Deb Vanasse | The Grounded Writer

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These are stressful times. More than ever, we creative types need grounding.

By the dictionary, being grounded results in balance and stability. But I think of it more in terms of process, connecting with whatever it is that helps me to be in the moment when I write.

Author John Straley talks of warming up to writing like a slow engine, chug-chug-chug. Grounding jumpstarts your writing. It ushers you into a state in which distractions are less likely to nab your attention. It helps you stay focused and in the flow.

Some writers ground themselves with journaling, others with reading. I’ve done both, but last year Straley’s enthusiasm about haiku as a grounding technique—my term, not his—took hold in me. Each day, before jumping into my work-in-progress, I draft one haiku.

I use the Straley method. Well, not a real method, really—more just some simple points he shares. Haiku usually have something to do with nature. The language is simple. They often follow the five-seven-five syllable formula, but they don’t have to. Straley’s in the “don’t have to” camp. I like the constraints of the 5-7-5 form—they make it easier somehow.

Straley says he writes haiku in order to feel he’s fully living. I think of that whenever I’m outside—how I want to be fully alive.  I notice things I wouldn’t otherwise. I’m in the moment. Images stick, and I’m never at a loss for what the next haiku will be.

After my haiku, I do a little meditation. (Meditation and yoga are great for grounding too.) Then I write. When I get tired of sitting, I stand, using an inexpensive standing desk. It’s amazing how just having your feet planted on the ground makes you feel grounded.

Next I want to rig up an outdoor standing desk, so I can ground myself writing barefoot in the grass.

The author of seventeen books with six different publishers, Deb Vanasse admits to not being especially focused when it comes to genre. Among her most recent works 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 doesn’t mean to gloat, but writing barefoot in the grass is a legitimate year-round option where she now lives, on the north coast of Oregon, where she continues to write while doing freelance editing, coaching, and writing instruction. She suggests you read Straley’s haiku, published by Shorefast Editions.

 

 

The Great Unconformity | An Interview with Kate Troll

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William Arthur Hanson, author of the Alaska Billy Blog, interviewed author Kate Troll for 49 Writers the first week of January, 2018. Kate Troll is an op-ed columnist, wilderness adventurer, speaker on conservation and climate issues, author of The Great Unconformityand a member of 49 Writers. She moved to Alaska in 1977 and has more than 22 years’ experience in climate and energy policy, coastal management and fisheries. As Executive Director of the Alaska Conservation Voters, Kate helped draft the creation of the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund and lobbied for the Sustainable Energy Act. She served as Executive Director for United Fishermen of Alaska. Internationally, Kate was Regional Fisheries Director for the Marine Stewardship Council, a global eco-label program. She was elected to public office twice. Kate was appointed by Governor Palin to serve on the Climate Mitigation Advisory Board, and was the only Alaskan invited to participate in Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2008 Global Climate Summit. From 2010-2016, she wrote for the Juneau Empire and is currently a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News.


WAH: Your book cover includes a quote from Heather Lende, NY Times bestselling author of If I Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name, who lives in writes in Haines, Alaska. She says: 
“To read The Great Unconformity is to spend time with Kate Troll, a wonky, funny, bossy, passionate, widely read and accomplished outdoorswoman, who is delightful and inspiring company.” Did she get you right?
KT: Yes. Even the “bossy” part. It speaks to the fact that I open up my heart in writing this book. Because it is one-part memoir, I have to be vulnerable and expose myself so I tried to make sure I captured my voice, and that you see all sides of me, including the foibles, the drive, the passion.


Could you talk about how that translates from your Alaskan experience, where your passion comes from.
I feel emotionally very connected to the wilderness and the great outdoors. I gain a lot of personal and spiritual strength from my expeditions into the wilderness. I wrap that up with what I experienced in my professional career. I find that these two sources of strength blend together.


Your professional career spanned a variety of jobs. Can you give us a snapshot?
One of the keys to my book comes from my 30-plus years of working in the trenches of environmental conservation and politics. I come with a practical, get-the-job done perspective. I’m looking for solutions. I’m looking for allies to take on the challenges.

In my capacity as Executive Director of fishing organizations, including United Fishermen of Alaska, I’ve testified before Congress on three separate occasions. I’ve worked for an international eco-label program for wild fisheries where my region was all of North and South America so as you see I’ve been in the trenches here in Alaska and around the world. As the Executive Director of Alaska Conservation Voters, I worked to get the renewable energy grant program established by the Legislature. And I’ve been elected to local office twice.

From a writing standpoint, I’ve been an op-ed columnist for the last eight years.  I write for the Anchorage Daily News, and previously wrote for the Juneau Empire.


You mentioned that your book is one-part memoir. What else is it?
It’s also one-part nature writing and one-part policy wonk. The policy part deals with some of the biggest questions that we face as a civilization: how to live on this Earth sustainably, and how to cope with the challenge of climate change.


We hear new dire warnings about climate change almost every day. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the barrage of information. What sets The Great Unconformity apart from climate-related books? Why choose this one?
Because I deliver the key essential facts that you need to know, but I deliver them wrapped up in stories of personal growth, and challenges, and adventure. But most importantly, I make sure that I include Points of Hope.

Many of the climate books are very serious in their nature because it is a serious topic. They go into all the dire aspects, the flooding, fire, famine, loss of species and biodiversity. Those are all very real concerns, but you can feel overwhelmed.

I acknowledge those serious facts and trends, but I try not to overwhelm you. I want to inspire you to pick up the challenge. What can you do? And to do that, to pick up your part, you have to be hopeful. So that’s what differentiates my book from the other climate books out there.


The title of your book, The Great Unconformity, seems a bit strange. Why choose that one?
Because I think it makes people curious. What is the Great Unconformity? I just loved the title when I first discovered it as a point of geological interest in the Grand Canyon. It made me curious and it seemed to fit the mode we’re in as a society right now. For me, the Great Unconformity became a powerful metaphor, because on one hand, mankind itself is the great Disruptive Unconformity. We are an evolutionary force. Nature is bending to our will. We’re changing climates. We’re acidifying oceans. We as a species are having a profound impact on the Earth, to the point where we act as a disruptive evolutionary force.

Then I pivot to our imagination and creativity. It is only through awareness that mankind can hold a billion years between their hand at the geological Great Unconformity. The Great Unconformity then becomes a good metaphor for the positive side, the creative side of mankind’s role as an evolutionary force.


This book unites several genres: Current Events, Nature Writing, and Memoir. Was it hard to find a path to bring those together? Was that something you had experience with, or not? How did that work as a writer?
It’s the most challenging writing I’ve ever done. I had to keep track of three narrative arcs. Each chapter had to touch on each of those three arcs in one way or another. I’m a very serious person who delves into policy, and I look at trends. It’s just part of who I am. I wanted to make sure I carried that sense of awareness and my insights about sustainability and climate change all the way through the book.

But I wanted to also tell my personal story about coming to Alaska almost forty years ago, and where I am now. I think it’s an interesting and intriguing story because I have had, and still have, lots of adventures.

This leads into the third narrative arc, Nature Writing, which is a source of constant inspiration and solace for me. When you work on behalf of the environment in a deep red state like Alaska, you face challenges. Weekly. You can get discouraged. My treks into the wilderness bring me back around again.


Who is the book written for? You’ve gone on speaking tours. Do you think your message is resonating, or will resonate, with your intended audience?
I wrote the book for everyone who cares about the environment. You don’t have to be a scientist to read this. I pull in technical and deep information, but I make it accessible and convincing to everyone.

My one-line description of the book is that it’s an adventure memoir wrapped up in the global events of sustainability and climate change. I want to emphasize the adventure part. I try to make this book a fun read, so you’re climbing Denali with me; we’re running wild rivers; we’re in danger in a kayak. I take you for a wild ride, as well as an insightful path through the challenges that lay ahead.

The target audience for me is the Millennial Generation, the next great civic generation of America. I want to inspire them to pick up the challenge, and to learn from the insights as well as the mistakes along the way. When I’ve talked to student audiences, I feel my talk really resonates, the book really resonates, with a lot of students engaged in natural resource management, environmental policy, community sustainability.

Students come up to me and say thank you. They believe in their work, but it’s discouraging. The news every day is quite daunting. Particularly in the current Trump administration. There’s rollback after rollback. We’re not moving forward. We’re moving backward. So, what are those things we can affect that lay beyond politics? That are making a difference in our society? Students thank me for these points of hope.

Kate Troll will appear at the Anchorage Barnes & Noble on Friday, January 12, 2018 at 6 pm.
Invite your friends:
 Facebook event

Literary Roundup | January 5-18, 2018

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Happy New Year, everyone! The Roundup’s back in action after a wee holidays break, and we’re gearing up to announce upcoming 49 Writers programs. Thanks to all who sent holiday notes and membership renewals, and keep us posted on your literary news! Thanks from 49 Writers! 

SOUTHCENTRAL

ANCHORAGE | Friday, January 5, from 4 to 6 PM | Ten Poets is holding its First Friday poetry lineup at the Great Harvest Bread Co. Many poets will be reading their original broadsheets, including Marilyn Borell and Sherry Eckrich. This free event will be repeated monthly.

ANCHORAGE | January 3-31, 2018 | Author Lynn Lovegreen is leading an online workshop on Writing Young Adult / New Adult Historical Romance. The course will practice writing romance grounded in historical fact considering setting, character, and plot points, and ensure the language is appropriate for the story. Lynn will provide lectures and short homework assignments, and participants will be encouraged to add to the conversation with their own ideas and knowledge. Learn more at https://www.heartsthroughhistory.com.

ANCHORAGE | January 12, 2018: Kate Troll will be at Barnes and Nobles to sign her book, THE GREAT UNCONFORMITY: REFLECTIONS ON HOPE IN AN IMPERILED WORLD at 6 pm. The book is an adventure memoir wrapped up in the global events of sustainability and climate change. She will also give a short talk on TEN POINTS of HOPE for ADDRESSING SUSTAINABILITY and CLIMATE CHANGE. FB event

ANCHORAGE | Wednesday, January 17, 2018 from 7-8:30 PM | The Alaska Writers Guild presents “Speaking Volumes: Audiobooks & Narration.” Alaska-based audiobook narrators Basil Sands and Suzie Althens will discuss their roles as narrators, and how to turn your own published works into audiobooks available to the public. Located at Barnes and Noble. Free.

ANCHORAGE | The UAA Campus Bookstore is holding multiple literary events through January and February 2018. All events are free and open to the public.

  • Tuesday, January 30, 2018 from 5-7 PM | Kim Patterson presentsBecoming Visible: Social Justice by the Hands of Faith-based and Grassroots Organizations. Patterson is former director of UAA Student Support Services and author of Embracing the Homeless Community. He founded Connections Alaska, Inc, with a commitment to renewal initiatives within social and faith-based communities.
  • Monday, February 5, 2018 from 5-7 PM | Let Your Memoir Be Your Resistance: How Booker Wright’s granddaughter, Yvette Johnson, turned his story, and her journey to uncover it, into American History. Johnson will discuss her work on Song and Silence which details her journey in learning about her grandfather’s murder and how it changed history. Johnson currently works as the Executive Director of The Booker Wright Project.
  • Tuesday, February 6, 2018 from 5-7 PM | On the Frontiers of an Inner Life: Kathleen W. Tarr presents Thomas Merton’s 1968 Journey to Alaska. Tarr discusses her newly released book, We Are All Poets Here(VP&D House, 2018). Part memoir, part biography, she explores his life as a sequestered monastic, which he led for 27 years as he authored many of his own books on spirituality and civil rights. Tarr herself was named a William Shannon Fellow by the International Thomas Merton Society and currently sits on the board of the Alaska Humanities Forum.
  • Saturday, February 10, 2018 from 1-3 PM | Camilla Kennedy presents Thinking About Environmental Economics in Alaska. Topics include environmental externalities, Total Economic Value (TEV) of natural resources and ecosystems, and understanding the interactions between our economic system and environment. Kennedy currently teaches Environmental Economics and Policy at UAA and works at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on regulatory policy analysis.
  • Monday, February 19, 2018 from 5-7 PM | The United States’ Role in the Arctic and What Alaskans Need to Know about Plans and Future Developments. Notable guest speakers Lawson Brigham, Randy “Church” Kee, and Darren Prokop come together to discuss their views about Alaska and the changing Arctic. Brigham is Distinguished Professor of Geography & Arctic Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  He was chair of the Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment and previously was a career US Coast Guard officer who commanded four ships, including the polar icebreaker Polar Sea. Kee, Major General USAF (Ret.) had a 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force and is currently a career pilot in possession of three graduate degrees. In 2016, he became the Executive Director of the Arctic Domain Awareness Center. Prokop is Professor of Logistics at UAA. He has published research in leading academic journals. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Manitoba and author of numerous books including GlobalSupply Chain Security and Management: Appraising Programs and Preventing Crimes (2017).
  • Monday, February 26, 2018 from 5-7 PM | Shuvajit Bhattacharya presents Fluid Storage and Induced Earthquakes. Dr. Shuvajit Bhattacharya teaches in the Department of Geological Sciences at UAA.  His current research areas are in energy geosciences, geophysics, petrophysics, induced seismicity, and predictive data analytics. Prior to joining UAA, he completed multiple projects for energy exploration and fluid storage in North America, Australia, South Africa, and India.
  • Tuesday, February 27 from 5-7 PM | Hugh Gunner Deery III presents Buddhist Epistemology, the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and study of knowledge. At this event, types of knowing linked to Buddhist concepts of self,mental cognition, dependent origination, and causation will be explained. Deery III teaches Ancient and Medieval philosophy in the Philosophy Dept. at UAA.  He received a BA in philosophy at Grand Valley State University (Grand Rapids, MI) and an MA in philosophy from Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO).

 

INTERIOR

FAIRBANKS | January 20, 2018 at 7 PM Launch reading with many Alaskan writers who contributed to the latest issue of The Northern Review at the Bear Gallery, sponsored by the Fairbanks Arts AssociationTNR is a multidisciplinary journal exploring human experience in the Circumpolar North. This issue is guest edited by Maureen Long, Eric Heyne, Andrew Richardson & Jamella Hagen. More about the issue: http://journals.sfu.ca/nr/index.php/nr/issue/view/46


SOUTHEAST

WRANGELL | Flying Island Writers & Artists group meets every other Monday 6:30-8 PM. Contact Vivian Faith Prescott for more information doctorviv@yahoo.com.

JUNEAU | January 9, 2018, 7-9 PM | 49 Writers Resolve to Write: A gathering of all lovers of literature to learn more about memberships, programs, and opportunities at 49 Writers. Potluck: please bring a dish to share. Held at the personal residence of Amy Houck. For questions call Amy Houck at 907-988-8000 or Katie Bausler at 907-321-2755. FB event.

PETERSBURG | Ernestine Hayes, current Alaska Writer Laureate, is holding two public events at the Petersburg Public Library. Hayes, a member of the Tlingit nation, is best known for award-winning Blonde Indian, an Alaska Native Memoir. Her latest book, The Tao of Raven, weaves narratives and reflection in the context of the story Raven and the Box of Daylight.

  • Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 6:30 PM | Author event: An opportunity to meet Hayes, hear from her, and experience her writing.
  • Friday, January 12, 2018 from 1-3 PM | Workshop: Writing Our Lives. Through exercises and discussion, participants will draw on their own life experiences to explore personal and cultural histories. Hayes will offer her own insights into writing and the publishing process. Open to any writing level. Free, but registration is required.

 

SOUTHWEST

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ARCTIC 

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CONFERENCES, RETREATS, and RESIDENCIES

TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST | March 1: Deadline for applications for THE VOICES OF THE WILDERNESS ARTIST RESIDENCY PROGRAM for the TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST. Participating artists are paired with a wilderness specialist and actively engaged in research, monitoring, and education stewardship projects. The idea is to give artists a sense of the stewardship behind America’s public lands, fostering an artistic exploration of natural and cultural treasures. As a volunteer, each artist will assist with some basic ranger duties, which may include boarding a tour boat to provide education, participating in research projects, walking a beach to remove litter, or other generally light duties. However, the emphasis for the artist will be experiencing the wilderness and exploring how to communicate its inspirational qualities through their artwork. The Tongass National Forest has five participating Wilderness Areas: · Kootznoowoo Wilderness, Admiralty Island National Monument near Juneau · Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness near Ketchikan · South Baranof or West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness near Sitka · Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness near Juneau · Tebenkof Bay Wilderness near Petersburg. Residencies are open to art professionals in all media: visual (two and three-dimensional: photographers, sculptors, painters, etc.), audio (musicians, singers, composers), film (video/filmmakers), performance artists, and writers (poets, fiction, essays, storytellers). More information and application information is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r10/home/?cid=stelprd3820977.

WASHINGTON | Friday and Saturday, March 2-3, 2018 | Artsmith is presenting Writer Island: Generosity and Joy with Peggy Shumaker. The workshop will focus on language that opposes hatred and fear, using curiosity and pleasure as a way to heal trauma and pain. Held on Orcas Island, Washington. Visit www.orcasartsmith.org for more information and to register.

SKAGWAY | May 30 – June 2, 2018 | North Words Writers Symposium in Skagway is now taking registrations for its 2018. Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief, is the keynote writer. Other faculty include Juneau Writer Laureate and Ernestine Hayes, Portland novelist Willy Vlautin, Juneau poet Emily Wall, Ketchikan writer-artist Ray Troll, Washington writer Colleen Mondor, and Fairbanks writer Frank Soos. Features include author panels, writing workshops, and outdoor activities. Limited to 40 participants. Organizers include Buckwheat Donahue, Jeff Brady, Daniel Henry, and John Straley. For more information, see http://nwwriterss.com.

 

OPPORTUNITIES and AWARDS for WRITERS

JUNEAU and more | Baby Raven Reads is a project by Sealaska Heritage intended for Alaska Native kindergarteners to improve early literacy skills. The project is looking for Community Liaisons to be points of contact in each community. Liaisons will attend annual professional development training, collect data, and participate in monthly classroom-modeled activities. Resumes can be sent to cara.gilbert@sealaska.com or faxed to 907-586-9293 Attn: Cara Gilbert.

 

What’s missing? Submit your event or announcement to appear in the next Roundup. Send an email with “Roundup” as the subject to info@49Writers.org. Deadline Wednesday prior at the latest.

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 

 

49 Writers, Inc. is supported, in part, by a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Spotlight on Alaska Books | The Great Unconformity by Kate Troll

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I live in one of the best places, bar none, to appreciate the wild natural environment. I also live in one of the most politically difficult places to work on its behalf: Alaska. I arrived in Alaska thirty-nine years ago with a Master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. From my initial professional trial by fire trying to reconcile logging with world-class eagle habitat, to convincing former Governor Sarah Palin to address the effects of climate change, the Alaska School of Hard Knocks has been my calling.

I also live with a personal sense of wonder in the presence of mountains, rivers and oceans. It is only by immersing myself headlong into wilderness that I know I belong to something far vaster than my career. Touching this wonder sustains my ability to work on behalf of the environment no matter how difficult the politics may be.

~from The Great Unconformity: Reflections on Hope in an Imperiled World by Kate Troll

Part adventure, part memoir, part policy – always exciting – The Great Unconformity takes you on a fun, fast-paced tour of environmental, political and spiritual issues surrounding sustainability and climate change. Troll wraps her stories with the wisdom of recognized global thinkers. From climbing Denali in Alaska to running the Grand Canyon in winter, Troll’s stories take you on an intriguing journey of discovery and inspiration. Sprinkled in between are her insights gained from a career in fish politics, coastal management and energy policy. Never far behind is the voice of an activist on the frontline of climate change, and her sense of wonder that comes from living among wilderness.

Through Troll’s examination of events we see clearly that mankind is an evolutionary force, the great disruptive unconformity. However, through her stories and insights we learn than creativity is also an evolutionary force, the great awareness unconformity.  Which great unconformity will win out as the world races toward the two degree danger benchmark set by climate scientists around the world? Want to be part of the great awareness unconformity?  Read the book, enjoy the story ride and learn that there is indeed hope that worldwide climate change can be tackled.

 

“I devoured this book and learned a great deal from its many wise and colorful stories. Kate Troll is a soldier of sustainability, the Naomi Klein of Alaska, showing us the way into a better and brighter future. If we listen, and act.” —Kim Heacox, Author of The Only Kayak

The Great Unconformity … sets a high standard for courage and determination in this, our last chance to get it right.” —Kathleen Dean Moore, Author, Great Tide Rising

“To read The Great Unconformity is to spend time with Kate Troll who is delightful and inspiring company. If you only read one book on climate change, and what you can do about it, make it this one.—Heather Lende, Author of NY Times Bestseller, If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name

 

Kate Troll is an op-ed columnist, wilderness adventurer, speaker on conservation and climate issues and a member of 49 Writers. She moved to Alaska in 1977 and has more than 22 years’ experience in climate and energy policy, coastal management and fisheries.

As Executive Director of the Alaska Conservation Voters, Kate helped draft the creation of the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund and lobbied for the Sustainable Energy Act. She served as Executive Director for United Fishermen of Alaska. Internationally, Kate was Regional Fisheries Director for the Marine Stewardship Council, a global eco-label program.

She was elected to public office twice. Kate was appointed by Governor Palin to serve on the Climate Mitigation Advisory Board, and was the only Alaskan invited to participate in Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2008 Global Climate Summit.

From 2010-2016, she wrote for the Juneau Empire and is currently a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News.

Note: Kate Troll will appear at the Anchorage Barnes & Noble on Friday, January 12, at 6 pm.
Facebook event

The book is available in softcover and kindle. The publisher is MFM Publishing, Los Angeles.
Available from Barnes & Noble  |  Amazon

 

Guest Blogger Meagan Macvie | Publishing (and Learning) with Ooligan Press

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This is the final post from our December guest blogger Meagan Macvie. 49 Writers was pleased to sponsor Meagan’s southcentral Alaska book tour this month.


I was nearly forty when I got serious about writing creatively, and once committed, I did so with a fierce urgency. I left full-time employment, joined writing groups, attended conferences, hosted readings, and was lucky to get into a marvelous graduate program, Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop. My creative thesis, which began as a loose collection of semi-autobiographical vignettes, emerged three years later as a novel-in-progress called Conspiring to Be Meri.

I graduated in 2014 with a Master of Fine Arts in fiction and worked another year on the novel-in-progress. The process seemed long—so much revising and re-thinking, editing and polishing—but I was determined to improve my skills and write the best book I possibly could. In summer 2015, I researched and selected agents, and cautiously began sending out queries. A few responded but nothing materialized.

By fall 2015, nearly six years after I’d left my full-time job to pursue writing, I was feeling defeated. I had published a few stories in journals, but most of my efforts had gone into writing the stalled novel. Was the story terrible? Was the writing awful? What was I doing? Publication seemed like a dream destined to stay out of reach.

Looking back, the novel wasn’t yet ready to query in 2015, even after all that work. The first chapter wasn’t good enough, and the truth is, I was still discovering the story and my own voice. One day, I called and lamented to my good friend and amazing writer Carrie Mesrobian. She encouraged me not to give up and suggested I consider pitching directly to Portland State University’s Ooligan Press.

Carrie had been asked to blurb one of Ooligan’s young adult titles—Eliot Treichel’s A Series of Small Maneuvers—and thought my book would be a good fit for the press. Carrie had read my manuscript and knew the story took place in Alaska. She said the press published books set in the Pacific Northwest, written by PNW writers (I was living in Washington).

I looked up Ooligan, read their submission guidelines closely, and found out about their annual Write to Publish conference, a one-day event focused on the business of publishing. The conference was mere months away—January 2016—so I registered and signed up for a pitch block with the Ooligan Press acquisition editors.

Next, I wrote a NEW first chapter, revised the manuscript AGAIN, and prepared my pitch. I made snappy business cards to help me network and put “writer” in big letters on the cards, which made me feel legit. I practiced my pitch aloud with a friend, highlighting points I hoped would convince the acquisition editors that my manuscript was perfect for the press.

Write to Publish turned out to be a fabulous introduction to the world of publishing (summarized here). The pitch went better than I expected and led to a partial manuscript request. That was followed by a full manuscript request and eventually an offer to publish contingent on a full press vote (more about the process here). Ultimately, I signed a contract with Ooligan Press and the novel-in-progress became my debut, The Ocean in My Ears.

From the energy I felt during the pitch to my subsequent conversations with the publisher, I connected with the people at Ooligan immediately. We share similar values and aesthetics. I wanted a press that cared about me as a writer and person. One that focused first on the literary quality of the work and second on the manuscript’s marketability. I wanted to be with people who saw the possibilities in my work, who encouraged me to take risks and were willing to take those risks with me. Ooligan exceeded my expectations.

There aren’t many university presses out there doing what Ooligan does. As a student-run press, the staff is energized, creative and excited to try new things. I was nervous about being a first-time author, and I liked the idea of working with other learners. They offered me a solid contract, and I began an amazing 18-month process that included several rounds of intensive (incredible) developmental edits, choosing a title, designing a cover, and producing a gorgeous finished book.

I loved the experience! Maybe you would, too….

Ooligan Press publishes literary and genre fiction (including young adult). If you think your work might be a good fit, check out their submission guidelines and these pro tips staff provided just for this article:

  • Follow the rules. Every publisher is going to have a different way they want queries submitted, but to the best of your ability, follow the guidelines. Breaking from a publisher’s preferred submission method doesn’t help your manuscript get attention, it shows that you’re not willing or unable to follow instructions, which can be a red flag for editing and marketing in the future. Focus on making a stand-out query—we personally get very excited when we see a query with a punchy synopsis, interesting comp titles, and a real connection with our press’s interests.
  • Focus the synopsis. Pick one storyline that gets to the heart of the manuscript. Bringing in too many elements can quickly distract from what makes your manuscript special.
  • Three critical things. Cover in the synopsis the setup or background of the story, the conflict, and what the conflict inspires in the main character.
  • Position your manuscript. Do your research on our backlist—is your manuscript a good fit? Letting us know that your book has a similar tone or theme to another book shows us that you know why you’re submitting to Ooligan. Also, position your manuscript within the market. Give us two titles that, when combined, would give the same feeling as your book. (Stay away from large-name authors or books, though. It’s hard for us to get a sense of the market we’d be looking at if you compare yourself to Harry Potter.)
  • #MSWL (our Manuscript Wish List). We are particularly interested in a good YA titles at the moment and some science fiction (particularly near-future or climate change-inspired). But really, we like to see all things that fit our submission guidelines! We love working with authors because they’re incredibly creative and come up with things we wouldn’t have imagined ourselves.
  • Choosing Ooligan. Why us? Not only should we have an idea how your book fits Ooligan’s interests, we should also know what about our press appeals to you. Don’t be afraid to mention your connection with Meagan and this article!

    Meagan Macvie was born and raised in Soldotna, Alaska. Her debut novel, The Ocean in My Ears, is set in her hometown. The novel was published in 2017 by Portland State University’s Ooligan Press and was a finalist for the 2016 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. In their starred review, Kirkus calls The Ocean in My Ears an “unforgettable journey to adulthood.” Meagan is a former government communications director and college composition instructor who now writes full-time and teaches writing workshops through her local schools and libraries. She earned her MFA in fiction from Pacific Lutheran University and a BA in English Literature from the University of Idaho. Her work has appeared in Narrative, Barrelhouse, and Fugue, as well as the regional library anthology, Timberland Writes Together. In 2017, her short story, “Dinosaur Guys,” was awarded second place in the Willamette Writers Kay Snow Writing Contest. Meagan now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter, as well as a dog, two goats, and seven chickens. Find her online at meaganmacvie.com and on Twitter and Instagram as @meaganmacvie.

Guest Blogger Meagan Macvie | A Certain Necessary Faith

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The first time I visited New York City, people asked me (after I revealed I was from Alaska) if I’d ever lived in an igloo. The truth disappointed them. I’d never even seen a real house made of ice.

An igloo would’ve been much more exciting than our unremarkable middle-class house on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Aside from location—2,000 miles away from the continental US—my hometown of Soldotna is, in many ways, a typical small town. Everyone knows your business; you wish you didn’t know theirs.

As a teenager, I felt trapped. My greatest escape was through a screen—television, movies and music videos—and the daily routines of my small existence came up short when compared to, say, Magnum P.I.’s glamorous life. Although the irony that he lived on a tiny island, smaller even than the Kenai Peninsula, is not lost on me.

The Teen Me hated being so isolated, and I loathed winter—not the snow (or lack thereof, some years) but the dark loneliness. Rebellious ideas occupied my mind during the frozen season, burning hotter as the weather turned colder.

I didn’t agree with my pastor, who saw me as a man’s eventual “help mate.” I didn’t agree with my parents, who suggested I earn a teaching certificate as a “back up.” I didn’t agree with the boy who called me a “tease” and counseled me to be careful if I went to college because I was likely to be raped. As if rape were a condition women bring upon themselves.

Deep down, I harbored the secrets of an almost-woman who’d grown up in a world she resisted. A culture that expected her to be things she didn’t want to be. I acted as my own double agent, dreaming subversive dreams while playing the small town girl.

I first moved out of Alaska to attend the University of Idaho in 1990. Being away was more difficult than I’d imagined. People dressed differently. Ate weird food. Even their voices sounded off to me.

Walking the pathways of the university’s alien campus—a gaggle of brick buildings plopped amidst the golden wheat fields and rolling hills of the Palouse—I carried an ache. I longed for the Kenai Peninsula’s familiar landscape like one might a phantom limb, or so I might have said at the time. Finally home for winter break, I shut myself in my childhood room where the air smelled like me. I never wanted to leave again.

I stayed home a semester and attended the Kenai Peninsula College, working in a floral shop and going to church on Sundays. Maybe I could change myself. Live my life in Soldotna. Fit in better.

I couldn’t. The following semester I went back to Idaho.

It took nearly ten years for me to learn how to leave Alaska. Every summer while in college I returned home to work in retail or as a waitress or for nine terrible hours in a cannery. After graduation, I spent nearly a year at the ARC of Anchorage as an Americorps volunteer, but my social worker career failed before it began because I couldn’t detach from the pain of others.

I ultimately left Alaska for Washington and became a public servant, crafting documents like policy briefs, new releases, and speeches. State government communications required me to imagine myself into another person and write from perspectives that never were quite my own. After more than a decade, I began to wonder if I still had my own perspective.

In December 2009, I quit my job to write creatively. I left everything I knew and took a chance on myself—an act not altogether unfamiliar. There’s more to that story, of course. I’ve been extremely lucky and supported by those in my life. But a conviction, a certain necessary faith, was required for me to be willing to plunge myself into the unknown abyss.

Some people are born into places that suit them, where they live their lives happy and contented. I envy those people. I seem unable to live in my birth home, yet to this day, there is no sight that takes my breath away more than staring out from the Kenai bluff at the Chigmit Mountains rising beyond the Cook Inlet. What I feel for Alaska is complicated. A mix of raw and passionate, painful and hopeful.

Love, in other words.

I still hold a piece of home gently in my heart, where I can return again and again. But it was the act of leaving Alaska that made me who I am, and a perspective gained by distance that inspired my debut, The Ocean in My Ears. The novel is a kind of tribute to the place that birthed me and the people I first loved. I never thought I’d write a book, but there are so many things I never thought I would do.


Meagan Macvie was born and raised in Soldotna, Alaska. Her debut novel, The Ocean in My Ears, is set in her hometown. The novel was published in 2017 by Portland State University’s Ooligan Press and was a finalist for the 2016 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. In their starred review, Kirkus calls The Ocean in My Ears an “unforgettable journey to adulthood.” Meagan is a former government communications director and college composition instructor who now writes full-time and teaches writing workshops through her local schools and libraries. She earned her MFA in fiction from Pacific Lutheran University and a BA in English Literature from the University of Idaho. Her work has appeared in NarrativeBarrelhouse, and Fugue, as well as the regional library anthology, Timberland Writes Together. In 2017, her short story, “Dinosaur Guys,” was awarded second place in the Willamette Writers Kay Snow Writing Contest. Meagan now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter, as well as a dog, two goats, and seven chickens. Find her online at meaganmacvie.com and on Twitter and Instagram as @meaganmacvie.

 

Dawnell Smith | Opening in 2018: The Writer’s Block

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By Dawnell Smith (and on behalf of her Block partners: Vered Mares, Teeka Ballas, Kathy McCue)

In the fall of 2015, we walked into the Adults Only sex store on Spenard Road in Anchorage to lay the groundwork for building a community bookstore art space and cafe. The property held not just a storied past, but the stories of people trying to survive and make sense of their lives.

The Writer’s Block Bookstore & Café has risen up in that space because the community has helped lift it. We all want to make sense of our lives, and books, art, and gathering spaces help us do it.

At The Block, storytelling will continue to resonate through the books, music, artwork, performance, and conversation that happen when people gather and create. Formal or not, the sharing of experiences and ideas helps us see what we once missed, and care about what we once dismissed.

The tall fortress-like fence that once surrounded the old sex store has long since vanished. We tore it down years ago. In its wake, at long last—a building with many windows and a clear line of sight to the neighborhoods we belong to and support.

Those neighborhoods extend beyond surveyed lines and street signs. They reach across the city and state to where Alaskans document our time, or imagine another; to where people live the storied lives that reflect us all; to where the keepers of facts and tales absorb and release them with care.

Our mission to support Alaska writers and makers will thread through The Block’s offerings, from the menu of locally made international comfort foods and beers from small neighborhood breweries, to events that nourish book clubs, knitting groups, kids’ literacy, theatrical expressions, and much more.

As the community engages and helps define the bookstore café, we will see patterns emerge that help us collectively make sense of life, at least while sitting with a good cup of coffee or wine, savoring words, catching the small phrasings of under-stories.

Seriously coming soon!
We lost the 2016 construction season, and then permitting delays and unexpected engineering requirements pushed a 2017 opening out of reach, but we’re opening in January 2018.

That’s a hard date. We know this for sure, because one storyteller (one of us) and the hosts of Arctic Entries spoke it out loud in front of 1,600 people last week.

So how can writers and community members get involved?

A piece of The Block
We started a Writer’s Block Community Investment Fund to invite our supporters and community members to get a piece of The Block. Participants in the fund will support the first year of operations by investing in things like the opening book inventory, building and landscape completion, outreach and licenses, and the coordination of readings, concerts and performances.

We feel incredibly grateful to the commitment of our community supporters and investors. For more information, contact us at info@writersblockak.com.

What about books and other works?
We have built our opening inventory through local and national sources, but our vision includes putting an emphasis on Alaska writers and works. We will hold author readings and workshops, and use visual methods to draw customers to Alaska titles and writers.

We will also stock books, craft items, artwork and other items on consignment. We will soon roll out information on how to contribute, but feel free to contact us at info@writersblockak.com if interested.

We already have gift certificates on sale online and will ship them anywhere in the U.S.

What’s happening at The Block?
We welcome a range of events and activities at The Block, from homework and writing groups to debates, comedy, music and performance. The simple, but ample stage and intimate seating will suit listening sessions with singer songwriters, storytellers, poets, and others.

We intend to do Sunday brunch concerts and monthly readings, among other things, and respond to those looking for a place to share what they do and make. If you want to hold an event at The Block or get on our email list to get updates on what’s happening, send us a note: info@writersblockak.com.

Block food and beverages
Studying, researching, reading, writing, thinking, conniving—it all requires fuel. Our menu will focus on good-value international comfort food, with soups, sandwiches, side dishes, and a simple, but changing menu.

We may not quite have our alcohol license when we open, but we will soon. We will have local beers on tap, literary wines by the glass, a selection of teas and canned drinks, plus coffee by a small-batch roaster.

Block jobs
We’re well into our hiring process, but we always welcome resumes from collaborative, book-loving folks who want to work in our kitchen and bookstore café. Right now, we’re particularly interested in people who know their way around a kitchen and have food management experience. Find out more in our job posting.

Dawnell Smith lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska, with her partner, kids, rescue dogs and renegade shrews. She makes a living in the nonprofit and gig economy. She’s also a managing partner with The Writer’s Block Bookstore & Cafe. When slivers of time allow, she writes essays, poems and other mixed-genre literary work. She is the recipient of a 2015 Rasmuson Fellowship. 

Deb Vanasse | Writer, Interrupted

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Last week, my husband and I made a trip we didn’t want to make, back to the Midwest to visit a friend who’s failing fast with early-onset Alzheimer’s. A good visit, but under incredibly sad circumstances. You’ve made trips like that, too, for all sorts of reasons. Life doesn’t stop. We make room.

I hauled my laptop and notes for my novel on the plane, in the rental car, to the house where we stayed in Indiana, to the Air BnB where we stayed in Illinois, and back on the plane to Seattle. Only once did I open the laptop, and that was on the flight home, when I did some freelance editing for a client.

“Beyond talent lie all the usual words,” James Baldwin said. “Discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.”

Endurance is all about hanging on, about not giving up despite interruptions, about not allowing interruptions to become excuses for giving up.

Having penned a few novels, I have a decent idea of what it will take to finish the one I’m working on now. At this point, I’m revising, switching up some of the structure and expanding the perspective. Each work day, I rise early and line-edit the previous day’s work, then forge ahead in the manuscript. If all goes well, I work through four to six pages a day.

At that rate, I’ll wrap up revisions by March. But there’s no insuring that all will go well. The quality of the work matters more than the self-imposed deadline. If I discover some huge blind spot, some way in which the manuscript is crying out for change, I’ll address it, schedule be damned.  The work interrupts itself.

I know writers who are rigid about momentum. In the throes of a project, they write daily—weekends, holidays, every day.

I’m not one of them. Weekends interrupt my writing. My husband works out of town, and I only see him on weekends. Holidays interrupt. Family visits, and I spend time with them. In theory, I could rise early to work on my book, but it’s hard to get up before a toddler who rises at 5 am.

Still, the work never stops. I park the story in my mind. For years, my trick for falling asleep has been to insert myself into that story-point and set my subconscious to work. Insights come in the morning (or in the middle of the night). They come when I’m walking through the woods and along the beach, or when I’m in the shower.

Maybe a writer who’s immersed in a story can’t really be interrupted. What matters, as Baldwin notes, is that we carry on.

Around and through interruptions, Deb Vanasse has authored seventeen books with six different publishers. 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, where she continues to write while doing freelance editing, coaching, and writing instruction.

 

Guest Blogger Meagan Macvie | Wading Into Deeper Water

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photo by Clark Fair

There are so many reasons I chose to quit my full-time job, start writing fiction, earn my MFA, and complete a novel. In part, I was frustrated by inequalities I observed in the world and angry about how helpless I felt to change them.

I wanted to talk about racism and sexism, ask questions, challenge cultural norms, and TAKE ACTION.

Or at least, have a conversation. Maybe just a moment or two of deeper reflection.

But I was busy, and everyone around me was busy working, parenting, surviving. We barely had the energy to keep our lives together.

Still, at night I would stare into the darkness of my room and consider the origin stories of love and hatefulness. I would wade into the deeper waters of my mind and wonder, How do people become bigots? How do people become great humanitarians? Can we be both at once?

Am I both?

I thought about my own origin story. My town. The faces of everyone I had ever loved. The faces of the people who had hurt me.

Do I hate them?

One day, I attended a free writing class at my local bookstore. This was when I was still employed, and I’d squeezed the class in during a weekend. The prompt was a common one: write your earliest memory. I had a foggy sense of a time when I was maybe four years old, trying to impress my uncle with the snazzy pink socks I was wearing. In the story, the little girl—me—falls on her face, and the father gets angry. I wondered, Why did that girl want to impress her uncle so bad? Why was that father angry?

I wanted to know, so I began writing more about this girl. My present and my past weaved together. I felt no loyalty to the facts of the experiences; I privileged the questions over all else. I wrote to interrogate the memories. I wrote to understand the people.

I named her Meri. The more I wrote about her, the less like me she became. That made it easier.

Questions lurked in the deeper waters—about parenting, politics, whiteness, the environment. Exploring these questions required me to dream up new scenarios for this fierce and vulnerable teen girl, Meri, to investigate both her own preconceptions and those of the people around her.

I began to think of Meri in ways I think of my daughter, holding both girls in my heart with compassion, forgiveness, and a dogged love. This helped me push through difficult parts in the story, and also helped me acknowledge and accept certain uglier parts of myself.

Initially, I thought I’d write a series of related Meri vignettes. However, the more I wrote, the more connective tissue grew between the best of the vignettes. As I cut away pieces that didn’t work, the bones of a young adult novel emerged.

The day the Advance Reader Copy of the book arrived in our mailbox, my daughter excitedly opened the package. She snapped a picture and shared it on Instagram with the caption:

Words cannot express how proud I am. Many years in the making, much love. The Ocean in My Ears, by none other than my mom.

I can’t explain exactly why her reaction meant so much to me, but even now I well up when I think of her then. Never had I realized so much as in that moment how even as children want their parents to be proud of them, so, too, do parents appreciate the admiration of their children.

The book required deep reflection to the point of exhaustion. It required me to listen and ask questions and challenge cultural norms. It took me to uncomfortable places and forced me to wade into deeper waters. There’s ugliness inside this book because there is ugliness inside me.

But there is also beauty.


Meagan Macvie was born and raised in Soldotna, Alaska. Her debut novel, The Ocean in My Ears, is set in her hometown. The novel was published in 2017 by Portland State University’s Ooligan Press and was a finalist for the 2016 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. In their starred review, Kirkus calls The Ocean in My Ears an “unforgettable journey to adulthood.” Meagan is a former government communications director and college composition instructor who now writes full-time and teaches writing workshops through her local schools and libraries. She earned her MFA in fiction from Pacific Lutheran University and a BA in English Literature from the University of Idaho. Her work has appeared in NarrativeBarrelhouse, and Fugue, as well as the regional library anthology, Timberland Writes Together. In 2017, her short story, “Dinosaur Guys,” was awarded second place in the Willamette Writers Kay Snow Writing Contest. Meagan now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter, as well as a dog, two goats, and seven chickens. Find her online at meaganmacvie.com and on Twitter and Instagram as @meaganmacvie.

UPCOMING EVENTS in ALASKA
Friday, December 15, 2017 | Palmer
4 PM ~ Fireside Books, in-store book signing
6:45 PM ~ Ticketed author dinner at Turkey Red restaurant – $30 per ticket

Saturday, December 16, 2017  | Anchorage
3-5 PM ~ Workshop: “I’m Just Being Myselfie: How Young Narrators Come Alive on the Page (Without Coming Off Like Posers) Register here.
7 PM ~ 49 Writers Reading & Craft Talk Series event, “Writing from a Big, Small Place”, Indigo Tea Lounge. Author craft talk, Q&A and book signing, FREE. More info

Sunday, December 17, 2017 | Cooper Landing
2 PM ~ Reading, Q&A, and book signing at the public library. Free

Sunday, December 17, 2017 | Seward
6 pm ~ Resurrect Art Coffee House in Seward. Reading, Q&A, book signing, with local writers. Free
Facebook event

Friday, December 22, 2017  | Soldotna
4:30 pm ~ Reading, Q&A, and book signing at the library in Soldotna. Free

Spotlight on Alaska Books | Court of Twilight by Mareth Griffith

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The cold was back with a vengeance; she almost expected to see her breath hanging in the air like a frosted cloud. Very carefully, Ivy looked around the room, peering into the corners and shadows. She only saw her various twinned shadows twitching as she turned her head, tiny whirlpools of dust spinning at her feet. Nothing else.

 “Demi?” Ivy whispered.

The word scattered across the room, returning in whispers and echoes. The silence did nothing to reassure Ivy that the room was as empty as it seemed.

She took a shallow breath, feeling her fingers digging into the handle of the briefcase. Suppose there was something in the room that didn’t want Ivy’s attention. Like Carillon, sitting in her empty chair.                                                                                                ~Court of Twilight, Mareth Griffith

Twenty-year-old Ivy’s flatmate rarely leaves the house and has an unusual fascination with plants, but Ivy’s willing to overlook it because the apartment is posh and surprisingly affordable. Now, though, her flat mate’s gone missing, there are strange men hiding in the flower boxes, and a lot of unusual characters have suddenly taken an interest in the whereabouts of her peculiar acquaintance.

It’s up to Ivy to investigate, as she discovers her flatmate’s odd habits are her first glimpses of a hidden Dublin both magical and murderous, and one that may have deep connections to Ivy’s own family. The longer she stays in, the more she risks losing the world she always knew. Can she save her friend without losing herself?

“Urban fantasy with a sci-fi kick, perfect for readers who are ready for a taste of something beyond angels, demons and shadow hunters.” Books by Smithies blog

A pleasant story with some darker undertones; full of mystery and a modern-day take on the Fae world.” Kate Coe, SFF World

“Everything about this felt new and imaginative—the concept of the novel as a whole, the kind of threats faced by the characters, the concept of the fantastical elements. I never knew where it was going and I’m desperate for the sequel so that my questions can be answered.” Amazon review

A ten-year resident of Seward, Alaska, Mareth Griffith bounces between summers along the Alaskan coast and winters in various warmer locations. When she’s not writing, she works as a naturalist and wilderness guide, leading adventurous souls on epic quests to seek out glaciers, bears, and whales in the wilds of Southeast Alaska. She’s also lived and worked in New Zealand, Scotland and Northern Ireland – where her nearest neighbors included two thousand puffins and the ghost of a spectral black horse. Originally from West Virginia, Mareth attended Smith College in Massachusetts, and the University of Glasgow in Scotland, studying music and theatre. She is a member of 49 Writers and the Seward Writer’s Circle.

Court of Twilight is available in paperback and e-book, from Parvus Press. Purchase through Amazon or Indiebound