Meet Deb Vanasse

In Alaska, we think we know just about everyone in our particular little social or work circles. But somehow, fellow author Deb Vanasse and I had never met, even though we share many interests and values, and are published by two of the same publishing houses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Sasquatch Books).

Enter the world of blogging, through which I met my neighbor, first via cyberspace, and then — how exciting! — in an actual face-to-face meeting at a local cafe. Which goes to show, I hope, that technology doesn’t need to keep us apart.

Deb, as you may be aware by now, has been working behind the scenes for several weeks, helping me reformat and brainstorm the future of 49 writers. Jan. 1, she will take an even more visible role helping to run and post content to this blog.

Which means you might want to know more about her! Here is a reflective, end-of-the-year post she ran at her Alaskan Authors blog this week:

It’s that reflective time of year. Being an odd combination of practical, disciplined, and impulsive, I make a business/writing plan every year but refuse to punish myself over any goals I fail to meet. Today, I’m looking back even further, to when I first started publishing, both offline and on.

Politically hopeful, economically devastating, 2008 was a year of transition for me. Defying all logic, I plunged into a full set of life changes in 2007, including a transition to writing full time that began when I moved to Anchorage in April. Living on half a pension and the diminishing returns from my investments, I focused first on the bottom line, taking on any and all writing projects that would keep my bank account in the black.

Now I know I can support myself by writing, even if it means shopping at Value Village instead of Nordstroms. In the last months of 08, with the economy in a tailspin, I’ve given myself permission to return to my first love, fiction, and to move beyond the children’s market, where I first published. That’s not to say that writing for children is in any way inferior to writing for adults or that I won’t return to it one day. But I have stories to tell that go beyond the genre.

Like many, I tiptoed through the backdoor to embrace my passion for writing. In college, I studied journalism, then switched my major to English. Given the tough road to employment for English majors, my advisor suggested certification in teaching, and in 1979, I became one of three high school teachers in the Yupik village of Nunapitchuk, Alaska. Teaching was a joy, but I set my sights on Alaska’s twenty-year teacher retirement so I’d have the time, and hopefully the money, to write.

Twenty years went by fast. I got a Masters in Humanities because an MFA seemed impractical while working fulltime and raising a family. In 1994, I took a summer writing course for teachers. Claire Rudolf Murphy encouraged me to develop a story into a novel for young adults, and when I was done, she suggested I send it to her editor, the venerable Virginia Buckley. In 1997, A Distant Enemy came out, followed by a Out of the Wilderness in 1999, the year I retired from teaching.

My plan to sashay from teaching to writing failed to take into account the outrageous cost of college for my children. So I detoured into real estate, working the market in what proved to be its best years, for the first time making really good money, but always with an eye on exiting once I’d made what I needed to help the kids. Rising early, I’d juggle some writing between real estate calls. I drafted two novels and got an agent. In retrospect, the novels suffered from my lack of attention and my agent, while enthusiastic, didn’t have the perspective to see they needed work.

I did what good kids’ writers should do – signings and school visits and speaking at state and national conferences. But there were too many plates to juggle. I scaled back, discovered a fantastic regional publisher, and did commercial books that continue to sell nicely.

Fairbanks is a great community for children’s writers, thanks to Nancy White Carlstrom starting a chapter of SCBWI that remains active decades later. Anchorage – not so much. I attended the Bouchercon sponsored by Alaska Sisters in Crime in the fall of 2007 not because I wrote mysteries but because I was desperate to connect with other writers. There I attended a couple of sessions on blogging, including a panel by five mystery writers blogging together at Naked Authors. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if Alaskan authors could blog like that? A couple authors at the conference seemed enthusiastic, but when it came down to the wire, I did a solo launch of Alaskan Authors a few days later.

Enter Andromeda Romano-Lax, who began blogging at 49 Writers, No Moose with the same idea of creating a forum and platform for Alaskan authors and their work. Acknowleging our similar vision, we began almost immediately to look toward merging our blogs down the road.

And here we are, down the road and approaching the intersection. Beginning January 1, Andromeda and I will both be posting at 49 Writers, No Moose. Knowing how you love to read and re-read my deep thoughts and passing fancies, I’ll transfer all my archival posts over there, and next year we’ll find other good uses for the Alaskan Authors domain.

Andromeda and I couldn’t be more excited about the growing online community of Alaskan authors and their readers. Welcome aboard!

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