Late summer nights in front of the computer in her Fairbanks home, kindergarten teacher and children's book author Chérie Stihler finds that her family's pet ferret and her monitor's Microsoft help-prompt provide her only solace.
"Writing is a very isolated business," Stihler said. "Basically, it's you and the chair and the computer."
At least Stihler has her husband, Scott, and the statewide chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (at www.scbwialaska.org). The international group claims about 100 members in Alaska and 20,000 around the world, and meets to critique and discuss the finer points of the children's writing business.
A brand-new Juneau chapter met for the first time July 12, and plans to get together from 7-9 p.m. on the second Monday of each month in the small meeting room at the downtown library. The next meeting is Aug. 9.
"It's basically to make yourself a better writer and to learn more about the business," said Stihler, the regional adviser for SCBWI. "It's working on your craft.
"We have more illustrators than writers, and it's nice to see both," she said. "Because picture books are not picture books without people."
The group is open to anyone with an interest in writing and illustrating for children. Membership is not required, nor is published work.
The first Juneau meeting drew four people, including one, Dordie Carter, who traveled from Tenakee Springs.
Juneau author Nancy Ferrell is unofficially running the first few Juneau meetings. She's been a member since 1977.
"It's given me a broader focus," Ferrell said. "It's gotten me to kind of look at national trends in that way that helps me to look at my stories."
Stihler attended her first SCBWI meeting in April 2001, the day before Seattle-based Sasquatch Books notified her that it planned to publish her manuscript, "The Giant Cabbage: An Alaska Folktale."
"You make a lot of contacts in the group," Stihler said. "It's a tremendous education.
"A lot of people think that when they write a story they have to get it illustrated themselves, and that's not the case unless you're a professional artist. That's the biggest message we try to get to people."
When she wrote "Giant Cabbage," Stihler assumed the book would be illustrated by Shannon Cartwright, Sasquatch's stock illustrator. Instead, the house picked Seattle barista Jeremiah Trammell.
"When an editor gets your manuscripts, if they're interested, they have a vision for it," Stihler said. "And sometimes you do not have the same vision. Our editor sent me a rough sketch of Jeremiah's as a courtesy, and I was blown away. It was an eye-opening experience."
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.