Two of the “49 writers” reflect and confess

In the days ahead, we have have lots more interviews and timely news coming your way. But to start off the New Year and to celebrate our successful blogmeld, we wanted to interview each other for a change. If you don’t know why Deb or Andromeda started blogging in the first place — or what shameful, wimpy traits make us “bad Alaskans” — read on…

What motivated you to start blogging?

Andromeda: A confluence of factors. I was increasingly frustrated watching several Alaska authors bring out new, excellent books, with few local review or publicity opportunities. I had my own paperback release of my debut novel forthcoming, and was already planning a virtual book tour (which involves hopping between lots of book blogs). The VBT showed me three things: one, that there is a vibrant litblog world out there; two, that just getting any book mention on a blog is free advertising at a time when books really need every push we can give them; and three, that Alaskans weren’t really joining the litblog party in significant numbers. I decided to give it a shot, with the hope of pulling other Alaska writers into the project over time. On top of all that, I’ve also spent the last year researching a nonfiction book about how Americans spend their free time, and blogging connected me to the online side of that controversial subject.

Deb: For me it wasn’t a confluence but a conference, the international Bouchercon hosted by Alaska Sisters in Crime in the fall of 2008. I attended a session featuring five mystery authors who blogged together as Naked Authors. They seemed to be having fun, and it also seemed like a great way to promote books. Also at the conference was Anchorage author Aliza Sherman, who wrote The Everything Blogging Book and convinced me that the process really was easy and worthwhile. (Are you out there, Aliza? Thanks for prodding me.)

Do you think book blogging means something different for Alaska writers and readers?

Deb: I think it’s more important. Alaskan writers are geographically removed from many of our readers, who in turn have a real hunger to know what it’s like to be an Alaskan. The Alaskan mystique is both empowering and isolating. By connecting on line, we create a sense of community despite our geographical differences.

Andromeda: You said it well, Deb. Specifically, you mentioned the writer to reader connection. There is also the writer to writer connection. I know some Alaska writers who take pride in standing apart from the crowd, but who still want the opportunity for occasional no-strings networking and support. Blogs are a good place for occasional contact. You don’t have to commit to a monthly meeting or worry about scheduling time with your fellow Alaska writers, just stop by whenever it works for you.

What do you enjoy about blogging?

Andromeda: Blogging is an addiction, and I think I finally understand why: it can be done in small bits of time (even while those bits add up). It offers immediate reinforcement, because you get published (in bright colors and fun fonts, no less!) and read in moments. And here — the part of the addiction that is more “light” than “dark” — it creates a sense of community, which is a further reinforcement. It’s a great mood boost to get comments or an email in regards to a blogpost, or to feel that you’re helping someone else by giving them well-deserved publicity or an opportunity to speak out. I love that.

Deb: I’ll echo what Andromeda says about the immediacy and positive reinforcement. Also, I love the sense of community we’re building. I’m not big on groups – mostly I enjoy the solitary aspects of writing – but sometimes it’s nice to feel that you’re part of something larger.

Can we talk about Alaska for a moment? In this year when, thanks to Sarah Palin, we all got a lot more attention, in what three ways are you a typical Alaskan, and in what one or more potentially shameful or embarrassing ways, are you not stereotypically Alaskan at all?

Deb: I love this question, because it’s part of a character in one of the books I’m working on now. I’m a typical Alaskan in that I love the wilderness, I have a (sometimes dangerous) can-do attitude, and being alone doesn’t bother me much. And I certainly fit right in at airports, where you can identify the flights to Alaska by the queue of people dressed for comfort rather than style. But I’m not into hunting, I get cold easier than most people do, and even though I love to camp, I’m happiest when I can shower daily (which was not an option my first three years in Alaska).

Andromeda: When I first moved to Alaska, I was excited that I would never feel pressured to wear shorts or high-heeled shoes again; even now, I love going to a classical music concert and seeing people in jeans. (No thanks to Sarah for trying to change our Carhartts, fleece and denim image.) I also like going my own way and being my own boss. And third, I do love eating salmon all year long. How I’m not a “real Alaskan” — like you, Deb, I don’t hunt. But also, I can’t fix anything or build anything. Not even a birdfeeder. I thought living here would turn me into a natural homesteader type, but it hasn’t. I get wimpier with every passing year.

A writing life question. Describe your ideal, imaginary Alaska writing retreat.

Deb: After so many years of wanting to write and being pulled away by other commitments, I almost feel like I’m living the ideal writing retreat now. I get up early and have all day to write, interrupted only by my little pup. To make it more ideal, I’d be in a nicely appointed cabin in the mountains where I could see the Northern Lights and there would be no traffic noise. There’d be lots of trails for hiking, biking, and skiing. I’d have a nice non-polluting fire burning all day and a jacuzzi to jump into at night. Five or six great Alaskan writers would live within walking distance, and every few days we’d get together, maybe in the jacuzzi with glasses of wine, and share our triumphs and frustrations. Internet access would be a must, and my computer would be fast and always glitch-free. In addition to a big floor to ceiling library in the cabin with one of those sliding ladder things, a big public library would be nearby.

Andromeda: Oh, that sounds so nice. Especially the evening wine with fellow writers. I’ve always thought that if I made a big bundle on a future book, I’d love to join up with some other writers and build a local cabin or cluster of modern local cabins (I still love that plumbing, especially when I’m working!) that could be used by any Alaska writer or visiting writer for quick retreats. (Yes, I mean it.) It would probably be near Anchorage, just for convenience sake.

My other specific, geographic dream is to have a cabin or small house on the coast, probably in Southeast Alaska. My husband and I love kayaking and spent our first years together in a fishing village on the Nova Scotia coast, and sometimes I think I won’t feel complete until we have a piece of that rural seaside living again. (Anchorage and its deadly mudflats don’t count.)

What Alaska book would you take to a desert island?

Deb: There are so many great Alaskan books, but I’m especially taken with Seth Kantner’s Ordinary Wolves. It has been on my list to re-read for a long time.

Andromeda: When I asked you this question, I was thinking of old favorites. But if I could run off to an island right now, I’d take two new, hefty Alaskan-authored books I haven’t read: David Marusek’s forthcoming Mind Over Ship, and Stuart Archer Cohen’s recently published Army of the Republic.

6 thoughts on “Two of the “49 writers” reflect and confess”

  1. i’d like to take a writing retreat in Alaska! it sounds perfect.

    blogging IS a happy addiction. yet another nice thing about it–the book reviews and author interviews you publish on the internet will live on forever and help the backlisting book; print reviews run in a single edition of a paper/magazine, circulate, and die. power to the internet! you guys are doing a great service to help build national attention for alaska authors as well as local support and community.

  2. I’ve only recently discovered both blogs but am loving both and looking forward to seeing how they merge. And, as a relatively new Alaskan who just finished writing a book entitled “Becoming Alaskan”, I’m chuckling over the conflicting images of “Alaskan” and the reality that we all live. My other book is Iditarod focused, “Backstage Iditarod”, which I hope to do a sequel to this year. Thanks for the blog(s)!

  3. Kelly O'Neal Thompson

    I am looking out my windows at Kachemak Bay from our home in Homer, Alaska.

    Consider this: Multiple shades of blue marble the watered landscape, the barest hint of fuschia, like spilled paint, spreads outward over the sky, the alders trace a cold outline of deep maroon in the foreground. Traces of the New Year sun backlights the mountains across the bay, an ocher glow. Grewingk glacier makes a nonchalant retreat, holding the land like water cupped in a palm and spilling.
    There’s my writer’s retreat – I am blessed. Thanks for the link to KellyBlog. Happy New Year Andromeda and welcome, Deb. I look forward to visiting this Alaskan spot often.

  4. Lovely comments, all. Did I mention we really, really like comments? Moonrat’s point about the life of online writing is dead-on, with the irony being of course that getting paid for internet writing is another story altogether (though I’ve done some paid online gigs…note to self for future posts).

    June, welcome aboard. After my first stint as an Iditarod volunteer last year, I love the concept of Backstage Iditarod.

    What a beautiful retreat, Kelly, and beautifully rendered. We’ll look forward to hearing from all of you often.

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