a wound or command an ivy bush to devour a city block with ease. And yet she needs Tavin’s help. By aiding Khaya’s escape from the seemingly idyllic confines of Eden City, Tavin unwittingly throws himself into the heart of a conflict that is threatening to tear the world apart. Eden City’s elite will stop at nothing to protect the shocking secret Khaya hides, and they enlist the other Words, each with their own frightening powers, to bring her back. “Impressive mythology and fast-paced adventure.” – Booklist “The right amount of pizzazz in the form of cinematic action and naked, sexy fun…. [An] intriguing, original science-fantasy setting sure to attract fans.” – Kirkus Reviews “Strickland’s fast-paced debut… raises questions of identity and belonging… Even the least ethical characters prove emotionally vulnerable.” – Publishers Weekly “A fast-paced blend of sci-fi and fantasy with scary real-world implications, Wordless grabbed hold of me from the start and wouldn’t let me go. Brilliant.” – Chelsea Pitcher, author of The S-Word and The Last Changeling AdriAnne Strickland was a bibliophile who wanted to be an author before she knew what either of those words meant. She shares a home base in Alaska with her husband, but has spent two cumulative years living abroad in Africa, Asia, and Europe. While writing occupies most of her time, she commercial fishes every summer in Bristol Bay, because she can't seem to stop. Her debut YA sci-fi/fantasy, WORDLESS, came out with Flux Books in 2014, and is available in paperback and e-book formats wherever books are sold. http://www.adriannestrickland.com/http://www.goodbooksbadcoffee.com/book/9780738739663http://www.amazon.com/Wordless-AdriAnne-Strickland-ebook/dp/B00LXD0KDK/ref=la_B00JHR0XEU_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407873956&sr=1-1 Would you like to see your book featured here? Check out our Spotlight on Alaska Books guidelines and submit today!