Posted on February 5, 2016

Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race

I have written about the history related to the Iditarod (see, but I didn’t know the history behind the Yukon Quest race until this year. Here’s a primer for those of you into sled dog racing and Alaska history.

Jujiro Wada was an adventurer also known for his association with E. T. Barnette. As you may know, Barnette was the trading post owner who founded the town of Fairbanks. When Felix Pedro (Felice Pedroni) struck gold in the area in 1902, Barnette was keen to start a rush that would benefit his business. He directed his employee Jujiro Wada to mush from Fairbanks to Dawson to tell the news to the gold miners there. This was about one-thousand miles of travel in the dead of winter, not an easy feat. But Wada was a tough guy, and made it there safely. He fulfilled his duty, and the stampede for Fairbanks was born. Some say Wada ran the first Yukon Quest.

Fast forward to 1983, when mushers Roger Williams, Leroy Shank, Ron Rosser and William “Willy” Lipps created the Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race, following historical trails along the Yukon River. The next year, Sonny Lindner became the first Yukon Quest champion by completing the race in slightly over 12 days. The Yukon Quest has been a favorite of mushers and fans ever since.

This year, there are 23 mushers starting tomorrow, and many fans young and old who travel to the checkpoints and follow their favorite teams though the race. This year is notable for a change in the starting location; warmer temperatures have made parts of the Chena River unsafe for dog teams, so it will start in a different place but still in Fairbanks. You can learn more details and follow the race from the Yukon Quest website in the sources list below.

P. S. I was able to use E. T. Barnette in Golden Days, my YA historical romance about Fairbanks, but I didn’t find a way to fit Wada in there. Maybe I’ll have to pay homage to him in another book one day. He was quite an interesting man.

Sources for this post, plus a video on the mushers:

Alaska Public Media: History of race and the new start location for this year:

The Samurai Musher site concerning  Wada and an upcoming musical about him:

Yukon Quest site:

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Fans meet the mushers in Fairbanks:

Alaska Dispatch video: Meet the 2016 Yukon Quest mushers:

Posted on January 29, 2016

Bob Bartlett and Alaska Statehood

One of the main advocates of Alaska statehood was Edward Lewis “Bob” Bartlett. He represented Alaska through many years of statesmanship, and guided the statehood act through Congress, where it passed in 1958. We became the 49th state in 1959.

Bartlett’s father came to Alaska to work in the Klondike, and Bartlett was raised in Fairbanks. He returned to the territory after college, wrote for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, and married his wife Vide. The Bartletts helped run her family’s mine for a while but found their calling in politics. Bartlett was appointed secretary of Alaska in 1938 and started pushing for Alaska to become a state. He later became our delegate in Congress, then a Senator.

Throughout his time in public service, Bartlett always conducted himself with grace, and made allies which helped Alaska in many causes, including statehood. According to Sam Bisshop’s article run in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Aug. 13, 2003:

“He was of course responsible for statehood—there is no question about it in my mind,” said Fairbanks attorney Mary Nordale. It was Bartlett who finally reeled in House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, she said.

Many people in Alaska still have personal memories of Bartlett, and everyone I’ve heard speaks highly of him.

“He was just very interested in everybody. He had an enormous number of friends,” his daughter recalled.

I am proud to have gone to school at one of his namesakes, Bartlett High School in Anchorage.

Here’s my main source for this post and a good place to get more details about Bob Bartlett: University of Alaska’s UA Journey website:

Posted on January 22, 2016

What does an author do when she’s not writing?

Sometimes people ask me what I do (as an author) when I’m not writing. The last week has provided several examples of what authors do when they aren’t typing madly on their laptops:


First, I did a couple things online. Last Thursday (the 14th) was my day to post on the Romancing the Genres blog, where I wrote about my bucket list.


I also released my latest newsletter on that day. That’s where I let readers know about my book news and what I’m doing as an author, give a short Alaska history portrait, tell what the weather is like (because every time I call an 800 number or go outside Alaska someone asks, “What’s the weather up there?”), and draw a little prize for a subscriber. (If you’d like to subscribe, you can go to


This month, I also included a quiz I developed on Qzzr called “Which Alaska Gold Rush town is for you?” Okay, I admit I do mention my books in it, but, hopefully, the quiz is a fun way for readers to learn a bit about the Alaska Gold Rush and decide which town they’d like to visit. (You can play it by clicking here:

I also had a couple face-to-face commitments. Yesterday, I visited a local high school’s DDF (drama debate and forensics) team to ask what teens want to see when authors visit. They gave me a great list of topics. I shared it with my local SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) published authors group.

Then last night, I was the guest speaker at the local Alaska Writers Guild meeting, to share the story of how I got my publisher and demonstrate how to use QueryTracker ( for my fellow writers.

I don’t always have so many events packed into one week, but it shows a good cross-section of the possibilities. Authors have lots of choices, in person and online, to interact with the rest of the world. I am online in some fashion every day. I spend sometime each year appearing in public, partly for a little publicity, but also to give back to the community, in one form or another. I also put together fun things for my readers when I can.

Some writers are too shy to do some of this, but I find, maybe because of my teaching experience, that I don’t mind speaking in front of groups or posting on a group blog. It’s kind of fun, really. Communicating with other readers and writers is basically chatting with like-minded individuals. I’m glad to participate.

Posted on January 15, 2016

2016: A Good Year for the Arts Update

You may recall I suggested in my January 1st post that this should be a year for the arts, to help us understand each other and deal with the challenges we are facing.

(See the original post at

I thought I’d check in and let you know how I’m doing so far, to keep me honest and encourage readers to honor their own commitment to the arts. Here’s what I’ve been up to so far:

I finished one novel and read another. In Four Weddings and a Fireman, a romance by the heartwarming Jennifer Bernard, I thought about Vader’s character and how all of us have layers we don’t show to everyone. In Dramarama, a YA novel by the witty e. lockhart, I related to the crazy, funny drama kids that reminded me of the ones I hung out with at school, but I also saw what gay teens might go through after Demi’s first experience with love. I think both books helped me grow a bit in my understanding of my fellow humans, which is one of the reasons I read fiction. If you’d like to see my Goodreads page and talk more about books, please friend or follow me at

I saw a film documentary also, Amy J. Berg’s Janis: Little Girl Blue about Janis Joplin. I have always admired Joplin’s music, but didn’t know much about her, so this was an eye-opening experience for me. Gosh, she was talented, and I wish we’d been able to have more time with her. The film gave me a better feel for that time period and Joplin as a person and an artist. I think I “get” her more now.

Also, I want to give a shoutout to the Rasmuson Foundation for their $12 million grant for an expansion of the Anchorage Museum. I look forward to seeing my favorite Laurence and Machetanz paintings more often when it is completed.


Four Weddings and a Fireman:


Janis: Little Girl Blue IMDb page:

Foundation makes largest grant in its history for museum expansion:

How have you engaged with the arts this year, or why are they important to you?

Posted on January 8, 2016

Winter Sports in Alaska

As you might expect, winter sports are a big deal in Alaska. Indoors, basketball and hockey are important—check out a high school basketball tournament or an Aces hockey game if you want to see rabid fans. But we have outdoor winter sports that are followed closely, too. I chose two to talk about today.

Skiing is something all Alaskans have to try, and many spend much of their winter recreation time either alpine or cross-country (Nordic) skiing. Other Alaskans compete internationally. Alaskan skiers Bill Spencer, Tommy Roe, Kikkan Randall, and others have been in the Olympics. This year, we’re excited to have Alaskans like Holly Brooks, and two sets of siblings Erik and Sadie Bjornsen and Caitlin and Scott Patterson competing in the national or international Nordic circuit. And I didn’t even get to biathlon, a variation that has its own fandom up here.

Dog mushing is our state sport, naturally, because of its history here. But it is alive and well in modern times. Many mushing greats like Jeff King and the Mackey and Seavey families are still in the game. (Hmmm. Why are there so many siblings and families in Alaskan sports?) This year’s season has started with little snow in the Southcentral part of the state, and there’s talk of moving or rerouting some races to create better conditions. But that hasn’t fazed the competitors—25 mushers have signed up for the Yukon Quest race and 86 have paid to enter the Iditarod. Dog mushing is tops in Alaska.

Should be a fun winter, whatever sport you pick. Get out there and challenge yourself, or watch the athletes and be inspired!

Photo: Jeff King and dog embrace by James Brooks from Kodiak, Alaska–Wikimedia Commons

Posted on January 1, 2016

2016: A good year for the arts

2016: A good year for the arts

On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I usually celebrate in downtown Anchorage. We go to the Anchorage Museum, have dinner at Sacks, watch fireworks, see the gingerbread village in the Captain Cook hotel, and spend the night at the Copper Whale B & B. And we talk about the year past and our plans for the next. It’s a great way to celebrate together.

Going to the museum is an important element of our day. The museum, and arts in general, is a big part of my life. Art and literature give me solace, entertainment, and thoughtful ways to understand people. Because of the latter, I’d like to declare 2016 the year for the arts.

With war, terrorism, political strife, and all the other challenges we face, one would think that understanding our fellow humans is vital. As Harper Lee had Atticus say in To Kill a Mockingbird, “First of all…if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Art and literature give us an opportunity to see things from other points of view. A recent study shows that reading fiction improves our ability to empathize ( That should help us come together to find collaborative solutions to the many problems that we’ll face in 2016.

I encourage you to enjoy the arts this year. Read a novel, go to a museum or gallery, watch a dance performance or a play, or go to a concert, as often as you can. Also, tell your representatives to support art in schools and public places, and donate to a museum or arts group yourself if you can. Let’s spread art this year, and make the world a better place.

Inspired by Frank Soos’ blog post for 49 Writers-see it at

Posted on December 25, 2015

Christmas Spirit Everywhere!

My husband and I spent several weeks in Hawaii this month. I was looking forward to seeing dear friends and feeling the sun on my face, but I was a little doubtful about finding the Christmas spirit in the tropics. I was wrong.


The Aloha spirit is alive all year long in Hawaii, but it translates to the holidays very well, too. We watched Pahoa’s holiday parade that could have been in any small town, with lots of kids’ groups, a community band, and such. The Hawaiian touch was there, too, in the ukuleles, hula groups, and Santa wearing a red and white garland lei around his neck.


Afterwards, we went to the local school for food, crafts, and kids’ dance and ukulele classes performing for an admiring audience. While I was sitting there enjoying the cute little ones, with my husband and friends near me, I felt the holiday spirit. It may look different than what I’m used to in Alaska, but sharing time with loved ones is the same no matter where you live.


Wishing you a joyful season with people you love,


Posted on December 18, 2015

Winter Solstice

Note: I’m running an encore blog post while I catch up with family and friends over the holidays. Earlier versions of this post appeared in the AKRWA blog and this blog. 

To Alaskans, solstice is a big day. Our lives revolve around the environment, including the changes in weather and daylight. We notice how much sunlight we gain or lose each day. We celebrate the longest day of the year. My daughter even had her wedding on summer solstice.  On the shortest day of the year, we pause, then look forward to the return of sunlight.

People have been observing winter solstice since Neolithic times. You’ve probably read about the history before, so I’ll be brief here. The Saami, the Romans, and the Celts had midwinter festivals that led to many of our winter solstice and Christmas traditions. There are also traditional celebrations on or near winter solstice in Pakistan, East Asia, and Mali, just to name a few. Many of us recognize it as a time of rebirth and renewal, or welcome good luck into our houses at this time.

The short days give Alaskans an excuse to stay inside and cuddle up in front of the fire. Some of us do extra reading or other indoor activities. I tend to write more in the wintertime. Winter solstice is a good time to reflect, think about the past year and make plans about the future. While I’m not thrilled with cold weather, I do like the opportunity to wrap up the year and acknowledge my loved ones.

We often attend or host winter solstice parties on December 21st. We’ll celebrate with family, friends, good food and drink. To all of you: good wishes, wassail, and hoping you have a great winter solstice, however you celebrate this time of year!

Best wishes,


Posted on December 11, 2015

Colony Christmas

Colony Christmas is a festival that Palmer, Alaska celebrates every year. It highlights an important part of Alaska history.

In the midst of the Depression, the federal government looked for programs to help those who were suffering the most. The Matanuska Colony was one of many projects to move farmers to better situations. 203 families from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan were chosen to start a farming community in the Matanuska Valley north of Anchorage. They moved to Alaska in 1935, and most succeeded in establishing farms despite supply shortages and errors in management. Those modern-day pioneers are responsible for the town of Palmer and the farming community we have today. For more information on the history, see Explore North’s article at

Colony Christmas is Dec. 11-13 this year. Events include cookie and gingerbread contests,  an evening parade of lights, fireworks, a triathlon, and a canine weight pull. It should be fun! :-) For more information, see the Palmer Chamber website at

Colony Christmas fireworks

Colony Christmas fireworks,

Posted on December 4, 2015

Alaska Winter Wonderland

Winter is a beautiful time in Alaska. Most parts of the state have snow and ice. (The Southeast panhandle sometimes gets snow, but it doesn’t always stay.) The sun is lower in the sky, which creates interesting light. That leads to lovely views. Here are a few winter photos that I’ve taken over the past few years.

my backyard

my backyard

Hatcher Pass

Hatcher Pass

Denali, from Cook Inlet

Denali, from Cook Inlet