Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa in Afghanistan! Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays to all!  Attached is a photo of Santa flying safely over the warfront in Afghanistan after being rescued by the PJs. Thanks to our elite rescue force, Santa will still be able to deliver gifts safely to all the good little boys and girls.

And speaking of safe --- here's to wishing the best to all our troops in harms way this holiday season.  Lets bring them home in 2011!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Save the Words

Writers often take up causes to save various things.  I myself am guilty of trying, on occasion, to save the world.  Recently, while taking a break from saving the world, I checked my email and found an email from an old friend.  Her message included a link, and she informed me that I should be sure to check it out. As she was a friend, and also quiet old, I figured I better check out the website right away.  After all, most old people still think a "status update" refers to so-and-so's surgery and if her panchymagogue worked or if so-and-so's latest gout flare-up kept him from his riviation trip. 

Imagine my surprise when I clicked on the site,, and realized that trying to save the world was no longer enough! I also needed to start trying to save, of all things, words.

To some of you this may seem trivial, but I consider myself a writer.  I use words. I need words.  If those words are going extinct, then what will I be left with? I can't draw.  I can't paint.  Heck, I can't even stop the stiricide on the side of my house!  I have no choice. I must become a saver of words.

If you to are a writer, or perhaps just a lover of our language, or maybe if you just want to be someone who saves important stuff like whales, walruses, and words, then adopt a few endangered words and use them. Keep them alive. Share them with the world. Save the words.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

AlaskaKids --- Webgames and Other fun...

I thought I would share with readers some great kids games from AlaskaKids that I helped design and wrote the content for from LitSite Alaska.

The main game is the Serum Run, based on the historic serum delivery via dogsled to Nome in the winter of 1925. I had hoped the game would become Alaska's version of that old classic we played as a kid, Oregon Trail. 

The photo safari allows kids to "hunt" for animals and snap photos of them and learn about some of our incredible critters in Alaska.  The Artifact Match is the classic concentration game, incorporating different artifacts from our rich heritage of Alaska Native culture in our state.  And the Geography Drop is a great way to fly about the state and learn some geography!

If you have kids or know kids, direct them to the site. What more can you ask for than free educational games?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Embracing Rejection

At this stage in my writing career I’m far too much of a greenhorn to be giving advice of any substance or merit. Unless we happen to be talking about one essential component of any writing career, in which case --- for that one particular slice of the writing pie --- I am a certified expert. If there were writing seminars or conventions with fancy buffets on this topic, I would be the keynote. If someone would read a book devoted to the nuances of this topic, I would be the author.

And since you, gentle reader, have already been duped into reading this far, the least I can do is provide for you the subject that has my rugged, yet handsome, photo beside it on the Wikipedia page devoted exclusively to it:


Rejection has been around since the earliest writings on cavewalls. (As evidenced by caveman writings followed by, “We regret to inform you…”) From those first cave scratchings, rejection became a standard part of the writing life; unless, of course, you were a celebrity who just always wanted to write a novel or a children’s story. It wasn’t until the mid to late 90’s that the art of rejection was truly crafted and finally perfected.

By me.

See, in order to perfect rejection, a writer must first begin with ridiculous aspirations. Believe that every word, every paragraph, every page of poetry or prose is perfect. Believe that every character, climax, and conclusion is complex and “crafted.” Finally, the writer doesn’t just hope for publication or production, but knows it will be so.

In this fashion, and only this fashion, will the writer be completely and wholly crushed upon opening that first rejection letter. Complete and utter devastation is necessary for the writer to take the next important step:


Then, once the writer begins writing in a new genre or form, perhaps several years after that initial rejection wears off, the sting of the second and subsequent rejections will create a nostalgic sensation of sorts. This is key. Feel that pain. Throw the letters in a giant pile and roll in them naked. Let their sharp little edges cut your skin. Bleed on them. Bleed. In a word:

Embrace the rejection.

Okay that was three words, but you get my point. Rejection is an essential part of the process. Writing is supposed to be painful. Why do you think all those great writers drank opium and put their heads in gas stoves? It was because they were great and didn’t know about rejection! So if you’re like me, you’re mediocre at best and you love the act of writing enough that even rejection is a validation of what you are trying to do. Write. Get rejected. And learn to love it.

Then write on.

Plus, who can afford opium or gas these days?

Bio: Don Rearden’s writing has never actually been rejected. He is a master storyteller who simply wants to understand the pain and anguish he imagines lesser writers must endure.

[Blog Editor’s note: This post was initially rejected eighteen times, but due to real Alaskan writers being busy with actual writing projects, we had to accept Don’s at the last minute. Our sincere apologies.]


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

49 Writers: The Ghost in the Parka: A Guest Post by Don Rearden

Originally Posted at 49 Writers

The Ghost in the Parka: A Guest Post by Don Rearden

Let me share with you a Halloween haunting back when I lived in one of the little Yup’ik villages on the tundra of southwest Alaska. The sun slipped beneath the horizon, my sisters and the other little kids were back from trick-or-treating, and it was our turn, the teenagers, to race down the narrow dark boardwalks between houses to fill our own plastic grocery sacks with candy.

I don’t even remember if we had costumes, but I do remember that it was a fall like this one, with no snow, and tall grass lined the boardwalk like two moving walls that whispered in the winds. We grabbed candy inside the first house and when we came out and started to the next, someone spotted something strange emerging from the tall grass. A traditional Yupik parka, with the hood up, no hands or feet visible, the thick fur ruff obscuring the face, appeared on the boardwalk behind us. We sprinted to the next house, not sure what to make of the parka, but not quite willing to admit to the adults inside what we’d just seen.

Back outside the little parka appeared again and again between each candy stop, each time giving us a good scare. We’d all grown up hearing the traditional stories of such haunting and we had a sense that we were being played with, but none of us were brave enough to approach the little figure or to question who or what was toying with us.

The last batch of houses sat on the far north side of the village, a walk that would require us to travel down a considerable span of darkness, right past the abandoned (and haunted) teachers’ quarters that everyone in the village avoided and didn’t even like to speak about. As we made our way down the boardwalk towards the last cluster of houses the little parka appeared behind us, and when we entered the arctic entry to the house, I remember looking back and seeing it standing there mid-way beside the teachers’ quarters, blocking our passage home.

When we came out, the parka was gone.

As we passed the building, we expected the parka to jump out in front of us or behind us, but it didn’t. Someone gasped and pointed, and there in the darkness beneath the building, near one of the steel posts that held it above the permafrost, the parka sat upright, waiting. It sprang towards us with a cackle.

We screamed and ran for our lives, and behind us the parka followed, growling and roaring. We fled in terror, but the scary sounds in our wake turned to laughter --- and legs and arms popped out from the squirrel and moose skin covered coat and soon a face emerged from beneath the parka’s hood.

My good friend. Ever the prankster. A boy with a contagious giggle and a hyena-like laugh. Loved by everyone. Afraid of nothing and afraid of no one.

Not a soul in the village would have gone to those lengths for an all-night prank like that. Not only was he foregoing his sack of free candy, but he spent that spooky black night alone, hiding in the grass; even hiding beneath the haunted school buildings despite all the traditional Yup’ik monsters and spirits also lurking in the same shadows, just to hear our terrified squeals.

A few years later we lost our prankster friend. I heard he managed to climb out from the black scar his snowmachine left through the river ice, but in the cold and wind he couldn’t escape death’s icy grip.

I try to comfort myself with the notion that he feared nothing. That even in the face of death, alone and cold in the howling tundra winds, he could find a way to giggle and that he wasn’t scared. And while his death still haunts me, over twenty years later, I am comforted by the fact that his trickster spirit survives. Each Halloween I think of him and imagine if I stare hard enough into the shadows I just might catch a glimpse of the ghostly fur parka waiting to jump out and chase me.

AUTHORS NOTE: Students in my writing course at UAA have been studying the structure of scary stories over the past week. They compose a personal essay about a scary or mysterious occurrence in their life and we talk about how the structure of an essay mirrors the structure of a scary story. Specifically, how the intro hooks the readers’ attention, the body paragraphs draw the readers along, and the conclusion doesn’t just wrap up what was said, but instead haunts the readers and leaves them thinking. The monster is still out there or the spirit continues haunting…Do you have a favorite haunting you’d like to share?

Bio: Don Rearden lived in haunted school buildings on the tundra. He never actually saw a ghost, but heard them playing basketball, and once watched as one of those heavy grey filing cabinets clicked and rolled open in front of him. Apparently ghosts enjoy a good game of one-on-one, but still even in death must deal with paperwork.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Finding Time: to live, to work, to write...

So many writers dream of the day when they don't have a day job, when their only duty is to wake up in the morning and with that first cup of coffee think only of that next creative project.  Since most of us don't yet have that luxury, we're left with finding some happy alternative at best.

There are those writers who are diligent and really serious about devoting "X" hours/words/pages of writing a day.  Then there are people like me, who are manic writers.  We don't write for a few days or a few weeks and then we hunker down at our laptops and write with ferocity for hours at a time.  Then of course there are those other writers who dream of the day when they will have time to write, but in the mean time just aren't writing.  For those poor souls, I can only suggest that you find time to become manic.
And, for the manic writers, you might try to become a little more diligent. You might try to use your mania a little more often. Perhaps build writing time into your life and approach that time with the same sort of mania.  For those writers who are regimented and consistent, you might try a little mania! Who knows how deviating from your normal modis operandi might add to your creative potential?
As I write this I'm on a solid three day spurt of sitting on my deck and writing in the sun.  Oh, of course there is work to do, student essays to read and comment on, and life --- but since writing is part of my life, I must find time for it. I have no other choice.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Three Easy Steps to Getting Published

If you follow these three easy steps you will surely get published.

1. Write a brilliant novel.  Not just any novel, but one that is an instant classic, a page turner, a tear jerker, and most importantly just like The Davinci Code, complete with a conspiracy theory and complex, yet simple, codes. (And some sex, but not too much --- unless you want to publish a romance novel, in which case you need three sex scenes per paragraph, minimum.)

2. Find an even more brilliant agent to sell said brilliant novel.  This is easy. Once you've written a brilliant novel, agents will be busting down your door.  For Alaskans, this causes problems, because the front door is often not used, or is the first door to what we call an arctic entry --- when this is busted then animals will come in and steal the other animals that you have killed and plan on eating during winter. (Don't say I didn't warn you!)

3. Sit back whilst your brilliant agent sells your brilliant novel to an even more brilliant editor at a major publishing house.

You must complete the process in order, one...two...three.  Two and three can not happen without step one.  Rinse and repeat after you've blown all the money from your first advance.

So there you have it.  A three step plan to getting published.  Idiot proof. (And/or completely idiotic.)

Any questions?  No?  Now, if you're ready to sign the paperwork, one of my YK Delta friends has a icebox and some oceanfront property to sell you...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Is Publicity the END of the World?

Before I actually signed the publishing contract, before I found an agent, and before I finished my first novel I had come up with clever ways in which I would help sell my book. Okay, I'm lying. I'd never thought about that stuff -- didn't even consider it, in fact. Beyond a little concern about how terrible my handwriting is and how I would ruin the books people wanted me to sign, I hadn't really allowed myself to dream of what I would do when my first novel finally came out.

Then, after signing a contract with that same goofy signature, I discovered I actually had a ton of work to do before the novel came out. If I wanted people to read my book I would need to work on publicity, of all things! Develop a platform, a website, start a blog, Twitter, and even start a Facepage (which is my mom's endearing name for Facebook).

In the depths of writing my novel I spent an enormous amount of time pondering the apocalypse. To be honest, the self-promotion and salesmanship I would need to partake in sounded worse than the end.

Which brings me to the end of this posting --- as I flounder and bungle my way towards the next few months of publicity prior to my book coming out, I am realizing that this isn't the end of the world. A writer can actually have a little fun with this nightmarish idea of actually working to share one's writing with the world. One might even be surprised about how excited people are to help and share their knowledge and time, even in today's over-saturated media crazy market!

My book doesn't come out until January 25th, 2011 --- last week I spent three days in the Amazon Canada top 100 list. Surely this is a sign of the apocalypse, or I just have friends and family who really love me, or just maybe this publicity stuff won't kill me after all.

(This post first appeared on 8/26/10 on  49 Writers.) 

Monday, August 23, 2010

How to find an agent, publish your novel, and survive a bear attack.

Two bears playing in my yard...
Inevitably when talking with other working writers, aspiring writers, and people thinking about someday aspiring to aspire to write a novel, the question arises,  "So how did you find your agent?"
Of course upon hearing this I smile and/or grin, as if I hold the golden key, the silver bullet, the answer to what that strange gelatinous material in Spam actual is --- when in fact the smile and/or cheesy grin comes from my lack of an answer that will really be of much help for folks...surely a kid from the tundra who landed a killer agent has a secret to share...surely there is some story that accompanies how I managed to pull that off...surely I would be willing to share that secret, if such a secret existed.  People who know me, know that if such an answer existed, I would share it ---- free of charge.
In short, I don't have an answer that will solve this age old conundrum that writer's face.  I just don't. I currently know one writer who has written the best novel I have read in the last ten years and he's having a helluva time even locating an agent willing to read it.  That is bummer news, I know, but this is the world that we writer's face. The good news is that he will find an agent and he will publish that novel and will go on to a writing career that many dream of, and one of these days agents will be calling him. 
The part of my story that might be worth sharing is the hours of work I put into researching agents willing to take new writers, and then putting in the hours to send out emails.  I wish I said I mailed out hundreds of letters, but I didn't --- I exclusively used email. I didn't want to work with an agent who required mailing. At the time I lived in rural Alaska and I knew I wouldn't be able to handle the lag time of waiting for (and receiving) rejection letters.  Rejection email isn't as tangible and, for me at least, not so painful.  Then there is the expense of mailing.  Hence, my choice for agents who accepted email queries.
The next step was to craft a killer letter. One that showed my voice, my style, my subject matter, and at the same time conveyed my stunning good looks.  This took some work. (Mostly because I lack style, voice, and subject matter.)
The rejections began to flood my in-box.  I told each one I deleted they would regret rejecting me and I sent them into the digital ether.  Then one agent replied.  My non-fiction manuscript on unleashing creativity, a theory I had crafted during my own teaching and writing experience, would be great if I was actually an expert in the field.  Being an expert on the tundra meant little.  He was, however, interested to know if I had anything else.  And, like every great aspiring writer, I had a novel I was working on.  I pitched it to him. Then emailed him all twenty pages.  And was summarily rejected ---- but he indicated he liked the writing and if I ever had anything else to let him know. 
Four years later I did, and he signed me.

So you see, I don't have that answer about how to find an agent any more than I have the answer about how to survive a bear attack. Perhaps I could teach you more about how to survive a bear attack.  There is a certain body position one takes when actually being attacked by a brown or grizzly bear. You drop to the ground in a ball and cover your neck by clasping your hands together at the base of your skull, staying on your knees and bracing yourself with your elbows.  In this way you play dead and protect your vitals.   There is a metaphor in there somewhere.  Just remember that playing dead might get you through a bear attack, but I guarantee it won't get you an agent.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

And so it began...

Two Bethel Ravens
People around the world revere and admire ravens.  I am no different.  I grew up with ravens, immersed in a culture that reveres and respects the bird --- so much so the Yupiit's very story of creation attributes our own human existence and all we need to survive here on earth to this magnificent creature.  In many ways, I suspect they were right. 
Take my own existence as a writer for example.  I've been writing and loving writing for as long as I can recollect, yet things didn't really start to fall in to place for me as a working writer until I experienced something that I'll never forget.  An image, really, that I've never shaken from my psyche, and an encounter that started a cascade of events that have brought me to this point.  The event?  One afternoon while walking on the snow-crusted tundra with the incredible woman who would become my wife I stumbled upon something stark black and rumpled in the snow.  I  approached and realized the pile of black was a dead raven.
I didn't know what to do. The whole situation was odd. I'd never seen a dead raven, and I didn't know if there was some cultural protocol or old Yup'ik rule about what one should do when encountering a dead raven.  To be honest, I was a bit scared. 
I headed home, leaving the raven there, where it fell --- out on the wide expanse of tundra near my home in Bethel, Alaska.
When I got home I wrote a poem or two, nothing impressive, as I tried to shake the image from my mind.  I didn't want to believe that witnessing the dead raven was bad luck, instead I thought it might be something important. Perhaps some sort of sign.
That night I browsed the web, thinking about the raven and my new poems and checking out various writing sites I frequented, probably trying not to think about the piles of high school essays I needed to grade ---- and I spotted a strange advertisement.  The ad had a photo of one of my favorite authors, Daniel Quinn, the author of Ishmael, a novel that I taught to my high school English students.  The advertisement offered Quinn's service as a "Writing Coach."  I was sure it was some sort of scam, using Quinn's name without his knowledge, but I wrote him anyway.  I told him who I was, what I wanted to do with my writing and that I probably couldn't afford his services on my meager second year teacher's salary, but I wanted to know what he charged nonetheless.
The next morning, the day after my encounter with the raven, right there in my in-box, sat an email from Daniel Quinn himself.  I was to send him some of my writing, and, if he approved, he would become my coach.
And so the journey to publish The Raven's Gift began.  It would start with a simple promise (one that I will write about in later posts), and continues to this day.  This blog will take you along as I recall the journey and share some of what I've learned about writing and life, as well as what I continue to learn each day. 
Ironically, I might add, this blog post itself wouldn't have existed without that same raven --- I visit that image in my mind once again and am only reminded of something I still need to learn, just in case I stumble upon another dead raven someday.