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Collaborative Reflections & Book News By and About Alaskan AuthorsAndromeda Romano-Lax
Updated: 21 hours 30 min ago

Carolyn Kremers: The Non-Conforming House – Part 4

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 7:00am

Word count.  My goal for each installment of this 4-part experiment was 750 words or fewer (remember?).  I'm painfully aware that I was never able to meet that goal and always wrote more.  I think I'm not cut out to be a blogger (!)  Not only do I write too much, but I also do the opposite of what a blogger is supposed to do: I revise, edit, polish.  Spend way too long on one blog-post.
Anyway, yes, the dream: my night-dream.
How many people in the US—of all ages and backgrounds—aspire, I wonder, to not being homeless?  Or, more precisely, how many have a fear (even vaguely—in the back of their minds, or in the front) of being homeless someday?
I did.  I remember the two main emotions I felt when I "bought" this land and cabin in 1993: relief that Now I'll never be homeless, and humility that I was now the steward of a singular small stretch of boreal forest and tundra and of all that might dwell or visit upon it—then, and perhaps far into the future.
So, the dream.
[Well, but first.  I already know that this Blog #4 will be, as the other three have been, too long.  And I know there won't be room for me to comment on the dream and its (ironic, multi-level) end.  Therefore I'm inserting a few points of information here:
My writing is often influenced by topics and writers I'm thinking about and reading at the time I create a draft.  In the case of this month (October 2014), there were several such texts.  One of the most influential, I think—perhaps because of its own experimentalism and courage—was British writer and translator Ted Hughes' astonishing collection of poems (begun a few years after Sylvia Plath's suicide in 1963 and completed more than 25 years later, published 1998), The Birthday Letters.
For more insights about how Jungian thinkers attempt to interpret and interact with dreams, consider looking online at Digesting Jung (by Daryl Sharp) and Understanding Jung (by Ruth Snowden), among others.  Also, of course, read Jung himself.
A fascinating and useful text for me has been Radmila Moacanin's book (published 2003), The Essence of Jung's Psychology and Tibetan Buddhism: Western and Eastern Paths to the Heart.]
So yes, the dream.
Last weekend, on the night before Blog #3 was written, I dreamed about my non-conforming house.  I dreamed about a non-conversation with Tony, the 30-something, apparently competent drywall-hanger and expected mudding-and-taping painter—who, in my waking life, had come to my cabin last Wednesday and hung most of the drywall in the new bathroom, but then had not returned (inexplicably) on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.  I dreamed that Tony needed to be told by me, and to be provided with, the proper kind and color of fabric to nail to the newly-paneled walls.  And I dreamed that this fabric would hang down beneath all that beautiful, albeit vertical (I would have preferred horizontal), golden tongue-and-groove: the T&G paneling that already covered the top half of the walls.
In actuality, there won't be enough money this year to do the T&G ceiling that I would have liked for the new bathroom.  But maybe someday.  And (as far as I know) there won't be any paneling on the walls—just paint.
In the dream, though, I felt very worried that Tony would use the fabric already available in the room: a big, neatly folded stack of ballet tutus with pale-blue satin bodices and calf-length white-net skirts.  The netting would not be useable, but the light-blue bodices could be cut away from the skirts and laid flat to hang all around the room.
I did not want pale blue!
My cabin already had plenty of blue.  I wanted something neutral—something to match the T&G paneled walls (paneled?) and the natural-colored birch-plank vinyl flooring (which, in actuality, was ordered by me from Spenard Builders Supply, arrived in Fairbanks from Portland, Oregon, via barge and truck, and is currently sitting in a stack of three heavy boxes in my cabin.)
I wanted Tony to use a warm off-white cotton fabric—ivory? bone? vanilla?—something like the length of puckered, cream-colored cotton that had covered the open back of the kitchen sink cupboard all these years (since 1993, when I bought the cabin and had the sink and shower put in, and the hot water heater and water pump were installed in the horrible, dank root cellar).  Something simple and plain.  Natural.  Something that blended in and fit the feel of the new room.
Only later, in my waking hours—just now as I'm writing this, in fact—would I remember that this was/is the same length of cream-colored cotton that I sewed into a window curtain for the old duplex that my beloved partner RobW and I rented (and somewhat renovated) in Capitol Hill in downtown Denver, 1975, when I was 23.  And it is the same piece of fabric that I mailed from Colorado to the Yup'ik village of Tununak on the coast of the Bering Sea in 1986, when I was 34, thinking the fabric might come in handy.  Which it did, for I used it—in my little construction-hut-turned-into-a-teacher's-house—as a curtain to hide what Phil, the principal, proudly called "the new honey-bucket room": a small space that had materialized in one corner, as Phil and the school janitor sawed away some bookshelves.
Is it that this fabric washes well?  And/or that I haven't needed—or chosen—to wash it often?  Is it that I am no refugee, no citizen of a war-torn country, no single mother with children to feed and take care of?  Not the victim of a house fire or hurricane, earthquake or tsunami, not someone with money or the inclination to throw things away?  Is it that I have suffered my own tragedies and shortcomings, but this fabric is not (or is it?) one of them?  Is it that this fabric is "simple and plain" and knows how to "blend in"?  That it represents one of my favorite colors to wear and look at?  Or that it feels soft and friendly to the touch—safe, somehow?  What is this fabric's history, this unremarkable/remarkable history?
But back to the dream.
How would I get the time to find and purchase such fabric?  Today was a weekday, and I had no time on weekdays to do personal things like shop.  Furthermore how could I tell Tony—who was no longer showing up at my cabin, so he wouldn't see a note, and I had no phone or email address for him, and Rhett the contractor was out of town for a week—how could I tell Tony that I didn't want the blue-bodiced tutus, and please don't cut them up and nail them on!  And how could I choose this fabric (even if I had the time, which I didn't), when Tony had not yet brought his color-wheel (the one he promised to bring in a day or two) to help me choose, first, the proper paint?
"Just pick an off-white," I'd said to Tony on Wednesday (in actuality).  "Something like the color of this wall"—and I'd shown him the one pair of painted walls in my cabin, where the living-room shower still stands, waiting to be removed.
"Don't ask my advice about color," Tony had replied, with a laugh.  "My wife says I've got no eye for color!  And anyway, there's lots of shades of off-white, you know."
"There are?"
"Oh, yeah.  It depends on what you want.  Some are more golden, some more yellow or orange.  Some are more tan.  Or even grey.  I'll try to bring a color wheel, so you can see, so you can choose the paint you want.  It all depends on what you plan to put into the room with it—what you want to enhance."
Enhance?!  I responded to Tony, in my mind (and perhaps to some of the well-paid people in America, such as the President of the University of Alaska, who have the money to think about "enhancement").  All I want is a real bathroom, with plumbing that can be hooked up and actually works, sometime before Thanksgiving, when it could get down to minus 40 degrees outside.
But yes, back to the dream.
In the dream, I kept looking, again and again, at the amber-glowing T&G on the upper walls of the new bathroom.  Ceaselessly my eyes circled the room, trying to erase the images of the blue-bodiced tutus already nailed below and trying to forcibly replace them with the "more appropriate" neutral cotton fabric from my past—trying to envision that, nail it there, and be certain (reassure myself) that it would, indeed, be the best and right choice.

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. Carolyn's website is

Categories: Arts & Culture

Don Rearden: Creating Complex and Conflicted Characters

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 7:00am

Wondering how to make the characters in your story "developed" or real? Then start with reality. The reality is that we as humans have deep seated needs, wants, and often hidden desires. So too must our characters if they are to somehow come to life on the page and become important and memorable to our readers.

Kurt Vonnegut said it best, "Make your characters want something right away even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.”

The characters who appear in our writing become real when they start to reveal their needs through their actions and not dialog or authorial intrusion. One of my favorite examples of this comes from Seth Kantner's memorable character Cutuk in Ordinary Wolves. Cutuk, a white boy born and raised in a sod hut in the Alaskan wilderness, aches to fit in and wants nothing more than to be like his Inupiat counterparts. This longing to fit in and be accepted and loved is revealed through his physical actions, including a subtle refrain where Cutuk continually presses and flattens his nose in an attempt to make himself look less Caucasian. What makes Cutuk's longing feel real is that it is real, and Kantner reveals this through a character constantly consumed with this desire, coupled with his feeling of displacement. Let's face it, we all understand this longing to belong, because that need, like our need for water, is part of what makes us human. We've all wanted to be loved and even needed at some point. As writers we perhaps want this more than anyone, because we're extra complicated in that we also desire something else, and that is for others to want and love our characters and stories!As you journey with your own characters through the stories of their lives, from scene to scene, from situation to situation, don't impose some heavy handed exposition to reveal what your characters want. Instead just listen to them and let them come alive on their own. Watch them on that high definition screen in your mind's eye and think about yourself and your own life, perhaps even observe the people you know, and notice how our subtle human actions in everyday life often reveal those things we want most. You'll never know completely what someone else wants or thinks, and that is part of the beauty of a story and the uncertainty of life.

Lets say you take Vonnegut's advice literally and open a story with a scene of a man holding an empty coffee mug beneath a faucet head. The cup is stained, the top chipped, the glaze of the mug cracked and worn like the man's lips. He fiddles with both knobs but manages to get nothing but a rusty drop or two. As soon as he tries to get those two drops from the cup to his mouth, as the writer we know he's in a desperate situation and we want to know more.Here is a character who wants water right away, just like Mr. Vonnegut insisted. What is different in his need for water is the beginning of a story, the beginning of an external conflict, the opening to a plot. If you were to continue writing this story you would follow this character and his obvious struggle to survive. You might not know what the situation is that put him here, needing water, so desperate for that sustaining life liquid, but those answers would reveal themselves to you, just as his emotional needs would be revealed as his character blossoms before you as he rises or falls, and as he changes or grows as a human.

There are different reasons why our characters want something as simple as a glass of water, but if they are to be real in the readers' eyes, them they must also be real to us; they must be sustained by hopes and dreams and fears and by the simple, yet precious elements of life, just as we are.
For more on creating complex and conflicted characters, register for Don's three-hour workshop on Saturday, Nov. 1, from 10 am to 1 pm. 

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of southwestern Alaska. He is board president of 49 Writers, a produced screenwriter, and award-winning author. He teaches writing as an Associate Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The Raven’s Gift is available from Penguin in trade paperback, Kindle, and iBook. More info at, and This post first ran in August of 2013.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Alaska Shorts: “Secrets of My Mountain” by K.M. Perry

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 7:00am
K.M. Perry

I tried to be a good girl so I wouldn’t need to sit on her lap anymore. Every morning I went to mass with my friends before attending the local parochial school with my favorite nun who wore blue jeans when she played kickball with us at recess. I wanted to be a nun when I grew up so I could live in a convent with my best friends and play kickball with the children at recess next door. I asked my favorite nun why she wore a wedding ring and she told me she was married to God. The idea of being married to God frightened and confused me, especially wondering how she had sex with God. I was too afraid to ask her, so I kept quiet and decided I’d rather grow up to be a veterinarian and marry a rock star. When the priest placed the communion wafer on my tongue every morning, I tried to plead to him with my eyes to help me. I hoped the priest would tell God how dedicated I was in going to mass every day. He would find me worthy of being rescued and send someone who would adopt me, love me, brush my hair, kiss me goodnight and tell me I was their princess. One morning I was in my bedroom and she called down to me to come upstairs in the sweetest, most syrupy sounding voice I had ever heard. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it wasn’t good. I walked slowly up the brown, shag carpet stairs, quietly reciting the Lord’s Prayer in case I didn’t survive what was going to happen to me. As I reached the top of the stairs, she had a unusual smile on her face, while standing next to her were two tall police officers in the entry way. I looked up at the one smiling down at me who sternly asked, “Is this your mother?”I stood frozen in time and space, wondering what the right answer was. Did they know about the chair in the kitchen and my mountain?I wasn’t sure what would happen to me if I lied and answered, “No” or was the answer “No”, even if I wasn’t the kidnapped girl they were looking for, maybe I was some other lost girl. I was very confused.I knew no other way to answer this suspected trick question, so I meekly replied “Yes,” while questioningly looking up at both of the police officers. Everyone smiled down at me for giving the right answer. The police officers left and she told me to come into the kitchen and sit on her lap so she could take a look at my arms. I couldn’t see my mountain through the clouds so I watched the little boy I babysat once a week, next door, riding his Big Wheel on their back patio while I wondered where I would be if I had answered, “No”.Two weeks later she told me the kidnapped girl’s body had been found. I wanted to know if she looked like me and how she died but I was scared to ask. I wondered if she died because I answered, “Yes”. No one told me it wasn’t my fault.When I was thirteen I decided it was time to fight for the right to choose what happened to me. The next time she asked me to come into the kitchen I boldly told her I wanted her to break my leg instead of having me sit on her lap. I was tall and in good shape from playing soccer and I had watched a boxing match more than once on television so I knew how to fight. She told me I was being sarcastic. I didn’t know what sarcastic meant but it didn’t sound good.I panicked and ran downstairs and out the back door. I ran as fast as I could through the alley, a block away to the loving home of my best friend. Her mom seemed upset and frustrated when I told her I was escaping. I had showed up at their house without an invitation or permission, but she let me go upstairs and visit my friend. She called my house and let her know where I was.  They came together to pick me up from my friend’s house. I had broken the cardinal rule of all abusive families. “Never tell anyone what goes on inside of our home.”“You need to learn to keep it all a secret.” No one had told me this rule before and now blood was dripping from my split lip. I smiled and promised to be good as I wiped the blood off with my shirt sleeve…
“Secrets of the Mountain” is the story of a woman who came from an abusive life and took the survival skills she learned to become an international spy with her own personal agenda.
Would you like to see your work published here? Check out our Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Weekly Roundup of News and Events

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 7:00am
Could this be you??One more week left to apply! 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. Hours and working arrangement very flexible (we do not have an "office"). We know you're out there! Our state is brimming with hidden talent, so don't be shy--step forward now.

49 Writers annual membership drive. 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 reach our goal of 100 new members in 2014: we're closing in at 91! Membership starts at a modest $49, and seniors, full-time students and members of the military can join for as little as $25.

Alaskan authors: we need your help

Author Cindy Dyson (And She Was) is rallying Alaska authors to help with a campaign spearheaded by Detroit News reporter Kim Kozlowski to make Detroit the Free Little Libraries capital of the world. Alaskan authors who want to participate promise to send at least one signed copy of their books to the project headquarters by the second week in November, to seed an "Alaskan Little Library in Detroit," which will be raffled to one of the donors who chose that perk.

To participate, authors should email Dyson [dyson (at)] with their contact info, the title(s) of the books they'll contribute, and links to info/pics about them and their work. From this information, she'll create a webpage, blog posts, and tweets about their involvement. She'll offer a guest blog post on our site for any authors who'd like to write one, and she'll also create a graphic that authors can use in creating their own buzz through their networks on their involvement in the project and a guest blog post for any of who'd like to use it. The idea is to give participating authors a nice boost in publicity while providing the little library project some fun incentives to donors. The sooner authors sign on to help, the more Alaska love we spread to Detroit, so Dyson hopes you'll send your info right away.

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!
  • Thursday, Nov. 13, 7pm, Great Harvest Bread Co., Anchorage: Reading & Craft Talk with Lee Goodman (Indefensible)
  • 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.

Events in Anchorage

Monday, Nov. 3, 5–7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore (map): Sharon Emmerichs of the UAA English Department presents "The Seven Deadlies: Shakespeare and the Virtue of Sin," an examination of seven Shakespeare plays in regard to one of the seven deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Emmerichs received her BA in English literature from the University of Oregon and her MA and Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. Come find yourself in Shakespeare!

Thursday, Nov. 6, 5–7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: Peter Metcalf presents his new book, Dangerous Idea, in which he tells the overlooked but powerful story of Alaska Natives fighting for their rights under American law which propelled the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, one of the biggest claim settlements in United States history. Peter Metcalfe is the author of several books documenting the history of Alaska Native tribal organizations, most recently Gumboot Determination.

All UAA Campus Bookstore events are informal, free and open to the public. There is free parking for bookstore events in the South Lot, the West Campus Central Lot (behind Rasmuson Hall), the Sports Lot and the Sports NW Lot. For more information call Rachel Epstein at 786-4782 or email Or see Note: UAA Campus Bookstore podcasts are posted in iTunes or iTunes U--just search UAA or UAA Campus Bookstore. Or see
Events around Alaska 
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.

Saturday, Nov. 1, 1pm, Main Meeting Room of the Downtown Juneau Public Library: NaNoWriMo Kickoff Event and Write-In. Subsequent Saturday Write-Ins will take place on Nov. 8 at the Mendenhall Valley branch and Nov. 15 at the Douglas branch. Please visit the official forums and associated Google Calendar for additional info and check back here often for news, up-to-the-minute updates or just to say "Hi" to your fellow Wrimos! Follow this group on Facebook at

Friday, Nov. 7, 7pm, UAF, Wood Center Ballroom: Reading by Midnight Sun Visiting Writer Adrianne Harun. Harun is the author of a story collection, The King of Limbo, a Sewanee Writers’ Series selection and a Washington State Book Award finalist, and a novel, A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain. Her stories have won awards from Story magazine and the Chicago Tribune and been listed as notable in both Best American Short Stories and Best American Mystery Stories. Most recently, Adrianne was awarded a 2015 fellowship from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria, Italy. Adrianne teaches at the Rainier Writing Workshop, an MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University, and at the Sewanee School of Letters at Sewanee, the University of the South. She lives in Port Townsend, Washington.

Friday, Nov. 7, 7pm, Kachemak Bay Campus, Home: "Moving to Fairbanks: The Writer and Place," a craft talk and reading with John Morgan. Presentation to include photographs that resulted in the book-length poem, River of Light, recently published by University of Alaska Press.
Saturday, Nov. 8, 10am-1pm, Nov. 9, 1-4pm, Kachemak Bay Campus, Homer: "Forms of Feeling: Poetry in Our Lives," a creative writing workshop with John Morgan. Workshop fee $60, registration deadline Oct. 30. Go to or call 907-235-7743 for information.
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: 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 or, if you have a contest specific question, write to Students and teachers register at
Categories: Arts & Culture

Deb: Why We Care - Detroit’s Little Library Challenge

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 7:00am
At the Little Free Library on Hiland Mountain
Never has there been so much noise about books, publishing, and authorship. Or so much handwringing. Amazon vs. Hatchette. The Big Five vs. the Little Guys. Sound bites vs. sustained immersion. Upheaval, bottom to top.
Let’s set that aside for a moment to focus on one simple precept: the power of the book to transform. Then extend that to an entire community that’s taking on the big, big challenge of transforming itself through the power of books.
That’s Detroit’s Little Library Challenge.
I write my books from a little house on an Alaska mountainside that’s 3000 miles from Detroit. My closest Little Free Library is another three miles up the mountain, along a winding road with views of Cook Inlet and, on clear days, a big beautiful mountain, which we Alaskans call Denali.
Distance and differences aside, I’m rooting for Detroit’s Little Free Library Challenge. Kim Kozlowski’s IndieGoGo project is all about the things we Alaskans believe in: community, resilience, and self-reliance, empowered by a deep and transcending appreciation—call it love—for the spaces around us.
The goal of Detroit’s Little Library Challenge is to make their city the Little Free Library capital of the world, with a phase one goal of setting up 313 Little Free Libraries. It’s good press for a place that’s had more than its share of bad. But the Challenge is also about the fundamental transformations that happen through books. Readers are smarter than non-readers, with above average emotional intelligence and empathy. The number of books in a home is the single best indicator of how well a child will do in school. Reading reduces stress and improves sleep. All good things for a community that’s looking to make a comeback.
We’re rooting for them, all the way up here. Along with other Alaska Authors, I’m donating books to seed an Alaska Little Free Library on the streets of Detroit, a reminder that when times are tough, it doesn’t matter where you live—we all come together.
But for this Little Free Library to become a reality, we need your help. For just sixteen dollars, you can do your part to make it happen. Let’s show Detroit some love!
If you’re an author, Detroit’s Little Libraries project is accepting donations of autographed books to seed regionally-themed libraries as part of their Ambassador option. But for those libraries to be built, they also need cash, so please join in this outpouring of love and affirmation by pledging your support todayFor Alaska: 16 authors bringing 4 pledgers each, and we'll meet our goal!
Categories: Arts & Culture

Carolyn Kremers: The Non-Conforming House – Part 3

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 7:00am

I did not intend to devote this third installment of "The Non-Conforming House" to a single night-dream of mine—so I won't, for fear you won't understand.  Instead, I'll begin with a brief comment on my creative process and some background about Carl Jung.
True to my resolution to treat this blogging opportunity as an extended/extending artistic experiment, yesterday I sat down for an hour and did what I did not do for the first two blogs: I reviewed, and even organized, notes.
Yes, I had made notes.
Nearly a week ago, in the freshness of a Sunday morning—after I'd awakened and turned off KUAC-FM radio, for they'd begun their Fall Fundraiser and I wasn't in the mood for yammering, and after I'd walked up to the outhouse and back—I was pouring water onto a cloth to wash my face, and using a pitcher and a red plastic cup (instead of the clumsy spigot on the blue 5-gallon jug, which causes me to waste water), when I found myself thinking of things to say in Blogs #3 and #4.  Thereafter for about an hour, I scribbled ideas and sentences on what turned into a bevy of yellow sticky notes—while at the same time washing my face, cooking oatmeal in a bowl in the microwave oven (a method that produces a gelatinous mass not so appetizing as my pre-construction-days stovetop-cooked oatmeal, but hey, this saves me from having to use up water and propane and time to wash a pot and a wooden spoon), then eating the oatmeal with walnuts and raisins, washing the week's dirty dishes with water heated in the tea-kettle, dumping the soapy water into the slop-bucket to carry outside, and brushing my teeth with my electric toothbrush.
I knew (knew?) that my Blog #3 would swirl around languages—meaning the "non-conforming" nature of my life, language-wise.  And now suddenly—unexpectedly, inconveniently, intriguingly—several ideas about that were taking shape and crystallizing, right when (of course) I should have been focusing on getting dressed and sitting down to draft Blog #2. 
So that is how I came to have notes to review for this week's Blog #3.
Last night there were many medium-sized yellow squares to sift through and stick, in some kind of order, onto blank sheets of paper—plus three books to review (one of which I'll name shortly, the other two next week perhaps), and a pile of folders with notes from other people's work and ideas, stretching back many years.
I spent that hour—plus more time later (11:00pm to 3:15am)—gathering and mulling over my thoughts, ideas, research, and long-time learning about the "languages" that speak to me and nurture/inform my own life and work:
nature           music               poetry              the act of translating poetry     German / Russian / Mandarin Chinese / Spanish / Central Yup'ik / Spokane Indian / Buryatthe myths, stories, songs, and contemporary literature of indigenous peoples worldwidethe theories and writings of Swiss analytical psychologist Carl Jungthe basic tenets, history, and goals of Tibetan Buddhismand (perhaps most important?) connections between all of these…
It was an engrossing five hours and proved, of course, to be way too much for a 49 Writers blog post.  Perhaps my Blog #4 can touch on some of what I concluded.  For now I'll just tackle a little of Jung and the gift of my night-dream.
In 1909, Carl Jung made a seven-week trip to the United States with his friend and elder colleague, Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud.  In his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections (first published in 1961 in German, after Jung had passed away at nearly 86), the younger man stated, "We were together every day, and analyzed each other's dreams…Freud was able to interpret the dreams I was then having only incompletely or not at all…One in particular was important to me, for it led me for the first time to the concept of the 'collective unconscious'…" (p. 158, Vintage Books Edition, publ. 1989).
(Note to the reader: all of the quoted material below is from this edition, pages 158-162).
Jung's dream went like this:
He was in a house with two stories, a house he didn't know, but it was "his house."  He found himself in the upper story, where there was "a kind of salon furnished with fine old pieces in rococo style.  On the walls hung a number of precious old paintings.  I wondered that this should be my house, and thought, 'Not bad.'  But then it occurred to me that I did not know what the lower floor looked like."  Jung describes what he saw as he descended the stairs to the "ground floor," which proved to be everywhere "rather dark" and to have floors of red brick and furnishings from medieval times.  Then he discovered a heavy door that opened onto "a stone stairway that led down into the cellar," where he found himself "in a beautifully vaulted room which looked exceedingly ancient" and, he concluded, proved to be "from Roman times."
"My interest now was intense," Jung writes.  "I looked more closely at the floor.  It was of stone slabs, and in one of these I discovered a ring.  When I pulled it, the stone slab lifted, and again I saw a staircase of narrow stone steps leading down into the depths.  These, too, I descended, and entered a low cave cut into the rock.  Thick dust lay on the floor, and in the dust were scattered bones and broken pottery, like remains of a primitive culture.  I discovered two human skulls, obviously very old and half disintegrated.  Then I awoke."
Jung tells how Freud "was chiefly interested in" the two skulls, and how Freud urged him "to find a wishin connection with them"—a secret death-wish that Jung might feel toward some person or people he knew.  Jung "felt violent resistance to any such interpretation" and had his own idea—or "intimation"—of what the dream might mean, but he was reluctant to express it.  Only after some weeks did he finally allow himself his own interpretation of the dream.
"It was plain to me," he writes, "that the house represented a kind of image of the psyche—that is to say, of my then state of consciousness, with hitherto unconscious additions.  Consciousness was represented by the salon.  It had an inhabited atmosphere, in spite of its antiquated style.  The ground floor stood for the first level of the unconscious.  The deeper I went, the more alien and the darker the scene became.  In the cave, I discovered remains of a primitive culture, that is, the world of the primitive man within myself—a world which can scarcely be reached or illuminated by consciousness.  The primitive psyche of man borders on the life of the animal soul, just as the caves of prehistoric times were usually inhabited by animals before men laid claim to them.
"During this period I became aware of how keenly I felt the difference between Freud's intellectual attitude and mine…The dream pointed out that there were further reaches to the state of consciousness I have just described: the long uninhabited floor in medieval style, then the Roman cellar, and finally the prehistoric cave.  These signified past times and passed states of consciousness.
"Certain questions had been much on my mind during the days preceding this dream.  They were: On what premises is Freudian psychology founded?  To what category of human thought does it belong?  What is the relationship of its almost exclusive personalism to general historical assumptions?  My dream was giving me the answer.  It obviously pointed to the foundations of cultural history—a history of successive layers of consciousness.  My dream thus constituted a kind of structural diagram of the human psyche; it postulated something of an altogether impersonal nature underlying that psyche…It was my first inkling of a collective a priori beneath the personal psyche…Later, with increasing experience and on the basis of more reliable knowledge, I recognized [such images] as forms of instinct, that is, as archetypes…
"To me dreams are a part of nature, which harbors no intention to deceive, but expresses something as best it can, just as a plant grows or an animal seeks its food as best it can…"
This story of Jung's was one of the many writings and notes I had spent time reviewing last night.  Imagine my surprise (and in some ways gratitude), when I awoke this morning—again to the yammering of the Fall Fundraiser at KUAC, which I again turned off, for I'd already phoned-in my annual contribution on Wednesday—and now realized I had had a dream about my non-conforming house and I should write it down.  Which I did and which, of course, proceeded to speak to me even more as I participated in the act of recording the dream in written words and thereby giving it / bringing to it more form and substance than it had had, moments before, in my "fresh" memory.As Jungian analyst Brian Collinson, in Canada, expresses on his website Journey Toward Wholeness, it is true that all humans must dwell somewhere.  This applies to each person in his or her inner world as well as in the outer one.  As in the outer world, one's inner house has characteristics, and one's relationship to that house is changed by one's choices.  A Jungian thinker pays attention to the theme, motif, or archetype of the house in the dreams of herself or of others, in times of personal tension or crisis or, indeed, at any time. 
And so my dream (from sometime before 8:00am this morning) seems quite relevant here.  But alas, my word count is more than used up.  And so I must wait until next week to share the dream.

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. Carolyn's website is
Categories: Arts & Culture

Ross Coen: Context versus Content

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 7:00am

Historians, in nearly everything we write, are supposed to have an argument. By that I mean our written accounts of past events should not merely describe what happened but also feature some sort of analysis in order to situate those events in a larger historical context.

What social forces existed in San Francisco in the 1920s and how did they constrain the economic opportunities available to Filipino cannery workers? That sort of thing.

Historians interpret the past as much as we recover it. In doing so we enter a dialogue with every other historian, living and deceased, who has ever written—and thus made an argument—on that same topic.

If you’ve ever wondered why hundreds of books about Abraham Lincoln are published every year, especially when an estimated 50,000 already exist, there’s your answer. New and occasionally groundbreaking interpretations of how and why Lincoln and his contemporaries acted the way they did will keep these debates going for years—probably centuries, in fact.

But what happens when one uncovers a tale from the past that while engaging enough to justify the telling appears to lack the historical heft to develop from it a thematic or analytical argument?

This was the dilemma I faced while researching and writing my latest book, Fu-Go: The Curious History of Japan’s Balloon Bomb Attack on America.

To summarize, late in the World War II, the Japanese Army launched thousands of large hydrogen balloons armed with incendiary bombs knowing that once the devices reached an altitude of 30,000 feet they would enter the strong westerly winds of the upper atmosphere and be carried to North America in about four days. A series of altimeters and fuses would then drop the incendiaries, which, the Japanese hoped, would ignite wildfires the Americans would have to fight by diverting resources that otherwise might have been used in the war effort. Nearly 300 hundred balloons are confirmed to have landed in the United States and Canada. About 30 reached Alaska.

The story grabbed me from the very first day I began my research—but I gathered very early on the Japanese balloon offensive merited barely a footnote in the sweeping history of the Second World War. This was a failed campaign of no strategic importance. For me to craft an argument, to endow the story with historiographical significance, would be to cause the narrative to collapse under a weight it could not possibly support.

Sure, I could have argued that Japan’s technical ingenuity in weapons design rivaled that of America with its significantly greater natural resource base. Or that the attention paid to such a fanciful weapon as a balloon bomb pointed to the triumph of the propagandists over more rational military strategists. But why take such a riveting story and make it tedious?

In the end I decided to simply tell the tale as best as I possibly could. My book is a straightforward narrative. I do provide some historical context, of course, but only in the service of supporting the narrative.

I imagine the process of contextualization for the poet, playwright, and novelist is not so different. One must continually balance the telling of a story against the need to construct an edifice in which that story is told.

I leave it to readers and reviewers as to whether or not my approach in Fu-Go strikes an appropriate balance.

Ross Coen is a historian who writes about the American West, Alaska, and the Arctic. More information about Fu-Go is available here:,675932.aspx
Categories: Arts & Culture

Spotlight on Alaska Books: Dead Reckoning, by Dave Atcheson

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 7:00am

Something about the way he sized me up from the deck of his boat, his stance, his stabbing glare—a look that told me he and he alone was the boss, off shore and on—made me hesitate, even when he finally asked us in a gravelly voice to come aboard. But as we began to take that step over the rail and onto the boat he stopped short, turning abruptly to look me in the eye and catching just a glint of my momentary panic.
“So, you want to be a fisherman,” he said, more of a wager than a question.
Then, without waiting for a response he quickly turned, leading us into his kingdom, the beginning of my long and desultory alternative education. My introduction to the sea.
(Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas. Dave Atcheson)
Having never even seen the ocean, an adventurous youth takes his first job at sea aboard The Lancer, with Darwin Wood, a vestige of the past, a man so confounding, so complex and so frightening, that it’s hard to believe the young man walks away from the experience unscathed. Forced to buddy up with an accused murderer in order to cope, he begins to question his deeply ingrained ideas of success and status, the resulting conflict finally resolving itself 15 years later, in the least likely of places: on the Bering Sea, aboard a boat in peril, during a night of terror that would reshape the lives of everyone involved.
This is a story that in some respects shares many of the themes expressed in works of nonfiction such as The Perfect Storm or Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. Yet it is vastly different from these in that it delves into a side of Alaska rarely seen, taking not only an intimate look at life at sea, but an insider’s view into one of this state’s small communities, and the myriad of upstarts, dropouts, and rogues that color its landscape.
“This book is so much more than an adventure story. Dave Atcheson is not just a gifted storyteller but a writer of great intelligence, insight, and compassion. Dead Reckoning probes with humor and humility important questions about the choices we all make in life and the values we find in the natural world and our relationships with others.” -Nancy Lord, former Alaska Writer Laureate, author of Fishcamp and Beluga Days
Dave Atchesonis the author of National Geographic’s Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond and the guidebook, Fishing Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. He has written for a variety of periodicals, from Outdoor Life to Boys' Life, and is a frequent contributor to Alaska Magazine and past contributing editor for Fish Alaska Magazine. He lives in Sterling, Alaska and is a member of 49 Writers. Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas, is published by Skyhorse Publishing, and is available in hardcover, Kindle, Nook, and as an audiobook. He'll be speaking at the UAA Bookstore in Anchorage on Wednesday, Oct. 22, from 5 to 7 pm.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Glen Klinkhart: What Name Should I Write - My Book Signing

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 7:00am
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

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Categories: Arts & Culture


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