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Collaborative Reflections & Book News By and About Alaskan AuthorsAndromeda Romano-Laxhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/16988887975016816552noreply@blogger.comBlogger1953125
Updated: 10 hours 59 min ago

From the Archives: Deb Vanasse: Je Ne Sais Quoi

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 8:00am
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

Ethereal, bewitching, seductive - thus have reviewers praised Alaska author Eowyn Ivey’s best-selling debut novel The Snow Child
If that sounds like love, so too does the way Ivey’s book was conceived. In her day job at Fireside Books in Palmer, she came upon a children's book retelling of the Russian folktale The Snow Child. “I got this funny feeling right then,” Ivey said in a recent Anchorage Daily News interview. She ditched the novel she’d been working on for two years and started in on an adult version of the tale.
That “funny feeling” sounds a lot like the “intangible something” Rebecca Sherman of Writers House brought up in a recent discussion among agents hosted by Publishers Weekly, referring to the je ne sais quoi that draws her – and readers – to certain books. I am, by the way, a sucker for French - my minor in college. The loose English translation "an indescribable something" is a poor substitute for "I know not what," which hits the mark precisely, whether you mean writing or romance.
Can you fall in love with your writing project? Should you? 
Idaho farmer James Castle used ink mixed from spit and soot to make art. Though illiterate, deaf, and untrained, he kept at it for decades, his art driven by passion and empathy, the pursuit of the tangible by way of the intangible. He didn’t discern. He didn't weigh the market. He didn’t try to get noticed. Yet his creative work eventually found its audience. “As it happens, his art – produced over more than six decades – communes with many of the twentieth century’s most salient aesthetic trends, even as it seems to have been very much a private means of understand his home and family,” says Bookforum reviewer Albert Mobilio. Castle's labor of love struck a chord.
Projects with real staying power feel different in the same way that deep love feels different from a crush. That “funny feeling” has to carry us through the long process of perfecting the work.
In solidarity with the students I taught in various classrooms during a recent writer’s residency, I wrote fifteen times from the same prompt, in ten-minute spurts. It was a lot like speed-dating. Though the prompt quickly became redundant, significant flashes emerged here and there – images, slices of character, snippets of scene. Some may find their way into a project that's emerging out of one of those funny feelings that disarmed me, out of the blue. You never know where you’ll find love, or a taste of it.
How can we know for sure that a project is not just viable but the one? In the initial rush of inspiration, our brains spin wildly, as they do when we’re in love – a dopamine high, fueled by norepinephrine that keeps us up nights spinning characters and plotting twists and chasing research. It’s only when we settle into a relationship with a project that we’re able to judge the depth of that first woo-woo feeling, to tell whether it has the staying power to carry us over the long haul, to determine whether our inspiration is not just attractive but unshakable.
Of all the emotional clichés, tough love is most apropos to the work of the writer. In revision, we must be brutal, objective, and tough - none of that warm fuzzy stuff. Yet it’s that funny feeling, the intuition, the passion, the je ne sais quoi that carries us through, that makes up for the trials and the pain and the risk. 
Faithful and loyal, we can spend years with a project born out of feeling. But if we find ourselves married to it, we risk all. Not that we can’t commit wholly and completely, but if and when things get stale, when the writer’s no longer growing or discovering or excited, when the feeling is gone, gone, gone, then it could be time to break things off, to shove the manuscript under a bed as Ivey did with her first novel. In doing so we must believe fully and resolutely that nothing is wasted. The years spent with a draft that we ultimately ditch teach us about writing in the same way that failed relationships teach us about love.
We do fall in love, and we must.
Try this: Carry a notepad, either old-fashioned or electronic. Note random thoughts, flashes of inspiration, without concern for whether anything will come from them. You may jot down hundreds of images, snatches of conversation, and ideas before one begins to haunt you, coming to you as you fall asleep and again in the mornings when you wake. That’s your essay, your story, your book.
Check this out: As with love, when it comes to writing, most of us would prefer to just let it happen. But when we need a push, Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write is at the ready. “Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding,” Cameron says. “We should write because writing is good for the soul.” 
Deb cross-posts at www.selfmadewriter.blogspot.com.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Weekly Round Up of Alaska Writing News and Events

Fri, 06/26/2015 - 7:00am
The heat has finally settled. It is safe to come out of your homes, Alaskans. I, for one, was hiding in a room with all shades drawn, a box fan blowing faster than the propellers on a bush plane, and my feet in a mini fridge. With the cooler temperatures, let's explore this week's events.

On July 23 at 7 pm, we'll be hosting a special Crosscurrents event at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson to celebrate the launch of the Anchorage Remembers anthology, featuring forty authors. This project was made possible by a Community Centennial Grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum, Rasmuson Foundation, and Anchorage Centennial Celebration.

If you’re a 49 Writers member, watch for an e-vite to a special members-only event on July 14 with literary agent Jeff Kleinman.  In Juneau, our next member event is on August 6 from 7-9 pm; again, members should watch for details via email. (Not a member? Head over to our website to join.)
We have only a few spots left at our popular Tutka Bay Writers Retreat. Registration closes July 1. We'd love to have you join us for a special weekend of inspiration and instruction at one of the world's top-rated wilderness lodges.

Last but not least, we're looking for authors to get involved with Alaska Book Week Oct. 3 -11. Visit www.alaskabookweek.com and click the 2015 logo to participate. This year, you can also get involved with a video interview.
49 Writers Volunteer J.T. Torres

EVENTS IN ANCHORAGEEvents at the UAA Bookstore
On July 23 at 7 pm, 49 Writers hosts a special Crosscurrents event at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson to celebrate the launch of the Anchorage Remembers anthology, featuring by forty authors. This project was made possible by a Community Centennial Grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum, Rasmuson Foundation, and Anchorage Centennial Celebration.
2015 Sledgehammer 36-Hour Writing ContestJuly 25–26. The contest begins with an online scavenger hunt that participants can complete from anywhere. Along the way, they'll collect four writing prompts, all of which must be incorporated into their story, which is due by midnight on Sunday. Writers can compete individually or as teams, and the contest is open to all ages. Cash prizes will be awarded to the best short stories of the weekend in the following categories:·  Individual·  Team·  Readers' Choice·  Judge's Choice·  Youth (two prizes: elementary/middle school, high school)
Winners will also receive entry to writing-related events and the coveted golden sledgehammers.Registration is just $25 for adults and $10/$5 for youth. Visit www.sledgehammercontest.com to learn more and register.
Local Library Events

Book Signings

EVENTS AROUND ALASKASOUTHCENTRAL, MAT-SU, KENAI PENINSULAFireside Books in Palmer will host several authors this weekend. Bill Richardson will be here June 26 at 1:00 PM, with his Corky series. And keep your eyes and ears open for our July events, such as the July 14 dinner with Sherri Simpson and Frank Soos, featuring music by Tom Begich. Robin McLean will be in July as well. The former Alaskan has been getting lots of critical acclaim for her collection of short stories, Reptile House.

SOUTHEAST

INTERIORThe Art of the Essay, June 26-28, with Frank Soos, is a three-day intense class in reading and writing personal essays. The essay as practiced from the beginning of the form up to the present day is the most open to experimentation and innovation of all the commonly practiced forms. They will explore that range by discussing a variety of essay forms to consider how an essay can be made. Details and registration info at Northern Susitna Institute, Talkeetna AK.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR WRITERSCONFERENCES, RETREATS & RESIDENCIES
The Tutka Bay Writers Retreat: What better way to jumpstart your writing? Don't miss out on a fantastic retreat featuring two outstanding guest instructors, Ann Eriksson and Gary Geddes! September 11-13 at the fabulous Tutka Bay Lodge. Sign up today!
Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop presents RiverSong with Frank Soos, Michelle McAfee, Robin Child, and Nancy Cook, July 22-27, McCarthy to Chitina. The Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop is pleased to partner with McCarthy River Tours & Outfitters to host a six-day, five-night adventure in the fabulous Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. This year’s workshop will feature poet and essayist, Frank Soos, who is currently serving as Alaska’s Writer Laureate, joined by accomplished singer-songwriter Michelle McAfee, backcountry banjo-diva Robin Child, and workshop director Nancy Cook. Together they will explore the ways wilderness can help inspire songs, stories, poems, and essays. Activities include an opening reading/performance and craft sessions in the comfort of the Wrangell Mountains Center’s facility in McCarthy, followed by three nights and four days of creative inquiry along the Kennicott, Nizina, Chitina, and Copper Rivers. Space is limited to eight student writers/ songwriters.

Alaska Writers Guild & SCBWI Annual Writer’s Conference, September 19-20, Anchorage. Early registration starts May 2015. www.AlaskaWritersGuild.com

Alaska Women Speak is looking for a responsible maven fluent with InDesign (CS6) layout and website savvy to join the all-volunteer crew as Layout Editor. Here’s your chance to create for a 23rd year in the running, statewide, quarterly publication! This is not a site-specific volunteer opportunity, but sound Internet connection is required. Occasional Skype sessions apply. If interested, we'd love to hear from you. Please contact us at alaskawomenspeak@yahoo.com

13 Chairs Literary Journal, a new literary journal publishing short stories and poetry from new and emerging authors, seeks submissions and volunteers. They are currently composing their flagship issue, straight out of JBER, AK. To learn more, and to submit, email info@13chairs.com or visit 13chairs.com


From July 1 to August 15 the Rasmuson Foundation Artist Residency Program will be accepting applications from Alaska artists and writers interested in a fully-funded two-month residency in the Lower 48. The eligibility requirements have changed—Alaska-based artists who have not received a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award are now also eligible to apply. A free information session detailing the program, eligibility requirements, and application process will be held June 26, at 6 p.m. in the Anchorage Museum’s Reynolds Classroom. Potential applicants are invited to attend in-person or by teleconference. More information can be found at rasmuson.org. If you have questions about the program, contact Jayson Smart at jsmart@rasmuson.org or call 907-297-2882
GOOD NEWS!
Soon, we will all be able to hear the beautiful words in Lynne Curry's upcoming book, Beating the Workplace Bully. Brilliance Audio recently purchased the audio rights!

The Poems in Place steering committee recently selected four winning entries from poems written by Alaskans. Come September, Alaska will have a poem or two in each of the state park’s seven regions.

Leslie Leyland Field’s poem, “Tideline” and Fred Stager’s poem, “The Compass Rose," will be placed in Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park in Kodiak.  Aleria Jensen’s poem, “A Soldier’s Station," and Justine Pechuzal’s poem, “Pilgrims," will be installed at Caines Head State Recreational Area, Seward. Local creative writing workshops will accompany sign dedications to be held in Kodiak and Seward this fall. For dates and details please stay tuned: http://www.alaskacenterforthebook.org/  
Have news or events you'd like to see listed here? Email details to 49roundup (at) gmail.com. Your message must be received by noon on the Thursday before the roundup is scheduled to run. Unless your event falls in the "Opportunities" category, it should occur no more than 30 days from when we receive your email.
Categories: Arts & Culture

From the Archives: Andromeda on Keeping (brief!) notes

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 6:00am
What an amazing time I had at the writers' conference in Aspen, Colorado in 2002, studying with Ted Conover, a writer I'd admired for years,, who had so much to teach us. About that time, I remember...very little.

And how exciting to have attended the Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference, two times-- or was it three? I know I attended many great lectures and seminars and talks (that fabulous lecture by Eugenides!), about which I remember...very little.

The problem is not that I failed to take notes on these and other literary occasions. In fact, I filled entire notebooks. I wrote so much, in such a hurried and inspired scrawl, that I dare not wade into those messy pages now.

At my MFA program I also fill a notebook each residency. But thanks to the paperwork requirements the MFA enforces--part of each day is spent filling and submitting paperwork, which can seem, on the surface, quite onerous-- I have both less and more than those notebooks. In addition to various other logs and evaluations and contracts, Antioch requires students to submit, a few weeks after each residency, a summary of every residency "learning experience," including seminars, readings, orientations, and the rest. The total summary document can be no more than five pages, which translates into no more than one good paragraph for every class or reading attended. I may take multiple pages of notes per class, but then I have to distill, and that neat, typed, carefully formatted distillation-- and the reconsolidation of memory it allows-- has convinced me that I should have started this habit many, many years ago.

These are the kinds of clean, spare records I have for no other writing conference or literary experience, and not even from my own previous graduate and undergraduate school days. I may have boxes of old folders and files, but no desire whatsoever to go through them. If I had instead, from my past degrees, a handful of pages per semester, maybe 40 or 60 in all, what a gift that would be!

Come to think of it, this very brief summary document could be used even outside formal academic settings. I think of the years I've spent in a writers' group -- nearly two decades now. If I had made myself type up a single summary paragraph per meeting, summarizing what I learned or questioned or thought about or vociferously debated, I might have gained so much more. Ditto for reading groups. How I would love to remember now the gist of those monthly discussions--but only the gist!

As we've said often on this blog, it takes a long time to become a proficient writer, which is why the shortcuts matter.

Will I be disciplined enough to create summary learning documents without an external deadline imposed? Only time will tell. But it's a good idea I wanted to share. With some great writing center classes and talks starting in February, and the writing conference season starting a few months later, this would be a great time for commiting to a new habit. Just remember (I tell myself and anyone inclined to join me): one distilled paragraph only per talk or class....
Categories: Arts & Culture

Linda Martin: Finding the Geography of Our Work: Post-conference workshop at Tutka Bay

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 5:00am
Afaa WeaverSincerity, then craft. Afaa Michael Weaver, a black man from Baltimore, comes at poetry that way. He’s a quiet teacher, given to listening. He speaks Chinese, practices Tai Chi and other martial arts, gives his students room to ponder what he calls an artist’s “geography.”

He has published fourteen books of poetry. In 2014 he won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award—given to a mid-career poet, along with a $100,000 prize. He carries his brilliance quietly, lets his students talk their way into what he calls an “associative field.”

Ten participants attended a workshop with Afaa Weaver, following the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference, June 14 and 15. Called a post-conference workshop, the two-night stay at Tutka Bay Wilderness Lodge combined stunning scenery, world-class cuisine and a deeply thoughtful look at one man’s creative process. But first, we seemed to be spinning our wheels, revved up as we all were from an exciting conference in Homer.
“When will he tell us what to do?” we asked one another. Our first session, held in a renovated boat near the lodge, was a series of conversations between Afaa and each writer, with the rest of us occasionally chiming in. Afaa talked in general terms about finding a map, coming up with a plan and a process. He created a schedule of individual meetings with each participant. Then this assignment: A thought exercise, Afaa called it. “Look out an imaginary window. You see someone beckoning to you. Climb out the window and follow that person. Describe where you go, how you feel. Record it. Repeat the route.”

We slept. I heard thunder in the night. It sounded like mountains collapsing into the bay, but the next morning all was peaceful. There was yoga on the deck and Afaa Weaver moving in a walking Tai Chi meditation beneath the sunlit mountains. Newly fledged varied thrush hopped ahead of me on my way to the lodge for breakfast. We were curious about others’ responses to the exercise, eager to meet and listen. Not everyone read before there was a break. Lunch was fisherman’s stew, with saffron broth and fresh mussels. Then we’re out in the warm sunshine, the agreeable Afaa letting other people work out the table and chair arrangement. I have drawn an actual map of my project. I haven’t understood yet.

Afaa missed a close connection in Chicago and did without his luggage for the entire conference—same blue shirt and jeans Friday to Wednesday when his bag arrived at Tutka Bay by water taxi, thanks to the efforts of conference director Carol Swartz. He unpacked a lesson plan and some clean clothes. He promised to describe his process for organizing a manuscript in the next session. Then he handed out assignments, a different one for each participant, designed to bend and free our minds. Some of us felt resistance. I took a nap. 

The manuscript ordering session was worth waking up for. Afaa spread out his most recent books on the picnic table and talked about map as a table of contents, map as a bagua diagram, geography as something internal. Want a little writing assignment? Here’s the one Afaa gave us: You walk into a restaurant. The waiter asks for your order. This is a strange restaurant. Order whatever you need to be genuine. To be sincere.

What revelations came from that assignment! We took walks on the beach and into the woods. We stared at the water and the mountains. Afaa talked with us, one at a time, calling each of us deeper into our own stories, even as we woke to the beauty of one another’s stories. 

The individual assignments, what Afaa called “home work,” produced startlingly good writing, solid beginnings for everyone.

On our last day together, Afaa revealed “Four Aspects and a Mode,” his intuitive method of teaching us to find the geography of our work. Here they are: 
  1. The associative field created by “fielding” our initial conversations and establishing a communal dialogue.
  2. The thought exercise described above.
  3. Writing creatively about the place you went in the thought exercise in order to extend the imagination.
  4. The “home work”—getting to where we have to go by writing directly to it or in opposition to it.
  5. The Mode—In all of it, looking to locate the balance in craft and sincerity.


I wish you all could have been there! 

Categories: Arts & Culture

Alaska Shorts: "Special," by Richard Chiappone

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 5:00am

CHAZ PULLED HIS mother’s Outback into the snowed-over parking lot and parked it under the Alaska Recreational Area sign, gaping through the windshield at the three bodies clad in snowmobile suits lying face down on the still-frozen surface of the lake. Another meth deal gone sideways? Maybe. The locals in the jacked-up school buses and Tyvek-mummied shacks in the hills above town were as rough as the muffler-bashing roads they lived on. That was true. But, still, in the middle of a lake, in the middle of the day? The only other vehicle in the snowy lot was a rusted Toyota stake-bed that looked old enough to have come across from Asia on the land bridge.
He reached for his phone just as one of the dead men raised an arm off the ice and then lowered it again as though waving. Chaz stopped. One of the other bodies did the same thing, a dead arm coming up off the ice and going back down again. And then the third man did it, too, and Chaz understood they were ice fishermen, lying on their bellies, looking into the holes they’d augered there, jigging. He put the phone down.
Jesus. Ice fishing. And he thought he was bored.
It was the third week of May and sunny, actual springtime at sea level in the little town on the bay, daffodils thick along the south wall of the Save U More, newborn moose calves tottering through intersections on knobby stilts, piles of dog shit rising like the dead on every thawing lawn. But here, a thousand feet up, aging snow still blanketed the ground, and the naked shore alders shuddered miserably in the wind off the frozen lake.
He slumped back in his seat, squinting past the prostrate fishermen. Beyond them the dense spruce forests stretched endlessly. God’s worst idea ever: wilderness.
It was Sunday, almost noon, and this was exactly everything he had to do, all day.
It didn’t help that Nettle had brought some hipster dickhead home from Humboldt to share her room in her folks’ house and work on the family halibut boat for the summer. Chaz should’ve seen that coming. At Thanksgiving, she’d told him that it was “important to experience all kinds of experiences.” In January she’d gone back to California a week before classes re-started. She hadn’t come home for spring break at all.
Chaz’s best friend, Evan, had said, “Chaz, you fag, remember that SAT question: How soon will a girl in college dump her dumbass boyfriend who’s still back home in high school, in Fartfuck Alaska? Surely you picked A.) The minute she runs into an Eddie Vedder wannabe with a bag of weed in one hand and his dick in the other. Surely, dude.”
This was exactlywhy Chaz was sitting in his mother’s car watching guys lolling around on ice like pinnipeds, instead of spending the afternoon at Evan’s getting high and playing Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. Exactly.
Ice fishing. Jesus.


Richard Chiappone is the author of Opening Days, a collection of essays, stories and poems, and the short story collection Water of an UndeterminedDepth. His work has appeared in national magazines, including Alaska Magazine, Playboy, Gray's Sporting Journal, and The Sun; and in literary journals including Crescent Review, Missouri Review, and ZYZZYVA, and has been featured on the BBC radio. He has served as an associate editor at Alaska Quarterly Review, and now teaches at the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College and in the low-residency MFA program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He recently moved from rural Anchor Point to the big city madness of downtown, metropolitan Homer.
Chiappone says the following story began with a boy ice fishing in upstate New York. A boy something like him, perhaps, growing up in a factory town, going off by himself in the woods and out onto the ice to get away from his dull, working-class home life and his six younger brothers and sisters. Somehow, the boy morphed into a teenager in a small town in Alaska. Somehow, he now had ultra liberal, ultra permissive parents, old hippies. Somehow he now had a radical, hipster older sister. For some reason, she was bald. Finally, the only thing remaining from the original was the intense confusion of being a teenager, trying to become oneself. Such is the power and mystery of revision. To read more of the excerpt, download a free copy of the Alaska Sampler 2015.
Would you like to see your work featured here? Check out our Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Leslie Hsu Oh interviews Deb Vanasse on What Every Author Should Know

Mon, 06/22/2015 - 5:00am
If you haven’t read Deb Vanasse’s book, What Every Author Should Know, you are missing out on tips you wished a more experienced author would share with you. Vanasse generously distills years of experience from publishing 16 books with six different presses into this easy-to-read “how to” publish, promote, and live the life of a successful writer. Every time I reread this book, I learn something new. Before my writing desk, I’ve posted many quotes from this book, such as:
“Without fear there cannot be courage. Embrace your fear. Learn all you can, and keep learning. Persist. Give it your best. Persist. From defeat, emerge stronger. Speak truth. Persist. Persist. Persist. Honor your friends, and compete with no one but yourself.”
Did you know that besides cofounding 49Writers and founding Running Fox Books Vanasse is a Montaigne Award Finalist? Check out a wealth of resources for readers and writers at http://debvanasse.com and Facebook/debra.vanasse and Twitter @debvanasse.
My favorite tip from your book is the 80/20 rule: 80% of your writing time on creative efforts and 20% on production and promotion. What do you use to keep track of creation/revision, reflection, immersion, community, and promotion and marketing time? How do you apply this rule if you suffer constant interruptions from what you call a “side trip” or other non-literary commitments like a full-time job or small children?

Mostly, it’s a matter of looking closely at how your days unfold, and then making adjustments where you can to preserve your craft time first, your time for creation and revision. When are you least likely to be interrupted? Alice Munro, one of my literary heroes, wrote short stories while her children napped. Once you’ve found that “sacred time,” be it 10 minutes or six hours, you have to commit to its purpose. No checking emails, no surfing for research, no staring at the screen for long periods. Just write. Everything else gets worked in around the crafting. Reflection is fun because it happens best when you’re going about the everyday business of living. I get my best insights while walking the dog, taking a shower, and right before I fall asleep. As for keeping track, all I use is a cheap spiral notebooks, one for each year. On each page I keep my to-do list for the week. What I can fit between those lines is about what I can get done in a week, after my creative time.
In the first section “Publish Your Book,” you wrote “more and more, I look to well-established small presses not as a last resort but as my first choice.” For an emerging writer who is debuting their first book, would you still recommend small press over a Big Five?

It depends on how you define success and how much patience and persistence you have for what can be a slow and protracted process of acquiring a literary agent and then hoping that agent can place your manuscript. Sometimes aspiring authors have unrealistic expectations of what a Big Five contract will do to launch their careers. If your debut book doesn’t make a huge splash—on its own, because in most cases there won’t be a huge marketing budget attached—you can very quickly find yourself on the path toward midlist, which means subsequent books become harder and harder to place because your sales numbers aren’t off the charts. As for small presses, a few months ago I was asked to become a regular contributor to the Independent, a trade magazine for independent publishers. It’s been a wonderful assignment; I’m becoming acquainted with a number of vibrant publishers who nurture bestsellers by giving them a much longer run than they’d get with the Big Five.
If time, energy, and money are constraints, please rank the priority of promotional efforts you discuss in the second section “Promote Your Book:” e-newsletter, social networking, blogging, author web site, Amazon reviews, Goodreads giveaway, book trailer, trade reviews, author appearances, book tour, book launch party, free or discounted books. For an emerging writer, you recommend “spend a whole lot less time on promotion.” Out of all these promotional efforts, should an emerging writer who is ready to pitch their book focus on Facebook? Twitter? Website? E-newsletter? Or start a blog?

It’s complicated. There’s no good, hard data to support which of these activities will generate more visibility, and hence more sales, than the others. So much depends, too, on the particular author’s genre and platform. In general, trade reviews and consumer reviews on distributor sites like Amazon correlate strongly with titles that have a strong reach into the literary/library market. But if you write in a genre like romance, a trade review’s not important at all; consumer reviews are everything. And with the consumer reviews, there’s a chicken/egg question: did the book become popular because it had lots of reviews, or did it get lots of reviews because it’s popular? Likely, the answer is both. In the end, authors are best off doing the sorts of marketing and interactions that they like best, so it doesn’t feel like a huge chore. The other general advice would be to try to build a genuine reader base of people who care about your work, and be able to reach them, be it via a e-newsletter or Facebook or whatever.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
I’m most impressed with how you keep your web site and presence on a variety of social media fresh and engaging. How do you “systematize your involvement so it’s not a huge time-suck”?

I start my weekdays with 10 minutes on Twitter, then set it aside. I jump on Facebook only when I’ve got down time—when I’m waiting in line or enjoying a midday cup of tea. I set aside an hour or two every Thursday to draft two blog posts, one on an aspect of writing or publishing for The Self-Made Writer, and one on my work in progress for the WIP Wednesday feature on my website; I post both in advance. Cindy Dyson of Dyson UXDesigns recently revamped my website for me, and in addition to infusing it with this incredible energy, she also became very protective of my creative time, so she set it up to require minimal maintenance while still managing to maximize the ways in which I interface with readers. If I’ve got lots of news to share with friends and fans, I’ll use Buffer to schedule posts.
In a recent issue of Writer’s Digest, Jane Friedman writes “an author website is your most critical tool for book promotion and long-term platform development…if you depend on social networking to take the place of an author website, this is a terrible strategic move.” She outlines seven essential website elements: clear author name/brand, email newsletter signup, bio page, information about your books, social media icons, social proof, straightforward navigation. Do you agree or disagree and why?

I’m a big fan of Jane Friedman, so no surprise there: I agree! Social media is how you interact, but your website represents who you are, plus a good website prompts sharing. Check out what Cindy has done with “Bad Book Club” and WIP Wednesdays on my site, and you’ll see what I mean.
“What you do with and for your fellow writers along with what you do with and for your readers will come back around in the best of ways to you and your work.” Please share some examples of how this has worked out for you. 

There are tons of examples, but here’s an easy one: Look at the authors who blurbed my novel Cold Spell. Every one of them I met in one way or another through my volunteer work with 49 Writers. What’s important is that your engagement is sincere. If you’re jonesing for connections, if you’re schmoozing, people will see right through that. Give because you mean it, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a karma thing.
In the last section “Live the Life,” you offer important lessons you’ve learned about maintaining “bounce”: a blend of confidence and strategy. What tools do you recommend for generating ideas, managing promotional strategies, juggling several projects at once, and not giving up when you feel the universe is against your writing?
You have to believe not just in yourself but in the project you’re working on: that you’re speaking truth in the best way you know how, truth that in some way will better this world. You have to love what you do for its own sake. When I read about how writers need first and foremost to affirm themselves, it saddens me. What a set-up for failure! Writers are some of the least-affirmed people I know. But you know, sometimes when it feels like the universe is against our writing, maybe it’s actually trying to help us out, by prodding us to do the better work we can do if we forego the ego and take a learner’s stance with every project. The best writer’s tool, honestly, is joy: in what you do, in your approach to your life and your work. Regardless of external rewards, a writer, by virtue of her craft, enjoys a bountiful existence.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Weekly Round-Up of Alaska Writing News and Events

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 7:00am
I hope you have all returned home inspired from last weekend's Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference. For those needing more inspiration, we still have lots going on at 49 Writers.

On July 23 at 7 pm, we'll be hosting a special Crosscurrents event at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson to celebrate the launch of the Anchorage Remembers anthology, featuring forty authors. This project was made possible by a Community Centennial Grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum, Rasmuson Foundation, and Anchorage Centennial Celebration.

If you’re a 49 Writers member, watch for an e-vite to a special members-only event on July 14 with literary agent Jeff Kleinman.  In Juneau, our next member event is on August 6 from 7-9 pm; again, members should watch for details via email. (Not a member? Head over to our website to join.)
We have only a few spots left at our popular Tutka Bay Writers Retreat. Registration closes July 1. We'd love to have you join us for a special weekend of inspiration and instruction at one of the world's top-rated wilderness lodges.

Last but not least, we're looking for authors to get involved with Alaska Book Week Oct. 3 -11. Visit www.alaskabookweek.com and click the 2015 logo to participate. This year, you can also get involved with a video interview.
49 Writers Volunteer J.T. Torres

EVENTS IN ANCHORAGEEvents at the UAA Bookstore
June 24, 4-6 pm: Of possible interest to speculative fiction writers, Nicolle Zellner presents Shock Chemistry’s Application to Origin of Life. Zellner's research interests focus on understanding the impact history in the Earth-Moon system, the extraterrestrial delivery of biomolecules, and how impacts affect the conditions for life on Earth.
On July 23 at 7 pm, 49 Writers hosts a special Crosscurrents event at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson to celebrate the launch of the Anchorage Remembers anthology, featuring by forty authors. This project was made possible by a Community Centennial Grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum, Rasmuson Foundation, and Anchorage Centennial Celebration.
2015 Sledgehammer 36-Hour Writing ContestJuly 25–26. The contest begins with an online scavenger hunt that participants can complete from anywhere. Along the way, they'll collect four writing prompts, all of which must be incorporated into their story, which is due by midnight on Sunday. Writers can compete individually or as teams, and the contest is open to all ages. Cash prizes will be awarded to the best short stories of the weekend in the following categories:·  Individual·  Team·  Readers' Choice·  Judge's Choice·  Youth (two prizes: elementary/middle school, high school)
Winners will also receive entry to writing-related events and the coveted golden sledgehammers.Registration is just $25 for adults and $10/$5 for youth. Visit www.sledgehammercontest.com to learn more and register.
Local Library Events

Book Signings

EVENTS AROUND ALASKASOUTHCENTRAL, MAT-SU, KENAI PENINSULAFireside Books in Palmer will host several authors this weekend. Friday, June 19 at 2 PM, Dennis L. Lattery will be here with his book of Alaskan poems, written in the tradition of Robert Service. It's called Northern Verses: Poems of Alaska and the Yukon. On Saturday, June 20 at 10 AMCil Gregoire will be here to sign copies of her popular Fantasy series. Bill Richardson will be here June 26 at 1:00 PM, with his Corky series. And keep your eyes and ears open for our July events, such as the July 14 dinner with Sherri Simpson and Frank Soos, featuring music by Tom Begich. Robin McLean will be in July as well. The former Alaskan has been getting lots of critical acclaim for her collection of short stories, Reptile House.

SOUTHEASTWoosh Kinaadeiyí Open Mic Poetry Slam, June 19, 6:30 p.m. On the third Friday of every month, join local poets and performers of all ages and abilities in Juneau. This Friday's theme will be "All the World's a Poem." Arrive at 6:00 p.m. to sign up. Stay to get slammed, with poetic politeness, of course!

INTERIORThe Art of the Essay, June 26-28, with Frank Soos, is a three-day intense class in reading and writing personal essays. The essay as practiced from the beginning of the form up to the present day is the most open to experimentation and innovation of all the commonly practiced forms. They will explore that range by discussing a variety of essay forms to consider how an essay can be made. Details and registration info at Northern Susitna Institute, Talkeetna AK.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR WRITERSCONFERENCES, RETREATS & RESIDENCIES
The Tutka Bay Writers Retreat: What better way to jumpstart your writing? Don't miss out on a fantastic retreat featuring two outstanding guest instructors, Ann Eriksson and Gary Geddes! September 11-13 at the fabulous Tutka Bay Lodge. Sign up today!
Last Frontier Theatre Conference, June 14-20, in Valdez, features new work by playwrights from around the country. There are evening performances, 10-minute play slams, even a fringe festival. The deadline is past for play submissions, but they may still need actors.

Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop presents RiverSong with Frank Soos, Michelle McAfee, Robin Child, and Nancy Cook, July 22-27, McCarthy to Chitina. The Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop is pleased to partner with McCarthy River Tours & Outfitters to host a six-day, five-night adventure in the fabulous Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. This year’s workshop will feature poet and essayist, Frank Soos, who is currently serving as Alaska’s Writer Laureate, joined by accomplished singer-songwriter Michelle McAfee, backcountry banjo-diva Robin Child, and workshop director Nancy Cook. Together they will explore the ways wilderness can help inspire songs, stories, poems, and essays. Activities include an opening reading/performance and craft sessions in the comfort of the Wrangell Mountains Center’s facility in McCarthy, followed by three nights and four days of creative inquiry along the Kennicott, Nizina, Chitina, and Copper Rivers. Space is limited to eight student writers/ songwriters.

Alaska Writers Guild & SCBWI Annual Writer’s Conference, September 19-20, Anchorage. Early registration starts May 2015. www.AlaskaWritersGuild.com

Alaska Women Speak is looking for a responsible maven fluent with InDesign (CS6) layout and website savvy to join the all-volunteer crew as Layout Editor. Here’s your chance to create for a 23rd year in the running, statewide, quarterly publication! This is not a site-specific volunteer opportunity, but sound Internet connection is required. Occasional Skype sessions apply. If interested, we'd love to hear from you. Please contact us at alaskawomenspeak@yahoo.com

13 Chairs Literary Journal, a new literary journal publishing short stories and poetry from new and emerging authors, seeks submissions and volunteers. They are currently composing their flagship issue, straight out of JBER, AK. To learn more, and to submit, email info@13chairs.com or visit 13chairs.com


From July 1 to August 15 the Rasmuson Foundation Artist Residency Program will be accepting applications from Alaska artists and writers interested in a fully-funded two-month residency in the Lower 48. The eligibility requirements have changed—Alaska-based artists who have not received a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award are now also eligible to apply. A free information session detailing the program, eligibility requirements, and application process will be held June 26, at 6 p.m. in the Anchorage Museum’s Reynolds Classroom. Potential applicants are invited to attend in-person or by teleconference. More information can be found at rasmuson.org. If you have questions about the program, contact Jayson Smart at jsmart@rasmuson.org or call 907-297-2882
GOOD NEWS!
Soon, we will all be able to hear the beautiful words in Lynne Curry's upcoming book, Beating the Workplace Bully. Brilliance Audio recently purchased the audio rights!

The Poems in Place steering committee recently selected four winning entries from poems written by Alaskans. Come September, Alaska will have a poem or two in each of the state park’s seven regions.

Leslie Leyland Field’s poem, “Tideline” and Fred Stager’s poem, “The Compass Rose," will be placed in Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park in Kodiak.  Aleria Jensen’s poem, “A Soldier’s Station," and Justine Pechuzal’s poem, “Pilgrims," will be installed at Caines Head State Recreational Area, Seward. Local creative writing workshops will accompany sign dedications to be held in Kodiak and Seward this fall. For dates and details please stay tuned: http://www.alaskacenterforthebook.org/  
Have news or events you'd like to see listed here? Email details to 49roundup (at) gmail.com. Your message must be received by noon on the Thursday before the roundup is scheduled to run. Unless your event falls in the "Opportunities" category, it should occur no more than 30 days from when we receive your email.
Categories: Arts & Culture

From the Archives: Deb Vanasse on Metaphor, with All Due Respect

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 9:05am
You have to love wikiHow.
Impressed by the abundance of metaphor in Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! and a handful of lines in a G.C. Waldrep’s “The Black Pickup Truck of Death is Driving Away,” I set out to discover what other writers had to say about figurative language, which is as intuitive as anything we do. 
Straight up, Google offered wikiHow’s “How to Write a Metaphor: 7 steps,” sort of like “How to Paint Like Rembrandt: 7 steps” or “How to Think Like God: 7 steps.” “Metaphors are tough,” the Wiki author admits. “But if you follow these instructions, they can become the spice in the cuisine that is your written work!” 
Oh boy.
Richer yet were the ads Google’s snoop squad slotted there, just for me.  Why Men Pull Away: Ten Ugly Mistakes That Women Make That Ruins [sic]Any Chance of a Relationship. The click-through: catchhimandkeephim.com. Right underneath was Turbo Tax Free Tax Advice: Our Professionals Are All CPAs, Enrolled Agents or Tax Attorneys! Yikes. For the record, I’m not shopping for relationship advice, and I finished my taxes last week, thanks very much. But there’s no denying the character potential implied in those juxtaposed ads. Self-destructive romantic seeks free tax advice. Tom Rachman would have fun with that one. 
If Waldrep’s poem “The Black Pickup Truck of Death is Driving Away” were wiki-ized, it would be titled “How to Make Love, Not War: 7 steps.” In it, Waldrep says this about metaphor:
it is not a game,… it is an alchemy of expressionof what it means to be human,a bridge between the things that are human and the things that are not,between the living and the dead
If reduced to a recipe, reverence must be metaphor’s primary ingredient. The rest of it - freshness, clarity, depth of meaning, all without drawing undue attention – follow in proportions we pretty much have to guess at. 
The easiest part is identifying those places where literal description falls short. Metaphor does the heavy lifting where you feel more than see what you mean. “I need something to serve as a container for emotion and idea,” Mark Doty says of metaphor. “A vessel that can hold what’s too slippery or charged or difficult to touch.”
The vessel may be large, a metaphor big enough to hold a whole poem. Or it may be slight and yet stunning. It may fall fresh and whole on the page, or it may demand some effort. I sometimes feel like I’m whacking away at potential metaphors like a blindfolded three-year-old at a pinata. A bunch of wild swings and then, boom, I’m scrambling to gather the bounty.
When it comes to metaphor, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! is the fiesta of all fiestas. Consider lines like these. 
The stage lights’ tin eyelidsNights in the swamp were dark and star-leperedThe sapphire hairs of the PleiadesDozens of alligators pushed their icicle overbitesThe Chief’s follow spot cast a light like a rime of ice
These are only a sampling from the first two pages of Russell’s novel. Plenty more follow, hundreds of fresh yet unpretentious metaphors. Russell’s not just playing around with words. It feels like she’s actually seeing this way, that ordinary movements and objects are transformed for her as if through some fantastical lens. 
The simple definition – that metaphor compares two unlike things – isn’t all that helpful to a writer.  In “sapphire hairs” or “icicle overbites,” what’s being compared to what, exactly?  In Liguistics for Students of Literature, Taugett and Pratt define metaphor in a more helpful way: foregrounding through the use of anomaly. Foregrounding provides the motive – special attention.  Anomaly is how we achieve it, by bringing together two unlike meanings. The effect, paradoxically, is cohesion – sameness fashioned from difference. 
As is so often the case, the writer’s job is to pay attention – to the places where the unspeakable hovers, to the freshness camouflaged by the everyday, to the unlikely combinations that when struck like flint yield new ways to see. “Our metaphors go on ahead of us,” says Doty. “They know before we do.” Metaphor earns its respect: as alchemy, as bridge, pressing in toward what makes us human.
Try This: Approach metaphor with playful reverence. Start when the stakes are low – on a walk, waiting in line. See how far you can push metaphors for the seemingly ordinary: sunlight, clouds, snow. Reject anything that hints of the typical or the cliché; nothing cold, for instance, in your metaphorical thinking about snow. The idea is to push into unexplored territory. 
Check This Out: Unique, engaging, and suspenseful first novel rich with metaphor. That’s Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!  The HBO spin-off is sure to be a hoot, but for the language lesson, read the book.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Linda Martin: Symbiosis: Bookstore and Writers

Wed, 06/17/2015 - 5:00am
I was in the Homer Bookstore recently, buying a copy of Show and Tell by Phillip Lopate. I added to my purchase a box of notecards featuring rosemary, basil and dill that I found on a shelf honoring the Homer Farmer’s Market. Also on that shelf: a tempting children’s book called The Very Big Carrot, a cookbook called Every Which Way With Rhubarb, and There’s a Moose in My Garden by Homer writer and master gardener Brenda Adams.

Former Alaska State Writer Laureate, Nancy Lord, came through the bookstore door while I was making my purchase. Nancy’s books are shelved in the Local Author’s section, but most were currently in a feature display of books by Kachemak Bay Writers Conference speakers. Nancy had come to cash in her “purple card”, a frequent buyer card from the bookstore. Make twelve transactions and your reward is credit in the average amount spent. (My new card has only five transactions since April 18. My average is $41 so far!) Nancy picked a number of books from the conference shelf, including poetry by Afaa Michael Weaver and Simmons Buntin, and a novel by Adrianne Harun.

Writers and bookstores need each other, obviously. An independent bookstore like this one is a real treasure, unfettered by corporate dictums but still in touch with the wide literary world. Owners Sue Post, Lee Post and Jenny Stroyeck keep their store globally connected and community-minded. Their artistic employee, Jennifer Norton, rotates book displays so that customers often find what they didn’t know they wanted. 

One of my favorite shelves in the store is called “Guaranteed Good.” I can count on this selection to introduce me to new fiction, recommended by Sue and Jenny. Lee’s recommendations have led me to books my husband enjoys, most recently The Martian, by Andy Weir. Sue (sister to Lee, both children of previous owner Joy Post) told me the idea for “Guaranteed Good” came from Homer poet Erin Hollowell, a former bookstore employee, who had seen it used by a bookstore in Ithaca, New York. A good idea in Ithaca is a good idea in Homer too.

The front of the sales counter at the Homer Bookstore serves as a bulletin board for community art events—poetry readings, plays, concerts. Tickets to most of these events can be purchased at the bookstore. 

There is a shelf called “Alaskana.” Other sections are marked “Thrillers”, “Fantasy”, “Boat Building” and “Book Club Selections.” Book club readers get a ten percent discount when they order through the bookstore. Knitters meet here once a month. They gather around a table near the coffee bar with their needles and yarn, and order espresso drinks. The coffee bar was a vision of Joy Post’s, inspired by a visit she made to the Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle.

When I moved to Homer in the early ‘80s, I waltzed down to the very small library, which is now a chiropractor’s office, to find short stories by Flannery O’Connor. It wasn’t in the collection. When I inquired at the Homer Bookstore, the storeowner offered to loan me a copy of The Collected Works of Flannery O’Connor from her home library. That was my introduction to Joy Post, independent bookstore owner, writer, and generous literary woman. She died in 1995, a year after she relinquished the store to Lee and Sue and a third owner, Jenny Stroyeck.

Post bought the Homer Bookstore from Maynard and Kathy Smith in 1978. The store moved to different locations around Homer over the years, finding a permanent home in 2001, on Pioneer Avenue in a building that was once Millie’s Video. There are two bay windows in front with enticing displays—Kermit the Frog with a guitar appeared in one of the windows the day I was there. On the deck out front a wooden stick man reads a book. The bicycle rack looks like moose, except the moose are purple.

Tourism once figured into the bookstore’s summer revenue but now most travelers arrive with Kindles or similar devices. They no longer need to buy the latest thrillers to entertain themselves, although locally written books still give them reason to stop in. 


As for supporting writers, Sue Post agrees that it is a symbiotic relationship. “We’re most likely to carry a local author’s book if it’s someone we’ve seen as a store customer,” Sue explained. Sue and Jenny sold books at my April reading in the Homer Public Library, the big new building complete with The Collected Works of Flannery O’Connor. They do the same for visiting writers at the library and the college. They are on hand at every Kachemak Bay Writers Conference, selling books during the day at Land’s End Resort and in the evenings after readings. They are very popular.

Categories: Arts & Culture

Alaska Shorts: "Cold Comfort," excerpted from Cold Spell by Deb Vanasse

Tue, 06/16/2015 - 5:00am


Mass BalanceThe sum of accumulation and loss 
IN THE MINERVA Jones Bible Study, shapes sliced through God’s word like cookies cut from dough. Squiggly lines for actions. Rectangles for results. You yourself got a star, while God, three in one, was contained in a triangle. A short, chipmunk-faced woman, Minerva wore at her neck a bright orange scarf that fluttered as she click-clacked in high heels across the video screen. You had only to apply the right shapes, Minerva promised, and every truth of God would come clear.If Minerva Jones were to step out from the screen, Lena would suggest she take a load off, the way she herself did every morning, settling into the wide, creaky-springed chair in her bedroom, her leather-bound Bible winged across her lap. Most mornings, a wisp of steam would rise from her coffee, folding and unfolding on itself like the northern lights that shifted across a winter sky, confounding the whole notion of shape.
Once the steam disappeared, Lena’s coffee would be the right temperature to drink, neither too hot nor too cold. In her last video lesson, Minerva had applied triangles, rectangles, squiggles, and stars to show how Jesus despised the lukewarm. Given the Lord’s preference for extremes — hot or cold — Lena suspected the glacier would suit him fine. She pictured Jesus up on the ice, which she could see from her window, white on white, a study in peace and cold and proportion.
Minerva, however, would put the glacier in a box shape. Who needed ice when a whole world, an entire universe even, was contained in the book that rested across Lena’s lap? Minerva Jones was the sort of woman Lena should want for her boys, a Proverbs 31 woman, of noble character, blessed with eager hands that brought food from afar, a woman who laughed at the days to come.
In her workbook, Lena copied verses from the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs, squiggling purple lines under the bringing and laughing and spinning and sewing done by a woman of honor. From a clutch of colored pencils, she chose a red one to box in the results, as Minerva directed: a little rectangle each to contain confidence, blessings, praise. Still, Lena wasn’t convinced. The women she actually hoped for, for her sons, were women like Darla — funny, irreverent Darla, who didn’t have to sit in a special chair, the way Lena did, to recall who she was, beneath what everyone expected of her.
With a blue pencil, Lena attacked a verse out of Psalms: I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from my fears. Dutifully, she formed red boxes and purple triangles and green stars and blue squiggles. But the shapes failed to make clear how the Lord could hear someone seeking, or how fear might be delivered, wrapped up like a package. These were Lena’s chair-thoughts, reflections on the ways God made no sense.
Her habit was to displace these blasphemies by reflecting on memories of small things: A ladybug creeping up a thin blade of grass, its dotted wings a curved, protective shell. The tiny fingernail of a newborn child, thin and translucent. The gentle, rolling laughter of Lena’s sister, Judy, before the river swept her away.
At the familiar creak of the front door, Lena skewed her chair away from the window. After thirty-eight years, she’d grown large with the ice, and in certain ways, cold. She envied how the glacier sat, barely moving, day in and day out. She shut her Bible and pushed herself out of her chair. 
At age twenty-one, our very own Deb Vanasse was dropped by a bush pilot on a gravel runway in middle of the Alaska wilderness. No roads, no houses, no cars, no people — only a winding brown slough and tundra spread flat as prairie. She had come not for adventure but to live, an isolating but evocative experience that has inspired many of her sixteen books. Between her mountain home and a glacier-based cabin, she continues to enjoy Alaska’s wild places. Library Journal calls her “one of Alaska’s leading storytellers.”
“Grabs you from the opening line and won’t let go,” says Publishers Weekly of Vanasse’s novel Cold Spell. From that novel, Lena Preston has proven a favorite among readers. Decades ago, she and her husband Walter homesteaded near Alaska’s Resurrection Glacier, tying up access so that those who want to see the ice up close must pay a fee to travel past the Prestons’ gift shop and through their campground.
In Cold Spell, each chapter is titled after an aspect of glaciers. Although Lena plays an integral role in the novel, chapters from her point of view were cut from the final version. Featured here is one of those chapters, “Mass Balance.” To read more of the excerpt, download a free copy of the Alaska Sampler 2015.

Would you like to see your work featured here? Check out our Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today.
Categories: Arts & Culture

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