North Words Writers Symposium 2011: A 49 Writers Interview with Jeff Brady

Jeff Brady is one of the North Words Writers Symposium organizers, along with Buckwheat Donahue and Daniel Henry. He owns Skaguay News Depot & Books, publishes The Skagway News, and also has a small press, Lynn Canal Publishing.  Pictured above:  Jeff and Dorothy Brady outside one of their cabins on West Creek in Dyea, which they are restoring for a future writers/artists retreat associated with the North Words Writers Symposium.

This year’s symposium features an exciting keynote speaker, Howard Blum, author of nine nonfiction books, including a new release this month, The Floor of Heaven, a fresh look at the Klondike Gold Rush. Tell us about how you decided on Blum and how you convinced him to keynote.

Buckwheat had just finished American Lightning and was fascinated by how Blum connected the three principle historic characters – detective Billy Burns, attorney Clarence Darrow, and filmmaker D.W. Griffith – around that era’s “crime of the century”, the bombing of the LA Times building in 1910. When we learned that Blum was doing a similar book about the Klondike Gold Rush, we had to go after him. The symposium here at the “Gateway to the Klondike” was an easy sell to his agent and publisher. Skagway, we found out later, would be the LA of this new book, where his three characters converge at the end. We are just now getting into our review copies, and it will be interesting for all three of us – who know the history pretty well – to see how he weaves his tale through the historical facts. One of our panel topics is right up his alley: “Writing Readable History”.

Tell us about a typical day at this year’s symposium. What breakout groups and panels might a participant choose from? What sorts of panel topics might a participant enjoy? What sorts of interactions with authors might a participant expect? And – of course – what sorts of fun extracurriculars might round out the day?

One of the things we learned last year was that this symposium is quite intimate, and we need to keep it that way. Skagway is a small town, and the symposium in its own way is a reflection of its home base. The interaction between authors and participants, as well as between authors and authors, was amazing. A typical day starts with a continental breakfast, and then either an activity or a trio of panels to choose from. And after lunch there are more panels. During these panels, you sit in a restored historic building with three or four authors and talk about different aspects of writing and publishing. Dan Henry is our panel master, and he has come up with several good ones, from “Beyond Stereotypes: Writing Under the Skin of Cultural Experience” to “Dressing for Success: Pimping the Perfect Proposal”. Then, you engage them at dinner and we have readings or socials at night. This year we plan to add more instructional workshops as well. The schedule will be up on our website soon,

You’ve got a great roster of returning and new faculty at this year’s symposium. What sort of faculty do you look for, and what sort of mix do you try to achieve?

We want to make it as diverse as possible. There are so many great writers in this state now, and they have no hesitation about coming here. We try to attract fiction and non-fiction writers, memoirists, nature writer/photographers, and also have a poet, a scriptwriter and a children’s author. And then we look for a keynote author of some renown who has taken their craft to another level of success. Last year that was Dana Stabenow, and this year it is Howard Blum. We can learn a lot from them.

Every summer writing event in Alaska has its own unique features and ambience. Can you tell us a little about what sets North Words apart?

We are right in the middle of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, and next year it will likely move to Denali National Park. Having it alternate between these two parks gives participants and authors a chance to engage each other in settings that have inspired millions. We think the contrast in park settings will attract authors and participants to places that drew London, Muir and Murie.

Organizing an event like North Words is a tremendous amount of work, but the payoff comes in fun and inspirational moments. Could you share one or two of those with us?

Last year, for me, it was our first day together on the White Pass train ride up to Carcross, Yukon. We had our own train car, and it was like musical chairs – everyone was having a great time enjoying the view and just getting to know everyone. After lunch in the old station at Lake Bennett, some of us took in a writing workshop, while others walked around the old townsite. I got to tell ghost stories to authors that I usually save for kids. And the final night at Poppies restaurant was pretty amazing. Dana challenged us to take on the business of writing by using electronic and social media to promote and sell our works in an ever-changing publishing world. It resonated, even among the print die-hards.

What’s included in the $350 registration fee?

Four days of quality interaction with authors and fellow participants through panels, readings, book signings, and workshops; discounted room rates at Sgt. Preston’s Lodge; a welcome reception at the infamous Red Onion Saloon; continental breakfasts and catered lunches; a ride on the historic White Pass & Yukon Route railroad; a choice of a field trip to historic Dyea to visit the site of a future writers/artists retreat (with entertainment) on our property along West Creek, or a boat ride across the bay to Burro Creek; and a final keynote banquet at Poppies restaurant over-looking Jewell Gardens; invaluable howling instruction by conference organizers.

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