The Writerly Life

1985 – We called ourselves the “Feature Creatures” in the soft-news department of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. That was me on the left in the dark hair (!), the features editor, with a dependably excellent staff of writers, designer, and copy editor. Lifelong friendships were forged with people who cheer for each other still.

“I’m a writer.”

 I’ve discovered those are the three of the hardest words to say. And when I confess that to budding writers, I get the same reaction from them. Fear of being found out for the frauds they really are. The big names, those are the Writers. Me, I’m a word processor. I just write . . . and edit . . . and see books through to publication.

Is it glamorous? No. So not. I’ve been at a book-signing where a woman paused as she was walking by to ask me where the bathroom was. I’ve shown up for bookstore signings where the beleaguered employee said, “Oh, man, was that today?”

Keeps you humble. But I’ve also known the thrill of reading thank-you notes from classrooms that I’ve visited. Hearing from my readers first-hand. That’s the best.

“Yeah, but what do you DO?”

Well, I’ll tell you.

Because I began my writing career in Alaska newspapers and magazines, Alaska subjects have long been my expertise. There are other Tricia Browns in the databases. I always tell people, “If it’s about Alaska, it’s mine.” I lived here for twenty-one years before moving to Oregon to accept a publishing job. I continued to make frequent trips north, until we were able to move back in mid-2015. So, traveling all over the state to visit classrooms, speak, do research and find inspiration is part of the job, too.

I worked as an acquisition editor for Alaska Northwest Books for a few years, the job that moved me “Outside,” which for an Alaskan means “anywhere not Alaska.” We lived in the Portland area for sixteen years working and looking after elders before our boomerang move back to Alaska.

I spend time developing and editing books that were already are on the path to publication. I worked for various publishers, so my bosses changed with each new project. Yet often I worked closely with the same independent creative people who took the text when I was done with it and designed and produced a beautiful book.

Writing children’s books is a joy. Maybe that’s because I have six grandchildren. I’ll never forget when one of them emerged from my home office with The Itchy Little Musk Ox to read to his little brother. Listening to that sweet voice reading the pages I know so well . . . my heart just swelled.

There is no typical day. While Perry’s at work, I’m in my home office with a golden retriever and a cat vying for my attention. I may be at my desk fully dressed, wearing shoes and mascara, ready to roll. I may be in my jammies, unaware that time has passed until the FedEx guy rings the doorbell. Oh, yay.

My off-duty time includes reading, too. I usually seek new fiction at the library and ask reader friends for recommendations. There’s a Little Library near us that I use for quickie runs.

Usually I have a couple or three book projects going on at the same time, like the year I was just released a history of St. Helens, Oregon, for Arcadia Press. I had a leftover batch of research from that book and couldn’t let it go, so I wrote a magazine-length history piece for the Columbia County Museum Associations “History” magazine. I really love the history of places, wherever I’m living. Here in Alaska, I’m a member of the Alaska chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), but I don’t only write for children. In fact, most of my list is adult nonfiction.

In 2021, I applied for and was awarded a Rasmuson Independent Artist Award, a fellowship that funded a year of travel and research on a book that has kept me singularly focused for a couple of years. Now the finished manuscript is out to a couple of agents and a couple of publishers, and I’m waiting to see if anyone will love it as much as I do. I’ve spoken on the subject a couple of times and it went well, so I’m thinking that it just might go. Meanwhile, I have another dog story percolating on the back burner, and I’ve already gathered up some research for that one.

That’s my world. Just keeping the plates spinning, like everybody else. I’ve been blessed to know and work with so many talented people. Idea people. Can-do people. Faith-building people. And we do sharpen each other, don’t we?

Must go. I have to do the dishes. There’s still that, you know.


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