Peninsula authors to perform prose, poetry

Posted: Thursday, March 02, 2000

Some of their thoughts

The third annual Central Peninsula Writers' Night will be held March 9 at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center in Kenai. Doors open at 6 p.m.; readings begin at 7 p.m. The following are excerpts from some of those taking part.

"Just before long, dark, cold winter, the lily pad flowers of yellow and white that dotted the lake during the summer have disappeared. Their leaves and pads have dried up into tight brown, withered balls. When the wind gusts, they remind me of bells swinging back and forth on the water."

-- from "Just Before,"

by Caroline B. Roy

"He worked around women who read Cosmo and Vogue and knew nothing of Pound or Elliot. Not one could recite a poem beyond elementary rhymes. Their physical beauty was apparent and studied. They dressed stylishly and were well-made up and coiffed. He believed them invisible while the object of his desire burned white-hot in compare."

-- from "Valentine Lesson in Invisibility," by Michael Mishou

"And Billy drifted off to sleep

considerably cheered,

in a room which felt much safer

filled up with nothing weird."

-- from "Sleeping Across the Bed," by Marilyn Wheeless

"Friday, November 8. Paul had left for a routine training run. His full-time carpentry job delegating this daily occurrence to the hours of evening darkness, Paul had taken the time to carefully place booties on all of the dogs' feet before he left the yard. He was concerned about the icy trail conditions and wanted to take preventative measures to protect their feet. While doing so, he had a nagging feeling in the back of his mind. Enough so, that just prior to pulling the snowhook to take off, he tucked his cellular phone into the sled bag. It was the first time he had ever done so and would ultimately be an act that may well have saved his life."

-- from "The Empty Harness,"

by Evelyn Gebhardt

"The more things change, the more they stay the same. Whoever said that hasn't spent much time around our house. Changes, incomprehensible changes, seem to jump out at you from everywhere. Take today for example."

-- from "The Peanut Butter Kid,"

by Clayton Hillhouse

Excerpts from works featured at the third annual Central Peninsula Writers' Night are printed by permission.

The late Charles Schultz commiserated with the trials writers endure for the sake of expression. Countless scores of times, Snoopy has sat at his manual typewriter atop the doghouse, pounding out, "It was a dark and stormy night."

Although the beloved beagle never found the recognition of his talents he sought, his passion for prose never flagged.

That passion -- the desire to use words to convey ideas and emotions -- will be honored March 9 at the third annual Central Peninsula Writers' Night.

There, 15 area writers, ranging from novices to published authors, will read selections of their work to the audience gathered at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Doors will open at 6 p.m.; readings begin at 7 p.m.

This year's event drew a whopping 260 submissions, said Kathy Tarr of the selection committee.

"This was a record number of submissions," she said.

Tarr said Writers' Night is not a contest, but a showcase.

She said the selection committee looks for samples of different types of writing that aren't too lengthy.

Shorter pieces are preferred so the evening doesn't last into the night, Tarr said.

"We also try to mix up the genres as much as we can."

Showcased will be examples of humorous, sentimental and nonfiction essays, children's poetry, fiction, adult poetry, memoirs, children's fiction and an excerpt from a published book.

Evelyn Gebhardt entered a nonfiction essay called, "The Empty Harness."

Gebhardt has long written accounts of her husband, Paul's, experiences dog mushing.

"The Empty Harness" is about a training run that turned fatal for one of Paul's lead dogs.

"It's just a detailed account of that," Gebhardt said.

Writers' Night is the first time Gebhardt has gotten special attention for her writing.

"I was really excited," she said. "I'm glad they have an opportunity like this."

Gebhardt said the hardest part of letting other people see her essays is criticism, even the constructive type.

"It's a part of who I am, what I put on paper," she said.

But Gebhardt also said what makes her writing so personal is what makes it special.

"I personally feel my quality of writing benefits from my life and my passions," she said.

June Lindgren Gagnon said she probably has been writing since she was 4.

"As long as I could remember, I've been scribbling things for myself," Gagnon said. "It takes much of (my) pain away. It's the same with anger."

Like Gebhardt, this is the first time Gagnon put her "scribblings" before a selection committee.

"I feel like I'm putting my little kid out into the cold, cruel world," she said.

Her reaction to the call from the selection committee was, she said, "very grateful, surprised and proud."

Gagnon's contribution is "My People's Memories," a poem.

Gagnon, who is a member of the Kenaitze tribe, said the poem taps into how Natives have been treated at various times.

"Our people have been pretty well set to the side. It used to be good to be Native, to be Indian," she said.

"I remember signs in windows in Anchorage that said, 'No dogs. No natives.'"

Ultimately, Gagnon said, Natives won the battle with bigotry by becoming stronger.

"We didn't disappear. I think they thought we would," she said. "They're not making signs in the windows anymore."

Marilyn Wheeless has been featured at all three Writers' Nights, so far. For the 2000 event, she chose a children's poem called "Sleeping Across the Bed."

Wheeless, who is a member of the Central Peninsula Writers Group, said she has been putting ideas on paper for three decades.

"I just like to write stories," she said. "I think it's like having children.

"It's a manner of expression that's sort of unique to each person. It's also a way to use your imagination. It's a way to get your point across."

In "Sleeping Across the Bed," Wheeless tells the story of a young boy who is afraid of the dark, but finds a way to conquer his fear.

She said there also is a larger point to the poem.

"Sometimes parents need to look a little more closely to see why (their children) are doing things instead of just telling them not to do it," Wheeless said.

Both Wheeless and Gagnon have been published on a small scale within Alaska.

In contrast, Caroline Roy dashed off four essays the night before the submission deadline, the first time she ever had done any

creative writing.

"I've been published in many scientific journals," she said.

The essays sprang from a newsletter she has sent to family and friends since moving to Alaska.

"I heard the (Writers' Night) advertisements on the radio (and) I've gotten so much encouragement from my friends and family," Roy said. "I did it sort of like a fluke just to see what happened.

"I really had no idea or preconceived notion that I would be selected. At first I thought I was the only entry."

Instead, Roy said she planned on attending Writers' Night as an audience member to listen to the selections and talk with other writers.

"It's a really good way to see what other writers do," she said. "This is a really good amateur way to get my foot in the door."

Roy's chosen essay is "Just Before," about the part of autumn that fades into winter.

Although Roy has done a great deal of technical writing and teaches from her writing, she said the essays are a different matter entirely.

"This is from my heart. It's about me and how I feel," she said. "I'm sort of nervous (about March 9). This is about who I am and not what I do. (But) I'm looking forward to it -- very much so."

Michael Mishou also entered his first effort of its type at the last minute.

"I've been writing professionally for 20 years or more. This Writers' Night submission was my first attempt at fiction," Mishou said. "I have always thought I should try it. This event was the motivator for me."

Mishou said Tarr encouraged him to submit something based on earlier work he'd done, but Mishou was uninterested in rehashing old material.

"I wanted to start with something completely different," he said.

On Valentine's Day, he was struck by inspiration.

"I just started to think about the kind of romantic little story with a quirky little twist." he said.

What he wound up with was "Valentine Lesson in Invisibility," a short, fictional story.

"The story's about an attempted Valentine's offering that goes astray and what results from that," Mishou said.

Mishou said he was surprised and honored the committee picked him, but still a bit edgy about presenting.

"You're sort of putting yourself in front of the world," he said. "It lets somebody have a peak inside you and that's kind of scary."

The presenters include students from Kenai Central High School and Kenai Peninsula College.

One of those KPC students is Clayton Hillhouse, who is working toward an English degree.

Hillhouse said he writes mostly lighter pieces, including action stories and fairy tales. His contribution to Writers' Night is a parody called, "The Peanut Butter Kid."

"(It's) about somebody who looks forward to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and has all these detours," he said.

Writers' Night is an annual fund-raiser for the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center and the Kenai Community Library. Last year, it raised approximately a thousand dollars, Tarr said.

Alan Poynor, a columnist and author of "Of Moose and Men," will serve as master of ceremonies.

"He interjects a lot of humor into the program," Tarr said.

Tarr said door prizes -- mostly books, pens or journals -- will be given out and there will be refreshments, as well.

Wheeless said the amount of growth Writers' Night has seen is impressive.

"To get 260 entries is a tremendous step forward," she said. "(It) shows that there aren't just a few of us writing."

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