Think "comfort foods" and the strong aroma of chicken soup's curative ingredients floods the imagination.
Mention chicken soup to thousands of writers and millions of readers, and a series of books comes to mind that Time Maga-zine called the "publishing phenomenon of the decade."
On Friday, Alaska author Carol Sturgulewski of Anchorage will talk about her experience writing and editing "Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul," which was published in February and spent three months on The New York
Times bestseller list. She will be at the Kenai Convention and Visitors
Bureau from 2 to 4 p.m. and at River City Books in Soldotna from 5 to 6 p.m.
A lifelong Alaskan, Sturgulewski started writing for newspapers in 1977, beginning with the Fairbanks Daily News Miner and ending with the Anchorage Times in 1988. She has been a free-lance writer since 1988.
In 1990, she met Marion Owen, a photographer and master gardener from Kodiak. Together, they worked on some projects for Alaska Magazine.
"We had been trying to think of other projects," Sturgulewski said, "and (Marion) knocked on my door and said, 'You know, this Chicken Soup for the Soul series has all these titles. But there's nothing for gardeners. Why don't we send them a proposal for Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul?' So, she called the company and asked what they needed for a book proposal."
On Valentine's Day, February 1999, Sturgulewski and Owen sent off a proposal that included stories the two women had written and others they found from a variety of sources.
"What we didn't know is that they get about 20 book proposals a week," Sturgulewski said. "If we had, we probably would have never had the nerve to do it."
The idea was so popular -- several other similar proposals also were submitted -- that it won the approval of Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, originators of the series.
Over the next two years, a five-member team comprised of Sturgulewski, Owen, Pat Stone, Cindy Buck and Cynthia Brian worked closely with Canfield and Hansen. Most of the work was accomplished over the Internet and through several conference calls.
"We managed to really stretch the day using the Internet and making the most of the different time zones," Sturgulewski said.
Stone lived in North Carolina, Buck was in Iowa and Brian was in California.
A call for stories resulted in submission of 5,000 pieces. Some were written in Magic Marker, some even written on napkins.
"Some were absolutely wonderful from the get-go," Sturgulewski said. "Some were horrid. A lot were somewhere in between and just needed a little work."
The 5,000 stories eventually were narrowed down to 101 finalists, including several pieces written by Alaskans.
"We got a bunch of stories from Alaska," Sturgulewski said. "We really pushed it in the state and wanted Alaskans to be part of it. If they got in, it was because they were better than anybody else and not just because they were somebody from Alaska."
"Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul" is part of an award-winning series that began with the June 1993 publication of Canfield and Hansen's "Chicken Soup for the Soul." By September 1994, the book had hit bestseller lists of The New York Times, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly and USA Today. It also was on five major lists in Canada.
As new titles have been added to the series, the list of awards has continued to grow.
"We were on The New York Times bestseller list for three months," Sturgulewski said. "I had never imagined that I would do anything like that."
On Friday, she will talk about the project, answer questions and sign copies of the book.
"I heard her speak at a writer's conference in Anchorage and its exciting to have an Alaskan whose book project made it onto The New York Times bestseller list," said Kathy Tarr, executive director of the Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Peggy Mullen, owner of River City Books, was anticipating a big turnout of central peninsula residents eager to meet Sturgulewski.
"If it's quiet, I may ask her to read a little bit," Mullen said. "If it's busy, we'll just let people chat with her about her book."
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