Mary Odden | On Writing the Essay “March”

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Cheered on by readers who told me that an essay dedicated to old friend Norman Wilkins “worked,” though it was written in various moods and moments over about 20 years, I’m going to take a moment to finger that miracle. The essay is a small bucket of improbables—love for the consummate knowledge of two woodsman friends, a mix of ambivalence and high regard for trappers and trapping in general, wonderment about who we are in regards to wild animals and wild country. I wanted to celebrate a certain month of the year like no other in the “land of little sticks,” i.e. the surface-soaked high Copper Basin when, for a month or so, easy access opens for people like me to travel and watch and consider.

The first impulse for writing was a journal entry, thinking about Norman in a certain time and place where he was happiest at the apex of his life, although he had multiple lives preceding that one. Later, I wanted to consider those earlier lives too. And to honor our Ahtna friends who made trails before Norman’s trails. And what I thought it meant to Norman to build a cabin, which led us to build a cabin, then cabins. Oh, and about what brought us on the trail with Norman. That made me want to write back into our lives and our parents’ lives too.  So I did.

You know when you are teaching and a student brings you an essay which is supposed to be about his dog but starts with the creation of the universe and you tell him to just cut to the dog and start there?

So, not to belabor this, but I didn’t actually have what you might call an essay. First, I had that journal entry that I shared with Norman while he still lived here. Later when he was getting sick in Minnesota and his daughter was collecting and publishing his journals, I wrote a very long letter to her that circled around the first writing but that I never sent to her because by that time it also contained the above-mentioned ambivalence and some self-examination that would not have been useful in any way to Norman or his daughter. Then I had chunks of writing I’d added to those materials every time I revisited them.

I’m not a very disciplined writer and therefore not very prolific, though like everyone else I’m trying to get better before I die. Subjects haunt me into writing about them, usually because there are connections I don’t fully understand but have somehow come to trust are there. So it is that if the kid with the dog essay that starts with the big bang comes to me now, I just tell him there’s probably a connection and it would be very interesting to himself and maybe to a reader if he figures out what it is.

“March,” nominally about a season but really for Norman and actually for me, had several first person present tense narrators and a few opinionated first and third person past tense narrators by this time, layered back into the past like Schlieman’s excavation of Troy. Each narrator had something I wanted to examine and didn’t want to kill, so every time I worked on the essay I just rearranged the pieces. Finally, I just started the essay out by putting the reader on notice that the season itself, March, was access to a suspension of time and limitation. And then I allowed the earliest first person narrator, travelling the trap line with Jim and Norman, to surround and frame all the later voices and points of view.

Despite my opening disclaimer, all the transitions still jarred and were not going to be solved by the insertion of artistic white space. I tried to trust the connections I knew were there and use language that relocated the reader—in the season, on the long-ago trail, in the life of our near-ancestors. A present time narrator telling a long ago present time story has an odd voice, saying, for example, “there aren’t any phones in our pockets yet.”

These days, I would not be as passive a companion as I was thirty years ago. The latest narrator of this essay is heartsick at a natural world imperiled by human fault, questioning every footstep even as she tries to accept the harm that is both habit and birthright of our species.

But I can’t get at this sense of loss without also including in the essay the long-ago young woman who watched the woodsmen and listened to them talking and accepted their gifts. And that is why this voice finds itself both in the past and in the now: “All I have to do is reach out for a big cup of coffee or cocoa when Norman hands it to me. There won’t always be these big broken-knuckled hands, I know this even then.”

Thanks to the generosity of Alaska Quarterly Review, where “March” appears in the 2017 winter/spring issue, and co-hosts 49Writers, Alaska Humanities Forum, and Center for the Lyric and Narrative Arts, I’ll read from the essay TONIGHT, February 24, 2017, at the Great Harvest Bread Company in Anchorage.

Mary Odden’s essays have appeared in The Georgia Review, Northwest Review, Nimrod, Alaska Quarterly Review, and in a collection of writing and art, Under Northern Lights, edited by Frank Soos and Kes Woodward. A book of essays, Mostly Water: Rural and North, will be published by Red Hen Press.

Lynn Lovegreen | Playing with Description

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Description is a tricky thing. We all know a good one when we see it, but it’s not always easy to come up with one yourself. And of course, your voice and genre will determine the kind of description you use.

If Charles Dickens is your style, you might like this detailed description from Bleak House:

Sir Leicester is twenty years, full measure, older than my Lady. He will never see sixty-five again, nor perhaps sixty-six, nor yet sixty-seven. He has a twist of the gout now and then and walks a little stiffly. He is of a worthy presence, with his light-grey hair and whiskers, his fine shirt-frill, his pure-white waistcoat, and his blue coat with bright buttons always buttoned.

If you’re into poetry, maybe you’d prefer Langston Hughes’ spare images, like this excerpt from “Mother to Son”:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.

While there are many styles of description, there are a few things successful ones have in common. They all use specific, sensory details. They all stop before they get too long or tedious. They all fit the writing form and style of that particular piece of writing.

As a high school English teacher, I spent many years listening to teenagers complain, “There’s too much description. They should get to the action!” So when I started writing fiction, I made everything short, and had to learn how to draw out the details to show the reader more. Even now, I tend to write the bare bones in the first draft and fill in the descriptions later. Sometimes I start with too much, and prune later. We all find our own style as we go along.

We’ll be playing with description in my workshop on Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Anchorage. Everyone is welcome to sign up. Here’s the blurb:

Good writers use description to set scenes, reveal character, produce images, and establish voice. We’ve all read great lines or sentences that describe perfectly, or winced when a writer does too much or not enough. How do we utilize the power of description most effectively? Together, we’ll explore the art of description through reading and discussion of examples, in-class writing exercises, and consideration of specific audiences, genres, and styles. This no-homework, one-time class will equip and inspire you to enliven your own writing with crisp, impactful descriptions.

You can register for this and other 49 Writers classes at http://49writers.org/class-catalog.

Lynn Lovegreen grew up and remains in Alaska. She taught for twenty years before retiring to make more time for writing. She enjoys her friends and family, reading, and volunteering at her local library. Her young adult/new adult historical romances are set in the Alaska Gold Rush, a great time for drama, romance, and independent characters.

Guest Blogger Cinthia Ritchie | Should You Consider a DIY Writing Residency?

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Last year and the year before, I invested in do-it-yourself writing residencies.

Don’t get me wrong: I love and appreciate writing residency programs. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been awarded four, all of which granted up to a month of a free and comfortable space to do nothing but write, and read, and daydream, and spend long hours inside my own head. Such offerings are a luxury. They are one of a writer’s greatest gifts, and I will be forever grateful to the organizations that put their trust, and financial backing, on the line for my writing projects.

Yet, this time I wanted something different. I wanted a writing residency, yes, but I wanted it in a specific location for a specific amount of time, and I wanted to spend that time adhering to my own rules, my own lifestyle. I wanted to write, yes. But I also wanted access to running and hiking trails, a nearby lap swimming pool, inexpensive vegan and vegetarian food and a warm climate.

Basically, I wanted a writing residency combined with a writing vacation (a residency vacation?).

I chose Tucson as the location. It’s a running friendly, vegan friendly, writing friendly, hiking friendly, bike friendly city. Another plus? It offers easy airline flight access from Alaska.

After that, I arranged the details: I scoured craigslist for winter subleases, found one that fit my bill, shot off an email and soon discovered that not only were the two women agreeable to leasing me their house for a month, they were also vegans and health food advocates (they bought a copy of my book and emailed me photos of them reading it. I call that a win-win situation).

I subleased their little house (called a casita down here), which came completely furnished and  included internet access, a writing desk, and awesome kitchen knives while being walkable to Whole Foods, a public swimming pool, and running trails. Best of all, the full rental and utilities costs were less than most pay-for residencies.

Then I settled in to write. And here is where I quickly realized that standard writing residencies offer more than a quiet place to work. They offer acknowledgement and companionship and, most importantly, a good, swift kick of motivation.

When awarded a residency, you feel compelled to write. After all, you were chosen over hundreds of other applicants, and that knowledge propels both confidence and productivity. During my first writing residency at Hedgebrook, I wrote 150 blistering pages in ten days.

On my DIY writing residencies, I wasn’t as productive. I didn’t have to be. I was paying for it myself. I still wrote, and I still produced a good body of work. I simply didn’t feel as driven. Writing was a priority but I made time for other things, too.

This year, I didn’t arrange a DIY residency. Instead, I vacationed in Tucson with my partner and applied to various residency programs.

Here are the pros and cons that came out of my do-it-yourself writing residency experience.

Pros:

You can schedule your residency when you want, on the days or months that you want, for as long as you wish.

You can choose the location, and the type of lodging. Want sunny deck? A swimming pool? Public transportation or a cabin alone in the woods? Chances are you can find it.

You can be as moody and introverted as you choose. You don’t have to interact with others if you don’t want to. You don’t have to make polite talk or worry about hurting someone else’s feelings it you don’t want to stay in your head and not engage in conversation.

You can live on your own schedule. Want to stay up all night writing and sleep all day? No problem. Eat corn chips and salsa for three days straight? Go for it. There’s no one to be accountable but yourself.

You can arrange for lodging options that allow pets.

Cons

Money: Many standard residencies are free and, face it, free writing time is a gift most of us can’t turn down.

Acknowledgement: Knowing that you’ve been awarded a residency, chosen above hundreds of others, can validate a writer’s project, and their creativity.

Contacts: Standard residencies offer writers the opportunity to make valuable contacts with other writers/artists, form friendships, and collaborate on projects.

Companionship: Face it, spending a month alone in a little house writing can drive even the most introverted person crazy with loneliness. Residency programs normally employ more than one resident per session, so there’s normally someone available to talk with, commiserate with, and offer support, or friendship, when needed.

Work ethic: As mentioned earlier, it’s easier to slack off during a DIY residency, since there’s no one holding you accountable but yourself.

Cinthia Ritchie is a recovering journalist who writes and runs mountain trails in Anchorage with her dog, Seriously. She’s a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, two-time Rasmuson Individual Artist Award recipient, and recipient of a Best American Essay 2013 Notable Mention. Find her work at New York Times Magazine, Sport Literate, Best American Sports Stories 2013, Evening Street Review, Under the Sun, Water-Stone Review, damfino Press, The Boiler Journal, Panoplyzine, Barking Sycamores, Clementine Unbound, GNU Journal, Foliate Oak Review, Deaf Poets Society, Mary, Theories of HER anthology, Grayson Books Forgotten Women anthology and others. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, released from Hachette Book Group. She blogs about writing and Alaska life at www.cinthiaritchie.com.

 

Michael Engelhard | The Writer as Reader

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I am always surprised when I hear fellow writers admit that they are not avid readers. The reason they often give is a lack of time, or that they’d rather not let another author—especially a disciple of the same genre or subject matter as theirs—influence their own style. Similarly, there seem to exist more bloggers than readers of blogs in cyberspace, at least judging from a shortage of comments to even the most audacious and thought-provoking posts. (Of course, the absence of responses to those is not proof that the posts are not being read.)

A driven writer and omnivorous reader myself, I find such disengagement with other authors’ work shortsighted, backfiring. We all stand on the shoulders of our predecessors whether we admit it or not, which allows us to see farther. And time invested studying classic writings clearly benefits our own. Reading the work of a good writer from the perspective of a writer is at least a twofold experience: immersion in the substance (plot, argument, characters, facts) of a piece of writing and analysis of the author’s technique and intent. Only when we understand the intricacies of “voice” can we experiment and develop our own. We need to set the bar high and constantly strive to a quality found only in the best prose. Only when you encounter that perfectly honed sentence, that gut-piercing metaphor, that luminescent setting or character do you know what is possible. And from anthropological monographs to Jack London’s short stories to Aldo Leopold’s essays on land ethics, my reading throughout the years has shaped my philosophy, turning me into the person I am.

From a business perspective also, ignoring work being done in one’s field is silly. Simply knowing what is being written on a particular subject keeps a writer from reduplicating work that has already been done. Nothing is more embarrassing than pitching a magazine editor or book publisher only to find that a similar story ran only the month before, or that the market is flooded with pet biographies. Outlining competitive titles and assessing why your own project is worthy of consideration is a routine part of formal book proposals. In part, my most recent book Ice Bear—a cultural history of the polar bear—sprang from my realization that all previous books on the subject dealt almost exclusively with the animal’s ecology and biology, or encounters in the field, or were coffee table-style pictorials.

Conversely, a good article or book can seed a writer’s thinking and might lead to developing ideas or arguments worth exploring. One character or historical anecdote can lead to entire new scenarios, if not books—the film industry has long realized the potential of spinoffs.

Nonfiction writers such as myself at least need to peruse book bibliographies for initial research in order to locate unusual sources and repositories. (Footnotes can be equally valuable.)  But often, we also sift through hard-to-digest or arcane sources, extracting morsels largely unknown, which we then serve our readers in a palatable, delicious form. Even fiction writers conduct “research through reading” to get their atmospheric details right. Likewise, the reading writer, the undiscerning browser above all, is likely to find that balance of opinions, that chorus of dissenting voices that a solipsist tunes out too easily. Instead of preaching to the choir, you might listen to it.

I’ve even managed to turn my literary consumption into an act of cooperative creation. Four anthologies of outdoors writing, which I have edited—though economically stillborn—gave me an appreciation of the plurality of voices that underlies all writing. The work also forced me to read widely and deeply, with an editor’s mindset. (In the process, I’ve become more understanding of those whom we writers often cast in the role of antagonist, the women and men with the red pen.)

Last but not least, as a “nature writer” in particular, I read for inspiration not just for information. Though much that is being written today about wildlife and wilderness is overshadowed by destruction, crisis, or extinction, even the bleakest fare of the genre reminds me of why I became a writer in the first place. These stories too must be told. And seeing that I am not a lone voice in the wastelands of indifference provides me with the strength to continue.

Michael Engelhard is the author of the essay collection, American Wild: Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean, and of Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon. He lives in Fairbanks, Alaska and works as a wilderness guide in the Arctic.

Engelhard will read from and sign his two most recent books, American Wild: Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean and Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon, at the Northern Alaska Environmental Center (830 College Road), on February 24, 2017 from 5:30 to 7:30 PM. The presentation will include a brief slide show, “Beast of Many Faces.”

Literary Roundup | Feb 17-March 2, 2017

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Have news, events, or opportunities you’d like to see listed here? Email details to info (at) 49writers.org with “Roundup” as the subject. Spread the word. Your message must be received by close of business the Wednesday before the roundup is scheduled to run at the latest. Unless your event falls in the “Opportunities and Awards” category, it should occur no more than 30 days from when we receive your email. Thanks! 49 Writers Statewide Roundup appears biweekly, on the first and third Friday of each month.  

 EVENTS and ANNOUNCEMENTS

It has been a great pleasure to host poet Roger Reeves in Alaska. We brought him to Alaska on a three-city tour with the support of the Alaska Humanities Forum and the cooperation and support of partners UAF English Department and Juneau Public Libraries. Roger visited Juneau’s Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School, was interviewed live by Scott Burton on KTOO (listen here – Roger comes in at 6:00), gave a reading and talk at Mendenhall Valley Library, taught a sold-out 49 Writers class in Anchorage, participated in a fascinating Crosscurrents event with Joan Naviyuk Kane, and worked with MFA students in Fairbanks in addition to reading in the Midnight Sun Visiting Writers Series. Big thanks to Sean Hill, Jonas Lamb, Beth Weigel, Katie Bausler, Makenzie DeVries, Joan and Roger, Micah Allen, Barb Hood, Megan Zlatos, Christina Barber, 49th State Brewing Co., Copper Whale Inn, Juneau Public Libraries, UAF’s MFA program, UAA Campus Bookstore, and the Alaska Humanities Forum.

Roger Reeves and Joan Naviyuk Kane present “Poetry & Politics”, a 49 Writers Crosscurrents event, February 16, 2017

We’re proud to announce, as well, another special partnership with the Alaska Humanities Forum, whose mission is to connect Alaskans through stories, ideas, and experiences that positively change lives and empower communities. Our own mission, as you know, is to support the artistic development of writers throughout Alaska, foster a writing community, and build an audience for literature. In 2016, the Alaska Humanities Forum and 49 Writers partnered to launch Danger Close: Alaska, an Anchorage-based writing workshop, public panel discussion, and small-run publication seeking to bridge the military-civilian divide by uniting veterans and civilians in the task of producing high-quality, war-themed writing. That was spearheaded by now-board member Matthew Komatsu, a writer pursuing his creative writing MFA through the fantastic low-residency University of Alaska Anchorage program.

In 2017, 49 Writers and Alaska Humanities Forum will partner again to host a reprisal of Danger Close: Alaska, which will re-engage the Anchorage community through a public panel discussion and expand to Juneau through a writing workshop (“Danger Close: Juneau”) and public Reading and Craft Talk. All events will feature Brian Castner, author of The Long Walk and All the Ways We Kill and Die. This program falls under AKHF’s Duty Bound initiative.
Fri, 10 Mar: Castner Reading & Craft Talk event in Juneau
Sat, 11 Mar: Danger Close: Juneau Workshop (six hour writing workshop in JNU, with veterans/active duty/retired military incentive discount)
Sun, 12 Mar: 49 Writers Crosscurrents: Who Owns the Story? (Brian Castner, Don Rearden, and Matthew Komatsu) in ANC (note the new date)

Class registration is open for classes in JNU, ANC, and FAI. Browse the course list and register soon!

 

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Question: I used to get every blog post emailed to me and now I don’t. What happened?
Answer: We migrated our blog from one platform to another this summer. To still get each post in your inbox (or to start that up for the first time), you must opt in by entering your email address in the Subscribe field in the sidebar to the right. That generates an email soliciting your confirmation, which activates your renewed subscription. Magic.

We love partnering with Alaska Quarterly Review and Alaska Humanities Forum to promote fine lit — not to mention community and conversation — in Alaska. Building on a very successful Gary Holthaus two-evening retrospective celebration, we’ll join AKHF in supporting AQR once again as they launch their next issue on Friday, February 24. Details below.

Check out Northern Soundings, a great interview program out of Fairbanks, which features authors Daryl Farmer, Nicole Stellon O’Donnell, Carolyn Kremers, and others. https://northernsoundings.com/

Check out the new Alaska Writer’s Magazine, published by Melissa Saulnier. https://www.alaskawritersmagazine.com/

Author and investigator John Straley was recently honored by the Alaska State Legislature.

Coming into the Country, John McPhee’s book about Alaska, was published in 1977, introducing readers across the country to a wild place, less than 20 years into statehood. The book became a bestseller and is still popular. We’ve absolutely loved the Alaska Energy Desk‘s series of features occasioned by the book’s 40th anniversary.  Check them all out here.

Rasmuson Foundation announced the latest batch of Tier I grants. Hopefully, writers across Alaska will meet the March 1 application deadline for the Individual Artist Awards.

SOUTHCENTRAL

PALMER | February 18, 2017, Fireside Books in Palmer, Alaska presents a marathon reading of George Orwell‘s dystopian masterpiece, 1984, beginning at 10 am and running till the book ends. More

ANCHORAGE | February 24, 2017, Alaska Quarterly Review presents Mary Odden: “March” and the new AQR issue, in partnership with Alaska Humanities Forum and 49 Writers, at Great Harvest Bread Co. Mary Odden’s essays have appeared in The Georgia Review, Northwest Review, Nimrod, and in an anthology of writing and art, Under Northern Lights, edited by Frank Soos and Kes Woodward. Her book of essays, Mostly Water, will be published by Red Hen Press. Mary earned an MFA in creative writing from University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1995. She has enjoyed teaching various writing, folklore, and literature subjects as an adjunct professor in Fairbanks, McGrath, Glennallen, and statewide through the Rural College. She was editor and publisher of The Copper River Record, a community newspaper, from 2005 through 2010. Mary and husband Jim have lived and worked at jobs above the Arctic Circle near Kobuk and out west on the Kuskokwim River at McGrath. Their current home is at Nelchina, near Glennallen. In 2015, Mary received an Individual Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation to support her work on Mostly Water.

Reading & Craft Talk Series 

ANCHORAGE | March 2, 2017, 49 Writers Reading & Craft Talk Series presents “Surprise and Delight: Capturing the Indelible Moment” by Daryl Farmer, author of Where We Land: Stories (Brighthorse Books, 2016). 7 pm at Indigo Tea Lounge, 530 E Benson Blvd, Anchorage, AK 99501. Come early to order tea and snacks! Daryl Farmer is the author of  Where We Land, a collection of short stories and Bicycling Beyond the Divide, winner of a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award and also named as a Colorado Book Award finalist. He was born in Colorado Springs, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains where he developed a taste for the open road at an early age, and has spent a life roaming the country and writing about its landscapes and people. He has lived in New Mexico, Oregon, New Hampshire, Mississippi and Alaska, among other places. He received a B.A. in physical education from Adams State College (Alamosa, Colorado) and an M.A. and Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has taught writing at Georgia Tech. University, Stephen F. Austin State University in east Texas and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks where he is currently an assistant professor and director of the MFA in Creative Writing program.

ANCHORAGE | Saturday, March 4 from 1-3 pm, UAA Campus Bookstore | Author Bryan Allen Fierro presents Dodger Blue Will Fill Your Soul. Fierro brings to life stories that encompass Latino cultural expectations, saints, and Dodger baseball. The enchanting language and skillful writing recreate the sounds of people of East L.A. who become familiar as familyFierro is recipient of the 2013 Maureen Egen Writer’s Exchange Award for fiction. He grew up in Los Angeles and now splits his time between L.A. and Anchorage, where he works as a firefighter and paramedic. He holds an MFA from Pacific University in Oregon. There is free parking at UAA on Saturdays.

HOMER | author Daryl Farmer teaches a writing workshop March 3-5, 2017, and presents a public reading on Saturday, March 4, 2017 at 6:30 pm, Kachemak Bay Campus

ANCHORAGE | Tuesday, March 7, 5 pm at the UAA Campus Bookstore | “A German Eyewitness Account of Losing Two World Wars: What Margritt Engel Discovered in Her Father’s Letters and Diary”. Margritt Engel shares her father’s letters dated Nov. 1917 through Dec. 1918 from Riga, Latvia written to his parents in Saxony. In addition, she examines her father’s diary written during WWII, dated from November 1941 to March 1945. Deemed unfit for combat due to a riding accident, Margritt Engel’s father spent both wars in the food supply service. His is letters and diaries offer a fascinating and intimate glimpse into the life of an East German during two world wars. Margritt Engel translated Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741-1742 by Georg Wilhelm Steller with O.W. Frost and  History of Kamchatka with Karen Willmore, published by University of Alaska Press. She is Professor Emerita in the Department of Languages at UAA. Free parking for this event in the South Lot, Sports Complex NW Lot, West Campus Central Lot, and Sports Campus West Lot.

ANCHORAGE | March 17, 2017, 5-8 pm Don Rearden and Jimmy Settle will be signing copies of Never Quit at Barnes & Noble.

ANCHORAGE | March 18, 2017, 5-9 pm | Book launch for Never Quit by Jimmy Settle with Don ReardenAnchorage Brewing Company, 148 West 91st Ave. Facebook event.

PALMER | March 25, 2017, 6 pm | Fireside Books presents an author dinner with Jeff Fair at Turkey Red | Jeff Fair wrote In Wild Trust: Larry Aumiller’s Thirty Years Among the McNeil River Brown Bears. Info and tickets.

ANCHORAGE | March 31-April 1, 2017 | Organized by the graduate students within the University of Alaska Anchorage English department, the Pacific Rim Conference on English Studies invites submissions in literature, rhetoric and composition, linguistics, anthropology, history, journalism, gender studies and other related fields.

EAGLE RIVER | The Living Room Reading Series, every 2nd Wednesday 7-9 pm at Jitters, features writers and book lovers. Sign up to read, or come listen. More Next one is Wednesday, March 8, 2017!

INTERIOR 

FAIRBANKS | UAF’s Midnight Sun Reading Series presents poet Roger Reeves in partnership with 49 Writers, Juneau Public Libraries, and Alaska Humanities Forum. Friday, February 17, 2017.

FAIRBANKS | February 18, 2017, Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center. Seven participants from Denali’s artist in residence program celebrate the park’s birthday with outreach. Literary activities include John Morgan, Linda Schandelmeier, Nicole Stellon O’Donnell, and Carolyn Kremers reading poems and essays about Denali at 2 pm, and an open mic at 3:30 pm.

FAIRBANKS | February 25, 2017, 9 am – 4 pm: Writing in the Dark Retreat with author Jean Anderson. Full-day workshop, focusing on Kindling the Fires: Creating Enduring Prose in a Cold PlaceMore info and registration.

FAIRBANKS | Fairbanks author and wilderness guide Michael Engelhard will read from and sign his two most recent books, American Wild: Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean and Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon, at the Northern Alaska Environmental Center (830 College Road), on February 24, from 5:30 to 7:30 PM. Also, wherever you are, check out Engelhard’s radio interview with author Charles Wohlforth here. The presentation will include a brief slide show, “Beast of Many Faces.”

FAIRBANKS | Saturday, March 4, 2017, 7 pm at the Bear Gallery | Fairbanks Arts Association presents a reading by Jean Anderson, author of Human Being Songs: Northern Stories.

SOUTHEAST

JUNEAU | You have until February 25, 2017 to view an exhibition by poets Aleria Jensen and Jonas Lamb featuring a collection of original broadside poems on parenting and place, paired with montages of artwork by their children. The writing in this exhibit explores moments and musings that inform the experience of raising family in Southeast Alaska. These pieces are windows into family life and parenting against the backdrop of culture and community in Juneau, as well as the marine rainforest environment we call home. Juneau-Douglas City Museum, 114 West 4th Street.

JUNEAU | 49 Writers, with the support of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, presents poet Julie LeMay, author of The Echo of Ice Letting Go (University of Alaska Press | Alaska Literary Series 2017) with Jeremy Pataky, author of OverwinterMarch 6, 2017. Details TBA.

JUNEAU | Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest state finals. @360 North, March 7, 2017. Details TBA.

JUNEAU | 49 Writers and Juneau Public Libraries present author Brian Castner in Danger Close: Alaska in partnership with Alaska Humanities Forum, through their Duty Bound initiative. Brian Castner is a nonfiction writer, former Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer, and veteran of the Iraq War. He is the bestselling author of All the Ways We Kill and Die, and the war memoir The Long Walk, which was adapted into an opera and named an Amazon Best Book for 2012. A contributing writer to VICE, his work has also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Wired, Foreign Policy, Outside, Buzzfeed, Boston Globe, Time, The Daily Beast, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and on National Public Radio. He has twice received grants from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, to cover the Ebola outbreak in Liberia in 2014, and to paddle the 1200 mile Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean in 2016. His latest project, a co-edited collection of short stories titled The Road Ahead, was published this month. His time in Juneau includes two events:
1) Friday, March 10, 2017, 6 pm at the Mendenhall Valley Library’s Large Meeting Room (free), a 49 Writers Reading & Craft Talk Series event titled Who Owns The Story?” Joan Didion said that a writer is always selling somebody out. Brian Castner will talk about his new book, “All the Ways We Kill and Die,” the story of the death of a fellow soldier and search for the Afghan bomb-maker who killed him, and what nonfiction authors owe their subjects when writing about their innermost lives.
2) Saturday, March 11, 2017, 10 am – 4 pm, location TBD, Brian will lead a full-day nonfiction writing workshop open to everyone, including civilians, active duty and veterans. Brian Castner—an Iraq veteran who has written about war and crisis, from Africa to the Arctic—will guide this nonfiction workshop, focusing on stories of people in extraordinary situations. Crafting such stories in an authentic way can be an outsized challenge for writers. Former soldiers can struggle to tell their own story. Those without personal experience can be intimidated to even try; the hunt, the sea, the conflict, is not “what they know.” This class will break down those barriers by exploring what makes extreme stories still human and accessible. Open to every writer, we’ll read and do generative exercises to get at the heart of a true war story, whether out in a combat zone or a rescue in the Alaskan bush.

Brian Castner is a nonfiction writer, former Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer, and veteran of the Iraq War. He is the bestselling author of All the Ways We Kill and Die, and the war memoir The Long Walk, which was adapted into an opera and named an Amazon Best Book for 2012. A contributing writer to VICE, his work has also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Wired, Foreign Policy, Outside, Buzzfeed, Boston Globe, Time, The Daily Beast, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and on National Public Radio. He has twice received grants from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, to cover the Ebola outbreak in Liberia in 2014, and to paddle the 1200 mile Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean in 2016. His latest project, a co-edited collection of short stories titled The Road Ahead, was published this month.

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CONFERENCES, RETREATS, and RESIDENCIES

North Words Writers Symposium will be May 31-June 3, 2017 in Skagway, Alaska. This year’s keynote speaker is world world travel and fiction writer Paul Theroux. After writing nearly fifty books of nonfiction and fiction set in the most exotic of locales, America’s greatest travel writer is finally headed for one of Alaska’s most notorious: Skagway. Paul Theroux will lead a faculty of seven acclaimed authors at the 8th annual North Words Writers Symposium. A maximum of 50 registrants at the 2017 North Words Symposium will also engage with a faculty of Alaskan writers that includes John Straley, Sherry Simpson, Deb Vanasse, Tom Kizzia, Andy Hall, and Lenora Bell. Learn more and sign up soon; 50 participants max. northwordsinfo@gmail.com

2017 Kachemak Bay Writers Conference will occur June 9-13, 2017 in Homer, Alaska. Keynote speaker will be Jane Smiley. Details and more.

2017 Writers Tutka Bay Writers Retreat will occur September 10-12, 2017. Faculty to be announced soon. Details.

OPPORTUNITIES and AWARDS for WRITERS

Rasmuson Foundation applications for Individual Artist Awards are open until March 1, 2017. The Foundation will host a series of workshops to provide an overview of the grant options and to answer application related questions. More info and a link to apply is available here.

The US Forest Service, National Park Service & US Fish & Wildlife Service partner to sponsor artist residency programs open to writers in wilderness area. Learn more here. Deadlines: March 1, 2017.

The Northern Review seeks submissions for their third literary issue (as opposed to scholarly issues), to be published in Fall 2017. Details below. Submission accepted through May 31, 2017. 

Thank You for Your Support! 49 Writers members and donors make this blog, our workshops, Crosscurrents events, Readings and Craft Talk series, and other special programs and activities possible. Not a member yet? Join Us 

Also, please include 49 Writers in your Pick.Click.Give. choices when filing for your 2017 Permanent Fund Dividend. 

Guest Blogger Cinthia Ritchie | How Following a Training Plan Improved my Writing

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Two summers ago, I failed spectacularly at almost every writing project I attempted. I failed at my novel rewrite, opting to not follow my editor’s suggestions (because, you know, even though she was at a major house and even though I’m just a skinny Alaskan, I was sure that I knew more than she did).

I failed at a major freelance job I never should have taken, since I knew perfectly well that it was over my head and out of my area of expertise.

I failed at getting my poems published, my chapbook manuscript published, my essays published.

In that one sad year alone, I racked up over sixty writing rejections.

To top it off, I failed at the ultra-race I had trained for all summer, collapsing at mile twenty-six, four and a half short miles from the finish line. After being released from the medical tent, I sat in the middle of the trail and sobbed. Other runners weaved around me and I stared down at my dusty running shoes and wondered why I even bothered to run at all. Wouldn’t it be easier to just quit?

I didn’t do that, of course. Three days later I was back out on the trails training for another race, another chance. As I spent long hours weaving through birch and alder trees, as I jumped over bear scat and veered around bored moose, I reflected on my goals and realized that training for a long-distance race is similar to writing a book. Each requires that you take it one small step at a time. Each offers a multitude of irritating and annoying setbacks. Each hands out bouts of almost unbearable pain. When you’re racing 31 miles and just passed mile three, the rest of those twenty-eight miles can seem pretty damned daunting (much like finding yourself stuck in Chapter Eight and having no idea how you got there or where to go next).

Ultra-runners have a motto: Forward relentless motion. Basically, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, sooner or later you’ll reach the finish line.

Last year, after experiencing so many writing-related failures, I decided that it was time to write the way that I ran, and that meant following a training plan. Instead of simply writing when the mood struck, I’d sit my ass down in my chair five days a week and write. And yeah, some of those days would be hard, some of those days I’d barely trudge through a page, and some of those days I’d produce nothing of worth. But the act of writing, much like the value of daily runs, would make me stronger. It would build my writing muscles and help me overcome fatigue and doubt, fear and uncertainty, laziness and bad writing form.

Of course, it sounded much easier in principle than it did in execution. Training for a race or writing a book is hard. Putting in seventy mile running weeks or thirty page writing weeks is exhausting. It demands discipline, something I found easier to muster during runs, probably because it offered an immediate pay-off: the running high.

I didn’t experience a high while writing. I sat in my chair and toiled away, and no one clapped or high-fived me when I finished an especially thorny chapter or finally, after years of anguish, devised the perfect ending to a poem. But you know what? It didn’t matter. I followed my writing training plan, every paragraph, every page another relentless movement, another step forward.

My writing became leaner, tighter, cleaner. I learned to better edit my own work, to more quickly discover my character’s voices, to brush aside ego and write for meaning and clarity instead of publication dreams or audience.

Just as following a running training plan built the endurance and mental toughness to finish 50k races, my writing training plan built the confidence and resilience to finish projects I’d pushed aside. In the past year, I’ve published a multitude of poems, essays, and flash fiction pieces, plus placed in numerous writing contests, finished my second book and started on my third.

Writing plan | Here’s a sample of my writing training plan, which mirrored my running schedule:

Mondays: Rest day (lots of reading)

Tuesdays: Easy-paced writing day, followed by cross-training (editing, researching markets, querying freelance markets, etc.)

Wednesdays: Mid-week long writing session, followed by weight training (submitting work—I aimed for five manuscripts/poems/essays a week)

Thursdays: Easy-paced writing day, followed by cross-training

Friday: Rest day (lots of reading)

Saturday: Long writing day (3-7 hours)

Sunday: Long writing day (3-7 hours)

Cinthia Ritchie is a recovering journalist who writes and runs mountain trails in Anchorage with her dog, Seriously. She’s a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, two-time Rasmuson Individual Artist Award recipient, and recipient of a Best American Essay 2013 Notable Mention. Find her work at New York Times Magazine, Sport Literate, Best American Sports Stories 2013, Evening Street Review, Under the Sun, Water-Stone Review, damfino Press, The Boiler Journal, Panoplyzine, Barking Sycamores, Clementine Unbound, GNU Journal, Foliate Oak Review, Deaf Poets Society, Mary, Theories of HER anthology, Grayson Books Forgotten Women anthology and others. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, released from Hachette Book Group. She blogs about writing and Alaska life at www.cinthiaritchie.com.

Jeremy Pataky | “What do you do when the life rafts are burning?”

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Thanks to all who turned out last week for a special Reading & Craft Talk Series event, this time held downtown at the 49th State Brewing Co. The event paired Kathleen Dean Moore and Libby Roderick on stage. Kathy is a philosopher and award-winning author best known for books about our cultural and spiritual relation to wet, wild places. Among her many books are Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water; Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World; The Pine Island Paradox; Wild Comfort, and Great Tide Rising.

Her “love for the reeling world” has led her to forego teaching at the university level, committing wholly to a new life of climate writing and activism. Her last book, Great Tide Rising: Toward Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change, follows the pivotal Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, testimony from the world’s moral leaders about our obligations to the future.

Libby Roderick is a poet, activist, teacher, lifelong Alaskan, and internationally acclaimed singer/songwriter with six albums. Libby has performed at a wide range of national and international gatherings, including the national Bioneers conference, the U.S. Department of Peace conference in D.C. (with Walter Cronkite), the World Wilderness Congress, and many others. In October 2005, the Alaska Legislature honored her art and activism with a citation of excellence.

Kathy’s new book, Piano Tide, “a savagely funny and deeply insightful” novel, depicts an imaginary Southeast Alaska small town’s struggle to defend its fresh water. It is her debut work of fiction, written from Corvallis, Oregon and a small tidal cove cabin on Chichagof Island, in Southeast, and it occasioned our event last week.

The novel portrays the fight between those who’d like to exploit the world for profit and those more motivated by a desire to make a home. Kathy said she was trying to write the book she wished she had when she was teaching environmental ethics. Mary Catharine Martin interviewed Kathy and wrote about Piano Tide in Capital City Weekly.

Questions around environmental ethics fueled the conversation. What work do “all hands on deck” moments of crisis demand of writers? If it’s a moral failing to deny the call demanded by circumstance, what constitutes responsiveness? What new forms might new circumstances require (or generate)?

Moore quoted scientist and author Robin Wall Kimmerer, who answers the questions “What is your work?” (meaning what work ought one do?) with the question “What is your gift?”

Libby reminded the room that writers’ gifts involve language, the very medium of thought, ethic, and sense-making (not to mention ruse, obfuscation, and double-think). Speech is action, of course (as Anne Caston reminded January’s Poetry Parley attendees in Anchorage), and writers are especially equipped to “occupy language” in the face of those who abuse it, or who deploy language in the abuse of one another and the planet.

One audience member asked a question about hope and its fleetingness in an era of undeniable social, political, and environmental upheaval. In answering the question, Moore cited Joanna Macy’s notion of “active hope,” saying “Hope is not an emotion, but a verb.” Hope is born of actions designed to improve the future.

I appreciated her acknowledgment that hope, though, like despair, can function as a kind of trap, and that the stable mid-ground between the two is integrity, of doing right because we must, whether or not there’s hope to cure the world. Needless to say, our shared world will be better off in proportion to our collective acts of integrity, and better off the more people act for integrity’s sake, absent the potentially disabling dismay of outcomes-dependent decision making.

It was a treat to hear Libby’s ideas and music — and the many voices singing along — interwoven with excerpts from Kathy’s new novel and her own thoughts. They both spoke about their own creative processes, and to the personal ethics that fuel their respective, prolific art practices.

Thanks to everyone for coming. I hope to see another great turnout this Thursday in 49th State’s Barrel Room East, this time for a Crosscurrents event featuring visiting poet Roger Reeves and Alaskan poet Joan Naviyuk Kane. Don’t miss it!

Deb Vanasse | Unfit for Fiction

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Let’s say you’re writing a novel, and somehow—maybe owing to the 24/7 news cycle or to the protest signs leaning against a wall in your garage or to the hours you’ve spent organizing indivisible enthusiasts—you come upon the idea of writing a narcissist into your fiction.

Don’t do it.

A narcissist operates like a wrecking ball. Oblivious to the harm he’ll inflict, he runs roughshod over anything that stands between him and his desires, which center on a singular goal—preserving his fragile self-esteem.

Ah, but he’s a conflicted character, you say. A bloviator, yet fragile within.

Conflicted, yes, but the fact that he’s incapable of acknowledging this internal conflict makes him uninteresting.  A narcissist can never allow himself to admit to weakness. He has zero self-regard. He’s incapable of humor, which demands the ability to laugh at one’s self.

The narcissist is a master of projection, accusing his opponents (and they are legion) of the very faults he’s incapable of acknowledging in himself. Manipulation is essential to his psychological survival, and yet his own internal fragility, his insatiable need for affirmation, makes him an easy target for manipulation by other nefarious types.

Maybe this sounds interesting, but in fact it’s all too predictable.

A fundamental tenet of fiction is that readers need to empathize with your characters. You might think backstory will come to the rescue—the character feels inferior to his father, unworthy of the fortune he inherits, resentful of having been shipped off to a military boarding school, intellectually unequal to his peers.

It’s true that backstory can add emotional depth to a character, helping readers to empathize with his plight. But empathy is a two-way street, and the narcissist only travels in one direction, toward himself.

Sensing this, readers gravitate toward characters with the capacity to return empathy. In this regard, the narcissist will always fall short.

Even the “save the cat” strategy doesn’t work with the narcissist. He only saves the cat if there’s something in it for him, if it makes him look good.

You can’t even rely on a narcissist to be a good fictional villain. He’s flat, a character type with a large potential for destruction, like a tornado or some other freakish force that must be reckoned with. If you need this effect in your novel, write in an actual tornado or hurricane or wrecking ball.

In the face of destruction, the intriguing character isn’t the narcissist who unleashes it but the courageous resistor. She’s flawed, of course—we all are—but in confronting the chaos, she discovers the depth of her passion for justice and truth.

Don’t write a narcissist into your fiction. And while you’re at it, don’t choose one to lead the free world.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored seventeen books. Among the most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds; and the “deeply researched and richly imagined” biography  Wealth Woman. After thirty-six years in Alaska, she now lives on the north coast of Oregon. The opinions expressed here are solely her own.

Guest Blogger Cinthia Ritchie | Why I Hired a Beta Reader

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I did something I thought I’d never do: I hired a beta reader to help with the beginning chapters of my second novel.

I’d been struggling for months, with no end in sight. I was literally making myself sick with the worrying and the obsession. I had, no exaggeration, over twenty takes of the first chapter.

And I couldn’t stop. Because, think of it: There is no limit to the possibilities. Any book could have any number of successful openings. And even when you do find a successful opening, there’s always that nag in your mind that there might be an even more successful opening if you just keep at it a bit longer.

Which is why I couldn’t stop obsessing. Which is why I wrote and rewrote that damned first chapter over and over again, and some of those drafts were almost identical except for one or two paragraphs, and I’d print them out and read those paragraphs over and over and compare them and try to decide which one worked best, etc., etc., etc.

I’d end up slumped on the couch eating too many pretzels and binge-watching Netflix or, if it was still light outside, I’d put on my Hokas and head out for a run.

When I received an email from my agent stating that she needed my novel in two to four weeks, I knew I needed help. I needed to stop the obsessing, buckle down, finish the best that I could and hand the book over to wiser minds.

But the thing is: I wanted my book to be as wise as it could before I handed it over to wiser minds.

So I hired a beta reader. I gathered all of my drafts, blended them together, with three first-chapter options, and sent them off (okay, I obsessed about them for a day and then sent them off).

Here’s the reason why I chose to hire a beta reader instead of asking writing friends for help or begging blog followers to please, please read my book and tell me if it made sense: I wanted to ensure that I would receive as honest of an assessment as possible. I wanted my beta reader to have the freedom to be brutal, if need be, to tear down my chapters, to say: This doesn’t work. This sucks. This has to go.

Because, here’s the thing: It hurts when someone brutally critiques our work. It’s agonizingly painful, and it’s difficult not to become defensive, to lash out and declare: But my book is perfect! My dialogue is perfect! My character development is flawless!

In the same vein, it’s equally difficult for writing friends and blogger friends to give one another truly honest and (dare I say it?) harsh criticism because, face it, we all live within the bounds of social convention, and those conventions tell us to be fair and kind, to “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

As writers, we don’t need “nice.” We need the tools to produce better and stronger work. And while most of the time we are able to figure out our own stumblings, when we can’t it’s good to know that there are others who can objectively and fairly point them out for us.

And, trust me, reading some of the beta reader’s comments and suggestions hurt. It was painful (painful!). And knowing that I had to omit well-loved scenes, quicken the pace and drastically change the first and second chapters wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. Yet it was exactly what I needed to hear.

Of course, a beta reader isn’t God. You don’t have to follow every suggestion, make every change. In fact, you don’t have to listen to any of the suggestions or changes. But having another pair of objective eyes, and ears, can open up invaluable insights. It can help you to “see” your book from the perspective of another reader, one that doesn’t necessarily have your same values or likes and dislikes and one similar to the readers that may one day pick up your book at a bookstore and browse through the first few opening pages.

And yes, I’ll admit that at first I balked at the idea of paying someone to read my book. But in the end, the monetary exchange enhanced the deal. It verified that my book mattered. That my characters mattered. That my story mattered. That if I could spend $120 on a pair of running shoes and $90 to suffer through a 32-mile race, I could damn well spend $150 for someone to guide me through my book’s weak area, help tighten the prose, omit weaker scenes and end up with a tighter, richer and more rewarding story.

Cinthia Ritchie is a recovering journalist who writes and runs mountain trails in Anchorage with her dog, Seriously. She’s a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, two-time Rasmuson Individual Artist Award recipient, and recipient of a Best American Essay 2013 Notable Mention. Find her work at New York Times Magazine, Sport Literate, Best American Sports Stories 2013, Evening Street Review, Under the Sun, Water-Stone Review, damfino Press, The Boiler Journal, Panoplyzine, Barking Sycamores, Clementine Unbound, GNU Journal, Foliate Oak Review, Deaf Poets Society, Mary, Theories of HER anthology, Grayson Books Forgotten Women anthology and others. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, released from Hachette Book Group. She blogs about writing and Alaska life at www.cinthiaritchie.com.

 

From the Archives | Lynn Lovegreen interviews Kathleen Dean Moore

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In anticipation of author Kathleen Dean Moore and musician Libby Roderick’s appearance tonight in Anchorage, we’re reposting this interview from our archives. Kathleen Dean Moore is best known for her books of nature-focused essays–Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water, winner of the 1995 Pacific Northwest Book Award; Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World, recipient of the 1999 Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award; The Pine Island Paradox, winner of the 2004 Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction; and Wild Comfort, finalist for the same award; and Great Tide Rising (Counterpoint 2016). Her latest book is a novel, her debut book of fiction, called Piano Tide (Counterpoint 2017). Moore writes from a small cabin on Chicagof Island in Southeast Alaska.

Tonight’s Reading & Craft Talk Series event takes place at 7 pm, 49th State Brewing Co., Anchorage (717 W. 3rd Ave). Doors at 6:30 pm. Free for members, suggested $5 for nonmembers. Facebook event.

Kathleen Dean Moore

This post was originally published May 6, 2013.
Kathleen Dean Moore is an essayist, philosopher, and environmental advocate, the author of Wild Comfort, Pine Island Paradox, Riverwalking, Holdfast, and other award-winning books. Co-editor of books about Rachel Carson and the Apache philosopher Viola Cordova, Moore’s work has appeared in New York Times Magazine, Audubon, Discover, The Sun, Utne Reader, Conservation Biology, and Orion, where she serves on the Board of Directors. Moore keynoted the North Words Writers Symposium, which began May 29, 2013 in Skagway.

You’re co-editor with Michael P. Nelson of Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a People in Peril. The Chicago Examiner stated, “This is one of the first anthologies to combine the appeal of moral duty; conscience choice in relationship to the environment, in combination with the argument for basic survival.” Has the book brought the kind of attention you expected?

In Moral Ground, we published calls to action on climate change from eighty-three of the world’s moral leaders, people like Desmond Tutu, Wangari Maathai, Oscar Kawagley, and the Dalai Lama. The response has been amazing. We never expected that people would buy this book by the box-load to give to their employees, or their politicians, or the CEOs of major banks. We never expected that it would be the kind of book that families would read aloud or that activists would read late into the night. We never expected that even now — three years from publication — Michael and I wouldn’t be able keep up with invitations to speak about the ideas. It thrills us that, as people are starting to understand that climate change is a moral issue, we are able to put in their hands a book that explains the connection between climate change and duties of compassion, justice, respect for human rights, and many more.

How can we make a difference as writers?

This is a really tough one. I agonize over this. I keep coming back to the old mantra — audience and purpose, audience and purpose. How can we reach the indifferent, the hostile, the frightened, the busy well-meaning? How can we call true believers to actions that match their beliefs? And if the overriding purpose is to help nudge the “Great Turning” toward truly sustainable and just life-ways, how do we begin?

There are many answers: Some writers are giving up writing and going to direct action, organizing the beautiful “creative disruptions” the world needs. Some are writing narratives of change. Some are moving away from print to video or music. Some are already writing the elegies or the dystopian-future novels. Some are simply witnessing — calling attention to the glorious lives that we recklessly destroy. It’s not a matter of choosing the best approach. Getting ourselves out of this mess is going to take the greatest exercise of the human imagination the world has ever seen. It doesn’t matter how we do it. The moral imperative is to begin.

You are also author of several books, including Wild Comfort, which Diane Ackerman called, “a richly poetic book, and Moore a wonderful guide to the wilderness and our own wildness.” Is it more difficult to write on a more personal level? How can you express your own ideas without sounding preachy?

I don’t want to be a preacher who knows all the answers — solemn and wordy and self-satisfied. I want to be the woman in the pew who rises to her feet, weeping and shouting “hallelujah.” She may have no answers, but she believes in questions. She may have no hope, but she knows joy. She is  not afraid. When she holds out her hands, pleading, she sees that they are spangled with the jewel colors of light through stained glass windows. She, not the preacher, is the poet in the sacred space.

Nature writing runs throughout your work, but you accomplish this through different threads of your career (editing, writing, teaching). Are they equally important to you, or does
one take priority over another?

This is a tough year for environmental writers, when decisions about our priorities are more urgent than ever. God knows, challenges are coming from all directions, and opportunities too.  But energy is finite and our time is about up. So what is to be done? And within what institutions?  I don’t know a single environmental writer who is not asking these questions.

And for me? This is the year when the “threads” of my career — writing, public speaking, university teaching — transmogrified into monsters that started eating each others’ feet. So I quit my university position, and I’m spending all my time on writing and public speaking, primarily about climate change. Nature writing informs all this work — the convictions that it’s not enough to celebrate the natural world while bulldozers and drilling rigs take it down, that we have to do what we can to prevent what I believe is a failure of reverence and a betrayal of love for the world.

On May 29 – June 1, 2013, you will be a faculty member at the North Words Writers Symposium, held in Skagway Alaska. You live in Alaska part of the year; is that what drew you to the symposium? What do you look forward to at the event?

Yes, I do live in Alaska during the summers, in a cabin where two creeks and a bear trail meet a tidal cove in Tenakee Inlet. But I was drawn to the symposium by my old friend Dan Henry, who asked me to do a keynote at the Symposium — “Just 20-30 minutes of profound, insightful, inspirational talk,” he said. “That’s all.”

“Okay,” I muttered, as profoundly and insightfully as I could.

I’m very excited about this. It will be a chance to meet all the Alaska writers whose books pile up under my bed and overflow from my shelves. These are my heroes.  These are the people I want to be. And now I will get to meet them and maybe even buy them a beer.

Lynn Lovegreen writes Sweet Alaska Historicals, novels set in the Gold Rush era.