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Collaborative Reflections & Book News By and About Alaskan AuthorsAndromeda Romano-Lax
Updated: 4 hours 37 min ago

Bill Sherwonit: Getting Essays Published - Maybe the Local Newspaper is an Option to Consider

10 hours 48 min ago
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

Categories: Arts & Culture

Kellie Doherty interviews Deb Vanasse, author of Cold Spell

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 7:00am

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.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Alaska Shorts: Have Courage, by Peter Porco

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 7:00am

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!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Linda: 49 Writers Weekly Roundup

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 7:00am
Most of us are still on a high from the Tutka Bay Writers Retreat last weekend with poet Carolyn Forché. It was an unforgettable learning experience and many participants generated strong new work in the form of poetry and memoir prose. Carolyn's teaching focused us and inspired us to find new ways to create and to look at work in progress. Dinah Berland from California, a long-time editor at the Getty Museum, sums it up for all of us in her Ode to Tutka Bay.
Carolyn ForchéO, Tutka Bay, you give us silence
and the opposite of silence:
Seashells turning eager ears toward
their teacher, the deep and brilliant sea.
Rain investigating pine needles
all night long with millions of miniature
magnifying glasses. Mosses drinking dew
with countless tongues. Mountains
like elephants, remembering
everything. This is what you give:
A yellow moon, almost full, holding
its pitted face up to the dark side of the earth,
the earth tipping its white hat to the sun
just long enough to show its hand
of Northern Lights arcing across
the whole dome of the sky
yet leaving space enough between the lines
for a tub overflowing with bioluminescent
poets, each in his or her own way,
composing odes to Tutka Bay.

Thank you, as always, to our host Kirsten Dixon, and to the amazing staff at Tutka Bay Lodge. And we could not have pulled this off without the support of volunteer retreat coordinator Morgan Grey and board member Jeremy Pataky, who led a breakout session.
Talking of Morgan, she deserves congratulations for receiving this year's Jason Wenger Award for Fiction from the UAA MFA program. Congratulations also go to the other award recipients, Erica Watson (nonfiction) and Emily Kurn (poetry). You may remember Emily as the folk musician who performed with Dan Beachy-Quick in our summer 2012 Synergies program.

David StevensonDavid Stevenson launched our fall season last night with a Reading & Craft Talk at Great Harvest Bread Company about "teasing fiction from fact" in his collection of short stories and a novella, Letters from Chamonix. Characters and places (namely mountains) may be based on the real experiences of a lifetime, but fiction provides the opportunity to play with the question, "What if?" In the case of the story "Steinway," he imagines "What if I fell from this 3,000 foot peak?" After that, book sales were brisk--and we highly recommend acquiring this extraordinary work.

We would like to thank each donor who pledged part of their PFD to 49 Writers this year in our first ever Pick.Click.Give. campaign. Would you believe we were the beneficiary of 49 donors?? Together you contributed $2,300 to help us pursue our mission of supporting the artistic development of writers throughout Alaska, fostering a writing community, and building an audience for literature. You know who you are but at this point we don't--however, we can tell you that your generosity is deeply appreciated.

Our fall membership drive starts up soon: look for details within the next week. Your continuing support helps us to maintain our programming. If you're not a member or your membership has lapsed, we hope you'll consider making a financial contribution so we can grow our capacity to serve more communities around Alaska.

The tenuous funding situation of the Alaska Quarterly Review continues to attract attention in Alaska and around the country. AWP is the latest to comment and 49 Writers member Lila Vogt penned an impassioned letter to the editor in yesterday's Alaska Dispatch News. As a reminder, if you wish to express your opinion to UAA officials, you can contact Chancellor Tom Case at, cc Renee Carter-Chapman (Senior Vice Provost for Institutional Effectiveness, Engagement, and Academic Support) at

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 and click here to complete a participation form. You can contact ABW coordinator Jathan Day with questions at akbookweek (at) gmail (dot) com.

Are you a published author? Do you have a book or books to sell? Register now for the Great Alaska Book Fair, in conjunction with Alaska Book Week, on Saturday, Oct. 11, 9am-6pm at Loussac Library. All Alaskan writers are invited to participate: Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy, Historical, Memoir, Picture Books, and Romance--and everything in between! Visit the Alaska Writers Guild website for more information and to register.

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

Tonight, Friday, Sept. 12, 7-9pmThe Living Room begins its new program of the season at Jitters coffee house in Eagle River. Come listen to your neighbors read short stories, poetry, and spoken word of their own making, and/or work from their favorite authors. Sign up to read (, or just show up and listen. Refreshments served.

This weekend, Sept. 13 & 14, the 2014 Alaska Writers Guild Annual Conference, in conjunction with SCBWI Alaska, takes place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Anchorage. NEW Conference Schedule! Additional options have been added to the 2014 Conference Schedule, including new breakout sessions and topics! Click here to download a copy of the 2014 conference schedule. NEW Conference Speakers! Click here to download information on the 2014 Conference Speakers, including new speakers CC Humphreys and AdriAnne Strickland. Already registered for the conference, but want to add other options? Click here to log in and edit your registration, or email Brooke Hartman at

Wednesday, Sept. 17, Anchorage essayist and author Bill Sherwonit will begin teaching a 12-week nature and travel writing class beginning Sept. 17, in the Sierra Club office downtown. Participants in this workshop-style class will explore and refine their own writing styles, with an emphasis on the personal essay form. The class will also read and discuss works by some of America’s finest nature and travel writers, past and present. The cost is $240. To sign up for this Wednesday night class (7 to 9:30 p.m.), or for more information, contact Sherwonit at 245-0283 or Further information about the teacher is also available at

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 7pm, Hugi-Lewis Studio, Northern Lights: Poetry Parley holds its first event of the new season. This month's lineup includes Marilyn Borell, Leslie Fried, Jerry McDonnell, Jocelyn Paine, Mary Kancewick, Gabrielle Barnett, D. C. McKenzie, Sandra Kleven, Tonja Woelber, and Judith Stoll.

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 or 929-9287 with your name, contact information and the program you wish to attend.
Events around Alaska 

Tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 13, 3pm, Fireside Books in Palmer: Visit with Alaskan writers Andy Hall and David Stevenson, who will be available to chat about mountains and mountaineering. Andy Hall is the author of Denali's Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak. It's the gripping, well-researched telling of the famous rescue attempt on Denali. David Stevenson is the chair of the UAA Creative Writing and Literary Arts Department at UAA. His collection of stories, Letters from Chamonix, explores the wild.

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 5:30-7:30pm, Hearthside Books at the Nugget Mall, Juneau: How to Outline a Screenplay, a free workshop for all ages facilitated by Sheila Jenca, a professional screenwriter with an MFA from UCLA Film School. This how-to workshop is tailored to those desiring to step into their dream of writing a screenplay. Lecture, exercises, and group interaction will give you the tools to start your script right away! For more information, visit the Hearthside Books website.

Friday, Sept. 19, 8pm, UAS Housing Lodge, Juneau: Woosh Kinaadeiyí will host an open mic and poetry slam open to poets and performers of all ages and abilities. Sign up to perform opens at 8pm and show starts at 8:15pm. Event is pay-as-you-can. This 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 Contact: Christy NaMee Eriksen, Woosh Kinaadeiyí President,

Opportunities for Alaskan Writers
NEW! Following last year's success, the Young Writers Conference, Generation U is looking for 20-30 authors/writing experts who wish to present at this year’s conference. The conference will be held at East High School on Saturday, Nov. 8, 9am-2pm. Sessions should actively engage students in writing. Students have asked for sessions on: self-editing skills, research skills, non-fiction, creating believable characters, writing and technology, action-packed writing, song writing, publishing their writing, writing screenplays, scientific writing, plot development, artistic journaling and science fiction. If you are interested in submitting a proposal, please complete this short form. For more information, contact Lisa Weight at or 907-742-4476.

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.

The Anchorage Press Post-It Note Art Contest is here again! Deadline to submit is Sept. 15, 5pm, Each entry must be drawn on one 3x3 post-it note and mounted on durable card stock or foam core of at least 5x5 inches. Each entry must have contact information securely attached. Entries become the property of the Anchorage Press. This year's categories include the Story on a Post-It, so this is your chance to shine with short prose. Deliver your entries to the Anchorage Press, 540 East 5th Avenue, Anchorage, AK 99501. Questions? Call 907-561-7737.

NEW! 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 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.

NEW! 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, November 13 (Stories that play well in November and December. Submission deadline is Sunday, Oct. 5)
  • Journeys, March 5 (Actual or metaphorical. Submission deadline Sunday, Jan. 18)
  • Writer’s Pick, June 4 (Open theme. Submission deadline Sunday, Apr. 19)
Stories should be about 10 minutes long when read aloud and should somehow reflect the theme. Broad interpretations are welcome. Please submit pieces to “arts at ktoo dot org” and let us know of any publication history or rights. Click here for more information. If you’re interested or have questions please email arts at ktoo dot org, or call 360 North producer Scott Burton at 907.463.6473.
Categories: Arts & Culture

James Riordan: From Obsession to Book

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 7:00am

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 my kickstarter page

Categories: Arts & Culture

Bill Sherwonit: Getting Tense While Moving from the Present to the Past

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 7:00am

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 . . .”
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

Categories: Arts & Culture

Becky Saleeby: On the Verge of Seeing my First Novel in Print

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 7:00am
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 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.  

Categories: Arts & Culture

Spotlight on Alaska Books: WORDLESS, by AdriAnne Strickland

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 7:00am

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.
Would you like to see your book featured here? Check out our Spotlight on Alaska Books guidelines and submit today!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Andromeda: Boyhood’s Long Road to Success: An Inspiration for Wordsmiths

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 12:41pm
Boyhood's Ellar Coltrane: This is going to take a long time...
Whenever I’m feeling bad about how hard it is for me, my students or friends to be novelists or memoirists—the years of self-education, the long road to publication, the utter uncertainty that all that investment will ever pay off—I find it refreshing to look at the movies. The Hollywood movie business is so impenetrable that it makes New York publishing look like a cakewalk. And I personally know many people who have written screenplays for decades without seeing most—or any—of their work up on the big screen.
It isn’t only the beginner screenwriters who have a hard time. Think of any favorite award-winning movie—Dallas Buyer’s Club, Gandhi, The King’s Speech—and there is some story about how long it took the movie to get made, regardless of the talent and experience attached.
I saw Boyhood last week at Bear Tooth in Anchorage. What struck me, in addition to the great acting and the constant deflection of the expected via a low-key, naturalistic plot, was the fact that the director-writer, Richard Linklater, must have had an incredible amount of faith, patience, and artistic integrity to lead such a long-term project.
Boyhood, if you haven’t seen it, follows the maturation of a boy aged 7 through high school graduation, and was filmed a little bit each year, over nearly 12 years. It’s not a documentary, it’s a drama, but a drama that unfolded flexibly, with input even from the cast. Ethan Hawke contributed the bit about the Beatles’ Black Album, a concept taken from his own relationship with his daughter. Actor Ellar Coltrane got interested in photography during his teen years, and therefore so did Mason Jr., the character he plays. The writer, Linklater, had imagined the boy would grow up to be a musician, but when the actor discovered different interests, Linklater welcomed the shift. That extension of freedom to one’s actors, who were in turn inspiring the characters, seems something taken from the novelists’ process. Your characters certainly don’t take over and write the book, but they do surprise you, on occasion, or rather, you surprise you, finding storylines and moments and lines of dialogue emerging without conscious thought, as a reward for all the time you invest drafting and incubating.
It’s good to write fast, especially as a way to keep the self-censors distracted. I’ll be teaching an online class this fall that takes precisely that quick-drafting approach, which has worked for novelists from Stephen King to John Steinbeck. But for some people and some projects, going slow is the name of the game. Some projects—and I’m thinking especially of memoirs that require an intense level of self-awareness, but also epic novels, or nonfiction projects requiring exhaustive research—can’t be rushed. Also worth mentioning is the manuscripts that are written quickly, but have to cool a long time between drafts, or the manuscripts that are finished to a writer’s satisfaction, but just can’t find a publisher for a long, long time.
How to sustain the drive and the confidence? How to run such a creative ultramarathon without buckling? How to respect the long, natural process of development—how to give it a name and the respect it deserves?
(In an excellent essay on friendship recently delivered to my inbox, Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to the German word naturalangsamkeit, which means “the slowness of natural development,” as a property to embrace in our relationships. He might have also said, in our artistic lives. Odd coincidence: Linklater has been trying to do a movie about the American Transcendentalists, and has spent 15 years so far, trying to make something that isn't the typical "bonnet movie period piece.")
In the case of Boyhood, Linklater wrote 12 separate scripts, and filmed 12 different short films, adapting the overall story concept over time. He depended on his stars to stay attached (think how much could have wrong with that, especially since there were unproven child actors involved). How could he know it would work?
He knew it was a risk, but he—a lover of Tolstoy and a disciple of the artistic long-shot— believed. He told, “I bet the whole farm on what I thought would work with every ounce of my cinematic being, the way we perceive time and cinema and the way we identify with people put before us in a certain way. I thought, ‘Oh, there will be this cumulative effect.’”
Slate critic Dana Stevens called the movie “a gradually unfolding miracle.” Nice phrase isn’t it?
We’re usually not so kind and charitable when it comes time to talk – or even think – about our own slow-brewing projects, and that’s for the best. Overconfidence is not attractive.
But the occasional pep-talk doesn’t hurt. So here it is. Go ahead and believe. Keep working on your own “gradually unfolding miracle.”
Our Tweety, flighty, ephemera-adoring world needs those kinds of long-distance miracles more than ever.

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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