Whatever your opinion about the online giant Amazon, it’s hard to dispute this recent statement by founder Jeff Bezos: “Amazon is not happening to book selling. The future is happening to book selling.” As the future happens, discoverability and social proof are two words you hear a lot. These concepts have always been part of the book industry, but they’re evolving with the digital revolution, and that includes the good old-fashioned book review. Reviews have been around pretty much since the first cave person drew on a rock and the next cave person pointed it out to his buddy. These days, discoverability and social proof in reviews is split between established industry insiders and regular readers in what amounts to a large-scale democratization of the process that raises a whole lot of interesting questions. Last week, I mailed out the first round of review copies of my next new release, No Returns, to four traditional reviewers. The process took a lot longer than I expected, which is why I like hybrid projects where I can work with traditional publishers on print editions. I’m also trying Story Cartel to encourage more honest, genuine reviews of my first novel, A Distant Enemy, a digital reprint which has suffered from a case of stale-reviewitis. This week, my pointers on ethics and etiquette for book reviews. In a future post: where and how to get your book reviewed. Note that here I’m talking only about actual reviews, not author blurbs (sometimes called endorsements) or beta reader responses.
DON'T buy phony reviews. Never. Ever. I don’t care how many you can purchase on Fiverr or who else is doing it. It’s slimy and wrong. Incentives for real, honest reviews? That’s a different story. Publishers do it all the time. They send free books to traditional reviewers. They invite reviewers to fancy parties they throw at conventions. They probably do other schmoozing that I don’t know about. That’s why I don’t feel bad about offering giveaways for reviewers who take the time to read my books and share their honest opinions with the world.
DON'T ask (beg, plead with) strangers to review your work unless they’ve identified themselves as reviewers who are open to such queries. When you approached the proclaimed reviewers, do so in a sincere and professional manner, and pay close attention to the reviewer’s submission guidelines. The response might surprise you. My friend Don Rearden landed a review of his book (Penguin, 2013) in the Washington Post this way, and it’s now made the Post’s 50 Best Books of the Year list.
DO keep your friends and fans appraised of your book news, and let them know that you welcome reviews.
DON'T pester people. Never. Ever. Repetition is acceptable on social media (to a point—no more than four times is the rule I try to follow when I’m announcing something new), but that should be information, not pleading or demands for reviews. One follow-up to people who requested your book for review is my personal limit. We’re all busy, and we can’t always follow through on our good intentions. And believe it or not, there are some lovely people, maybe even members of your own family or your close friends, who simply don’t want to review your book, no matter how much they love you. (Not to mention that Amazon tries hard to filter out reviews by your nearest and dearest.)
DO exchange reciprocal reviews (honest! genuine!) with your closest author friends. At first, I wasn’t sure this was good practice. When Amazon first came on the scene, a friend who writes for young readers asked if I’d post a review of her book on Amazon to help counter a bad review that appeared to have been written as a school assignment. I did the review, but it felt a little weird. Then I started getting school assignment reviews of my books, like this one written in 2000: “I usually read science-fiction books so I really don't know how to compare this book to others very well.” Now I understand that one of the best ways to help a writer’s book get discovered is to post an honest review, or even to write one for your local paper, as my one of my favorite authors Bill Streever did recently. (Bill’s an accomplished reviewer, by the way. See his post on how to write reviews for major publications.)
DO thank reviewers when you have a personal relationship with them. You might even want to thank all reviewers, regardless of whether you know them. I have friends who do this, although I think it’s best done privately, if possible.
DO make a practice of reviewing the books you enjoy on Goodreads and Amazon, whether you know the author or not.
Co-founder of 49 Writers, Deb Vanasse has had the good fortune (in the form of a brother who's also an editor) to write book reviews for The Washington Post and for Bookforum. She has also authored more than a dozen books. Her most recent work includes Cold Spell, a novel that comes out in 2014 as part of the Alaska Literary Series by the University of Alaska Press, and No Returns, a novel for young readers, co-authored with Gail Giles, a 2014 release from Running Fox Books. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. This post first ran at www.selfmadewriter.blogspot.com
Continuing our December series of the most popular guest author posts of 2013, we are pleased to share one of Amy O'Neill Houck's October posts that struck a chord with our blog followers. On Deadlines and Risk Taking
This past weekend, I participated in the Juneau Douglas Little Theatre’s 24-Hour Miracle. It’s a mini theatre festival where four plays are written and produced in the space of twenty-four hours. The playwrights each meet their cast and their director at 8 pm on Friday evening. A theme is chosen from a hat, and off we go. A script is due by 8 am the next morning. Saturday night, at 8 pm, the plays are performed.
A few months ago, when I was first asked to be one of the writers, I told Geoff, the producer, that while I was thrilled to be asked, I didn’t think I could be productive in the middle of the night. Truthfully, the idea of letting down a director and cast if I ended up staring at a blank page all evening was terrifying. But he asked again. And again. And I got to thinking: maybe this is one of those things that I’m just supposed to say yes to. So I did.
What is it about deadlines that can often help, rather than hinder creativity? Again and again, I’ve found that writing with a limited amount of time is an opportunity to produce work that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Maybe it’s similar to sitting in a workshop or a class—you’re given a prompt, and you only have ten minutes to write a poem. Out comes something you didn’t know was in you.
Driving home from the beginning of the 24-Hour miracle, with the faces of my cast in my head, I got an idea for the setting of my play. As I fussed about making tea and setting up my work space, characters came to life in my head. Suddenly, I wasn’t faced with a blank page like I feared I would be. I started to make notes about characters. I knew what the climax of my story would be, and unlike my “regular” writing life where I’m creating nonfiction, I had the freedom to make everything up. For the 24-Hour Miracle, I was also lucky enough to have a couple of generous friends check on me during the night. I shot them pieces of the play to get a reality check. I persevered. I had fun. I even got a little sleep.
The success of having a deadline and writing towards it often makes me want to strengthen my resolve about my own non-deadline writing. How do we give ourselves the push that outside pressure does? If I say I’m going to finish an essay, but the only person I’m accountable to is me, I’ll often find excuses to work on other things. For some reason, it’s OK to disappoint myself over and over, but I’m loathe to disappoint someone else. If we can’t muster that drive for ourselves, can we trick ourselves into having it? Many writers do this by forming writing groups or simply having a writing buddy. You meet regularly with your group, and you give each other deadlines. I have friends who commit to submitting a certain number of times per year—they don’t do it alone, so they are accountable to another writer. Submitting to journals means you have real, actual deadlines with the added bonus of possible publication. It sounds like a win-win. If your piece isn’t accepted, you have something to polish and send elsewhere, and you’re still writing.
Another “real” deadline is fast approaching that anyone can try. November 1st marks the beginning of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in a month—the length of a short novel. The goal is not to write a finished novel; it’s about having an intense writing habit for 30 days. You’re doing it with a big virtual crowd, and in many cities including Anchorage and Fairbanks, there are in-person gatherings during the challenge. It’s a marathon of writing, with a huge payoff in developing both skill and practice no matter how close you get to the finish line.
Amy O'Neill Houck recently finished her MFA in creative nonfiction at UAA. She lives in Juneau, and occasionally writes feature stories for The Juneau Empire and The Capital City Weekly. Amy works at Perseverance Theatre, and in her off hours, she teaches ukulele and knitting. Usually not at the same time.
Requiem for the Kuskokwim It is cold and windows rattle with razors and hooks.Dread permeates light moments like a mean dog tied to a stove.Foreign to the territories, with tendered immunity,you walked through wild like a wraith.Jingling coins, coining jingles,sure to find another word for snow.Happy, you floundered there, netted and boned. Fuel oil barrels gleam old eyes;willow thickets harbor generous shadows.Chimneys bluff scouring fumes andwalls bear the stain of six generations.The work is serious; memory’s wash, terminal.Optimism and cheer are required.You go back because you were happy,shushing secrets in totes. Your bones clatter tunefully,coins hemmed in skirts.Glacial silt, dust to grit, stain to half;this is the trial you were waiting for.Ankles tinkle songs of ice while dogs of doombreak loose to rut in steaming pairs.Off skies hum something low and youheard your name on the radio. Chant your everlasting, cheeks slickwith oil. Ears own judgment, scorn.Shaking at the stove, naked from a dream,trapped by institutions of the terrible,justice begs, “Father.” This is the trial you were waiting for.Drag your once and gravid body, bendingbrush to fire. Sink in damp persuasion.Hand it to the dark and darling drums.
Out of Place in Seattle A lively understandable spirit once entertained you. It will come again.Be still. Wait. —Theodore Roethke We don’t speak of stones or the sea in Western Washington. Weuse other words in place of these, found out in your poetry.That’s how I knew you weren’t from here.We don’t talk the way you do.It’s an inclination to eschew words like eschewbecause you sound toobig for your britcheslike I was when I waslittle in Seattle Crying though the diamond linkscrushed by a congress of friendswith you locked up in the violent wardtwo Northeast blocks away.You came here from someplace elseto put things differently. Poetry’s province is elsewhere, a stone tossed up from the sea, embedded in the poet’s shoe one blink from catastrophe. A child kneels at the lip of a wave.She stretches out her hand to reach for something shiny.You know what she wants, drawing under weighty water.Walk weary to the beachhead waiting ’till she follows. We walk the weary beaches ‘til clamshellsleave half-moons in ours soles. Then you say,Stop now, Sandy.You have more than you can use.Let’s go home.The sun goes down on Puget Sound. The seais far from here in Saginaw. You stilldon’t talk like me.
Toward a Unified Theory(Or Don’t Read this Poem in Bethel, You Idiot) I have not seen much lately.No proof of God.No Jungian synchronicity.No personal or global miracles have made my day.I have become un-Godly.I am going it alone. Moments ago I wrote the word convince.Just then Jeff Corwin with his albino Anaconda on TVsaid “convince” in a mysterious duet of print and spoken wordHow odd. I know this happens to everyone all the time but what are the odds?Proof of God?Frankly I wish it would not happen.What good does it do?Who does it, well, convince? Is it God breaking through in a waste of Holy effortA comedic wink to say, Standing by, doing nothing? It’s more like a malfunction in the unifying fabric.Small repair persons – smaller than cells –more like quarksare dispatched to cement the rift.Damn. There it goes again. Like a broken record.Knock it off. Once, on an Underwood portable, I typed“It’s all done with mirrors.”At that moment the Top 40 DJ said“It’s all done with mirrors.”Do you suppose it is?Word reflecting word. Once, at midnight, you and I lay downon the grass at Ballard First Lutheranto ponder stars and principles.Desperate, I put out a fleece.Nothing happened.I felt foolish and a little lonely. I have given God credit for coincidence.Just for the company. Poet and essayist, Sandra Kleven, is the editor of Cirque, a literary journal. Originally, from the state of Washington, she has spent much of the last 30 years working in Alaska’s village communities. Her work has appeared in AQR, Oklahoma Review, and numerous other publications. In 2012, two of her poems were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Kleven has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska/Anchorage. Her first collection, Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writingis due out this year. Do you have a short piece of writing you'd like to see featured here? Check out our guidelines and submit today!
Still Life With Vegetables Not a tradition. Yet. Or is it a one-time shot where initial conditions of dirt (a continuous factor) and H - 2 - O from the sky combine to produce magnificent roots that achieve colors like vermilion, creamy buckskin, and opaque amber. Colors that I cannot shake, the firmness of flesh engorged by rain-soaked soil so that a carrot eased out of the earth in a reversal of up not downjust touching it, the pressure of soft fingers—it snaps like rocks fracturing far up a valley. I hold a broken star. Still life with root vegetables, the image I cradle more than a recipe—an entire historyfood fire roots dug mud-caked with cold feet. My still-life smells of musky ground and heavy names like Bull's Blood and Saint Valery. The beet yields, knife-cleaved into alternating rings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (Unbound: Alaska Poems by Katie Eberhart)
The poems in Unbound: Alaska Poemscome from my experience living in Alaska. A poem is likely to start with an observation (“Shiny cottonwood leaves covet the tulip’s flaming blush, a blush is not a bush, a bush might be brush. . . .”) and include people (“Cutting and bagging. Bagging and calculating. Always calculating.”) as well as an observation of our often delicate relationship with nature (“A spider steps out of the crack and looks at / the obscene destruction. . . .”). Influences include Hans Christian Andersen, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gertrude Stein, Alaskan composer John Luther Adams, the Ice Museum at Chena Hot Springs, and a neighbor’s loose pony. After reading these poems, you may think differently of backyard freezing and thawing or the three miles of street lighting along the Glenn Highway across the Palmer Hay Flats. My concerns are with understanding our relationship with our surroundings—from bones and ice to hot springs, berry-picking, root vegetables, the Palmer water tower, misplaced or cast off items, Nature, and luck.
“‘Sometimes there aren’t enough other worlds,’ Katie Eberhart writes, and so we pay close attention to this one. We dry-scrub silver lichens off old barn walls in the Matanuska Valley of Alaska. We consider in the last decades of our lives a granite tor’s gradual crumbling. We watch for trees blazed long ago, the trail marked ten feet high. Sensual and meditative, Katie Eberhart’s poems light our way.” —Peggy Shumaker, author of Toucan Nest
“In these ‘frozen dreams,’ Alaska is both emotional geography and physical landscape. Ice flow to cave sounds, Katie Eberhart uses experimental forms to mirror a vast range of experience as she finds her own ‘quicksilver light.’” —Judith Kitchen, author of Half in Shade
Katie Eberhart lived in Alaska with her husband Chuck Logsdon from 1979 through 2011 where she worked as a researcher, economist, and data analyst. In 2010, Katie earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. Katie’s poems have appeared in Cirque, Sand Journal (Berlin), Crab Creek Review, Verseweavers, Elohi Gadugi Journal, and other places. Katie and Chuck now live in Bend, Oregon where Katie has earned an Oregon Master Naturalist certificate and blogs about Nature & Literature at http://solsticelight.wordpress.com. Unbound: Alaska Poems was published in 2013 by Uttered Chaos Press. Katie is a member of 49 Writers. Do you have a book you'd like featured here? Check out our guidelines today!
Invictus BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole,I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud.Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade,And yet the menace of the years Finds and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll,I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.
Thank you to Marybeth Holleman for her absorbing reading and craft talk last night at Great Harvest Bread Company--and for bringing the important life's work of Gordon Haber to a wider audience, when it could have so easily been consigned to obscurity. The research of this determined and passionate scientist found its way to an equally determined and passionate writer: not just his field notes and findings but even his poetic tweets. Despite the difficult road conditions, a few brave souls made the trip to the bakery and were amply rewarded for the effort.
We are most grateful to the ever-generous Dirk and Barb at Great Harvest Bread for hosting another successful Reading & Craft Talk season.
If you weren't able to make it last night, Marybeth has additional author events scheduled next week: Saturday Dec. 14, 4-6pm: Book signing at Fireside Books in Palmer, and Sunday Dec. 15, 2pm: One-hour presentation and book signing at Eagle River Nature Center. This will be the same full presentation as at her October book launch. Tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2-4pm, Loussac Library Teen Underground: Artist/author, Shanley McCauley presents a workshop for teens (13-19), using a combination of lecture, demonstration, and hands-on methods. Topics such as initial sketches and thumbnails, reference gathering, page layout, and composing in perspective are covered. Bring your sketchbooks and personal projects. Co-sponsored with the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. Check out the "Qanga: Drawing the Past" exhibit on view through Jan. 12, 2014.
Congratulations to everyone who participated in this year's NaNoWriNo (National Novel Writing Month)--we followed the progress of some of you in the 49 Writers Facebook Discussion Group, and are in awe of your productivity and dedication to the project, despite the occasional moment of despair!
Tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 7, 1-3pm, Loussac Library Innovation Lab: Celebrate the end of NaNoWriMon with a TGIO Pary! Whether you've written 50 words or 50,000 words, we know you worked hard. Mark the end of your journey with fellow NaNos and plan what comes next.
December 15, 5pm, Del Shirley Room, Allen Hall (on SJ Campus), Sitka: Join the Island Institute for a reading and conversation between John Daniel and Carolyn Servid. Fellow-writers, colleagues, and friends for over fifteen years, this is the first time they have had the opportunity to read together. John Daniel is the author of two memoirs Looking After and Rogue River Journal, and the poetry collections All Things Touched by the Wind and Of Earth: New and Selected Poems, among other books. He is a past faculty member of the Island Institute’s Sitka Symposium, and is here this fall working on his first novel. Carolyn Servid is the author of the memoir Of Landscape and Longing and editor of three anthologies, including From the Island’s Edge: A Sitka Reader and The Book of the Tongass. $15 admission; hors d'oeuvres, wine, and cider will be served.
Calling all poets! We hear there is still some room to register for Jeremy Pataky's Advanced Writers' Workshop: Poetry--CWLA A452, Spring Semester 2014 at UAA.
January 6-10, 2014, 6-8pm, UAF Fairbanks Campus: Publish your ebook on Kindle and Nook. Fairbanks author David Marusek is offering another non-credit course on self-publishing ebooks as part of the 2014 WINTERmester. Do you have a manuscript you’d like to publish as an ebook for sale but you don’t want to pay someone hundreds of dollars to design and distribute it for you? We’ll cover the basics of file conversion, cover design, proofing, and uploading to major online booksellers. Come with words and an image idea for a cover and learn how to turn them into a published ebook. CRN: 39057, classes held on Monday-Wednesday-Friday.
Another Alaska writer attracting national attention is poet Joan Naviyuk Kane: click here for the New York Times interview with Joan, author of the recently published collection Hyberboreal. “I am mesmerized by these poems, their sonorous pathways across time and place; how they absorb and let me linger awhile in their stark beauty. Joan Kane has created a genuine indigenous poetic, irreducible, a point of reorigination and new beginnings. Hyperboreal will be remembered and celebrated.” --Sherman Bitsui
Congratulations to local author Lynn Lovegreen, whose young adult/new adult historical romance Fools Gold is now available in ebook ($3.99) or print ($10.99) format at her publisher, Prism Book Group or on Amazon, Smashwords, or All About Romance.
My daughter was in the shower last week when I heard the sounds of whistles and beeping on a nearby road, just down from our very basic budget hotel in Phuket Town, Thailand. From the third floor I peered through a door out onto the cluttered rooftop, and could make out the stream of traffic, mostly scooters and trucks, decorated with flapping Thai flags.
I ran back to our room and pushed open the bathroom door. "You always wanted to see what a revolution looks like. Hurry up. Come see."
We couldn't make it to the road in time, but we got a peek from the rooftop. This was proof, finally, that the protest--mostly limited to the big city of Bangkok, a day's drive north--had in fact come even to this gritty part of town in a highly touristy part of the country. The Phuket Provincial Hall has been closed for about a week now, and things are still relatively quiet, in contrast with the north, where 4 or 5 deaths have been recorded, and gas and hoses used on the protesters, whose aim is to unseat the current Prime Minister (sister of a previous PM now in self-exile) and put in her place a council of "good people," without the aid of the democratic process, some news sources suggest.
Yesterday, the King's birthday (Thailand has the longest reigning monarch in the world, and much reverence is paid him), and the day leading up to it, all was quiet, the tension eased as police took down barriers and handed protesters roses. But now that the birthday is over, who knows what will happen? The Thai family running our hotel sit attentively around the television news. The westerners we've gotten to know here don't talk about what's happening, and in fact pretended, up until last weekend, that nothing was happening at all.
This post is not about Thai politics, which are complex -- so complex I wouldn't even dare explain the various "sides" in this latest national contest or pretend I understand how this all fits in with Thai politics of the recent past. This is about what it feels like to be smack dab in the middle of something and have little idea of what's going on, with or without the help of online sources--not just because we are American, but because the center of political conflicts, like the center of weather events or natural disasters, are a strange mix of chaos and normalcy. The first few days especially, before the international reporting caught up with what was going on -- even BBC reports were maddeningly vague-- reminded me of a half-dozen of my favorite books and another half-dozen movies set in Asia and Africa. What's best about the most honest of those narratives is when they underscore not the drama but the mundanity that always co-exists with drama.
This whole trip so far (three weeks to date) I've felt less like someone following the trail of my own next fiction project than someone living in classic books by Graham Greene (The Quiet American), Somerset Maugham (The Painted Veil), George Orwell (Burmese Days, awarded a major international prize by the government of Myanmar [former Burma] in November) and movies including The Year of Living Dangerously and Beyond Rangoon, many of which tend to use as their act III a protest that turns into a sudden flurry of chaos, with the Western protagonist concerned mostly about getting out or at least staying clear of the sudden eruption of trouble. (Our own version of staying out of trouble: we're trying to avoid Bangkok for the time being, and noting the irony of traveling next to a place like Myanmar, formerly notorious, in order to stay clear of trouble in Thailand, formerly stable and benign.)
Lest this post make it sound like everything is in upheaval or feeling dangerous -- that's not at all the case. (Consider this: there are more daily traffic accidents in little Phuket than there were protest-related deaths last week, nationally.) In fact, it's the normalcy between the sudden streams of protesters' whistles that is most noticeable, as tourists continue scootering off to beaches and lunchtime workers eat from the street stalls and nurses line up to buy their iced drinks from our favorite Thai coffee stand, in front of the hospital. And as backdrop to all that: the sounds of tropical birds, afternoon clouds and sudden monsoon-like spatters of rain, the racket of insects after a storm passes, the smell of frangipani and the sight of the stray street dogs that live alongside the endless street traffic. No matter what happens in Bangkok or even down the street at our own nearby Provincial Hall, people still eat late-night banana crepes, drop off their laundry (where it hangs drying along the street for all to see), and queue up at the local mall to see The Hunger Games--as if local political conflict, even death, can't compete with the thrill of Hollywood-produced dystopian drama. For another week, we'll do the same.
Andromeda Romano-Lax is a co-founder of 49 Writers and a teacher in the low-residency MFA Creative Writing program at UAA. She is the author of The Spanish Bow and The Detour, and she also offers book coaching services. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For December this year, we've decided to run the top four most popular posts from our annual lineup of guest authors. Coming in at number 4 is November writer, Sara Loewen from Kodiak, with her final post. If you missed this the first time around, it's well worth reading. Thank you, Sara, for your thoughtful and thought-provoking contributions this year.
A Writer's Habits
I’ve been setting my alarm an hour or two earlier every day to carve out more writing time. Five days into my new habit, it’s hard to say whether I’m motivated more by word count or by the promise of coffee.
As Iris Murdoch said, “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” I’d heard that it takes three weeks to form a habit, but a quick Internet search refuted the whole 21 days claim. Still, I thought I remembered a specific number of hours-to-proficiency. Here it is (from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success): “for true expertise: ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything.” As long as I stick to my morning writing routine, I should produce something really good 27 years from now. Looking through a few books on writerly habits, the best ideas I’ve found are probably these 3W’s: waking up early, walking, and word count. For today’s writers I might add: avoiding that other www. Mason Currey asks in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work—“How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living? Is it better to devote yourself wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day?” And when that isn’t actually a choice, how best to nurture a creative writing life? In a recent interview in the Georgia Review, Julie Riddle said, “If I wrote when I felt like it—when I felt mentally sharp, energized and inspired—I would rarely write. I’ve learned that if I sit down each day and just start, regardless of how I feel, good things will happen.” Good things will happen. I’m feeling hopeful about the potential of writing before sunrise after reading about so many morning writers: Edith Wharton, Sylvia Plath, Ray Bradbury, W.H. Auden, Virginia Woolf, William Stafford, Wallace Stegner. I’d like to see a display of all the books written while other people were sleeping. It’s encouraging to remember that slow and steady progress is exactly that—progress. Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific writer, but she points out that even if all she keeps from a full day of writing is a single page, single pages add up over the years. Gertrude Stein thought half an hour a day was enough writing time. Flannery O’Connor’s routine was to write for three hours daily with the goal of three good pages. Henry Miller wrote for two or three hours each morning, as did Willa Cather and W.B. Yeats. Yeats, a slow writer, said he never did more than five or six good lines a day. After time and discipline, walking was most often mentioned as a complementary writing habit. Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginia Woolf, Henry David Thoreau, Robert Frost, Yeats, Charles Dickens, and William Wordsworth all relied on walks to enrich their creativity. Wallace Stevens composed poetry walking to and from work and often walked through his lunch hour as well. As an added incentive, studies show that spending even twenty minutes outside in good weather (what does that mean in Alaska?) leads to better working memory and moods. I find that once I’ve started an essay, I carry it with me—revising in the car or the shower or at work. I think about it when I exercise too, that just happens less often. “Once your unconscious mind has really begun to focus on a given project…things that fit your project seem to pop up everywhere you look. Suddenly, the world seems to overflow with what you need,” writes Stephen Koch, in The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop. He also writes about the value of a daily word quota—calling it the next best thing to an enforceable deadline. Somerset Maugham set himself a daily requirement of about 1,000 words. Steven King suggests at least 2,000. Mary Karr makes herself to write a page and half or to work for six hours, whichever comes first. Tom Wolfe set his quota at ten pages a day, triple spaced. If he finished in three hours, he could call it a day. “If it takes me twelve hours, that’s too bad, I’ve got to do it,” Wolfe said. Here’s the thing. To write November’s weekly posts, I haven’t been taking walks. I’m not a fast writer; when I have a deadline I usually choose to trade that time for obsessive revising. I may never set a word quota. For now, it’s enough to force myself out of bed and down to the glow of the laptop on the kitchen table. My new morning writing habit may not lead to a finished essay before 2014, but it does ease the ache of not writing. As we enter the darkest month of the year and this season of giving thanks, it helps me start the day in a spirit of gratitude—for words, for an hour of quiet, and for a cup of strong coffee. Sara Loewen's first book, Gaining Daylight: Life on Two Islands, was published by the UA Press in February. She received her MFA in creative writing from the UAA Low-Residency Program in 2011. Sara works at Kodiak College and fishes commercially for salmon each summer with her family in Uyak Bay.
Southeastern Alaska. 1898 Ellie stood on the foredeck and watched the lush green coast pass by as the steamship chugged along. The fresh, cool breeze filled her lungs. A pod of killer whales broke the surface of the water in the distance, black and white bodies rolling, tall fins arcing toward the sky, then back into the ocean. The whales exhaled in puffs of spray. A seal rested on a small iceberg nearby, and Ellie couldn’t help but smile as she surveyed its dark, liquid eyes, gray fur and white whiskers. A killer whale knocked the seal off the berg and seized it in its mouth. Ellie gasped as the seal struggled for life. When the killer whale rolled under the waves, seal still in its jaws, Ellie, pulse beating at her temples, leaned forward over the rail, staring at the spot where the whale descended. “Careful, there.” Ellie’s breath halted as a pair of strong hands grasped her waist and lifted her up and away from the rail. She felt her bottom brush against someone as she was set down on the deck. “What do you think you’re doing?” She turned to face a wall of wool-clad chest, then looked up to see a young face with a thick brown goatee and an arrogant smile. “Pardon me, miss.” A twinkle pierced the man's blue eyes. “If the ship had made a sudden move, you'd have been thrown into the water.” “Well, I never.” Ellie dismissed him with a sniff. “I wasn't that far over the edge.” She was not used to being manhandled and wasn't going to put up with male condescension. (Lynn Lovegree, Fools Gold) Alaska's gold rush is no place for a lady, but that doesn't scare Ellie Webster. Ellie travels with her younger brother to the wilds of the Klondike gold rush to save the family farm. She's prepared for hardship on the trail, but not for the sparkling blue eyes of Duke Masterson, a charming saloonkeeper. And Duke is surprised to find that Ellie and her apple pies are more valuable to him than all the gold nuggets in Skagway, Alaska. Now if he could only overcome Ellie’s fear of losing her newly-found independence and win her heart. Together they must defeat the conman corrupting the town and make their fortunes before the last steamship of the season heads South. Lynn Lovegreen grew up in Alaska, and still lives in the Anchorage area. She taught English for 20 years before retiring to make more time for writing. She enjoys reading, hanging out with friends and family, and hitting targets with a cowboy action shooting club. She is an active member of many local history and writing groups, including 49 Writers, where she is the coordinator for the Anchorage Remembers project. See her website below, or find her on Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest. Fools Gold will be published by Prism Book Group tomorrow, December 4, 2013, available in ebook or print format at their site below, through most online retailers, or at the UAA Bookstore and Anchorage Museum. Save the date for the Fools Gold book party at the UAA Bookstore on February 10!
Years ago, I woke with a vivid image in my head: a large black wolf. I have no idea how that wolf got into my dreams. I didn’t even know at the time that wolves might be black. The image haunted me. I wanted to write about that wolf. Fast forward several years. I opened the newspaper to a photo of my dream-wolf, a black one named Romeo. He lived in Juneau, at Mendenhall Glacier, and he was famous not only in Alaskabut all over the world. Earlier this year, the University of Alaska Press released my book, Black Wolf of the Glacier: Alaska’s Romeo. Several months later, Marybeth Holleman’sAmong Wolves came out, also from the Press. We traded books and discovered what each had to say about the social lives of wolves and their interactions with humans. Then Sherry Simpson’s Dominionof Bears was released, adding fresh perspectives on wildlife here in Alaska, where we share natural, urban, and cultural landscapes with amazing and complex creatures. How do these animals shape our ideas about wilderness and identity? In what ways do the creatures that inhabit our imaginations differ from the ones that inhabit our lives? What can we learn from the passion and wonder of those who dedicate themselves to the study of wildlife? In our work, each of us had pondered these questions. Together, the three of us have assembled an hour-long presentation in which we’ll share thoughts and passages from our books. We hope you’ll join us tomorrow night, Tuesday, Dec. 3, at 7 pm at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson for this lively, free event. Book sales and signings will follow. Autographed books make great holiday gifts! Deb Vanasse is the author of several books for children and adults, including the Junior Literary Guild selection A Distant Enemy and BattleBooks Totem Tale and Lucy’s Dance. Her twelfth book, Black Wolf of the Glacier, is a 2013 release by the University of Alaska Press. Marybeth Hollemanis author of The Heart of the Sound, co-author of Among Wolves, and co-editor of Crosscurrents North. Her essays, poems, and articles have appeared in dozens of journals, magazines, and anthologies. Sherry Simpson is the author of Dominion of Bears: Living with Wildlife in Alaska and two collections of essays, The Accidental Explorer and The Way Winter Comes, which won the inaugural Chinook Literary Prize. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines, journals and anthologies.