Tired of working conventional hours? Yearn for the flexibility of working from home or your favorite coffee shop? Dream of meeting and getting to know respected Alaskan writers and distinguished visiting authors? Have we got the job for you! 49 Writers is seeking an energetic, enthusiastic executive director to fill the shoes of current leader Linda Ketchum, when she departs for distant shores at the end of this year. For the job description and information on how to apply, go to the 49 Writers website or click the logo at the top of the blog sidebar. We know you're out there! Our state is brimming with hidden talent, so don't be shy--step forward.
Thank you to the 35 people who came out last night for Susanna Mishler's reading and craft talk on the topic of "can a poem be a machine?" Especially the students from Kate Partridge's class! It's always heartening to see young people in the audience who are fully engaged with the program (they definitely deserve that extra credit). Susanna advanced thoughtful arguments, drawing on the work of many writers, and delighted us with her closing abecedarian poem about the workaday tools from her trade as an electrician. Hooray as always to Great Harvest Bread for the venue and the treats: folks, it's pumpkin bread season so don't miss the Nov. 13 Reading & Craft Talk with Lee Goodman.
The 49 Writers annual membership drive is in full swing! If you enjoy following this blog and even if you check in only occasionally, please consider becoming a member if you haven't already made a contribution. Member donations help us keep supporting writers around Alaska, and many of you tell us how much you value the blog. We hit more than 30,000 page views in the last month (more than double from a year ago), so we must be doing something that resonates with you, our beloved community of writers. Help us keep on keeping on! Membership starts at a modest $49.
Deb Vanasse and Don Rearden report that they had a great trip to the Kenai Peninsula last weekend, when they featured in a reading and each taught a workshop at Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna. There was a wonderful turnout at the evening event and engaged and insightful students attended the craft workshops. There were many requests for more author events and classes! We'll see what we can do. Kudos and thanks to 49 Writers member and KPC host Dave Atcheson (Dead Reckoning).
Alaska Book Week is over, after months of planning by the committee, and we are delighted that so many people and organizations came together to celebrate Alaska's authors and their books. If you held an event or mounted a special display, do remember to sent details and photos to ABW coordinator Jathan Day at akbookweek (at) gmail (dot) com, so he can feature your activities on the website and give people ideas for next year. Special thanks to Jathan, Sara Juday, Lila Vogt, Vered Mares, Rayette Sterling, Stephanie Schott, and Patience Frederiksen, for serving so ably on the committee. And thanks also to the Alaska Writers Guild, for collaborating with Loussac Library to stage a very successful second annual Great Alaska Book Fair last Saturday.
Upcoming classes and events at 49 Writers
Saturday, Nov. 1, 10am-1pm, 645 W. 3rd Avenue, Anchorage: Complex and Conflicted Characters, creative writing workshop with Don Rearden (The Raven's Gift). This workshop was popular with writers in Juneau and Soldotna, so sign up now!
Saturday, Nov. 22, 9am-12pm, 645 W. 3rd Avenue, Anchorage: Composition by Juxtaposition, creative writing workshop with Caroline Goodwin (Trapline), Alaska-born Caroline moved from Sitka in 1999 to attend Stanford as a Wallace Stegner fellow in poetry. She is currently serving as the first Poet Laureate of San Mateo County, CA and teaching in the MFA Writing program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
Monday, Dec. 1, 6-9pm, Juneau (location TBD): Composition by Juxtaposition, creative writing workshop with Caroline Goodwin.
For more information and to register for these and our November classes, visit our website.
NOTE: We have missed listing some events recently because we didn't know about them! Do email us your announcements and/or posters (in jpeg format, please) and we'll line them up for you.
Events in Anchorage Wednesday, Oct. 22, 5-7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: Alaska Memoirs with Dave Atcheson and Jeff Schultz. Dave Atcheson discusses his memoir Dead Reckoning: Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas--a story in which college students and “fish hippies” work in canneries alongside survivalists, rednecks, religious freaks, and deckhands with damning secrets in dangerous waters, driven by the need to feed an insatiable appetite for adventure. Photographer Jeff Schultz will discusses Chasing Dogs – My Adventures as the Official Photographer Alaska’s Iditarod. Schultz has served in this official capacity since 1982, traveling by plane, snow machine, snowshoes, and on foot to capture the race as no one else has. Thursday, Oct 23, 7pm, Loussac Library, Wilda Marston Theater: A community conversation on Truth & Propaganda. Investigative journalist and author of Camp 14, Blaine Harden, will be interviewed by Don Rearden, board president of 49 Writers and author of The Raven's Gift, Free and open to the public. Join the conversation!Events around Alaska Tonight, Friday, Oct. 17, 7pm, Juneau Arts & Culture Center: Woosh Kinaadeiyí will host their annual Grand Poetry Slam competition that includes a slam competition featuring winners from the past season. The poets will perform original work and are judged by members of the community. The winning poet will receive $50 and the 2014 Grand Slam Award. Competing in the slam are David Parish, Michael Christenson, Max Suzuki, Nathan Block, and Bill Merk. The event will also include opening performances by Katie Bausler, Gemini Waltz, Anna Hoffman, Miguel Rohrbacher, Henry Melville, Robert Stephenson, and Ziggy Unzicker as the 2013 Grand Slam Champion and Sacrificial Poet. The show will be hosted by Christy NaMee Eriksen and Conor Lendrum, with DJ Manu. The event is pay as you can, with a suggested donation of $5-10. Click here to learn more. Contact: Christy NaMee Eriksen, Woosh Kinaadeiyí President, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tonight, Friday, Oct. 17, 7pm, Murie Auditorium, UAF: Sherry Simpson, author of Dominion of Bears and two essay collections, will be reading her work for the Celebration of Writing on. Parking on campus is free after 5pm and there are lots adjacent to the Murie Building. This event is free and open to the public. Sherry will be holding a craft talk in Gruening 202 at 3pm this afternoon. Those of you interested in attending dinner please contact email@example.com. Friday, Oct. 31, 6pm: The Canvas in Juneau is holding its annual Halloween Party, and they are looking for experienced story tellers to participate in the campfire ghost stories, an integral part of the event. There will be about thirty minutes of scheduled storytelling and then a 30-minute open mic. If you know anyone who would be interested, contact Kelly Manning at the Canvas, 586-1750. Ernestine Hayes has contacted us to ask that we help get the word out about the Juneau NaNoWriMo event. Click here for their Facebook page if you want to get involved. Author News
Rasmuson Foundation has announced the selection of four artists from Alaska who will each spend eight weeks in residence at acclaimed Lower 48 arts organizations as part of the 2015 Artist Residency Program. Ernestine Hayes, a writer in Juneau, will be at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program near Woodside, CA. She will focus her energy on various ongoing fiction projects, and immerse herself in aspects of the traditions of ancient Chinese poets, contemporary American ghazals and the lyricism of oral history. Congratulations, Ernestine! The other artists are Linda Lyons, a visual artist and painter in Anchorage, who will be in residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute in Santa Fe, NM, in partnership with Institute of American Indian Arts, Mary Matthews, a visual artist and art therapist in Fairbanks, will be in residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation in Charlotte, NC, and Michael Walsh, a media artist and filmmaker in Homer, will be in residence at Zygote Press in Cleveland, OH. Click here to learn more about the Artist Residency Program.
Opportunities for Alaskan Writers Early Bird Preregistration for next year's AWP conference ends Oct. 31.Register today for #AWP15, which runs from April 7-11, 2015, at the Minneapolis Convention Center and the Hilton Minneapolis Hotel. The early-bird registration period offers the more significantly discounted rates for North America’s best-attended and most dynamic literary conference.
Saturday, Nov. 8, 9am-2pm, Anchorage School District Young Writers Conference: Inspire the next generation of published authors by volunteering to share your craft and passion with students in grades 6-12. Showcase and sell your (age appropriate) books. Interested? Fill out this brief proposal form: http://tinyurl.com/n7wsgze. Authors do not need to be on site for the whole conference, but they are welcome to eat a pizza lunch with students, listen to keynote speaker Debbie Miller, and visit with students and fellow authors in a "Meet the Authors" space. Questions or concern? Contact Lisa Weight, Language Arts Curriculum and Instruction, ASD ED Center, at 907-742-4476.
Young Emerging Artists, Inc. is happy to announce that registration for the Alaska Region of the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition is now open to students in Grades 7-12 in public, private or home schools throughout the entire State of Alaska. Students must submit their work no later than Dec. 20, 2014. If you have questions please contact the President of YEA, Ben Ball, at firstname.lastname@example.org or, if you have a contest specific question, write to email@example.com. Students and teachers register at http://www.artsandwriting.org.
Glen Klinkhart Having your book published is a huge milestone for any author. Getting my memoir published was a thrill of a lifetime but it was tempered with the reality of having to go out and "sell" my work at speaking engagements and book signings. At each of my signings I experienced how much support the people of Alaska give to local authors, how appreciative people are to speak with you, and how we have more things in common than we have differences. It was in that spirit I wish to share some of the things I learned at my book signings. Set your own schedule.Work with your publisher but set your own schedule for signings and appearances. Don't have back to back book signings. Try and keep your appearances to less than four hours at a time. Anything longer and my ability to stay open, happy, and engaged with readers become problematic. Stay in touch with the venue.Whether you set up the signing or your publisher did, have a contact name and phone number for someone who will actually be at the venue. I have missed flights, forgotten posters, lost banners, run out of pens, and have had other missteps before, during, and after a signing. Having a local person you can call on to assist you in your hour of need is invaluable. Bring someone with you.Having another person with you gives you another set of hands and eyes. Having help, even with the little things, allows you to concentrate on the most important part of the event, the reader. Plan ahead.Get to know the bookstore, the owner, and the employees. At one major bookseller I arrived well before the store opened. I brought fresh bagels with me as I was allowed to sit in on their morning staff meeting. The employees in turn became excited about my story and my book. Several of the salespeople later told me they had never had an author come and meet them. Weeks later I heard from friends that those same sales people were approaching them and personally recommending my book. Make sure who is responsible for providing copies of your book. Will the store have them there or are you bringing books with you? A mistake, even one by someone else, makes you look unprofessional and your readers are the ones who will suffer for it. Bring a couple extra copies of your book with you. I always bring four or five copies of my book to the venue, even at large book stores. There are several reasons for this.You run out.If things go well and books run out, a couple extra copies can help save the day. At one venue they ran out of books so I gave my extra copies to a very happy store owner who sold them to the last customers of the night. Misspellings and Mistakes.I worry so much about the probability of misspelling a reader's name that I often have problems sleeping the night before. To help alleviate my concerns, I bring several books to replace any of a venue's copies I might mess up. Avoid misspelling someone's name.Always ask people to spell their name for you, even if you think you know how to spell it. Do not be afraid to ask them to repeat it. Even when you try your best mistakes can, and will, happen. During one book signing a father and his 16 year old daughter walked up to have me sign her book. After getting her name, I asked how to properly spell it. Her father piped up and slowly gave me the spelling. As I finished writing the girl turned to her father and said, "Dad, that's not how you spell my name." It's not about you.Remember you are there for the bookstore owners, the venue, and most of all, the readers. Never forget Alaska is one small town, in one big state. Give everyone some of your time.Do your best to give every person who comes to the signing a few minutes of your time. Let them tell you about their experiences, their story, and their perspective. You can often use those experiences to write something meaningful to them as you sign their book. Encourage other writers.You wrote a book. You got it published, and now you are signing your book for readers. This, in and of itself, is something many people dream of doing and you may be living someone's dream. Share your journey. Encourage them. Help inspire other writers. Have fun.This is the closest I will ever come to feeling like, and being treated like, a rock star, so I try and enjoy every minute of it. That being said, being an author does not give you the right to grow an enormously large ego, trash your hotel room, and swim naked in the hotel swimming pool or what the police would later describe as the "fish pond." I may, or may not, know from actually experience about these sorts of things. I'm just saying. Glen Klinkhart was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska and was a police detective for over seventeen years with the Anchorage Police Department. His writings include a non-fiction book entitled, A CyberCop's Guide to Internet Child Safety, and the True Crime Alaskan Memoir, Finding Bethany. For more information, visit www.glenklinkhart.com. Would you like to write a guest post for 49 Writers? Check out our Blogger Guidelines and submit one today!
I hope I won't be flogged by Deb Vanasse (the kind person who posts these blogs), because I'm submitting this Part 2 on a Sunday instead of a Friday. I have reasons, of course. The truth is, I took a big risk. I decided to write my four blog-posts on Fridays only, and to submit each post on the same Friday it was written. Such spontaneity would be in the true spirit of blogging, right? I figured any time of the night would do for emailing the submission, since Deb likely would not stay up past midnight on Fridays looking for such things. And so I launched my experiment. All went well the first Friday. The second Friday, though, my non-conforming day job—Adjunct Lecturer at UAF—trumped the writing. Friday was the deadline at UAF for "Freshman Progress Reports": so-called Midterm Grades—except it's not the midterm yet, it's only the end of the fifth week of class. One-third of the semester has flown by already, and I've scrambled to deal with teaching, writing, and the construction at my house. Beginning in mid-August, a massive amount of chomping, pushing, and spreading of dirt (i.e., tundra/mushrooms/wild rose bushes/fireweed/tree stumps) took place as Pete-the-dirt-work-guy sought to flatten the steeply sloped area at my house—enough to slip three one-ton steel beams beneath the jacked-up cabin: two beams that are 40 feet long and one that's 35. He needed to balance the beams atop three pairs of steel pilings he'd driven 15 feet into the ground, down to bedrock. This delicate operation created the new "fixed" foundation and raised the cabin two feet higher off the ground than it was before. But the dirt work also resulted in a cliff, at the bottom of my stairs, higher than my head—with all manner of tree roots and layers of sediment and rock sticking out of it. Additional scrambling has occurred these five weeks, as I've worked to revise several poems and essays, skyped once with my long-distance writing group, tried to get regular exercise such as swimming and yoga, struggled to continue the prescribed daily exercises for the torn tendon in my left shoulder, hauled five-gallon jugs of water from my car down the 19 steps to my cabin and then up four more steps to the screened porch, taken showers (non-daily) at the university, and done laundry as infrequently as possible at the dingy but lively B & C Laundromat. I have also managed to drag numerous birch logs into piles, cover the piles with green tarps, sweep the birch/alder/willow leaves off all the outdoor steps and other wood surfaces so that snow might be easier to shovel, and haul my heavy snow tires one-by-one up the stairs and on up to the top of the driveway, since I waited too long and it snowed, and then it was scary driving home from UAF and too slippery to risk getting stuck at the bottom. It has also been important to stand in line at TDS Tire to get the balled radials off and studded snow tires on, and then to carry the radials down the my stairs and stow them under the storage cabin. (New radials will have to be bought next May, but who knows? Maybe someone will want this set—to drive on or plant zucchini in--if I wait until spring to leave them at the dumpster station.) And it has been essential to shovel the five inches of sudden wet snow for three hours last Saturday in order to get my Subaru up the driveway, and to continue to stay on top of my two courses: English 111X—Introduction to Academic Writing, and English 213X/Honors section—Academic Writing about the Social and Natural Sciences. Since I have 32 writing students this semester and all but three are college freshmen; and since, earlier in the week, I spent many hours responding in writing (using Google Docs) to 32 essays and holding individual conferences (15 or 20 minutes in-person) with each of the students; and since, by the end of the week, I still needed to update the grades for all of these students on Blackboard Grade Center (the electronic gradebook used by some faculty at UAF), it turned out I had no time to write on Friday. For me, writing requires a certain frame of mind. I must feel fresh, have energy, be able (and willing) to sit and concentrate for an extended period of time. My mind must be free of—or become free of—worries and distractions. It must be able to submerge itself into something different from the mundane. And so I sat down on Sunday instead of Friday and wrote this blog. Once upon a time, I was a tenure-track faculty member in the MFA creative writing program at Eastern Washington University in Spokane. I taught courses in my specialties: creative nonfiction writing workshops, literary form and theory, poetry, environmental literature, literature and storytelling by Native Americans and Alaska Natives. I received a fair salary, including health insurance and a pension plan. My work was appreciated by many, and I knew that it was because students and colleagues told me it was. "How's your writing going?" Dr. Jeffers Chertok, Interim Dean of the College of Arts, Letters, and Sciences, would ask me at social gatherings. And smile, and listen closely to my answer. Now—due to faults of my own and a short series of disastrous personal decisions, and the twists of the universe, the downturn of the US economy, age discrimination perhaps, and what I sometimes call the purposeful dismantling (over the past two decades) of the US education system at all levels—I am reduced to teaching college composition, semester after semester…Reduced? Actually, I always consider teaching to be a privilege and a responsibility. And I always enjoy the students in my classes…My efforts, however, inevitably turn out to earn less than the minimum wage (which, in Alaska, is currently $7.75 an hour). And the position includes, of course, no job security, no opportunity for advancement within the English Department, and no private pension plan or group health insurance. (Thank goodness for the promise of Social Security, whatever it may turn out to be. And this year I offer my sincere thanks for so-called Obamacare.) Why do I do this? Why do any of us—among the now legions of aspiring writers, across the US, with MA and MFA and PhD degrees in creative writing—attempt to use adjuncting as our day jobs? I could write a long and complex answer to that question, for, more than once, adjuncting has been a stepping-stone or even a life-saver for me. To be honest, though, I have no desire to write in-depth about that. Let others discover for themselves the dead-end street that (I think) adjuncting can be. "Never sell your homestead," John Haines admonished me years ago. And I haven't. He was a king of the non-conforming job, I suppose, but he never became a composition slave. (He didn't have the academic degree for it, for one thing.) On the other hand, I take heart from the recent words of Alaska's percussionist/composer, John Luther Adams (himself a former, though short-lived, UAF adjunct). In a blog-post called "Alaskan Composer Wins Pulitzer For Become Ocean," sponsored by National Public Radio, interviewer Tom Huizenga asked: "Any ideas of how winning this award might change your career?" John Adams' reply: "I never thought much about career. I'm an artist. You know, I moved to Alaska in my 20s. I never studied with the right people at the right schools. Early on I didn't win the right prizes. It seems that every time I had the opportunity to make the right career choice, I made the wrong career choice, which in the long run turned out to be the right artistic choice. And now, after 40 years or more of doing this, it seems like maybe there's a larger audience for the work and that's profoundly gratifying."
Carolyn Kremers lives in Fairbanks and teaches part-time in the English Department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her books include Place of the Pretend People: Gifts from a Yup'ik Eskimo Village(memoir), The Alaska Reader: Voices from the North (anthology co-edited with Anne Hanley), and Upriver (poetry; a sequel to Place of the Pretend People). Upriver was a Finalist for the 2014 Willa Award for poetry, from Women Writing the West. Her website is www.pw.org/content/carolyn_kremers_1.
A poem is a machine made of words. - William Carlos Williams As poet and electrician, I wonder how this statement might be true. The objects of machine and poem seem contrary. But if a poem is a machine made of words, and the idea of a poem as machine seems contradictory, then what are we missing? Power Outage in a Northern Neighborhood Night stretches over us like plum skin.Every winter I learn constellations,forget them. The Big Dipper is a bearwith a long tail. This made sense to someone,this confusion of flashing points.We run fingers in the black dog’s coat; they spark. We zip wool and down coats(stolen from other animals) over our cooling skins.I press to her shoulder under pointsthat wink like knife-tips. Each constellationis indulgence – lines drawn between fires by someonewho found a vacuum unbearable. Suppose it’s a vault of eyes bearingon our windows, on our coat-backs.That sense of watching. That sense of Someone.There’s this theory of innate fire in our skinsbut it isn’t right. More like rubbing sticks. Constellationspass over indifferently, whirring about their central point. The dog stands outside with ears pointed,nose pressed to a window. Our cats bareteeth, yowl, break glass into constellationson hardwood, skid around the coatrack.All over a glimpse of stranger. As if they’ll be starved skinnyor given away to someone who knits cat sweaters. Someonemight peek into this darkness and feel disappointed.Creations sharpen inside our skinsyet when the lights get snuffed we’re bare.Separate. Ill-equipped. Dependant on the coatsof others. “How are we intended?” we ask the constellations. “One soul is sometimes worth a whole constellation,”she says, thinking Karamazov. The dog’s ears flick to someone’s footsteps, and he sniffs, searches the air, face coatedin frost. She presses into my shoulder and pointsto Ursa Minor, the boy who became a bear,after his mother did, ever chasing her familiar skin. A skinned bear looks human, like someonecoatless and red curled on leaves. The pointsof constellations are hard. And we are insufferably soft. I wrote “Power Outage In A Northern Neighborhood” (from Termination Dust, 2014) using a formal principle that I imagine like a Newton’s Cradle. A Newton’s Cradle transfers kinetic energy via a set of spheres on strings. When a sphere on one end is lifted and released, it strikes the stationary spheres; its force is transmitted through the stationary spheres and knocks the last sphere up. In a sestina, this poem’s form, the words that end the lines of the first stanza are repeated as the words ending the lines of every stanza – the same end-words recur throughout the poem. The same six words (constellation, someone, coat, point, bear, skin) recur and re-trasnmit the poem’s energy. The repetition of these words both joins and extends the thoughts within each line. It makes a regular pattern – a form – made of words. But is it a machine? I look forward to giving a reading of my work and to discussing poems and machinesmore this Thursday, Oct. 16, 7 pm, at Great Harvest Bread Co. Hope to see you there!
Stacey Mednick I walk down the vacant pathshouting “no bears” in my head.I should be wearing a bellto ward them off.But I’m quiet, so quiet.Rain gear doesn't rustle,boots not squelching in the mud.The bear would jump out and say“Gotcha” before the claws came down.Tracks through my scalp.“No bears” I don’t say aloud, again.Bears are wary, I know, and avoid human noises.Sing a song loudly.What song? Three blind mice? There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza? B-I-N-G-O?But it’s too late, the silence too thick to split.I see my destination off ahead.A slender cabin on stilts, red shingles peeling toward the sky,washed out wood with purple-black mussels up the legs.A baby cries, but it’s in my own belly.“Shh, little bear. It’s not time for you yet.”Will it be claws that emerge from the shadow of that lean-toand open my belly button?Out a pink infant falls.The bear and I would lock eyes,a moment of understanding.I walk on top of the fogon this late September dayin Tenakee Springs, Alaska.“No bears” she whispers to me from below.So then, you’re a girl, little bear.Little girl, it’s almost time, but not yet.
Stacey Mednick has been a frequent visitor to Alaska since she was a small child, visiting extended family in Juneau, Tenakee Springs and Kenai. She says she lives in another beautiful spot -- by the Chesapeake Bay -- but some days it just doesn't compare to the Tenakee Inlet. Would you like to see your work published here? Check out our Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today!
Stacy Mednick I walk down the vacant pathshouting “no bears” in my head.I should be wearing a bellto ward them off.But I’m quiet, so quiet.Rain gear doesn't rustle,boots not squelching in the mud.The bear would jump out and say“Gotcha” before the claws came down.Tracks through my scalp. “No bears” I don’t say aloud, again.Bears are wary, I know, and avoid human noises.Sing a song loudly.What song? Three blind mice? There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza? B-I-N-G-O?But it’s too late, the silence too thick to split.I see my destination off ahead.A slender cabin on stilts, red shingles peeling toward the sky,washed out wood with purple-black mussels up the legs. A baby cries, but it’s in my own belly.“Shh, little bear. It’s not time for you yet.” Will it be claws that emerge from the shadow of that lean-toand open my belly button?Out a pink infant falls.The bear and I would lock eyes,a moment of understanding. I walk on top of the fogon this late September dayin Tenakee Springs, Alaska.“No bears” she whispers to me from below.So then, you’re a girl, little bear.Little girl, it’s almost time, but not yet.
Stacy Mednick has been a frequent visitor to Alaska since she was a small child, visiting extended family in Juneau, Tenakee Springs and Kenai. She says she lives in another beautiful spot -- by the Chesapeake Bay -- but some days it just doesn't compare to the Tenakee Inlet. Would you like to see your work published here? Check out our Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today!
Whenever I hear the latest update on the ebola outbreak, I think of Don Rearden. I can’t help it. In his novel The Raven’s Gift, he wrote about the devastation brought on by a deadly disease that spins out of control. Sure, his book is fiction, and at that time he wrote it, he was thinking bird flu, but the parallels between fact and fiction are a little uncanny. On a less dramatic scale, I’ve seen a similar tension between fact and fiction play out involving a plot point in my first novelA Distant Enemy. Nearly two decades ago, I wrote a set-up that involved intentional fishing during an emergency closure in Southwest Alaska. In the last few years, a similar scenario had played out in a very real conflict over changes in salmon harvest more drastic than any I’d dared to imagine. Arrests and court battles followed. Decisions were reached, but the battle is far from over. It would be nice to think that when it comes to such things, we authors are smart and savvy and maybe even a little prophetic (oh lottery numbers, please make yourselves known!). But really, the whole thing boils down to this: in fiction, our material is life as it’s lived and known and hidden and dreamed. Not that our task is easy. Our own lives infuse our work with power even as “real life” gets in the way. We face hard choices about what constitutes truth. And sometimes what we think we know is only a smattering of what’s required of us to get it right on the page, which means research—lots of it, even for stories.
As author Peggy Shumaker so aptly puts it, "the whole truth is never available to us." And yet somehow in our work, we wrestle with the facts of who we are - the things we can face and the truths we aren't ready for yet. The unknown always feels bigger than the known.
Then there are the practical matters of whose stories we tell and what right we have to give voice to anyone, along with the fine points of perspective and the tension between getting the facts right (whatever form "right" may take) and staying true to the narrative as well as the extent to which we live the facts of our work as opposed to drawing on the experiences of others. The intersection of fact and fiction makes for great conversation among writers. Tomorrow we’re headed to Soldotna to share that discussion with local readers, writers, and seekers, along with the just plain curious. One and all, you’re invited to “Fact and Fiction: Life into Story,” a reading and book talk hosted by the Kenai Peninsula College Showcase Series in conjunction with 49 Writers.
And wait, there’s more: Don and I couldn’t be happier to announce that Seth Kantner (Ordinary Wolves, Pup and Pokey, Shopping for Porcupine) will be joining us for this lively discussion. We hope you’ll be there too: 7 pm, at KPC’s McLain Commons. Admission is free, with book sales and signing to follow. The next day, Don and I will be teaching workshops on character and point of view. For the workshops, preregistration is required; head on over to the 49 Writers website to get all the scoop. Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books,Deb Vanasse has authored more than a dozen books. Her most recent is Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist.Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. Portions of this post have been published previously. Would you like to write a guest post relevant to Alaska’s literary community? Email 49writers (at) gmail.com or debvanasse (at) gmail.com.
Carolyn Kremers I've never written for a blog, ever. I'm someone who usually drafts her poem or nonfiction by hand on a lined white notepad, then types a copy and fiddles with it—for days, weeks, years. If I journal, I do it by hand or, if near electricity or desperate for time, on my laptop. Occasionally I find myself journaling unexpectedly in an email message turned-into-letter. That's the thing: I never know where my writing will go or where it will take me, what doors it will open. Or close. It closes some doors—barring me from being outside on a glorious fall day, for instance, or even from noticing the weather out a window—when my mind and body and whole soul are transported far away and deep down, into the draft or the revision of something magic and alive. I guess blogging could also be like that—transporting—since it, too, is a form of writing. I guess I'll find out. Anyway, I've set up a few guidelines for myself ("constraints," as my rhetorician-friend Sarah Stanley would call them): 1. Each blog will be short: 750 words or less (I hope).2. I will write the blog during the week it is due, not sooner (not beforehand).3. I will limit the time I spend, using most of it to draft and only a little of it to revise/edit/polish. (Polish!? I think that may be a forbidden word in the blog-world…)4. The four blogs will spin variations on "the non-conforming house." (Okay, I admit: I've already been thinking about this part—for about six months now…)5. I will trust that I can do this. Well, here we go… I live in a non-conforming house. Literally, figuratively, personally, professionally, language-wise. Mostly, I don't mind. It's not an easy way to live, but it's the life I have chosen—or more likely, the life that has chosen me. Perhaps when I was younger, I thought about this a lot—my life: what I would do with it, where it was going, where I wanted it to go. Now that I'm nearly 63, I don't think that way much. The path has revealed itself and it continues to, whether I know it or not. Perhaps that's [rats! The plumber just knocked on the door and brought in five cardboard boxes of Versi-Foam to set by the Monitor oil-stove and keep the boxes warm, till he can spray the foam on the new pipes outdoors and keep them from freezing this winter—yay! And now I can't remember the rest of the sentence. And there will be more interruptions today, as there have been since July 22, when the contractor RhettG began this work on my cabin.] So. Well, as I said, the path of my life continues to reveal itself. And it is non-conforming. (But what is non-conforming? Non-conforming to what?) I've latched onto this word—sometimes with laughter and glee, sometimes with resignation—ever since April, when I discovered that non-conforming is what my credit union calls this house, and what every other credit union and bank that I contacted for the next two months called it. There are several ways a house in Alaska (or a person?) may be labeled non-conforming. My 17-foot by 20-foot log cabin (with stand-up-able loft) received the moniker because it had "no fixed foundation" and "no toilet." In fact, I was trying to get a loan from Alaska USA in order to replace the foundation, which was an untreated wood beam lying on the ground on the uphill side, plus untreated spindly posts propping up the house on the downhill side, all visibly rotting into the Earth. And I also planned to install a toilet (actually, to add on a real bathroom, including a toilet, and move the shower from the living room into the bathroom. Etc.) At the edge of Fairbanks, this cabin hides on two acres of birch forest on the northwest side of a ridge. The property borders 90 undeveloped acres to the west—a meccah for moose, fox, spruce grouse, darkness, and the northern lights. Until April, I had simply thought of this place as home and as a beacon of change—global warming unfolding, technology marching on. While searching for an institution that would give me a loan, however, I learned from a realtor that my house qualifies in even more ways as non-conforming. (Isn't that always the case?!) But we won't go into those here. The rotting foundation and recently renovated outhouse—inherited from the Denali Community Center and painted dark red inside, with a white cathedral ceiling—these are enough. Non-conforming. Yes, in the eyes of the powerful banking world, at least. On dark days when much of this construction effort seemed to be going either awry or nowhere, I have wondered if I made a grave mistake. Was I reckless and naïve to imagine that I might have—might deserve to have, might manage to have and dream of having and, therefore, could have—a fixed foundation and an easier way to deal with winter in Fairbanks and with growing old(er) and wise in Alaska? Fairbanks did have the rainiest/wettest June-July-August on record, and that did present challenges for everyone involved in construction—not to mention many dark days. July 22 seems long ago, when the first of 21 birch trees were felled here and limbed, including my beloved 90-year-old-growth elder, the one that John Haines said must be the same age as he. Not all days are dark, though. And all days of rain in the Interior give way eventually (or have since the Pleistocene) to snow. And to the return of the shining moon…
Carolyn Kremers lives in Fairbanks and teaches part-time in the English Department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her books include Place of the Pretend People: Gifts from a Yup'ik Eskimo Village (memoir), The Alaska Reader: Voices from the North (anthology co-edited with Anne Hanley), and Upriver (poetry). Upriver was a Finalist for the 2014 Willa Award for poetry, from Women Writing the West.
It is the nature of a body to succumb to gravity. And so it was with me and my directors. It was a light that they shed, or a vibration that they hummed in their bones without even knowing. Like so many directors, Blair had a singularity of presence that gleamed and flickered in the dark like a beacon to lost and desperate sailors. Strange that it is the lost and desperate who are most likely to mistake warning for invitation. It is an irony so sick as to make one believe in a psychopathic God. But then, the notion that God has issues in abusing our trust has always been one close to my heart. In the words of Angus Mann, “Trust breeds its own betrayal, even in the heart of God.” (THE LION TREES, Owen Thomas) What happens when you get the life you aim for and it hurts like hell? The Johns family is unraveling. Hollis, a retired Ohio banker, isolates himself in esoteric hobbies and a dangerous flirtation with a colleague’s daughter. Susan, his wife of forty years, risks everything for a second chance at who she might have become. David, their eldest, thrashes to stay afloat as his teaching career capsizes in a storm of accusations involving a missing student and the legacy of Christopher Columbus. And young Tilly, the black sheep, having traded literary promise for an improbable career as a Hollywood starlet, struggles to define herself amid salacious scandal, the demands of a powerful director, and the judgments of an uncompromising writer. By turns comical and poignant, the Johns family is tumbling toward the discovery that sometimes you have to let go of your identity to find out who you are. “[A] cerebral page turner…a powerful and promising debut.” – Kirkus Reviews “[FOUR STARS] In its structure and nature, [The Lion Trees] reminds me above all of John Updike’s wonderful Harry Rabbit novels and their ability to summarize the essence of change in American society across a decade at a time.” – BookIdeas.com “[FIVE STARS] This is a powerful, gripping and realistic story. … The Lion Trees does what so very few great novels can: it will take a lot out of you, but leave you with much more than you had when you began.” – Pacific Book Reviews Owen Thomas, a member of 49 Writers, lives and writes in Anchorage, Alaska. His new novel “The Lion Trees” chronicles the increasingly fractured and chaotic existence of the Johns family, each of its members struggling with fundamental questions of identity. Owen is also the author of a collection of short stories and novellas entitled “Signs of Passing: Letters from Winchester County” winner of the 2014 Pacific Book Awards for short fiction. His story “Everything Stops” is being published in September 2014 by Fiction Attic Press as part of an anthology of short fiction called “Modern Shorts” and is available on Amazon. Owen has come to understand that there is a strange disquiet in referring to oneself in the third person. He is seriously afraid he will not be able to stop. “The Lion Trees,” published by OTF Literary, is available in paper and electrons at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Four years ago, it was nothing more than a good idea: set aside one week a year to celebrate Alaska books. With the help of some incredible volunteers and the support of generous sponsors, Alaska Book Week was born. When we first began, we timed the week-long celebration so as not to conflict with the annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. As it turned out, a book-themed event during the first full week in October is an excellent idea for another reason—it’s Permanent Fund Dividend time. This year, I’m sending out a personal challenge, to join me in setting aside 10 percent of your dividend for Alaska books. $188.40 in books! What’s not to like about that? You get great reading material to ease you through winter, you support Alaska authors, and you show publishers and booksellers that you believe in the growing body of great Alaska literature. While the gauntlet’s down, here’s another: join me in talking about Alaska books with 10 people this week—in person, on social media, however and wherever you like. Talk new books, old books, red books, blue books (No, Dr. Seuss wasn’t Alaskan, but he would have loved it here.) A favorite author, a favorite title, the latest buzz, the overlooked gem—we all rely on one another to expand our reading lists. In fact, let’s make it a three-fer: how about showing up in person for at least one Alaska Book Week event? I’d tell you all the choices, but there are WAY too many to list here. For details, head on over to the Alaska Book Week website and click on the Anchorage and Around the State event tabs. Most are free (so you get to save the $188.40 for books), so all you do is get out and have fun and meet up with others who love books the way you do. I will mention one special event that happens tonight in Anchorage, an onstage gathering of some of Alaska’s best-known authors—Peggy Shumaker, Seth Kantner, and Joan Kane—writers whose commitment to outstanding poetry and prose and to the literary community at large has drawn worldwide attention to the good books coming out of our state. (Shhh . . . don’t tell . . . I’m sneaking onstage with them, and don’t even think about trying to pry me out of my seat.) Joined by illustrator Beth Hill and gently guided by Peggy, we’ll be asking, please: “Will the real Alaska stand up?” We hope you’ll join us (7 pm, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson) for this lively conversation about the prose, poetry, and art that responds to—and shapes—the way the world perceives Alaska. Book signing and sales will follow...a great way to start carving into that $188.40.
Together, we did this: a little tyke of an idea, all grown up into the fourth annual Alaska Book Week. Come celebrate with us!