The Waiting Room

The publishing world has changed a lot since my first two books came out in the same year: 1998. Two regional publishers had approached me to develop a title for them–unheard of, right? But I was an experienced Alaskan journalist working for newspapers, then jumping into magazines. It was natural to roll over my nonfiction writing into book-length works. In February 1998, Epicenter Press released Iditarod Country: Exploring the Route of the Last Great Race (now out of print), and a month later, Alaska Northwest Books rolled out Children of the Midnight Sun: Young Native Voices of Alaska (still in print, for now!). Two dozen more books would follow as I published with those regional presses and others in the West.

I’m still at it twenty-five years later. Those first two books set the tone for me as an author–writing for children and for adults, writing about subjects I love, traveling extensively throughout the state that I love, and learning constantly as curiosity leads. I’m now considered a publishing veteran. I like advising novice writers, speaking at conferences and schools, and especially developing books by Native Alaskans who are creating and sharing their cultures with their own people and beyond. It’s exciting to help.

But I’m not done producing. I’ve written eleven children’s books and I have a couple more waiting for the right publisher, and my adult nonfiction book about Irene Sherman of Fairbanks is staring at me while two traditional publishers consider it. If both pass, I’ve decided to go forward with producing the book myself. I’ve done it for many corporate books, so why not for this pet project of my own?

So many changes in this industry have upended what I thought I knew about going from idea to bookshelf. What used to be called a “vanity press” is now independent publishing or self-publishing. What was once viewed negatively or with a “Good luck with that!” attitude has been elevated. I strongly believe that far too many self-published authors have overlooked the value of a contract editor, a freelance designer/art director, and a final proofer. But the cream does rise to the top, and excellence among self-published authors is launching careers.

If you’re just getting started with your own book, take heart. Even for me, getting published traditionally is grittier than ever. You’re directed to follow the submission steps on the publisher’s website–to the letter. Okay. But once you’ve submitted, you enter that floaty world of wondering if that electronic submission got into the right hands. You’re told that it’ll be four to six months before you hear from anyone, and if you hear nothing, that means no. So you wait and you wait. No receipt-of-manuscript card, no actual rejection letter. It’s a don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you world. Kinda harsh.

Finally, with so many publishing houses merging or bought out, or when editors or agents move on or retire, we creatives are thrown back to square one. Veterans and newbies in the same waiting room. So, a word of encouragement to those of you in the waiting room: You’re not alone. Don’t give up. Join a writing group online or in person, go to conferences and schedule appointments with the editors and agents in attendance. (Pay the extra; it’s worth the face-to-face time.)

Keep believing in yourself and your work. The publishing world may have changed in some ways, but more than ever, you have the freedom to chart your own path.

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Happy Day!

Alaska Book Week launched its kick-off event Sunday, October 1, 2023, at the Writer’s Block Bookstore & Cafe in Anchorage with a five-person panel of authors talking about their works in progress and reading. But before they got started, Patience Frederiksen, board chairman of the Alaska Center for the Book, graciously handed out three awards to us CLIA award-winners. The CLIA stands for Contributions to Literacy in Alaska, and the board has been designating winners for the last thirty years. I’m honored to be among them and to receive the special award remembering Alaskan children’s librarian Sue Sherif, who is sorely missed.

I especially loved seeing that this award includes a fine photograph of two children camping and reading near a glacier. I remember it well as an image in the book My Denali, and photographed by Roy Corral. Those are his children, now grown. Roy and I partnered on my first children’s book back in 1998, and many more afterward. I had to write Roy to recall all the fun creative work we’ve done together. So much talent in this state!

Still ahead in Alaska Book Week, I will be among a small group of children’s book authors reading and signing our books at Title Wave Books on Northern Lights in Anchorage. We are all members of the Alaska chapter of a national organization (actually, international) called the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Come down to see me, Brooke Hartman, Barbara and Ethan Atwater, and Matthew Lasley. We’ll have some crafty activities for the kids at various tables, too. Join us between 11 and 2 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 7.

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Alaska Book Week and the CLIA

I’m so grateful! Recently I was chosen to receive a 2023 Contributions to Literacy in Alaska (CLIA) Award. The Alaska Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress, has chosen the honorees for the last thirty years, recognizing Alaskans who promote literacy, the literary arts, and the preservation of the spoken and written word.

Thank you so much!

The 2023 CLIA Awards will be

presented at 2:30 pm on

Sun., Oct. 1, at The Writer’s Block

Bookstore & Café,

2956 Spenard Road in Anchorage.

My fellow honorees are poet Erin Coughlin Hollowell of Homer, and the community of Moose Pass, creators of “People, Paths, and Places: The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska,” edited by Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan of Ember Press Books. Come early, eat, shop, watch the brief awards ceremony, and then stick around for an exciting panel of authors discussing and reading from their works in progress.

It’s only one in a jam-packed week of literary events during Alaska Book Week, with panels, appearances, and readings, all coordinated by the Alaska Center for the Book. Find more on this year’s calendar of wonderful events all across the state. Just click here.


On Sat., Oct. 7, I’ll be joining three other children’s books authors for readings and crafts at Title Wave Books for readings and crafts. Bring your little ones and meet me, Brooke Hartman, Matthew Lasley, and Ethan Atwater. Title Wave is located at 1360 W. Northern Lights Blvd. in Anchorage.

See you at the Writer’s Block on Oct. 1 and at Title Wave on Oct. 7!

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This is what a writer’s desk looks like

Of course, I write in Word. But for one beta reader/editor, the old-school way was easier.

I have a working title for my in-progress nonfiction writing, but “the Irene book” is what I’ve been calling the story of Irene Sherman. It’s so compelling and wide-ranging that I’ve been immersed in it for more than a year. One day in fall 2022, I rolled back from my desk, walked into the other room, and tentatively told my husband, “I think it’s done…” We both stared at each other, like, “Really?”

Though Irene was decades older than I, we shared her hometown of Fairbanks. An early newspaper called the gold-rush community the “haunts of the wild beast.” I loved that description, for the people and the animals, so I’m using it as my working title. My own story of settling there in 1978 is entwined with Irene’s, who arrived at St. Matthew’s Hospital (now long gone) in 1911. Irene and her family are the stars, and mine is a supporting role. It’s the story of two families, really, decades apart yet overlapping in the post-Pipeline years, the challenges she overcame, and the long-lost relatives who came to me looking for Irene, or those who knew her. The narrative is laced with mysteries that arose as I researched. Several respected readers have combed through the manuscript, and I’m genuinely proud of it.

And now, getting the Irene book published requires a different kind of tenacity. (Interesting how “tentative” and “tenacious” look like fraternal twins.) In my industry right now, a hot topic for un-agented authors is deciding whether to pursue the traditional route of signing with a publishing house versus personally investing in one’s book through indie publishing services (which might include Kickstarter).

Both routes have their benefits, but I’ve routinely published traditionally. I had a friendly relationship with a California-based publisher, and there was interest in this story, and then the floor fell out when I learned that they’d been sold. The gears stopped moving. Now I’m starting over in the search for an agent or publisher. Help!

I’ll keep you posted on how things progress, and if you have any suggestions for representation or publishing, would you let me know? I’ve had many, many requests from people who want to buy the book NOW, so there’s a wide market already. Send me an email or a PM on Facebook if you have a good lead, okay?

Can’t wait for the next steps!

P.S. In case you’re wondering, those pups on my computer screen are Flower, left, and Willow, brilliantly illustrated by my talented sister-in-law, Julie Sigwart. Thanks again, Julie.

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Question of the day: How’s the Irene book coming?

In July 2022, I was in Fairbanks for Golden Days, the city’s celebration of its gold-rush roots. I try to get up there every year, and I’ll never forget how the Grande Parade of 1978 made us feel like our new hometown was throwing a welcome party. That’s when I first saw Irene Sherman bicycling her adult-sized three-wheeled bike in the parade, layered up in secondhand clothes, and topped with a broad-rimmed bonnet. The answer: Almost there!

(Erick Hill/1988 ADN photo)

I’d learn that Irene dressed like that pretty much every day, as she marched around Fairbanks and shouted out her greetings and enjoyed her beer stops. I always wondered about her family, and in time I would learn more.

You may know that I’ve spent the last year working on a creative nonfiction book about Irene Sherman, who called herself the Queen of Fairbanks. As I wrote, my own stories were interwoven with hers, sometimes decades apart, sometimes very similar. I’ve also included narrative about how I researched her story, digging up the long-lost details about Irene’s life.

During the July trip up to Fairbanks, I was invited to share some of my Irene research at a couple of venues, both with appreciative audiences–many of whom knew and remembered Irene well. Still, they all learned new, intriguing facts about the Queen. My talk was titled “I Think There Were Seven of Us,” and subtitled “Untold Stories of the Queen of Fairbanks.” In it, I introduced the audience to Irene’s siblings that she’d never met, when and where they were born, and what had happened to them. I recounted the true stories of how and why she was burned so badly as a child, and what happened to her in the years when she was a ward of the Territory of Alaska.

After months of deep research and amazing contributions from her old friends, I’m pleased to say the book is done. (But don’t rush to Barnes & Noble yet.) In fact, in advance of my trip in July, an advance piece in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner invited folks to my speaking engagements and included some background on Irene. Unfortunately, readers concluded that I’d have Irene books for sale, ready to sign. Well, no. Over and over, in emails and in person, I apologized that the book was still an unpublished manuscript. Still, my heart was stirred to hear from so many people, all of them eager readers.

“I’ve still got a couple more chapters to write,” I said repeatedly. “I’m sure you’ll see notice when we have a real book.”

A few days ago, on October 1, I met with an editor who is interested in the book, and our talks are beginning. At the Alaska Writer’s Guild conference that weekend, I was awarded “Most Promising Manuscript” from faculty members. For me, it was confirmation that the last year of travel and writing was well-spent.

So, what’s next? Traditional publishing takes a long time. But naturally, I want this tribute to the Queen to land in just the right hands, so I will be patient and hope you will, too. I guarantee that when we have a release date, I’ll be broadcasting it widely and loudly!

Meanwhile, thanks for your kind notes and words of support.

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A Sukdu for the Dena’ina Children

The Lake and Peninsula School District in southwestern Alaska brilliantly partnered with many creative people to publish a book just for their students.

I love writing and editing books, but another area of mine is book development, when I get to coordinate all aspects of putting together a quality book written by someone else. I don’t do many by choice, because my own work keeps me occupied. But once in a while an exceptional book development project comes along that I can’t resist.

Early this summer, I said yes to this grant-funded project from the Lake and Peninsula School District. They had a vision for a book specifically for the children who are learning to speak their Dena’ina language region in southwestern Alaska—around the Lake Clark and Lake Iliamna area. They’ve also created a language app to support their work in getting more kids to learn the language of their ancestors. This book is full of Dena’ina words with an English translation on the first use of a word. Afterward, just the Native word appears in the text. I’m learning some things myself!

In this text, Dena’ina elder Mary Delkittie and Larissa Eknaty were the latest storytellers in a chain reaching back for uncountable generations. This ancient story (or sukdu) is known as Ch’ggaggashla, which in English means “Little Chickadee.” His story is an adventure with kind of grisly parts—reminding me of some original Grimm Brothers stories.

My role began when I was contacted by Amber Kresl, District Early Learning Coordinator & Reading Specialist for the school district based in King Salmon, Alaska. They had targeted their CHILD grant money to create a book. CHILD stands for “Cultural Heritage Improves Learning & Development.” The funds came through the Office of Elementary & Secondary Education: Alaska Native Education Program.

With the grant money, Amber Kresl contracted with a local artist to paint the illustrations and sought someone like me to help pull the pieces together into a book. Beth Hill was both illustrator and cultural coordinator. She also reviewed our work with the elders before it went to press to ensure it passed muster. It did. Ch’ggaggashla is on the press today and soon each child in the district will get a free 32-page picture book. It has no ISBN number because it’s not for sale—free only for their kids.

In the old days, this kind of project would have been called a vanity or corporate project. Now it’s an “indy.” There are more and more of independent publishers and access to publishing has given us many more voices. I’m glad they called me, so I could use my skills and contacts to make it the best book possible. Thank you, Amber, for the invitation, to Beth, for your gorgeous art and direction on cultural matters. And thank you to Kelley Dodd, for your design work, and to the folks at Friesens in Canada for putting this very short run on your presses. It looks like a first-class “real” book for some first-class kids in Bush Alaska!

Thankful to be a part of it!

P.S. For you who are following, I’m still in progress writing my Rasmuson project book about Irene Sherman of Fairbanks. I’m going to start showing the manuscript to publishers soon. Great feedback from early readers and those who attended my two history talks in Fairbanks during Golden Days. Many came to each event thinking they could buy the book there. I hated to disappoint, but it’s still in progress. The many queries have resulted in a good way to measure interest, and I’m glad to pass that along to prospective publishers, too. Stay tuned…

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CBC Honor for Bobbie

We just received glad news that the Children’s Book Council has selected Bobbie the Wonder Dog for its Summer 2022 Showcase: “Love Makes the World Go Round.” Bobbie and the other selected titles for Summer 2022 are now live on the CBC website and will be featured from June through September.

Bobbie’s true account really is one of the most enduring love stories. In the summer of 1923, this Scotch collie, a working dog on a farm, joined his people for a long cross-country trip, from Silverton, Oregon, to Wolcott, Indiana. He became separated from them and couldn’t be found before they had to drive home. So, Bobbie followed his instincts and started walking West. And he walked and walked. Six months to the day and nearly 3,000 miles later, a thin and mangy-looking dog limped down the main street of Silverton leaving a trail of spotty blood from his worn paws. When he saw his man, Bobbie was re-energized with free-flowing licks and frantic kisses. In the papers, they called him the “Love Dog.” And wasn’t that the truth? What else could be such a powerful motivator?

Silverton, Oregon, still celebrates Bobbie through its annual Pet Parade each spring. For the book launch, I was privileged to join the parade, and it was so fun to meet Bobbie’s lookalike, Quincy the collie from Portland.

You can find Bobbie the Wonder Dog: A True Story through your favorite book outlet, by title or in a search by my name. I loved writing it, and I know illustrator Cary Porter enjoyed himself immensely, too. We hope you love sharing it with the kids in your life. (Or heck, just get one for yourself!)

Have a great summer!

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Signed books for Christmas!

I am so excited to return to the Arts & Crafts Emporium at the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage. So many events were cancelled last year, and coming back feels good. The A&C Emporium is a one-stop shopping experience that supports dozens of local small businesses. Yes, we’ll be following safety protocols for Covid.

Please come down on Saturday, Nov. 20, from 10 to 6, and Sunday, Nov. 21, from 11 to 5. You’ll find me in booth number 409. (Think “She’s real fine, my 409.”)

I’ll have my best-selling titles for kids and adults, plus a couple of new books that were released in 2019 and 2020. They need their time in the sun!

This annual gathering usually draws thousands. We probably won’t break attendance records this year, but we know you smart shoppers will walk out of there with gifts that are ready to wrap (arriving on time and without shipping concerns!). In my case, I love to sign and personalize my books for your friends and family. Besides that, it’s warming to meet my readers in person.

Many, many talented vendors will be in attendance, so mark your calendars.

Saturday, Nov. 20, from 10 am to 6 pm
Sunday, Nov. 21, from 11 am to 5 pm

600 W 7th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501

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That Unwritten Book

Lately I was asked to define art, something I normally wouldn’t attempt. Writing doesn’t feel like art (though I know it is), perhaps because of my journalism years before I entered book publishing. So what is art, and what drives the creative process? For me, creative expression is fueled by a persistent idea. One that will not leave me alone until I act on it. The fact is, I’ve been quietly obsessed about a certain book idea for more than twenty years. It’s been simmering on the back burner while I wrote other books that needed writing.

This month came the wonderful announcement that I could actually focus on that unwritten book. I was among thirty-five Alaskans named as recipients of Individual Artist Awards from the Rasmuson Foundation. It’s not that I didn’t expect it–I mean, I did apply and create a proposal–but I didn’t expect it. When I got the call, I smiled, swallowed, and told my friends who were sitting nearby, “Oh, man. Now I’ve got to write that book!”

“That book” is the story of Irene Sherman, a woman who was well-known to the people of Fairbanks, Alaska, for most of the 20th century. Irene came along in 1911, born to the daughter of a hotelier who’d married a gold miner/trapper. The romantic part of the story ends there, however. At age five, Irene was disfigured by fire and suffered significant scarring on her hands, arms, torso, and face. People spoke of a cabin fire and Irene’s heroic role in saving herself and others. Was it true? The story had been embellished through the decades. By 1988, the elder Irene was a mainstay on the streets of town, a brash bag lady dressed in layers of clothing, wrapped up in a dirty parka cinched with a worn leather belt. She was loud, opinionated, and thirsty for a free beer any time of day, feared as well as treasured by the locals. As a magazine writer in the late 1980s, I followed Irene to learn her story.

Irene Sherman posed at her ramshackle home for this painting by Janet Kruskamp. Print sales benefitted the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital’s burn unit.

That story in digital form can be found under the Newspaper Writing tab on this website. As a pdf, it has been a touchstone of truth whenever speculators go sideways while remembering Irene Sherman. The experience of spending time with her, researching the archives, interviewing those who knew her well and quietly saw to her needs–all of it made for one of the most profound, well-recognized pieces I’ve written. I had a couple of breath-taking moments of discovery while researching and shattering the myths. The story won awards. I thought I was done. Irene died in 1995 and the old pioneer cemetery in Fairbanks was reopened for one last interment. Front-page news. Life goes on.

And then in January 2019, I received an email from a stranger who introduced herself and said her husband was related to Irene through his mother. That lady had been adopted away from the birth mother she shared with Irene. The sisters never met, never knew each other. And there were other siblings they’d heard about.

Follow-up conversations and exchanges of information had me so stirred up that I began to think more about a book. Although Irene’s memory wasn’t ironclad, she had told me that her mother had birthed seven children. I’d learned that two had died in horrific circumstances through which Irene lived. The others were all adopted out.

Where were they and what had their lives been like? How was it that siblings who were raised in different states, unaware of each other, had such similar behaviors? I did some early research before applying for the Rasmuson grant. And I’ve been intrigued by some of the answers, frustrated by the loose ends, and eager to dig deeper. I’m so grateful to the Rasmuson Foundation and its support of the arts, for worthy non-profits, and for equipping leadership in Alaska. This amazing opportunity has revived me. Time to write that book.

To see the full list of recipients for the 2021 awards, click here. Congratulations to my fellow IAA awardees.

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Not a Selfie Kind of Gal

When I was asked to create a minute-long video about the release of Bobbie the Wonder Dog in its softbound edition, my first reaction was stage fright. I’m the one in the family who takes the pics, and I rarely turn the camera around. Nonetheless, I love this story so much that I dove in for a brief promotional video. Click HERE to watch it on YouTube.

Also, the publisher has uploaded a mini-documentary of Bobbie’s story on YouTube, including 1924 scenes from when he starred in his own movie! The movie-makers had the Brazier family reenact preparations for their big driving trip from Oregon to Indiana, and that was the genuine Bobbie playing himself. After making his epic walk back from Indiana to Oregon, Bobbie started a new chapter in his life. No more a farm dog. Now he was a superstar. Click HERE to watch that great video.

Bobbie attracted crowds wherever he toured. Everyone wanted to touch the Wonder Dog.

I’ve loved reading notes from young readers who’ve been inspired by Bobbie’s “never give up” attitude.

And a special thanks to all of you in the Pandemic Readers Tribe! Readers gonna read, pandemic or not.

To order books, you can go online or visit your favorite local bookstore.

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