Thursday, June 30, 2011

The "E" word and Funky Eskimos

Last year while sending in my final manuscript for The Raven's Gift to the fine folks at Penguin Canada,  I kept noticing changes to my word choice. Everywhere I used the world "Eskimo" the word "Inuit" had magically appeared.  I corrected this apparent typo and then received a gentle note that said something to the effect that "Eskimo" in Canada is a derogatory word and not used (of course with the exception of sporting groups and frozen dessert treats). As is so often the case for a kid raised on the tundra, this was news to me.  Just like when I found out break-dancing was no longer cool.  Did I dare share this news with my friends.  Hey, guess what Eskimo Bob, you're going to have to be called Inuit Bob? Hey Eskimo Rockstar, guess what?  Hey Eskimo Power, guess what? And on and on...eventually until I had to tell my nephews they could no longer call themselves Eskimo.
Not such an incredibly long time ago, I was the sole white face fronting a band of Yup'ik rockgods in The Funky Eskimos. In our signature song "Funky Eskimo" I  joked that the other members could call me the "white devil," as we used music and humor to attempt to deflect any questions as to why a white kid could be a part of The Funky Eskimos, with our main point being more about being funky than anything.
While I completely respect those who wish to be called their tribal name, in Alaska, at least for the time being there are plenty of people who identify quite proudly as being Eskimo, or Yup'ik Eskimo, or just Yup'ik, Cup'ik, or Inupiaq, and if you call them Inuit, don't be surprised if they look at you funny.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Change is Here: Climate Change Alaska Style

Exit Glacier, near Seward, Alaska provides a dramatic view of ice loss.
I grew up with Yupik elders warning about global warming. They were wise enough decades ago to see that something was amiss. They spoke of animal migrations and salmon spawns changing. The earth was warming and changing around them and they didn't need  a bunch of scientific studies to prove it. We should have listened back then. We probably wouldn't have stopped global warming, but we might have mitigated some of the effects by changing how we live or at least thought a bit more about how to prepare for more dramatic changes yet to come.
Now Alaska is seeing those changes in big ways. Not only are the glaciers that I once took our summer guest to visit nearly gone, but salmon aren't returning to our rivers and in some places where the ocean levels are rising, villages are preparing to relocate. (More on that in my forth-coming novel Moving Salmon Bay!)
If you're looking for a recent book on the changes happening here in Alaska check out Nancy Lord's new book Early Warming.  If you want to see for yourself, come visit and I'll point you towards a couple places where you can witness the disappearing glaciers first hand.
A photo I snapped back when you could get right up close to Exit Glacier, just outside of Seward, Alaska

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Alaska Summer Reads --- The Official List

So everyone is putting out their summer reading lists, and while I don't normally follow folks off a cliff, I figured I could take this unique opportunity to be the first one to create a list of new Alaskan reads for the summer. And since my list is the first, we'll call it the official list, by the power vested in me to make such a decree. 

Once you read my novel, The Raven's Gift, you can proceed with the other books on this official list of summer books. Click the link above to read the first chapter and see what others have said about this self-declared official read of summer, a novel that was #10 on Amazon (Canada) and has spent over 50 days in the top 100. [Okay, enough for shameless self-promotion, let's get to the list!]

New/Newish Books worth reading (Fiction and Non-Fiction)

The Devil's Share --- Kris Farmen
The Fate of Nature --- Charles Wolforth
Early Warming --- Nancy Lord
The Heart of the Sound --- Marybeth Holleman 
Caribou Island --- David Vann
Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin --- Frank Bailey, Ken Morris, Jeanne Devon

Alaska Quarterly --- Ronald Spatz, Editor
Ice-Floe --- Shannon Gramse & Sarah Kirk, Editors

I think Again of those Ancient Poets --- Tom Sexton

Lucy's Dance --- Deb Vanasse

(AND on the must read from year's past --- I can't say enough about Seth Kantner's novel Ordinary Wolves.)

Because Alaska is such a small state, I'm too kind, and because I don't want anyone to feel slighted, I have chosen to refrain from numbering the selections or putting them in any particular order. I'm sure I've left out a few, so feel free to add those in the comments or your own Alaska reading list! Feel free to include older books and your own!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Manic Monday --- Writerly Tip #2 --- Master the Art of Rejection

To write is to be rejected. This is as simply as I can put it. The only way you can write and not encounter rejection is to never ever let anyone read anything you write, never submit for publication or an agent, and don't even let your mom read your work. Otherwise, brace yourself for a bowl of rejection soup.
I can't begin to think of a way to tell you how to not be rejected, that would be about as plausible as guaranteeing you publication or how to write a best-seller (if you are interested in that information please submit five installments of $19.99 to me in small unmarked bills for access to those, guaranteed results! Including diminished sex drive and smaller bank account!).
What I can teach you is a little about handling rejection. I'm practically an expert, when it comes to writing. You don't write screenplays and novels and not expect utter and complete rejection along the way. You just don't. Or at least I don't, and therefor, you shouldn't either.
The trick is to learn from rejection. Take my latest rejection for example. I submitted a short story to a fairly big journal in a pretty large country and received a very nice personal rejection email. (I won't name the journal, as I don't want to offend anyone, or the marine mammal it is named after.)
What can I learn from this? Well, the first order of business is to get some good exercise, perhaps a good hike or bike ride, to think about the irony that I've had more luck getting movies produced and a novel published that I have short stories accepted, and yet rejection of a short story seems to sting a bit more (at least for me).  The reason for the exercise is to ponder what I'm doing wrong with the story and to decide whether I should submit it anywhere else, plus that is better way to deal with the emotions instead of drinking or holding up a bank. I probably should also spend a little time admitting to myself that I wrote that story about nine years ago and that my time is better spent revising my new novel instead of tinkering with a short story that isn't going to get published unless I rewrite it.
So essentially, what I'm trying to tell you is that I work hard to learn from my rejection. I also try to thrive on rejection --- I try to think about what I can learn and sometimes, like in the case of my first novel Permafrost Heart, that was rejected for publication, the editors passed on it, but said they would love to see my next manuscript. Oh yeah? I said. OH YEAH? My next manuscript? What did they think, I could just pull another novel out of my ass? OH YEAH?!!!!
So you know what I did with that rejection? I took it and dove into writing The Raven's Gift which went on to be picked up by Penguin Canada and has spent over 50 days on the Amazon top 100 list. (Notice I didn't mention the rejection of my novel by American publishers? That's because I've been too busy finishing my next novel, after thriving on those rejections!)
Remember, to write is to be rejected. At least that is what I'll keep telling myself while I keep on writing.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Technology & Today's Author

Earlier this week I wrote about the death of the typewriter. Today I'm writing this post beneath the warm Alaskan sun, on my deck. With my mom's iPad. Hence any errors or typos, as I can barely read the screen in the blinding sunlight. This little experiment is merely to test my tolerance of the keyboard on this device, and so far I'm fairly impressed.


Now I am not so impressed. I was halfway through a pretty cool posting about how authors should remain current with technology when I mistyped and deleted half of what I wrote. (I didn't realize there is an undo function in time!)
Now I'm too lazy to attempt to recapture that genius of what I wrote. It had to do with the recent announcement of Potterworld, or Potterdom, or Potter-whatever-it's-called. Authors now, more than ever need to be creative and find new ways to utilize technology to reach their potential readers. The more authors know about the rapidly shifting markets and delivery systems the better; however, rushing off to learn web design, when you should be writing your next novel isn't the best use of your time when there are awesome web-designers like Rich Front Range Web (shameless plug for my web designer, and you can tell from my site he's as good as they get). Striking a balance between your work and staying up-to-date is imperative.
As for rushing off to purchase an iPad 2? Save your cash for the next generation. I hear it will write your novels, poems, and screenplays just by thinking about them.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Boat Skeletons and Horse Bones

Boat Bones at Deep Lake (photo by Don Rearden ©2010)

I consider myself a student of history, and by that I mean, I'm don't do my homework and I often oversleep the beginning of class. Just kidding. I live in a state with an incredible history. Alaska is hyperbolic it seems in almost everything. From long hot summer days that last an eternity to subzero temperatures that shatter steel and to sentences like this one that are just way over the top. Our history is no different. Some of it seems too incredible to believe.
Take the Chilkoot Trail for instance. A little piece of history that we share with our Canadian friends. Whispers of gold in them thar hills back in the late 1890's led to complete insanity. Hike this thirty-two mile trail (+50K for my Canadian amigos) and you are literally walking through a museum that stretches three or four days. The entire trail is littered with the relics of man's relentless pursuit for gold, adventure, or dreams of something better. I suspect the rusted timepieces have more to do with nightmares than the achievement of those dreams, but then again I'm just a fiction writer and I mostly make stuff up.
Whatever the case, a person just can't walk the Chilkoot trail and not be haunted by the idea of all the souls lost (human and horse) simply for the possibility of a heavy nugget sliding around the bottom of a gold-pan.
Somehow made the Golden Stairs
If you're an able bodied Alaskan or Canadian, I would highly recommend making this hike.  You'll have time along the trail to contemplate what you value in your life and whether there is anything on this planet worth carrying the required amount of supplies a miner was required to haul over "the cruelest 32 miles in the world," including 400 pounds of flour, 200 pounds of bacon, and 100 pounds of beans (to name a few supplies the Canadian Gov't insisted upon).  
For me, the horse bones that seem to litter the entire trail continue to haunt me.  I think about the monstrous mines being developed in Alaska, namely the Pebble and Donlin Creek mines, and I worry that our lust for gold will once again lead us to ride roughshod over the land and the people at any cost.  
Most hikes allow you to reflect upon the value of the wilderness and our relationship with the wild, but few backpacking experiences will linger in your thoughts like the Chilkoot Trail.

"Men shot them, worked them to death and when they were gone, went back to the beach and bought more. . . . Their hearts turned to stone - those which did not break - and they became beasts, the men on the Dead Horse Trail." Jack London

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

To Book Trailer or Not to Trailer? That is the question...

So you've landed a book publishing deal or are self-publishing.  If you're smart (or a smart ass, like myself) you should have already started the social media footwork that is pretty much standard fare in today's publishing world. I don't think that not participating in social media is really an option, unless you just don't care if the world reads your book. In that case, why write it in the first place?  In future posts I'll blog more on what I've done in terms of social media and how it has helped me sell books (and my soul? Just kidding..I hope) and get media attention.  But for today, I want to talk about book trailers.
A year ago I didn't even know what a book trailer was. Nor did I care. Then when I got wind of this idea of people making short films to help sell a book I was pretty skeptical. I didn't actually like the idea of putting images into readers' heads before they had the chance to create that world and those images on their own. But as the book trailer industry picked up a little steam, I wondered if I couldn't use my limited video skills to put together my own trailer, just to see if I could convey some of the ideas from the book for readers who might otherwise not be interested in reading a book from Alaska.  With photos and video from my hometown of Bethel, Alaska, and some creepy music, the trailer basically created itself. I have two versions posted with around a total of thousand hits from Youtube, but from my website the trailer has had thousands of hits and definitely helped sell some books.
Am I sold on the idea of book trailers? As Alaska's richest but perhaps least popular "author" would say, "You Betcha!"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Does the End of The Royal spell the end of Book Ends?

I cannot imagine writing a novel by typewriter. Or perhaps even more difficult, a screenplay. All the formatting would drive me insane. Or perhaps that is why folks choose to write by typewriter still? It's either insanity or they thrive on the insanity that such an endeavor creates and thus this is what makes them great writers? (Or just crazy!)
I prefer a Mac. Of course I think the rhythmic clacking, those sounds of the old keys clunk clunking and the bell dinging would be strangely soothing.  But then I would screw up and a whole page of work destroyed and I would cry like a baby or need a cocktail. Perhaps this is why writers back in the day had so many issues?
I have an old Royal, but it's just a book end. And recently the last company to manufacture old fashioned typerwriters went out of business, so I guess these contraptions have become something of a bookend in history themselves. Propping up the last of the books while everyone goes digital. With the advent of eBooks soon the bookend itself will be obsolete, too? Now, as I finish this post, I'm beginning to understand why people have resisted giving up their old Royal.  Maybe I need to get mine fixed and start banging away on my next novel?
What are your thoughts? Shall we hold a funeral for the typewriter?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Manic Monday --- Writing Tips to Live By... Tip #1 Writing Space

So you fancy yourself a writer in training, you want to be a writer, or you just quit being a writer ten minutes ago?  If you fall into one of those categories, then hopefully my Monday tips will give you a little push towards getting to work on that project you've either been putting off or haven't found the time to finish.

For Tip #1 I'm going to share a little secret with you about writing. Whether you're one of those committed writers who can put in several hours a day at the computer, or like me, totally manic and write in fevered, spastic, and sporadic bursts, this tip can help.
Simply: You need a writing space. This space can be physical or mental or both. Essentially you need a place where all that happens there is writing, writing, and more writing. I'm lucky that my house is a little bombshelter on the side of a mountain, so I have a great physical environment to write in --- but still I also need some mental space, an escape of sorts from the noise of modern life.  I'm lucky that my folks have a homestead in the middle of nowhere with no running water or electricity (just a generator to charge the laptop) and this is the place I go, when I can afford it, to finish projects. In the midnight sun of summer I can write endlessly in endless daylight, or in the winter I can type beside the crackling woodstove with the aurora swirling above in the night sky.  I realize this isn't a place that most writers have, so to tell you that all you need is a place like I have would be ridiculous (and not at all simple). 
The truth about the cabin space for me is that when I am there I put myself in a mental space that demands from my brain a special focus and an expectation that I will complete the project at hand. So I don't need the remote cabin to accomplish this, so much as the determination to insist that the time I spend there will be productive.  
Essentially, I gear my brain to shift into a mode that tunes out distractions.  The solitude of the forest around helps, the silence of the Takotna River at first makes my ears ring as they adjust to a world without the hum of civilization. Then just the clicking of a keyboard might mingle with the raindrops on the metal roofing and I am all but completely immersed in the writing at hand.
Since you don't have the lonely cabin in the woods option, don't be discouraged. What you need to do is find a routine that puts you in that same space. Close your web browser, turn off your phone, and turn off the TV/RADIO/NOISE BOX, and get to work. Perhaps a fan for white noise or just the right music to set the atmosphere.  If the distractions are at a minimum then you'll have no choice but to focus. If home is a place that simply won't allow you to find that magic space where writing can happen, then seek it out. Get creative. Try the library. Try a park. Try a cave.  Try something.
Find the space that will inspire you to finish one of your projects.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What I learned from my Father...

My father shooting a birch arrow I made. 
My father taught me how to hunt, and how to ride horses and snow-gos and boats to get to the hunting grounds. He taught me how to camp and build a fire when we got there, and how to cook over that fire. He taught me how to tell stories to friends around the fire we just cooked over, and how sometimes the only friends a man needs to have around the fire are his wife and children. My father taught me how to survive blizzards, rain storms and shit-storms. He taught me how to appreciate the finer things in life, like a good cup of coffee, a good book, a straight shooting rifle.
And today, Father's Day, the day I was born, his father's day gift --- now my first as a father --- I realize something else he taught me. The most important gift of all. He taught me how to be a father, too.

Don Rearden

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blogging for Blooms Day & My Birthday! Book Giveaway!

After a slight blog hiatus to put the finishing touches on my up-coming novel and for the birth of my first baby (how do you like those excuses?). I'm about to roll out some mind-blowing blog posts. You'll get cool interviews with some of the hottest writers and editors in the publishing business, and if you're lucky I'll say something worthwhile (but don't count on it!).

Little Bigfoot (photo by Alaskan Photographer Katie Basile)
It has been an amazing year for me, to say the least.  Publication of my first novel, The Raven's Gift, with Penguin Canada, some great reviews and press, a reading at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, a stint on Amazon Canada's Top 100 list for over 50 days and the birth of Atticus.  So that was thirty-six. I look forward to what this next year brings. If thirty-seven is even a shadow of this year, I'll take it. (Plus thirty-seven is the new thirty-six, right?)

To celebrate Blooms Day and the adventures of  Ulysses and my birthday. Post a comment and at 11:59pm tonight, while it is still daylight in Alaska, I'll pick one of you to win a copy of The Raven's Gift.