Posted on May 17, 2013
We just had a big anniversary for World War II in Alaska, 70 years since the battle of Attu. I attended two different events last week to recognize World War II Remembrance Week, and one the weekend before. Each had its moments of grace.
The first event was to celebrate the building of the Alaska Highway. Three of the seven engineer regiments used to build it were African-American, and deserve part of the credit for the later integration of U.S. troops. Lots of performers and speakers gave us information about this huge accomplishment and inspiration to future generations. My favorite moment was meeting a local gentleman whose father was one of the soldiers who built the road, Pvt. J.A. Mitchell. He recommended a book and I bought it:The Black Soldiers Who Built the Alaska Highway http://preview.tinyurl.com/b6y9z3f.
The second event was Alaska WWII Remembrance Day hosted by the Russian American Colony Singers (http://www.racs.us/) and the Alaska Veterans Museum (http://www.alaskaveterans.com/). The Singers and guest performers gave us great music, and the slideshow/video was a great overview of all the events in Alaska during World War II. That night, I sat next to a gentleman who filled me in on the Lend-Lease program.
The last event was a showing of the film, Red White Black and Blue, hosted by the Alaska Veterans Museum. It is a documentary directed by Tom Putnam, available on shoppbs.org http://preview.tinyurl.com/arq3n6w, about U. S. veterans who participated in the battle of Attu. The movie was stunning, but the best part was meeting a lady veteran who had been involved in cryptography (“Can’t tell you any more, top secret”) and hearing about her life in Alaska after the war.
Everywhere I go, there are people with great stories. (Like I mentioned last week in my post about being approachable.) But there are so many stories of Alaska during World War II. We had the only battle fought on American soil since the War of 1812. We had technological and humanitarian successes, and some failures. We stood strong to defend our country at a time when it seemed the world had gone crazy. There are so many great stories from this time period that I’ve decided to write about WWII in Alaska when I finish my Gold Rush books. I’ve already got a head start on research!
Posted on May 10, 2013
If I had to name one good quality about myself, I’d have to say that I’m approachable. Little kids walk up and say hi to me. Strangers sit next to me in airports and performances. I kind of like being the one who people feel comfortable with. I take it as a compliment.
Adults and teens tell me their life stories. I guess I’m just a good listener. I get a lot out of it too. I learn a lot about people, and human nature. I hear great stories. And I feel honored when these people share them with me. Some of these stories will fade away with time, and it’s a gift to hear whose dad was in World War II or how someone came to Alaska. Maybe I’m the only one, or the last person, to hear that story, and it lives on because I heard it. And the act of telling and listening brings us closer together. I’ve bonded with people all over the world this way.
It’s possible that I became a writer because I’ve been surrounded by stories all my life, both written and spoken. And I confess that my writer side sometimes listens to someone and says, “That part can go in my next novel.” I don’t steal stories wholesale, but sometimes little details stick in my mind.
There are days I feel less than blessed with this trait. It can be tiresome if I’m in a hurry, or if a person tells me more about their messy divorce than I’d like to know. But most of the time, I’m glad I’m a good listener, that people feel they can approach me. I’ve gotten as much out of it as the people who share things with me. My life is richer because I’m approachable.
Posted on May 3, 2013
Not quite spring here in Alaska, but we are having break up. That’s the time of year when the snow and ice melts. It can be quite a sight, especially on the rivers where huge blocks of ice break up and create havoc as they go downstream. In the early days of Fairbanks, break up on the Chena River would wipe out the bridge every year. The residents would just watch the shards of wood go downstream and build a new one.
Here in Southcentral Alaska, it’s not so exciting, just weeks of slush and puddles on the roads. There’s still snow in people’s yards–some people get sick of it and plow it into the driveways or the street to make it melt faster. The ice is gone from the parking lots, but the puddles make it permissible to wear rubber Xtra-Tuf boots with casual clothes. (Of course most of us only wear dressy clothes to office work or special events, anyway. Even then, you’ll see t-shirts and jeans at the nicest restaurants and concerts. High fashion is not a priority for most Alaskans.)
This is the time of year when we dream of summer, discuss where we want to go fishing or camping, and plan our gardens. I’ve already decided what plants I’ll buy at the local greenhouse in a few weeks, and my husband is planning the mini-greenhouse he’ll build for our tomato plants. (It’s too cold to plant tomatoes outside without some protection.) The seagulls are starting to supplant our town ravens. Although I’m sorry to see fewer ravens, it’s another sign of spring. Summer is coming, even if it’ll take a while before it gets here.
Hope you have bright visions for your next season. Do you have spring where you live?
Posted on April 26, 2013
Tuesday was World Book Night (April 23rd), and I got to give away Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It’s one of my favorite books, a “classic” for good reason, and it was so much fun to give to others to enjoy. Wish I could give books to people every day! For more on World Book NIght, see www.worldbooknight.org and find out how you can sign up to be a book giver next year.
I also read a great new book recently: Kris Farmen’s Turn Again. Kris has taken the true history of Alaska soon after America purchased it, and woven it with an amazing story about clashing cultures, true love, and old magic. I was very impressed with the quality of his writing and the unique perspective on places I know and love. Check out Kris Farmen’s website and learn more about the book and his current project at http://krisfarmen.wordpress.com/.
Hope you find books you love and make the time to read them. That’s one of the greatest joys in life!
Posted on April 19, 2013
After the bomb blasts in Boston, I can’t write the usual blog. I’m still wrapping my mind around what happened. Not that it will ever “make sense” in the conventional way. Some things just don’t.
I have fond memories of Boston. I attended Irish dance and culture workshops at Boston College, when my daughter was dancing. Then I got to chaperone high school debate teams at the Harvard National Forensics Tournament for two years. Those trips were the highlight of my teaching career. And we stayed at a hotel overlooking Copley Square. You probably recognize the name.
Sometimes words aren’t enough. The closest I can come is MacDuff’s lines from Macbeth,
O horror, horror, horror!
Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee!
My heart goes out to all touched by the events in Boston.
We’ve seen the good side of people in this event also. It’s great to see the #runforboston tributes. Thanks to all the first responders and volunteers who jumped in to help. I’d like to think we’d all follow their example if we are caught in similar circumstances, and hope we never have to.
Posted on April 12, 2013
I’ve been stuck on the couch often in the last few months, and the wild birds have helped keep me sane. I enjoy watching them, and the entertainment always changes. Now that I’m mobile again, it’s not a lifesaver anymore, but I am grateful to be able to do some birding in the comfort of my own home.
We have resident black-capped chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, and common redpolls that visit our feeder and trees every day. My husband prefers the well-mannered chickadees and nuthatches. The chickadees are so perky, and I love their call, “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” The nuthatches are talented in walking upside down on tree trunks (which allows them to catch the bugs other birds miss). These two often come in smaller groups and share the feeder at the same time. The redpolls come in flocks, and they’re messy eaters, spilling seeds onto the ground, pushing each other off the feeder perch. But the redpolls are never boring–there’s always something to watch when they’re out.
As a special treat, Bohemian waxwings arrive in late winter, large flocks swooping and swirling. Waxwings land in our mountain ash tree, hanging almost upside down on a bobbing branch, beating wings to hang onto clusters of berries. I admire their elegant cockades, watch a couple (one plumper than the other, maybe making eggs already?) sharing ash berries with each other. After feeding, they hang out in the backyard to digest their meal. I expect to find the remnants of berries there in the spring.
But my all-time favorites are the corvids: Steller’s jays, black-billed magpies, and ravens. These are the big, smart birds. The jay’s beautiful iridescence belies its raucous, raspy call; it glares at me if there’s nothing out for him (or her?) on the deck. Ravens and magpies case the neighborhood for tasty trash or carcasses. I enjoy the magpie’s sassy swooping flight, especially if the sunlight hits its blue-black feathers. (And in one of my historical romances, a character is described as “pretty as a magpie, but just as noisy.”)The intelligent raven’s varied calls (caw, croak, cluck, drop of water) announce its presence more often than a sighting, but I am comforted to have ravens close by. It wouldn’t feel like home without ravens.
One day during one of our last big snowstorms, one lone waxwing and one redpoll perched on our ash tree, eating the few berries left. They seemed to pay no mind to each other, eating on different branches and tolerating each other as if to say, “any port in a snowstorm, you can share the tree with me.” Maybe there’s a lesson in there for all of us.
Posted on April 5, 2013
Alaskan Kikkan Randall recently became the first US woman to finish 3rd in the Nordic World cup! (Nordic is cross-country skiing, as opposed to downhill skiing. It’s a big sport in Alaska.) Kikkan is one of our state heroes or celebrities, which got me thinking how some of our famous Alaskans may be different from celebrity locals in other places.
Many of our celebrities are in sports. There’s Kikkan and other skiers like Nina Kemppel, Holly Brooks and Tommy Moe, and snowboarders Rosey Fletcher and Callan Chythlook-Sifsof. Every Olympics we have at least one competitor in riflery like Corey Cogdell and Matt Emmons. We even have a few Alaskans in “regular” sports nationally like hockey (Scott Gomez), basketball (Carlos Boozer) and football (Mark Schlereth). And I’ve written about the Iditarod before–common mushing celebrities include John Baker, Martin Buser, DeeDee Jonrowe, Jeff King and the Seaveys. (The son won last year, and dad won this year!)
But celebrity isn’t confined to sports. We also have a certain famous couple who started out as a Wasilla politician and a sportsman–Todd first got our attention by winning the Iron Dog snowmachine race. (I won’t go any more into the Palins–Alaskans either love them or hate them so I need to tread lightly here.) And our politicians are often celebrities–we’ve had so few state governors that any still living are adopted as elder statesmen.
We have a few reality shows set in Alaska, and if you’re associated with one (ie. captain of a certain crabbing boat) you’re also well-known here. I have to admit that I don’t have cable, so I can’t say much about those shows, but they bring us some celebrities too.
And we’ve been fortunate to have some great writers. I’ve written about authors quite a bit, especially in October for Alaska Book Week, but I have to mention the late John Haines, who is probably the poet that first put us on the literary map. And we have many current writers like Eowyn Ivey and Don Rearden who are getting attention now.
The cool part about Alaskan celebrities are how accessible they are. Most of them are nice, friendly people who are in the community. We’ll see someone in the movie theatre or wherever and recognize them, smile and maybe say hi if it seems like a good time for it. Often we’ll make introductions at an event and have a real conversation. For example, between us my dad and I have met a majority of the current state politicians. Some we know well–I went to high school with one of them, and with the wife of another. In the sports world, I have a friend who knows Scott Gomez. My husband used to work with Jeff King, and we’ve both talked to Martin Buser. I had John Baker’s nephew in my English class one year. And of course I’ve met many of the Alaskan writers. It really is a small world. One advantage of living in Alaska–the connections we make. Even with “famous” people.
Posted on March 29, 2013
I promised more details on my signing with Prism. Here’s how I got my first book contract:
This is not an overnight success story. I dabbled in writing all my life. When I taught English, I wrote with my students, but didn’t really think of myself as a writer until I took a course with ASWC (Alaska State Writing Consortium). Then I did NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2003; one night I was writing along, and suddenly realized Bob was about to propose, and he did! I was hooked. Once I proved I could write a book, I wanted to write a good one. I started my first real novel in 2006, and ended up writing a series of four, all set in the Alaska Gold Rush.
To refine my writing skills, I attended workshops and conferences, and joined the Alaska chapter of Romance Writers of America (AKRWA). I learned so much from those ladies, and their support encouraged me to find other writing groups and resources. Then I began submitting to agents. I racked up more than 50 rejections, but came close to a “yes” several times. (Some of those queries were premature; my advice to other writers: make sure your query and manuscript are ready for primetime to save yourself and others a lot of time and energy!) I retired in May of 2012 to write full-time.
Earlier this winter, I decided to test if I had a good “blurb” (description) for my second novel. I saw an online pitch contest on the Savvy Authors website and sent it off. Kerri Nelson wrote me back asking for the manuscript. I sent it to her, then got an email a couple months later saying that she was leaving, was it okay if she gave it to another editor? I said yes. Then a couple days later I got an email from Jacqueline Hopper offering me a contract for the book. I took a little time to check with some agents I had been corresponding with, then I said yes to her and signed the contract.
The publisher is Prism Book Group, (http://www.prismbookgroup.com/) a small press that does mostly ebooks and some print. (I asked for both options for this book.) Jacqueline and Joan Alley, the editor-in-chief, have been great about answering my questions, and my fellow authors are making me feel right at home. And of course I’m grateful to Kerri for giving me the opportunity to get started with them. This is a great group of people.
It’ll be some time before publication. I have already submitted an author bio, cover ideas, etc. It was fun to give input on those! But the manuscript isn’t ready yet. My editor needs to finish her edit notes and send them to me, and I’ll write the final draft. Then the staff has up to six months to complete any editing left to do and print/package the book. Once it’s out, Prism will do some marketing but I’ll also help out with whatever I can do online, etc. I’ll get a percentage of the book’s sales. More importantly, I’ll be a published author! It is so cool to be a “real” writer, on the cusp of publication. I can imagine holding that book in my hand, knowing other people are reading it, doing book signings and school events.
The book is called Quicksilver, set in Nome in 1900. They are contemplating selling it as young adult historical romance, or maybe historical romance. I intend it to be a fun, light read with some Alaska history mixed in; think North to Alaska meets My Fair Lady. Here’s the blurb:
Gold mining is in Jeannie Kelly’s blood. But it’s a dangerous time to be an honest miner in Nome, Alaska–claim jumpers have invaded the territory. Jeannie has set her sights on Clint Tilghman, the strong, quiet man next door to her family’s claim. Clint fights his feelings for the impulsive lady miner, fearing he’ll lose his independence. Jeannie tries to change her tomboyish ways to attract Clint and gain respect from others, but there’s a lot to learn amidst gunplay and barfights. Jeannie must woo Clint and beat the claim jumpers before summer’s end.
I am so thankful for the folks at Prism Book Group. I feel I’m in good hands. And I appreciate all the support of friends and family–feels great to know I have so many people pulling for me. That’s the best part of the journey, connecting with friends old and new. Quyana, thank you all.
Posted on March 22, 2013
I’ve been introduced to blog hops and guest blogs recently. Last week (March 15-18) I participated as a Prism Book Group author. Candlelight Reads and Prism Book Group hosted a blog hop (see http://prismbookgroup.com/blog/?p=450 for my post). It was cool to see how a blog hop really works, and I hope everyone else had fun with it too.
Tomorrow (Saturday, March 23), Romancing the Genres is hosting me individually for a guest post. I’m writing about why I write about the Alaskan gold rush, what inspires me about that particular time and place. I am looking forward to visiting with like-minded readers. It’ll be another fun thing that’s new to me. Please join me if you can! Here’s the link:
Next week, the promised details of how I got my first book contract. See you down the trail, wishing you the best on your own journey.
Posted on March 15, 2013
I apologize for the shameless promotion, but I am participating in my first blog hop, so I have to share with my friends! The Irish Gold Blog Hop is March 15-18.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Prism Book Group authors answered the question, “What are you wishing for at the end of your rainbow?” from their main character’s point of view. Of course, being of Irish descent, Jeannie Kelly has thought about that question, so I had no trouble writing it for her. It was great fun to do, and I am looking forward to the hop itself.
Please stop by if this sounds interesting to you. Readers can enter to win prizes, including free books and gift cards. Check out Candlelight Reads to begin the hop at http://www.candlelightreads.blogspot.com/.
Thanks, hope to see you around!