Deb: 49 Writers weekly round-up

First off, let me say that we’ve got an amazing community of writers. You’re willing to pull on your overalls, roll up your sleeves, and plunge in to help with launch Alaska’s first-ever writing center. And though the building isn’t a done deal yet, we wanted to spend the first part of this week’s round-up filling you in on some details. One caveat: you must promise to read through to the rest of the news.

While it might look like a sudden development in our planning, we’ve zeroed in on this little house after exploring lots of options: Mountain View, mid-town, South Anchorage. We’ve been wading through zoning and square foot calculations and spreadsheets for some time. And we’ve also kept ourselves open to the idea that we don’t have to have a physical home to serve writers. Even if we do get to start up in a nice little spot, we want to maintain a broad presence, offering programs not only in various Anchorage locations but throughout the state.

What’s daunting, of course, is the money. We want to keep program costs down so they’re not out of reach for struggling writers. We want to run community service programs at no cost to participants. Grants and private donations are a big part of our overall funding plan, but wherever we can find ways to self-support, that’s what we need to do – which brings us back to this little house.

My backstory includes ten years of running a B & B, four years of running a vacation rental property, and twelve years as a real estate licensee. With the help of a no-interest start-up loan from one of our Directors, we can generate enough revenue through a guesthouse (in the writing center off-times) to cover all of the annual rent and a chunk of the utilities. And with a lease, we don’t have to fret over repairs or tie up big chunks of capital.

People say the first rule of real estate is “location, location,” and this place has that: great arts-minded West End neighbors; inlet, park, Coastal Trail two blocks away; decent parking on nearby streets (free meters during most of our program times); downtown proximity and visibility. Real estate’s close-second rule is that there’s no perfect property. We’d love something bigger, newer, and free. Parking’s better in midtown; there’s cool stuff happening in Mountain View and Spenard. But when we weigh all the research, this place stands well apart from the rest, especially with its income-generating potential.

So though it’s not a done deal – should get closure by early next week – we’re excited. Workshops, clinics, classes, writers in residence, meeting space, maybe even some limited studio space (lots more of that on the horizon at TAC’s Mountain View venture, where you’ll likely find us running some programs as well), space for book signings, readings, author events, and just a place to hang out – lots of possibilities for all of us to have a home base. But first, assuming our lease comes together, we’ll have a guesthouse to get up and running. I’ll be the booking coordinator and bookkeeper to start; Andromeda’s tracking on getting the physical space up to snuff. We have one fabulous volunteer who’ll play local host (translate: run interference, scrub toilet) for most of the summer. Here’s a run-down of the other help we could use for this all-volunteer effort:

• A set-up crew to clean, hang window coverings, haul furniture in early to mid-May. Minor fix-ups may be in order. Andromeda will organize a work day or two or three or four.

• A back-up local host, from possibly May 25-June 6 and June 11-15, when our regular host is out of town. Duties: carry cell phone for guest calls (should be minimal; we’ll use a lockbox so there’s no meet and greet); clean and change linens between guests. Bonus: during the 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. cleaning timeframe, you get free run of the place as your personal studio.

• Groundskeeper to take care of flowers and lawn – one or two hours per week, end of May through September

• Any sign painters out there? We’ll need at least one.

• Possible “book nook” coordinator – there’s room for authors to donate books that guests could browse through and buy – emailing, inventory, shelving, and light bookkeeping if this project materializes; one or two hours per week?

• Possible First Friday coordinator – nice porch for small book signings – several hours to set up for the summer and then a few hours each First Friday.

• Bookings Coordinator in training: Late summer, early fall – I’ll need to train to someone to take over so I can move on to other programs. Duties: answer emails and calls, maintain booking calendar, keep track of payments and deposit. Figure 3-5 hours per week; sometimes less.

Email if you’re interested in volunteering for one or more of these tasks.  And for the multitude of other tasks and decision-making that go with the whole writing center effort, please be bold and specific about telling us how and at what level you’d like to be involved.  If you want to be part of the planning and decision-making, say so.  If there’s a certain aspect of the center that piques your interest, or if you have a special skill we should tap, tell us that, too.  Tell us more than once if you need to. 

We know the hazards of trying to do too much.  We’re moving into a new phase of delegating, but we’re not using a “planning team”; that feels too exclusive.  Jeremy Patatky has volunteered to be our third Board member for initial 501c3 paperwork (thanks, Jeremy!); he has a lot of non-profit experience and certification and he’s been tracking on a writing center project here for a long time. From there we’ll move, over a period of several months, to a bit larger Board – boards are political animals, and we’ll tread with care. Along the way we’ll be tapping advisors and all sorts of volunteers. We’ll have to decide to do some things and forego others, and not all will be happy.  But we’ll do our best to keep you informed (stay tuned through the blog!) and give you opportunities for input. 

Now, we need everyone’s creative energy for this one: a name. It’s for both writing and wayfaring (that might be the subtitle on the sign). For a vacation rental, it doesn’t have to have a name, but we’d like one for branding. 49-something might be nice, but the street number’s 415, and that could get confusing. L Street. West End. Something raven, which we like as a symbol of creativity? Novel-something, played off one former life as the Novel View bookshop? Let’s see your best brainstorming, via comments below. For now, we’re looking to name the house, not the whole writing center effort (though they could end up the same).

Now, other news. New authors looking to get a children’s book published, note that First Book is a proud sponsor of the Cheerios® Spoonfuls of Stories® New Author Contest in 2010. The contest invites previously unpublished adult authors to submit their children’s book manuscripts. This year, the contest launched March 15, 2010, with entries accepted through July 15, 2010. The winner will have their book reviewed for a potential book deal with Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, and Cheerios will provide cash prizes to the top three finalists.

It’s always fun to follow the lives of former Alaskans, especially when they write about tasty and intriguing things. This week, food writer extraordinaire Kim Severson released her newest book: Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life (Riverhead). Michael Pollan blurbs, “Kim Severson has written a spicy, thoroughly delectable memoir about the cooks who changed her life. Her touch is light and humorous, yet by the end she has managed to get at something profound about the meanings of food in our lives.” Confirming her prominence in the foodie world, Severson will be on the Rachael Ray show April 23 (check her website for more details and local showtimes). Severson has been a staff writer for The New York Times since 2004. Previously, she spent six years writing about cooking and the culture of food for the San Francisco Chronicle. Before that, she had a seven-year stint as an editor and reporter at The Anchorage Daily News. Go Kim!

Congratulations also to Effigies, which made the 20 list of Salt Publishing bestsellers in the fiscal year, and to former Alaska writer Ann Chandonnet, who has had a poem accepted for the new anthology, Of a Certain Age: Voices of Experience, edited by Vicky Lettmann and Carol Roan. The anthology will officially be published by Holy Cow! Press in June, but is already available for purchase through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The theme of the anthology is expressions, jests, harangues and barbaric yawps from writers over 55. The book will debut with coordinated readings at 7 p.m., June 17, at The Loft in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Gallery of the Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

In all the excitement, don’t forget our upcoming book club discussion of David Vann’s Legend of a Suicide on May 6.

18 thoughts on “Deb: 49 Writers weekly round-up”

  1. The problem with Raven or Alaskana type names is that since those are a dime a dozen they tend to all blend together and have the stigma of being more directed toward tourists, not the feel of a local groundswell. (I love you Raven, it's our fault, not yours.)

    Something either edgier or plainer would be nice–Inlet House (does that sounds like a drug rehab facility?), InLit, Inlet Edge, Four-One-Five, Refuge 49, Streetside 49, West End 49, etc…

    Looking into historical writers' houses might be cool to, like what was Keats' place named, or Virginia Woolf, etc. I don't know any off hand.

    Can you tell I love titling?

  2. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Great ideas, anonymous. And to keep it flowing, do consider we're on L Street. We're also next to Snow City Cafe and across from Copper Whale Inn. The next time I have a free moment (ha) I need to find out more history of the house, which could reveal some person or fact that could lead to a name. Trouble is, we need a name QUICKLY!

  3. So far, I'm liking The InLit House: Writing and Wayfaring. But keep the ideas coming…

  4. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Well, if Deb is going to admit her preference, I'll admit mine — I still really like the idea of using Raven (as in Raven House). I read the objections above, but I do like the idea of something absolutely tangible (like an Alaskan animal) that lends itself more easily to great logos, t-shirts, etc.

    But we're not the only voices here. Readers, please — help us brainstorm more!

  5. Maybe a combination of the above ideas, InLit Roost: Writers & Wayfarers with the logo being a Raven walking a trail with a book under it's wing, Raven with pen and journal, etc. They are on the ground half the time anyway. But it could be flying with a book in it's claws and the coastal trail winding underneath or even roosting on the porch or the roof of a simplistic copy of the house with a book and a pen. Many directions just that one idea could go in.

    From my minimal search of Tlingit, Athabaskan, and Eskimo symbolism, it looks like the Raven "is believed to be the creator of all things" according to an exhibition in Penn Museum. Seems fitting. Anyone with more information on animal symbols?

  6. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    I do worry about any and all abstract or double entendre names, because they are hard to Google or get phone listings for. I.e. "InLit — or is it Inlet? Or In Let? Or maybe it was Sublet? Oh never mind. Just give me the number for Copper Whale."

    Also remember that we will be dealing with a double-naming issue — guesthouse plus writing center of different names in different seasons. Let's make sure people don't get confused (including me!)

  7. My only vote would be to keep it short and simple. I think of The Loft and CityLit of Baltimore. Something that will stay in people's minds and be an easy reference to throw into conversations. Also, in terms of branding, you two have done a lot to get 49 Writers out in the public eye, and I hear more and more people talking about this blog. If the writing center is going to continue to be connected to it, you might want to capitalize on that. 49 Ravens? No, just kidding. But you know what I mean.

  8. Good thoughts, all. Keep in mind that the house is the Anchorage place. The Center is statewide. The names could be the same, but there might be good reasons for them to be different. We'll most likely want “49” in the name of the Center but not necessarily the house – it already has an address (415), as will any future facilities we might grow into. And we'll likely have "49@" events in other locations, like TAC or the museum.

    For the L St house, we want something that brands well, as in “Are you going to the workshop at XXXXX?” and “Did you see there’s a First Friday signing at XXXX?”

  9. Possible names for our new center:

    Raven's Rookery
    Raven's Rook

    49 Writers' Rookery (With a Raven logo)
    Writers' Rook

    49 Writers' Den

    The Bard House

    More ridiculous names to follow…having similar naming issues on a new script that is supposed to go out TODAY. Yikes!

  10. A "rook" is a bird in the Corvid family, related to the raven. "Raven's Raven"?

    In addition to describing a group of nesting / breeding birds, the term "rookery" has also been used as a name for dense slum housing in nineteenth-century cities, and especially London.

    Is that a connotation you want for a guest house?

  11. Good catches.
    That's why we love our commenters!

    Your rookery explanation reminded me of Boston's writing center, called "Grub Street." They refer to their board members as having a certain desired "grubbiness." But I agree — it's easier to be playful about the writing center part and terminology than about the guesthouse part. Guests may not want to think about slums OR grub.

  12. Rook is also a chess piece…a castle…and a tower.

    The Rookery is also a famous Chicago landmark.

    And — to rook means to cheat or swindle.

    But we grew up calling the place up river where the ravens gathered at night the "ravens' rook." But we were just tundra kids without google…

    How about Anony-moose, for a name?

    I kid. Sorry. I'll stick to trying to give my new script a title and keep my digital trap shut.

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