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Collaborative Reflections & Book News By and About Alaskan AuthorsAndromeda Romano-Lax
Updated: 18 hours 52 min ago

Jessica Ramsey Golden: The Self-Destructing Creative

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 7:00am
This blog post was originally scheduled to run last week, on Aug. 13. But following Robin Williams’ suicide on Aug. 11, I asked that the post be delayed so that I could reframe my thoughts in light of the national conversation occurring in the wake of this loss. Nothing I say will provide new solutions or special insight. But I do beleive that we have a responsibility to refuse to stop talking about depression. One in ten Americans suffers from depression. But in creative fields the percentage sky-rockets. We do artists a diservice when we write off their work as a product of mental illness. Furthermore, we perpetuate a culture that views creativity as a mentally harmful activity. In fact, study after study shows that art makes us happier, healthier, more empathetic people. If you’re struggling, seek help. Being healthy will not kill your creativity. Only giving up on your art can do that. 
In a recent article for The Atlantic, neuro-scientist Nancy Andreason discusses the links between mental instability, intelligence, and creativity (link below). She traces the idea of the "mad genius" from Aristotle to modern efforts to elucidate creativity as a trait.
Studies indicate that persons with high levels of creativity (as measured by a variety of metrics) are much more likely to have a history of mental illness and addiction in their family. They themselves are also more likely to have a history of mental disorder.
Creativity is a fine line to walk. We so deeply link the demon of dysfunction with the angel of creativity that we come to think of them as one and the same.
I remember trying desperately, futilely to explain to my college Modernism class that Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Wolfe didn't write from their depression.
They couldn't have.
Depressed people don't function well enough to organize and write a novel, let alone to edit and rigorously rewrite.
They wrote in spite of their illness, not because of it. They wrote when they were relatively healthy, when they were functional. This is evident in Wolfe’s suicide note when she writes, “I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. (...) You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read.”
To paraphrase Sylvia Plath, when you’re depressed you have no time for anything but being depressed.
To my anger and frustration I've seen gifted artists and writers use the Dysfunction of the Greats as a justification for their overindulgence in unhealthy behavior. It's the shortcut past the hard work and long hours. The floodgate through which will pour your own inner Hemingway.
Drink, drug, and self-destruct. For it proves you're a genius.
As Stephen King notes in On Writing, "The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are intertwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time."
In her TED talk, author Elizabeth Gilbert notes that artists tend to self-destruct. Then she asks, “Are you guys all cool with that?”
Are we?
It's important that we talk about the mental health of our artists, writers, and musicians. It's important that we acknowledge that great work comes from great labor, and that madness and addiction are not pathways to genius. They are merely unfortunate chemical by-products of similar neural processes. 
It's important for two reasons: First, so that we can stop giving our creative young people the idea that unhealthy behavior will make them more creative. Second, so we can treat creativity as a necessary activity for a healthy mind.
My mother is depressive. As any child of someone with mental illness can tell you, it wreaks havoc on childhood. Depression was the ghost in our home. The blackness that shadowed every aspect of life.
Her's was not the lingering malaise of existential dissatisfaction. Her depression crippled her. She spent months in bed. The tiniest decisions overwhelmed her. When you spoke to her, whether seeking joy or comfort, you never knew if you would get the fun, creative mother you loved, or the huge, seeping sadness that lurked just under the surface.
It was impossible to understand and make sense of at 6-years-old. And at 10. And at 13. But when I was 14, I discovered someone who helped me understand. Someone Andreason used as a case study on the link between creativity and mental illness. Kurt Vonnegut.
In Breakfast of Champions (a book Vonnegut considered his worst), he discusses the suicide of his mother.
Mental illness is a theme throughout his work. One he approaches with an empathy, humor, and humanity that is, true to Vonnegut form, touchingly irreverent.
His family, like mine, is rife with depression, addiction, bad relationships, suicide, and eating and anxiety disorders.
My mother's disease occurred at a time before depression was a common topic.
Socially, her depression was perceived as an implicit failure on her part to live up to the expectation of perfection that her religion demanded.
Her children, house, clothes, body, and marriage were imperfect. So she simply gave up fighting her illness.
To read Vonnegut state of his own mother that she committed suicide out of embarrassment, is a truth so profound and terrible, that one can only laugh out loud in horror.
It took the first 26 years of my life for me to figure out that genetically and behaviorally, my auto-setting is self-destruct. The genes I inherited and the behaviors I learned in childhood are a recipe for becoming imprisoned in the same disease that decimated my mother. 
I have to actively and consciously choose healthy habits. I have to override the behaviors I learned and the genes I was assigned.
I have to unlearn my earliest formed habits. My relationships to food, sleep, sex, exercise, religion, television, and family. Some days this is easy. Some days it's not.
But I choose to demonstrate healthy behaviors to my children. And one of those healthy habits is creativity. Specifically writing.
Writing is cheap therapy. Writing is working through your shit. The shit you don't want to deal with. That's what Vonnegut taught me. It's a way to call out your inner crazy.
To write is to stomp through your swampy Jungian underworld in hip-waders and see what kinds of demons you can shake from the trees.
It may not be pretty or nice. But it is necessary work.
Because, as with so many demons, they only begin to dissipate when they are named.
To know what it is, to drag it into the light, to hang Grendel's arm from the rafters of the world and cry, “Here! Here's what's been stalking me!” is to set the world in perspective. 
We must shift our understanding. We must see creativity, not as a symptom of a disease, but as a tool to help control it. A coping mechanism. A meaning that transcends the storminess of an unsettled mind. So we can nurture our artists amid their flights of fancy, and draw them back from the alluring precipice of self-destruction.

Jessica Ramsey Golden’s poetry has appeared in such journals as The William and Mary Review, Orbis International, Calyx, and Cirque. In 2006 she was awarded the Eleanor B. North Poetry Prize. In 2009, she received an Individual Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation. In 2011, she began writing fiction. She is currently drafting a science fiction project, while seeking representation for her literary Gothic novel, The Hidden Door.

Categories: Arts & Culture

Deb: One Author's Publishing Success - An Interview with Autumn Dawn

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 7:00am
Author Autumn Dawn, a former student from North Pole High School.Like many writers, I was a teacher first. Following a news article on my latest novel, I received an inspiring email from a former student, now a fellow author who writes under the name Autumn Dawn.
I wanted to thank you again for teaching my North Pole High School class,” she said. “I’ve made good use of it. It makes me emotional thinking about what I would have done without teachers like you. So many stories would have gone untold, and I have over twenty works published now. Two were published in NY, two are with Amazon’s publishing arm and the rest are self-published.”
As teachers all over the country prepare to start a new year, I hope they’ll find encouragement in this example of what a difference they’ll make in the lives of their students. Not every one of them will find the success Autumn has, or take the time to acknowledge how you’ve helped them along the way, but your creative efforts in the classroom do have an impact.
After reconnecting, Autumn and I thought it would be fun to swap interviews; you’ll find her interview with me on her blog.
You pointed out that the two of us had something in common: school counselors/academic advisers told us that we’d never make a living as writers. How did you get past that?
I’m stubborn and competitive, and I like a challenge. Writing made me happy, and the stories didn’t stop just because someone disapproved. For the record, I was almost forty before my parents saw any sense in it. My father admitted he thought I was wasting my time with writing, which I knew, but at least he didn’t say it out loud.
Also, my husband and high school sweetheart, John, is extremely supportive. We’ve been married since 1994 and every day is a blessing.
You’ve not only made a living as a writing, you’ve also earned a six-figure annual income from your books. Tell us a little about that journey, and what the money does and doesn’t mean to you as a creative individual.
It was a huge validation, of course. Someone wanted to read my books! We’d just moved to Washington and I hoped to make some money to help with groceries, and suddenly my sales numbers shot up! We watched in amazement, and all the guys at John’s work were cheering like it was a sports event as John shared the latest stats. I could say “HA!” to all all the doubters.
As for the money, I had to find a good accountant to help with that. We did our best to be practical, opened a Roth, bought our first new car ever and paid it off quickly. I also got some professional book covers and editing, which were a huge part of my success. It paid for plane tickets to see family in Alaska, things like that. I’m a practical girl, and did my best to bring value to our lives. 
You’ve managed to write twenty books while raising three active children. What advice do you have for other moms who write?
A book is a good place to hide when the toddlers are running rampant. Invest in a set of headphones and place the computer so you can see the kids but not the TV. Also, I’m not a soccer mom. We keep things simple and relaxed here without a lot of running around. I simply don’t have the temperament for it. Sports are fine and every kid should learn to swim, but there should be balance. We eat dinner together every night and the house is clean. We talk about our day and if one of the kids is having a problem, I notice and we talk about it. I can’t do that if everyone is running full tilt at all times, and I can’t write if I’m stressed.
Honestly, housekeeping, cooking and dealing with teens is a big job, so I have to stay organized if I want to write. And sometimes, John cooks.
You said, “I didn’t know until I was an adult that I was a gifted person, but writing was always an outlet for a kid that wasn’t quite in sync with the others.” What encouragement do you have for other kids who aren’t “quite in sync” with the rest?
Skip childhood. Kidding! Best case scenario, I’d love to see gifted kids discovered in school and given the help they need. To my school’s credit, I believe they tried. I actually needed counseling as an adult, and once I suspected I was gifted, I devoured books on it and haunted websites. I read things and think, what? That’s unusual? I could do that, why didn’t someone tell me? My mother said I was a weird kid, and she hated to see me “waste all my time reading”. Little did she know I was preparing for my future job.
If your kid gets a 99% verbal on the PSAT, she’s probably gifted. It won’t matter if she doesn’t know how to sew. You should discuss college or a good tech school, however.
I didn’t realize it was odd to carry books from the library stacked to my chin. I finally learned to drive at seventeen so I could spend time in the bookstore. I didn’t know how to talk to kids my age, and later Mom told me that they wanted to skip me ahead a grade. She refused that and the gifted program because she didn’t want me to feel “pressured.” ARRRGH! I wondered what happened to my friends; they seemed to all disappear from my classes in middle school, and now I know they were in the gifted program.
I saw some of them again in the AP and honor classes, but by then I hated school. High school was a prison sentence and I wanted out. Being an adult was much better.
I don’t regret not attending college. If I want to learn something, I pick up a book and read. While you can’t learn to dance that way, it’s great for teaching yourself website design, Photoshop, computer stuff and gourmet baking. We tell our kids that apprenticeships, tech school and the military are excellent ways to get an education that won’t put you in debt for years, but never stop learning, and never give up. You were custom made for a job, and if it doesn’t exist yet, create it! 
You’re incredibly imaginative and prolific. How have readers discovered you and your books? After twenty books, do you find you still have to work to promote your new titles, or do your fans find them?
Thank you. I’ve always enjoyed creating worlds no one else has dreamed of, and I’m very careful not to repeat myself. I like to keep things fresh, and my readers appreciate that.
I post new books on my site, blog and Facebook. That’s it. I should have a mailing list, but I don’t. I find that frequent releases are the best way to generate sales, and I usually have at least one ebook free. I think happy readers are the best word of mouth.
Autumn is a professional writer and stay at home mom with three kids, a dog and an active imagination. She’s married to her high school sweetheart, John, who is known to bring her flowers "just because.” After 34 years in Alaska, she moved to Washington with her family to enjoy a state with actual seasons. She started self-publishing in 2010 after a string of rejections that read, “We love your writing, but we’re not sure how to market it.” She published on Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, which lead to a number of bestsellers. After The Charmer hit #1 on Barnes & Noble for fantasy romance, she threw herself into editing and uploading her backlist.
Her income for 2011 was $100,000, far exceeding her best year with traditional publishing. In 2012, Amazon acquired Dorchester Books, which had picked up two of her books, and Autumn gave Amazon the rights to publish When Sparks Fly and No Words Alone (from the Sparks Series), believing that diversification is good business. While Autumn is grateful for the opportunities traditional publishing provided, she remains passionate about self-publishing. 

Categories: Arts & Culture

Alaska Shorts: A Last Walk in the Woods, by Dan Walker

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 7:00am

The consensus among people I know is that we wait too long before we finally put our sick, old pets to sleep.  That was on my mind when I finally decided to put my old dog Nelson down.  I saw that his mind was more confused than ever, and as he paced around the yard overlooking the lake, I knew he had reached a point from which he couldn't return.  We had already decided that this was the place he should end his days, had been preparing ourselves for a year.   Now, it seemed the time had come.  After a final family conference, I walked him up away from the cabin and the lake, away from Madelyn shut in the cabin with radio turned up, and away from the trail that lead back to the car. 
The rain-soaked tall grass wet us quickly as we pushed through the devil’s club and wild raspberries that clutch at us with their tiny claws.  Sometime the leash would catch on a stalk of devil’s club or Nelson would go the wrong way around, so I would stop untangle us then move on forward, following the moose trails through the alder and birch forest.   Nelson came along willingly as always, and I didn’t need the leash, but I didn’t want to have to chase him down if he wondered off or decided to go back to the cabin and the dry straw bed beneath it that he refused to use.  He so hated the rain and this would not have been his choice for a walk, but he was followed me willingly with confusion thick in the big black soul of his eyes. 
I wanted to find a good spot away from the cabin and wanted a hole I could roll him into and cover with logs and leaves without digging something to scar the wild dense forest floor with my grief, so I carried the axe instead of the shovel.  Then I found a downed birch that had fallen away from another tree, lifting and pulling it’s rots so the standing tree had bit of a cave beneath it, a den there under the arch of the roots big as a dog, and dry too.
That’s where I made my stand, talking soft words to those big black eyes, and crying a bit as I gave him half a slice of ham and then the rest of it and while his head was down I felt a great surge of motion and I put the gun to his head real quick like I was in a rush and the body lurched with the shot behind the ear then I fired five or four more time times fast and muffled against the wet white hide.  The body thrashed and twitched then was limp.  I moved with planned efficiency of a criminal, lifting the limp carcass by the feet -- two in each hand-- and slid my old friend down into the dry dark den where he lay down out of the rain in the loamy odor of forest earth surrounded by the birch roots and me looking down with my share of guilt then saying something like,   “Here you go, get out of the rain, old boy.”    I knew it was a good place where maybe the bears wouldn’t do the work of digging him out or the wolverines.  I took the axe to some alders and laid them over the dog and hacked up some root from the fallen tree and layered that over the opening with chunks of birch branch and more alder to fill in the holes until there was bower of green alder dripping its rain leadened leaves on me.  I was wet all through by now even under my raincoat because I had left my hood down and the zipper open so only my shoulders and back were covered, really.  The woods were wet all around me except in that den under the roots with that crazy old dog white dog that hated the rain, and I wondered if I should bring in some fresh moose shit I had seen on the way up to cover the blood place where he died, but the rain was already washing it. 
I picked up my 22 rifle and the axe, noticing then those shaking hands trembling in the evening wet woods where I was leaving a dog who had given me ten good years and more.  I walked back to the cabin and stood in the downpour before the lake by the porch thinking how right my son-in-law was when he said, “Every good dog deserves a last walk in the woods.” 
Dan Walker is a homesteaders’ son who grew up to become a teacher and a writer in Seward.  He has published essays, professional articles, and fiction in magazines and literary journals such as the Journal of Geography and the old We Alaskans. Now, when he is not training writing teachers, he is working on two book length projects, a memoir and an autobiographical fiction.  Dan is the 2014 winner of first prize for fiction in the Alaska Daily News/UAA Writing contest. 
Would you like to see your work published here? Check out our Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Linda: 49 Writers Weekly Roundup

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 7:00am

Our initial elation at Monday's news that the months-long prioritization process at UAA has determined that the university should invest more resources in arts, languages, and humanities was quickly overshadowed by their conclusion that the Alaska Quarterly Review is one of the non-academic programs needing "further review, consideration for reduction or phase out." Say it ain't so!

Over the last 30 years AQR has established a solid reputation--national and international--as a journal of excellence, becoming an important part of Alaska's literary heritage. The Washington Post Book World declared it "One of the nation's best literary magazines," and Sherman Alexie named AQR "one of the top ten literary magazines in the country."

Many well-known Alaskan and Outside authors saw their early work published in the pages of the journal (see extensive author index here). Just yesterday, when the latest issue of Granta--American Wild--was delivered to my mailbox, I was delighted to find a new story by Melinda Moustakis, "River So Close," with the inimitable opening sentence, "She's a good-for-nothing chummer." Pure Melinda, pure Alaska. Melinda's work first appeared in AQR 26 & 28--stories that were later included in her debut collection, Bear Down, Bear North, which went on to win the Flannery O'Connor Short Fiction Award.

If, like us, you are dismayed by this turn of events, you can contact Chancellor Tom Case at, cc Renee Carter-Chapman (Senior Vice Provost for Institutional Effectiveness, Engagement, and Academic Support) at We hear that many people are sending letters to the Chancellor and Board of Regents, along with letters to the editor at Alaska Dispatch News. ADN prefers letters less than 200 words sent to; longer pieces can be submitted to On Facebook and Twitter, there is now the hashtag #saveaqr if you want to join the online conversation. Another way to show your support is to sign up for a subscription. Members of 49 Writers get a 15% discount--email us at 49writers (at) gmail (dot) com for more information.

Today, Aug. 15, 3pm, Fireside Books in Palmer: Canyons and Ice author, Kaylene Johnson, and the subject of the biography, Dick Griffith, will be at the bookstore to meet readers and sign copies of the story of Dick's wilderness travels.

Today, Aug. 15, 7pm, Tandem Wine & Dinner Bar: It's Bothell or Bust! Cirque hits the airways (via large metal plane) to arrive in Bothell, WA, for a reading by some of the great writers of the Pacific Northwest. Joan Swift, once a student of Theodore Roethke, is featured. Christianne Balk, poet, author of Desiring Flight and Thomas Walton, editor of Pageboy, are also on the docket along with a fine group of other writers - see the flyer, below. Cirque editor Sandy Kleven will read from her collection, Defiance Street. In the year ahead (assisted by friends in each destination), Cirque will visit: Seattle, Portland, Bellingham, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Sitka. And, maybe, Missoula. The goal: to darn together the literary communities of our states, toward a cohesive fabric built on creative connections.

Wednesday, Aug. 20, 7-8:30pm, Loussac Library Innovation Lab: The Alaska Writers Guild monthly meeting features Raven' Gift author Don Rearden talking about "Adapting Your Novel Into a Screenplay." Don has written several acclaimed films, including Clawed: The Legend of Sasquatch and Skidmarks and taught popular screenwriting classes for 49 Writers.

Saturday, Aug. 23, 11:30am, Lee Goodman, author of Indefensible, will be at Fireside Books in Palmer.

Friday, Aug. 29, 11am, catch Nick Jans (A Wolf Called Romeo) at Palmer's Fireside Books.

Poems In Place, the statewide project that is putting poems written by Alaskan poets on signs in Alaska’s state parks, invites you to join them to celebrate this year’s poetry dedications at Independence Mine State Historical Park near Palmer and Lake Aleknagik State Recreation Site near Dillingham. All events are free. Poems in Place is supported by Alaska State Parks, Alaska Center For the Book, the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska State Council on the Arts, Alaska Humanities Forum, the Usibelli Foundation, Alaska Poetry League and numerous generous individuals

Saturday, Aug. 30, 11am-1pm. Tom Sexton, Alaska’s poet laureate from 1994 to 2000, the author of several collections of poetry, and the selected poet of this park’s poem-in-place, will give a talk and host a discussion on The Poetry of Place. The talk/discussion is free and open to anyone age 18 or older. Space is limited. Please register in advance. To register or for more information about either event, please email

Saturday, Aug. 30, 2-3 pm: Poems in Place Dedication.  Help celebrate the unveiling of the 2014 Poem in Place at Independence Mine State Historical Park. Reading by selected poet Tom Sexton will be followed by refreshments and celebration. All are welcome!,

Saturday, Sept. 6, 10am-12:30pm, School House Inn, Lake Aleknagik: Yupik Place Names and the Poetry of Place. Tim Troll and Molly Chythlook will share their knowledge of Yupik place names, the first naming of place. Join in a creative writing exercise with poet Wendy Erd. The workshop is free and open to the public. All are welcome.

Saturday, Sept. 6, 2-3pm, Lake Aleknagik Landing:  Poems in Place Dedication and Celebration. Please help celebrate the unveiling of the new Poem in Place at Lake Aleknagik State Park. Reading by selected poet Tim Troll to be followed by refreshments and celebration. To register or for more information about either event, please email

Monday, Sept. 8, 5-7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: Andy Hall presents Denali Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak, an account of the 1967 Wilcox Expedition, one of the greatest climbing accidents ever to occur on the highest peak of North America. Twelve climbers attempt the ascent and only five return. Andy Hall, the son of the Denali Park Superintendent at the time, offers an intimate look into the young men on a big adventure.

Sept. 13 & 14, the 2014 Alaska Writers Guild Annual Conference, in conjunction with
SCBWI Alaska, takes place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Anchorage. This year's conference will feature nationally acclaimed editors, agents, and authors, as well as local authors and illustrators. Once again they are offering a children's literarure and illustration track in conjunction with The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Click here for a detailed list of this year's faculty. Visit the AWG website for more information and to register. Click here for a preliminary conference schedule.
Opportunities for Alaskan Writers
Did you know that if you're an Alaskan writer you can get listed for free in the Alaska Writers Directory? It's easy to do, just click here to complete the online form. If you're already listed, do check your information to make sure it's current--updates can be submitted using the same form. As Alaska Book Week approaches (Oct. 4-11, 2014), it's a great way for schools, book clubs, and other groups to connect with writers to invite to their Alaska Book Week celebration.
Anchorage Public Library is looking for fall writing group leaders, one for a teen group and one for an adult group. This is a great way to share your love of writing. For more information, contact Jim Curran at or 343-2938.

The Alaska Literary Awards, established in 2014 by the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation through a generous gift from Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli, are accepting applications. The Alaska Literary Awards recognize and support writers of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, playwriting, screenwriting, and mixed genres. Any Alaska writer over the age of 18 who is not a full-time student is eligible to apply. Quality of the work submitted is the primary consideration in determining who receives the awards. There are no restrictions on the writer’s use of the award and no formal report is required. Application deadline is Tuesday, September 2, 2014, 9:59pm (AKDT).

Remember that the deadline for the Winter Solstice issue of Cirque is approaching: Sept.15 for publication on Dec. 15. Visit for more information on how to submit and to read the journal full-text.

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).
Categories: Arts & Culture

Alaska Shorts: From Cold River Spirits, by Jan Harper-Haines

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 7:00am
Jan Harper-HainesWhen the Chena River overflowed its banks in 1948, as it did nearly every spring, Fairbanks took on the appearance of a slowly moving lake. The dirty brown water, dotted with chunks of ice, logs, carcasses of dead animals, and other debris from the long winter, spread across the little river town.
Lapping steadily, the floodwater crossed First Avenue and crept up the steps of the Episcopal Church and into the Masonic Temple. It leisurely entered saloons on Second and filled stores and houses all the way down Barnette Street past Seventh.
On Garden Island, the water hesitated at the steps of the Alaska Railroad depot like a mannerly aunt unsure of her welcome. A moment later, it washed across the old plank floor, covered the benches along the walls, and reached the top of the ticket counter.
The river rose fourteen feet as it flowed into truck stop cafes and smoky dives where the only women were bleary-eyed hoostitutes.
The water appeared smooth, even languid, but its rapid undercurrents and eddies swirled with energy. The force was enough to carry away sections of wooden sidewalk and cave in cellar doors all over town. With no hesitation it entered Louise Minook Harper’s log cabin on Fifth, five blocks from the river.
A drunk wading home from the bars on Second stumbled on a washed out section of sidewalk and was swept into the river where he smacked his head on a passing log. His body was found a few days later, tangled in the flotsam of a floating tree.
That morning two other men died in a fight in the Nevada Bar over the timing of the Chena breakup. A third man, clutching the winning ice pool ticket, suffered a black eye and cracked his false teeth in the commotion. When two officers from the Territorial Police arrived, big and blustery in their uniforms, the survivor convinced them the two men had stabbed one another. This stretch of truth was heartily supported by the bartender and other none too sober patrons.
When the river receded a few days later, flood-weary residents reclaimed their homes and took stock of the damage. Whites, Natives, hoostitutes, and prominent families dragged muddied books, ruined mattresses, and unrecognizable whatall into the street to be hauled away.
The sour stench of mildew, river sludge, and dog poop gagged Louise when she opened the shed door. “Chanh na hanh!” she swore, turning her head and blinking as she propped open the door with a shovel and stood outside while the cramped space aired.
Her glance fell on Sam’s trunk in the corner. It was slimy with mud.
Holding her breath, Louise grabbed the cracked leather handle. The muck made a sucking noise as she pulled the trunk from the shed. Inside, Sam’s papers and notebooks squished at her touch. His penciled words were blurred, and those written in ink were a blue smear. Louise glimpsed the butt of a pistol wedged into one side of the trunk.
She looked around her small, muddy yard. Her house was already full of damp clothes, smelly rugs, and bedding. There was no place to dry the trunk’s contents. On top of that, the stove was filled with silt. The electricity was out and they still had no drinking water.
“The trunk is gone? Dad’s stories are gone?” Flora Jane tightened her lips to keep them from quivering. Louise glanced at her oldest daughter and sighed.
Jan (Petri) Harper-Haines is Koyukon Athabascan, Russian, Irish and Dutch-German. Her non-fiction has appeared in First Alaskans Magazine, West Marin Review, Alaskan Embers and Cirque. She is currently working on Jimmy’s Song, a novel of suspense set in Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley. This excerpt comes from Cold River Spirits, a biography of Jan’s Athabascan mother and grandmother and their lives on the Yukon. It explores their rich cultural heritage and their heartrending, and often humorous, struggles to transition from a life intertwined with nature to a more fast-paced world. You can read more in the free Alaska Sampler 2014.
Would you like to see your work published here? Check out our Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Jessica Ramsey Golden: In Praise of Late-Bloomers

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 7:00am
Raymond Chandler
You're going to love this. Listen:
“A large black and gold butterfly fishtailed in and landed on a hydrangea bush almost at my elbow, moved its wings slowly up and down a few times, then took off heavily and staggered away through the motionless hot scented air.”
What better way to describe the flight of a butterfly?
It is an immaculately constructed sentence. As complex and spare as the framework of a cathedral.
If that sentence doesn't kick your chest open, I feel sorry for you.
Here's the thing:
The man who wrote that sentence published his first novel when he was 45 years old.
He wrote this too:
“He swept the room with a raking glance. His smile nailed on.”
Prose so tight, it would stop bullets.
If you've ever seen a Coen Brothers film or enjoyed “The Usual Suspects”, you've witnessed some of Raymond Chandler's far-reaching influence.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must point out Chandler was very much a product of his time. His novels are rife with racist, sexist language.
And he is a brilliant novelist.
When you read his books, you re-read whole scenes just because the dialog is so snappy you can't wait to hear it again. Or you turn to your long-suffering spouse and say, “Listen to this sentence!”
It's breathtaking.
And did I mention he published his first book at the age of 45?
That's important.
At least, it's important to me.
You see, I'm turning 35 this month.
For women, at every birthday starting at 30, when you tell someone how old you're turning, they suck in air between their teeth and gently ask, "How are you feeling about that?"
I'm okay with my age.
It's my productivity that worries me.
I've been writing fiction for 3 years, and so far all I have to show for it is one unpublished manuscript, two short stories, and two messes still under construction. 
To edify myself I've started to collect Late Bloomers like our dear Mr. Chandler.
Here's some more:
Toni Morrison wrote her first novel when she was 39.

Isabel Allende published her first novel at 40.
Maya Angelou was 41.
Dante was, most likely, at least 50 when he penned the Inferno.
Ricky Gervais quit his job to start writing comedy at 38.
Of this Gervais has said, “It's never too late. But start now.”
Prodigies are well and good. But there's something to be said for stamina. Especially in writing, a field with an alarming rate of self-destruction.
Don’t get me wrong. When I see some whiz kid making good, it’s not that I resent the little darling.
But there is comfort in knowing that we don't all make it up the hill in the first 20, 30, or even 40 years.
I've known since I was 8 years old that I wanted to write fiction. Then I wasted a lot of years saying I wanted to be writer, but not writing. I had excuses. Completing school. Having babies. Raising babies. Working.
You can waste a lifetime waiting for the right time.
Me, I've started. So I'm closer than I was 5 years ago.
Dreams take work.
It can't be instant pudding for everyone.
It's never too late.
But start.

Jessica Ramsey Golden’s poetry has appeared in such journals as The William and Mary Review, Orbis International, Calyx, and Cirque. In 2006 she was awarded the Eleanor B. North Poetry Prize. In 2009, she received an Individual Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation. In 2011, she began writing fiction. She is currently drafting a science fiction project, while seeking representation for her literary Gothic novel, The Hidden Door.

Categories: Arts & Culture

Writing Exercises: Are They Worth It?

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 7:00am
From the Writing Picture Prompts Pinterest board
Isn’t it wonderful, being a writer? The joy! The freedom!  Anywhere, anytime, inspiration may strike.  And we’re ready, with our notepads and laptops and smart phones, ready to spin our ideas in whichever direction they want to go.  That snippet of dialogue, that flash of insight, that exquisite image – from any of these, an entire poem or essay or novel can grow.  We just have to run with it.
But run where? There are so many possibilities. So many directions. Freedom, it seems, is also a curse. What is a novel, after all, but what author David Stevenson once described as a million ways to go wrong?
If brain research is any indicator, poets have the right idea when they work within forms.  While the rest of us run freely, poets quietly and mindfully hold the writer’s equivalent of a yoga pose, enjoying the broader creative perspective that paradoxically comes from constraint.“We break out of the box by stepping into shackles,” Jonah Lehrer says, citing a study led by Janina Marguc at the University of Amsterdam which shows that obstacles of form force us to think in a broader, more interesting ways. Want to broaden your perception? Open up new ways of thinking? Find the connections between ideas that seem unrelated?  Find a roadblock, or as poets call it, a form.Calling the brain “a neural tangle of near infinite possibility,” Lehrer explains that without constraints, our brains zero in on what not to notice, and as a result creativity suffers.  “The artificial requirements of the sonnet are just another cognitive obstacle,” he says, “a hurdle that compels the mind to think in a more holistic fashion. Unless poets are stumped by their art, unless they are forced to look beyond the obvious associations, they’ll never invent an original line. They’ll be stuck with clichés and banalities, with predictable adjectives and boring verbs. And this helps explain the stubborn endurance of poetic forms: because poets need to find a rhyming word with exactly three syllables, or an adjective that fits the iambic scheme, they end up uncovering all sorts of unexpected associations.”This is why writing exercises can be so effective, even for experienced writers.  Cognitive push-ups, mindful poses – these actually nudge us toward originality, not away from it.  Plus the stakes are low, and that never hurts.Blocked? In a rut? Stuck in the forever-middle?  Indulge in an exercise, ten or fifteen minutes of writing push-ups and poses, and see what creative ways of thinking you unleash. Then as O’Connor suggests, start looking for the limitations imposed by your work as it unfolds.

Not sure where to start? You'll find writing exercises at The Self-Made Writer, at Poets & Writers, and at the Warren-Wilson website. Pinterest even has a board of Writing Picture Prompts.

Co-founder of 49 WritersDeb Vanasse has authored more than a dozen books. Her most recent is Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. This post also ran at, and in a previous version on this site.

Would you like to write a guest post relevant to Alaska’s literary community? Email 49writers (at) or debvanasse (at)
Categories: Arts & Culture

From Our Archives: Distracted, a guest post by Sherry Simpson

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 7:00am

It took longer than it should have to write this post on reducing distractions because first I needed to do some research using that wonderful, terrible invention known as the World Wide Web. (Sidenote: Why is it called the Web? Why not the Galaxy? Or the Labyrinth? Or the Ginormous Black Hole of Time-Suck?  Just a sec while I go look that up. Wait, no. Bad writer! Focus!)
What was I yammering about? Never mind. The point is that for writers, the Web is just one of the many, many, many, many distractions conspiring to come between you and your . . .
Many psychologistswriters and scientists have described how various technological gee-gaws are eroding modern attention spans. Writers battled distractions long before the computer age, but it doesn't help that Web surfing is one of those activities that, like eating French fries and gambling, "stimulates your medial forebrain pleasure circuit," according to neuroscientist David Linden in The Compass of Pleasure.
Distraction is closely related to procrastination, an affliction that I don't have a single useful thing to say about (although this guy does). I can, however, suggest a few strategies for thwarting technology's incessant tug of war over your attention. (To those of you thinking, "Just muster some willpower, you loser," I say: Go away. You're a freak of nature.)
Some tactics seemed obvious—after I tried them. Those Pavlovian dings, buzzes, bouncing icons and jangles that announce the super-exciting arrival of an e-mail, text message, or phone call? Turn them off. Better yet, don't allow any phone, smart or dumb, into your writing arena. Your friends, like mine, will learn that eventually (probably) you'll call back. Best of all, take writer Ron Carlson's advice and never check e-mail until after you're done writing. "If you open your e-mail, you are asking to let go of the day," he says in Ron Carlson Writes a Story.
I once sneered at the thralldom known as Facebook until I joined it. I might as well have started mainlining heroin. The day I caught myself wondering whether FarmVille is any fun, I posted a status update placing myself on hiatus. What a relief. When I came crawling back months later, the spell was broken. Now I check in once or twice a week. Book publishers can insist that serious writers should twitter their heads off, but my inner Luddite refuses to follow or be followed until I'm wealthy enough to hire a ghost-tweeter.
Even your computer set-up can create enough friction to hamper the flow between thought and word. The mental static caused by a visually busy computer background wasn't obvious until I installed simple, soothing wallpaper. That tip I learned by wasting time researching "minimalist computing," as advocated by Minimal Mac and Lifehacker, among others.If your writing software constantly pesters you with auto-correct and formatting prompts, zenware is your friend. Setting your word processor to a full screen view blots out the desktop and suppresses menus and tool bars, but several software programs can reduce your writing environment to nothing more than words on a screen. Lifehacker, which has hoovered up distressing amounts of my time with posts like "Hack a manual cheese grater to run via cordless drill," describes their "five best distraction-free writing tools" here. Other programs include Darkroom for Windows, JDarkRoom, and Grandview for Mac, which allows you to engage with your writing one word at a time if you like.
Having devised so many enticing ways to entertain ourselves, it became inevitable that we invented technology to foil technology. A Ph.D. student named Fred Stutzman earned the gratitude of writers like Zadie Smith when he developed Freedom, which blocks Internet access for Macs and PCs for up to eight hours unless you cave and reboot. Trials are free.
Several methods allow access to, say, Google Scholar but not to guilty pleasures. Enlist parental controls or install free browser extensions like LeechBlock for Firefox. Chrome's StayFocusd rations time on particular sites and can inflict the "nuclear option." Stutzman recently released Anti-Social (Mac only) to keep your friends and "friends" at bay. Concentration uses these methods and others to help you focus. (Please leave recommendations for similar Windows software in the comments.)
If you possess an iron will, I don't want to hear about it, but you could try Sid Savara's tips for improving concentration and Matt Might's ideas for crippling technology. You could take a peek at this page whenever you feel the urge to surf. More radically, find your computer's off button, which cartoonist Randall Munroe named the "Distraction Affliction Correction Extension." Or, return to the time-honored method of writing on paper with a pencil, which was invented in . . . well, let me just Google that and get back to you.

Author of Dominion of Bears, The Way Winter Comes, and The Accidental Explorer, Sherry Simpson teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. She's also on the faculty of the annual Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference in Homer. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in such journals as Orion, Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Sierra, Superstition Review, AQR, Bellingham Review, and in numerous anthologies. This post was hugely popular when it first ran back in 2011, and with the distractions of summer, this seemed a great time to re-run it.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Andromeda: The Backlist, Sustained Marketing, and Digital Solutions on the Horizon (a "Rotten Tomatoes" for Books)?

Thu, 08/07/2014 - 8:47am

When do you give up on marketing a title and move on?
Recently, I was approached by an enterprising writer-blogger-reviewer who asked to include me in a lineup of monthly interviews she is doing with authors of novels that involve art. I said yes—thanks!  
But my first gut response was to feel only a fraction of the motivation I would have for helping to bring attention to a new or yet-to-be-released book. I don’t talk much lately about The Detour, which came out what seems like hundreds of years ago – 2012 – because I’m more interested in talking about what I am writing now. And maybe my second novel’s window of opportunity has already closed? It’s easy to buy into the old-fashioned publishing attitude that a book will hit big right away, or not at all. That’s short-sighted thinking on my part, as I’ll explain toward the end of this post.
When your book is published, your publisher will give it one big new-release push—hopefully.  With luck, there may be another little boost when the paperback is released a year later. What constitutes a push is debatable. It used to involve book tours, radio interviews, advertisements, and more. Now, it may involve a reading or two organized by the author, and not much else that is highly visible to the author or readers. Of course, the publisher may be plenty busy just getting books into the hands of reviewers and bookstores, paying for premium shelf space, and trying to grab attention in a marketplace crowded with over 3,000 books published daily.
It used to be that if the bookstores weren’t ordering and re-ordering in large quantities, the book’s life might be over in a handful of months or even weeks. Hopefully, that extremely small window of opportunity is a thing of the past. One reason I am grateful to Amazon – while keeping my mind open to the valid criticism regularly lobbed at the behemoth—is because at least online retailers provide a place where millions of titles can remain available to anyone willing to search.
A recent study showed that 60 percent of book sales have migrated online – a comfort to those of us who don’t see our older titles, or even many newer ones, stocked at Barnes & Noble—the company that used to be criticized as too powerful, before Amazon became even more imposing. But the bad news, the Codex Group study tells us, is that online sales still have a “discoverability” problem. Only 17 percent of books are first found online. Internet booksellers like Amazon account for just 6 percent of discoveries. Buyers still use physical bookstores as places to browse, even if they don’t buy. Brick-and-mortar browsing and recommendations from friends, the most powerful discovery tool – not online marketing or even book reviews – are the way most people decide what to read next. 
But is this something to worry about, or is it just another evolution-to-digital problem that will go away in time? Amazon acquired Goodreads to address the discoverability problem. Net Galley—providing online access to advance copies—has expanded. Book-loving realists are dreaming up other ideas: like how about a really robust critical-and-amateur review aggregator, a.k.a. a Rotten Tomatoes for books? (One site already claims to be just that, but I’m guessing there will be lots of competition.)
Smart people are working on the problem. Meanwhile, I think of my own recent buying habits, just from the last week or so, whether or not they are typical.
From Title Wave, my favorite used bookstore, I bought a pile of books, including the classic Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966) and The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan (1978). From Amazon, I bought two e-books – get this, books I already own and have stored in boxes and want to read again, annotate electronically, and carry around more easily. (Many e-readers are like me, eager to own the same books in both digital and physical format.) These titles were Panther in the Basement by Amos Oz (1998) and Specimen Days by Christopher Cunningham (2005). 
Good news on the e-book front, by the way: people who read e-books read more in all formats, and 42% report their reading has increased since they started using e-readers. For me this is true, and I’m heartened by the fact that I see an even bigger increase in my teenage daughter’s reading, now that she can peruse (via Kindle samples, for example) and acquire books in digital format more easily and independently.
Finding an altogether unknown author is still trickier online, but finding books by authors we already love, or books similar to ones we’ve already loved, is getting easier all the time. For that reason, I should not consider my older titles past the date by which they might still make a splash, and neither should you. I should remember that anything I can do to market a work is important as it was two or five or ten years ago. As this worthwhile industry article says, considering the changing nature of the backlist, “Any book is new to sombody who didn't know about it before."
Amen to that.

Andromeda Romano-Lax is the author of The Spanish Bow and The Detour. She is a co-founder of 49 Writers and teaches in the UAA MFA low-residency creative writing program. She is also a book coach with a special interest in revision, narrative structure, and the lifelong development of the writer. Contact her at for more info on her book coaching services.
Categories: Arts & Culture


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