Writing Time

That’s me, a Word Worker. This shot of my favorite T-shirt reminds me why I’d best stick to non-fiction…and makes me want to enter a deliciously bad writing competition.

I’ve tried writing a long work of fiction. I wasn’t as bad as this guy, but I was no good at it. Generating ideas, creating vivid characters, and sustaining a story arc for a 32-page children’s book, that I can do. My young readers have connected at the heart level with an itchy little musk ox, a kitty named Groucho, and an Inupiaq boy named Charlie. However, most of my writing is non-fiction. While non-academic, my true stories for children incorporate fiction storyteller techniques to write non-fiction. Bobbie the Wonder Dog, Patsy Ann of Alaska, and Zig the Warrior Princess are examples of that melding in creative non-fiction.

(A quick aside: Anchorage-area parents, you’re invited to bring your school-aged children to the Loussac Library at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 17, for my presentation titled “Amazing Dogs,” followed by a craft project.)

Right now, I’m deep into writing an all-new edition of Children of the Midnight Sun, a non-fiction, photo-illustrated children’s book that sheds light on the unique qualities of Alaska’s Native populations as told by the children. My creative partner, Roy Corral, and I compiled a list of ten villages (or towns) to visit. To date, we’ve nearly completed our travels all over the state to interview and photograph one child from each of Alaska’s Native groups. The kids are all between 8 and 12 years old, and each is a beautiful reflection of his or her ancient Alaskan ancestry–they’re young, but believe me, they have been listening to their elders and other teachers.

I can’t wait to introduce this new book in early 2019. In the meantime, back to my word-working!


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Like Bobbie the Wonder Dog, I’m Headed to Oregon

I’m looking forward to reading Bobbie the Wonder Dog to an audience of Oregonians during a noon-hour talk on Friday, January 12, at the Albany Public Library. I’ll share details about Bobbie’s walk across America and the research I undertook to write his story, even connecting with descendants of Bobbie’s family. We’ll also talk about Cary Porter’s amazing illustrations and how the book came together. Thank you to my hosts, the Friends of the Library. As usual, I’m traveling with a suitcase full of books. I’d love to see you there.

Ninety-four years ago this month, Bobbie was enduring a solo crossing of the Rocky Mountains. He would swim across the North Payette River and follow the Snake River canyon until crossing into Oregon on a railroad bridge.

Five months had passed since he became separated from his family during a vacation in Indiana. Presuming him lost, adopted, or dead, the brokenhearted Frank and Elizabeth Brazier drove home on the “auto trails” in their Overland Red Bird. Meanwhile, Bobbie made up his mind to walk back. Six months to the day after he was lost, nearly three thousand miles later, Bobbie walked up the main street of town, into the restaurant the Braziers operated, climbed the stairs to their living quarters, and jumped on Frank’s sleeping form in bed. He howled and yipped like a dog hit by a car, off and on, throughout the day. As one local journalist wrote, “nor was he the only one who wept.”

That writer was Albany journalist Charles Alexander, who met the dog after his return, and who chronicled Bobbie’s remarkable journey in a 1926 book for adults titled Bobbie a Great Collie of Oregon.

Describing the dog’s entry into Oregon from the north, Alexander wrote, “On the dawn that Bobbie crawled into Portland, winter had laid down its severest and least expected barrage. Only a powdery snow lay here and there, but the moist earth was frozen and a biting wind sawed at the few and startled Oregonians who were abroad in the outer streets.

“Bobbie came down the Columbia Highway; he had made his westing, he was near home now, and he knew it; but he left a crimson trail behind him, and the edged wind cut through the bag of bones he had become.”

What makes this story particularly heart-rending, I think, is the truth of it and the purity of a dog’s love. Bobbie was not a cartoon character with superpowers, just an average-looking farm dog who (as it turns out) possessed incredible natural abilities coupled with a supreme will to get back to his man.

Next month, on the anniversary of his return, I’ll write about Bobbie’s last two weeks of travel, and the heroic old woman who kept him alive in Portland so he could make his final push.

Bobbie continues to inspire, as he did the child who sent me this letter last year after reading Bobbie the Wonder Dog. What he learned: ” . . . don’t never give up on my goll and eney thing is posable if you don’t giv up.”


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Then and Now

A brand-new book from Schultz and Brown

A long while ago, I teamed up with Iditarod photographer Jeff Schultz for an Epicenter Press book titled Iditarod Country: Exploring the Route of the Last Great Race. It was released in February 1998. After a good, long life, that book went out of print years ago.

Since then, Jeff went on to publish more Iditarod books, calendars, posters, and fine art prints. And he continued to spend part of every March photographing the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Meanwhile I pursued my own book-publishing career as a writer and/or editor, including more books that showed off Jeff’s talents, among them Iditarod Silver (Epicenter), The Iditarod Fact Book (Epicenter) Iditarod: Images of Sports (Arcadia), Sled Dog Wisdom (Epicenter), Iditarod: The First Ten Years (Old Iditarod Gang), The View from the Future (State of Alaska), and Chasing Dogs (Jeff Schultz Photography).

Last March, twenty years after we first worked together on Iditarod County, Jeff invited me to write the text for his latest book venture, Icons of the Iditarod, a 144-page journey through five decades of the race. It features 195 of Jeff’s stunning photos along with my profiles of the legendary people, dogs, and even inanimate objects (think bunny boots, sleds, and headlamps!) that are forever connected to the race. 

The project filled up most of 2017, and once again we got to work with Elizabeth Watson, the same book designer who brought Iditarod Country to life twenty years ago. We’re so excited that the official release date is just a few days away. First Jeff will be fulfilling orders from his Kickstarter supporters. But you can still jump on the Jeff Schultz Photography website to get your copy. Click here to order, with my hope that you’ll love it!

Meanwhile, a little trip down memory lane . . .

Barnes & Noble Book-signing, 1998


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A Whirlwind Week in Finland

Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy-Finland

I carried the Alaska flag with me as I traveled through Finland during the last week of October. I was there at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy, presenting all over the country in a speaking program titled “Arctic Dialogues: Building Cultural Bridges.”

If you look at Earth from the top down, with the North Pole in the center of the image, you’ll see that Finland and Alaska lie directly over the pole from each other. We’re polar neighbors. (And we’d be next-door

U.S. Embassy-Finland Round Table, Helsinki

neighbors, too, if it weren’t for the entire mass of Russia separating us.) Beyond latitude, the northernmost people in Alaska and in Finland share much in common. Discussing our similarities and unique qualities filled my days as I presented to audiences for five straight days. I read to kindergartners in Helsinki and engaged in roundtable discussion with some of Finland’s leading experts engaged in arts, science, and indigenous culture. I presented slice-of-life images about Alaska to teenagers in several high schools, and exchanged ideas and inspiration in a panel of Finnish authors. My keynote talk for adults was titled “Who Owns the Stories?” addressing intellectual property rights issues surrounding creative works about and by indigenous people.

As a tourist, I learned about Finland’s war-torn past and emergence into independence just a century ago. I took a ferry to an island near the Helsinki harbor. Remains of its days as a Russian fortification are still present centuries later. I was treated to a peek inside the National Library’s antique maps in the A. E. Nordenskiöld Collection in Helsinki, and days later traveled above the Arctic Circle to the Sajos Cultural Center as well as the Siida, the National Museum of the Finnish Sámi. The tribulations of the Sámi people and their dependence on reindeer herding was my biggest learning experience, and I still want to learn more. In Inari City, I was honored to lunch with City Council Chair Anu Avaskari and International Coordinator Eila Rimpiläinen, who kindly interpreted for me. And the food? Fabulous, fresh and local.

Talking Alaska Native arts and crafts, and demonstrating the Eskimo Yo-Yo, at the Sámi Education Institute.

The northern lights, Santa Claus, sod roofs, roaming reindeer, and gold mining. Imagine my surprise to dine in a restaurant decorated with gold pans and pick axes, a sculpture outside of miners working a sluice box, and a frontier-styled dining room. My brain kept leaping back to Fairbanks while my feet were in Inari. But this city truly is on the frontier of Finland, and hearing about their desire for growth in tourism–controlled growth–made me think of Alaska’s Southeast panhandle. Large numbers of tourists and small towns . . . the same problems, similar successes.

My delightful hosts and traveling companions were Helsinki-based Ethan Tabor of the U.S. Embassy-Finland and Taina Iduozee of the American Resource Center. They tell me that visiting above the Arctic Circle was a new experience for each of them, so they were learning more about Finland while I was. For me, a couple of jarring notes: five hours by bus north of the Arctic Circle, and we were STILL among the trees. It seemed impossible. Pine instead of spruce. And the other: there are no wild caribou herds as we have in Alaska. Every single reindeer we saw, whether crossing the road or grazing in the distance, belonged to a specific herder. They were free-ranging, but not wild. Customizing “branding” using patterned cuts along the ear indicated which animal belonged to which herder. They are rounded up at certain times of year.

I am so appreciative of the welcome, the efficient planning, and the opportunities to meet phenomenal people during this trip. I hope I represented Alaska well. If you’d like to see more, follow this link to more photos and details on the Embassy’s web page.


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Packing my Parka

No, I can’t speak Finnish either. Thank heavens Finland’s population is progressive and most of them can speak English, because I’m about to fly off to the other side of the world to share Alaska with our friends abroad.

I leave tomorrow for a week of speaking engagements in Helsinki and as far north as Lapland, reading my books to children, and talking to adults about life in Alaska, our changing world, and what we have in common. I’ll be there at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy-Finland and the American Resource Center. (Thank you!)

The question of “Who Owns the Stories?” will be the subject for several public presentations and round-table talks.

While Finland is working to create a handbook of ethical standards to protect the misuse or misappropriation of indigenous stories and legends, we in Alaska count on the ethics and sensitivities of writers, illustrators, and publishers, most of whom are non-Native. Blunders occur at the expense of the Alaska Native cultures and the individuals who truly can define ownership . . . or can they? Even within individual cultures, rights to stories and other artistic expression can be a thorny topic. Talking about it is important. Listening is even more important. My hope is to encourage more Native Alaskans to write and illustrate their own stories. It’s happening, but successes are just beginning to build.



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Bookin’ along the Iditarod Trail

Aliy Zirkle reads “The Itchy Little Musk Ox” to a batch of kinders in the Golovin school.

Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle is on a different kind of trail this week, traveling the western coast of Alaska without her huskies and dogsled. With help from sponsors Marston, ExxonMobil, and the Iditarod Trail Committee, she’s flying in to schools in three villages–Golovin, Elim, and White Mountain–to read, chat, and give back to some great rural kids who have inspired her through the years. Her goal: “to help educators create a positive and exciting atmosphere for the new school year.”

As she travels, Aliy is delivering stickers, stuffed toys, and books to each school, too. Kids from kindergarten to high school are getting a batch of great stories written by Alaskan authors. No surprise, many of them are about mushing! And no surprise, because I coordinated the book selection, many of the represented authors are members of the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators, Alaska chapter. Warm thanks to award-winning author Don Rearden, who donated multiple copies of his two excellent books, The Raven’s Gift, and Never Quit! Those are for the high-schoolers.

I’m just so proud of Aliy’s intentions–building up the kids and using her celebrity to promote good things in Bush Alaska. Way to go, Aliy!

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To Market, to Market

This sweet Patsy Ann lookalike visited me at the Saturday Market. See the heart over her eye?

Me and my colleague, Jen Funk Weber.








I’ve teamed up with fellow members of the SCBWI (in English, that’s the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators) to meet our readers at the Saturday Market in downtown Anchorage. It’s not a weekly commitment, and our participation is weather dependent (books and rain don’t mix), but it’s been great chatting with folks, many of whom are either starting or finishing their trip of a lifetime. The world comes to Anchorage in the summer.

Anyway, come down for the shopping, food booths, and live entertainment on weekends, and look for the SCBWI booth on Moose Hollow! We’ll be there on Saturday, July 22, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with lots of books. And if you want to know how to join our organization, please stop in.

To view the many, many books written and/or illustrated by our Alaskan members, click here.

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The Resistence Movement

What is it about cats and keyboards? Whether it’s trying to meet a deadline or just paying bills and answering emails, there’s always furry someone in the way. You, too?

We lost my sweet kitty Zach this winter and now what I wouldn’t give to have him distracting me again. Still, there are a pair of golden retrievers here who make frequent demands. Somehow I get some work done.

These days, I’ve got a couple of ongoing projects. I’m currently writing the text for a book by the official Iditarod photographer, Jeff Schultz. Watch for that before Christmas. Icons of the Iditarod will be a visually gorgeous tribute to the mushers, dogs, volunteers, traditions, and places that have made the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race great since its first running in 1973.

Also, for those of you who know our classic book, Children of the Midnight Sun, photographer Roy Corral and I working on a second edition for 2019 with ten new kids, each one representing his or her Native Alaskan culture. I love flying into remote villages to meet them and their families. So far, I’ve been out to the first three villages on my list. Seven more to go! So stay tuned.

And finally, beginning tomorrow, May 27, this summer you’ll find me with a table-load of my books (for adults as well as the children’s book) at the Saturday Market in downtown Anchorage. Look for the SCBWI booth (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) at 3rd and E Streets on the bluff above the Alaska Railroad terminal.

It’ll be an every-other-Saturday affair for me, so I can grab some weekends off during these rare summer days. As I write, we have more than 19 hours of daylight and gaining about five minutes a day.

Another distraction when I should be writing.

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Around the World in Sixty Days

Ms. Tanc’s students in Romania learned some Inupiaq Eskimo words before I shared Charlie and the Blanket Toss with them on Skype. Our time together made the newspapers in their city.


As March wrapped up, so did my sixty-day commitment to Skyping with classrooms all across the country (and the world).

During February and March, I spent most weekday mornings with three to five appointments that teachers had booked through Microsoft in Education’s guest-speaker program. They chose one of three titles offered on my profile: Bobbie the Wonder Dog, Charlie and the Blanket Toss, The Itchy Little Musk Ox, or I could talk about the Iditarod for older students. Using the “share screen” function, I showed them a Powerpoint presentation and/or a Windows Movie of the illustrations from each book as I read.

Occasional evening appointments on Alaska time translated to mornings (the next day) on the other side of the world. So I stayed up late to read to English-speaking students in Greece, Qtar, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, England, Egypt, India, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Romania . . . all from my cozy little office with a stinky dog sleeping nearby.

The grand total: 108 Skype visits. It was incredibly satisfying to read to kids and encourage them to read, write, and explore other creative expressions. By far, the overseas classrooms asked me to read Charlie and the Blanket Toss. At times it hit me, the significance of this transformative technology. There I was, this white lady in the sub-Arctic, clicking through a Powerpoint presentation and teaching Filipino kids how to pronounce Inupiaq Eskimo words. Really.

I came away with an even greater respect for committed teachers and their profession as a whole. And while I fielded lots of questions about Alaska and Bobbie the Wonder Dog and musk oxen babies, the most-asked questions were: 1. “Do YOU have any dogs?” and 2. “Can we see them?” Then I would crank the laptop around to one of these two golden retrievers, Kvichak or Willow, hear the loud “AWWWWW!” and know that they now hold superstar dog ranking. And before the end of each session, I walked my laptop to the window and showed the kids all that deep snow in the front yard. Blew some minds there.

I’ll be back again next year to Skype during February and March, the months that celebrate world literacy and Read Aloud Day. Until then, I’ll continue to visit schools and libraries in person, so if you’re interested, just let me know.

In the meantime, Quyanaq to all you wonderful teachers who invited me into your classrooms! 




In February, I Skyped with Mrs. D and her students in Phoenix, and then she surprised me, driving for hours to see me at the Tucson Festival of Books in March. She said this selfie would prove to her students that we’d met!
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When did you know you were a writer?

Reaching Young Readers via Skype

This month, I have stepped into classrooms all over the U.S. with Microsoft in Education and their cooperative arrangement with Skype. Most mornings have been devoted to reading to kids in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia–and evenings with Greece, Sri Lanka, China, Mexico, Canada, and Japan. I will pause the Skype readings soon, but I’ll pick it up again next year during Literacy Month. 

In the meantime, real, in-person school visits have been keeping me busy. (I just loaded some student letters and artwork onto the pages of my various kids’ books. Please check them out–they’re so heartfelt.) This week, I’m headed to Ketchikan for the Alaska Library Association Conference along with presentations in local schools.

I’ve said it before–there is nothing better for children’s books authors than reading to and taking questions from kids. I love their feedback, yes (they make me feel like a rock star), but I want them to know something else: I never planned to become an author. It began with a love of reading and a library card that was well-used every summer, all summer long. Writing assignments were not drudgery, so that was a clue. But high school was followed by marriage and babies, and full-time work (as a newspaper ad-taker, then secretary in an advertising department of a company). By age twenty-five, when I entered college, I planned to study in the journalism program’s advertising arm. Then I got the surprise of my young life: I took the required “Newswriting 101” class . . . and excelled. I didn’t know I could do that. My professor counseled me, “Do this, not that.” And so I focused on the people stories, writing newspaper features and lengthy magazine pieces in the years that followed. Writing and editing books was the next natural step.

No, I couldn’t have planned that. I didn’t set a goal and chase after it. I just did what I liked, what I discovered I could do well. So when I’m asked, as I always am during school visits, “When did you know that you were going to be a writer?” the truthful answer is, “I really didn’t know until I was doing it.” But more importantly, I tell them that they don’t have to wait until they’re grown up (or have published a book, or earned a degree) to say, “I am a writer.”

Declare it, then do it. And, best of all, enjoy it.

Thank you, sweet child.


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