John Straley | Writing Your Book

It’s November 12, and the cherry tree has seven orange leaves clinging to its spindly limbs out in front of my office.  The rest of the leaves are a bright mâché on the wet grass.  The water and the sky have blended to the color of freshly poured cement and the air is cold as rain water down the neck.  Winter wants in.

Later this week I will be in Anchorage with Jan.  She has a conference and I will give a reading at The Writers Block on the sixteenth.  On the seventeenth I will teach an all-day workshop for 49 Writers.  Essentially, the workshop will be about writing a book and getting it positioned to have it published.  There is no magic to any of this, there are just lots of little steps to take and like the old Zen proverb says, “there are lots of ways to get lost in the world, and just a few ways to get home.”   I will talk about a few of the ways I have found to bring a book home to a reader.

To give you a bit of an idea we will talk about the decision to write a book.  Are you sure you really want to?  Maybe you just want to quit your job and move to France?  We’ll talk about what you are deciding to do if you say you want to write a book, and think about that for a bit.

Once we get past that hurtle we’ll talk about different types research, and preparation. We’ll talk about different types of outlining, what works best for you, what suits your temperament.  When do you know it is time to start writing?  From there we will dive into the different types of disciplines you will need to write a rough draft and to do the revisions, including how to fit this new time sucking beast into your life.

It can be done. Every day has to feel like a success. That’s the good news and the bad news of writing.  You just have to do it.  You have to carve out your schedule and stick to it, and if you slip up and miss a day, or two, you can’t fall apart and give up on your book but you just start right back in until you have wrestled the book to the ground.

I have published sixteen books and believe me; I am as lazy as the next person.  I am as full of self doubt as anyone, but I will show you how to get a seemingly impossibly big project done.

Once you get it done I will show you how to position your book to give it the best possible chance to find an audience in the larger world.  We will work on writing a cover letter.  We will talk about making a good impression at writing conferences.  We will talk about meeting people who can help you and how to avoid the people who can’t help you. Yes, there are secretes to this.

I can’t promise you anything but I can almost guarantee you that no matter what, we will have a fine time and we will laugh and you will learn something you didn’t know.

I look forward to seeing you in Anchorage.

Hard rain, black pavement…
a cat slinks across the road,
lifting her white feet.


49 Writers is pleased to present John Straley in Anchorage this weekend. Please join us for a reading and signing at The Writer’s Block Bookstore and Café on Friday, November 16, 2018 at 7 pm. The reading is free and open to the public. On Saturday, John will be teaching a full-day class, “More Than War Stories: Practical Steps to Write and Publish Your Book.” There are a few spots open. Register now.

John Straley has written ten Alaska novels plus several books of poetry. Straley has lived in Alaska forty-two years and was the twelfth Alaska Writer Laureate. Born in Redwood City, California, he grew up in the Seattle area and attended high school in New York City. Straley trained, with encouragement from his parents, to be a horseshoer. He attended Grinnell College before transferring to the University of Washington for a degree in writing. After college and a stint in Eastern Washington, he followed his wife to Sitka, Alaska in 1977. After moving through a number of jobs he became a private investigator. In 1985, he became a staff investigator for the Alaska Public Defender’s office in Sitka, a position he held until 2015. As an investigator, he continued to write. After being turned down by numerous publishers, in 1991 he received a tip from friend and anthropologist Richard Nelson that New York City-based Soho Press was interested in detective fiction novels. Upon submitting his manuscript for The Woman Who Married a Bear, Soho Press expressed interest in his work. His successful run of Cecil Younger mysteries has garnered critical acclaim.

During his presidency, Bill Clinton visited a bookstore and bought The Woman Who Married a Bear.

In 2006, Straley was named writer laureate for the State of Alaska; he served in that position until 2008.

In 2008, Alaska Northwest Books published Straley’s The Big Both Ways, a historical fiction work based in the Pacific Northwest.

In 2014, SOHO Press published Straley’s book, Cold Storage, Alaska. Straley returned to the Cecil Younger series, with the first book since 2001, with the release of Baby’s First Felony, in July 2018 (Soho Press).

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