Friday, January 31, 2014

Why I Love Alaska...

I love Alaska.

I know that is a much repeated phrase and can become a bit trite at times. Many people love Alaska. Some have a love/hate relationship with it.
There are an infinite number of reasons why someone would either love or hate this place, because it is that big, that immense, that encompassing.

There are many layers to my love for Alaska. My relationship with Alaska has been an extremely significant and momentous one in my life. Alaska welcomed me into its folds when I was a misplaced girl from the Deep South, and gifted me with a sense of belonging in the Far North I had yet experienced in the world. Alaska offered me sanctuary, like any misfit, from a busy and irrational world I did not understand. She has since put me to the test and shown me my mettle, my depth and my command of myself. Thus, she has, in the true fashion of any important relationship, offered me a unique perspective of my own soul. She has let me leave, continuing to not only hold a place for me, but to sing her siren’s song beckoning me home.

I don’t say these things poetically or for the romance of fawning. I say them because I have earned the right to say them through my trials and tribulation with her. I say them because I know that I was meant to be here, and because I am grateful for the intensity of experience that has embroidered my life.

I think it is common for people who live here to mire in the misery of the mess, the weather, the cost, or in disagreements on how things should be run. Alaskans love to be contrary. It is one of the reasons we have come here, to go against the common grain.

But I have learned to step back and nod my head politely when someone feels the need to vent about the insults she flings about so recklessly. I won’t defend her. Alaska on her best days can be indefensible. And I love her for the very reason that she is unapologetically extreme, daring those who don’t like her to leave her. I wish that in my lifetime, I had carried myself with such uncompromising confidence. My perspective on Alaska’s character is a sacred secret I carry in my heart, and I feel no need to convince anyone to love her like I do. Anyone who lives here should know not to expect sunshine and roses anyway.

If you come here expecting either, you will be sorely disappointed.
During my time in Alaska, I have lived with no water to wash with and no electricity to light my way on dark winter mornings, holding a flashlight between my knees as I rummaged through black garbage bags of clothes for something clean to dress my babies in before school. I have dug out my stuck cars when I couldn’t afford to pay someone to plow the driveway, and I have dug out my outhouse when it was too full and the ground too frozen to dig a new one. I have split wood with my babies on my back, and I have bathed those four precious children in Rubbermaid trash cans with water hauled in 5 gallon gas cans. I have cleaned fish till I couldn’t stand the smell of it, and I have butchered moose for days on end on my kitchen table. I have built my life in Alaska from rock bottom, from a place that offered no cushion and no wiggle room.
And in return for my hard work and tenacity, she has offered me her abundance. She has given me miracles of light, every day a different palatte, a changing hue. She has provided unexpected friendships and synchronicities of spirit. She has taught me wonder. Her landscape has moved me to tears, and her voice has sung me to sleep in the gentle hush of summer. She has woven her magic in the cells of my body, so that if I were to ever leave again, I believe I would die a little each day. It may be mad to wax on about such a place, unforgiving and relentless as she is. But I think there are those of us, every once in a while, who are bitten in a way that is profound for us. Robert Service had a way of describing the essence of that venom, illustrating with words that madness that some of us feel for this northern clime. I’d say it is fair for anyone to question my passion for a place that has as many faults as redeeming qualities. But then there will be those very few who comprehend, who have lived by trial and adversity and come out wiser and richer. They will have sat quietly and watched the changing light in all its wondrous subtlety, listened to the solitude closing in with clamoring cacophony, or looked into the depth of the wilderness and seen their own reflection staring back at them from its shadows. They will know what I mean and they will say, “Ah…yes.”

--- Deb Pollock

Friday, January 24, 2014


Calling Yourself a Writer?

Is this you? You’re driven to write. You write every day. You already have a manuscript completed and another started. Yet someone asks you what you do for a living, and you tell them you run a store, work in a doctor’s office, are a teacher, a babysitter, an accountant; work in construction, in a factory, etc. Chances are, you wouldn’t think to tell them you are a writer if you haven’t yet published that book or magazine article, poetry, whatever, that you’ve written.

But you should. Think of yourself as a writer, that is. And call yourself one.

Oh, they might challenge you up front; ask you what you’ve published. Abashed, you might mutter something about “not published yet, but I wrote this book….” They might shake their heads and walk away. You might feel mortified that you even claimed to be a writer.

But as soon as you touched your fingers to the keyboard and started linking sentences, molding characters, situations and chapters; once you set up your fictional or non-fictional work, you became a writer. Because you started creating.

I used to design costumes for a light opera company in Fairbanks. It was all volunteer work and I did two shows a year. I drew up designs, chose the fabric, sewed the costumes, even created hats, shoes and sometimes designed wigs. If I couldn’t find a pattern, then I made my own. I worked on stage with lighting crews; I supervised a team of seamstresses to assist me on the bigger-cast productions. It was all my responsibility once I agreed to take on a show. Did that make me a costume designer even though I never got a cent for my effort?

Oh, heck yes, it did. Maybe I couldn’t slap it on a resume per se, but I was no less a costume designer than someone else who got paid for the job. And when someone asked me what I did for a living, I’d reply that I worked as a costume designer when I wasn’t in my office, doing the other boring junk.

Those of us who toil in words, who agonize over our characters and create worlds for them to live in, are writers though we may not yet have found our agent or our publisher. We know they’re out in the world just waiting for what we’ve accomplished. They know the next great book is only a submission away. The twain simply has to meet. But in the meantime, we are writers.

You put your blood and sweat, often your tears, into your writing once you begin creating. Those characters you pen are your best friends, your family, perhaps your enemies. You give them life and you send them on their way when it’s time to query or submit. You hope for the best. And when they succeed; when that one agent or publisher looking for them makes the connection to you, then you throw up your fists in victory and you scream, “I AM A WRITER!”

But, my friend, you already were one of those.

I have a few family members who think my writing is a “cute little hobby” even though I’m published. It isn’t cute nor is it a hobby. I have one family member who pooh-poohed my career choice, jeering that I’d never be another Stephen King. Well, I’d hope not! He and I look nothing alike.  To those nay-sayers, I merely smile and go about the business of writing. Trying to convince them would have been a pointless exercise in futility. Let them think what they want; I’ll continue to write, write, write. And publish, publish, publish.

And so should you. So should we all, we whose life force drives us to imagine, write it all down and then imagine some more. Writers don’t write on a whim . . . they write because they have to. Need to. Because it’s all inside them bottled up, and it has to spill out. Otherwise they’ll explode.

So, are you going to call yourself a writer? You bet you are. Because what else could you possibly be?

Char Chaffin is a member of AKWRA and CNYRW, a displaced Alaskan currently splitting her time between Fairbanks, and Upstate New York. She has two books and an anthology published with Soul Mate Publishing and is also an Acquisitions Editor for Soul Mate. She has just completed her third novel and has begun her fourth. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s plotting.

Find her here:


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Alaska Is A State...?

Rants and Raves from Alaska

One would think, with all of the modern modes of transportations, that ordering items on-line would be fast and simple. Not so when you live in Alaska.

Before I begin my ranting, I’d like to start out by defining some commonly used terms when talking about where Alaska is located.

First, as I’m sure all of you already know, is that Alaska is a part of the United States. Even though it is separated by another country, Canada, Alaska is still physically connected, therefore we are a part of the North American continent.

So, when people advertise that they have free shipping to the United States, those of us living in Alaska believe that will include us – not so in many instances. Other folks advertise that they will ship to the Continental United States, and we are a part of the continent, so again, we suppose that will apply to us. Again, not so in many instances.

Then there are those that do not know how to describe Alaska’s location so they just state that they do not ship to Alaska (and many times Hawaii is included). But, for those that are in the know, there is a proper term they could use to describe where they ship to without specifically targeting Alaska. If they only shipped to the contiguous United States that would mean that they only ship to what we affectionately call, the Lower 48.

So, now that we are all on the same page, my problem is that I like to order things on-line.

Why wouldn’t people want to make sales to Alaska? We have planes, trains and automobiles that travel to and from the L48 on a regular bases. We have FedEx, UPS, USPS and others. FedEx and UPS rates will vary according to your location, no matter if you are in New York, Florida, California, etc., but if I’m willing to pay for it, why would a business not want to ship it to Alaska?

Then we have the option of the United States Postal Service flat rate shipping options, all of which apply to Alaska. Yeah! Who knew that the government would get it right!

What brought this on, this time, was when I tried to order a Christmas present for our son, on-line. It had free shipping, but when I put in my zip code they added a fee of $75. That was a bit excessive, especially when the item only cost $120. and it would have fit in a small USPS flat rate box. When I contacted the company to ask if they would ship via USPS flat rate, they refused. They must have enough business from those folks living in the contiguous United States that they are not concerned with all of us up here in the frozen north.

And just to add a little irony, the item I was trying to order was ---
winter gear.

--- Sandy Shacklett

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ski for Women

Every year, Anchorage hosts the largest women's ski race in North America, The Ski for Women. This is held on Super Bowl Sunday and raises money for domestic violence prevention. This is the 18th year.

I can proudly say that I took part in the very first of this annual event back in 1986.

In 1986 it was a partners ski race with teams made up of mother-daughter, sisters, and friends. My sister and I did quite well in these early races. Picking the right completion is a good part of winning so we competed in the classic ski race and came in third at least once.

Cross-country skiing, also called Nordic skiing, has two categories of techniques, classic and freestyle. For centuries, skiing was done on lose snow or on narrow trials. In such conditions, skiers use a back and forth motion. During competition this is more like running, with the skier landing on a moving ski. The instant when the ski comes to a stop slows the skier's speed. With the addition of poles a skier is in effect quadruped. I believe if skiers were horses this gate would be a trot.

In the mid-eighties, equipment and trail grooming improved and skiers developed skate technique. Freed of the narrow trails, skiers imitated ice-skaters and developed a faster technique, one where the skis never come to a full stop. As a gate pattern this is closer to a gallop. The skier steps from a moving ski.

Cross-country skiing now has two styles of races. In freestyle races, any technique is allowed. In classic races, skating is prohibited. My sister and I have been skiing a long time so we were good at the classic technique.

Besides, the fastest skiers tend to enter the freestyle race.

The Ski for Women has evolved from a race to a costume parade on skis as well as a race. I'd like to think I started the tradition of costumes. In the first race I wore purple beads and had fabric flowers on my hat.

Skiers now form large teams with members dressed up according to a theme, many of the costumes elaborately planned and executed. My niece, who was in utero during those early races, is now dressing up and competing in cross-country skiing on her own.

I still enter the classic ski race. Skiing with thousands of women in costume can be chaotic with falls, tangled dresses and tangled skies. The classic race is a bit calmer and then I can watch the wildness of the freestyle race after I've finished.

--- Lizzie

Lizzie Newell

Lizzie Newell lives in Anchorage and writes science fiction romance set on an imaginary world which resembles Alaska. The men fish and women are in charge. She also coaches in a kids ski program, makes costumes, and maintains Northern Speculative Fiction, website and Facebook page devoted to promoting speculative fiction in Alaska and Yukon.