Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sea Otters and Storytelling

Like Lizzie said in the last blog, it’s the time of year for Alaskanwriting conferences! I just returned from the Kachemak Bay Writers’Conference, located in Homer, Alaska. There were four days ofspeakers, workshops, readings, and social events. The faculty was toobig to mention all by name, but the Alaskan and Outside speakers wereall top-notch presenters, and I loved hearing them read their own workat the readings.
This is one of my favorite conferences because of the camaraderie, therapport among the participants and faculty. Even if this is your firstconference and/or first year writing, you are welcome and part of thegroup. Everyone has opportunities to chat with the authors. There isnothing more valuable than discussing showing versus telling withKaren Joy Fowler (You need both.) or point of view with Joni Sensel(There can be more than one.).
Add the unique ambiance of Homer,excellent seafood, and the phenomenal scenery of Kachemak Bay, and youhave a world-class weekend. The only trouble I had was trying to focuson the speakers when I could watch eagles and sea otters through thewindow! Talk about inspiration for writing! I was glad to share it with my AKRWA colleagues Lizzie Newell andDeNise Woodbury, and I invite everybody to consider going next year!See the conference website at
Lynn Lovegreen

Saturday, June 12, 2010

North Woods Writers Symposium

It's nearly summer solstice, time for writers' workshops in Alaska. I'm just back from the North Words Writers Symposium in Skagway. If you weren't there you missed out on a wonderful opportunity, although I had my doubts when I flew to Juneau then took the ferry to Skagway. Registration procedures for the conference had been less than smooth. In fact on-line registration didn't work at all, so only the truly committed mailed in their registration. As a result, only thirty people attended and less than half were participants. Never before have I been at a conference where faculty was in the majority and participants were treated like VIPs. I sat next to some of the top writers in the state and spoke with them personally about their views on writing. Faculty attendees included: Buckwheat Donahue, Dana Stabenow, Jeff Brady, Elisabeth Dabney, Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli, Kaylene Johnson, Sherry Simpson, Nita Nettleton, Dave Hunsaker, Tim Woody, Kim Heacox, Dan Henry, and Andromeda Romano-Lax.

I had the opportunity to hear Dana Stabanow giving Nick Jans advice. I went hiking with Tim Woody, Dan Henry, and Andromeda Ramono-Lax. In the excitement, I tended to forget who was faculty and who were participants. I particularly enjoyed Tresham Gregg who does puppet theatre out of Haines, Lisa Weissler who writes dystopian science fiction, Dan Davidson an editor from Dawson, and Art Chance an expert in history from Juneau.

The town and people of Skagway went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We had excellent meals at The Stowaway Café, the Red Onion, and Poppies. Poppies is located in a beautifully maintained garden with a model train running through it.

The conference included a train excursion aboard The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. This narrow gauge railroad wound through steep gorges and over breath taking drops above raging turquoise rivers. I was torn between the stunning views of peaks, arĂȘtes, and glacial tarns, and the writers discussing journalism, memoire writing, Alaska history, and fiction.

I hate to write up a blog entry that points how the rest of you missed out. Nah nah nana nah nah. But not all is lost. Next year, The North Words Writers Symposium will be in Dawson. I'm going. Either driving or flying to Dawson should be as interesting as visiting Skagway.

See you there. Lizzie Newell

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gone Fishing

It’s June and that means I’m getting ready to head to Alaska to commercial fish on the Bering Sea. You’re probably wondering what this has to do with writing. You wouldn’t think the two had anything in common, but surprisingly they do.

My family fishes for sockeye salmon—red salmon for some of you that aren’t up on the lingo. We also fish with gill nets, not a pole. Poles are for sport fishermen on vacation. This is commercial fishing. Serious fishing where you cast a net into the ocean that is 200 fathoms and hopefully haul in 5,000 to 6,000 pounds (yes I said pounds) of salmon per net. Sockeye salmon weigh on average 8 to 10 pounds each.

Once in a while you catch something bigger. Like a king salmon. King salmon don’t fit in the small webbing of our net. They are simply too big. The only way we catch them is to snag them. Usually their mouth is snagged on the net. One hard pull and they could free themselves and often do. But sometimes you get one snagged tight enough that it stays caught until you’re able to pull it into your boat. We love these surprises and take up bets on how much they weigh. The above picture is of a king caught in just this manner and when weighed came in around forty pounds.

The big six in New York are the king salmons of the publishing industry. They are elusive and hard to catch. Much like a king. You cast your net—send out queries—hoping to snag a big fishes’ attention. When you do get that request, you’ve only got them by a tooth. One upset and they’re swimming away.

So what do you do?

First, you must cast your net wide and often. You quit fishing and you won’t get published. Ever. Second, you must have your manuscript in the best condition to send them and snag them so tight that you can pull them into your boat.

There’s a saying in fishing: “It’s called fishing, not catching.” But in order to catch, you have to fish.

Here’s to catching that big one. See you in August!

Tiffinie Helmer
Writer of Award-Winning Alaskan Romantic Thrillers.